Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jesus' Radical Politics

By Brandon Ambrosino


In his kingdom, enemies are loved, the marginalized prioritized,
and wealth inequality exposed for the sham it is.


Note: This op-ed was first published April 1, 2015 by The Boston Globe.


Two thousand years have sanitized Easter for most people. Jesus is alive, we sing each spring, and now let’s get on with lilies and chocolates and bunnies and think about what his resurrection means for us — namely, that we get to go to heaven when we die, and perhaps more important, a lot of other people don’t.

A more careful look at the Gospels, however, might offer a much less sentimental, much more startling picture of the original Easter message, which was decidedly not, “Jesus is alive, and here’s what that means for the next world.” Rather, the true lesson was: “Jesus is alive, and here’s what that means for this one.”

The central claim of Easter — and indeed, of Christianity — has always been that the rejected, tortured, crucified, dead, and then resurrected Jesus is somehow Lord of the entire earth. If that doesn’t sound particularly scandalous today, imagine you’re hearing it for the first time while living in the Roman Empire. As many New Testament scholars argue, hearing “Jesus is Lord” in the first century might sound suspiciously like a bold rejection of the standard Roman creed at the time: “Caesar is Lord.” (There is a lot of discussion about this, but even a quick glance of the Gospels and Acts shows that the texts contain instances of anti-imperial rhetoric.)

What’s radical about Easter, then, is not that Christians claim a dead man rose from the dead. What’s radical is what that means — specifically, what it meant for Rome, and, by implication, what it means for all kingdoms everywhere, including the ones we live in. Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of Caesar’s way of doing things. It established a new kingdom in which enemies are loved, the marginalized are given primacy of place, and the poor are blessed. In this kingdom, hierarchies are subverted, concentrated power is decentralized, and prodigal children are welcomed home. Black lives matter here, as do queer lives and the lives of undocumented aliens within our borders — “Remember the stranger in your midst” is a common refrain in this kingdom.

Of course, speaking about Jesus in such a political way is not without its dangers. Many with political agendas are guilty of branding their particular ideologies with the name of Jesus, both on the right and left. But there’s no denying that, at least in recent US history, conservatives have been ready to marry God and government. As a result, Christianity has come to be associated less with policies aimed at helping the poor — and more with those that often serve to keep them down. The tragic irony, of course, is that, as the Gospel of Luke teaches, Jesus’ ministry is inaugurated with the announcement that the Spirit of the Lord compels him to preach good news to the poor.

Though the name of God is sometimes invoked to justify war and greed and the oppression of already marginalized persons, the broken body of Jesus seems rather like a prophetic protest against those values. Philosopher John Caputo discusses this irony in his 2007 book, “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” — a play on the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” that many conservatives have plastered onto their cars, T-shirts, bracelets, etc.

The gospels, Caputo writes, invite us to imagine a new way of life where the poetics of Jesus’ kingdom are transformed into political structures:

“What would it be like if there really were a politics of the bodies of flesh that proliferate in the New Testament, a politics of mercy and compassion, of lifting up the weakest and most defenseless people at home, a politics of welcoming the stranger and of loving one’s enemies abroad? What would it be like if there were a politics of and for the children, who are the future; a politics not of sovereignty, of top-down power, but a politics that builds from the bottom up, where ta me onta [lit. “the nothings”] enjoy pride of place and a special privilege?”

Caputo then asks this frightening question: “Would [this politics] not be in almost every respect the opposite of the politics that presently passes itself off under the name of Jesus?”

One look at current events across the globe today, and Caputo’s imaginings may be easily dismissed. How can Americans simply turn the other cheek to our warring enemies? How can anyone expect the government to make sure each child is looked after? And working to eliminate poverty? Wasn’t Jesus talking about spiritual poverty? That’s a private matter, not a public one. Those kinds of policies just aren’t practical in 2015.

Of course they aren’t. They weren’t practical in Jesus’ day, either. That’s one of the reasons Jesus was killed. He was, to use Caputo’s word, mad. How else do you explain his teachings? Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to them who use you. Do not retaliate. Look after your neighbor. The meek will inherit the earth.

But the madness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, as Paul reminds us, just like God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. And it’s the kingdom of this God — who, contrary to what anyone expected, is weak, mad, and disruptive — that Jesus is both announcing and installing.

