Gift Beyond Gift, Beyond Reason

Is there any day of the week more nondescript than Thursday? Today is pretty innocuous even for a summer day in Minnesota — forecast is for clouds to hang around all day. It’s tempting to get lulled into monotony.

But stop! Every day is as Denise Levertov protests in her marvelous poem, The Yellow Tulip.  

But it’s so: a caravan arrives constantly
out of desert dust, laden
with gift beyond gift, beyond reason.

Though tulips have faded in Minneapolis — and we are probably the last people to enjoy this Springtime ritual — take a moment today to savor Levertov’s praise for this humble flower. [link].

But today, this partly-cloudy Thursday in June, is hardly ordinary. In fact, it’s quite remarkable. For one thing, today is the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long season of fasting and heightened attention to prayer and spiritual practices.

In this world of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism of all stripes, we do well to respectfully remember and honor this holy season. Too often we hear only headlines caused by extremists. Today we would do well to listen to what rank-and-file Muslim neighbors have on their minds. A simple, short summary of Ramadan is available [here].

And today, Thursday, June 18, 2015 is a momentous day that will be recalled a hundred years from now! Today the much anticipated — you know something is really significant when vested-interests and nay-sayers attack something well before it is even published!!! — release of Pope Francis’ letter on creation.

It is not a political or economic treatise! It is not about climate change, though that is central to his moral exhortation! Neither is it primarily about the environment, if by that we mean adoption of “green” policies in response to our current ecological crisis. It’s about creation, God’s bountious and boundless gift in which we humans are to serve as humble stewards.

Read that last sentence again… human, humble. These words are cognates of humus — rich, fertile soil from which all life springs. Human, humble, humus all come from the same root. Take time this Thursday to make the connection. We are by definition and nature earth-creatures. Give that some thought. Find your particular place in this God-given creation — it’s a humble place of honor!

If you’d care to review a simple, five-point summary of the pope’s pastoral exhortation, you can do no better than to take five minutes to read this [link].

Laudato Si… Yes, Praise be… even on an ordinary Thursday in 2015. Every day — each day — is anything but nondescript, innocuous or monotonous!

Or, as Francis of Assisi expressed it…

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

We Must Stop for It to Stop

The sirens blared for two minutes last evening at sundown in Israel. This time it was not because of some immediate terrorist attack. The sirens marked the beginning of Yom HoShoah, the Day of Remembrance which concludes this evening at sunset.

Why do we need such a day? Can anyone forget? Well, yes, many do! Humankind seems to have a perverted capacity to replicate, again and again, such inconceivable brutality and unspeakable violence. We remember because we must be reminded never to forget.  We delude ourselves if we think the Holocaust could never happen again.

The precedent of the Armenian genocide provides a timely admonition. Pope Francis unleashed quite a diplomatic stir last week by marking the 100 anniversary! 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated by the Turks — yet, the government in Ankara took quite the offense that anyone would call it for what it was and remind others of the unspeakable horror some would have us forget.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin doesn’t want us to forget the Armenian genocide either. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am of Bayonne, N.J. and author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics. The rabbi observes that the Armenian Christians, like the Jews, were seen as a threat by the traditional hierarchy of Ottoman society.

Salkin reminds us that “like the Jews, the Armenians became better educated, wealthier, and more urban.”  Isn’t this often the aspiration of many minority populations as well as the paranoid response of entrenched hierarchies? The rabbi writes, “like ‘the Jewish problem’ that would be frequently discussed in Germany, in Turkey they talked about ‘the Armenian question’.”

The Turks had precedents to guide and encourage them as well. The rabbi tells how the Turks delved into the records of the Catholic Inquisition in Spain and revived its torture methods. So many Armenian bodies were dumped into the Euphrates that the mighty river changed its course for a hundred yards.

