7 June 2018
Pope John XXIII visits Regina Coeli jail on 26 December 1958. (photo: Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images)
In many of the places where CNEWA works, there are prisons. Most have appalling conditions; many are places where hope is in short supply. The March 2018 issue of ONE, CNEWA’s magazine, chronicles the work of prison chaplains in Ethiopia who are seeking to change that. While this story is, of course, unique, it is replicated by committed Christians all over CNEWA’s world — and, in fact, the whole world — who are responding to the Gospel mandate to visit the imprisoned.
This story offers us an opportunity to reflect on where that mandate originates, and why it matters so much.
To begin with, prisons appear several times in the Bible. In the New Testament, John the Baptist is imprisoned and ultimately executed by Herod. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are imprisoned several times as is Paul. In fact, in his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes himself twice as a “prisoner of the Lord.” However, perhaps the most important appearance of prison is in Matthew 25. In his description of the Last Judgment, Jesus harshly condemns those who are “on the left side of the Son of Man.” He condemns them: “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). This is one of the harshest statements of Jesus in all the Gospels. When he explains why these people are cursed, he notes they did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick. These are actions which we would expect of a follower of Jesus, especially after he makes them quite literally the linchpins of salvation. What is interesting is that Jesus not only includes visiting the sick but also visiting the imprisoned. The seriousness of this cannot be overlooked. Visiting the imprisoned is for Jesus here a condition for salvation.
Since the time of Jesus, prisons have evolved — though, to be honest, rarely improved. In the ancient world, a prison was basically the place where criminals where held until they we executed, sold into slavery, etc. Imprisonment itself was not the punishment but merely the place where one was held before punishment.
In the Middle Ages, imprisonment itself became a punishment. The ability to execute and imprison people was a sign of power and authority and many a nobleman had a dungeon in his castle where people were held in the most degrading conditions. In the 18th and 19th centuries in England and among the Quakers in Pennsylvania a new concept of the prison evolved. These reformers saw imprisonment not merely as a punishment but as rehabilitation. Prisons became “correction facilities,” where the criminal would repent, reform and return to society as a productive, law-abiding citizen. While a noble idea, it didn’t get very far; centuries later, prisons are horrible places where a “correction facility” far too often releases people who arefrequently no better — and often worse — than when they were initially incarcerated.
Recent popes have been increasingly concerned with the plight of the imprisoned. After years as “prisoner of the Vatican,” the first pope to leave the Vatican was Pope John XXIII. On 26 December 1958 the pope’s first excursion out of Vatican City was a Christmas visit to the prisoners at Regina Cœli, the notorious Roman prison on the Gianicolo. Since that time, popes have regularly visited the imprisoned. Pope Francis has made Holy Thursday the traditional day for such a trip, traveling outside the Vatican to celebrate the Holy Thursday liturgy and wash the feet of prisoners. He is modeling for us what Christ taught — and embodying in a powerful and modern way the very message of Matthew 25.
We are privileged to follow that example in our own work. Supported by CNEWA, prison ministers — very often lay people — are bringing hope and a future to people who otherwise would not have it. Based on a deep conviction that people can change, that grace is more powerful than sin and goodness more powerful than evil, prison ministers help the imprisoned turn their lives around and ultimately return to society.
31 May 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Pope
This 18th-century icon of Mary by Pokrov Bogomateri hangs at the museum in Palekh, Russia. The Orthodox tradition reveres Mary, but never separates her from Christ. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Last week in our reflections on Mary, Mother of the Church, a new Marian feast initiated by Pope Francis, we looked at how Christians in the Western (Roman Catholic) church revere Mary. Today, we will look at how she is revered in the Eastern (primarily Byzantine Orthodox here) churches. These are churches that have a special relationship to CNEWA, for they are cornerstones of faith in many of the regions we serve. Understanding their devotion to the Mother of God helps us understand, as well, the piety of the people — many of whom draw strength and consolation from Mary.
Perhaps the best insight into the Eastern churches’ reverence for Mary can be found in “The Sanctity and Glory of the Mother of God: Orthodox Approaches” by Kallistos of Diokletia (The Way, Supplement 51, 1984), a scholar at Oxford and titular Metropolitan of Diokletia.
