Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Before the Feast of St. Igantius of Loyola. . .

. . .an essay linking two ways of considering the saint; how he would have responded to the most recent Jesuit General Congregation 35; and peering toward the future has been offered by Father Ron Darwen, S.J., of the British Province.
Father Darwen's contributes to the online British journal, Thinking Faith.

Will the Real Ignatius Please Stand Up? is a fine way to prepare for tomorrow's feast.

Wiki-image of St. Ignatius of Loyola is in the public domain.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pope in Australia

Mr. John L. Allen Jr. reviews Pope Benedict's first World Youth Day in Australia.

This blogger is still on vacation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Vacation in. . .

Cohasset, Massachusetts, until the end of July. [The photo is by user ragutis.]

A Look at Catholicism in Canada

This look is the fruit of an interview by Mr. John L. Allen Jr. with Italian Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the current Apostolic Nuncio of Canada.

Before the interview one Mr. Allen briefly set things into context:
the construction of a vibrant Catholic sub-culture, more inclined to push back against Canada's prevailing secular consensus.

At the level of senior leadership, the transformation has been remarkably rapid. Of Canada's 18 archdioceses, 12 are now led by bishops appointed since Italian Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the current Apostolic Nuncio, arrived in 2001. Seven of those new bishops were appointed or installed in 2007 alone. (The real number is actually eight, since Archbishop Michael Miller was also named coadjutor in Vancouver that year, and should take over in relatively short order.) The impact has been especially noticeable among the country's English-speaking bishops, with additional appointments in Quebec likely in the next few years.

This column Mr. Allen posted on the last Friday in May 2008.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Roman Appointment by Pope Benedict

In his weekly column, Mr. John L. Allen Jr. wrote that
the most sensitive jobs in the Holy See under Benedict XVI are generally going to "affirmative orthodoxy" personalities. In the end, I suspect this will be remembered as a defining feature of Benedict's papacy -- his intriguing way of blending the bitter with the sweet, of combining doctrinal clarity with personal dolcezza.
His most recent appointment filled the vacancy of the top doctrinal Vatican position. The pope name Jesuit Fr. Luis Ladaria, a Spaniard, as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In his column Mr. Allen shares
a sampling of what I heard about Ladaria from various sources, some of them fellow Jesuits, some fellow theologians, and some Vatican personnel who've had dealings with Ladaria. The comments span the spectrum of theological positions, cultures, and languages.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday word, 13 Jul 2008

15th Sunday of the Year A (13Jul2008) Is 55. 10-11; Ps 65; Rm 8. 18-23; Mt 13. 1-23
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Decision, Growth, Choice

Today’s gospel is the beginning of a chapter in which Jesus used parables to teach his disciples--and us--about God’s power to transform and to renew people and all creation. It may help us to ponder more deeply if we consider the question, What is a parable?

A parable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, with a moral or religious lesson. It differs from a fable in which animals, plants, lifeless objects and forces of nature are actors--think of Aesop’s fables--while parables generally feature human actors. The actor in Jesus’ parable today is human, a sower of seed.

A parable is simple in design. With realism and familiarity, it sketches a setting--today, a plot of land; describes an action--someone scattering seed; and shows the results--some seed grew, some did not. A parable often involves a person facing a difficult moral choice. Jesus spoke in parables to direct attention to him and his way of living. Jesus always demands our choice.

A contemporary theologian repeated an important point when I heard her several years ago: “Parables are stories about ordinary men and women who find in the midst of their everyday lives surprising things happening. [Parables] are not about ‘giants of the faith’ who have religious visions.”/1/ Indeed! Parables are about people like us, people choosing Jesus repeatedly and entrusting our lives to his gracious power, power we can’t explain.

Immediately before the verses we heard as our first reading, Isaiah, long before Jesus, had announced for God that God’s ways are not human’s ways/2/. We heard Isaiah offer a clue to the mysterious nature of divine power. Working in patterns unseen and without our scientific understanding, like the pattern of rain-evaporation-condensation-rain, God’s word gives us life and saves us, achieving the end for which I sent it. Life is God’s goal.

When it comes to the way God achieves God’s goal of real life, I feel the helpful proverb, “God writes with crooked lines,” limps. Surely God writes upside down and backward!

