New Year's Hopes

Some of my hopes for the Roman Catholic Church in 2004:

That if Pope John Paul II dies this year, the Movement of the Spirit will be such that the new pope will help guide the church into the 21st century and some reconciliation between the so-called Liberal Catholics and so-called Conservative Catholics.

That Women's Ordination will no longer be a taboo topic for discussion among Catholics.

That the heirarchy will stop its focus on pelvic politics and continue its legacy of social justice work.

That more progressive women will remain in the church, despite their frustrations, taking as their example Rosa Parks who refused to remain in the back of the bus, but she stayed in the bus she was trying to change.

Meet Jon Sobrino

It's a slow week in Catholicville though the Pope made some news Christmas Week with a statement for the preservation of the traditional family, even though he himself does not live in one. Go figure.

Anyway, thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you regular Blog readers -- are there any? -- to the beauty of Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit priest who traveled to El Salvador in 1957 and was transformed. He awoke to the suffering of Third-World dwellers and he has shared his words and insights ever since. He and others have called for a new ecumenical council (Vatican III?) to address the concerns of those in Third World countries.

It's liberation theologians, and others who work so hard for global social justice, that keep what I consider the more progressive Catholics entrenched in this faith tradition. It's such a great legacy and Sobrino is one of its heroes, even though he wouldn't like that label.

In a 1991 article "Awakening from the Sleep of Humanity" published in The Christian Century, Sobrino wrote: "We have learned that the world's poor are practically of no consequence to anyone -- not the people who live in abundance nor to the people who have any kind of power. The First World is not interested in the Third World. As history shows, it is interested only in ways to despoil the Third World in order to increase its own abundance."

To read more Sobrino, check out any of the books listed here. He's a great person to meet as the New Year dawns.

Merry Christmas

It's a busy week for everyone, so I'm only doing one posting. A Merry Christmas posting. This is one time of the year that Catholics of all stripes can rejoice together on some common ground.

Some random thoughts:

Those of us raised Catholic always had some relief from the intensity of the consumerism because religious traditions were mixed in. Midnight Mass used to be a big tradition in many families, but in recent years churches have placed those Masses earlier in the evening. As an aging baby boomer, and a morning person too, I'm grateful. But I wonder what is lost for our young people who miss the gloriousness of that Midnight Mass. Staying up way past your bedtime as a child always made everything that happened in that time more special, including Mass.

That letdown on Christmas Day -- after the presents have been open and the big meal eaten, and the dark at 4 p.m. -- now reminds me of John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. Those hollow spiritual times we must honor to move on. It can't be Christmas every morning.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all...

Da Vinci Code: Take III

The Dec. 15 issue of America magazine had a review of Dan Brown's mystery novel The Da Vinci Code. The review, written by Gerald O'Collins, author or co-author of 43 books and professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, debunks some church history presented as "fact" in the book.

Some excerpts:

"The Da Vinci Code teems with historical misinformation. The claim that the Emperor Constantine shifted the Christian day of worship to Sunday (p. 232) is simply false. Evidence from St Paul and the Acts of the Apostles shows that, right at the start of the Christian movement, Christians replaced Saturday with Sunday as their day of worship. Sunday was the day when Jesus rose from the dead. What Constantine did on March 3, 321 was to decree Sunday to be a day of rest from work. He did not make Sunday the day of worship for Christians; it was already that from the first century."

"Killing so-called witches was a horrible crime in the story of Christianity. But the idea that the Catholic Church burned at the stake “five million women” (p. 125) is bizarre. That kind of savagery would have depopulated Europe. Experts give instead the statistic of around 50,000 victims for the three centuries of witch hunts carried out by Catholics and Protestants. But it suits the tenor of Brown’s book to multiply the figure by one hundred."

The Divinity in Saddam Hussein

In theology classes at Gonzaga University, we often talked about the spark of divinity that exists in every human being, according to Catholic teachings. It's also a topic theologians like to write about.

It's great in theory, but then someone like Saddam Hussein looms in the world and in the news. I was happy he was caught yesterday, happy he is now in a place where he can do no more harm, but my theology classes came back to me as I wondered: "Where is the divinity in Saddam Hussein?"

I found it in his eyes. In the photos broadcast to the world, he looks like a homeless man dragged off the streets and into a shelter, or a jail. He had wild but very sad eyes. That's where I glimpsed the divinity, in the brokenness of an old man who surrendered to get out of a hole, literally.

Pelvic Theology Meets Pelvic Politics

Yes, I'll admit I was exasperated that U.S. Catholic Bishops decided it would be OK to monitor, and punish, politicians who stray too far from church teachings. Linda Campbell, an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram explained the uneasiness best in a syndicated column we ran today on our opinion page. See article.

I think ithe decision showed an old-style arrogance and old-fashioned meddling and punishing and I can't believe it will play well with sophisticated Catholics. And the timing is terrible. The hierarchy has so many issues with cleaning up their own houses re: the sex abuse scandal. Why are they focusing on the political Houses?

As reported by Catholic World News, one bishop was brave enough to express concern when the issue was discussed at the bishops meeting this fall. "Any statement that tells people how to vote will be ill-received by Catholic and non-Catholic alike," said Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York. "If a Catholic officeholder changes his position on life issues of abortion or the death penalty ... he or she could well be accused by political opponents of caving in to the dictates of the church, a tool of the bishops," Bishop Hubbard said. "We should trust people ... to cast their votes."


The Energizer Peace Pope

Rumors of the Pope's demise have calmed down in recent weeks. Just checked in at National Catholic Reporter Web site to see if its great Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr., had any updates in his Word from Rome column. Found this item of interest that serves as a reminder of the Pope's continuing power to influence world peace.

Allen writes: "Officers of the Simon Wiesenthal Center were in Rome this week to give John Paul II a humanitarian award for "forging an unprecedented relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people,” as well as a “profound commitment to world peace and tolerance.” The pope joins previous honorees such as Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher, and (the Wiesenthal Center is in Los Angeles, after all) celebrities Michael Douglas and Billy Crystal.

"Rabbi Marvin Hier called on the pope to join efforts to have suicide bombings declared a crime against humanity. Hier said an “international mechanism” should be set up to put suicide bombers on notice, as has been done for war criminals in Africa and the former Yugoslavia.

“If the pope says ‘this is the crime of the 21st century and we have to do something about it,’ that will provide the fodder for political leaders to do more than they have done, because they have ignored this subject,” Hier said.

The Common Ground of Advent

The liturgical season of Advent, which began Sunday, is observed by many Catholics. The custom is simple yet reassuring. Every night, you light a purple candle in an Advent wreath and say a prayer. Each week of Advent, you add another candle, so by the last week, you light four candles. The fourth week candle is pink and as a child, it was so exciting to see that pink candle finally lighted. Christmas was near!

No matter the political persuasion of individual Catholics, observing the seasons of the church provides common ground. The liturgical season of Advent provides a respite from the commercialism around Chirstmas. It takes the focus off material gifts and helps people ponder spiritual gifts.

I believe that many liberal Catholics remain rooted to the church because of these traditions that began in childhood. Advent is an important one.

I found two good Web sites with Advent prayers and practices. is described as "a web site for sharing and learning about parenting and faith issues." It offers prayers for Advent and even blessings for the Christmas tree.

American, home of the online editions of St. Anthony Messenger, Catholic Update, Millennium Monthly, Youth Update, Scripture From Scratch, offers brief and good reflections for each day of Advent.

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