At the outset, Metropolitan Kallistos states that “she (Mary) is honored, revered, loved but not the subject of critical analysis. We have no developed ‘Mariology’; indeed, the very word, suggesting as it does an autonomous and systematically organized body of doctrine, has about it a non-orthodox flavor.” For Roman Catholics, accustomed to Marian devotion in the Catholic Church and (at best) Protestant discomfort with it, the Orthodox way is both interesting and important. The Orthodox approach to Mary shows that there is more than one way to approach reverence to the Mother of God and still be faithful to the church’s tradition.
Bishop Kallistos notes that — unlike in the west — there are only two titles of Mary which are fully recognized among all Orthodox: Theotokos (Mother of God) and Aeiparthenos (Ever Virgin). The primary title is Theotokos but — as the bishop correctly notes — the title speaks “not so much about the person of Mary as about the person of Christ.” Orthodox tradition never separates Mary from Christ. When Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation ”Marialis cultus” (2 February 1974) wrote of “the indissoluble link and essential relationship of the Virgin to the Divine Savior; we reject any tendency to separate devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary from its necessary point of reference — Christ,” Orthodox theologians and believers could only approve.
Bishop Kallistos treats two recent points of divergence between Catholic and Orthodox understanding of Mary, namely the Immaculate Conception (proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854) and the Assumption of Mary (Pius XII in 1952). It is not that the Orthodox reject these Catholic dogmas, although they sometimes understand them differently; rather, the Orthodox recognize that “the Mother of God was never a theme of the public preaching of the apostles,” while Christ was proclaimed to the whole world. With the traditional Orthodox sensitivity to the “ineffable” — or that which cannot be adequately expressed — Bishop Kallistos warns, “There is a danger of trying to say too much about the Mother of God. St. Basil’s warning is not to be forgotten: ‘Let things ineffable be honored in silence.’ “
The different ways of giving reverence to Mary reflect the different “theological cultures” of the Eastern and Western churches. While the West has a tendency to analyze, to define and to codify the “mysteries of the faith,” the Eastern churches have a tendency rather to contemplate in awe and silence. The same applies to a great extent to how the two traditions approach Mary in the church in the lives of believers.
We in the West might have something to learn from churches in the East. Not everything is best dissected, categorized and studied. Some things are best simply contemplated. While adding titles to the lengthy Litany of the Virgin Mary might be helpful to some Catholics, quietly entering into the deeply mystical relationship between Mary, Mother of God, and Christ her son might also be a useful thing.
24 May 2018
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Mary
Apparitions of Mary are a relatively recent phenomenon, occurring primarily in the West, but they have served to popularize devotion to the mother of Jesus. This stained glass window at St. Mary Church in Manhasset, N.Y., depicts Mary appearing to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, in 1858. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In continuing our reflections on Mary, Mother of the Church, a new Marian feast initiated by Pope Francis, we will be comparing how Christians in the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (primarily Byzantine Orthodox, here) churches revere Mary.
While CNEWA works closely with Eastern churches in much of the world we serve, our mission is also to help build bridges between East and West. Understanding Marian devotion can serve to add more planks to that bridge.
This week, let’s look to the West.
First, a little history: In the earliest days of Christianity, the role of Mary was primarily, if not exclusively, as the virgin mother of Jesus. She is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; never mentioned by name in John’s Gospel and never mentioned at all in the other books of the New Testament. This is not surprising since the kerygma — the Good News, the preaching and message of early Christians — was about Christ.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a Western Father of the Church, is one of the major theologians of the West in the first five centuries of Christianity. He produced a tremendous amount of letters, sermons, biblical commentaries and theological treatises. As A. D. Fitzgerald notes in “Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia,” Augustine never dedicated a separate treatise to Mary, “nor did he advocate a Marian devotion in any of his collected works.” Although Mary is the subject of intercessory prayer in Egypt as early as the second century, Augustine never addresses Mary as a subject of intercessory prayer.
Indeed, in the early centuries of the Western church, Mary’s role was secondary and subordinate to that of Christ. The Council of Ephesus in 431 declared that Christians could rightly call Mary theotokos, “Mother of God,” something that had been common among the Syriac-speaking Christians. However, in calling Mary theotokos, Ephesus was concerned more with saying something about Christ than about Mary. In calling Mary theotokos, ”Mother of God,” the Council was stating that in the person of Christ, humanity and divinity were so closely united that what was said of his humanity could also be said of his divinity and vice versa. Nevertheless, the title gave impetus to devotion to Mary in the church.
