Video: Arturo Sosa Addresses Latin American Theologians in Boston

Arturo Sosa is the current head of the worldwide Jesuit order. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The movie Silence is the story of Jesuits in Japan in the 1600s.)

This 5-minute video by Sosa gives context and direction to the leadership Pope Francis is offering the church and the world.

It was part of a unique gathering that just concluded at Boston College on the theology of Latin America. See an excerpt from the press release below:

The weeklong conference examined the role of liberation theology as Pope Francis and the Catholic Church respond to issues of globalization, migration and economic exclusion, said Boston College School of Theology and Ministry professor Rafael Luciani, a co-organizer of the conference with his Boston College colleague, professor Felix Palazzi.

Luciani said the theologians – among them professors, priests and Vatican officials – will return to their communities in the U.S., Latin America, and Spain with a renewed commitment to the Pope’s reforms and a deeper understanding of the pontiff’s own thinking, rooted in the “theology of the people” and liberation theology.

Two papal representatives, Cardinal Baltazar Porras, of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and Bishop Raúl Biord Castillo, SDB, together will present the group’s work to Pope Francis. Research and analysis from the theologians is scheduled to publish in a book later this year, said Luciani, a lay theologian from Venezuela.

The work of the conference is of particular importance in efforts to better serve Hispanic Catholics, who make up the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. church. Worldwide, more than 65 percent of Catholics live in the “Global South,” which includes Latin America and Africa.

Attending the conference were some of the leading figures in the birth of liberation theology, including Juan Carlos Scannone, SJ, a founding philosopher of the “theology of the people” and the pope’s seminary instructor, and Notre Dame University Professor Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, regarded as the founder of liberation theology.

Fr. Scannone reminded participants that the pope has called the poor “protagonists” and “makers of history.” He told the conference: “The poor should not just feel at home in church. They should feel like the heart of the Church.”

 

5 Things to Read for Thinking Catholics

“It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better … the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity to look far ahead.”Pope John XXIII

On Oct. 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII (“Good Pope John”) opened the Second Vatican Council. As American Catholics look at where we’ve been and where we want Vatican II to take us in the future, I offer this reading list below.

We are at a time ripe with conversion and energy around new ways to be Catholic that are vital for our world today. While current Vatican leadership is practicing “Curial conservatism,” fleeing backwards into the dimming halls of time, the laity continue to lean forward into “aggiornamento,” as Pope John XXIII put it, updating the modes of our faith to match the desperate needs in our world. We are taking up the Resurrection banner and carrying it forward into a world in need of the sacramental life Catholicism has to offer.

Here are 5 articles and books that are important reading for today’s Vatican II Catholics:

1. Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics by Tom Reese, SJ
Not all Catholics agree with the Church all the time, and Tom Reese, S.J., will tell you there is no point in denying it. Questioning is not, however, something most Catholics undertake lightly. These disagreements are often born out of conscience, of genuinely believing in the faith while believing equally something that is at odds with the accepted teachings of the Church. Reese, the former editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, delivered this lecture in 2006 at Santa Clara University, outlining his strategies for Catholics who think, question, doubt, debate, and disagree. I hear he’s working on turning it into a book.

2. The final interview with Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who died in August 2012. Corriere della Sera published the original interview on Sept. 1 and Commonweal offered this translation. Martini says that the Catholic Church is 200 years behind the times and called for it to recognize its mistakes and embark on a radical journey of change. He says the wealthy Church in Europe and America is worn-out. “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.” He calls for the sacraments to be a channel for healing, “not a tool for discipline.” Cardinal Martini’s short reflections remind us that there is a prophetic tradition in the church that still functions at the highest levels, even when it is obscured.

3. Navigating the Shifts by Sr. Pat Farrell, osf. This is Sr. Pat’s address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in 2012. She cogently outlines where some of the fault lines are in contemporary Catholicism, what is the American genius that we offer to the universal church, and how to move forward with disciplined wisdom. I think these are the nonviolent “marching orders” for the American Catholic liberation movement.

4. Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology by Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ. On the rare occasions when I meet up with leading Catholic writers and thinkers, I always try to ask one question: Who is doing the most important biblical or theological work right now? More often than not they give me one name: Elizabeth Johnson. A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, Beth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. Consider Jesus is a short, very accessible introduction to the critical theological questions of our time and why some theological questions are important to engage for our spiritual maturity.

5. Prophets In Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church by Sandra Schneiders, IHM. Based on her brilliant series of articles published in The National Catholic Reporter, these reflections on religious life were inspired by the Vatican’s announcement of an “Apostolic Visitation” of U.S. women religious from 2009-2011. Schneiders articulates anew the meaning of religious life, the biblical theology underlying it, the reasons for the renewal undertaken after Vatican II, and the forms of apostolic religious life that have developed since. While this book addresses an issue for Catholic women’s communities in the U.S., it is addressed to all Vatican II Catholics. She begins to frame a new form of ministry within the Catholic church–one not based on “monastic/apostolic mission” but instead on “prophetic ministry.”

What else would you add?
*Pacem in Terris, Pope John’s masterpiece encyclical
*The Good Pope by Greg Tobin — easy-to-read history of John XXIII and his work to call and open the second Vatican Council before his death from stomach cancer.

Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador

President Barack Obama lights a candle at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador, March 2011.

Below are Dean Brackley’s reflections in the National Catholic Reporter on President Obama’s recent trip to El Salvador and his visit to Archbishop Romero’s grave in the crypt of the Cathedral.