“If I, with the finger of God, cast out demons among you, then the Kingdom of God has come near to you,” says Jesus, and his Jewish hearers might have understood the scandalous reference. Scandalous because in this brief line, Jesus seems to be identifying himself with the same God who heard the cry of oppressed Israel and took it upon himself to liberate them from Egypt. As the Book of Exodus recounts, when Pharaoh refuses Moses’ request to let the Hebrews go, a battle of miracles quickly ensues. Though Pharaoh’s magicians try to imitate the wonders that Moses ascribes to God, they don’t succeed. “This is the finger of God,” they explain to Pharaoh, which creates wonders, which liberates God’s people from the empires that enslave them. The finger of God, they reluctantly acknowledge, is mightier than the strongest arm of any world leader.

In reinterpreting this passage around his life and ministry, Jesus is giving us a glimpse into what he thought of himself (who but God alone works wonders by the finger of God?) as well as into what he thought about his kingdom: that, though it’s ultimate fulfillment will be in the future, look around you — it’s already here. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains, for Jesus, God’s kingdom “wasn’t just an aspiration; it was an accomplishment.” Jesus was convinced that his life and preaching and miracles were bringing about the kingdom his followers had longed for.

Only, Jesus’ kingdom of peace and love looked much different than the one that Jews at the time hoped the Messiah would establish. One of Jesus’ more cryptic sayings is found in Matthew’s Gospel. After a strange discussion of kingdom, Jesus compares his audience to children sitting in the marketplace singing to each other, “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Jesus, he hears them say, you are not the Messiah we expected. To which he responds: I will not dance when you tell me to dance. I will not cry when you tell me to cry. I will not be the Messiah you tell me to be. I am here to show you a different sort of dance, a different way; follow me, and build my father’s kingdom, which looks very different than the ones you cling to.

This is the prophetic memory of Jesus that rushes toward us today. What would Jesus do if he showed up today, say, in Washington, D.C.? Would he turn a blind eye to racial injustices in Ferguson and elsewhere? Would he lobby to ensure that entire swaths of our population continue to feel as if they don’t belong in their cities, in their religious congregations, in their local bakeries? Would he, interested as he is in the physical bodies of all he encounters, enact policies that bar people from the health care they desperately need?

At the same time, can we really be sure that Jesus would protest with Wall Street Occupiers, railing against the one percent? This is the same Jesus who, as Luke recounts, tells his followers that if just one of their sheep wanders away from the fold, they are to leave the 99 and go after the one percent. And can we be equally sure that this Jesus, who has no patience for greed, would spend all of his energy condemning the wealthy? This is the same Jesus, after all, who is rumored to be the friend of tax collectors.

This is why it won’t do merely to begin with a political ideology and brand it with Jesus’ memory. The memory of Jesus is disruptive to all kingdoms, to all earthly powers, without respect to any specific political affiliation or agenda.

What we can imagine that Jesus would probably do — indeed what he definitely did do, is to suddenly, without warning, announce that his new kingdom is breaking in upon all of us, has broken in upon us, and that this kingdom is almost the exact reversal of what any of us thought kingdoms were supposed to be. This new king will not tolerate oppression and systemic poverty, nor he will excuse violence directed at those in power. He has no patience for any dirges or dances. He is here about his father’s business.

THE BELLS of Easter Sunday, comforting though they may be, are actually a call to war, albeit a nonviolent kind of war; a call to rise up, to act up, to announce to the powers and principalities that rule our nations that their power has an expiration date, that their rule is a sham, that their kingdom has been undone by the one who undoes death.

The rebuttal here has always been: Open your eyes. This kingdom you’re talking about — where the last are first, where the outsiders are preferred — is not here. There is war. There is evil. There is death and rape and racism and unemployment and sex trafficking. There is a brutally agonizing world here and now, and to pretend otherwise is either naive or morally bankrupt.

But Easter doesn’t deny these things. After all, even the resurrected body of Jesus contains crucifixion scars, which are Jesus’ eternal reminder that he was murdered by the very people he came to save. What Easter teaches is this: Even in the midst of the kingdom you’re living in, it’s possible to actually pledge loyalty to a different one. By feeding the hungry, forgiving your enemies, and providing shelter for the homeless, you can actually choose to live in the kingdom Jesus established.

