Friday, July 24, 2015

Francis isn't enough

by Miguel Cruzado Silveri, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La República
July 16, 2015

Pope Francis' personal leadership is opening paths for renewal in the Catholic Church. At the same time, little by little, his words and gestures are turning into institutional changes in Church structure and teaching. However, the Church is above all a community of the faithful so changes must ultimately be manifested in the lives of the believers, in how they celebrate, value and give reason for the faith they share.

Is church renewal reaching the life and voice, the internal culture and the public voice of the faith communities of Peru? For now, one senses no notable changes. Isn't enthusiastic support for Francis -- now on the front pages of our newspapers -- or renewal of the Curia enough for this profound change? What does the reception of Francis and the church renewal process require to grow in the church in Peru?

Charismatic leadership like Francis' was necessary to break inertia and redirect courses in a time of ecclesial confusion and crisis. This was understood by the College of Cardinals when he was elected. The weight of papal authority in a charismatic-traditional institution like the Catholic Church is crucial to any change. So Francis' vision and personal leadership, coupled with the force of traditional papal authority, have opened the door for possible renewal.

This renewal is in continuity with the Second Vatican Council -- speaking of faith in dialogue with the realities of the world and the real concerns of the people. Biblical mercy and compassion not in the abstract but questioning a global culture of selfishness and exclusion. Dialogue and Christian love, accepting without judging those whom we used to despise. Renewal of biblical concern for the poor -- no longer focusing Christian morality on sexual morality alone. Openness to interfaith encounters at a time of raging religious violence in many parts of the world. Clarity in face of the limitations and sins the Church must acknowledge and confront. It's all Christianity as usual, made specific to today.

But charisma is not enough. It is necessary that the "gestures and words" become a sustainable institution and guide the ends, rules, and principles of the Church.

Indeed, the normative institutionalization of this renewal is also becoming evident. The Magisterium, or church teaching, has already incorporated new elements: the concept of "integral ecology" in the latest encyclical and the inclusion of urgent issues about the family in the October synod are far-reaching lines of thought. There are new leaders on the Christian altars such as Blessed Romero, John XXIII, and the martyrs of Pariacoto. The structure of the Curia is being reformed and new commissions are guiding institutional procedures and decisions. The Vatican financial system is being restructured. Prevention and action in situations of clerical abuse is more rigorous and professionals and victims are involved in it.

The changes are already evident, although it is true that there is some way to go in reshaping the ecclesial institutions to Francis' viewpoint -- the issue of collegiality and the exercise of authority, the involvement of the perspective of the faithful, the role of women in church reflection and guidelines. There is still a lot of "institution" to renew and build or rebuild.

However, the meaning and future of church renewal ultimately depend on its reception in the communities of the faithful. Reception is not just repetition, but embodying the renewal message and bringing it into dialogue with the specific situation of society and the Church of Peru. That is, it's not enough to repeat Francis but it's about thinking and speaking the message in our own words in our communities and contexts. This requires that voices emerge in Peru that take the risk of thinking and talking about it in their own words in our communities and contexts. Christian lay people in the various spheres of national life and in their own Christian communities as well as bishops, priests and religious communities have to take the risk of expressing themselves.

Ecclesial renewal in Peru will not come about only from scattered individual adherence to Francis' message, or from admiring the far-off renewal of the Roman Curia. Everything depends on the reception of the message for our context and therefore on the creativity and ability to risk that Christians of Peru are willing to assume. Ability to risk because it's a risk to preach and practice mercy in the context of the various kinds of violence we are experiencing.

It's a risk to welcome differences and clearly reject our forms of contempt -- our racism, our homophobia -- that have become so normal, remembering that all types of marginalization exist in our churches, sometimes being endured silently. It's a risk to sing "Laudato Si'" to nature and common life when it seems that development has to do with the values of "every man for himself" or "produce even if it's destructive." Church issues in the context of Peru today may sound like pessimism or mediocrity. The acceptance and mercy to which we are called may cause scandal in and out of our communities. We may have to take on difficult responsibilities and acknowledge our sin. None of this will make us popular in opinion polls.

Reception, by going beyond simply repeating and forcing us to rethink our way of being, opens the door to the unexpected. When being open to the mysterious dynamism of the Spirit, it is normal that -- like at Pentecost --there's no more room for silence or the single voice of fear, and different voices begin to resonate, hues and colors are diversified, the door opens to the surprise that opens to a new world in almost all the parables.

Therefore, Francis is not enough. Francis knows that Francis alone isn't enough.

*Fr. Miguel Cruzado, who is from Peru, is a General Counselor to the Father General and Regional Assistant for South Latin America for the Society of Jesus

The undeferrable inclusion of women in the Church

By Consuelo Vélez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Fe y Vida: Blog de Consuelo Vélez
July 7, 2015

One of the important tasks that has been done at the feminist hermeneutics level has been recovering the presence of women in the Bible, delving deeper into the role they played in the biblical story and helping those figures be more familiar to us so that we value the legacy they have left us. However, one still notes the confusion that exists about some of them and ignorance of the importance they had. Let's look at two examples.

First, the figure of Mary Magdalene. Although there have been many writings about her already, it isn't too much to dwell on this character because freeing people from the images we draw over them isn't easy, and Mary Magdalene is a very telling example. It seems that most people think that Mary Magdalene was a sinner -- and not just any sin, but she is labeled a prostitute, and therefore a "great" sinner, sexual sins being considered more serious than others when, in fact, one ought to denounce as forcefully or more, social injustice and many other aspects that steal the life of the weakest, with whom Jesus (Mt 25:40,45) identified.

Well, Mary Magdalene isn't that character. What happened was that tradition confused her with the repentant sinner who entered the house of Simon and fell at the feet of Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with oil (according to the text of Luke 7:37-38), which is different from the anointing at Bethany (Mt 26:6-7) in which a woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus' head. And when Simon thinks that Jesus doesn't know she's a sinner because if he had known, he wouldn't have let his feet be washed, the answer he gets is the logic of forgiveness and love -- "because she has been forgiven much, she loves much." Thus Jesus challenges Simon because he might think himself as faithfully fulfilling the law but perhaps he doesn't have the experience of love that comes from receiving forgiveness. But again, this passage refers to that woman (who isn't named in the story) and not to Mary Magdalene.

The texts that really refer to Mary Magdalene are different ones. On the one hand, in Luke 8:2 which talks about the women accompanying Jesus, Mary Magdalene "from whom seven demons had gone out" is named (this is also told in Mark 16:9). The demons mean a very serious disease and the number seven symbolizes the whole, that is, Mary Magdalene had been fully cured. This is very different from believing her to be a prostitute. And, on the other hand, the other texts refer to her following of Jesus at moments during the Passion -- in those texts she appears with other women -- and most importantly and significantly, when she goes to the tomb and Jesus appears to her, making her the first witness of the resurrection of the Lord (Jn 20:11-18).

The second example relates to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, who makes a confession of faith equal to that of Peter. When Jesus asks her if she believes that he is the resurrection and that "whoever believes in him, even if he dies, will live," she replies, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." (Jn 11:27). In turn, when Jesus asks his disciples, "And who do you say I am?," Peter replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt 16:15-16) Most readers, surely, knew Peter's response but hadn't noticed Martha's confession of faith.

In these times when the full participation of women in church life is becoming undeferrable, to remember the witness of these women is to continue working, as Paul says in his letter to the Romans, for the renewal of our mind, that we "may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." (Rom. 12:2). A truly inclusive church, with the effective participation of all its members, can not but be good, pleasing, and perfect, according to the will of God for man and woman, created in God's image and likeness. (Gen 1:27)