God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Signs of the times for the Roman-Catholic Church

I am not sure how to explain the feeling when convictions, you are holding deeply in yourself suddenly are voiced officially and formally in the church, you are serving since more than 30 years. It is not even a triumphant feeling – that would anyhow be much too early, looking at the universal Catholic Church – but it is a relief that thoughts, you were punished for, ideas which were forbidden to speak out lout (like the ordination of women priests under John-Paul II) are not any more only whispered in the dark corner of the church.

Participation of laity when it comes to the election of Bishops, gender equality within the church – and yes, it means all genders; ordination for women, celibacy as choice. A clear jump to overcome the Middle Ages and to arrive as the pilgrims finding their ways through the times into the 21st century.

Obviously we are not there yet, but knowing that German theology had always an impact and is indeed well reasoned and studied, there seems to be suddenly light at the end of a very dark tunnel. There will be now a forceful stand-off of those wanting to remain in the past. And there will be a decision to be made whether the universal Catholic Church allows for a synodal way forward which also strengthen the local churches and gives them the leverage to own decisions on certain levels; or whether the institution is imprisoned in the thought that all must do the same. Diversity in Unity would be the catchphrase; and the Orthodox Church gives us examples of this diverse unity based on baptism and creed.

While the dirty truth about child abuse continues to rage in the church, especially in the German church currently, it opens the view clearly on structural sins of power, male dominance and tons of “brothers in the fog” as the late Cardinal of Cologne described the priestly abusers he and others covered up. Many countries have gone through the discoveries of abuse and many churches in Africa have not even started to look deeply into their own backyards; the German church might be the one which later will be attributed the courage to name and shame the wounds and draw the necessary consequences.

There will be lots of oppositions within the church; there might be more splits and division, but this is part of the process of transformation. There will be the exposure of big gaps between different theologies and pastoral practices when it comes to Europe and Africa. We should not be afraid of all of this. The Catholic Church has waited too long to walk the talk about the values of participation, democratic rule, gender equality being advocated for others but internally rejected those values for their own institution.

Let’s be clear: this is not a German revolution. Think of the Amazon Synod, which also was thought-provoking in their requests. It is about taking seriously the sensus fidei , which was also highlighted in the German Synod text about the framework of its own reflections. It is about taking seriously the synodal church as envisioned by Vatican II; being somehow covered up and almost made forgotten in the times of Johannes-Paul II and Benedict XVI. In many ways, we now start to understand and try to explore the deeper sense of what was said in the sixties of the last century. And if Paul VI would not have forbidden certain discussions, the church would have moved certainly faster into the realities of the 21st century.

Another clarification: All discussions don’t touch on the essential of the good news: the unconditional love for all people, the promise of a meaning in life and the certainty that we are part of a much bigger and divine picture we constantly have to discover anew. The bible is full of stories of people exactly doing this: discovering that understanding and pictures of the divine changes, that the divine touches their lives in ways unexpected; the bible is a book of transformation from Abraham till Jesus. The “word of God” as it is liturgically often called, is not set in stone, but it is set in the hearts of a diversity of humans, we in the church call ‘the sons and daughters of God’. And the church as an institution and a living entity should encourage this living and developing connection between the world and divine. This can be scary at times for many, but diving in the deepest question of existing is not for the faint-hearted.

I often in this day’s think of the first apostles and specifically Peter, who had also to learn that the spirit of God showed him, that his understanding of how things should work, was thrown out of the window. Think of Acts 10:44-48, or think of what we call the first council in Jerusalem.

We live in exciting times for the church, we live in painful times too and in uncertain times. And exactly this uncertainty tends to support the motion to keep the known and to not jump into the unknown. I am convinced that we don’t have a chance but to move if we want to remain relevant as a church. We don’t have to move all in the same speed as a church and within the church, but we have to walk, sooner or later, to keep meaning to our message for this world. Otherwise, we will become a self-serving institution with no relevance for humanity.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

Moments of reflection


Traveling through the world for the last 5 weeks has given me the opportunity to see so many different landscapes – from Corsica to the South of France and the South of Spain – not to forget Bavaria with blue skies and the snow-covered Alps in the background –  the Garden State of New Jersey and finally New Mexico with the desert coming from Colorado with the Rocky Mountains.