Rabbi Salkin would admonish us today…

In America, the newspaper headlines screamed of systematic race extermination. Parents cajoled their children to be frugal with their food, “for there are starving children in Armenia.” In 1915 alone, the New York Times published 145 articles about the Armenian genocide. Americans raised $100 million in aid for the Armenians. Activists, politicians, religious leaders, diplomats, intellectuals and ordinary citizens called for intervention, but nothing happened.

The Armenians call their genocide Meds Yeghern (“the Great Catastrophe”). It served the Nazis well as a model. Not only the act of genocide itself — but also, the passive amnesia about that genocide. “Who talks about the Armenians anymore?” laughed Hitler.

We want to claim some sort of moral superiority today — claiming it cannot happen again, citing occasions like Yom HoShoah, Meds Yeghern and moral voices like that of Rabbi Salkin. But, it can happen, it does happen, it is happening.

Sometime today, let’s each take two minutes, just two minutes. No sirens will wail, no rabbis or popes need exhort. Sometime, this day, let us set aside a mere two minutes — not so much to recall the past but to acknowledge the present.

Will anything change? Will we be the generation to finally put a stop to the horror of ethnic cleansing? Historic precedent suggests the odds are not in our favor. But, try we must. Like the Pope and Rabbi’s solitary voices, each of us is called to speak the truth.

Each of us, if only for two minutes sometime today, can pray. But even more we must resolve, “Never Again!”

_____________

Rabbi Salkin’s really fine article can be found [here].

A God Not Created in My Own Image

True confession: I’ve got quite a way to go. My spirituality may be accurately described as a faith seeking justice. To me, the fact that God became human in Jesus unequivocally expresses what God has in mind for us.  I quickly fall into a trap: thinking transformation of the world is my/our responsiblity rather than God’s doing!

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers: “If you want peace, work for justice!” The same is expressed by the southern Black Baptist pastor I often quote: “Sometimes our faith is so heavenly minded its no earthly good.”

God in Christ has no other purpose than to restore this creation to what God had in mind in the first place. Mature Christianity understands that we are designated as primary agents in the implementation of God’s plan.  But, my recurring challenge is to align myself to God’s plan, not God to mine!

Today I am confronted — like smack-dab in my face — with the inadequacy of my way of seeing things. I’m long on the justice imperative — I really fall short when it comes to expressing God’s mercy. Honestly speaking, I’m fixated on my conception of “justice” and stingy with extending mercy (except when I am the recipient and the one in need of understanding or forgiveness).

Today Pope Francis proclaimed a “jubilee year” exhorting people like me — indeed the entire Catholic Church — to get with God’s program!  We are to refashion ourselves as a people, not of judgment or condemnation, but of pardon and merciful love. True confession: this would require a much deeper change of my “standard operating procedure” than I’ve been willing to accept to date.

Francis names my challenge: “The temptation … to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step.” He may just as well have had me in mind when reminding us of Peter’s question about how many times its necessary to forgive. We all know the answer; I have perfected the practice of keeping it at arm’s length!

Francis acknowledges the Bible’s frequent use of the image of God as a judge. But he cautions, “Such a vision … has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value.”

Francis explains, “Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation … One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law.”

And here’s something to mull over: “If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected.”

“In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us … and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.” Truth is, I’ve heard that so often and in so many ways its like water off a ducks back!

“The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn,” states the Pontiff. “If anyone wishes to avoid God’s judgment, he should not make himself the judge of his brother or sister.” Ouch!

The Pontiff (word means: bridge-builder) not only challenges us personally but exhorts the whole church to “become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”

Recalling the action of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, Francis reminds, “The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way, … a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning.”

Let’s be honest… this is pretty radical stuff! I thought Lent and all that “conversion” talk was finished for the year. If we really take this Holy Year talk to heart, it will require a complete re-boot of the way I live my faith. I won’t speculate what this might mean for “standard operating procedure” at your rank-and-file church down the street!

