Friday, December 25, 2015

Quote of the Day

Christmas is a reminder that I’m invited to be born time and again in the shape of my God-given self — which means embracing the vulnerability of the Christmas story. It’s a story easily lost in a culture that commercializes this holy day nearly to death, or in churches more drawn to showtime and bling than to the real thing, or in creedal food fights over whose theology is best. But the story’s meaning is clear . . .

An infant in a manger is as vulnerable as human beings get, and what an infant needs is simple: food, shelter and protection from harm. The same is true of all the good words seeded in our souls that long to become embodied in our midst. If these vulnerable but powerful parts of ourselves are to be incarnated — to suffer yet survive and thrive, transforming us and the wounded world around us — they need to be swaddled in unconditional love.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the best gift we can share with others, whatever their faith or philosophy may be, are two simple questions asked with heartfelt intent: What good words within us are waiting to take on flesh? How can we love one another in ways that allow those words to be born and dwell embodied among us?

– Parker Palmer
Excerpted from "When Words Become Flesh:
Risking Vulnerability in a Violent World
On Being
December 23, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Refugees Are On Their Way to Minnesota: Here's How You Can Help

Minnesota is one of the states that's accepting Syrian refugees.
There are refugees (from all over the world) on their way to MN as we speak!

The International Institute of Minnesota is helping to coordinate their arrival and gathering items that will make life a tiny bit easier.

If you're here in the Twin Cities and you're interested in helping, here's what they need and where you can donate:

Address: International Institute of Minnesota, 1694 Como Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108

Drop off times: 8:45 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday

Please Note: Only the following items are being requested at this time.

Baby Items: Diapers (only new); Wipes (only new); Baby clothes
Winter Clothing: Coats; Boots; Gloves; Hats; Scarves.
Household Items: Dishes; Glassware; Silverware; Tea kettles; Garbage cans (only new); Garbage bags; Bed linens (laundered); Blankets (laundered); Towels (laundered); Dish towels (laundered); Vacuums; Laundry baskets
School Supplies: Pencils; Calculators; Pens; Notebooks; Folders
Crayons; Backpacks
Other Items: Maps of the City; Gift Cards (only to Cub Foods, Target, Goodwill); Bus Cards

Also, if you're interested in working more closely with a refugee family, check out the International Institute of Minnesota's refugee mentorship program by clicking here.

If you would like to ship donations directly from your home to the International Institute's offices (or directly from, donations should be addressed to:

Bridget Ehrman-Solberg
International Institute of Minnesota
1694 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108

Finally, if you'd like to donate money, click here.

How Catholic Leaders Are Defying Governors Who Are Trying to Block Refugees

By Leslie Caimi

Note: This article was first published December 8, 2015 by The Washington Post.

The Catholic Church is pledging assistance to Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in the United States, thwarting attempts by governors to prevent an influx of refugees from the war-torn nation.

On Monday night, the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis facilitated the arrival of a Syrian refugee family to the city, openly challenging Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s call to halt the arrival of refugees from Syria.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris on Nov. 13, Pence joined 31 governors, primarily Republican, in objecting to the federal government’s program to resettle refugees from Syria in the United States, citing fears that there are gaps in the screening process for potential security risks.

Pence was among those state leaders who directed state agencies to suspend disbursing funds for services to refugees originating from Syria.

But Catholic leaders across the United States cried foul on plans to close the door on refugees from Syria, loudly reminding their respective communities of the humanitarian need.

The Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on migration chided the governors for “using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees,” in a statement on Nov. 17.

“They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said.

Bishops from Chicago, New York, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New Mexico were also among those who penned opinion pieces for local papers or open letters calling for compassion over overreaction.

“We must find a way to open our doors to them,” New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan wrote in a New York Daily News opinion piece about the need for a wide embrace of Syrian refugees.