Nature can be a blast – it can lift up the mood and it can almost trigger a certain way of talking with each other or even being silent in the presence of each other. Nature, an incarnation of the divine somehow tells you the story of all created being part of something much bigger, much serener, much more enchanted and connected then the good old bible story of  Adam and Eve being told by God to be masters of the world.

Even speaking over death and dying suddenly gets another meaning and a lightness is felt on this heavy thoughts of own mortality as if the comfort of the natural cathedrals changes the tune and mood of those engaging in such talks.

And one suddenly wonders whether the talk of man as the crown of creation is really the adequate language to use or whether this tribal expression coming from the good very old times has outlived its meaning and even damages our understanding of creation and the divine.  And how all is connected and inter-connected in a mysterious way and often only discovered listening to the guts and the feelings and the spirits guiding us.


And then suddenly there are more questions about how we talk about God, the universe and us – there are creeping questions into the conversation whether we got it really right thinking that there is a God somewhere sitting in the heavens – or now better universe or beyond the boundaries of all the known and unknown galaxies?
And whether the thinking of the divine as an opposite of mankind does still make sense or whether we need another language bringing our knowledge of modern science and the core elements of the biblical story into singing one tune.
Discovering ourselves as part of an universal conscience developing – the creation which is according to Paul still in labour – and all existing part of this process evolving more reflective.


Lots to reflect about, alone and together – as I said in a earlier blog – traveling is an adventure and we come home as changed persons – hopefully somebody will notice.

Filed under: Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

Christian Unity – a sermon to listen to

I know, lots of sermons are boring, old-fashioned and definitive to long. But there are indeed exceptions and I would like to share one with you all: It’s a Catholic sermon at an Anglican event speaking about reformation – it almost sounds like a contradiction, but Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, was invited to a Eucharist celebration in Westminster Abbey, London, on Tuesday 24 November 2015. The event marked the inauguration of the 10th General Synod of the Church of England and the sermon was indeed short and sweet, but powerful and leading the way to the possibility of a unified diversity of Christian Churches. Addressing the Queen and the whole Synod, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa reflected on the preparations for the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation saying the following:

Rebuild my house – Haggai 1:1-8
Few prophetic oracles in the Old Testament can be dated so precisely as that of Haggai, which we have just heard in the first reading. We can place it between August and December in the year 520 BC. The exiles, after the deportation to Babylon, have come back to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. They set to work, but soon grow discouraged, each preferring to work on his own house instead. Into this situation comes the prophet Haggai, sent by God with the message we have heard.
The Word of God, once it is proclaimed, remains forever alive; it transcends situations and centuries, each time casting new light. The situation deplored by the prophet is renewed in history each time we are so absorbed in the problems and interests of our own parish, diocese, community – and even of our particular Christian denomination – that we lose sight of the one house of God, which is the Church.
The prophecy of Haggai begins with a reproof, but ends, as we heard, with an exhortation and a grandiose promise: “Go up into the hills, fetch timber and rebuild the House, and I shall take pleasure in it and manifest my glory there” – says the Lord”.
One circumstance makes this point particularly relevant. The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.
The situation has dramatically changed since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him. “All things were created through him and for him”; Christ is the light of the world, the one who gives meaning and hope to every human life – and the majority of people around us live and die as if He had never existed! How can we be unconcerned, and each remain “in the comfort of our own paneled houses”? We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.
We need to go back to the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we are facing a largely post-Christian world. When Paul wants to summarize the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” He says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). This is the real “articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiae”, the article by which the Church stands or falls.
This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies.
Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church—and with more vigor than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or their man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity. Self-justification! I am convinced that if they were alive today this is the way Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer would preach justification through faith!
Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfill Christ’s heart desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.
The Anglican Church has a special role in all of this. It has often defined itself as a “via media” (a Middle Way) between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. From being a “via media” in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches. The presence among you of a priest of the Catholic Church, in circumstances of such special significance, is a sign that something of the kind is already happening.
Let us conclude by returning to the text of Haggai. After the people of Israel, in obedience to the prophet’s invitation, had returned with renewed fervour to the task of rebuilding the temple, God sent His prophet again, this time with a message full of hope and consolation:
“But take courage now, Zerubbabel – it is the Lord who speaks -, courage, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest; courage, all you people of the country – it is the Lord who speaks. To work! I am with you, the Lord of hosts declares; and my Spirit is present among you. Do not be afraid!” (Hg 2, 4-5).
Zerubbabel was the political leader at the time, and Joshua the religious leader. I believe that the Lord wanted me to be among you today, above all to tell you that He is addressing this same message to you, at the inauguration of your Synod and also in view of the meeting planned for next January between the leaders of the entire Anglican communion: “Take courage, Your Majesty, Sovereign of this nation, courage, Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, courage Sentamu, Archbishop of York, courage, you bishops, clergy and laity of the Church of England! To work, because I am with you. Says the Lord!”
Source: http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2015/11/rebuild-my-house-sermon-to-the-general-synod-of-the-church-of-england-by-father-raniero-cantalamessa.aspx

