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Spoiler Alert: To those who haven’t watched the NBC show, The Good Place, and are planning to watch it one day, this article contains spoilers. If you do watch the show but aren’t fully caught up yet (at least through the beginning of the fourth season), then read on!
The Good Place has set itself apart from all other sit-coms past and present. It’s centered around something real. Eternal salvation and its counterpart… eternal damnation. We have followed the characters for four seasons now as they grapple with the question, “how good enough do we have to be to get into the good place?” But, if you’re a person of faith you have probably thought: Where is God in the Good Place?
So far, we haven’t yet encountered a divine being who’s responsible for all of creation, the good place, and the bad place. We’ve only met the demons who run the bad place, all of the Janets that act as an afterlife version of Siri, Neil the head of accounting, Jeff the doorman, and Gen the judge. None of them, as far as we know, are gods.
The lack of a god or gods would explain why there is a fluke in the points system which results in nobody getting into the good place in over 500 years. It would account for all the imperfections that we have seen so far in the afterlife. One could ask, “who cares if there’s no God? At least there’s still the good place!” But what is the point of the good place? Is it simply to reward those who do the most good in their earthly lives? Or is it much more than that?
For the Christian, the end or the goal of life is eternal salvation and the point of eternal salvation is to finally see God face-to-face and to be united with Him forever. It isn’t so that we can have all the unlimited frozen yogurt we could ever want, to be able to fly, or to be able to ask Janet all the questions we didn’t know the answers to while on earth. Sure, all of that sounds awesome and it would be fun, but the point of eternal salvation is to be with God.
For many believers, it would be a huge let down if they died and learned that God doesn’t exist; that they spent their earthly lives anticipating to finally see God only to find out that He’s not there. Could we really be happy in that kind of good place? Or would it basically be Earth 2.0 and our hearts would still be restless?
All we’ve seen of the good place is the inside of the mail center, but just from that short glimpse we know how unappealing it is. Every single person in the good place is over-the-top nice to the point that they let others basically walk all over them. The committee, so dedicated to doing their due diligence, will spend hundreds of years just selecting the right committee members to investigate the case of the bad place tampering with the points system. Even if one were to get into the good place, it wouldn’t take long for them to probably lose their sanity.
The reality is, nothing and nobody other than God could ever satisfy the desires of the human heart. The good place would not be a good place without the God who made it. While the writers of The Good Place have given us a nice idea of what eternal life could look like, the reality is heaven is still something beyond and better than our wildest imaginations.
Who knows, maybe in this final season of The Good Place, our friends who are working so hard to save humanity’s chances of eternal life will finally meet their maker and all these things will be sorted out. We shall see. I at least hope they do.
The Bronx is burning. Not with arsen or violence, but with the love of God and the prayers of his faithful ones.
The Bronx was the borough on fire. At least that’s what earned its reputation in the 70’s and 80’s. When Americans turned on New York Baseball, they saw aerial views of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx surrounded by neighborhoods of buildings literally on fire. “The Bronx is burning” became a catchphrase for outsiders and a reality for people living in the epicenter of poverty, crime, and arson. There, in the South Bronx, wedged between warehouses and drug rehabilitation centers, stands a medieval, French-style monastery of cloistered Dominican nuns.
I met the sisters on my first day of ministry at St. Ignatius School, which is across the street from their monastery. First I heard the Angelus bells ringing, echoing throughout the neighborhood. Surprised and confused, I looked out the window and saw a beautiful steeple piercing the pale blue sky and asked, “What is that?” The principal smiled and said proudly, “Those are the nuns! They helped start our school. You should go introduce yourself, you’ll love them.” After school I knocked on the door and was greeted by Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, who immediately called the other sisters, and I received a round of warm, prayerful hugs. They gave me a tour of their monastery and shared its history, and I quickly learned that hospitality is at the core of their charism.
130 years ago the Archbishop of NYC asked the sisters to establish a convent in the Bronx, which was then farmland. Today the Bronx looks very different, but their mission remains the same: to pray for the church. The Dominican Sisters of Corpus Christi Monastery are cloistered and contemplative, which means their life is an ordered rhythm of prayer and work in silence and quiet reflection. They spend their entire lives within the monastery, praying for the church and the world. Specifically, their mission is to pray for the clerical leaders of our Church: Pope Francis, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, and all priests and seminarians in the Archdiocese of NY. They pray for an increase in men to respond to God’s call, for the priests’ sanctification, and for all the people to whom they minister. Everyday, each sister chooses a different priest or seminarian and offers all her prayers for him through her work and devotions. They proudly call themselves the spiritual mothers of the Church.
I couldn’t believe it, these nuns are praying for me, for us! Class pictures of seminarians and religious cover the walls. Candles are lit next to beautiful statues and holy icons (many of which they paint themselves), and sweet incense fills the hallway. This is a house of love. And like all good mothers, they love their children to the point of prayers, even tears.
Just over one year ago the sex abuse crisis hit. Catholic priests and bishops made headlines as perpetrators of abuse and cover-ups. Detailed reports from religious communities and dioceses are now being released and it feels like the world is watching and saying, “the Church is burning”. It has evoked righteous anger, profound sadness, and confusion. The scandal is deeply upsetting, and we’re still wondering how to heal. I turn to our spiritual mothers. Former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and other high-profile abusers, have long histories in the Archdiocese of New York. His is just one of many names that have been on the sisters’ daily prayer list, and is now listed for crimes and cover-ups.
When asked how the sex abuse crisis affects her and the community, Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart’s typically joyful smile turned into a soft face of disappointment. She has read the reports and knows what evils were committed. “It is devastating, [she takes a long pause] but a majority of priests are holy and faithful.” Her smile grows again as she names many good priests in her life, many like fathers, some as brothers, and all as sons. Priests and religious throughout NYC take turns celebrating mass for the sisters. The monastery even hosts a small cottage for priests and religious to make retreats. From inside their cloister, the sisters experience the breadth of the clergy that most Catholics never have the chance to do. They meet the men for whom they pray, hear their experiences, and ask for prayer requests, so they can bring faces and stories to God. So when news of the clergy sex abuse crisis broke, Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart says their first response was simple: “we intensified our prayer.”
This is not the first time the sisters have been surrounded by darkness. As their neighborhood crumbled around them in the 70s and 80s, the sisters did not leave. They remained to pray for the world and be a sign of Christ’s light and love. Over time, their prayers were answered. Today, the South Bronx is a center of education, growth, innovation, and hope. Community gardens and street art color the neighborhood and have given rise to a new catch phrase that Bronx citizens are proud to say, “The Bronx is blooming.” 40 years ago this would have been unimaginable. But nothing is impossible for God. That’s the mystery of the cross and the hope of the resurrection. These women are living proof that God keeps His promises. Including His promise to remain with His Church.
I playfully joked with Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart that I noticed the Jesuits missing from their wall of prayer — we need prayers too! She smiled and laughed, promising to start praying right away, on the condition that I promised to give her a list of Jesuits in formation! These women are now my friends, spiritual sisters and mothers. I join them for mass every Monday before teaching at St. Ignatius School. Our interactions are quiet and brief, but their love is real and palpable. Knowing that they pray for me is consolation in moments of darkness and a reminder that everything is a gift from God, especially my vocation. These women are my formators as much as any theology professor: they make me a better Jesuit, and they’re helping me become a better priest.
