Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Francis I

The media are all abuzz with the latest interview with Pope Francis. If you haven’t already heard or read his comments, here’s the very short version. Francis I said the Church should spend less time focusing on doctrinal matters, which are a kind of legalism, and more time being pastoral. Welcome people, he said. Heal the hurting, he said. Reach out to the needy, he said. In short, be more like Jesus.

Well, on the face of it, it’s a wonderful message and surely one the Catholics and other Christian denominations and groups would do well to heed. Hard to go wrong being more like Jesus. “A house of prayer for all people,” the Cathedral of St. Mary in Memphis proclaims. C’mon in.

I don’t wish to diminish the importance in this change of emphasis Francis brings to the discussion. At the same time, there is something that is not getting very much press. Francis isn’t suggesting the doctrines and dogmas of the Church be changed, or even re-examined. He’s simply saying, “Let’s stop talking and arguing about our fundamental beliefs and emphasize something different for now.” 

Get that? What was a sin in the eyes of the Church is still a sin. We just intend to talk about it less. Are you a divorced Catholic who has remarried? We love you and we want you to come be a part of our parish and community. Except when the Eucharist is being administered. Are you a non-Catholic Christian worshipping with us today? We welcome you! Except, please don’t consume the bread and wine. Are you gay and in the hospital? Call a priest and we’ll come pray for you, but at the same time we’re doing it, we will be mindful that you are living in a state of sin.

Maybe I’m being too harsh in my assessment of what Francis did and didn’t say. When the interview first came to light, I felt a surge of excitement like I did when John XXXIII “threw open the windows” with Vatican II. Of course, the hope and promise of that Council has never been fully realized. Altars got moved from the wall and nuns took off their habits. Abstaining from meat on Friday became optional. But, the issues of women’s place in the Church, human sexuality and more, are about where they were way back then.

One more thought. When Francis speaks like this, he is not “ordering” anybody to do anything. His off the cuff remarks, whenever he makes them, do not have the force of doctrine or dogma. It’s his opinion and many priests and bishops are content to allow him his opinion. They respect his office, but not necessarily his opinions. In the non-Catholic Christian world, it’s as if the pastor of your parish makes a statement about something in, say a sermon. It’s his or her opinion. It is in no way binding on you. You may consider it and follow what he says is right. But you’re also free to consider it, disagree with it, reject it, and in the extreme, take steps to get a new pastor.

Maybe Francis is setting the stage for real changes in the future. I hope so. However, given the pace the Church has moved, I won’t live to see any difference in substance.
That’s my take on the matter. What’s yours?

Peace, Jerry+

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

War Or Peace?

As our national leaders struggle with a response to Syria’s apparent use of nerve gas in its civil war, it seems appropriate to stop and remember something of our heritage and ask a few questions. 

4 September is the feast day of an Episcopal Bishop, Paul Jones. Bishop Jones was bishop of Utah from 1916 to 1918 when he was forced to resign. Why? He was opposed to World War I and was apparently quite vocal about it. He was also considered a socialist as well as a pacifist. His opposition, especially to the U.S. entering the war, was considered an affront by those who held that entering the war was a moral duty. Consequently, anyone who opposed that decision was considered immoral. Bishop Jones finally yielded to the pressure and resigned in April 1918.

Bishop Jones served as a bishop only once more when he temporaly held the see of Southern Ohio while a new ordinary was being selected. In 1933, he was allowed to resume his seat in the House of Bishops, but was deprived of a vote. From his resignation until his death, he advocated for civil rights for African Americans, for social reform, and economic justice. He was very involved in founding the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Toward the end of his life, he helped resettle Jews who were displaced by the Nazis.

Bishop Jones seems to have clearly have paid a dear price for his stance. When a person responds to God’s urgings to take the stole of ordained ministry, it is seldom with the awareness of potential pain that may be associated with that decision. Usually, it is with a sense of what good one can do. Additionally, one does not accidentally become a bishop. One agrees to stand for election, indicating that he or she feels further called to this particular expression of God’s work. I imagine there is at least some feeling that some important work can be done from this position that might not be done without the mitre. Reflect then, on how it must feel to have that pulpit taken away because you believe you’re doing that work. 

As Christians, each of us is called to take moral stands as an expression of our faith. We can’t be so naive as to believe it will not be without costs. I believe it is indisputable that the Church has often embraced military action as a just cause, or sometimes in its history, embraced it because it served the political needs of the institution. It is also indisputable that many Christians have argued for the cause of non-violence and rejected the idea of a “just war.”

I suspect at this point in our history, we are all weary of war. Our current dilemma is made more difficult by a prior announcement that the use of gas crosses a red line that requires a response, not a debate. But now how do we respond? And what is our individual position on whatever decision is to be made? This is the conundrum. We don’t wish more death, but we  may also have some sense of moral imperative to kill into order to diminish a greater number of deaths. 

I don’t offer an answer. I do offer this prayer that is to be prayed on Paul John’s feast day.

Merciful God, who sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in this and every land witnesses, who, after the example of your servant Paul Jones, will stand firm in proclaiming the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Peace, Jerry+