 

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ideology or Faith?

It is an amazing change of hearts I observe with those being on the very right or so-called conservative spectrum of our church: While under John-Paul II and Benedict XVI any criticism of the pope or Vatican decision was deemed inexcusable and punishable, suddenly those very same people start making it an honorable thing to criticize and lament the Synod and the leadership of Pope Francis – the latter still in cautious terms but when it comes to people like Cardinal Burke and others, it is quite obvious. The rules of yesterday are not applicable anymore today. And with the same brutality they insisted in those gone days on obedience without hesitance or second thoughts, they now push the agenda of what the Synod or the Pope cannot do.

As much as I understand the anxiety of people who remain prisoners of their own chosen mental prison and who are now suddenly having to reason any of their stances instead of being able to take it for granted, I must admit that I see with astonishment how hardened people defend their position not willing even to listen to others who are coming from a different point of view. And suddenly doctrine and pastoral theology seemed to stand irreconcilably against each other never being able of reconciliation.  One reads about “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” and alleged manipulations and the now famous Cardinal Burke stated that the final report of the extraordinary Synod produced a “gravely flawed document that does not express adequately the teaching and discipline of the Church and, in some aspects, propagates doctrinal error and a false pastoral approach”

Do I miss here something or is it really that more than 30 years of a certain style of ruling within the church the people within have forgotten how to talk, how to argue, how to open up to the arguments and considerations of the others concerning matters of the church. Pope Francis encouraged the participants of the Synod to speak freely and to listen without reservations. These are the basis of deliberation and discernment to find consent, to build bridges, to see realities, to encourage dialogue and to give Pope Francis the tools to extract what is needed for the development of the church. Synods are advisory boards – they are not a parliament and they should have the openness to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who – in my humble opinion – can’t work freely if there is nothing to reflect or to develop as everything must remain as it is.

Ecclesia semper reformanda and so even doctrine means no a static thing but that we as a Church have to listen and search always more deeply what it is at the core; meant to strengthen the people of God and to encourage them to live life to the fullest. I haven’t seen anybody connected to the Synod who really wants to change the core of church teaching, but I have seen many trying to apply new academic knowledge and new circumstances which may lead to not only a new language but also a more developed and adequate application to the realities of people today.

Mercy and the theology of marriage are no enemies and have never been, the knowledge of sexuality and it’s diversity has changed, ways of reading and interpretation of bible verses are developing constantly – there is no need to fear open and honest considerations without knowing at the beginning of discernment what will be the end result. This is indeed new to such a church body and a real chance this Synod with all its preparatory meetings and inputs has created: an open space for minds to challenge each other, for the spirit to flow and to trust, so the Pope, that under the chairmanship of Peter God will show the way.

There is no need to build up theological barricades or fortresses to defend yesterday – look at Abraham and Moses and be aware that faith always means to set out trusting that God is in the lead. If one only holds firm what one knows already there is the danger that faith turns into ideology and that would be the worst outcome of any such church assembly.

Filed under: Catholic Church, chaplain, Politics and Society, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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