The dying and rising of Jesus, which is the source of real life and offers real life to us at each moment, shocks us when we’re honest. Jesus prepared us by teaching in parables to accept him, our crucified Messiah, as the parable of God and God’s life. Those who have ears, let them hear is not about human acoustics only; Jesus’ words closing his parable invite us to accept Jesus with and by our lives.

This parable of Jesus by which he began teaching his disciples teaches us with its elements of decision, growth and choice: of decision--the sower sowed seed despite the consequences; of growth--successful and frustrated; and choice--Those who have ears, let them hear. Like the first hearers of Jesus’ parable, we, also, are to choose to ponder and explore how Jesus moves in our lives, how Jesus transforms them and the ways we respond.

Our lives, in the parable’s language, are soil. Alone we may be unable to change it from hard and shallow. Jesus graces us to make our lives deep, rich soil. Keeping hearts and minds focused on Jesus, allows us to make the calculated risks of responding in faith with our fragile lives, which God in Jesus transforms by the power of their Holy Spirit.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week first pause to rest in the creative, loving, fruitful and nourishing love of the Trinity. Ask the crowds of heaven to present you to Jesus. Praise and thank Jesus for the “surprising things” Jesus has done or is doing in and with your life. Become of aware of Jesus addressing you, which may register as Jesus inviting you to keep choosing him; Jesus reassuring your faith-response to him; or Jesus allowing something new to emerge on the horizon of your life. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words allow us daily to ask concretely for him to nourish us with his desires for us and to encourage us to cultivate his desires in and with our lives.

/1/ Sallie McFague TeSelle, “Parable, Metaphor, and Theology,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 42.4 (December 1974:630-645). She spoke at a Convocation at The Divinity School, Yale University, some years ago, and I noted her remark emphasized the ordinariness of the actors above the ordinariness of the circumstances; the latter is mentioned more often about parables than the former.

/2/ Isaiah 55.8-9.
Wiki-image of Van Gogh's The Sower is in the public domain. Wiki-image of rain on grass is used according to GFDL.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday word, 06 Jul 2008

14th Sunday of the Year A (06Jul2008) Zech 9. 9-10; Ps 145; Rm 8. 9,11-13; Mt 11. 25-30
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Freedom Tour

Jesus has been sung as gentle, meek, mild and loving down through the ages. Today’s gospel points to those qualities, which Jesus embodied. The first reading recalled those qualities were within the heart of God long before God in Jesus walked with us. Take a tour of torah with me and see.

Torah is that Hebrew word I try to help people appreciate because it has everything to do with Jesus and his mission portrayed by Matthew’s gospel. Torah is rich in meanings. Torah is text: it refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Books of Moses. Moses was God’s mouthpiece, who established God’s covenant with the people God liberated from slavery to be uniquely God’s own. An outstanding feature of that covenant was that God was a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity./1/ By covenant God demanded these very qualities of the people God liberated. Spending one’s life trying to embody those divine qualities makes a person uniquely God’s own.

also means “commandment.” God offered people ways to embody true mercy, patience, kindness and fidelity. Torah is not trapped in its text but comes alive as people embody it day to day. The many commandments of the relationship with God called Judaism may seem frivolous or even meaningless to us. Each commandment offered a way to live the covenant with God; to be godly; and to draw others to God. Torah is not trapped between the covers of a bible. A Jewish friend once told me, “Judaism is not a religion, it’s a way of life.” Torah is a way of living.

The scribes and Pharisees became overly focused on the commands found in the text of torah, and they forgot their purpose: to live God’s covenant by practicing true mercy, patience, kindness and fidelity. They didn’t see torah’s commands as a pattern of freedom but became enslaved by them and sought to enslave others, too. Yes, the scribes and the Pharisees [had] taken their seat on the chair of Moses. It would have been better if they just sat, but they acted; so Jesus warned, “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them./2/ A new, human bondage Jesus transformed into a redeeming bond because Jesus personified torah. To appreciate torah better appreciates Jesus. To encounter Jesus, who personified torah, is to encounter the desires of God. Jesus is the destination of this tour: from text to covenant-action to person, who models for us how to live.

Because Jesus was gentle and meek, Jesus personified membership in the realm of the merciful and gracious God. Jesus revealed the desires of God just as torah did. Jesus freed people from the hardships imposed by scribes and Pharisees by offering an easy yoke. Torah was the first “yoke of the kingdom of God.”/3/ Jesus replaced it by fulfilling it and revealing it, so that we might learn from the one who personifies God’s desires, God’s heart and God’s covenant.

