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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Synod on the family

As somebody being involved in the portfolio HIV and AIDS since a longer time obviously I am observing the synod on the family starting today with utmost interest. The last days have shown clear lines between those wanting to move on with the people of God and those wanting to remain with the ” old restrictive ways” which have alienated so many Catholics and those otherwise sympathetic to the core values of our faith.
For me interesting is the latter ones always stress that there can be no change in the substance of faith. It shows clearly that either they don’t understand that nobody wants to change the teaching of the church or they try to sabotage a pastoral way which puts into account the realities of our century plus the neglected unconditional love of God. Listening to Cardinal Mueller or Burke I feel the ice of an academically preached unconditional love of God – a frozen faith towards a God who seemingly is not walking with his people. Too long, we had this climate of ‘you shall not…” – a very negative theology which killed the faith of so many of those touched by the gospel of Jesus.

The kingdom of God starts here, but is never in full present here and now and so the church has to listen to the signs of the times, the church has to listen to the academic research about sexuality as sciences is another way of knowing God. The church should listen to the voices of those, who are like the old prophets have been persecuted because the elite of a religion was not able to repent and see the new dawn God is providing. And not to forget the old and ancient and proven traditions of Africa which for example put sexuality time-wise before marriage but in an orderly way after lobola is paid.

Maybe it is too much asked to overcome the part of Humanae Vitae which was the downfall of Catholic moral theology; never accepted by the sensus fidelium. But it might be not too much asked that those synod participants, guided by the Holy Spirit may acknowledge that next to the form of the traditional family, there are other forms of love, of commitment and that failure of human love never means failure of God’s love towards them. And that sacraments never can be used to punish people but that they are especially needed in the times of the trauma of a love being destroyed for so many reasons. Let’s look at our sister church: Her ancient tradition of oikonomia is surely the key for changing our pastoral approach.
And let’s also recognize: where there is love between two people there is definitely God present. LGBTI people deserve the same love and respect – there is nothing intrinsic evil at all. To recognize this does not mean to change the theology of the sacraments. Let’s avoid these broad brushes which do not justice to different situations. Looking at each and everybody with the loving eye of God will help and being open to God’s good spirit and his guidance will do the rest so that justice prevail.

I hope and pray that the Synod on the family this year and next year will have appropriate answers to the questions of our times and that there will be no winner or loser but all feel guided by the God’s good spirit embracing and including all those who struggle and fail. We remain a church of saints and sinners – and God’s unconditional love shines over all of them in the same way.

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

25.10.2009 Ignorance and the sensus fidei

The following interview from Cardinal Napier (Durban) was given to the the Vatic an newsletter, several news station report:

Cardinal says media has ignored work of African bishops’ synod

Three weeks of intensive discussion among African bishops about the challenges they face in their poor and often war-torn countries have been largely ignored by the media, a South African cardinal said. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban and a co-president of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, also has complained that news about Africa in newspapers and on television in the rest of the world is usually bad news, and that positive stories are rarely reported. The Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, asked Cardinal Napier Oct. 23 whether sufficient attention had been given to the synod; he replied, “Absolutely not. It’s been very little.” Some Catholic newspapers and radio stations across Africa covered the synod, which was to close Oct. 25, but “as far as the rest of the media is concerned, I don’t think they are doing much,” the cardinal said. “Spiritual or religious things are not reported, unless they are controversial,” he said. “In that case,” he added, “they are sure to be published!” The 275 members of the synod have discussed a vast array of topics regarding the church’s work in Africa, including economic injustice, war, hunger, Christian-Islamic dialogue, family life, environmental exploitation and the particular plight of women, just to name a few. Even before the Vatican newspaper interview, Cardinal Napier had taken a gentle swipe at the media for ignoring the positive aspects of the continent while emphasizing disasters and tragedies. “Africa is much more,” he told journalists Oct. 14. “It embodies values and abilities that can offer spiritual richness, even to the rest of the world.” He admitted in the L’Osservatore interview that the bishops themselves during the synod presented the difficulties faced in Africa, often dramatically. “We are trying to describe the African reality, and unfortunately it must be said that in many parts there are serious problems,” he said. But, the cardinal said, “there are also positive realities,” like the reconciliation processes in Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa. “We should ask the media to announce good news as well,” he said. An example of good news that most media outlets would tend to ignore, he said, “is the growth and deepening of the faith there.”

In this interview he also complained that the church is only judged in the fields of HIV and AIDS in terms of the condom issue, leaving out the great work the church is doing otherwise in this field. I agree with the cardinal. But for me, this shows how sensitive and critical this issue is for the public and that since 1968 this issue has not been resolved within our own church. The “sensus fidelium”, necessary for the churches’s speaking about truth as one criteria, has even 40 years later refused to embrace the well-known encyclica in its entireness. We as the church can try to ignore this matter of fact, but it will not go away. It will bite us until we confront ourselves as church with this reality.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Reflection, , , , , , , , , ,

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