God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

What do I expect from the Family Synod?

The family synod is coming up and obviously every theologian has some ideas what should be achieved and how the Holy Spirit should guide the participants towards a development of the theology of families and with it some aspects of moral theology. The preparatory meeting and the time afterwards has shown that the gloves are off and that those insisting of keeping it as it has been since the beginning are fighting really hardcore to defeat any development in this field. It almost looks like marriage and sexuality are at the core of the gospel for some in the church and the rest of the message is not that important, hiding behind this epic battle of minds.

For me as a priest, knowing the battles, trials and tribulations of so many faithful including myself but also knowing the history and development of theology through times and ages, it hurts to see that faith is almost turned into an ideology to win this battle. On the other hand, we know from the Acts in the bible that Peter and Paul also had their fights during meetings with the apostle in Jerusalem. And if there would not have been new ways – for some unthinkable at that time – acknowledged, Christianity would still be a Jewish sect.
What is clear that for most people in this world the outcome does not matter anymore, Humanae Vitae has never gotten the “sensus fidelium” and the lonely decision of Pope Paul VI has alienated so many Catholics from the teaching of the church. And it is clear that those, who are still interested of what the church is saying, in their majority expect a development in the teaching, addressing the questions of our times and healing of those wounds, inflicted by a theology, which insists that the ideal is the norm and uses the most important sacrament as a tool of punishment rather than strengthening those in need of it.

So what do I expect from the Synod dealing with family? This is a tricky one, as whatever one says, it will either be applauded or condemned and quick the box is ready to be put in and the key of the lock thrown away. Nevertheless, now is the time to speak out and hope for some development to avoid the same reaction within the still faithful as we have seen after “Humanae Vitae” – a second exodus of people out of the church would be a disaster and very regrettable.

Synod on the family – the first I would expect is indeed the strengthening of the family – the message that is great to establish a family based on Christian values, yes that it makes sense to love and have kids and pass on faith, hope and love to the next generation. Society needs families to grow and develop – families are the future of any society.
Secondly I would expect that the church recognizes that there might be different theologies possible – especially the African continent has much to offer with its traditions, heritage and ways towards marriage and family.  So an encouragement for the universal church to look into the rich treasures of possibilities to develop regional pastoral theology a would be a great achievement for the church as such.

Sciences have developed and there is a gap between theology and the knowledge of sciences when it comes to sexuality. This gap has to be closed because both, faith and the scientific world are two ways leading to God, they cannot contradict themselves. Acknowledgement of this fact and encouragement to talk more without anxiety would be another great achievement of the Synod.
This will certainly lead to a different approach concerning our LGBTI brothers and sisters, the word “intrinsic evil” should be scrapped from the books and at least an acknowledgement that God’s creation is much more divers than it was appreciated by the church until now would be a step in the right direction.
A further appreciation that where there is a committed and loving relationship in our society there is God present would go a long way to heal wounds inflicted of a church experienced as cold hearted by many.
In this context of sciences and faith the synod should also look again at the topic of artificial contraception, but it should not be limited to this framework. Several theologian have opened up venues to debate this question anew.

For the question of divorced-remarried I simply expect that we stop using the Eucharist as a punishment tool and that we look at the patriarchal theology of “oikonomia” in the Eastern Churches leading us to a changed approach and an acknowledgement that the unconditional love of God is especially important for those failing their hope of life-long marriage. Nobody just runs away, hurt, pain, tears and desperation need an encouraging answer as Cardinal Walter Kasper has made clear it with a brilliant consistency in his talks and books.

The Synod on the topic family cannot solve all problems or bring instant change to all what is debated, but it should open up venues to explore, cleaned up ears to listen to God’s good spirit anew, even a renewed way of reading the bible in the context it was written thousands of years ago.  A Synod has the task to strengthen all faithful, to encourage them to live their faith and to be recognized and acknowledged as trying their very best in the way they are created to live a life with hope, love and faith.
The Pope called a year of mercy – and it is not only the mercy for the individual person, but also a year of mercy asked for a church, which tries to make its way through the times as a crowd of sinners and saints, with successes but also failures. A time of mercy, a time of God’s mercy is a time where we are allowed to reflect on our way without anxiety, without fear and at the end there should be the encouragement to walk the way of life with God, to experience his kingdom already now . Church is not end in itself – church has the duty to show the way, to encourage, to love, to bring hope or as the first reading of next Sunday, the 23rd in ordinary time says:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong”, fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
and shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Questionable liturgical translation and some more questions…