But most of us don’t live in beautiful monasteries with daily eucharist and interaction with plenty of good and holy priests and religious. We live busy lives with complicated relationships to each other and the church. What are we supposed to do? Whatever we do, we can’t do it alone. Did you know you can send the Jesuits a prayer request and a Jesuit will pray for you in private devotion and at mass? Check it out here! We, the Church, the mystical body of Christ, are a family. We are the children of God and He has not left us orphans. 1
It doesn’t always feel like it, so let’s try the Dominican recipe for hope, because it works and it’s simple: God, Eucharist, and community.
Trust in God the father who never disappoints. Gaze at the Eucharist and see Jesus who never abandons. And embrace community where love is incarnate: pray for one another. We are just beginning our slow and painful process of healing.
Photos/Courtesy of the author.
The USCCB is currently meeting in Baltimore, where they will deliberate among other things about who they want to lead them. Still more, they will deliberate over how they want their leadership to confront the pressing issues of our time.
As they do so, I hope they pray over the example of three of their brother bishops last week at the border. Last week three bishops, including one from Mexico, offered a powerful counter-witness to the turmoil surrounding immigration at the southern border. Bishops Mark Seitz, Ricardo Ramirez, and Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos celebrated mass on the border between the United States and Mexico. The Mass was not near the border, nor in a nearby parish, but on the border itself: right over the Rio Grande river.
It’s the same place that has been pathologized in the nation’s political discourse, accompanied by major policy changes. It’s the space that’s become a touchstone for the nation’s politics, media coverage over the past two years, and, most importantly, the marker across which many hope to cross. That’s where we had Mass.
The liturgy there was not for the government, nor for anyone who might wield the area as a platform for political ascendency. It was for the binational and tri-state (New Mexico, Texas, Chihuahua) community taken hostage by people who do not know them. And because it was All Souls day, the Mass was especially for the many who have died trying to reach this river and find a new life.
Two things were surprising for me. The first surprise was how rapidly the border is changing. In my memory, it was a part of the background where my life took place, a bridge I crossed regularly during my childhood in the Rio Grande Valley. Now it has become a place where families are separated, where detention centers earn infamy for inhumane conditions.
The second surprise had to do with God. And God is always surprising.
Christ is always surprising when walking toward the nerve of conflict. The Father is surprising in anointing the mission of Jesus. The way Christ walks toward conflict and pain is wondrous. I found myself surprised like this many times during my recent, brief visit to El Paso. The three bishops, one of whom recently wrote a remarkable pastoral letter on racism and another on migration, consecrated the Eucharist, for both countries, in a site that has been a place of disappointment for people coming, of fear for those supporting a militarization of the area, and of mission for those dedicated to relief efforts.
I met people dedicated to helping migrants who renewed my wonder at the way Jesus approaches a margin. Several were attorneys. I met a Jesuit who represented the Jesuit Refugee Service at the United Nations in Geneva and was the program’s director in Zambia. Before, when he lived in El Paso, he provided legal assistance to battered women from Mexico.
I met an attorney who works for the Diocese’s Migration and Refugee Services. As a child, her mother was in the process toward being deported, until they went to the Diocese for help. Now she’s a part of that help, someone who knows immigration law through and through.
I met an immigration attorney who is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner and works on asylum cases as a part of Las Americas Refugee Asylum Project. When I asked what gave her hope and where she finds God, she said, “Where don’t I find God?” Then she reiterated what someone told her. A mother and daughter, traveling through Guatemala and Mexico, told her, “there’s always someone willing to share food with you. We never went hungry.”
I think the presence of one thing decides whether or not you can look at the border without despair: a love made personal for the people that are seeking to cross, and a love for the people of El Paso and Juarez that continue to do what they can to help. That love was palpable in the people who are on the ground giving their lives to those whose stories echo the ones we’ve heard in the headlines.
Both those who risk everything to cross and those who work to help them wear a courage that’s hard to miss. It’s reminiscent of Thomas Aquinas’s description of courage: “strength in hope.”
If you lose hope that the situation at the border can improve, it would be because you haven’t really seen this binational community: a community who suffered a hate crime that claimed twenty-two lives and yet continues to give to those who have nothing.
Without seeing how lovable the people on the border are, how much hope enlivens the courage of those seeking to cross, you miss everything. You miss the faces of the people who, like Abraham, risked their lives by leaving their home, yearning to be “free to worship him without fear” (Lk 1:74).
Without hope, you might not notice a story like the one Fr. Rafael Garcia told me, a Jesuit priest who is a chaplain at several of the ICE detention centers. He says Mass at a hybrid shelter-detention facility for unaccompanied minors. A boy among them asked for baptism and first communion. Not too long after, this kid, living in the facility, was driven to Sacred Heart Catholic Church along with some of the other children. They had a Mass there, and everything that we believe that happens under the signs of the sacraments happened. Among a group of unaccompanied minors in custody, one was baptized and received his first communion. And then they celebrated with cake in the rectory.
I hope you see something beautiful in that, because this kid did.
Appropriately, the second reading for the border Mass was from the first letter of John: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 Jn. 2:1).
To the extent that you do not know Jesus Christ, you do not know these people, many of whom have fled for fear of their lives, but keep hoping. Nor would you know the people spending their lives to help, and encountering the face of God.
In a time when the nation’s eyes are on the border, the U.S. Bishops have an opportunity to keep their eyes on the faces of the people who are often neglected. After my trip to the border, I pray they do so. I pray they demonstrate courage made bold by hope.
[On All Souls’ Day, hundreds gathered from Mexico and the U.S. for the annual Border Mass in the Rio Grande Canal between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.]
Margin: The edge or border of something. You know it by the heavy black line scratched in the landscape by the victors of a war of conquest, both forgotten and never-ending, enforced today by a towering steel scar that sneers, “You don’t belong to each other.” At the margin two things meet. Do they kiss, or must their contact like tectonic plates cause friction and quaking?
But, a margin is also a space. The open space on the edge of a page that is intentionally left blank. A void, the emptiness of which resists being filled to protect the lines, the ruled pages. It’s no man’s land. A space where no soul lingers long. What good could come from here? What could fill this great chasm we’ve placed between us and… us?
A margin is, I have discovered, a space where we can stand. Together. Where grace can enter in and transform a not-so-grand, mired and muddied ditch marred with razor wire into the banquet table in the Father’s House, where there are indeed many dwelling places. The table is a bridge where thanksgiving happens because the Body of Christ spans the gap. And we receive.
A sign of peace on the periphery: Peace and unity fill the space with the friendly flap of wings—enough to get a glimpse of the glory of the Body of Christ—until they flit back into the darkness of their respective wildernesses.
A voice sings out in the desert:
Basta ya de violencia. No puedo aguantar más.
Basta ya de matanzas. Las muertes no nos dan la paz.
The voice is sweet, innocent. A little girl lulling death to sleep with her enchanting lament. Gathering the voices of all who thirst:
Basta ya de divisiones, el odio nos separa más.
Basta ya de fronteras, los muros no nos dan la paz.
¿Verdad? Basta ya de injusticias. ¡Escucha, deseo paz!
“Enough of divisions, hate separates more.
Enough with borders, walls do not give us peace.
Isn’t it true? Enough with injustice. Listen, I desire peace!”
We don’t LIE down quietly, we LAY down our lives to follow the living God. Today, Fr. Joe Simmons, SJ, mixes a grammar lesson with a reflection on the God of the living in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, November 10.
What’s the difference between lie down and lay down? Hi, I’m Father Joe Simmons, and this is my one-minute grammar lesson /homily.