Change isn’t easy. I sort of like my well-worn faith-practice, thank you very much!  I prefer the God I’ve created in my own image!

In this, I am grateful God’s justice is tempered by mercy!

_______________

Francis’s proclamation runs over 9,500 words.  I acknowledge my dependence on two articles for papal quotes cited above.  I am especially indebted to Joshua J. McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter [link] and to a lesser degree, Cynthia Wooden of the Catholic News Service [link].  I recommend both articles for excellent summaries which exceed what I have attempted here.

What are You Doing for Easter?

No, this post is not left over from last week. You are reading it correctly. What are you doing for Easter? We hosted our family’s dinner celebration. Twenty-four hours later, despite the generous assistance of our guests, we are still in clean-up mode.

But, this question is not about Sunday, it’s about this full fifty-day Easter Season leading up to Pentecost. We are accustomed to doing something for the forty days of Lent, usually giving-up something to make us better. Well, if we really did that well and really got-into what we celebrated yesterday, all the more reason we would want to do something special for the Easter Season!

Rather than giving-up something maybe we could more generously give-back or gratefully give-forward in response to what we have commemorated during Lent and especially the Easter Triduum. Otherwise, what difference did it all make? How do we carry it forward?

Regular readers will recall that rock-ribbed HOPE amid the harsh and painful realities of living has been a recurring theme here in recent weeks.  Are we to resign ourselves to these hard realities and simply go on as if nothing happens at Easter? We need not. We dare not. We should not!

Where is our hope? Can a soon-to-be 65 y/o change his well-worn ways? As I look around, our friends and family still struggle with cancer, alcoholism and consequences of traumatic experiences. Religious fanaticism has not ceased to inspire terrorist violence. More Christians are being persecuted and murdered today than I ever recall in my lifetime.

What’s changed?  Are we to conceded that yesterday had more to do with soft pastels, sugary candy, coconut bunny cakes (of course we featured one in our menu) and bulb plants making tentative appearance from beneath our leaf-packed gardens? If evidence to the contrary is lacking, then it is up to us to provide it! We may not be able to change the world, but we can change ourselves and our small part of the world.

Here’s a sign of hope… Pope Francis. Many of us had pretty well given up hope with the Catholic Church before he made a surprise appearance two years ago. I was resolved that, at least for my lifetime, my friends and family were right: nothing would ever change in the church I was finding increasingly hard to love.

But as America magazine rightly states in its current issue: “…from the moment he took office, Pope Francis brought a new style, tone and clarity to the office of the papacy, opening up new ways of conversing and making decisions, speaking to people in new and direct ways and attracting many people who had long ago written off the church as irrelevant to their lives. His actions help direct us toward the Risen One, the source of all new life.” [link]

And it is not just Catholics citing Francis as a refreshing change. Evangelical Christians are making similar observations. Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the last three Republican administrations, in an Easter Sunday op-ed [link] observes that without changing church doctrine, Francis has altered how the Catholic Church is seen.

This Evagelical Christian praises the pope’s special gift for symbolic acts packed with theological content, reminding us that human beings are infinitely more valuable than moral rules, that failures don’t define us.  He observes that Francis criticizes the church — not for its unwillingness to rebuke sinners — but for ignoring the weak and vulnerable. Wehner argues that Francis has his priorities right.

And so should we! What really are our priorities? No, we cannot change the world.  But we can, most certainly, change our own.

Essentially it comes down to What are we doing for Easter?

Dance, for God’s Sake!

Friday the 13th! Pi Day… 3.1415! Beware the Ides of March! St. Patrick’s Day.

The concentration of these fun, playful, popular — though essentially insignificant days — has gotten me thinking. We need more of this! In fact, I was disappointed when the parents of 8 y/o Max, grinning a proud gummy smile, told me they don’t do the tooth fairy!

Same applies to our faith! Where’s the fun? …playfulness? …sense of humor? Lent seems like a good time to do a collective assessment. My niece shared a photo on Facebook of their family attending Friday Night Fish Fry in Omaha. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun!