I met Dean, a Jesuit priest, at “the UCA” (University of Central America) in San Salvador in 2005. I was in El Salvador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. Brackley has been at the UCA since 1990, when he volunteered with others to step in when 6 Jesuit members of the faculty were murdered by the U.S.-funded Salvadoran military in 1989.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — President Obama and his family spent a packed overnight March 22-23 here and took the place by storm. Reactions in this polarized society couldn’t help but be mixed, but many were positive. Obama surprised and pleased most people by his historic visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero, the 31st anniversary of whose martyrdom we celebrate today.

Obama arrived under two clouds. His administration had been decisively instrumental in allowing an illegal coup to stand in Honduras a year-and-a-half ago and for the elections organized by the coup-masters to go unchallenged. And, of course, he arrived as U.S. cruise missiles were raining down on one more Arab country. While Salvadorans know tyranny of the Gaddafi stripe, they are also very sensitive to war.

Many probably sensed that Obama, like Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, has mounted a horse he cannot fully control. He said as much when asked about helping “legalize” undocumented Salvadoran immigrants in the United States: The U.S. Congress is tying his hands. (Few drew attention to the 50-odd immigrants that the U.S. has been deporting by air to El Salvador each day for the last three years.)

The most dramatic moment of Obama’s stay was his visit to Romero’s tomb in the cathedal crypt. He listened to the current archbishop, José Luis Escobar, in silence, then closed his eyes, ostensibly in prayer. Before leaving the cathedral, the protestant president lit a candle at the rack near Romero’s tomb. The press, dominated by the right, spilled barrels of ink about Romero, about his life and ministry. (The main media had air-brushed Romero from Salvadoran history until 1999 when the Anglican Church mounted his statue, along with seven other martyrs, on the façade of Westminster Abbey.) Continue reading “Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador”

On the Outskirts of the Enlightenment: Prophets, Power, and Post-Modernism

Why is this issue of the end of modernism and the beginning of post-modernism of interest to Christians?  I’m working my way through an academic paper by Jesuit priest Hugues Deletraz on Post-Modernism Opens New Perspectives for Evangelization (see earlier post ‘Modernism has reached its limits‘) to understand what are the marks of this shift and how it helps us understand changes in institutional Christianity today.

While reading Deletraz’ paper, I also picked up Hopeful Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. I love Walter’s deep Bible study and contemporary wisdom drawn from the ancient sources. (I have the honor and pleasure of working right now as his editor at Sojourners while he’s writing Living the Word, our monthly lectionary reflections, for us.)

by Banksy

In Hopeful Imagination, Walter compares and contrasts the eras of the biblical prophets around the time of the destruction of the Temple in 587 BCE with our current shift from  modernism to post-modernism. His premise is that the loss of the authority of the priestly dynasty and the temple in Jerusalem is analogous to the loss of certainty, centralized authority, legitimacy, and dominance in our own times. Here’s what he says:

“A variety of scholars are calling attention to the prospect that Enlightenment modes of power and Enlightenment modes of knowledge are at the end of their effective rule among us.  All of us are children of the Enlightenment. That cultural reality of the last 250 years has brought us enormous gifts of human reason, human freedom, and human possibility. None of us would want to undo those gifts, but they are gifts not without cost. The reality of the Enlightenment has also resulted in the concentration of power in monopolistic ways which have been uncriticized. Moreover, it has generated dominating models of knowledge which have been thought to be objective rather than dominating.

The evidence grows that the long-standing concentration of power and knowledge which constitutes our human world is under heavy assault and in great jeopardy. God’s work at transforming our world is apparent in the rise of Third World nations, the emergence of Islam as a vigorous political force, and the visibility of a variety of liberation movements. In the midst of such realities, we discover the ineffectiveness of old modes of power. American military and economic power is of course considerable, but it is not everywhere decisive. The limit of such power is matched by the limit of Enlightenment modes of knowledge, for we are coming to see that such “scientific” knowledge no longer carries authority everywhere. There is increasing suspicion of such knowledge because it has long been in the service of domination. Such knowledge arranges reality in ways that are not disinterested. Technique becomes a mode of control, and that mode is no longer easily or universally addressed.

Trust in these conventional modes of power and knowledge is matched by a growing uneasiness when those modes are critiqued or rejected.”–Walter Brueggemann (Hopeful Imagination, p. 5-6)

The question that runs through the communities addressed by the biblical prophets — particularly Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and second Isaiah — during the paradigm shift brought on by the destruction of the Temple and the forced emigration of the Hebrews is this: Are the promises of God strong enough to deal with the current collapse of our “known world”?

It’s a question we are still asking.

Doria Russell: Novelist as “God”

doriarussellforwebTwo decades ago, Mary Doria Russell, a paleoanthropologist turned novelist, was decoding the stories in ancient bones. Then she wrote two beautiful, theologically evocative books of science fiction, The Sparrow and Children of God. (You can read the preface to The Sparrow here.

I love these books and have read them over and over. Also, I interviewed Doria Russell for Sojourners last year. She’s very funny and is currently working on a novel about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The premise of The Sparrow and Children of God is that life is discovered on another planet by way of transmissions of hauntingly beautiful music. And Jesuits explorers and scientists make first contact, just as Jesuit priests were often in the vanguard of Europe’s age of discovery. Mary Doria Russell grappled with large moral and religious questions on and off the page—as she imagined the conversations and relationships between these Jesuits, the other scientists who travel with them, and the species they encounter.

Mary Doria Russell will be interviewed in a Speaking of Faith radio segment titled “The Novelist as God.” Listeners will discover what she discerned—in the act of creating a new universe—about God and about dilemmas of evil, doubt, and free will. The ultimate moral of any life and any event, Doria Russell believes, only shows itself across generations. And so the novelist, like God, she says, paints with the brush of time.

“The Novelist as God” will air on public radio stations nationwide from Thursday, January 29 through Wednesday, February 4. You’ll also be able to hear and download the program online at www.speakingoffaith.org, where you’ll find broadcast locations and times.