My Catholic grade school teachers did a great job of instilling in us proper word usage. While I lie on the couch, I lay down my backpack on the table. The verb to lie takes no direct object; the verb ‘to lay’ requires taking action.
In today’s Gospel, the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection after death, try to trick Jesus with an elaborate hypothetical question about seven brothers all dying in succession but married to the same woman. If there is an afterlife, then which of those brothers is she married to after death?
Jesus refutes them with their own Scripture: Moses himself called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “not the God of the dead, but of the living.” In the face of trials and suffering, we do not merely lie down in quiet resignation. Rather, like the seven other brothers we hear about – from the first reading, in the second book of Maccabees – those who trust in God’s covenant happily lay down their lives, knowing that neither death – nor marriage – is the end of the story of life in God.
Goethe wrote, “Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” So when life throws you suffering and trials, don’t lie down and take it. Rather lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow Christ, the living God.
I have a small confession to make. See, for the most part, Jesuits get their own rooms. But every once in a blue moon, we’ll have to share a room when we travel. And if the beds are different sizes, I will always graciously offer the larger to my companion, pretending as if it’s some minor sacrifice for me to take the smaller. But that’s not true. The fact is, I hate sleeping in anything larger than a twin bed. The only thing all that extra space does is remind me how empty that place will be next to me, for the rest of my life.
Celibacy hits all of us in religious life in different ways. Yet we all, in one way or another, at some time or another, have to deal with the loneliness that it brings up in us. That’s not to say the gift of our celibate chastity isn’t truly a wonderful thing (more on that later). But as I said to a spiritual director, “Yes, I know I’m in a relationship with Jesus. But I can’t hug God. Hold hands with God. When I wake up in the morning, I’m lying by myself in my bed.”
You look so defeated, lying there in your new twin sized bed
With a single pillow underneath your single head
I guess you decided that that old queen was more space than you would need
Now it’s in the alley behind your apartment with a sign that says it’s free
When I first really listened to Death Cab for Cutie’s song, “Your New Twin Sized Bed,” I was with my vow classmates in rural Alaska, the summer or 2018. The villages, though far from the conveniences I had grown accustomed to, offered a boisterous joy and a persistent hope. Further, I had not seen my vow classmates for several months and was delighted to share space and jokes with all of them again. I was with people I loved, doing work that was rewarding, and learning from many elders (Jesuit and indigenous). And then I heard this song one night as I was trying to fall asleep, and I just began to cry.
You used to think that someone would come along
And lay beside you in a space that they belong
But the other side of the mattress and box springs stayed like new
What’s the point of holding onto what never gets used?
Grief, too, hits us in different ways. In an unexpected moment, I felt myself grieve for that particular joy of romance. For years, I had been holding onto this little hope that I would somehow meet the person of my dreams. It wasn’t because I was unhappy or unfulfilled as a Jesuit; it was just that dream that I think all of us have carried in one way or another. To meet that one special person that I would grow old with, who would always be by my side, who would know me completely and love me unconditionally. And I would be the same to them. And I finally had to let go. As my spiritual director told me, after I shared about my loneliness, “You will never be the most important person in someone else’s life.”
One of the first lessons I’ve learned as a Jesuit is not to run away from those experiences. Part of me quickly went to rationalizing my grief away: “I’m just tired.” “I just miss my family.” And another part of me threw up those great barriers of denial: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” “I’m actually happy, so this can’t be right.” And then, once I stopped the circumlocutions, I realized I had just said goodbye to that little dream I had carried in the back of my soul for quite a long time.
It’s like you’re in some kind of hurry to say goodbye, say goodbye, say goodbye
You look so defeated lying there in your new twin sized bed
You look so defeated lying there in your new twin sized bed
Yes, sometimes I lie defeated in my bed. The loneliness doesn’t disappear. But, a little more each year, I’ve become comfortable in that bed. I’ve spent my grief, and have found incredible communities who understand that pain. And I still continue to fall in love.
People often think that because I’m celibate, because I will wake up alone for the rest of my life, I have to say goodbye to that part of me that loves. And I’m willing to bet that would be simpler. But I don’t want to live my life that way. My vow of chastity means that I will hold onto and use my love properly, not bury it and pretend it can’t hurt me anymore.
Since that night in Alaska, I haven’t stopped falling in love. But I have stopped grieving for that dream. I’ve said goodbye to what won’t be, and have begun looking at to what can be. I won’t find intimacy falling asleep next to the person I love. But it’s still there. I’ve found it in my community, over late-night milkshakes. I’ve found it in a friend’s kitchen, as we discussed politics and marriage and how we’ve grown up together. I’ve found it playing chess with a man desperately trying to get off drugs and off the street. I’ve found it in the armchair near my bed, looking out over the city, as I ask God to let me see the world with the eyes of Christ.
The love I’ve always wanted is around me. It just doesn’t look like I dreamed it would.
Our appetite for information has been steadily increasing over the past decade. And with 5G networks launching in cities around the United States, the buffet is officially open. Just like eating our favorite foods, consuming information can be a very pleasurable experience. Netflix shows provide us with laughter, intriguing worlds, and characters to fall in love with. Reading news from around the world helps us feel more connected as a global community. Social networking allows us to keep in touch with people we haven’t seen in years. 5G will make these experiences even more accessible and immediate.
When I worked as a network engineer at a major wireless carrier, I got to experience firsthand the preparations that were being made for 5G. While it will take some time before 5G reaches its full potential, this leap in technology will affect anyone with an Internet connection. One of the most appealing and immediately noticeable aspects of 5G will be the vast increase in data speeds thanks to its use of millimeter wave or “mmWave” technology. (Not all 5G will run on mmWave, but all 5G users will experience increased speeds nonetheless.) Because mmWave utilizes higher frequencies and larger bandwidths than 4G, it can send larger amounts of data at faster rates than ever before, although this will only be viable in densely populated environments. Early tests of urban 5G networks are showing download speeds up to 1 GB per second, which is fast enough to download an entire season of a Netflix show in under a minute! Thanks to 5G, you won’t have to wait for your favorite things.
When we stand before the buffet, the size of the plate is often the only thing that limits how much we consume. And when the plate size increases tenfold, it becomes frighteningly easy to keep piling on the food without considering our appetite or the implications of eating that much. The more convenient data consumption becomes, the less likely it is that we will take a break to reflect on what we’ve just seen or read before moving on to the next piece of information. What will tell us to hit “stop” on the “next episode” countdown? How will we know when X’ing out of a browser is a better suggestion than any of the suggested articles? When will we stop looking at carefully staged and edited pictures of someone else’s life and take a closer look at our own?
Information consumption is not inherently beneficial to our growth as individuals and as a society. Binge-watching every season of a show can be an escape from confronting our responsibilities. Reading every article you can find about conflict in the Middle East may broaden your perspective, but it can also blind you to the plights of your neighbors. Relating to others through a screen diminishes your ability to have intimate conversations with the person sitting across from you.
Ultimately, watching more Netflix or reading more thought pieces will not make us happier. The hunger that drives us is not satisfied by mere consumption, but by the reflective and fruitful use of what we consume. If we are to make the most of 5G’s capacity for faster access to data, we need to make sure we make the most of the data we consume. When you watch Netflix, ask what the creators are trying to tell you. Consider how a news piece affects you and how you respond to it. Remember that social media will never give us the full picture of ourselves or anyone else. Approaching data with a discerning mind and using it effectively will be crucial if we are to avoid growing sick at the 5G buffet.
