Category Archives: Faith & Reason

The Plight of Churches in the Middle East – Revisited

ravennaxcTheologians and bishops from the Catholic and Orthodox Church meet frequently to discuss topics of mutual concern fostering not only good friendships but also doing some intellectual work in an effort to know what each other holds to be to true and how each Church works pastorally.

There are times one gets the impression that these consultations are great for mutual understanding but lack an identifiable concrete plan for full, visible and concrete unity. Statements, discussions, lunches and other collaborative efforts are noble and worth supporting. Who could pass up good food and discussion. Yet, there has to be more. This is especially helpful in humanitarian efforts and developing a friendship in Christ as a brothers and sisters. But can we ask, what the concrete goal is for the theological consultations like this one?

What follows is the Statement of the Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, Mississauga, Ontario October 26, 2013.

In 2011 we, the members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation* deplored the devastating losses in the Christian communities of the Middle East in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring.” Today the situation of many of the Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine has become catastrophic.

Together with the 2013 Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, we repudiate all violence and demand action by responsible authorities to end the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Christians and all civilians. We also appeal for the release of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria.

Pope Francis in exhorting the international community “to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation… May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”

As the Canadian Council of Churches has stated, “We are concerned for the safety and security of all the people in the region, but in particular, the weak, vulnerable and powerless. The spread of sectarian violence puts all generations throughout the region at risk and is a menace to the hopes and dreams of the younger generations.”

With the Clergy-Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, we “deplore the wanton destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, convents, orphanages and hospitals throughout the Middle East….We call upon the leaders of our nation to protest these unspeakable acts of terror and to work unceasingly to bring to an end the heinous genocide of our brethren.”

When one part of the body suffers, all suffer (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). As Orthodox and Catholic Christians, we therefore have the responsibility to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters. We call upon our communities to continue to pray for the churches and for peace in this part of the world. We urge the leadership of our churches to continue to intervene vigorously in behalf of the Christians of the Middle East, who live in fear for their lives, their communities, and the very future of Christianity in the region.

*The members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation are appointed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America and, on the Catholic side, by both the Canadian and United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops.

Some notes:

Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation of meet every five years in Canada. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted this year’s meeting.

The Consultation was co-chaired by Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, and by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The Consultation engaged in discussions pertinent to Orthodox – Catholic relations around such matters as synodality, papal primacy, priestly celibacy and the role of the laity.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., of Brown University and Sr. Susan K. Wood, SC, of Marquette University provided a summary of papers already presented on the role of the laity in the two churches; Father John Erickson, emeritus dean and professor of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, presented his paper on “Conciliarity or Synodality? Historical Notes on a Modern Issue”; Father John Galvin, of The Catholic University of America, presented a paper by Msgr. Thomas J. Green, “Lay Ministries in the Church: Comparative Reflections on the Eastern and Latin Codes”; and Father Peter Galadza, of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute summarized previously published papers on celibacy, marriage and the priesthood.

The Consultation reports that a panel discussion and meeting between seminarians from St. Augustine’s Seminary (Catholic) and The Greek Orthodox Theological Academy of Toronto. Among the many things shared, there were reflections on the Consultation’s 2010 agreed statement, “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future.”

Metropolitan Sotirios, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto host lunch and Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto also encouraged the seminarians and members of the Consultation in their important work. The next meeting is scheduled for June 2-4, 2014.

700th anniversary of the Divine Comedy, Dante’s masterpiece

commedia medalTruly one of the world’s great texts is the Divine Comedy by Dante. Next year and in subsequent years, we’ll hear about the honoring of Dante by bestowing annual award for artistic genius dealing with

The Best Digitally-Produced Rendition of Any Aspect of Dante’s Divine Comedy

The first recipient of the Commedia Medal will be announced on 1 December 2014 and it will be award annually until 2021.

The image of the award is posted here. It’s the creation of Dom Gregory Havill, a Benedictine monk of Portsmouth Abbey and a teacher in the Portsmouth Abbey School.

Dante published the Inferno in 1314, the Purgatorio in 1315 and the Paradiso in 1321. Dante died in 1321. What a terrific way to acknowledge cultural icon by having a Benedictine monk create an artistic piece for an award of excellence and beauty! Benedictines have always had their fingers (and their hearts and minds) in matters of faith, reason,and art to communicate the Divine Mystery.

Interested in the competition, visit the website here. Dr Sebastian Mahfood is organizing the competition.

Late summer reading

Just in case you’re looking for something to read this summer (what’s left of it) …

Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin, Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words

Father Robert Barron The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path

Pope Benedict XVI, What It Means to Be A Christian

Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., Praying with Saint Mark’s Gospel: Daily Reflections on the Gospel of St. Mark

Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution (Ignatius Press, 2013).

Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, The ‘One Thing’ Is Three

Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions in the Christian Life

Father John Hugo, Weapons of the Spirit (Dorothy Day retreat master)

Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire

Barnabas Senecal, OSB, Beauty in Faces & Places (NP, 2012).

Girgis Shrif, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books 2012).

Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth

We don’t keep the faith for ourselves (cf Lumen Fidei, ch 3): faith is meant to be contagious, it is meant to be lived full time, it is meant for others. As the metaphor of light indicates, light allows us to see, to encounter, to meet someone anew. That someone is Jesus Christ, and those who faithfully follow Christ. Faith is passed on in a personal way.

A new initiative I heard about today is “Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth” is a great light, a wonderful meeting of others. Watch the video presentation.

Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth is present in 60 dioceses as it connects parishes, schools, and families to develop a chain of solid links of faith. Catholic faith is not a private relationship of the “I” and “Thou” but a communio, a “We”, a reflection of an openness that exists among the members of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are never alone; faith is an invitation to others first given to each person that love, mercy, hope and salvation is possible; that happiness is possible today in this world.

I would hope that Benedictine monasteries can be centers for this good work of Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth!!!  I am thinking this program would greatly assist the work of the new evangelization and faith formation programs.

The origins of this new work is based on the work of a University of Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith. In addition to his teaching and research Smith also directs UNDs Center For the Study of Religion and Society.

Though I am an alum of UND, I don’t know Smith personally, but I am familiar with his works, especially his book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (Oxford University Press, 2011). Professor Smith earned his doctorate at Harvard.

More info on Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth is found at this link.

Gay men and the priesthood: change in content, or difference in style?

This morning a friend asked me about Pope Francis’ statement on the plane ride to Rome coming from Brazil about gay men and the priesthood: did the pope change the Church’s teaching? No, was my reply. The teaching is not changed as the Pope echoed what the Catechism teaches. What the Pope did, I told Harry, was to emphasize a pastoral approach of mercy and helping each person attain a mature Christian faith, and that the Church has always held this approach but frequently gets forgotten due the subject. The approach of Pope Francis is to speak about the merciful face of Jesus Christ; but I have to say, Benedict also said as much but he was often roundly dismissed because of some people’s ideology. Hence, there is a line of continuity in the teaching and style of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t see the hard differences between the two.

Aaron Taylor wrote the following piece, “Francis and Benedict on gay priests,” for On the Square published online at First Things (7 August 2013). Taylor’s piece is a short but good piece covering the basic matters at hand; gives perspective that can’t be dismissed. I recommend the article.

Given the ruckus over Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, one could make the mistake of thinking he had announced a revolutionary change, not restated basic Christian doctrine:

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? . . . These persons must never be marginalized, and “they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not that one has this tendency. No, we must be brothers.

While the substance is old as the Gospel, the form is not what we are used to. Secular journalists are likely to see an irreconcilable contradiction between the Pope who made these comments and the Cardinal who warned that same-sex marriage is a “total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts,” a “move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Yet Christians ought to see no contradiction between a robust commitment to defending the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, and a robust commitment to opposing sexual sin. In both instances, Francis was simply doing what he does best: stating basic truths in blunt, common-sense words that everyone can understand.

Another alleged contradiction at which many reports are hinting lies in the fact that the Pope’s remarks do nothing to alter the current ban on ordaining homosexual men. Some may ask, if Francis is willing to admit that gays can seek God and be persons of good will, why not allow them to be priests?

Current Vatican policy on the ordination of homosexuals is a disciplinary matter, not a doctrinal one. In theory it could change (though I think it unlikely). But even if it did, there would be no reason to assume that more than a small minority of homosexuals have a genuine vocation. The idea often heard that the priesthood is an “ideal” state of life for homosexual men since they are already compelled to be celibate is woefully misguided.

Rather than focusing on the narrow question of gays and the priesthood, what we need most urgently at the present time are spiritual approaches that help gay Christians to integrate their sexual orientation with their faith in a manner that steers a safe course between the Scylla of indulging in sexual vice and the Charybdis of destroying their sanity through denial about their sexuality.

One such approach, suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger in his Pastoral Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons, is a spirituality of vicarious redemptive suffering for gay people:

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption.

The fact that God gives homosexuals a heavy cross means that they have an opportunity to unite their sufferings to those of Christ and become instruments of salvation on behalf of others. It is classic Pauline spirituality: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Ratzinger’s approach will not be appealing to all gay people, nor need it be. The Church has always accommodated a range of spiritualities within the boundaries of orthodoxy, and gay Christians’ own experience of their sexuality is diverse. For some, it is a great struggle bound up with a history of abuse and compulsive sexual behavior. For others, it is a fact of life that does not cause particular suffering.

Elizabeth Scalia suggests that “homosexuals are in fact ‘special and exceptional others,’ . . . created and called to play a specific role in our shared humanity.” And Joshua Gonnerman tells us that, as a celibate gay Christian, there are nevertheless many things in his experience of being gay that he finds valuable. These new approaches complement rather than contradict the spiritual approach outlined by Ratzinger, and are also grounded in the Pauline witness. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle makes clear that every Christian is given gifts for the building up of the Church. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay Christians are an exception to what Paul says.

Aside from the litmus test of orthodoxy, the mark of a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality should lie in the fact that it empowers gay Christians with a sense of moral agency. Gays are not to be “marginalized,” as the Pope notes, but neither are they to be patronized by well-meaning Christian organizations that portray them as helpless sex addicts who are simply passive recipients of the Church’s pastoral care. With the recognition that one has received gifts from God for active participation in the life of the Church, there comes a grave responsibility to follow the moral law. Christ’s calling restores to people the grace necessary to live in right relationship with God, but this means that gay Christians cannot portray themselves as victims of external forces if they fail to live up to their Christian calling.

Above all, a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality ought to make clear that gay Christians have a legitimate place within the Body of Christ without having to pretend that they don’t exist by being pressured either into marriage or into becoming closeted priests. Though we should not overstate the innovation in Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope has made a significant contribution to the development of a healthy spirituality for gay Christians by speaking of the need to integrate them within society (the Church is a society, too, after all), and by his recognition that many gay Christians already exist within the Church who are of “good will” and wish to “seek the Lord.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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