Hope, then, is not a spiritual thing, or a reflective exercise; it’s decidedly physical. If you believe Jesus was raised from the dead, the obligation that Jesus puts upon you is to meet people’s physical needs. “Do not abandon yourselves to despair,” said Pope John Paul II. “We are the Easter people, and alleluia is our song.”

This alleluia is both a praise and protest. The world is made new, alleluia, and all lives matter. Creation is transformed, alleluia, and therefore let us embrace the strangers in our midst. The tomb is empty, alleluia, now let us work to heal the hurt of all those who have been discriminated against, made to feel like second-class citizens. In God’s kingdom, after all, there is only one class of citizen, because all have inherited the same birthright from their heavenly father.

Two thousand years later, the promise of Easter has not lost its power. The risen Jesus, then as now, invites us to live in this world as if it is somehow a different world.

Because, alleluia, it is.


Brandon Ambrosino covers culture and religion for Vox.com.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pope Francis Has a Woman Problem

By Jennifer Labbadia
Deputy Director of Development at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Note: This commentary was first published March 31, 2015 by The Huffington Post.

Two years into Francis' revolutionary papacy, and it's clear: the Catholic Church still has a significant woman problem, and it isn't getting much better. Shortly after his election, Francis called for a new theology of women, saying that "it is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church." To date, the church hasn't gotten the memo.

So in the context of Women's History Month, how can the church step up its game?

First the church must acknowledge where it's gone wrong. Women today face a myriad of systemic injustices, which manifest themselves into unfortunate everyday realities. They endure domestic violence, sex trafficking, the gender wage gap, lack of access to education and widespread poverty among many others.

Why hasn't the church spoken more forcefully against these structural sins? Instead, the Church too often limits "women's issues" to sexual ethics, most notably contraception and abortion.

There is no better example than last month's Vatican Conference on Women.

At the four day conference, after discussing gender stereotypes ad nauseum, the Vatican shifted gears to the number one issue facing women globally: the morality of plastic surgery.

At a time where the sexual exploitation of women is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, where women's access to education remains limited, and where there is a scandalous pay gap between men and women globally, the Catholic Church needs to focus on gender inequality, not the morality of plastic surgery.

Amid this bleak picture, there are signs of hope.

Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Church is rediscovering the radical discipleship of women throughout its history. And now it can begin to examine new ways to promote gender equality both in the Church and in society. Pope Francis has said that we need a new theology of women, but perhaps more than that we need to recognize more fully the contribution women make every day in this church, a contribution that goes far beyond sexual ethics and femininity.

Kerry Robinson is one such example. A prominent lay woman in the United States, she uses her intellect, business acumen and fundraising capabilities to help create a better managed missionary church.

Robinson isn't alone. Religious women have been fulfilling Francis' call for a missionary church for decades. Sister Dorothy Stang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur, exemplifies this spirit. She spent much of her life courageously fighting for the rights of poor farmers in the Amazon and sought to protect the forest's rich natural resources from loggers and ranchers. Her prophetic leadership wasn't without cost -- she was martyred in 2005.

These two examples aren't exceptions. Catholic women everywhere are on the front lines and in the trenches, serving the excluded, defending the poor and spreading the joy of the gospel. If these women give it all up in service of the church, they too should be a part of its decision-making authority.

As my colleague Christopher Hale rightly notes, this is the way it was in the beginning:

After Jesus' death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to remove his body. On the way there, she encountered a gardener. The gardener revealed himself to be the risen Christ. As Mary ran to tell the other disciples the good news, she held within her the very reason of the church: to share God's saving love in Jesus. In that moment, some argue that she was the church.
The gardener knew what Pope Francis and the church must learn: when you want to get a tough job done, give it to a woman.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Current Culture War and the Way Toward Reform: Integral Consciousness

.
Following are two excerpts from Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (2007) by Steve McIntosh.