The capabilities of 5G go far beyond faster data speeds, and much of it deserves an examination before we dive into the future it offers. In my next article, I will look at how the development of smart cities will use massive amounts of data and the Internet of things to create a whole new world of possibilities.
I miss running through cool grass with summer hardened bare feet. Light blue sky fading as we run yelling into the night air in total elation.
Boundaries between my house and their house evaporate. Everything is ordered only to unproductive, silly, loud, glorious play.
“Ghost in the graveyard!” She yells, my best friend. I love her.
Running, running with nothing in mind but the visceral present tearing open every moment to show me what I was born from and for. Now, racing with my skinny, speedy legs through metal gates, over fences, around play sets, through bushes, under trees. Pure. And, under that dark blue dusk sky meant for this moment and nothing else.
I knew freedom then. But now, like my Van Gogh inspired painting from 4th grade where I discovered that I could make something beautiful, I’ve lost it. In the room with my bed I lie on crying because when people tell me to just “be myself” I don’t know how.
My freedom piled over by inevitable relentless snickering jousts at school. More of myself slipping away trying to protect the little space of dignity I had left after bullies stole me from myself. I didn’t know that could happen. Cruel, innocent children as channels of oppressive evil in an old gym playing basketball.
“Where have you hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
…I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.” 1
Later, a friend saved me. She wrapped her heart around me just because she wanted to. She was that innocent child too, but she brought me back home. She taught me again that I was someone to be loved. She was the same as the cool summer grass.
Can’t you still see the stars on another summer night, your chest breathing up and down into that same sky conspiring to make you overwhelmed with it all.
Can’t you feel the warm tears streaming down your face when you hug your mom because you can’t hold in your own sadness anymore? Or the first time a friend knew everything and chose to love you because of it.
You know it — those moments that rip open life to reveal depths which transcend whatever you thought you knew, or could do, or could receive. 2
Can you remember it now, kneeling on the hardwood floor as you pray? Can you remember it when your soul is dry and tired for so long that you don’t know if it’s real anymore? When all you can see is the cracked floor in front of you, and all you can feel is your feet slowly falling asleep as you kneel.
Remember love: cliche, unapproachable. Groped at by words as in-eloquent as the word “love.” Forgotten by hardened hearts determined to let nothing in but something worth their critical mind’s attention. 3 Their “educated” and functional mind unwilling to listen to the voice of the ragged person on the street praising God to everyone for — literally — “God knows why”.
Love everything mundane, pointless, boring, ugly, unworthy. Here is love drawn in to its purest expression on faces stripped of anything but what pure eyes can love.
Isaiah knew, telling us, “He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like the one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.” He — capital “H” — He saves us.
Is this enough for me? Do I dare demand more? Slay your prideful heart and feel the grass under your feet again. It is Holy, you are Holy. Let go. Or…Be true to this, no matter what comes.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and Blesseds of the Society of Jesus, plus it’s International Jesuit Vocations Day. No matter what our vocation is in life, we are called to live for the MAGIS. You’ve probably seen that term if you’ve been around Jesuit institutions, but what does it really mean? Today we go a little deeper into this small, but powerful (and often misunderstood) Latin word.
Kanye’s complex. He’s battled mental illness and is one of the most popular and revolutionary hip-hop artists. He wears MAGA hats and sells his Jesus is King crewnecks for $250 dollars. He has spoken out against how pornography has harmed him and he asked his collaborators at times to not have premarital sex while they worked on his new album. He married Kim Kardashian in 2014 and he praises family values, and he has proclaimed that he is “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time.” He used to call himself “Yeezus,” but now he’s singing “Jesus is King” in his newest album.
We are all confused. The Christian community has come to anything but a census about Kanye’s album and new character. Some are comparing his “theology” to Martin Luther, or his emphasis on the Sabbath to be in the same line of thought as Pope Benedict XVI. Others think he “internalizes the religious entitlement that props up the wealthy and powerful.”
There is undoubtedly a strain of prosperity gospel running through the album, notably on tracks God Is where Kanye raps, “How you get so much favor on your side? Accept Him as your Lord and Savior, I replied,” and on Water where he asks Jesus to “give us wealth.” Perhaps Kanye is talking about spiritual favor and wealth, but in a recent conversation with James Cordon, Kanye shared that God is “using me to show off because last year I made 115 million dollars and still ended up 35 million dollars in debt. This year, I looked up and I got 68 million dollars returned to me on my tax returns” as if being in service of Christ is bringing monetary success. I’m sure all of my holy, high school theology-teaching-friends might disagree.
It’s not difficult to understand why so many are doubting Kanye’s conversion. The lyrics throughout the album are more like a shot of sugar that makes you feel good for a moment rather than rich, soul-nourishing, spiritual truths, and it makes me question the depth of his conversion. He is making loads of money off of Jesus’s name, and he’s receiving the publicity his ego seems to desire. Fed up with a portrayal of Christ I don’t completely believe in, I want to run to Jesus, and say “look what this guy is doing your holy name!”
Then I remember John asked Jesus a similar question, “‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me’” (Mark 9:38).
Yes, Kanye’s flawed, and no, I don’t support all of what Kanye is preaching, but he is proclaiming the kingship of Jesus Christ, and there is merit in that. His song Selah features a jaw-dropping choir belting a repeated series of “hallelujahs,” and the album ends with Kanye singing, “every knee shall bend, every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord.” One of my favorite bars asks, “what if eve made apple juice? You gon’ do what Adam do? Or say baby let’s put this back on the tree cause we have everything we need.” While his “theology” may not be flawless and his character saintly, it is important for us to remember that Jesus can call those who we least expect. Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, and Peter, a fisherman. I could see him calling Kanye, a rapper. If you haven’t noticed, God’s funny like that.
We can judge Kanye and his conversion or lack thereof, but we’ll never know the purity of his intentions or sincerity of heart. But for all of us who consider ourselves to be followers of Christ, I think there is one question that cuts to the sincerity of our belief: will you follow Christ to the end, to the crucifix, when all earthly possessions and pleasures fade away?
Let’s pray that Kanye and each one of us may say “yes” to Christ’s invitation to serve and follow Him to the end.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user profzucker
A tree helped Zacchaeus encounter Jesus. Who are the trees in your life that help you do the same? Uli Covarrubias, SJ, reflects in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, November 3.
What does a tree have in common with a disciple?
More than we might expect.
Hi, I’m Uli Covarrubias, and this is my one-minute reflection.
I was talking to a fellow Jesuit who told me about a prayerful experience he had once while walking through the woods. Looking up he thought:
“Trees are strong. They offer shelter and protection. They weather winds and storms and through it all, become stronger and more rooted in their life-giving source.”
“I want to be like those trees,” he said.
The story of Zacchaeus shows us that trees can also facilitate an encounter with Jesus.
From its very beginning, the Church has relied on disciples to hand down the faith, and like the tree in today’s gospel, to help others to see Christ.
We stand on the shoulders, or if you will, the branches of giants, holy men and women who, often through adversity have stood strong and rooted in a faith that is life-giving, a faith that offers us a way to see Christ.
As we gratefully remember those who have served as trees in our faith-life, perhaps we can pray that we might too be like trees for those who are still awaiting an encounter.
I’ve been debating whether or not I should start praying for the devil.
Intelligent and faithful Catholics say different things. Some regard pointless. The argument goes: angelic nature is such that once a decision is made on their part, it is final; there’s no changing. Lucifer, once a bearer of light (the literal translation of the name) has cast his die. No take-backs. Redemption for this fallen angel? Forget about it.
