On Wednesday, March 5th, the Church began a period of intense prayer, fasting and of giving alms to the poor. Lent.
At Eucharistic services on that day, the faithful received the sign of the Cross on their foreheads with ashes. After the homily, the priest was to say: “Dear friends in Christ, let us ask our Father to bless these ashes which we will use as the mark of our repentance. Almighty God, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness and bless all those who receive these ashes. May they keep this Lenten season in preparation for the joy of Easter. We ask this through Christ our Lord.” The faithful, then, were to come forward and have ashes signed onto their foreheads. As the ashes were imposed, the minister would say: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”
One of the assigned antiphons, to be sung during the rite of the imposition of the ashes, comes from the book of Joel: “Come back to the Lord with all your heart; leave the past in ashes, and turn to God with tears and fasting, for he is slow to anger and ready to forgive.”
In another of his off-the-cuff remarks to a journalist, this time at Corriere della Serra, Pope Francis took issue with the bifurcation of Church moral teachings into “non-negotiable” and “negotiable”.
Here is what he said: “I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it. I can’t say that, of the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than the rest. Whereby I do not understand in what sense there may be negotiable values. I wrote in the exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ what I wanted to say on the theme of life.”
American Catholics have been accustomed to this for years. Groups like Catholic Answers have come up with a list of non-negotiables, five of them – abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage. The logic is that since these are “intrinsically evil”, they can never be supported. Everything else is “negotiable” in the sense that prudential differences are possible.
Clearly, this does not pass the smell test. The concept of “instrinic evil” is simply not a useful way of thinking about public policy – after all, masturbation is intrinsically evil, while drunk driving is not. This argument was made brilliantly by Bishop Robert McElroy in America magazine, which has become essential reading for American Catholics.
As an example: war is not intrinsically evil, because some wars are just. Taken to its logical and absurb conclusion, this approach to public morality would argue that what Bashar al-Assad is doing in Syria is not “non-negotiable” and so can be supported. A less extreme example concerns poverty reduction. Yes, this is a prudential issue, and yes, there are many approaches consistent with Catholic social teaching. But actions to make the poor poorer and the rich richer is not one of them.
As Pope Francis puts it, values are values. Protecting life is non-negotiable. Social justice is non-negotiable. Protecting the planet is non-negotiable.
This bifuracation – an approach that, as Henri de Lubac once said, reflects more of a Protestant than a Catholic outlook – has always been about certain American Catholics imparting a fake apostolic blessing on a particular political party. It has never been consistently Catholic in its approach. Hopefully, this comedy is now over.
On January 1, on the Feast of Mary Mother of God, a guest priest at my parish took the opportunity to talk about the advance of women’s rights under Christianity, compared to many pagan and other worldviews (he dared mention Islam in this regard). On the other hand, he noted, our own household is not entirely in order, and he noted, specifically, that the Catholic Church still refuses to ordain women despite the fact that women are just as qualified for ministry as are men.
I’m not sure if Father meant to say that the Catholic Church recognized that women are as qualified as men, but refuses to ordain them anyways, or if the Church has not yet itself recognized that women actually are as qualified – but I suspect the latter. If, however, he meant the former, I am inclined to agree. That is because official Church teaching makes no mention whatsoever of women’s capacities (or lack thereof) when defending its decision to ordain only (baptized) men.
While it is true that some arguments against women’s ordination popular in the past were based on men’s supposed greater innate capacity for ministry (sometimes due to an ostensible advantage in terms of rationality), it is also the case that these arguments were speculative rather than positive. That is, they took the constant practice of the Church for granted and sought merely to explain it in terms amenable to their audience. Read more…
Here in the buckle of the Bible belt, I hear a lot about born-again experiences. Around this time, some eighteen years ago, I had one of those experiences.
I was born and raised in a Catholic family. I had two amazing and faithful Catholic parents who loved their faith. They practiced what they preached in love and charity. All through my own life, I have had faith (even if, at times, I have demonstrated varying degrees of devotion and intimacy). Looking back, there have been many times in my life where I was just going through the motions. It was as if Catholicism were a club to which I belonged. Going to Mass, at times, seemed like nothing more than an obligation to fulfill.