There is in the developed world an increasingly bitter clash of worldviews wherein these stages are battling for control of the laws and mores of their societies. This cultural struggle is found not simply between liberals and conservatives; in the developed world, we actually face a three-way conflict between the values of traditionalism, modernism, and postmodernism. Or perhaps more accurately, we are faced with a tug of war between traditionalism and postmodernism for the soul of the modernist majority. But however we characterize the culture war, we can see that the stakes are high. Because progressive development is sorely needed, and because the cost of the culture war is developmental stagnation, we need to find the peace of greater agreement in order to make meaningful progress. With integral consciousness we can see how the values of each worldview stage are both part of the solution and part of the problem—each stage embodies both dignities and disasters. Traditional consciousness identifies the need to reduce lawless violence and evil in the world, yet it creates oppression. Modernist consciousness identifies opportunities for development and discovery, yet it creates gross inequalities. And postmodern consciousness identifies the need to honor and include everyone, yet it also creates blindness to comparative excellence. Because each of these worldviews is very much alive and well within the developed world today, not only are they each continuing to produce their particular kind of progress, each of them is also continuing to act out their particular kind of pathology. And this is where the cultural battle is joined.

– pp. 74-75


When it comes to practicing the integral worldview, we have to remember that we are called to actually create this new level of consciousness ourselves. Those of us who can discern the emergence of this new stage of civilization here at its beginnings have the privilege of receiving the creative impulse of the first wave of integral values.

The truths of integral philosophy can be used to produce cultural evolution on many fronts. Wherever we find the culture war—in the workplace, in our schools, and even in our own families—we can skillfully work to raise consciousness by showing how different values apply to different life conditions. As we begin to see how just about every human problem is a problem of consciousness, we can then see how best to raise consciousness by distinguishing between the healthy and pathological values of a given stage, and by translating the values of one stage into terms that can be better appreciated by other stages. Think about all the ways that we can help keep well-meaning postmodern consciousness from literally dissolving the crucial structures of traditional and modernist values upon which our further evolution depends. And conversely, think about all the ways we can communicate the evolutionary necessity of postmodern values to traditionalists and modernists by showing how our civilization’s actual survival largely depends on the success of postmodernism.

– pp. 90-91

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Love and Sex Campaign 2015 . . .


. . . IN PREPARATION FOR THE SYNOD


ON THE FAMILY


AT THE VATICAN, OCTOBER 2015


Pope Francis has asked lay people around the world to share their experiences on the Church's teachings and practices regarding sexuality, marriage, and family. This information is meant to help the bishops as they grapple with these complicated issues at the Synod on the Family in Rome this coming October 2015. Each of our experiences matters to help the total picture emerge. Now is the time to Claim Our Voices and take the following action steps.



Surveys


Survey 1: Deadline March 10


Has your pastor or parish staff urged you to go to the Archdiocesan website to tell the hierarchs how they can be more supportive of healthy family life? The Archdiocesan website links to a survey provided by the Vatican. It can be accessed directly by clicking here.

Don't be put off by the difficult wording of the questions. Simply find a few questions that mention topics which you have concerns about. Write whatever message you want the bishops to hear. We have been assured that all submissions will be accepted even if they don't exactly answer the question or if most of the questions are not answered at all.

Survey 2: Deadline April 15


After you have done that survey, click here for an easier survey we urge you to take too. It is sponsored by Catholic Church Reform International (CCRI) and this data will get to the bishops of the Synod also.


Stories


CCCR/Council of the Baptized is asking what we can do in our own local church, this Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, to promote healthy psycho-social development in families. First, how big is the problem? Can you relate some stories about the issues of contraception, divorce and remarriage, same-gender relationships, living together before marriage--issues to be studied by the bishops. Write your story to post on the CCCR website. Post it here.



Listening Sessions


Host a Listening Session in your home or parish. You invite the people, and CCCR will provide the program and facilitator. All concerns raised will be included in a report going to our archbishop, the papal nuncio, the pope, and all the US bishops attending the Synod in Rome.

Contact Mary Beth Stein marybsaint@hotmail.com 612-805-7091.



Position Paper


Council of the Baptized has published a position paper on this topic entitled: Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality. Get a handle on the issues by reading this paper. Just click on the title. You may print and distribute it as you see fit.

What you can do: Invite some friends or fellow parishioners to talk about the position paper. Click here for two pages of suggested topics and questions that could guide small group study related to this document and topic.



Printable Summary of Actions


Click here.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Save the Date!