Others say “Why not pray for the devil?” We’re told to pray for our enemies, after all, and there is none greater; that God loves all His creatures, Lucifer no less than the Virgin Mary. If, as St. Paul says, God is to one day become all in all, this means all in all.
As I pondered the choice, my mind wandered back to a movie I saw 28 years ago. I was only five years old, but old enough to know how the world worked: werewolves get a silver bullet, a mummy, the flamethrower, and the vampire, a stake to the center of the heart. Peaceful ends require violent means. It’s a sad truth, but this is the way of the world.
Then it happened. I was sitting there in the dimmed lamplight of my childhood home when the revelation struck for my precious pint-sized mind. It was offered to me from an unlikely source. It was the 1991 children’s “horror” flick, Ernest Scared Stupid, the story of a sanitation worker who accidentally unleashes Trantor, a 200-year-old troll on all Hallows eve. For the next 90 minutes, I watched this demonic creature set about the town, capturing the souls of the child folk and transforming them into wooden dolls so as to feast upon their energy. Meanwhile, Ernest discovers cryptic instructions stating the only way to defeat the troll is through “the heart of a child.”
In the climactic scene, after several failed attempts to destroy Trantor through violent means, Ernest finds himself in a final showdown with the troll. At a loss for what else to do, he remembers the cryptic instructions, and in a flash of insight, realizes “the heart of a child” is the heart of one who is filled with unconditional love. So, as the beleaguered townspeople bellow for Ernest to annihilate the gooey-faced fiend, their cries are suddenly muted by a swell of classical music, as Ernest, inspired on the whim of “unconditional love,” drops his weapon, embraces Trantor with a smile, and proceeds to dance with it. At dances end, Ernest plants a giant smooch on the troll, and voila, Trantor… explodes. Ok, so it is not exactly a peaceful ending, but my 5-year-old mind got the point.
Ernest Scared Stupid was a box office flop. Yet, this silly little film gave me a glimpse of a different way to engage “the enemy” without silver bullets, stakes, or flamethrowers. A new thought: What about unconditional love as defense; unconditional love as the mechanism of change; unconditional love as captaining us – all of us – to victory?
It’s funny how images from our childhood remain with us, influencing who we are and our way of relating to the world, even to the present.
These days, I sometimes think about Ernest and Trantor in my social work courses as we discuss how best to engage clients and bring about change. Therapists are encouraged to meet their clients with warmth, genuineness, and “unconditional positive regard.” The recommended approach to involuntary clients is to “roll with resistance” and meet them with caring concern, epistemic humility, and empathy all the same. It strikes me that this is how Jesus engaged people, and how his would-be-followers are called to meet each other, not with brute force but an invitation to embrace the dynamism and gravity of grace, softening each other through constant, prodigal love.
Ernest the stupid became for me an image of God the foolish, who always invites us to drop our weapons and defenses and join in the dance. Each step and turn, another chance we have at change; each swell of the music, God woos us back into the fold. We’re dared to do likewise, even unto enemies.
But to engage the enemy of our human nature in this way?
St. Ignatius advises us to resist and stand firm in the face of the evil spirit. It seems if there’s to be any dance with the devil, it’s not mine to have. Changing the evil spirit, in other words, is God’s responsibility, not mine. But this doesn’t exactly answer my initial question, shall we pray for the devil?
St. Anthony, the fourth century monk, suggests mockery as a suitable alternative to praying for devil. At the end of time, he pictures Jesus trotting out Satan like a beast of burden, with a hook around his snout for all of the faithful’s amusement. The image St. Anthony presents here is that of the Lord as petty ringmaster. While I desire to celebrate Christ’s power over evil, I have to admit I have no real interest in mocking. St. Gregory of Nyssa, on the other hand, intimates the possibility of redemption for even the worst of the fallen, “because what belongs to God must at any cost be preserved for Him.” The image Gregory presents is that of Lord as relentless, redemptive lover.
Since every creature, good or evil, belongs to God, I hear in Gregory’s words hope. It is the same hope that that silly movie fascinated me with all those years ago. Indeed there may be no dancing for me and the devil this side of eternity. But between God and the devil? I say cue the music.
A response to “Should A Catholic Support Immigration Reform?” by Brian Strassburger, S.J.
Do we need immigration reform? Absolutely yes. Despite the presence of deep political and ideological divisions in this country, nearly everyone agrees that we need a better solution to immigration. This is the common ground we can begin with. I applaud Brian Strassburger’s commitment to justice and mercy, and his prophetic voice in inspiring us to action.
I agree with Brian’s point that the Border Wall is useless in protecting the border and only serves the purpose of drumming up anti-immigrant sentiment. Further, it is a no-brainer that putting children in cages is an immoral act, and I applaud everyone who protested this heinous act by the government. Also, politicians fomenting hate on immigrants is deplorable and must not be tolerated. We have to respect the human dignity of everyone who arrives here and we need to treat every person as a child of God.
Where Brian and I disagree is how to actualize this desire for mercy and justice into a just immigration policy. Brian does not propose a clear path to achieving this just immigration policy. When he calls for the economically disadvantaged to be given priority, is he suggesting that every poor person who arrives at the border be given entry? Does respecting the dignity of people arriving at the border mean that they need to be automatically granted legal status?
Thus, the core of the issue is not whether we need immigration reform, but what good immigration policy looks like. Since everyone agrees that we do not want open borders, we will have to continue enforcing border control laws. What should these partially open borders look like? If immigrants will need to apply for legal entry when they wish to enter the country, what is to be done if their applications are rejected? Also, what is to be done about the millions who have overstayed their visas in the US? This latter group forms the biggest proportion of illegal immigrants in the country.
I am not a political scientist, nor an economist. Often times, in a complex democracy like ours, the common citizens can put up their hands in surrender when it comes to articulating sound policy. However, in times like the present, strong words need to be complemented by strong actions. This is an attempt at articulating policy for the common person, by a common person.
The first thing we need to address is who gets in. As Brian rightly points out, there is no entry line into the US for the poor. However, if we add poverty to the eligibility conditions for entry into the US, we need to decide who, out of the 3.5 billion people worldwide living in poverty, gets priority to arrive in the US. Obviously not all of the world’s poor will want to come to the US, but we can be sure that a sizeable number will want to. Perhaps the visa lottery could be expanded, trusting that blind chance is the only fair system. The lines to enter the US through legal means are already long, and it is unfair to those standing in these long lines when people get to cut in front of them through illegal immigration.
Secondly, how can we improve the immigration process and reduce the waiting times for those going through the paperwork? The process could be sped up with more immigration judges, who can decide on cases quickly once they have clear guidelines on granting visas and asylum. The long wait period filled with uncertainty does not help neither immigrants who cannot legally work during that time, nor the government who spends millions on detaining innocent people.
Lastly, how do we enforce immigration laws? If we want to have a working immigration system, there needs to be some penalty for living in the US without proper documentation. No enforcement, for all practical purposes, results in open borders. We need to decide about those already here without proper documentation, some of whom have been here for decades, or were brought to the US as children. Obviously, there has to be some form of amnesty granted in the latter cases. The E-verify program could be expanded and guest worker visas could be instituted, making it difficult to hire undocumented immigrants, while at the same time addressing the issues of labor shortage and worker exploitation. If as a last resort an immigrant has to be deported, the US government can make a monetary gift to them, helping to alleviate the burden of restarting their lives in their home countries.
