God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

in between travels

Traveling between Europe and South Africa sees in the moment a clear competition: which country has the most outrages politicians, the most stupid public debates avoiding the real question of long term sustainability of our societies and environments. Adding the big brother from the US sometimes one even does not know how to close ears and eyes from all the thunder of underdeveloped ideas. Add some blue haired so called influencer and the panopticum of political and social surrealism matches Salvador Dali’s paintings or even goes further.

What is it that people are losing their minds and running either behind a single messiah with short term memory or flocking behind the easy black/white solutions which never will solve any of our complex problems. Or, like we see more and more in South Africa, use violence and intimidation to get what one wants and just now without delay.
My guess is still that the anxiety over an overwhelming digital and digital connected world makes people being so afraid that they even intelligence don’t stop the degradation into instincts learned as we still walks as Neanderthals this earth.  We are in the mental stone-age of the digital revolution – and we behave like it on almost all levels of societies – it’s like a pandemic running its course and nobody really notices and if, one looks at it like the rabbit in front of the snake: don’t move – freeze!

The sacredness of life, the beauty of living this earth, the diversity of nature, the freedoms so many people fought and died for – all those are becoming victims of this point in time.  And churches, so much busy with themselves and their own history of failings trying to maintain a bit of moral order are not realizing that the real questions have moved so much further from the question what happens in the bedrooms of people.

Well, this weekend we are celebrating Pentecost – we celebrate the good Spirit of everything living and existing on this earth, in this universe – and maybe looking at the scale this compares to the aforesaid problems might enable us to put things again into perspective. This Spirit has three virtues: faith, hope and love – and maybe bringing them to the forefront again there might be a way out of our seemingly endless circles of short and inadequate answers – hope, faith and love are long-living – they are channels to life and to freedom we urgently need to rediscover.

Filed under: Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”

Long awaited and finally out – and already there is a flood of comments from all sides of the church spectrum and beyond. So I want to  add my two cents to the growing number of comments and I will do it brief and up the point.
Firstly I am not disappointed and I am not surprised neither, as the exhortation is the continuation of a sincere approach of Pope Francis to move the church in the right direction, but also bearing in mind that he is coming from South America with its specifics.
Style, tone and content is indeed refreshing and I never thought that in parts – when it comes to discernment and the conclusion that nothing in this world is either black or white – a pope confirms what my pastoral approach is since I was ordained a priest. It is indeed with great joy that I read those parts and I feel strengthened. It almost feels like common sense has prevailed and for me personal, I feel much more home again in this church. Even if nobody dares to spell it out: we have had other times in our church where all was only seemingly black and white and whoever was stepping aside was already seen as an outsider in the church or even worse, outside the church. This church is changing under his leadership and guidance.
“Wonderful complicated”, is the description of Pope Francis for this world, for all the different family situations and we as clergy are encouraged to embracing God’s grace at work in the difficult and sometimes unconventional situations families and marriages face — even at risk of obscuring doctrinal norms. Accepting conscience instead of replacing conscience – it really warms my heart to hear such words from the top of our hierarchy.

And yes, there are parts I still think are missing, for example the word “intrinsic evil” in connection with my brothers and sisters belonging to the LGBTI community should have been officially withdrawn and banned, but I guess, being asked to not discriminate means that the use of those words are not allowed anymore. Another contentious issue is the question of artificial contraception where I hoped for some development.

“We need a healthy dose of self-criticism,” so the pope, and with his writings he certainly opens the church up for such reflection. And not only for such reflections but also for a new chapter of being a church not only for the people but walking with the people and seeing and pointing out all the grace being present in the chaos of our lives, our families, our situations.
I think there is so much food for thoughts in this exhortation, starting by seeing grace in imperfection and following through with discovering the lively spirit of God in all human situations. This will keep us busy and if done sincere as a church getting “soiled by the mud of the street” in the process  will look good in the eyes of God.
Let’s hope that the humble and honest reflection of Pope Francis really filters through all the church officials and that we all, being either labelled “progressive” or “conservative” just hold in and reflect ourselves on the rich input the pope is giving with “Amore Laetitia”.

And here the full text in the official translation:
http://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf

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

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

Changing the teaching?

I guess meanwhile even those far away from the Roman Catholic Church could not avoid to notice that a debate is going on about family and sexuality and how church should see, consider and tackle those problem areas of Christian fabric. There are those in favor of changes and the surveys in Europe show clearly that some of  the teaching is not only not understood but simply ignored even by those going to church every Sunday. Others resent changes and one of the loudest prominent voices is now Cardinal Mueller, heading the department watching over the right faith of the church. He is surely a controversial figure and I have the impression he likes like the late Manto Tshabala Msimang to be in that place of controversy and harsh judgements. But he is also an academic and I fail to understand why he argues in the matter divorced-remarried so non-academic and in my opinion simply wrong. Where ever I read about his comments mainly in the German press, he insists that the church teaching cannot be changed. He insists that dogmas can’t change and therefore divorced – remarried cannot receive communion until – so to speak – Jesus comes back and corrects it.
Maybe I am mistaken but I cannot see that this argument meets the request of changes at all. I see from all the surveys that people yearn for lifelong intimacy, faithfulness and most Christians would agree that this is the aim, even if times have changed since Jesus. But they also acknowledge that failure is an option and that in the light of the unconditional love of God there is the mercy factor the church holds dear in tradition and teaching.

Mueller has only to look to the Orthodox Church – the sister church,the other lung of the church as John-Paul II has put it. They have the same teaching and still, there is a way via “oikonomia” to remedy situations of failure. In excluding such an option Mueller indirectly accuses the Orthodox Church of being unfaithful to the teaching of Jesus, which I find quite amazing. Or he maybe is ignorant and has not understood yet, that the letter of the law kills, but he spirit of the law gives life. The Orthodox Church has given room to the spirit and there is a clear feeling in the Western part of the church, that the spirit should govern the whole church and so overcome the split of the 11th century. I can’t remember which Cardinal from South America it was, but he pointed out in an interview, that  Cardinal Mueller has to learn that the German way of seeing things either “black or white” does not apply to real life, also therefore not to the life of the church. We all live in shadows of grey. And this gives the light of mercy the special attractive sparkle when seen from outside.

So, I don’t think we need to change the teaching, but we should stop declaring an ideal the measurement for our daily life. And we should not use another sacrament to punish people. The grace of God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is in my eyes often a comfort for those going to the trauma of shattered dreams. If the “spiritual communion” has the same effect of God’s closeness as the “real communion” , so John – Paul II, then there is indeed no need to differentiate between them. Let’s keep praying that the Synod of Bishops in October experiencing the spirit which liberates and gives life.

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

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