As a chaplain to sea on a cruise liner, it is tradition also to supply the crew with Eucharistic services during the festive season.  As most members of the crew are Filipinos I was asked to the service in English. After the first responses it became clear that the new English translation did not make it to the Philippines yet – nor was their English good enough to follow the complicated structure of the new English prayers. Latinised English did not do the trick and one could read on the faces of those attending that for them, all the prayers were spoken in a language not only not familiar, but not understandable. I am not sure the guys who did the translation did really consider those attending the Mass. Being closer to Latin means nothing to those wanting to understand their prayers, confusion does not mean more holiness during the service and this kind of translation is the second worse after the old Latin mass in the extra-ordinary form.

Reflecting over this at night I realized how often our church is speaking in a language not understandable to those meant to be addressed by the words. Jesus used simple words and examples to make his message understandable to those listening to him. Academic word constructions does not help the cause nor has it any long-lasting meaning – it obstructs the truth of the good message of God and hinders people to understand the unconditional love of God.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, , , , , , , , , , , ,

08.02.2010 Monday blues again…

Monday morning starts off with two doctors interested in the HOPE Cape Town project. Somehow an interesting dialogue between European and African thinking. For me amazing to see how people really try to get a grips on the HIV pandemic in Southern Africa and develop ideas how to minimise the transmission rate. Obviously also the stance of the Catholic Church is part of the discussion.

Thereafter a TV request and discussion with the producer what is possible on short notice. It is sometimes difficult to judge and see how we can get the legitimate request for information together with what we can render on possibilities to fulfill such requests. In the moment, lots of TV teams are searching for motives, interviews and stories around the soccer world cup 2010… People in South Africa are generally more sensitive about cameras in townships and I can understand it. For too long, townships have been used and sometimes abused to produce, what was requested, without really respecting the dignity of the people. Times have changed and I think it is good that they have changed.

CCMA next, the center for conciliation and arbitration has scheduled a meeting to discuss a case of dismissal, I have been involved with. Also here it is sometimes not easy to find a balance between the very different standpoints of view of the employee and the employer. But after an informal discussion a solution is found and the more legal ways avoided. I am quite relieved about it.

Then office work, emails – I think I did write about them a couple of days earlier – to answer takes time, a request for an interview tomorrow regarding Nelson Mandela and his release from prison has to be prepared, some phone calls and then it is time for a home visit with house mass. A good tradition to bring some families together to celebrate the Eucharist in their home and then to stay together for a decent meal and lots of chat and discussion. It is good to touch again the lives of people, talk about families, their joys and hard times, about any topic just coming up. I always find a house mass very intense as people are more participating, are more part of the celebration.

The evening ends with some preparation for tomorrow, some last emails to answer and reading the latest news on the internet.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Medical and Research, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , ,

24.10.2009 Not everybody happy – or slavishly translation

Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee, sharply criticized what he called the “slavishly literal” translation into English of the new Roman Missal from the original Latin.

He said the “sacred language” used by translators “tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable” and could lead to a “pastoral disaster.”
“The vast majority of God’s people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like ‘ineffable,’ ‘consubstantial,’ ‘incarnate,’ ‘inviolate,’ ‘oblation,’ ‘ignominy,’ ‘precursor,’ ‘suffused’ and ‘unvanquished.’ The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic,” Bishop Trautman said.

“The (Second Vatican Council’s) Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated vernacular language, not sacred language,” he added. “Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension? Did Jesus ever use terms or expressions beyond his hearer’s understanding?”  Bishop Trautman made his remarks in an Oct. 22 lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, as part of the Monsignor Frederick R. McManus Lecture Series. Monsignor McManus, a liturgist, served as a peritus, or expert, during Vatican II.  The Roman Missal has not yet been given final approval for use in the United States. The U.S. bishops were scheduled to vote on four items pertaining to the missal at their November general meeting in Baltimore. It is expected that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments would give its “recognitio,” or approval, at some point following the U.S. bishops’ vote.  Bishop Trautman took note of sentences in the new missal that he said run 66, 70 and 83 words, declaring that they were “unproclaimable” by the speaker and “incomprehensible” to the hearer.  “American Catholics have every right to expect the translation of the new missal to follow the rules for English grammar. The prefaces of the new missal, however, violate English syntax in a most egregious way,” Bishop Trautman said, citing some examples in his remarks.  “The translators have slavishly transposed a Lain ‘qui’ clause into English without respecting English sentence word order,” he added. The bishop also pointed out subordinate clauses from the missal that are “represented as a sentence,” and sentences lacking a subject and predicate.

