Sunday, October 22, 2006

Interfaith Intervention Gone Awry

Good follow-up to the Pope's comments on Islam a few weeks back. The following Economist article presents the thesis of my original post, says it much better, and sums up the true shame in the Pope's comments in its conclusion:
"There are two points he is especially keen to make. One is that
Christians in many Muslim countries do not have the same religious
freedom that is enjoyed by most Muslims in the West. The other is that
too many Islamic clerics seem to sanction or at least tolerate violence
in the name of religion. This was central to his Regensburg lecture in
which, as he later said, "I wished to explain that not religion and
violence, but religion and reason go together."

The value of that point in the present state of the world can hardly
be overstated. It is sad that it should have been put in such an inept
way that the only answers came in the form of burnt effigies, grisly
threats--and a great deal of sincerely outraged protest."

I hope the Pope hasn't done irreparable damage, though the entire
situation may have been far beyond his influence from the outset.

Time will tell--and hopefully correct.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Breath of 'Fresh Air'

Caught a terrific 'Fresh Air' episode on NPR yesterday, featuring David Kuo, former White House official in the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He has written a book called "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction," all about the misrepresentations this administration has made about its true religious intentions.

Kuo's testimony was striking in its candor. He took the job because he saw it as a terrific opportunity to help the poor--or rather, help the administration help the poor. However, Kuo quickly realized that his responsibilities fell more along the lines of getting faith-based groups into the Republican corner, rather than putting government support in the corner of the faith-based groups.

Kuo hit the nail on the head when he said Jesus knows no political affiliation, and doesn't distinguish right from left. Jesus' mission was to serve the poor. Kuo saw his personal mission as serving Jesus. His job did not align with those goals, and now Kuo is calling out the troubling disconnects.

That's the tough thing about politics: Its functions often override its strategy. By that, I mean the mechanations of rallying voters, getting elected, and fundraising overshadow the actual policy creation ... essentially, the lifeblood that stands the best chance of saving the poor.

Kuo's testimony adds an interestng angle to the social justice discussion. Any administration of any affiliation is capable of enacting social justice. I agree with Kuo--religion is not, nor should it be, a party issue. Yet that is exactly what has happened, and with disastrous, divisive results.

Anyway, check out the audio archive, and let me know what you think. (Personal chuckle moment: Kuo referring to Bush's idea of himself as "pastor in chief.")

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tridentine Latin Mass: No Gum Involved

Anothing interesting Benedict move: fostering ties with our long-lost orthodox relatives. Call it return of the prodigal conservative, if you will.

And how is the Pope doing it? By possibly loosening restrictions on the Latin Mass. This immediately made me think of a fascinating discussion I had last year with the Sisters of St Joseph in Pittsburgh, as a guest of S. Mary Pellegrino. One of the other sisters was talking about Vatican II and its impact on her generation of Catholics (she was in her 50s).

"All of a sudden, there was this huge swing away from piety and toward social justice," she said. "I'm not sure that was completely the right approach, though it was important to do at the time. Now your generation is achieving more equilibrium, and balancing piety and social justice in a more complete way."

I think she hit the bull's-eye, and I think reintroducing the Latin Mass is a nod to that realization. Vatican II was a tremendous boon to our Church---a true sea change. Case in point: Making Mass accessible to its worshippers by celebrating in native languages, and with direct contact with the priest.

But in the rush to change, perhaps we did sweep aside some traditions too hastily. [I don't know, I wasn't there, but I hear things :) ] After all, isn't abolishing the Latin Mass just as pig-headed as insisting on it? Let's get the word out to people in any way they want to hear it, in whatever way speaks to them most clearly, and if the Latin Mass is it, then let's lift the restrictions on it.

This is all in the hope, of course, that the pendulum stays steady, and doesn't completely swing back the other way, taking Vatican II with it. But I don't think it will. I have faith in the upward movement of our church.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Limbo: How Low Can We Go?

Well, it's not official, but it's looking pretty weak: Limbo is in limbo, as the popular headline goes.

I'm sad to admit that I didn't know the Church's International Theological Commission has been examining the concept of limbo for over a year, and that Pope Benedict is personally against the idea, calling it only a 'hypothesis.'

I also didn't know that limbo was never even an official doctrine, and that the 1992 revised official Catechism (not the scary hellfire-of-doom Baltimore Catechism) doesn't include the idea at all.

I think eradicating such a frightening and arcane concept is a good step forward for Church doctrine. Since time immemoriam, our R.C. faith has been governed by fear and recruitment sub-agendas. I can just picture gnarled old bishops cackling, 'Quick, rope them in before they die--it's still another notch on the pole!'

I mean, really, what a horrid concept to instill your followers---sad, lonely babies floating aimlessly in space, wondering what the hell just happened. It's completely counter to everything else we're taught (in my mind, the real core of our faith) about the infinite love, compassion, and mercy that is God. Such a divine being would never let any soul, no matter what age, be alone. My God pulls everyone into a huge, warm bear hug, and doesn't let go for eternity.

True belief and true belonging in a faith community requires much more than the simple act of baptism, anyway. It needs the Sacrament in every sense of the word---the grace, the discernment, the searching, the finding, and the ultimate fulfillment of 'coming home' to God.

A baby has absolute purity, yes. That alone should warrant heaven. (Besides, you can't walk around for nine months waxing poetic about this 'precious gift of God', and then condemn it to limbo the minute it arrives and departs without being baptized. Come on, people.)

And those of us who are blessed enough to live achieve a depth afforded by a lifetime of trying to walk with God. Even when marred by sin, as our lives inevitably are, our journey creates a certain purity all its own--more of a baptism by fire. Why should we ever shelve such God-sent growth in an empty, unfulfilling space such as limbo?

We've got bigger and more important issues to grapple with in the Catholic Church. Let limbo go by 2007, and let's get back to the real discussions.

[BTW, this story puts another point on the board for Benedict in my estimation. His decisions and viewpoints continue to surprise me, usually for better rather than worse. I don't know if it's because I had such low expectations at the outset that it's cake for him to exceed them, or if he is truly proving himself to be a thinking, feeling, pragmatic religious leader. I'm hoping it's the latter.]