Coincidentally, we looked for a fish fry in Minneapolis last evening as well. A couple of churches came up in our Google search — clearly skewed to the “more Catholic” St. Paul side of the metro.  Mostly, they were restaurants and taverns.  We chose the St. Clair Broiler over the Grandview Pub because I preferred the family atmosphere over a bar. But, hey, this seems to be where folks prefer to spend Fridays in Lent. Our server at the Broiler even told us how their consistently good business really spikes on all-you-can-eat fish fry Fridays.

I hope our churches are paying attention! People are hungry! We are looking for nourishment in the context of community. I think Pope Francis is on to something — if you are not a person of conspicuous joy you are not really a very good Christian! Our churches can be so lifeless! Our gatherings so scripted, staid and subdued! Where’s the life?

Secular culture is pulsing with stories, rituals and mythology — black cats, Pi Day, Shakespeare’s admonition to be careful tomorrow, green beer, tooth fairies. These are more than frivolous. They are fun, expressive of human imagination and hold us in community. They express the longings and appetites of the human spirit for story, meaning and relationship.

I grew up in a church awash in Ember Days, feast days (St Richard’s is April 3), May crowning, summer camps, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, St Vincent de Paul Societies, Legion of Mary (for men, BTW), “open gym”, block rosary, you name it! It was fun, secure and a wonderful time and place to grow up.  I found God there!

To be clear, I am not pining for a return to the 1950s. God forbid! Resuscitating past patterns and repeating old scripts is definitely not where it’s at though many will try! Where is the imagination? …the vitality? …the energy? ..the Spirit?  WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE? We are hungry and will find nourishment. Jesus went out to meet them!

My intuition has a sense of what we need to be about as communities of faith. It comes from secular culture not from my two graduate degrees in theology! It comes from the Ellen DeGeneres television show!

As a nation, we do not need another PBS special of Jackie Kennedy giving a tour of the White House or Nancy Reagan unveiling new china for the Presidential dining room. Though it’s not my musical style or within my range of talent, we need Michelle Obama dancing “Uptown Funk” with Ellen [link]. Whether I prefer it or not, this is expressive of the future that is calling.  It’s expressive of the fun, vitality and energy for which our collective spirits are hungry. This is the kind of First Lady we need now — one who can give expression to our future and offers leadership by showing us the way.

I get a sense that Pope Francis “gets it”. But he leads on the global stage where he fights a whole lot of lethargy and entropy.  So do we!  Yet, each of us needs to bring this vision and spirit to our communities and locale. We will surely crash if we keep looking into the rear view mirror. Resuscitating old ways of doing things is a waste of time — “See I am doing new things!” says our God.

People vote with their feet. Sometimes, we even dance!

Bottoms Up!

We don’t need much proof. Margaret Meade didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. She just had a gift for putting it in eloquent language: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Just look at Pope Francis! My brother retired from a thirty-year career in the Army. After Francis’ trip to the Middle East, Fred commented on June 10 to a post I had made here. He described the Pope’s visit as “a major event which will contribute far more to world peace than all the armies and diplomats have in recent years.”

But there seems to be an essential corollary to Meade’s incisive summation and to the potential expressed in the papal visit. True leaders appreciate this fact: real change has to bubble up from the grassroots. Decrees from on-high are typically ignored, as well they should be. Meade captured this in crediting “thoughtful, committed citizens” for the change the world needs.

With that as my prompt, and inspired by my brother, I decided to engage in some “bottoms up” action. Yesterday I chose to participate in Sunday liturgy at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church. My motivation was to give grass-roots expression to that which Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew expressed in their joint statement from Jerusalem:

Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity…

Thus we affirm once again that the theological dialogue does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church, a truth that we never cease to understand better… Hence, we affirm together that our faithfulness to the Lord demands fraternal encounter and true dialogue.