Despite the church’s call to keep the door open to refugees, Pence met last week with local Catholic leaders to urge them to “defer from welcoming” a Syrian family seeking placement in the state until Congress passed new legislation providing more stringent security screening for refugees from Syria, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin [right] said in a statement on Tuesday.

Tobin said he listened to Pence’s concerns “and prayerfully considered his request” but ultimately decided to proceed with assistance for the arrival of a Syrian family with two small children in Indianapolis on Monday night. The assistance came through “a public-private partnership between the federal government and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services,” according to the statement.

“For 40 years the Archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition,” Tobin said in a statement.

The refugee family was placed with relatives who live in the Indianapolis area, after fleeing Syria three years ago. The family of four underwent “extensive security checks” over a two-year period before they were approved for entry into the country.

A spokesman for Pence said that the governor “holds Catholic Charities in the highest regard but respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time,” according to a statement on Tuesday from the governor’s office.

Pence’s office said it would continue to suspend state participation in the refugee resettlement program for Syrians, which could include state funding for English language training, medical services, food stamps and employment readiness programs.

Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told the Indianapolis Star that Catholic Charities would still apply for state benefits for the family. If the funding was denied on the basis that the family is from Syria, Otolski told the paper that Catholic Charities would be able to cover the resettlement expenses for the family.

“The family is entitled to the same benefits any refugees arriving in Indiana receive. We hope that the state will not single them out,” he told the paper.

Pence’s office did say the Indiana Department of Health would reimburse the cost of health-care screening for refugees, including those from Syria, by county health departments in the state.

In addition to Indiana, on Monday, Texas became home for a family of six from Syria despite opposition from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Despite Abbott’s fervent objections, the family arrived in Dallas on Monday where they will live with relatives, a spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee, who assisted with the resettlement, told the Associated Press.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Re-Jesusing the Catholic Church

By Garry Wills

Note: This commentary was first published November 19, 2015 by The Boston Globe.

How can a church whose officialdom is worldly and corrupt present Jesus to the world? Pope Francis thinks it cannot. He once told people at the morning mass in his small chapel, “To be believable, the Church has to be poor.” He has spoken of personal revulsion at seeing a priest drive an expensive car. When he spoke of money as “the devil’s dung” (he was quoting a church father, Saint Basil), some took this as an attack on Western capitalism. But it was a more general message, part of his apology in Bolivia for the church’s role in colonialism. And when Francis looks around the Vatican, he finds the same devil-stench. In one of his earlier interviews as pope, he said, “The Curia is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests.” He said to assembled Cardinals that some approach the Vatican as if it were a royal court, with all the marks of such courts — “intrigue, gossip, cliques, favoritism, and partiality.’’

That list of sins could be taken as a table of contents for the scandalous activities recorded in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s new book, Merchants in the Temple, a title taken from the Bible account of Jesus driving money lenders from the Temple court. Nuzzi is the journalist who received the “Vatileaks” from the papal butler, revealing the scheming and profiteering that occurred during Benedict XVI’s papacy. He demonstrates an equal access to secret documents and conversations in the papacy of Francis, which show a concerted resistance to papal efforts to make the Vatican bear at least some resemblance to Jesus, however remote.

The official church is wealthy and poor because it always overspends itself. It lives on display, favoritism, and unaccountability. Its fourteen personnel agencies create honorary posts for clients who will be subservient to their patrons. This is as true of the Vatican State Department as of the Vatican banks. We know of the scandalous and money-laundering Institute for the Works of Religions — commonly called the Vatican Bank. But another money manager is equally unaccountable — the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

In what is called Peter’s Pence, Catholics from around the world send money to be spent on the poor. But four-fifths of that money is spent on maintenance of the bloated Vatican itself. The official church owns large amounts of real estate inside and outside Italy, but these holdings drain as much wealth as they collect, because so many of them are given at low or no rent to prelates and their flunkies, who redecorate them to their refined tastes, using Vatican money to do it.