The Middle Ages gave rise to the troubadour tradition, which paid great and romantic honor to the “pure woman”; coupled with this was the rise of the mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, which made devotion to Mary increasingly popular. Theologians and preachers from the 12th through 14th centuries — such as Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Bonaventure, Aquinas and Duns Scotus — all wrote and preached a great deal about devotion to Mary. As a result, during this time, Mary became a very important theme in theological treatises, sermons and, significantly, art. A new “theology of Mary” — Mariology — was developed which dealt with the person, titles, privileges and reverence due the mother of Jesus.
So intense — and, at times, extreme — was the Medieval reverence for Mary that the Protestant Reformation reacted to it negatively. Devotion to Mary was judged by the reformers to be unbiblical, diminishing the centrality of Christ, and was considered by some of the reformers to be idolatrous.
At the beginning of the modern era, a new Marian phenomenon began to emerge in the West — the apparition. The mystical suddenly became visible. Mostly, but not exclusively, in Western Europe, apparitions of Mary began to be reported. We find apparitions at Guadalupe (Mexico 1531), LaSallette (France 1846), Lourdes (France 1858), Knock (Ireland 1879), and Fatima (Portugal 1917), which gave rise to intense and widespread devotion to Mary. With most of these apparitions, the center of attention situated Mary in a particular geographic and cultural context.
As we noted last week, Vatican II (1962-1965) recognized the importance of reverence for Mary and also of correcting some of the exaggerations and at times abuses that had grown up around some Marian devotions. Also, by dedicating itself to ecumenism (i.e., the work for Christian unity), the Catholic Church took seriously some of the criticisms of the Reformation.
In our own day, the church thus situates reverence for Mary in the context of the saving work of God in Christ, which is always at the center of Christian faith and life. Recognizing the importance of local pilgrimage sites, the church underlines that Mary is the Mother — not just of a particular geographic locale or culture — of the entire church.
Pope Francis’ recent institution of a new Marian feast — Mary, Mother of the Church, observed the Monday after Pentecost (21 May this year) — is the fruit of the work of Vatican II, finally giving liturgical expression to an idea as old as Ambrose but as modern as Paul VI.
Next week, we will look at how devotion to Mary evolved in the traditions of Orthodoxy.
Hailing Mary, Part 1 — Mary, Mother of the Church
17 May 2018
Tags: Catholic Church history Mary
A new feast to honor Mary as Mother of the Church will be observed the Monday after Pentecost. Marian devotion is widespread among Christians around the world. Here, an altar server prepares for the liturgy near a statue of Mary in a Syriac Catholic church in Stockholm, Sweden. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
On 8 March this year Pope Francis initiated a new feast to honor the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The feast — which will be observed on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday — will honor Mary as Mother of the Church. Monday 21 May 2018 will be the first observance of this feast in the Catholic Church.
The number of titles given to Mary in the Roman Catholic Church almost goes beyond counting. Some, like Mother of God (Greek: theotokos) are extremely ancient, while others like Mother of the Church seem more recent. In a sense,”Mary, Mother of the Church” is a title both ancient and recent.
Looking back, we find that mention of ”Mary, Mother of the Church” is rare in Catholic history. In 1895, Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical ”Adjutricem populi” (“Helper of the People”) referred to Mary as “Mother of the Church and Queen of the Apostles.” But we rarely hear mention of that title again until the Second Vatican Council.
There, it appears in the Vatican II document ”Lumen Gentium” (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 21 November 1964). After dealing with the church from almost every aspect, the bishops at the Council decided to add a chapter (VIII) on “Our Lady.” Although the Council does not give him credit, the German theologian Hugo Rahner in 1944 showed that Ambrose (ca. 340-397), bishop of Milan and a Church Father, saw in Mary a type/image of the church. The Council refers to Ambrose and this teaching and develops it.
The title ”Mary, Mother of the Church,” as understood by Vatican II, is extremely important. The church at the same Council committed itself, among other things, to ecumenism — to the work of restoring unity to Christians. The Council was aware that there have been and continue to be different attitudes towards Mary among Christians. Protestant Christians have sometimes disapproved of Marian devotion, seeing it as taking away from the unique role of Christ. Some have even seen the devotion as idolatrous.
Vatican II was aware not only of the deep importance of devotion to Mary, but also aware of some of the excesses that had grown up over the centuries. The Council “strongly urges theologians and preachers … to be careful to refrain as much from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God” (LG par. 67). It reminds the faithful “that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith.” (ibid.)