United in our intentions, … we call upon all Christians, together with believers of every religious tradition and all people of good will, to recognize the urgency of the hour that compels us to seek the reconciliation and unity of the human family…”

The pope and patriarch are not telling us anything we don’t already know! We need wise leadership to give us proof by their actions that what we know we need is in fact possible. We, the grassroots, have a reciprocal obligation to change our ways and adjust our attitudes. We need to shake things up like the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Pentecost Prayer service at the Vatican changed dynamics.

I absolutely do not want to sound preachy, pedantic or like a know-it-all. However, I do feel a passionate urgency. For your convenience and encouragement, here are some ways we can give our prophetic leaders a grassroots foundation on which to build:

  • Prayerfully reflect upon the relatively short Joint Declaration by Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (25 May, 2014). It is only ten paragraphs long and is available [link].
  • Read Patriarch Bartholomew’s Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today (2008). I ordered my copy from the used book section on Amazon for $2.58 plus $3.99 postage.   Better yet, host a book club discussion with friends who share your interest.
  • Go to Sunday liturgy at your local Greek Orthodox Church. Be prepared for a rich cultural experience and a service that is likely to last 90 minutes. I went asking that God remove all that divides us, for the grace of curiosity and gift “of communion in legitimate diversity”. True confession: I left with sensory overload (not a bad thing) and did not have the energy to plunge into “coffee hour” – next time!

Let’s never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed folks can change the world from the bottom up. Indeed, it’s the only thing that really will. Let’s give our leadership legs to stand on!  We can be the change the world needs!

Believe It or Not!

Some things just need to be believed in order to be seen!

I chuckled in disbelief. Are we so blind? Are our cultural filters so thick and our beliefs so constricted that we cannot see what just happened?

Yet, it went virtually unreported in the American media. No one I heard or read – with only one obscure exception – even alluded to the significance of what just happened.

Is this the sort of incredulity Mary Magdalene felt as she ran from the tomb to tell the frightened disciples whom she had just encountered? Is this the uncontainable impulse that transformed those gathered in the Upper Room into bold messengers?

What did you see or hear about the Prayer for Peace at the Vatican 48 hours ago on Pentecost Sunday? CNN World reported it as “Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres pray with Pope Francis for Mideast peace” [link]. American media did a typically adequate job covering the historic gathering. But it was predictable in content and routine in style, almost tired edging toward trite.

Watch the video for yourself! What do you see? Here is the [link] again. CNN World is as good and representative as any. Even the Catholic News Service was equally narrow in its perspective — perhaps that can be presumed, though not excused, given its “Roman” self interests.

Do you notice Patriarch Bartholomew? He appears three times in the video coverage but remains unmentioned, seemingly as incidental as the musical interlude. Wait a minute! Does anyone recognize how monumentally significant his presence is?

It was within my own lifetime (1964) that the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople lifted their 900 year-long excommunication of each other. Today they are partners in ministry and referring to each other as “brothers”. What we saw on Sunday at the Vatican was virtually inconceivable on the day most of us reading this blog were born.

Media seems oblivious to the shift in tectonic plates we just saw. Yet, that shift portends great hope for the future of Christian unity and how Christians understand ourselves as “church”. Partisan obstinacies and political intransigence are not the sole preserve of nation-states! On a practical level, think of the potential this “united front” holds for the protection of the struggling Christian minority in the Middle East.

Watch the video again. Listen and look even more carefully this time [link]. It took an obscure secondary reference on Twitter for me to learn something totally missed by American media — For the first time in history, Islamic prayers were offered and readings from the Quran were proclaimed at the Vatican! It took a staff writer from Al Arabyia News – Middle East to bring that to my awareness [link].  That in itself is a huge step forward toward world peace.  This in itself transforms all future Inter-Faith dialogue.  Imagine its potential for improving relations between peoples of differing faiths.