On the other side of the border, we need to address the issues that force people to flee their home countries. This is no easy task. The US government and American businesses need to invest more in the local economies of Central America. A stable prosperous economy in Central America will do more to control immigration than any Big Wall along the border. Besides, the US government has some responsibility in cleaning up the mess it created there through political misadventures in the second half of the 20th century.
It is hard to translate prophecy into policy. Prophecy is the vision that inspires us to action. It helps us orient our moral compass to strive to build that city upon a hill. It is also, frankly, more exciting than policy. But prophecy without policy is in vain. We need practical policy with its nitty-gritty details to help our prophecies and dreams of immigration reform see the light of day.
Catholics cannot be on the fence when it comes to immigration. People are dying as they struggle through poverty, violence, deception, human trafficking, rivers and deserts. As we approach the 2020 elections, let us be inspired by the prophetic call for immigration reform to work for a sound immigration policy in this country.
Those most in touch with their weaknesses are actually the strongest, says Fr. Michael Rossmann, SJ in this week’s One-Minute Homily based on the readings for October 27, which can be found here:
When someone comes to Confession and names his sins in unambiguous terms, I can’t help but think, “Dang, that was good!”
Hi, I’m Fr. Michael Rossmann, and this is my One-Minute Homily.
Of course, going to Confession is not about impressing the priest. It’s about being reconciled with God.
But when I encounter people who humbly confess their sins, I am inspired and challenged to do the same.
Those who are most in touch with their weaknesses are actually the strongest.
In our Gospel today we meet a Pharisee who seems to do it all — well, except practice humility. And then there’s a tax collector who prays, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Christ says it is the one who humbles himself who will be exalted.
Recognizing one’s sinfulness before God is not a sign of weakness; rather, it’s a sign of strength — because we are opening ourselves to God’s mercy and allowing Him to strengthen us.
The new Warner Brothers film Joker follows the story of Arthur Fleck, a man suffering from mental illness who loses his sense of identity and grows increasingly vindictive. Throughout the film, he suffers brutal violence at the hands and feet of people acting cruelly, whether prompted or unprompted. His pain is hard to watch. When he gets uncomfortable, his nervous response is awkward, uncontrollable laughter, which he fights painfully and fruitlessly to contain. Arthur Fleck is, to put it bluntly, a pathetic man.
And he becomes the great Batman villain, the Joker.
Ever since I was a kid, watching Batman: The Animated Series, I have been fascinated by the character of the Joker. Whether played for laughs like Ceasar Romero in the classic 1960s Batman TV show or played as a psychopath like Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, he is one of the most memorable characters in all of comics. His unpredictability and desire for chaos continue to captivate people.
I was both excited and nervous to see the live-action film about the character’s origins. Excited because of my love for the character. Nervous because part of the character’s mystique is that he does not have a consistent or coherent origin.1
In the film, Fleck never quite feels like the Joker I have come to know. The villain that I know always comes across confident and calculating. In contrast, Fleck is portrayed as random, awkward, and hesitant. His laugh is not chaotic, nor is it malicious. It is unsettling, a nervous tic in stressful situations.
Suffering from violence and cruelty, Fleck evolves from a misunderstood misfit to a violent crusader. In a key early moment in his development, Fleck strikes back at those with power and privilege. While riding a train in full clown makeup, three wealthy young men beginning teasing and then physically assaulting him. Fleck draws a gun and shoots all three of them. This action changes his trajectory in life.
His actions become increasingly heinous as he lashes out with less remorse and more enjoyment. He suffocates his own mother. He crushes the skull of a former coworker. Along the way, the lower classes of Gotham, who don’t know the identity and background of the “clown,” turn him into a symbol of protest against power and privilege. People take to the streets in clown masks, which both baffles and excites Fleck, who doesn’t see himself as a leader nor part of any movement.
As the climax of the film nears, Fleck claims the name Joker for himself as he appears as a guest on his favorite late-night talk show. In a tense exchange with talk-show host Murray Franklin, played by Robert DeNiro, Fleck claims to be responsible for the unsolved murders. In a shocking moment, he asks Franklin: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” The answer, according to Fleck, is that you get what you deserve. He draws a gun and shoots Franklin in the face.
The emphasis of the film is that society created this monster, the Joker.2 His society has disregarded those with mental illness and those among the lower classes. Because nobody took the plight of these people seriously, they banded together and rioted against those with power and privilege, toting signs with hyperbolic lines like “Kill the rich.”
Thomas Wayne, father of Bruce Wayne, the future Batman, embodies the upper classes. He calls Fleck and the people taking to the street in masks, “clowns.” He separates himself from those people who struggle in life and are beaten down by society. Besides belonging to another socioeconomic class, they are another class of people in his mind who are less important than those he associates with.
The response of Fleck to those who ignore and torment him is problematic. He responds to cruelty with ruthless murder. This is not a response to replicate or support. Far from it.
But how can this film challenge us?
In our own lives, how do we act in response to those who are downtrodden? Do we act like Thomas Wayne and pretend that their problems do not touch our experience? Or can we recognize that we are all connected and act as if all the people in the world are our neighbors? Do we act like we belong to one another?
If we start to take the perspective that all others are valuable, including and especially the downtrodden, then change can come. It begins with each one of us. Gradually, we might find that society at large begins to change.
Say what you will about how successful Joker is as a Batman story. It has certainly been met with much controversy.
Yet, at its best, it does a good job of challenging us to think about how we relate to those who feel alone, suffering, and depressed. Nothing justifies Fleck’s violent actions, but how did characters like Thomas Wayne nurture an isolating environment through indifference? How do we exacerbate the loneliness and suffering of others by our own indifference?
We have the ability to counteract this movement, but we cannot do so on our own. Faith is an element that is unsurprisingly missing from this nihilistic film. But it is our faith that reminds us that this work is bigger than ourselves. Our culture of indifference is in desperate need of conversion. We cannot passively wait around for this change to come. We are called to take an active role. It starts by recognizing the humanity of those around us: the poor, the lonely, the misfits, the clowns.
The same day that Catholic vandals stole and desecrated indigenous statues of Mary by throwing them into the Tiber River, a Jesuit priest in prison garb, along with six other Catholic activists, appeared in court for breaking into and vandalising a nuclear submarine base. Both groups were trying to make a statement about their thoughts on the fidelity to the Christian way of life. One includes throwing statues blessed by the Pope over a bridge, another includes painting scripture quotes on the sidewalk of a naval base.
Trial for The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 began on Monday in Brunswick, Georgia. The group of seven activists includes Jesuit Father Steve Kelly, Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, and five other Catholics connected to the Catholic Worker Movement. They are being tried for conspiracy, destruction of government property, depredation of government property, and trespassing.
According to their website, “They face 25 years in prison for exposing illegal and immoral nuclear weapons that threaten all life on Earth.” Their trial lands during the last weeks of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Respect Life Month.
A statement before their action reads:
We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to “beat swords into plowshares” by disarming the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. We repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world. We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. We believe reparations are required for stolen land, labor and lives.
On April 4, 2018, the anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the group broke into Kings Bay Naval Base in the middle of the night to “nonviolently and symbolically disarm the Trident nuclear submarine base.” They spray-painted scripture quotes on the sidewalks and facilities, hung banners on the administration building, symbolically poured their own blood on the buildings, and used hammers to damage statues of nuclear missiles. The action was part of a larger movement of nearly 100 demonstrations like it since 1980 inspired by the Prophet Isaiah.
“Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage, and dumping, primarily on Indigenous Native land,” their statement continued. “This weapons system is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet…We seek to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons, racism and economic exploitation.”