The League of Catholic Women
invites you to

Many Places at the Table:
The Contemporary Roman Catholic Church in the USA

with

Fr. Michael Joncas




Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Gather at 6:45 p.m.
Program begins promptly at 7:00 p.m.

The Woman's Club
410 Oak Grove St.
Minneapolis (south of Loring Park)
Free parking in adjacent lot
and in the lot across the street.

Cost: $15.00
Reservation checks due by February 20 to
League of Catholic Women
410 Oak Grove St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

$20 for walk-ins on the day.


Fr. Joncas' presentation will address a number of important issues, questions and themes, including:

• What are the major national and international church events that help shape the different faith styles of contemporary Catholics?

• What are the central loyalties of each group?

• What are the obstacles to, and the opportunities for, conversations within and across the boundaries surrounding these different understandings of our shared Catholic faith?

• When we recite the Nicene Creed we profess our belief in "one catholic church." We should come away from this evening with a deeper understanding of just what that means in today's world.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Quote of the Day

[San Francisco's Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone] constantly refers to confusion about church teaching about sexuality . . . implying that if we just understood the teaching, everything would be fine. But there is no confusion about contraception and, increasingly, same-sex civil marriage. There is strong, thoughtful, conscience-driven opposition. He also uses the words "timeless church teachings" and conveniently forgets how the church was wrong on Galileo and slavery and ignores that the "timeless church teaching" on same-sex adoptive parents was written in 2003.

Cordileone suggests that he is in line with Pope Francis. In one way, he may be correct: It doesn't appear that Francis is going to be changing any doctrine in the near future. But the whole world knows we have a pope who is focusing on Jesus' message of love and inclusiveness and who has told Cordileone and his fellow culture warrior bishops to quit being obsessed with the sexuality issues. Our archbishop doesn't even appear to be listening to his boss.

– Brian Cahill
Excerpted from "Cordileone's Continuing Controversy
in San Francisco Revolves Around Catholic Identity

National Catholic Reporter
February 13, 2015

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Catholic Reform Network Says Synod Questionnaire Was Designed to Fail . . . and is Failing

Note: The following is a media release from Catholic Church Reform Int'l.

Catholic Church Reform Int'l (CCRI) has written an Open Letter to Pope Francis telling him that the 46-question survey requiring all essay-type answers devised by the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops to gather feedback for the October 2015 Synod on the Family, is totally unworkable and not being promoted on most of the worldwide diocesan websites.

"We know it is an unworkable document," said Peter Wilkinson, CCRI coordinator from Australia, "because our research shows that, in the nine weeks it has been out there, few bishops and dioceses anywhere in the world are using it. The complex survey is not only doomed to fail, but sadly, appears to have been designed to fail."

"Not only will it not gather the voices of Catholic couples and families, but it will drive them away," said Rene Reid, CCRI co-founding director. "Whether it is intentional or not, this questionnaire is counterproductive, threatens to thwart the Pope's wishes, and could even endanger the effectiveness of the Synod itself."

Many bishops also want to hear the voices of Catholic couples and families, but now find themselves stymied by a Vatican tool unsuited to the task. It is overwhelming to even the most well-educated Catholic. Without the people's voices, those bishops elected to attend the October 2015 Assembly will have little to offer. "Pope Francis has made it clear that he does not want them turning up with formulations for pastoral care based simply on the application of doctrine or their own interpretation of what their people need," Virginia Saldanha, CCRI coordinator from India, pointed out. "That would defy the concluding directives of the October 2014 Assembly."

But the voices should not be only those of practicing Catholics. "Many Catholics no longer attend Mass," said Ms. Reid, "often precisely because of Church teachings, attitudes, and pastoral practices - the very issues that should be on the Synod's agenda. Pope Francis wants the bishops to find concrete solutions to the innumerable challenges that families face. The Lineamenta questionnaire not only shuts down the Faithful but completely leaves out those who are no longer practicing Catholics. If the Synod wants to 'look at the reality of the family today in all its complexities' as stated as its objective," said Ms. Reid, "there has to be a simplified, user-friendly means to gather the reflections of ordinary Catholics."