Yes, some things need to be believed to be seen. But they are true! The world is changing – too often the pace is excruciatingly slow and the evidence imperceptible. But God is persistent, patient and insistent.

We have reason to believe!

Iznik, 2025

You know the look! It’s beyond glazed – that moment just before a friend’s eyes begin to roll back, often with a smothered yawn. At dinner with friends last evening at our favorite German restaurant I knew not to bring up the topic – we were there to have fun.

Earlier yesterday I had gasped upon hearing the news. Immediately doing the math, I calculated with delight, yes, I’d live to see the day! I wonder if my expectancy resembles that of a couple who are the only ones in the world who know they are pregnant — an irrepressible impulse breaks open, an indomitable hope and assurance of a future.

The only thing comparable in my lifetime came with the challenge set by President Kennedy on May 25, 1961: “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

With a stillness and the nearly imperceptible display that invariably distinguishes God’s most dramatic “annunciations”, it has been disclosed that Christianity will be getting a Nicaea III.  A what? you say! (Please, fight the glaze rolling over your eyes. Resist the impulse to click the “close” icon.)

Who can calculate the consequences of the Great Schism of 1054? History books tell us of the centuries-old split between the Christian East and the West, with all the socio-political consequences from which our world still suffers. Only in our lifetime are we seeing healing, requisite humility and hope for reconciliation – the kind that is beyond human abilities and can only come from God.

The first Council of Nicaea called by Emperor Constantine occurred in 325 and bequeathed to us the core Christian beliefs we profess today – think: Nicene Creed. 318 bishops gathered at Constantine’s summer home to hammer out how this human being, Jesus of Nazareth, could also be God – funny how we seem to have the opposite issue today!

The second Council of Nicaea was held in the eighth century to clarify that it was okay and even helpful to use objects like icons to enhance worship space and prayer – hardly a burning issue compared to Jesus’ humanity and divinity! (Sorry! Glazed eyes are starting to roll… let’s move on!) 

Now in our own day, after a thousand years of division bordering on animosity, Bartholomew II, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, has announced that an ecumenical “gathering” will be held in Nicaea in 2025 — seventeen centuries after the first ever ecumenical council gathered there in 325!

“The dialogue for unity between Catholics and Orthodox” Bartholomew explains, “will start again from Jerusalem. In this city, in the autumn [2014], a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission will be hosted by the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III. It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy”.

Kennedy’s May 1961 challenge was achieved on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the lunar surface – a time frame not unlike the one set by the Patriarch for Nicaea in 2025.

That which was thought to be inconceivable happens even in our lifetime – for even when the past appears barren, nothing is impossible with God! (cf., Luke 1:26-38)
_________________
Nicaea is now Iznik, Turkey and rests in a fertile valley aside a lake 56 miles SE of Istanbul.

See the exclusive report with Patriach Batholomew’s announcement [here].

Start of Construction Season

Pray! We all need to pray really hard this weekend. Yes, it’s Memorial Day. However, I am talking about today’s tweet from @Pontifex: “Dear friends, please pray for me during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.” We all need to take him at his word.

I love that Pope Francis chose @Pontifex as his name on Twitter. It comes from one of the most significant roles traditionally ascribed to the Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff. As King Abdullah astutely noted in welcoming Francis to Jordan this morning, “pontiff” means bridge-builder!

Francis will have a packed agenda praying at holy Christian sites, mutually extending overtures of good will with Orthodox Christians as well as Jews, bringing hope to a diminishing Christian minority in the Middle East, offering moral weight to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

We should all be praying really hard these days that this Pontiff achieves something successful in spanning the gaping, perilous divide between Christians and Muslims. Of all that Francis will attempt, this probably has the most profound consequences for the lives our grandchildren.

Francis appears to understand the stakes. Some of the first words out of his mouth upon landing were: “I take this opportunity to reiterate my profound respect and esteem for the Muslim community.”