Down through the ages, as people lost connection with God’s heart, many saw Jesus as a milksop, not the messiah; as misguided, not the new Moses. Take your tour, a tour of yourself and of the ways Jesus desires to free you; to guide you to truly real life; to reconnect you with himself, his Father and other people; and to allow others to meet Jesus through you.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause and tarry with the Trinity, who create, redeem and sustain you. Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus and meet him as if for the first time. Praise and thank Jesus for and redeeming you. Ask Jesus to reveal to you your greatest need. I offer examples to jump-start your prayer:
Is your inmost self starved for quiet? Ask Jesus to anoint you with his peace. Do you desire everything or unnecessary things? Ask Jesus to reveal to you what will increase your desire for his life for you. Do you allow fleeting things to shape you? Learn from Jesus his timeless gift he offers you to transform you and make you his disciple.
Close by saying slowly that prayer Jesus taught us, which binds us closer to him not with chains but with a pattern of freedom--his freedom, faith’s freedom, in order to walk with him and learn him.
/1/ Exodus 34.6.
/2/ Matthew 23.2-4.
/3/ Moshe Weinfeld, Normative and Sectarian Judaism in the Second Temple Period. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, pp. 34-35.

I am indebted to my teacher of New Testament, Luke Timothy Johnson, who taught me about torah and helped me meet Jesus, who personified it. He made his course available to a wider audience when he published it as The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1986, rev. 1999.
Wiki-images of a page from a manuscript of Matthew's gospel (the genealogy of Jesus) and of a torah scroll are in the public domain.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday word, 04 Jul 2008

Mass for Justice and Peace (04Jul2008) Is 32. 15-18; Ps 85; Jms 3. 13-18; Mk 12. 28-34
Homily of Rev. Paul D. Panaretos, S.J.
“Follow Up Our Faith”

Last night two of us watched the movie, “Amazing Grace,” whose author, John Newton and his personal conversion from slaver to champion of freedom moved William Wilberforce to serve God by whom he felt called through his political career. Wilberforce sought the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, and after 18 years Parliament suspended slavery and the Crown assented to its bill.

While at first blush the historical particulars may not suggest independence, Mr. Wilberforce sought independence from forces which prevented him from entrusting himself to God and allowing God to work through him. A contemporary commentator has noted that at that time in England, religious zeal was considered out of place in polite society and people with religious inclinations received little respect./1/ Nineteenth Century England sounds a lot like 21st Century United States.

Wilberforce also sought independence of a sort at once personal and social: to free humans from capture; trafficking, which either led to death or ownership by another human, and the degradations that entailed.

Our public holiday celebrates our national independence from a monarchy which oppressed the first colonists, beginning in Europe--the reason why they left it. Britain even reached across the Atlantic with domineering laws and influence.

Perhaps it is amazing that we inherited independence at all. Surely it is more amazing that we continue to seek independence from more real enslavement to forces which prevent us from entrusting ourselves to Jesus and allowing Jesus to work through us. That we choose to cooperate with Jesus and to spread his good news are first of all his empowering gift. Jesus’ manifold grace empowers each of us according to each one’s need for ongoing conversion and to each one’s abilities to call for the liberty of humans, to promote human dignity and to foster peace and progress among peoples everywhere.

Those are concrete examples of, in words of Pope St. Gregory the Great, “follow[ing] up our faith with good works. ...true believer[s] practice[] what [they] believe[].”/2/ In our day the church expressed that conviction with focus on human behavior: “Personal behaviour is fully human when it is born of love, manifests love and is ordered to love. This truth also applies in the social sphere; Christians must be deeply convinced witnesses of [Jesus’ freeing love], and they are to show by their lives how love is the only force...that can lead to personal and social perfection, allowing society to make progress towards the good.”/3/

To witness to Jesus’ freeing love is to embrace the amazing grace of Jesus and to allow civic independence to participate in the most real independence, the Christian liberty by which we serve one another according to the love/4/ by which Jesus free us to be his and do his work.
/1/ Brown, Christopher Leslie (2006), Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 380-82.

/2/ Homily 26, Liturgy of the Hours, vol 3, p. 1517.

/3/ Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, © 2004 Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 580.

/4/ See Galatians 5.13.
Wiki-image of William Wilberforce is in the public domain. Wiki-image by Stig Nygaard of Independence Arch in Accra, Ghana, is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.