Bishop Trautman also questioned the use of “I believe” in the retranslated version of the Nicene Creed, “even though the original and official Nicene Creed promulgated by the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 said ‘we believe’ in both the Greek and Latin versions.  “Since this is a creedal prayer recited by the entire assembly in unison, the use of ‘we’ emphasized the unity of the assembly in praying this together as one body. Changing the plural form of ‘we’ to ‘I’ in the Nicene Creed goes against all ecumenical agreements regarding common prayer texts,” he said.  The bishop complained about the lack of “pastoral style” in the new translation. The current wording in Eucharistic Prayer 3 asks God to “welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters,” which he considered “inspiring, hope-filled, consoling, memorable.”  The new translation asks God to “give kind admittance to your kingdom,” which Bishop Trautman called “a dull lackluster expression which reminds one of a ticket-taker at the door. … The first text reflects a pleading, passionate heart and the latter text a formality – cold and insipid.”  Bishop Trautman quoted the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which said rites and texts “should radiate a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, free from useless repetition. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.”
“Why are these conciliar directives not implemented in the new missal?” he asked. They are “especially” relevant, Bishop Trautman added, to “the people of the third millennium: children, teenagers, adults, those with varying degrees of education, and those with English as a second language.”
He acknowledged that “there are those who disagree with the way the liturgical reform of Vatican II was interpreted and implemented” and who maintained that “a reform of the reform” was necessary to stem what they saw as “diminishing religiosity (and) declining Mass attendance” tied to the Mass texts.
But while “the Latin text is the official, authoritative text,” Bishop Trautman said, “the Latin text is not inspired. It is a human text, reflecting a certain mindset, theology and world view.”
As a consequence, “a major and radical change” and “a major pastoral, catechetical problem erupts” in the new missal during the words of consecration, which say that the blood of Christ “will be poured out for you and for many,” instead of “for all,” as is currently the practice.
“For whom did Jesus not die?” Bishop Trautman asked. “In 1974 the Holy See itself had approved our present words of institution (consecration) as an accurate, orthodox translation of the Latin phrase ‘pro multis,’“ he added. “It is a doctrine of our Catholic faith that Jesus died on the cross for all people.”
Bishop Trautman took issue with a 2006 letter to bishops by Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, then head of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which said that “salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one’s own willing or participation.”  “I respond that Jesus died even for those who reject his grace. He died for all,” Bishop Trautman said.
“Why do we now have a reversal? The Aramaic and Latin texts have not changed. The scriptural arguments have not changed, but the insistence on literal translation has changed.”
Bishop Trautman hearkened back to Monsignor McManus, whom he called “an apostle of the liturgical renewal.”  “If Monsignor McManus were with us today, he would call us to fidelity to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and encourage us to produce a translation of the missal that is accurate, inspiring, referent, proclaimable, understandable, pastoral in every sense – a text that raises our minds and hearts to God.”

Filed under: Reflection, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

09.08.2009 Sunday blues…and toughts about the sermon…

Sunday morning – and the usual ritual. Going to the office, last preparation for the church service and then off we go. And as every Sunday the question before: Does my sermon meets what the people need to hear…? Need to hear to go home afterward more joyful, more thoughtful, with more sun and love and compassion in their hearts? Am I able to touch their hearts and minds – those of the adults, but also those of the kiddies, the young and the old ones?

When I do prepare for a sermon, I always have somebody in front of my mind, or a situation close to my heart. Theological lectures are for study purposes, a sermon should bear witness from my faith, my thoughts, my questions, my experience with the unconditional love. I strongly believe that I can only touch peoples lives when they sense that my words are matched by my life experience. Otherwise I only deliver bloodless words…

Getting feedback on my sermons is very important to me. When I hear that a family was still discussing the sermon on the way back home, or somebody after quite a while can still tell me what I said on that occasion.. it is amazing for me and I feel blessed being able to be a blessing for others. Or an encouragement. Or a stone to stumble and get into deeper thoughts about life and faith.

Whatever it is, a sermon, even if nobody is able or willing to respond directly, must be a dialogue of hearts, otherwise it is a waste of time. Lets hope for this dialogue this morning again.

Filed under: Reflection, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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