This title recognizes that faith, and recognizes Mary as the mother of all Christians. Her maternal embrace enfolds all under mantel. Modern popes have used the term repeatedly; since 1964, the title ”Mary, Mother of the Church” has been used by every pope since Pope John XXIII.
But it wasn’t until now, with this new feast, that Pope Francis has given it expression in the devotional life of the church.
Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox Christians — people with whom CNEWA works closely — have a great devotion to Mary. However, it is a devotion that is different — though no less intense — from that of Roman Catholics. We’ll explore more of that in the coming weeks.
It would be easy to believe that Pope Francis has just added another Marian feast to a liturgical calendar that is perhaps already overburdened with such feasts (a cursory reading of the liturgical calendar shows 15 Marian feasts a year). However, that is not the case. In fact, by instituting this feast, Pope Francis has countered a certain centrifugal force in Catholic Marian devotion. This centrifugal force can unmoor Mary from Christ, placing emphasis on specific geographical locations, acculturations, etc., which have at times occurred. ”Mary, Mother of the Church” focuses attention on Mary and her role within the church (very similar to the theology of Ambrose) and links her closely — indeed, inseparably — to Christ.
In the next two weeks we will look at how two ancient traditions — Catholic in the west and Orthodox in the east — revere and honor Mary, Mother of the Lord and Mother of the Church. Each tradition can enrich and also act as a corrective to the veneration of Mary among Christians.
3 May 2018
Tags: Catholic Mary
Construction workers lift wet concrete onto the roof of a new development in Kottayam, India. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
CNEWA works in many places where unemployment, long working hours and insufficient wages are endemic. The reasons for these conditions are varied: lack of opportunity, poor or no education, a culture of exploitation. CNEWA supports schools, vocation programs and job training to help people find work that promotes the common good of society and the good of families. This is accomplished by creating a situation in which workers can find dignity in their work and a just wage, which allows them and their families to enjoy the fruits of their work.
Work and human dignity are subjects long at the heart of Catholic social teaching — and they are subjects that gain renewed attention every year around “May Day,” marked on 1 May. On the Catholic liturgical calendar, this is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Both of these observances are relatively recent.
The 19th century — with the technological advantages of the Industrial Revolution, the social disruption of large numbers of people moving to cities to find work and other forces — witnessed the rise of what we call, for lack of a better term, “the workers movement.”
Of course, there had always been workers — often slaves or semi-free serfs — but the conditions of the 19th century provided conditions different from what had been before. Dangerous and oppressive working conditions were common. One need only recall the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York on 25 March 1911. In that fire 146 people — some as young as 14 — died because the employers had locked them in to prevent them taking unpermitted breaks. The Haymarket Riots on 4 May 1886 started as peaceful demonstrations of workers asking for an eight-hour workday. It ended up with several workers and police being killed by bombs and other violence.
Conditions like this prevailed both in the United States and Europe. In response to the Haymarket Riots, a “pan-national” organization of socialist and communist parties in Europe called for a day or remembrance. The first day of May became Labor Day or International Workers Day through most of Europe. Even today 1 May is a holiday in many countries in Europe. (In 1955, Pope Pius XII adopted this date for the feast of St. Joseph the Worker — in part, in response to holidays being observed in communist countries.)
In the United States, a similar movement was taking place. Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was proposed as a holiday in 1882 and became a Federal holiday in 1894. Although neither of these days solved all or even most of the problems workers were enduring, at least it gave the concerns of workers a forum where they could be expressed.
At the same time, labor unions were beginning to evolve in the face of at times extremely violent opposition from management. This inevitably involved the church.
Legal and moral questions were being asked about the relationships and responsibilities that existed between workers and employers. While some religious people looked upon the situation as the way it had always been — and, therefore, part of God’s plan — some in the Catholic Church thought differently.
Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore (1834-1921) was an advocate for justice for American workers. Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (14 September 1891) which was a major stage in the development of Catholic Social teaching regarding the rights of worker and the relationship of mutual responsibility between workers and employers, labor and management. Pope John Paul II brought Catholic sociall teaching further with the encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (14 September 1981 — the 90th anniversary of “Rerum Novarum”). In his encyclical, the pope stressed the importance and dignity of work for human beings. Work, he explained, is part of the human vocation as custodians of Creation. Since work is essential to the well-being of society, workers have a right to just wages. By “just wages/recompense,” the pope is clear that he is not talking about mere subsistence wages that “allow” a family to live — if at all — from pay check to pay check. Workers, he wrote, have the right to share in the benefits of creation, which they are providing through their work and efforts.