Francis, who handled financial scandal in the diocese he took over in Buenos Aires, knew that he could not get control of the Vatican unless he had a true audit of where all the money was going. So he set up a special body to find this out – COSEA (Commission on Organization of the Economic Administration of the Holy See). This commission hired outside auditors, internationally recognized experts, to go over the money in all the papal departments (dicasteries). But faced with this demand for records from lay experts, the skilled ecclesiastical maneuverers in the departments reported sluggishly, incompletely, or not at all. COSEA’s frustrations over this may be why their members leaked tapes of their meetings to Nuzzi and others. Indeed two of them (a monsignor and a lay woman) were arrested in early November by Vatican gendarmes for leaking — though these leaks are on the pope’s side, unlike the earlier leaks.

Controversy about the official church has normally centered on doctrinal disputes, over things like contraception and abortion. These are seen as struggles for the mind of the church. Francis is more interested in the soul of the church. Does the church really speak from prelates’ posh apartments in Rome and from bishops’ palaces around the world? In our trips to Rome, my wife has given up entering St. Peter’s, since she cannot find anything like Jesus in that riot of celebration of the great papal families, with monstrous large statues of past pontiffs in all their ecclesiastical regalia. Jesus did not wear expensive chasubles and jeweled mitres (or any ecclesiastical garments). What Francis is engaged in is less a matter of theological dispute than a re-Jesusing of the church. If he fails, we have failed Jesus.

Garry Wills, a professor of history at Northwestern University, is the author of The Future of the Catholic Church With Pope Francis.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pope Says Fundamentalism is "Disease of All Religions"

Note: This article was first published November 30, 2015 by AFP via Yahoo! News.

Pope Francis said fundamentalism is "a disease of all religions", including the Roman Catholic Church, as he returned from a three-nation tour of Africa [right] in which he preached reconciliation and hope.

"Fundamentalism is always a tragedy. It is not religious, it lacks God, it is idolatrous," the Argentine pontiff told journalists on the plane back from the Central African Republic.

There, on the final leg of his first trip to Africa, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics called on Christian and Muslim "brothers and sisters" to end the sectarian conflict that has torn the country apart.

He was given a rapturous welcome by thousands of people as he visited a mosque in the flashpoint Muslim PK5 neighbourhood of the capital Bangui, on what was the most dangerous part of his 24-hour visit to the country.

"Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself," he said.

Speaking later in the day as he flew back to Rome, Francis said Islam was not the only religion to suffer from violent extremists, such as the ones behind the deadly attacks in Paris which were claimed by the Islamic State.

"We Catholics, we have a few, even many fundamentalists. They believe they know absolute truth and corrupt others," he said, adding: "I can say this because this is my Church."

Francis also visited Kenya on his trip, where he denounced the . . . "barbarous attacks" by Islamic extremists in Nairobi, Garissa and Mandera.

The country has been hit by numerous deadly attacks since sending its army into neighbouring Somalia in 2011 after a string of kidnappings it blamed on Al-Qaeda's east Africa branch, the Shebab.

In Uganda, huge crowds celebrated as he honoured Christians martyred for the faith and hailed Africa as "the continent of hope".

But it was in Central African Republic, torn apart by brutal violence between mostly Muslim rebels and Christian militias for more than two years, that his visit appeared to have made the most powerful impression.

In extraordinary scenes before he held a papal mass at the capital's Barthelemy Boganda stadium, a group of Muslim rebels from the PK5 area leapt out of two pickup trucks, all wearing T-shirts bearing the pope's image.

As they pushed through the crowd in an area where Muslims usually do not dare to venture, people cheered and shouted: "It's over".

"We thought the whole world had abandoned us, but not him. He loves us Muslims too," said Idi Bohari, an elderly man.

The landlocked Central African Republic descended into bloodshed after longtime Christian leader Francois Bozize was ousted by rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka force in March 2013.