He then praised King Abdullah’s efforts to promote “better understanding of the virtues taught by Islam” and create a climate of interreligious understanding. It should be noted that as a descendent of Muhammad the king has diligently “tried to uphold true Islam, a religion of peace.”

Today’s words and gestures extend a series of overtures. Who can forget Francis washing the feet of women and a Muslim at the Roman juvenile detention center during his first Holy Thursday liturgy after being elected pope? Well he did it again this past Spring in washing the feet of a disabled 75-year-old Muslim man.

Last summer, the pope released a personal Ramadan greeting to the world’s Muslims, calling it “an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims.” In the past this greeting is typically extended by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

In September, Francis sent a letter to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, a prominent Islamic university in Cairo, calling for a “mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice.”

In another first, Francis will be accompanied by an Argentine rabbi and an Islamic scholar. “Imagine what could be the power if you saw the pope and a rabbi go into a place where Jews traditionally cannot or do not go, or a Muslim doing the same.” observed a Vatican spokesman.

Yes, pray for this Pontiff’s success. Pray that Francis succeeds in laying a few strong pilings. But we are all laborers – each and all of us are called to bridge the divide separating neighbors and nations, constructing an edifice of peace built on mutual respect and the inherent dignity of every person.
______________
I have relied on an [article] by Jaweed Kaleem for quotes and late-braking facts.

Party-Pooper

Okay, so the Catholic world is gathering this weekend in Rome to celebrate the saintliness of two popes. Probably harmless enough. Perhaps even helpful for those of a certain cultural religiosity. Me? I will read/watch the news reports but would rather spend my time enjoying a really beautiful Spring weekend in Minneapolis with family and friends.

Count me among those party-poopers like the highly regarded Vatican-expert Thomas Reese, SJ who believes that “canonizing popes is a dumb idea.” [link] It’s all too politicized from my perspective. Too many want their favorite “made a saint so he can be presented as the ideal pope that future popes should imitate. It is more about church politics than sanctity” according to Reese.

Thank God for Pope Francis! Traditionalist Catholics and Polish nationals adored JPII and began an intense push for immediate sainthood. Although the cardinals and bishops of Vatican II expressed a similar spontaneous call for John XXIII upon the conclusion of the council, his cause languished for fifty years.

Francis has tempered the “political/ideological” fervor with the ingenious pairing of the two. Reese insightfully notes that Pope Francis is fighting the same divisions that Paul faced in Corinth, where some would say, “I belong to Paul,” and others, “I belong to Apollos” or “Cephas.” We are bigger and better than all of that!

That having been said, we must not gloss over genuine concerns and just “make happy”. Count me as well among those who think we have moved way too fast with John Paul II. In no way do I question the man’s global influence, considerable brilliance, obvious holiness and long-suffering virtue. But should we rush to canonize his “saintliness”? More time should have been taken for his full legacy to become known. That sort of patience and forbearance is the wise practice and time-proven tradition of the Church.

Specifically, I am curious about his culpability in the global sex abuse scandal. Sufficient evidence indicates he was apprised of the burgeoning crisis as early as 1984. He consistently defended a model of clericalism, hierarchy, power and prestige of the priesthood that rank and file Catholics recognize as the real source of  the sex abuse crisis.  Thomas P. Doyle has written a blistering critique based on his first hand experience of transmitting information to the Vatican as a staff assistant to U.S. papal nuncio Cardinal Pio Laghi. [link]. 

Ultimately, millions of people coming together to celebrate the holiness of others cannot be a bad thing. What’s going on in Rome will be a memorable moment of grace and religious zeal for those who participate. That’s good! It’s a true blessing.

Then after those of us who actually remember John XXIII and John Paul II pass on to our own heavenly reward, their memories will fade along with that of St. Pius X (1903-14) who ferociously fought the “heresy of Modernism” and went kicking and screaming trying to keep the Catholic church from embracing the 20th century!