Pope Francis last year expressed this idea beautifully.
As Catholic News Agency reported:
According to Christian tradition, [work] is more than a mere doing; it is, above all, a mission,” the pope said.
“We collaborate with the creative work of God when, through our work, we cultivate and preserve creation; we participate, in the Spirit of Jesus, in his redemptive mission, when by our activity we give sustenance to our families and respond to the needs of our neighbor.”
Jesus of Nazareth, who spent most of his life working as a carpenter, “invites us to follow in his footsteps through work,” he continued. This way, in the words of St. Ambrose, “every worker is the hand of Christ who continues to create and to do good.”
CNEWA seeks to give that idea meaning and purpose through our own work in some of the most troubled corners of the world — carrying that mission to others and, we hope, making the Gospel come alive among those we serve.
26 April 2018
Tags: Economic hardships Pope John Paul II Employment
In this 2016 image, an Ethiopian girl fetches water from what remains of a pond during a severe drought in the Afar region of Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Every year on 22 April, the world observes Earth Day, a moment intended to focus our attention on the plight of the environment and the future of the planet. There are lectures, gatherings and celebrations all over the world. (One acute observer in New York City noted that the Earth Day observance generates an unusually large amount of trash.) Nevertheless, despite all the contradictions involved in the observance of Earth Day, its purpose is extremely important.
Modern humans are facing — or ignoring — a threat to our very existence — to say nothing of our well-being. The overwhelming consensus of modern science is that the earth is warming and that human agency plays an important though not necessarily sole role in this. Ignoring this science because it is a “theory” is simply to misunderstand science. (As a comparison: Scientists are constantly studying gravity. The most omnipresent force in the cosmos, gravity barely exists at subatomic levels and seems not to exist at all in black holes. Some scientists see gravity as not so much a force as the consequence of the curvature of spacetime. However, even though the nature of gravity is open to several theories, no one in their right mind would walk off a tall building because gravity is “only a theory.”) We dismiss or minimize science at our own peril.
The importance of taking responsibility for our planet and its future (and ours) was the opportunity for an extraordinary exercise in ecumenical cooperation — which speaks, I believe, to part of CNEWA’s mission of encouraging understanding and fostering dialogue. On 24 May 2015, Pope Francis published the encyclical “Laudato Si’ ” (the opening words of the “Canticle of Creation” of St. Francis of Assisi). The opening of the encyclical repeatedly mentions Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, and the concerns which he and Pope Francis share concerning the health of the planet and its future. A Greek Orthodox theologian was part of the committee that helped Francis write the encyclical. The pope and patriarch have agreed to work together on this issue so that both Catholic and Orthodox can witness to its importance.
Francis lists the different forces which are threatening the planet. He mentions “Pollution, waste and a throwaway culture.” Although not mentioned by Francis, a good though terrifying example of this would be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka Pacific Trash Vortex) which contains trash and plastics in various stages of decomposition. Conservative estimates see the vortex at 270,000 square miles — or roughly the size of Texas. Other measurements see it as large as Russia. This is environmental degradation on a massive scale but one which remains for all practical purposes “invisible” to most people. Francis and Bartholomew wish to change that.
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew make it very clear that this is not an issue merely for scientists or “tree huggers.” It is a moral challenge facing Christians everywhere. In the sixth chapter of “Laudato Si’ ” Francis develops the theme of “ecological education and spirituality.” He calls for a conversion of heart and action. A conversion from how we think of — or ignore — our environment, a conversion of how we use, consume and dispose of the goods of our world. Again and again in the encyclical Francis calls for an “integral ecology.” By this he means that responsibility for the environment is not something we do now and then, much less something we do only once a year on Earth Day. Rather, who we are as Christians and how we live our day to day lives must reflect our concern for the creation which has been entrusted to us by God.
We at CNEWA are often painfully aware of how people are impacted by the environment. Many of those we serve find their lives devastated by natural disasters and weather. For several years, for example, the monsoons in Ethiopia either never came or carried much less water than usual. The ensuing drought brought suffering, misery and, in some cases, death to those who had to live through it. Pollution and overfishing has threatened the livelihoods of many in south India whose lives depend on fishing. Environmentally-induced sicknesses affect the young and vulnerable in many places of the world where we work.
Earth Day and “Laudato Si’ ” are reminders — or, if necessary, wake up calls — that we as believers have a moral responsibility to remember that greed has never been a virtue, that the unjust hording of wealth and resources has never been moral that we are called by God to take care of our planet.
