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Islam and the Reformation

September 25, 2014

There is a meme that floats about that the “problem” with Islam is that it has never had the experience of a Reformation such as Christianity went through in the 16th century.  I confess to having indulged in this myself.  I just ran into a very nice analysis of this idea by Josh Marshall, the editor at Talking Points Memo, a liberal news site.  Marshall was trained as a historian and this shows in his essay.  He begins with:

The subtext was that the Reformation was that period in European history when people decided to start focusing on the individual and disentangling religion from the powers of the state. Put more forcefully, this was when people decided that they shouldn’t kill each other over religion or govern states according to ideas about what God had in mind for the End Times.

The irony of course is that if anything the Reformation was almost precisely the opposite of what I’ve just described. If we insist that the Muslim world has to follow this model, what’s happening right now actually looks fairly similar.

Check out the rest of his essay here.  With Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic State violence bearing down on us again, such thoughtful pieces, whether you agree or not, are a useful anodyne to much of what passes for commentary on Islam.

Kudos and a Thought on Divorce and Remarriage

September 25, 2014

Almost one year ago today, I wrote a post praising Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, for criticizing Pope Francis.  I did not agree with a word he said, but I thought it was important to have him say it (but also to hold him to the same standard of collegiality and openness).

Today, I find myself in the position of again praising Bishop Tobin, not only for having the courage to say what he said but also because I find myself in agreement with him.   Looking forward to the upcoming Synod on the Family, he reflects as a pastor on the problems involving divorced and remarried Catholics, and writes:

I often think about, and truly agonize over, the many divorced Catholics who have “dropped-out” of the Church completely, as well as those who attend Mass faithfully every Sunday, sometimes for years, without receiving the consolation and joy of the Holy Eucharist. And I know that I would much rather give Holy Communion to these long-suffering souls than to pseudo-Catholic politicians who parade up the aisle every Sunday for Holy Communion and then return to their legislative chambers to defy the teachings of the Church by championing same-sex marriage and abortion.

Ignoring for the nonce his swipe at pro-abortion politicians (which has been his trademark issue for a number of years and so to be expected), I see here the pastoral side of Bishop Tobin expressed in a way that redounds to his credit.   One of the things that has bothered me about the various prelates who have been defending current practice has been the intellectual distance of their discussion—I get no sense, even when they are proposing their modest solutions, that they appreciate the depths of pain and trouble in the lives of ordinary Catholics that lie behind their abstract arguments.    See, for instance, my discussion of Cardinal Mueller’s position.  Cardinal Burke and others have also laid out similar positions.  (Sandro Magister has been reporting on this in detail: see here and here for recent posts.) Read more…

Praying with Evil News

September 21, 2014

Last month, I was sent an article from The Jesuit Post that has changed the way I read the news.  In it, Jason Downer, SJ suggests seeking ways to respond to violence creatively and prayerfully, resisting the temptation to tune out tragedy as a sort of coping mechanism, or as he puts it, turning towards rather than away.  He adds, “It can be something as simple as when reading articles about the violence, to go over them slowly, prayerfully.  If a name is mentioned, either victim or perpetrator, pray for that person by name.”

I thought about this as I came across the particularly harrowing story of a Yazidi teenager who survived a mass execution.  Indeed, I could only think of one way to respond.  Inspired by the Divine Mercy chaplet, which I’ve lately been praying on my daily walk to work, and by the prayer I’ve taken up – “turn the hearts of those who do evil” – I wept as I prayed:

Have mercy on Khidir, and on the whole world…

Read more…

A Pair of Modern Crosses for Troubling Times

September 14, 2014

One of the great gifts of the Catholic tradition is that our communion in the Body of Christ is not cut off by death: in short, the communion of saints, of which the official canon is most likely the tip of the iceberg.  We can seek spiritual companions from among this great cloud of witnesses for all kinds of reasons, and there are a few I’ve been calling on frequently amid so much troubling news.  Especially as I keep hearing of crowds of people, God’s beloved all, fleeing danger in Central America and the Middle East, crossing literal deserts on their own present-day via crucis, a pair of exemplars that keep impressing themselves on my mind are Oscar Romero, killed in El Salvador in 1980, and Christian de Chergé, killed in Algeria in 1996 – two shepherds who bore witness unto death to the Good Shepherd.  And on today’s feast of the exaltation, or triumph, of the cross, their witness illuminates the meaning of such a victory.

Both men are widely and deservedly acclaimed as martyrs, though admittedly the definition of a martyr is not without controversy.  John Allen makes a strong case in the introduction to his book The Global War on Christians (by the way, if you read any book on Christian persecution, make it that one) that “it’s not enough to consider what was in the mind of the person pulling the trigger – we also have to ponder what was in the heart of the believer getting shot.”  A case can also be made for the classic criterion of odium fidei in the hatred provoked by the faith these two pastors preached in word and deed, whether or not that was an explicitly professed motive on the part of their killers.

Both of them foresaw their own deaths, not in a crystal-ball kind of way but as a very real risk of continuing the ministry they were called to.  And both united their deaths to that of Christ by preemptively forgiving their killers, de Chergé doing so with a direct allusion to the dying words of Christ, and Romero ultimately being killed at the very altar of Christ’s sacrifice.  Reading the words by which they foreshadowed their own final moments, in the knowledge of the fruit they bore, leaves no doubt in my own mind that these are the words of saints.

But, as LeVar Burton would say, you don’t have to take my word for it.  Read more…

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September 14, 2014

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a feast that stands near the head of the Franciscan calendar.  According to his biographers it was on or  shortly after this feast in 1224 that St. Francis received the gift of the stigmata while praying on Mount La Verna, about 60 miles north of Assisi.  I hope to write something about this feast, but for today let me leave you with this quote from Thomas of Celano and this image by El Greco.  A most blessed and happy feast day to everyone!


Read more…

On Not Having Answers: an Exercise in Paralysis

September 8, 2014

I am troubled by all violence.

I said this once to an Iraqi priest I had come to know and admire, and it provoked a look – almost with a start – of something resonating to the core.  I mention this not to suggest in any way that I can presume to speak for him or anyone living through the Iraqi Church’s present trial, but because, to the contrary, it encapsulates my own inability to speak to a situation like that much at all – and why I feel the need to say something anyway, even if it’s only to acknowledge how little I can say.

The actions of the Islamic State, and the ideology that drives them, horrify and confound me.  I am at an utter loss as to how anyone can spread so much death and destruction so systematically and genuinely believe that they are doing the will of God, or how anyone could even want to serve a God who would be pleased by all this.

It wrenches me to think of anyone equating rabid violence with the service of God.  And wrenching too is the equation of added violence with mercy.  This latter idea came to me by way of a former co-blogger who I believe is one of the most genuinely nonviolent people I have encountered anywhere – certainly in the infamous blogosphere – and more so than me, I suspect, in practice.  So I believe him when he says he came to that conclusion reluctantly.  And my own vastly clearer convictions about what the answer isn’t than any idea of what it is, short of some miraculous metanoia, leave me paralyzed.

Read more…


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