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Posted by on Sep 5, 2014

A Church for the Poor – The Vision of Pope Francis

A Church for the Poor – The Vision of Pope Francis


What of kind of church does Pope Francis envision? Jorge Bergoglio, in his initial public statements and even in the choice of his Papal name, Francis, has made it clear that the church needs to be a servant of the poor and the herald of the gospel. These terms come from Cardinal Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church and are based on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965). While most of us tend to see the church as an institution and perhaps as a sacrament, Pope Francis is highlighting the notion of the church as a community, a school of disciples, which is the servant of the poor in its role as herald of the gospel.

This emphasis began before Vatican II but it became especially pronounced after the council in a movement called liberation theology. For St. John Paul II, this approach was more reminiscent of Marxism than the gospel, so he took certain steps to curtail it. Pope Benedict XVI, his successor, took a more measured view and focused on aspects of this theology that started from a pastoral and community viewpoint as opposed to a political one. At an important conference to promote this view in Aparecida, Brazil in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI chose Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires to formulate this renewed expression of a church for the poor.

In a recent opinion column in the New York Times, Paul Vallely, Director of The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly publication based in London, outlines the history of Liberation theology and the Pope’s restoration and enhancement of it. The pope welcomed Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican earlier this year. Fr. Gutierrez began the movement with his 1971 book A Theology of Liberation. Pope Francis has also removed the block placed by St. John Paul II to the canonization process of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who because of his opposition to political repression was shot while saying Mass. An even more telling sign is the Pope’s treatment of Nicaragua’s former foreign minister, Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman. Fr. D’Escoto had been suspended from the priesthood by St. John Paul II and Pope Francis has lifted the suspension.

A pope who lives in a guest house and stands in the cafeteria line with his own tray has taken hold of the attention and imagination of the Catholic and non-Catholic world alike by being a voice for the voiceless. Pope Francis is leading us to be a different kind of church, one that is closer to the gospel, less secure, less majestic, ready to serve the suffering Christ in the destitute of the world.

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2007

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

Saint of the Day – St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin


December 9 is the feast day of St. Juan Diego (1474-1548), who was born Cuauhtlatoatzin (kwah-oot-laht-oh-ahtzin) – Talking Eagle. St. Juan Diego was declared a saint – on July 31, 2002, – by Pope John Paul II on his visit to Mexico City. The Pope declared him protector of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and reminded the thousands who gathered of their responsibility to promote social justice and equality for their oppressed and marginalized brothers and sisters.

Juan Diego was a member of the Chichimeca nation, in the Anahuac Valley, near Tenochitlán – present day Mexico City. He was a landowner, farmer and weaver of mats, and a married man. He was 47 when he witnessed the conquest of Tenochitlán by Hernán Cortez in 1521. He and his wife were baptized in 1524 or 1525 by the first missionaries, who were Franciscans. He took the baptismal name of Juan Diego and his wife’s baptismal name was María Lucía. A few years later, María Lucía became ill and died.

On Sunday, December 9, 1531, while he was walking to Mass, he saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary on the hill of Tepeyac. Our Lady of Tepeyac would become known more widely as Our Lady of Guadalupe, because of the similarity of the dark complexioned Virgins in both Tepeyac and Guadalupe in Spain.

St. Juan Diego spent the rest of his life as a hermit and caretaker of the chapel which had been built on the hill of Tepeyac after the apparition, at the request of the Lady. The Virgin Mary appeared as a Native American to a Native American Christian. The impact on the vast indigenous population and the Spanish conquerors was stunning. Not only did this apparition mark the beginning of massive conversions, it was also the beginning of the Great Mixing – El Gran Mestizaje – the creation of a new uniquely Mexican ethnic group, blending Europeans and the indigenous peoples.

While it would be nice to give this post a Hollywood ending by enlarging the camera angle from the Indian kneeling before the Virgin Mary and panning to a sweeping vista of sunrise over the great volcanoes surrounding Mexico City, we really should not. St. Juan Diego’s life was a very gritty reality. The death of his wife and millions of other native people from European conquest and disease was another layer of bitter sadness laid on top of the hardships of being subject to the Aztecs. St. Juan Diego saw everything he knew and understood swept away before his eyes – something that later generations of Mexicans would also experience more than once.

He appears to be one of the few saints who tried to avoid The Lady he knew was waiting for him, because his uncle was very ill and he needed to get a priest for his uncle before he died. Instead, she met him as he tried to get around the hill of Tepeyac. The Lady reassured him that his uncle would be okay and that he should just trust in her. He did, and as they say, the rest is history – the history of a new day for a vanquished people.

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Posted by on Nov 2, 2007

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

All Souls Day – The Mystery of Transition


According to Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican teaching, the communion of saints is made up of the faithful on earth (the church militant), the saints in purgatory (the church penitent) and the saints in heaven (the church triumphant). November 2, All Souls day, is the day on which prayers are offered for the dead, in keeping with this belief in the communion of all Christians in the Mystical Body of Christ.