19 April 2018
Tags: Catholic Environment Pollution
Members of the St. Paul Prison Chaplaincy of the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, a lay organization that ministers to prisoners, travel to a facility outside of the Ethiopian capital. (photo: Don Duncan)
Last week our blog dealt with the “formation” of the clergy and members of religious orders and communities. This week we are going to look at the formation of the laity.
We focus on the subject of formation in the current edition of ONE, with stories throwing a spotlight on priests and religious sisters. But we also tell the stories of the laity.
First, we need to ask: who are they?
Vatican II defines the laity as those who are not clergy or religious (“Lumen Gentium,” par. 51). Last week, we noted that CNEWA does not directly engage in the formation of the clergy; rather CNEWA helps those who do the formation by providing them with the necessary resources to accomplish their task. It is the same with formation of the laity. CNEWA does not itself maintain any programs of lay formation. Nevertheless, wherever CNEWA is present, it supports such programs.
The Second Vatican Council attempted to make the church and its mission more effective in the modern world. Three documents published at Vatican II are extremely important for understanding the role of lay people in the church: “Lumen Gentium,” or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (21 November 1964); “Gaudium et spes,” or the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (7 December 1965); and “Apostolicam actuositatem,” or the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (18 November 1965). If, in the past, Councils had dealt primarily with questions/problems of dogma — with great emphasis placed on the Magisterium or teaching office of the church and those who carry it out — viz., the clergy — Vatican II took a different approach. Vatican II spent little or no time dealing with dogmatic or theological controversies. Rather, it looked at the church as it was (in 1965) and asked how it could be more effective in its mission — how it could use its resources better for the Kingdom of God.
Key among those resources, of course, is the laity — the ordinary people in the pews to make up the greatest part of the Body of Christ.
In a sense, Vatican II “rediscovered” the laity. While lay people were all too often defined by what they were not — not clergy, not religious — Vatican II sees lay people as those “incorporated into Christ … and [who] in their own way share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and … carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the church and in the world” (“Lumen Gentium,” par. 31). The role of the laity is: “to make the church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them [the laity] that she [the church] can become the salt of the earth” (par. 33).
The laity form a crucial and indeed indispensable part of the church’s mission. It is at this point that the formation of the laity is recognized as central to the life of the church. If people are crushed by dehumanizing poverty, by lack of education, oppression, war and debilitating yet curable diseases, there is no way they can carry out the mission entrusted to them by Christ. It is very hard for the sick, the poor and uneducated to be the leaders the church needs.
The first step of the formation of the laity, therefore, is to help them achieve a standard of living which promotes their human dignity as members of the Body of Christ. Working with local churches, CNEWA supports programs that help people recover their dignity and their futures. Wherever we work, CNEWA supports programs that promote the health, education and dignity of those whom we serve. Programs, for example, which teach people — especially women — a trade allow these people to rise above subsistence living and to begin to influence a wider world: their family, their village, their church. It helps empower them to go out spread the Gospel and change the world.
However, raising people’s standard of living and educating them for work is only a part of what the formation of the laity means.
Vatican II sees the life of lay person in the world as a life of witness and service. As people are trained, for example, to run small businesses, they need also be trained to behave as witnesses to the Gospel in the world in which they live and work. Perhaps the most important part of the formation of the laity is teaching them that their role in life is not merely to earn a living and support their family but to witness to Christ and transform the world in which they live and work into the Kingdom of God.
12 April 2018
Seminarians at St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary in Vadavathoor, a small village in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, study on campus for an exam. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
While the word “formation” may not be familiar to most Catholic Christians — at least, not as an educational term — it is very familiar to seminarians and members of religious orders. The current edition of ONE is focused (as the cover notes) on the subject of “Forming the Future,” so this is a good opportunity to explore just what that means and how “formation” figures in both the Church and the mission of CNEWA.
Since Vatican II there has been a lot of discussion about the word “formation” — not the concept — questioning whether it is the best expression of what it is trying to convey. For many members of religious orders “formation” seems to imply too much passivity. A young priest or religious just sits back and “gets formed.” Unfortunately that has sometimes been the case, producing people who are often lacking in initiative and openness. In one of his talks, Pope Francis — who, in his many years as a Jesuit, has witnessed both the strengths and weaknesses of religious formation — spoke of formation sometimes creating “little monsters.” I think many of us who spent years in religious life can recall some of the “little monsters” in our past. While the discussion about the appropriateness of the word formation goes on, the concept behind it is accepted by all.
