Feast Day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Flossenberg memorial to resistance members killed April 9, 1942. 2 Timothy 1:7: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
Flossenberg memorial to resistance members killed April 9, 1942.
2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

Bill Wylie-Kellermann studied Bonhoeffer with Paul Lehmann, Bonhoeffer’s friend and colleague at Union Seminary NYC. The life and times of Bonhoeffer are instructive for us today. Below is both Bill’s reflections for today, 70 years after Bonhoeffer’s execution by the Nazis.

And also reflections from Victoria Barnett, staff director of the Committee on Ethics, Religion, and Bonhoeffer scholar at the Holocaust at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both reflect on Bonhoeffers 1942 Christmas letter.

“We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the power-less, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.”— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christmas letter to friends and co-conspirators (1942)

Seventy years ago today, just weeks before the fall of Berlin in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was marched naked into the yard of Flossenberg Concentration Camp and hanged with piano wire for being an enemy of the Nazi state. He was 39.

Bonhoffer may be said to have literally written the book on radical discipleship. For several generations his Cost of Discipleship has provoked conversion, focused hearts, signified the way. It is perhaps most famous for its opening meditation contrasting “cheap grace” – grace as commodity, principle, doctrine – with “costly grace” which is grace to die for – the way of discipleship and the cross. “When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die.” … — Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Read the rest of Bill’s post at Radical Discipleship here.

Vicky Barnett is the coeditor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works project, the English translation series of Bonhoeffer’s complete works (Fortress Press). Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church movement are viewed quite differently between Christians and Jews.

In December 1942, Bonhoeffer sent a Christmas letter (“After Ten Years”) to his closest friends in the resistance. In a bitterly realistic tone, he faced the prospect that they might fail, and that his own life’s work might remain incomplete. He may have wondered, too, whether his decision to return to Germany and to work in military intelligence had been the right one. “Are we still of any use?” he wrote:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

The necessities of subterfuge and compromise had already cost him a great deal. He pondered the different motives for fighting evil, noting that even the finest intentions could prove insufficient. “Who stands firm?” Bonhoeffer asked:

Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call.

In this letter, one of Bonhoeffer’s most moving and powerful writings, the various threads of Bonhoeffer’s life and work came together. He had been one of the few in his church to demand protection for the persecuted as a necessary political step. He had called upon his church, traditionally aligned with the state, to confront the consequences of that alliance. The church struggle, as he wrote Bishop George Bell in 1934, was “not something that occurs just within the church, but it attacks the very roots of National Socialism. The point is freedom. . . .”

Continue reading “Feast Day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

Voice of Conscience for Catholic Sisters Gathers Outside Vatican Embassy in D.C.

Today I’ll be joining the support vigil for U.S. Catholic sisters held in Washington, D.C. We’ll be delivering a letter to Pope Benedict via the Vatican nuncio.

These tensions between Catholic church hierarchy and prophetic witness and ministry are nothing new in the history of the church, but when they bubble up it’s important to show up and be visible on behalf of those who exemplify the gospel; in this case the Catholic sisters.

“You shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). When I look at the fruits of the bishops and the fruits of the sisters, my answer as to where to stand is clear. I’m posting below the letter we will deliver:

Most Holy Father:

On this Tuesday after Pentecost, we write to you in prayer and in fervent hope that you will create gracious space for the Spirit’s action by withdrawing the mandate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that was issued on April 18 to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

On May 18, you highlighted “the urgent need in our own time for credible and attractive witnesses to the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel.” In the United States, no Gospel witnesses are more effective, credible, and attractive than Catholic Sisters. U.S. Sisters shine as beacons of God’s love in schools, hospitals, among immigrants, among the poor and powerless. With the leadership and support of LCWR, they forge paths of faith, hope, and charity, sacrificing their own comfort and even their lives. The witness of the Sisters’ daily work and prayer signifies far more than the CDF’s concerns with particular words or the absence of words in LCWR materials.

We gather today in solidarity with the LCWR as Catholics and others whose lives have been profoundly touched by Catholic Sisters. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide LCWR and CDF, and to give them courage, strength, and wisdom to discern their journey in Christ. To clear the path, we ask Your Holiness to cast aside the stumbling block of the CDF mandate. And we pray that all will find the humility required for radical openness to the Holy Spirit.

In content and process, the CDF mandate is not consistent with the respect, collegiality, and mutuality that characterize relationships among people of mature faith. St. Paul reminds us that to live in Christ’s Easter peace means to “live in a manner worthy of the call… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4).

The CDF has questions and concerns about the LCWR. If Jesus tells his disciples that they are his friends, not his servants (John 15:9-17), then surely that is the appropriate relationship between the CDF and the LCWR. A conversation among people of good will from both CDF and LCWR could bear rich fruit for the Church as a whole, if it occurs in love, respect, mutuality, even solidarity. In this dialogue, the CDF mandate is both unwarranted and out of place.

In celebrating Pentecost, we find hope and courage in the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, “the Advocate, whom I will send you from the Father” (John 15:26). Mindful of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council this fall, we take to heart the sacred responsibility recognized in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to fulfill our obligation “to express [our] opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church” (Chapter 4, Sec. 37). The Church needs breathing room where all of us can pause in prayer and where the mighty breath of the Spirit can enable us to be receptive to the gifts of the Spirit so we may bear fruit in Christ’s name. For the good of the Church, we ask you to withdraw the CDF mandate.

Follow more of this story at Sisters Under Scrutiny.

Conscience, Power, and Obedience: A Conversation Among Catholics

Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association

A quick round-up of “some things Catholic.” First, the American Catholic Council‘s Janet Hauter has a short reflection (see below) on the American bishops and power that illustrates the deep theological divide at the foundation of of post-Vatican II Catholicism and the current issue between the US Catholic bishops and the Obama administration. Hauter highlights David DeCrosse’s excellent NCR article on the “Bishops’ Conscience Model.”

Next, the newly formed Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (self-described “Vatican II priests“) will have its inaugural convention in June. This is part of a world-wide movement of priests forming their own associations, not under control of the bishops’ conference, in order to discuss issues happening within their churches and speak with a unique voice. Continue reading “Conscience, Power, and Obedience: A Conversation Among Catholics”