Purgatory was a belief rejected by many of the Protestant groups during the Reformation. In part, this rejection was a reaction to the sale of indulgences which induced believers to part with money in exchange for the release of their loved ones from Purgatory. The Catholic Church responded by asserting that nothing had been sold and that free will offerings and alms, along with prayer and fasting were traditional ways in which the faithful on earth interceded for the deceased in their state of transformation. Jimmy Akin, a Catholic apologist (defender) and former Protestant, presents a detailed defense of Purgatory in his paper, “How to Explain Purgatory to Protestants.”

Tertulian, in the third century, taught that Purgatory was a physical place hidden deep in the bowels of the earth. It was a place where Christians who were not martyrs went after death and waited to be released at the final judgment. This view was quickly rejected by the Church.  Purgatory was seen to be a condition of the soul, not a physical place. More recently, Pope John Paul II stated that purgatory is a condition of existence outside of the passage of events we call time. According to the Pope and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, purgatory is not necessarily a place of physical suffering, but a place of transformation. Jimmy Akin, in his defense of Purgatory, says that it is implied in certain schools of Protestant belief, since man only stops sinning at the time of death and cannot sin in Heaven. Therefore, there has to be a point of purgation.

Those of us who grew up Catholic in the 1950’s remember that indulgences had certain time values assigned to them. Certain prayers or devotional acts remitted the temporal punishment of so many days or years. When I asked priests about it as a boy, they tended to roll their eyes and say that it didn’t make much sense to them – there is no time in eternity. Some tried to explain that the time was somehow equivalent to the benefit that so many days of penance would have had on the departed soul. The assignment of days and years of spiritual benefit has now been erased from our concept of prayers and devotional acts. The view today is one of solidarity with the deceased, as living members of the community. Consequently, Catholic observances tend to be less anxious and mournful than during my childhood.

The Mexican Día de Los Muertos – The Day of the Dead – a joyful celebration which actually lasts from October 31 to November 2, celebrates those in heaven and purgatory. Preparation for this celebration begins in mid-October. Death and the afterlife have a very different sensibility among less industrialized segments of Mexican society. The reality of the afterlife is not doubted but is instead celebrated. There are fewer effects of secularization in this population, so the images and concepts that result may seem bizarre to industrialized sophisticates. Pageants of saints and devils, candy in the form of skulls, and even a mock funeral procession with a live person in the casket are part and parcel of a lively festival. Altars with votive offerings bring to mind those of pre-Christian shamans and an ongoing connection with ancient indigenous traditions as well.

Life, death, and new life is also a persistent belief outside of Christianity and a mystery that can never be understood but only celebrated. What happens at that moment of transition between two worlds and modes of existence? Something terrible and something wonderful. All Souls Day is a day to stop and ponder the mystery.

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Posted by on Oct 11, 2007

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

Saint of the Day – Blessed Pope John XXIII

October 11 is the feast day of Blessed Pope John XXIII (1881-1965). The son of Italian share croppers who worked in the fields with his brothers and served as a stretcher bearer in World War I, he became a Church diplomat, Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, and Pope. This might seem like enough for more than one lifetime. Yet Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli would launch an institutional and cultural revolution unprecedented in Church history. By convening the Second Vatican Council (1961 -1965) and calling for “aggiornamento,” a renewal and updating of the Catholic Church, Angelo Roncalli opened the door to the Post Modern Church. Although he did not live to convene the second session of the Council, it is hard to appreciate the depth of the change Pope John XXIII and his successor Pope Paul VI brought about.

It is not enough to say that the Mass changed from Latin to the everyday languages of the faithful, because the change in the liturgy only symbolized a much deeper change of mentality. Christ is present among His people in their signs and symbols, in their language. “The Church” referred not only to the leadership of the Pope and bishops, but to its body – the faithful. We now use the term “faith community” somewhat lightly, without realizing the complete change of thinking the term represents.

Pope John Paul II, who declared Pope John XXIII Blessed, represented a completely different mentality. The difference is aptly summarized by Tom Fox in the National Catholic Reporter.

“How seemingly different is the mood among the hierarchy in Rome today. If images speak, then in place of the smiling John XXIII, we see a pained John Paul II, his face grimaced, his tired body leaning on his crosier, carrying the world’s burdens on his shoulders. Pope John gave us Pacem in Terris, a map to worldwide human understanding. Pope John Paul II gives us an analysis of the “culture of death,” an acknowledgment of global human failure.

This is not to say John did not understand the cross or John Paul the resurrection. It is to say their views of how grace operates in the world are radically different. John saw the church as an instrument of cooperative acts. John Paul sees the church as a fortress tested by evil. John saw the world, the playground of God’s love, as primary. John Paul sees the church, instrument of salvation, as primary. Operating out of John’s vision, the church not only can but also must adapt. It changes because the world changes. Operating out of John Paul’s vision, the church must strengthen itself by purification. It must not adapt because to do so is to blur the sign of contradiction.”…

“The late NCR Vatican Affairs Writer Peter Hebblethewaite once said the deeper underlying problem with John Paul’s black and white assessment is not that the world is so black but it makes the church so white. So unrepentive. So resisting of change. The perfect instrument of God requires no change. Further, it must not change.”

Tom Fox – Analysis – Second Special Synod for Europe, October 1999.

Blessed Pope John XXIII, pray for us.

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