The coup plunged the former French colony into its worst crisis since independence in 1960, and more than 100 people have been killed in the capital since late September alone.

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Francis: "The Mental Structure of Fundamentalists is Violence in the Name Of God" – Antonia Blumberg (HuffPost Religion, June 14, 2014).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Reflecting on the Bible's Apocalyptic Literature in Light of the Paris Terror Attacks

The following homily was delivered by Roman Catholic Womanpriest Monique Venne at Compassion of Christ Catholic Community on November 15, 2015, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time.


Paris. Before Friday, November 13, this word conjured up images of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the cathedral of Notre-Dame, good wine, sidewalk cafes. Now the name of Paris has joined the list of major Western cities attacked by terrorism. Another horrific attack on civilians enjoying the simple pleasures of life has occurred, with some witnesses describing the carnage as "apocalyptic." It certainly seems like the end of the world for many people in France - their old sense of security and place in the world has been severely shaken and may not recover. The lives of those wounded and the families and friends of those killed will never be the same. Meanwhile, French xenophobes are already claiming that their warnings about welcoming refugees from the Middle East have been realized, as they respond to hate with hate. For many of us in the United States, it has stirred the memories of 9/11 and the Boston Marathon attacks: how helpless we felt, how senseless the attacks seemed, how bewildered we were that civilians were targeted by people who were enraged by our government's policies.

In her book, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Karen Armstrong does a masterful job of tracing the history of religious fundamentalism in the three Abrahamic faiths. Although fundamentalism is expressed differently in each religion, Armstrong is able to list the commonalities that underlie it. First is the loss of God in the modern world. As the Enlightenment spread in Europe and America, it undermined belief in God and replaced it with belief in progress, individualism, technology, and rationality, discarding mythology and ritual. This was a huge leap from the thousands of centuries in which people believed that God was an intimate part in the way people lived, and who understood the myths of religion as descriptors of why life was the way it was. This has led to a sense that life has lost meaning and value, which engenders fear. And fear leads to anger. For fundamentalists, their anger is with the modern world which has rejected God. They look back to a so-called "Golden Age" when things seemed to be balance and want to recreate it. They see the rest of the world in dualistic terms: the modern world is evil while they alone are the good and faithful ones who will be rewarded by God. They have adopted an apocalyptic viewpoint.

And that brings us to today's readings. The first reading and the gospel are taken from the apocalyptic literature in the Bible. This was a popular genre in Jewish and Christian circles from about 200 BCE to 150 CE. During this time, Greek and Roman cultures saw Jewish culture as backward and worked to eradicate it. Heartsick Jews believed that God had to intervene and drive out the blasphemers. The Essenes, a branch of Judaism during Jesus' time, believed that the end was near and wrote the now famous Dead Sea scrolls to tell their disciples how the end would come about. Others, like the Zealots, believed that violent revolt was necessary, and that God would fight on the side of the Jews. A common belief was that there was so much injustice that only God could rectify it.

Apocalyptic literature was developed to give believers hope during times of persecution. Its purpose was to help people resist the dominant culture during times of religious suppression. It answered the questions about why the faithful were suffering and where God was in their suffering. It encouraged them to persevere, knowing that they will be vindicated when the last day arrives. But it has a dualistic approach, which can be fatal if this literature is read as literally true rather than symbolically true.

And so we come back to fundamentalism. Just like the Zealots, some fundamentalists believe that violence is the only solution to rectifying the wrongs of the modern world. But we have to remember that violent fundamentalism is not restricted to some Muslims. A Jewish fundamentalist assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, because he signed the Oslo accords which were supposed to begin the process of establishing a Palestinian state. A Christian fundamentalist, Timothy McVeigh, bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City because the US government upholds a secular worldview. But it is the Islamic State that has our attention now, first because of their brutality in beheading those they consider enemies and heretics, and now because they have taken their campaign of terror outside Syria and Iraq. We in the Western world are appalled by the attacks in Paris, which represents one of the centers of Western culture and was the home of several Enlightenment thinkers, such as Voltaire and Rousseau, whose ideas permeate the founding documents of the United States.

