Sunday, April 21, 2013


   One important message coming from the Boston bombing comes from some relatives of the two young men who set and exploded the bombs.  Some of the family experienced government repression and injustice and as a result now feel a paranoid-type suspicion and anger toward all governments.  Sadly suspicious, they said that our government caused their young relatives to become angry and act violently.  Their message is that people act according to the government they live under.

   In a very important way, they are right.  People live and act within their own cultures, and governments deeply influence a country's culture.  The same is true in the spiritual realm.  We Catholics live within a church government that is an absolute monarchy, and that has created a culture whereby our leaders allow little or no appeal to contemporary experience and insight, and no open discussion of some of the most important moral questions of our time.  Our closed-in church culture runs all the way down to the way priests are trained and formed, the way parishes are organized and run, and thus to the way many Catholic live.

   So, what Pope Francis recently said is especially noteworthy.  "A church that does not go outside itself, sooner or later sickens from the stale air of closed rooms."  The church, he added, suffers from being self-referential, only looking to and relying on itself.  This kind of self-centeredness "leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism."  He went on to say that it prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.

   Francis' words remind me of Pope John XXIII's opening the windows of the church to let the Spirit fly in.  But the windows were almost completely closed soon after Vatican II.  For one thing, most Catholics still receive their understanding of their faith from Sunday sermons, which tend to be restricted to the spiritual life at home and in the church building itself.  In this culture, "Evangelization" means calling stray Catholics back into the church building, rather than sending them out to prophetically transform the world--individuals, families and the structures of society--in the loving and saving grace of Christ.

   As far as I can see, today's priests are still being educated and trained very much in the pre-Vatican II, closed-in, clerical mindset.  They still learn "churchy" theology and they still live in their own convoluted, clericalized world, separated from the everyday life of their parishioners and from the everyday world where today's moral challenges are screaming to be met and answered.  They preach and teach from within their own world, leaving the laity very much on their own, and all too often unable to discuss the challenges of today in a spiritually adult manner, and without falling into propaganda and partisanship.

   Francis' immediate answer is for Catholics to rely on the power of their baptism.  This is a spiritually powerful message.  By our baptism we are formally initiated into the newly evolved world that Christ has won for us, within which we can discern our personal vocations and gifts, and act upon our call and responsibility to engage today's culture in a way that elevates and corrects it so that it becomes more luminously human in Christ's grace.

   So we possibly have a new beginning.  In a wonderful way, Francis has introduced a "new culture" and a "new spiritual government" for Catholics to live and act in.  It is the culture and government of Christ himself.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013


   Jesus' resurrection was a creative, evolutionary event.  By rising from the dead, Jesus created a new world--a world evolved and elevated above the world he and all others lived in before the first Easter Sunday.  Through Pentecost and our individual baptism, we are made citizens of this new world.  And we have therefore acquired the gifts and responsibilities of our citizenship.

   This new world is a world created by God and filled to its height and depth with God's all-embracing love.  As the image of God, it is a world of creative, radical love--of ourselves, of all others and of all of nature.  As a Christ-ed world (see An Evolution Story) it is a world of healing and peace-making through self-giving, self-sacrificing, loving service, especially to the poor, sick and dispossessed.  

   It is a world of spiritually maturing persons and societies, of newly evolved and elevated education, politics, science, arts, etc.  It is not a world "out there" or "up there."  It is a world of here.  It is a world of now.  In the words of World War II, Lutheran martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ's new world shows "the profound this-worldliness of Christianity."

   But some will say, "This newly created, elevated world is not real.  It certainly is not the world we live in today.  Isn't that right?"   The answer is, "Yes and No."  Yes, it is a real world.  It is an "implicate" world, i.e., it is enfolded within today's world.  As Teilhard deChardin said,it is the "Within" of God's presence in and through the indwelling grace of Christ--a divine presence that makes the world the divine milieu.

   No, this newly created, evolved world has not yet been fully unfolded and made fully explicit.  In truth, it never will be fully realized here in space/time.  The wheat and the weeds will always grow side by side.  But that doesn't stop us,  As the People of God in Christ's newly created, evolved world, we are daily called and energized to unfold this world as much as we possibly can in the lifetime God has given us.

   With the election of Pope Francis, many Catholics, and even some others, are waiting for him to bring about a new unfolding of Christ's newly created, evolved world.  That, of course, will be good, if and when it happens.  But we don't have to wait.  For every person who sets off a bomb in Iraq, Afghanistan, Boston or elsewhere, there are literally millions of people of good will--of all religions and traditions--who are reaching out to others in healing love and peace right now.  We who are 21st century expressions of Christ have our own "citizenship papers" in Christ's newly created, evolved world.  Together with all people of good will, we can and must act now on our own spiritual initiative, and serve the people we meet every day.  To paraphrase words attributed to St. Augustine, "Become what you have received."

   People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.

Friday, April 5, 2013


              ...the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other...   
              ...the Church does not only communicate divine life to men [and women], 
           but in some ways casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth,
           most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, 
           by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues
           the everyday activity of  men [and women] with a deeper meaning and
           importance.  Thus, through her individual members and her whole community, 
           the Church believes she can contribute greatly toward making the family of
          man and its history more human.  (Emphasis mine.)
                                                             Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, No. 40

   Jesus' "everyday" human sacredness shows us in a special way that our humanity and this world are deeply sacred.  In his resurrection, he did not rise above his humanity and this world; he elevated them to a new level of meaning and importance.  Living at a higher level does not mean getting away from our humanity or from today's world.  We believe in a God who became human in the person of Jesus, who lived, worked, preached, suffered and died in the everyday world of his 1st century time and culture.  He then rose to a new level of life for all times and all cultures.

   Some of us still follow the culture of Medieval spirituality which, especially following the devastation of the Black Plague (14th century), stressed our sinfulness and the need for harsh repentance and suffering for our sins.  In contrast, our 21st century spiritual culture stresses our deep, discerning and prophetic involvement in the structures of today's society.  We get involved in order to develop the fullest possible meaning and importance of our individual and common humanity, thereby helping one another and our world evolve.  (Such involvement will also result in various kinds of sacrifice and suffering.  In Central and South America, involvement has sometimes meant being murdered; here in the U. S., involvement in social justice can mean being ignored by people who just don't care.)

   A negative example may help us better understand the wonder of Easter.  Atheists say that we can be fully human without God.  For example, some say we can use our reason to arrive at a moral way to live.  We don't need a God to give us the Commandments; we could have figured out on our own that it is wrong to dishonor our parents, to steal, lie, kill, commit adultery, and covet.

  In a way, they're right.  Long before Moses climbed Mt. Sinai, people had already figured out the basic moral principles of human conduct.  What the Commandments say is that these moral principles are not just the products of human reasoning but are the very way God created us and expects us to live.  Atheists tend to see that adding God to our natural life is like adding icing on a cake.  They say they can remove the icing and still have the cake.  We say that first of all, God created both the cake and the icing, so that without God, neither would exist in the first place.  We would then use the clearer example of leaven in bread.  Once the bread is baked, (i.e., created) the leaven and bread are one, inseparable thing.  Our faith-enlightened message is that without God, there would be no human reasoning because there would be no humans.  In fact, there would be no earth and no universe.

   Easter-time is a call to us to further clarify our faith and elevate our individual lives and the structures of our society to a new level of meaning and sacredness.  It is a time for greater and deeper commitment and involvement.  Christ is risen!  Yet, people are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.