Although CNEWA does not engage in actual formation — we do not staff or run seminaries, novitiates, etc. — we are, nevertheless, deeply involved with it in the areas where we work. This week and next, we will look at two different but related types of formation: the formation of clergy and religious and the formation of lay people. We will also see how CNEWA is involved in both.
When a person enters a seminary or a religious order, there is a long process of formation which extends anywhere from four to ten years. The religious goes through different stages of membership in the community; the seminarian has increasing involvement in the diocese where he will serve. Formation involves personal growth, spiritual discernment and learning. For seminarians and most religious there is a lengthy, multi-year program of academic studies in philosophy and theology with required courses and electives. For most seminarians, this program covers a minimum of four years.
While academic studies are extremely important — a primary principle of pastoral practice is to know what you’re talking about-- they are not the only element. Members of religious communities learn about the “charism” of their order. The “charism” is, among other things, the special spirituality of the community and the special aspect the community brings to the people it serves. Both seminarians and religious have to learn how to live authentically and as adults among the people we are called to serve.
Among other things, the formation of seminarians and religious helps them to deal in a healthy way with celibacy and how one serves credibly and with sensitivity in a community where most believers are not celibates. They learn how to be what St. Paul calls “all things to all people so that they may be saved” (1 Cor 9:22-23).
While the word “formation” may or may not be the most appropriate, the goals it seeks to achieve are extremely important. Formation programs provide the service corps of the Church. They produce clergy and religious who are educated, articulate, pastorally committed and authentic. While clergy and religious are not the only people involved in the Church’s mission (as we shall see next week), they form a critical part.
It should be obvious that formation programs require that local churches and religious communities commit a great deal of resources to them. Somewhat crudely put: good formation programs are not cheap. They requite residences, faculties — people who teach and inspire — and books, to name just a few. In all the regions from southern India to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and northeast Africa, CNEWA helps the local church educate, train, prepare — in a word, form — the leaders of the Church of the future.
It is a long-term investment that literally takes years to bear fruit. However, the future of Christianity depends upon it.
5 April 2018
Tags: Seminarians Vocations (religious)
Pope Francis blesses the faithful with holy water on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. Water has powerful religious and spiritual meaning in both Judaism and Christianity.
(photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Among Christians of all denominations, the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Season involves the blessing of water. We saw an example of this vividly last weekend when, in the Easter Vigil, Catholics throughout the world blessed water and celebrated the sacrament of baptism.
It served to remind us that water has great significance and importance in both Judaism and Christianity. Although water can and is seen as something dangerous and wild, that refers mostly to the waters of the sea, which the Hebrews held in some dread. In ancient Mesopotamia, the deity Tiamat, “the Deep,” was seen as an all devouring dragon. Water — fresh water — on the other hand was clearly a source of life. The Second Creation Account (Gen. 2:5-3:24) starts off in a dry and lifeless desert: “as yet there was no grass or shrubbery that has sprung up because God had not caused it to rain...” (Gen 2:5) Creation begins when God causes moisture (Hebrew: ’ēd) to rise from the earth.
With moisture — water — life begins.
It carries other connotations, as well. In the ancient Near East, water is often connected with the goddess of wisdom. Wisdom brings life and order. The desert is a frightening place, a “howling desert” (Deut 32:10), “a land of horror” (Isa 21:1), filled with strange and dangerous animals. There is neither city nor civilization in the desert. But with water, the wild chaos of the desert gives way to life, order and civilization — the gifts of Wisdom. We see this in scripture; in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is often connected with water (Prov 18:4; 20:5). In the New Testament, something similar can be found in the Gospel of John, which frequently connects Jesus with the Wisdom of the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have long noticed that the Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18) sounds very much like the poem about Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs (8:22-31). Later in the Gospel, Jesus calls those who thirst to come to him and drink (John 7:37-39). Echoing the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, the water which Jesus offers — his teaching — is spirit and springs up to eternal life.