But we in the West have not been faultless, as we like to think. We have to remember that people in the developing world feel that the West has demanded that they accept modernity and its values, including the separation of church and state. They are being forced to change ancient ways of thought in the space of a generation or two, while it took the Western world 400 to 500 years to develop modern society. Although most are doing their best to adapt, some are resisting and some of those have turned to violence. We rightly condemn Islamic State and other terroristic organizations for not following the basic religious truth of compassion towards all. But we must use our own religious values of empathy and tolerance to address the fears, anxieties, and needs of those who feel threatened by Western culture, which seems devoid of God. The message of apocalyptic literature is that God is for us despite the outward signs. However, we must reject the dualistic notion that God is against those who are persecuting us. God is for all of us.

I'd like to leave you with these questions. Where do you find hope when you are suffering? What do you feel when you think about fundamentalism? How do you build a bridge to those who think differently than you do?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Catholic Church Fails Equality Test

By Kelly Doss

NOTE: This op-ed was first published November 27, 2015 by the St. Cloud Times.

As I reflect on this season of thankfulness, I am most grateful for the opportunity to be a godparent to my niece and nephew. Being a godparent may seem like an outdated or purely ceremonial role, but I see it differently. It places on me the responsibility, along with their parents, to develop in them a spirituality of interconnectedness with all that God created.

I love my godchildren more than I can say, and that is what prompted me to accept a position on the national board of directors of the Women’s Ordination Conference.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Ordination Conference, the largest national organization to advocate for equality, inclusiveness and accountability in the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite numerous surveys showing a majority of Catholics support women’s ordination, Pope Francis has maintained that “the door is closed” to discussing the topic and those who dare defy that mandate may suffer the consequences, including excommunication.

A few days prior to the pope’s recent visit to the United States, WOC hosted a global conference in Philadelphia, with nearly 500 men and women from 19 different countries in attendance, to support the cause of women’s ordination. It sends a message to the hierarchy that we are not the silent majority.

Women’s equality is not a radical concept. It is part of the equation that creates balance and harmony in this world. Despite reports by United Nations councils, recommendations by experts and theologians, and the voices of the people, the Catholic hierarchy chooses to remain oblivious to the maladies created by gender inequality. Among so many other things, it perpetuates psychological violence.

Authoritative sources like religious leaders have a powerful influence on the creation of our reality. By implying that women are unworthy to stand at the altar and by using non-inclusive language, the church is giving permission to all of society to degrade the female person.

I am astonished at the unwillingness of those in power to see that connection.

Perhaps that is the key word — power.

Considering recent discoveries in historical research now contest the church’s claim of “tradition” being the reason for the ordination ban, one must seriously question if it is rather due to the hierarchy’s irrational fear of sharing power with a woman. In reviewing the church’s record, I am of the opinion that sexism is indeed the “original sin.”

In a written statement to the Diocese, I declared I am withholding financial support as long as sexism persists in the church — as in no way, shape or form does sexism contribute to the betterment of humanity.

I would rather my godchildren experience a faith based on the Gospel values of love, compassion and equality instead of patriarchal dogmas and doctrines. I will teach my nephew that true love for the female person means seeing her as his equal, and I will teach my niece that her worth is not defined by the male-contrived concept of “feminine genius.”

Thankfully there are organizations like WOC that reinforce these values.

While the opposition has tried to extinguish the spirit of Vatican II, many have raised their voices, willing to sacrifice their careers and membership in their communities for the sake of justice. Intimidation does not bind all people to silence; some fight back. If the male-only clergy are not bound by fear, I challenge them to offer a public response to this question: What would Jesus find so offensive about a woman offering remembrance of him to God?