Catholic Church Reform Int'l, a network which spans 65 countries and shares Pope Francis's vision for a church engaged in a communal search of discernment, is now looking to develop an alternative survey, an uncomplicated living poll which, the CCRI letter explains "will be an invitation to all the baptized to share with the Synod their lived experience of marriage and family: 'How have their marriage and family life benefited from the teachings of the Church, or how has it caused difficulties or harm?' ...They will be asked for suggestions for change. 'If you were once a participatory practicing Catholic but have left the Church, what caused you to leave, what would bring you back?'" Brendan Butler, CCRI coordinator from Ireland who is serving on the committee designing the poll said: "CCRI wants a survey instrument which will be a pastoral agent in itself, looking to support families still in the flock, those on the fringes who will leave if some reform is not forthcoming, and looking to show welcome to those who've strayed or felt driven away."

"Too long have we lay Faithful colluded in silence out of a mistaken sense of respect," said Robert Blair Kaiser, CCRI co-founder and author. "We need to be speaking out, reminding bishops of the need to respond to families in the context of a complex and changing environment. If the Church is to be a credible instrument of the Gospel, it must instigate structural change in the way it operates. One key element of that is ensuring that all the baptized have a proper say in the governance of the Church."

To read the full letter to Pope Francis, click here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Quote of the Day

[Pope Francis] has gotten rave reviews for his supposedly progressive views, although it may be only that he seems progressive when compared to Pope Benedict XVI, the pope whose philosophy, at times, sounded like the pastoral version of “Get off my lawn.” . . . [Francis has] said that evolution and “the notion of creation” were not “inconsistent”; urged the church to help the poor; and asked, “Who am I to judge?” on the issue of gay priests. . . . Yet it’s worth remembering that Francis has not actually changed any church doctrine on these issues. And he hasn’t done a thing to walk back Benedict’s egregious comments on transgender people, which suggested that in living our lives openly, we somehow make human dignity “disappear.” Then, this week, Francis praised Slovakian pilgrims for defending the family, in a quote that appeared to give support to a referendum in their country scheduled for today that could ban marriage and adoption for same-sex and transgender couples. Thanks to attitudes like this, the Roman Catholic Church has spent years driving away the faithful.

. . . [F]rancis’ words over the last year have given many Catholics, current and lapsed, reason for hope. But we are still waiting to see those hopes turned into action.

– Jennifer Finney Boylan
Excerpted from "Can the Church Return to the Faithful"
The New York Times
February 6, 2015


See also the previous PCV posts:
Pope Francis and the Catholic Crisis
Pope Francis' Woman Problem
Pope Francis is Listening
Tony Flannery in Minneapolis
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)

Related Off-site Links:
The Trouble With Francis: Three Things That Worry Me – Mary E. Hunt (Religion Dispatches, January 6, 2014).
Pope Francis Might Not Be As Awesome As We Thought He Was – Asher Bayot (Inquisitr.com, January 18, 2015).


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Still Dialoguing with the Archbishop: The Catechism?

By Paula Ruddy


At CCCR’s meeting with Archbishop John C. Nienstedt on January 20, the Archbishop mentioned that one of the valuable results of Vatican II was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He didn’t elaborate.

At the word “catechism” a dark cloud enveloped my liberal soul. In a good faith effort to be open-minded here, I have to ask why I have that reaction.

I remember loving the Baltimore Catechism as a child in the 1940’s. It was a little blue book with questions and answers. The second question and answer I still love: “ Where is God? God is everywhere.” We memorized the questions and answers for catechism class at All Saints Parish in Lakeville, and we were called on, in fear and trembling, to answer questions at Confirmation. My mother and father could still spout the answers from their childhoods at St. Luke’s and St. Michael’s in St. Paul. There was open discussion on any and all questions, as I recall. In the hurly-burly of everyday life, the catechism questions and answers were tucked away on the hard drive of our minds for the most part, forming us somehow. They were articulated there if we needed them.

So why is an “adult” catechism such a problem to me now? I have a copy on my bookshelf. Can it be a comprehensive set of statements, most of which I value highly, without actually reducing Catholicism to a set of statements?

Is there a way to use the catechism to turn toward the world with the Gospel vision of the reign of God here and now, all of us evolving toward full union with God through conflict, suffering and joy, as in Jesus’ own life? Can the catechism support and enrich the Christian vision and help in the daily discernment of faithful living?