In an interview a few weeks before her trial, Martha Hennessy said, “We call [the nuclear arsenal] security, but it is security for exploitation…true security is that all people are fed, clothed, housed and treated humanely.”
“The Works of Mercy are what security is truly about,” nuclear weapons, she says, move us in the opposite direction.
Far from securing human life, the protesters say that “the ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.” Their statement recalled the words of Pope Francis who said, “The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned…weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security.”
In a letter from jail, Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ told a group of supporters who gathered for a “Festival of Hope” leading up to the trial’s start:
I write in relay like a tenuous voice in the wilderness, as I’m among the wilderness of the incarcerated two and a quarter million folks comprising the human warehouses in the empire…It is the Kings Bay Plowshares’ attempt to continue with what began in nonviolence – and hopefully without arrogance – to convert the judiciary according to Prophet Isaiah 2:4.
It is conversion that these Catholics are working towards, but not only of the United States government. “We all have rancor in our hearts,” Martha Hennessy shared. For her, the action was not merely about disarming nuclear weapons, but her own heart. “We can all get along so much better if we are able to control our own internal imperialistic urges,” she said.
“It is a lifetime of wearing down our own sharp edges to be receptive to having a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone.”
Perhaps more than simply exposing “illegal and immoral nuclear weapons” the activists exposed the deep contradictions between the Gospel of life and a culture of death, hailed by St. John Paul II, whose feast day also falls during the trial.
In his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, he wrote, “There is certainly an enormous disparity between the powerful resources available to the forces promoting the “culture of death” and the means at the disposal of those working for a “culture of life and love”. But we know that we can rely on the help of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”
The Plowshare activists share a similar conviction. “None of this can be done without God and without community,” Hennessy says. They know their small actions are up against powerful forces of death. It is “like fighting a dragon with a toothpick,” Hennessy said laughing. Nevertheless, she believes, “We are not called to be effective, we are called to be faithful,” invoking words by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Though it may not include actions as radical as these, we are all called to witness to the Gospel of life. Perhaps these Catholics on trial can challenge us to reflect on how we are called to more faithfully resist a culture of death and to protect, feed, clothe, house and cherish life. Their action reminds us that this will not always be convenient.
You can find more information and follow the rest of the trial here.
Fr. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. , is a senior analyst at Religion News Service. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter and editor in chief at America magazine. He is the author of Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican.
The synod has been described as “a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God.” How have you seen such willingness and ability to listen during this Synod?
The synod began a listening process even before it met in Rome at the beginning of October. As part of the process of preparing of the synod, there were extensive listening sessions around the Amazon region directed especially at indigenous communities. REPAM, the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, collected input from 260 listening sessions plus roughly 65 territorial assemblies. It estimates that about 87,000 people were consulted during the process.
The input from these sessions was used in writing the Instrumentum Laboris (working paper) that was prepared for the synod delegates.
In addition, lay and religious observers, both men and women, were invited to participate in the synod. They were allowed to address the synod and participate in small group discussions. The only thing they could not do is vote.
But most importantly, the bishops themselves had spent years observing the plight of indigenous people and the environment in their dioceses. They had listened to their people and been affected by them.
How does an observer meaningfully contribute to the synod process?
In every synod I have covered, the participants say that they enjoy most the discussions in small groups. This is also true of this synod. The small groups are organized by language groups so the communication is easier without the need for translators. The discussion in the small groups is also more informal, with give and take. In the small groups the lay auditors and the expert participate equally with the bishops. Here they can discuss a topic and then move on to another topic. By contrast, the speeches in the full assembly are set 4-minute addresses that were often prepared before the bishops arrived in Rome. Since they were prepared ahead of time, they don’t really respond to each other. Also, they often hit three or four topics superficially, whereas in the small groups people can interact and discuss a single topic in detail.
Today we are supposed to get the reports from the small groups of their discussions. These will feed into the drafting committee that will put together the final report and recommendations to Francis.
During the last synod, you wrote about “modes of listening.” What kind of listening have you observed so far during the Amazon Synod?
At the synod on young people, I noted that “for many bishops listening is simply a way to discover young people’s questions, which they answer with the traditional theology of the church.” I contrasted this with “A second approach to listening is to hear what young people think about the church in order to discover how the church must change.” This second approach is much more evident at this synod than at any other I have watched. They realize that a European form of Catholicism can simply be another form of colonization. Inculturation means the church must change. We will not change unless we listen.
Do you have any specific examples of this second type of listening from this synod?
Many of the bishops spoke of the need to listen to indigenous people in order to know how to inculturate the Gospel in their context. They criticized the past approach as another form of colonialization that imposed European values and practices on local cultures. They realized that inculturalization must be under the control of locals.
What have been the biggest surprises of the Synod so far? Greatest consolations?
Pope Francis has said that “facts are more important than ideas.” We see that perspective in most of the bishops at the synod who are more interested in what is happening on the ground in the Amazon than in ideological stances. The bishops are not debating theological ideas, they are trying to find solutions to real problems: the destruction of the environment, the exploitation of indigenous peoples, and inculturating the Gospel in an indigenous context. For example, the fact that so many of their people do not have the Eucharist available to them is more important than any theology talking about the wonders of celibacy.
Second, the role of curial cardinals at the synod is very limited. The Amazon bishops are not taking their directions from the curia as bishops did in past synods. People like Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, are simply ignored. He opposed ordaining married men and would never support an indigenous rite for celebrating the Eucharist and sacraments in the Amazon, which many and perhaps most of the bishops support.
How would you respond to someone who is feeling uneasy about the synod’s direction?
For those upset by efforts to inculturate Christianity into an Amazonian setting, I would remind them that the first example of inculturation was Europe. Much of European Catholicism would be shocking to the 12 Apostles and early Christians. Today’s Mass is celebrated very differently than the Last Supper. European churches are full of statues and paintings that would be anathema to early Jewish Christians. European theology based on Greek philosophy would be unintelligible to first generation Christians. The organization structure of the church would be unrecognizable. If these European examples of inculturation are legitimate, how can we say that other cultures cannot do likewise.
Synodality means listening to one another and walking together. In the past, those who opposed this approach would say, “Just listen to the pope and do what he says.” Today, those who oppose synodality also oppose the pope. They do not want to listen to the pope; they do not want to listen to anyone else. This is a textbook definition of pride. They are people who are so convinced of their opinions that they will not listen to anyone. Sad.
Is there anything else you think our readers should know about the synod process?
The synod is not the end of the process, it is simply a step forward in the church’s response to the needs of the Amazon and its people. A lot more will need to be done to protect the rainforest and the rights of indigenous peoples. Creativity must be unleashed to respond to the pastoral needs of the Amazon in a way that reflects indigenous cultures.
But the synod also has a message for us in the United States. The Amazonian rainforest is being destroyed to support our lifestyle. Indigenous peoples are being uprooted by multinational corporations owned by U.S. investors. Not all of the problems of the Amazon can be solved in the Amazon. We have to do our part. We can learn from the indigenous to respect nature and learn to live in harmony with it. The Amazon is God’s garden and gift which must be loved and treasured not defaced and destroyed.
Is the parable of the dishonest judge and the persistent widow about bothering God into submission or something more? On this World Mission Sunday, Brian Strassburger, SJ, reflects on the pursuit of justice in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, October 20.
Will you help me now? Will you help me now? If I annoy you enough, will you eventually help me out?