In my thirties, I was confronted by three major challenges. First, my wife had been dealing with Multiple Sclerosis for several difficult years. Second, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Third, I was faced with whether to leave my job and start a new business. In the midst of turmoil, I felt a longing for something more. I am sure that, at some level, I was seeking some peace. I felt like I needed something to fill the gap that was growing inside me. Around this same time, the parish I attended welcomed three new priests.
I ran across a lovely column by Fr. William Grimm, a MaryKnoll Missioner in Japan, on the difference between faithfulness and loyalty. This is something I have struggled with myself, and he has really captured something important. Here are the highlights:
Looking at dogs and their fidelity, I realize that this virtue — whether in a dog or a human — is grounded in history. It is actualized in the present, based in the past. That seems obvious enough. Neither a dog nor a person can be loyal to someone or something which he or she has as yet not encountered.
However, the fact that this human virtue is also a canine virtue should alert us to the possibility that it might not rank as high as others in the hierarchy of virtues.Might there not be a similar virtue that we share with God as the dog shares fidelity with us, an apotheosis of loyalty? There is, though we lack an English word for it and are forced to use a word usually synonymous with fidelity or loyalty: faithfulness….We too are capable of and called to live this virtue of faithfulness, to live in commitment not solely for the sake of what has been, but for the hopeful vision of what can be, what will be….When we take marriage vows or make some other life commitment, we commit ourselves to faithfulness. We do not know where faithfulness will lead, but we know that it can only last so long as we remain open to new experiences, new insights, new disappointments, new failures, new triumphs and new mysteries.
The virtue of faithfulness can be perverted in two ways. It can be replaced by loyalty, a loyalty to a past which we find comfortable and secure. This loyalty can cause us to reject faithfulness to what is new, to what is to come. At the other extreme, faithfulness to what is to come can be replaced by faith in what we want to come, a future we have decided upon. In both cases we have turned away from God and his promise and put our faith in ourselves or in our constructed image of God. We need to reject these comfortable fantasies and embrace the unseen hope which is the Gospel.
As we prepare to enter the holy season of Lent may we remember and have faith in God’s promise: “See, I make all things new!”
Vox Nova is again pleased to present a guest post by Fr. Carl Diederichs of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Bread In The Wilderness
Father Carl Diederichs
All Saints Catholic Church
In the Gospel we proclaimed today, March 2, 2014, Jesus continues to teach us how to live as His disciples (Matt 6:24-34): He begins by saying, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money, property or that in which one puts one’s trust and finds one’s basic security).”
Jesus continues to urge us not to “worry” about life, what we are to eat or drink, what we are to wear, because God, our Heavenly Father will provide for us. Our Heavenly Father feeds us, so don’t worry, Jesus says. And as for clothing, why are you worried about what you will wear? God will take care of what we eat, drink and wear. But we do worry, don’t we? We fret and scheme and spent so much time worrying about ourselves.
Many of us have made the decision about which master we will serve. And we know this not by what we say, but by what we do. We all need to meditate on the prayer we say at each Mass, the Our Father, when we ask for “our daily bread.” Read more…
One year ago, Pope Benedict XVI carried out what will surely go down in history as the most radical act of his pontificate: leaving it. It was this startling act – the first papal resignation in six centuries – that made possible the next great surprise: the election of his successor, the first pope to take the name Francis.
It is not necessary to pretend there are no differences between the two popes in order to recognize the connection between these two events, or to appreciate the complementary gifts that both have contributed to the Church. And despite the stark and even antagonistic contrasts that have been drawn between them, for Benedict himself, seeing the charismatic leadership of Pope Francis has affirmed to him that his resignation was the will of God – a ringing affirmation that he has reaffirmed more recently, dismissing suggestions that the resignation had not been truly voluntary (and thereby expressing support for his successor over some of the Church’s right-fringe voices).
A year after Pope Emeritus Benedict’s historic exit, I remain grateful for this culmination of his service to the Church in a courageous act of radical humility that has also given us the great gift of Pope Francis.