Help me out here. Am I the only one with a “catechism” attitude problem? What would the grown-up attitude be? If you use the catechism as a meditative reading, please tell us about it. Thanks.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dear Pope Francis: Saving the World Requires Contraception

By Mark Seager
President, Population Connection Action Fund


Note: This commentary was first published February 1, 2015 by The World Post.


Don't get me wrong, Francis. You seem like a sincere, congenial man, and I admire you for bringing the world's attention to the need to address poverty, fight climate change, and eliminate inequality. But, sadly, your unwillingness to accept access to the full range of contraceptives as a necessary and moral good is completely incompatible with your efforts to make the world a better place.

You see, modern contraceptive methods – like the birth control pill, condom, and intrauterine device – do much more than provide people with a healthy sex life. Contraception saves lives, especially those of women and girls living in the developing world, who often don't have access to antenatal services. Mothers and babies die when women aren't able to delay, space, or avoid pregnancies. And young children whose mothers die in pregnancy or childbirth are more likely to die themselves.

Incredibly, if all women in the developing world who want to avoid pregnancy used modern contraception, the number of unintended pregnancies would drop by 70 percent and unsafe abortions would fall by 74 percent. The ability to plan one's family provides women and girls with more educational and job opportunities. And many economies would get a much-needed boost.

There is no doubt that universal access to contraception would bring us closer to achieving economic and gender equality in one fell swoop. Imagine that!

But, Francis, providing people with access to the full range of contraceptives is also crucial to combating climate change. If you're serious about engaging in this work, you simply must end your proscription of modern birth control.

Though the population-climate link is based on science, it's not rocket science. And your defense of the Church's ban on modern contraception – less than a week after you stated that "the majority" of climate change is caused by humans and after years of calling for climate action – is mind-boggling.

Modern-day contraceptives are extremely effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. And preventing unintended pregnancy helps to slow population growth – one of the leading causes of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a 2010 study, leveling the world population at 8 billion, instead of the projected 9 billion, by 2050 could provide 16 to 29 percent of the emissions reductions required to prevent dangerous climate change. It would have a much greater impact than if global deforestation were completely eliminated.

And while most of the world's climate pollution is being emitted from industrialized nations – namely, the United States – the fastest population growth is happening in developing countries – some of which, like Mexico and the Philippines, have a majority Catholic population. In fact, roughly 16 percent of the world population practices Catholicism, and the religion is growing fastest in Africa – the continent with the most rapid population growth.

Francis, that means nearly one-sixth (and growing) of the world population acknowledges your teachings. Nearly a sixth of the people on Earth have been told, by you, that it is a sin to use modern contraception. And all of them will contribute to and be affected by climate change.

Therefore, you have a responsibility to ensure that your followers have all the tools they need – including contraception – to reduce their carbon output and strengthen their resilience to the inevitable effects of climate change.

For many people around the world – especially women and girls living in poverty-stricken countries – having the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies means they have a better chance at coping with extreme weather events. That's because families who are able to plan the birth of their children are likely to have more resources and, as a result, are more able to respond to changes in their environment.

Surely some of the families that you visited during your recent trip to the Philippines would have been better equipped to withstand the effects of super-typhoon Haiyan if they had access to contraceptives. It is largely due to the influence of the country's Catholic bishops that 90 percent of the unintended pregnancies – half of all pregnancies there – are the result of a lack of modern contraception.

Planning and preventing pregnancy is not only a personal choice; it's a human right that saves lives, combats poverty, and helps to close the inequality gap. But more than that it's a crucial requirement for slowing population growth and, in turn, saving the planet from its greatest threat – climate change.

The world is depending on you, Francis.


See also the previous PCV posts:
Overpopulation and the Catholic Church: Can't We Become Part of the Solution?
Contraception's Con Men
Birth Control, the Bishops, and Religious Authority
Out of Step With the Flock: Bishops Far Behind on Birth Control Issues
We Are the 98 Percent
Who Is the Church? And How Does the Church Discern Morality?

Related Off-site Links:
Bishops Don't Speak for Most Catholics on Contraception – Keith Soko (CNN, February 4, 2012).
Pope Francis Might Not Be As Awesome As We Thought He Was – Asher Bayot (Inquisitr.com, January 18, 2015).
The Trouble with Francis: Three Things That Worry Me – Mary E. Hunt (Religion Dispatches, January 6, 2014).