Hi, I’m Brian Strassburger and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
The dishonest judge in today’s parable eventually caves in to the widow who continues to bother him by asking for a just judgment in her case.
What’s the takeaway for us? Are we supposed to bother God until we get what we want?
I don’t think that’s the real message here. The widow in the parable represents the poor and outcast of society. She is crying out for justice. Who will hear her plea?
The dishonest judge isn’t exactly a hero in this story, but even he eventually comes around to help. Can we do better than that?
Today, on World Mission Sunday, we are being called to hear the cry of the poor and outcasts of society. Will we be slow to respond?
Let’s not wait another minute more. Find a way this week, or even today, to help the poor and outcast of your community. Let’s start helping each other, right now.
When it was released, I kept Bon Iver’s new song “Faith” on repeat. The optimistic strumming of an acoustic guitar and an angelic choir wrap the song in light, celebration, authenticity, and a sense of the sacred. For days, I sang along presuming it spoke truth. I even tried to get other Jesuits in my community to love it too. Then, one of them denied its greatness and sparked doubt in my mind. The following day, the lyrics finally hit me.
Bon Iver’s song “Faith” begins with one word: “shattered.” The implication is that we’re oppressed by what “faith” requires and are now realizing all of “the wonderful things I’ve learned to waste” and that “I shouldn’t hide.” The first verse ends claiming that “there is no design / you have to decide.”
This is what he says we have to decide: “Am I dependent in what I’m defending? And do we get to hold what faith provides?” Assuming the answer, Bon Iver offers himself as refuge and relief from such doubts, “fold your hands into mine.” He sings that “faith declines,” but admits “I’m not all out of mine.” It’s not clear if he’s trying to comfort the listener or admit that he can’t rid of his own unwanted faith.
If Bon Iver means all of this, then this isn’t just a song. It’s more like a hymn. Hymns are sung in churches for two reasons: right worship and the communal confession of faith. The majority of Catholic hymns were written by theologians to teach and defend against other hymns spreading error and heresy. Music is powerful. It has a universal reach; everyone can hear it and be drawn by its beauty. This means the words have a great responsibility to be tried and true.
What is Bon Iver’s hymn about? The gospel of self-sufficiency. “Got all that I need / It’s time to be brave” and “So what if I lose, I’m satisfied.” The listener is being urged to accept the self as one’s sole reality. While the music is great, the song “Faith” may very well be a work of evangelization to the anti-religion movement.
Where’s this message coming from? I have a hunch it’s not unlike the mistaken postmodern understanding of the phrase: “Faith Seeking Understanding.” Today it largely implies a seemingly liberating idea of being brave enough to ask the tough questions, discovering what I really believe instead of embracing what was passed down to me or even redefining any spiritual reality according to my truth.
This isn’t what St. Anselm of Canterbury meant when he, a Catholic bishop in the 10th century, took as his motto: “fides quaerens intellectum,” faith seeking understanding. For this die-hard saint-philosopher, faith is to love God and to be driven to live according to His Will. For that faith to seek understanding, then, means finding out all the ways to love God. It’s about God’s will and loving Him. When it’s all about that, we become oriented to receiving the fullness of Life only He can give.
Despite this, people feel invigorated and liberated when they rebel from traditional religion. Many are convinced that they have no need to make a decision about Jesus Christ. They don’t need an institution to live and find community in. They alone get to determine the meaning of their life, worth, and freedom. Their desires may be good, but they’ve come to worship the mistaken postmodern idea of “faith seeking understanding” to an extreme. Now faith has left the picture and our creed is only to defend our personal experience and redefine everything according to our limited understanding.
By all accounts, it’s great to learn why one believes what the Church teaches and does, but it’s a far greater adventure to accept it and do it. When we encounter Jesus Christ in the Church and come alive, then we have the freedom to make a good decision. We shouldn’t make a decision when a beautiful and enticing word reaches us through a song proclaiming “faith declines” and “you have all that you need.” If we had all we needed, the song wouldn’t have tugged at our great thirst for faith in the first place. It should be sung by all the modern minds who have come alive in the Catholic Church that now it is time for understanding to seek faith.
John Henry Newman was canonized by Pope Francis on October 13, the anniversary of his famous conversion to Catholicism. The saint would undoubtedly have been amused by the reception of his works after his death. In his own life, Newman found himself criticized by people on every side of opinion: by conservatives and liberals, by believers and agnostics, and by Catholics and Protestants. That he is presently quoted favorably by all of those groups would have brought an ironic smile to his famously Victorian visage.
In that spirit of irony, I will focus on three phrases key to understanding and appreciating Newman, none of which come from his published works and none of which are written in English. If we allow ourselves to be moved by these words, we may find essential guidance for our own times.
Cor ad cor loquitur
When Newman was created a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, he chose cor ad cor loquitur as his motto: heart speaks unto heart. Newman is not talking about Hallmark sentiment here. Rather, in speaking of the words of love spoken from heart to heart, Newman is talking about the intimate love between God and God’s beloved.
The poet Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that the world is truly charged with the grandeur of God. Newman, who welcomed Hopkins into the Church after a long correspondence, agreed that the world is completely saturated with God’s love and believed that this love is most surely experienced and responded to in the depths of the human heart. Those who are seized by the love of God and respond in love live the most profound communication: the heart of God speaking to the heart of man – cor ad cor loquitur.
Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem
On Newman’s tomb, he had inscribed the phrase ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem: out of shadows and phantasms into the truth. Nothing better could describe how Newman understood his own life’s journey. In the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Newman’s intellectual autobiography (or, as Bishop Barron describes it, the biography of Newman’s brain), Newman describes his long and slow journey from one of the great minds of Protestant theology finally home to Roman Catholicism. Throughout the Apologia, Newman demonstrates his constant quest for the truth. It was not enough for an idea to be satisfactory for him to accept: for Newman, it had to be true.
When Newman converted to Catholicism, he lost his entire social world, including his life at Oxford. His leadership of the Oxford Movement, the intellectual project of his life, fell apart because he no longer believed it to be true. Newman staked everything he had on the truth he had come to grasp and, at times in his life, Newman must have thought that decision a serious mistake. From our position (and from his own in the Communion of Saints), we can judge the success of his venture.
More than a century later, may we embrace the same journey: out of the shadows and phantasms into the truth.
After Newman became Catholic, he found inspiration in the life and thought of Saint Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians. Neri, a friend of Saint Ignatius and well known for his good humor, famously counseled his many followers that the way to holiness is through humility. To be humble for Neri was to love to be unknown: amare nesciri. So it was for Newman.
This of all Newman’s reminders may be the most difficult to accept. For us, an inescapable element of love is being known: when I am truly seen, when I am understood, when I am known by another, then I can be loved for who I am (or perhaps, despite who I am). When I am known in love, I can return love in kind; when I give myself in love, I am known.
Newman reminds us that the greatest danger in a desire to be known is that love for another can be mistaken for and subsumed into self-absorption and self-obsession. Far greater, then, is the love that gives without expecting a return, the love that wills to be forgotten for the sake of the beloved. If we are to truly be free to love completely, then we must learn this lesson: amare nesciri.
These precepts of Newman are not solely intellectual. Rather, they bear directly on our relationship to God, neighbor, and ourselves. They are not handy word arrows for us to use in our interminable battles over politics, culture, and religion, but rather calls to conversion. To appreciate Newman the theologian, we must understand Newman the convert, a conversion that did not begin or end with his conversion to Catholicism but encompassed his whole life on the journey to sanctity.
Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us and for our conversion.