The cleansing properties of water were, of course, not lost on the people of the Bible. Ritual purity was very important for the priests who served in the Temple. Purity was also important for all — priest and non-priest — who would worship at the Temple. There were many things which could render a person impure or unfit to worship in the Temple — everything from touching a dead body to coming into contact with pork. The impure person was purified by washing with water. Even today among some Jews there is the ritual of the miqveh. A miqveh is a pool connected with running (“living”) water that is used for purification. Converts to Judaism — as well as Jewish men and women who have incurred ritual impurity — are required to immerse themselves in the waters of the miqveh in order to become ritually pure once again. The Jewish community at Qumran, who were the copiers of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls,” left behind extensive ruins. A very visible part of the ruins are ritual baths or miqveh. So important is the miqveh that Jewish religious authorities hold that new Jewish communities should build a miqveh even before they build a synagogue.
Clearly Christianity has taken over a great deal of the symbolism of water found in the Hebrew Bible and incorporated it into our own faith and ritual. We observed this recently, when those symbols played a central role in the observances of Holy Week. The washing of the feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy underlines the cleansing power of water but also stresses that it is a requirement to be with Jesus (John 13:9). The symbols found in the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday reflect the destructive power of water in recalling the destruction of the Egyptians at the Sea. The waters of baptism are also a symbol of Christ’s death (Rom 6:3). However, the life-giving and cleansing powers of water are also stressed in the waters of baptism which bring newness of life.
Throughout the Bible, in both Testaments, the powerful symbolism of water is a common theme. For Christians, the recent observance of Holy Week provided a call to reflect on the powerful role of water in the faith of Christians and Jews — and a bond we share that stretches back through the centuries.
15 March 2018
Pope Francis kisses the hand of a man during a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in this 2014 file photo. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
Editor’s note: Friday 16 March marks the 20th anniversary of “We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah,” the Vatican document on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, or Shoah. This commentary on the document was written by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
It has been 20 years since the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews released the historic document “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah”; an important step in the relationship between Catholics and Jews and an act of repentance on behalf the Catholic faithful — clergy and laity alike.
Though reception of the document varied within the Catholic and Jewish communities upon its release, ranging from fierce criticism to felicitous reception, it was recognized for what it was — an advancement for Catholic-Jewish relations through Catholic acknowledgment of the deficiencies of people of faith and cultural ambivalence toward European Jewry during the Second World War. This statement is by no means a final repentance or a complete reconciliation between our two communities, but it is a solid starting point for the growth of Catholic-Jewish spiritual friendship and mutual concern.
The history of Christian-Jewish relations is wrought with tension, demeaning rhetoric and flat out anti-Judaism. However, since the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate” (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church with non-Christian Religions) with special attention to paragraph 4, the church has been intentional in building friendship based on mutual trust and respect with the Jewish community. For relationships to flourish and dialogue to bear fruit, we, as Catholics and people of faith, must acknowledge the grim reality of our past in the hope of a more fruitful future.
Related: Seeking Interfaith Harmony
Remembering the Holocaust
In 2001, the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, at the then-National Conference of Catholic Bishops, produced a companion teaching tool to the Vatican document titled “Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See’s ‘We Remember.’ ” It was developed to “help Catholic educators begin developing curricula and other educational programs on the Holocaust.” The Shoah’s relevance to Catholic education is and will continue to be integral. It is a difficult subject to speak about, to teach about, and to learn about. It is equally difficult to understand how a Christian culture could perpetrate such atrocities, and what this history means for our current cultural context. However, it is necessary.
“The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable” was published in 2015 by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate.” Like “We Remember,” this document is another effort at offering practical insights regarding theological and pastoral progress between Catholics and Jews, outlining the historical and current realities between Christians and Jews.
Though much has been done to enhance Catholic-Jewish relations, it is unacceptable that anti-Semitism is a thread which continues to be woven in American society. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently released its annual report of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. The report states that there was a 57 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, rising from 1,267 in 2016 to 1,986 in 2017.
In our increasingly polarized society where bigotry feeds upon humanity’s basest qualities, we must be diligent in returning to our institutional memory of the Shoah. “We Remember” is a tool to nurture our memory to, in the words of St. John Paul II, “play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never be possible again.”
As the church has made major strides in moving beyond the sin of anti-Semitism, I implore all the faithful to take stock of our lives and our relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters and to reflect upon, learn from and pray for the continued growth of Catholic-Jewish friendship.
May our fervent prayer be that of St. John Paul, offered on the occasion of the promulgation of “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah” 20 years ago. “May the Lord of history guide the efforts of Catholics and Jews and all men and women of goodwill as they work together for a world of true respect for the life and dignity of every human being, for all have been created in the image and likeness of God.”
Read the full document “We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah.”