Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Jesuit Pope of Mercy Looks to the East

Pope Francis continues to surprise his fans and opponents. We should not, however, be surprised since we live in the world of probabilities. He hails from Argentina where poverty, like the rest of Latin America, has been the share of most populations governed by dictatorsOn the night of his election on March 13, 2013 Pope Francis showed an extraordinary opening to people and crowds when from the balcony of St. Peter's Square he asked them to pray for him and bless him. Having abandoned the shiny clothing of his predecessors and the Vatican palace as he moved to a modest apartment, Pope Francis does not only speak but also acts. He goes out to the streets of Rome to help the needy children, visits imprisoned persons, invites ordinary people to dine with him and calls his friends to spend a bit of time together. Trained in the Society of Jesus, he reminds us of Jesuit theologians who have contributed significantly to the contemporary development of Biblical, theological and scientific studies in the Catholic Church: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in research of a universe deeply connected with Christian faith and salvation in Christ; Henri de Lubac in "Resourcemment" of the Fathers of the Church and the recognition of God's active Spirit in all humans; Karl Rahner in Transcendental Thomism and his "Anonymous Christian" proposalHans Urs von Balthasar in his visionary work on hope for salvation of non-Christians and  the mystical beauty of God; Jacques Dupuis in his work on the Church and pluralism; Avery Dulles in Church models and the development of the doctrine of salvation in the Church; Carlo Maria Martini and Gerald O'Collins in Biblical scholarship; and George Coyne in astronomy. But not Pope Francis. Commenting on the discernment process for finding the good as introduced by the Jesuits founder St.Ignatius LoyolaFrancis said "Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. " In an in interview conducted with him by the Jesuit La Civiltà Cattolica in August 2013, Francis revealed his objectives and hopes. Although it may take a bit of time to read the full text of the interview, everyone is encouraged to read the mind of Pope Francis here. Pope Francis revealed too his "dark night of the soul" (an expression used by the mystical St. John of the Cross) which he endured for years. Does this experience make him a mystic? Read it here. There is a reason why Pope Francis shows himself as a pastor more than as a philosopher. He knows that the world is in constant need of love. Everyone needs to be sure that he is loved by God. Human greed and sin are results of feeling betrayed since we do not know the mercy of our Father. Any evil that snatches a beloved person or causes him harm is immediately attributed by most of us to God's punishment or impatience with sin. On the other hand, materialists and atheists view daily events as materially random which render life meaningless. Extremists too claim they have exclusive knowledge to truth which may well result in sowing hatred for those who disagree with them...It is true that Pope Francis has had challenges in his movement to get closer to people. Since the start of his pontificate, he was already opposed by fundamentalist Christians. Accusing him that he secretly convoked the bishops in a new council including publishing a series of doctrinal errors, social networks and email systems went virulent, but were answered by Catholic apologists (e.g. Jimmy Akins) and Pope Francis moved on. As an example, early in 2014, Francis met with his friend the Anglican bishop Tony Palmer in his apartment without any conditions. He then sent with Palmer a video to the leaders conference for the Charismatic Ministries of Kenneth Copeland setting in movement an opening to Protestant Christian communions (video here). Seeing the post-modern chaos that humanity is going through, Pope Francis declared a Year of Mercy that potentially gives people who listen a chance to reconsider their attitudes and change them towards respect for the others, creation, and the author of life. The Gospel of Christ and acts of mercy that Christ counsels are therefore close to his heart, lips, and found in his daily actions, particularly his concern for the needy, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized in society.  "If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?" the pope says. "I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized." he wrote in his book "The Name of God is Mercy" (read here, here, and here). In spite of all of his sincere efforts, Pope Francis continues to be described by some writers that he is an actor who loves to be worshiped. Yet Francis has no enemies

The above explains a bit the openness of Pope Francis and his geopolitical moves to liberate the Church from new forms of slavery. Since the start of his pontificate three years ago, he took the risk of opposing the powers of the world in order to protect and increase the good of the disadvantaged and the poor. His critique of excessive capitalism and the misuse of technology is clear in his Evangelii Gaudium published in 2013. In 2014 he was able to mediate a return of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba - a Communist regime among the very few Communist countries left in the world. The deal removes an economic embargo imposed by the "Super power" which would facilitate the Island's return to the much-needed higher employment and better economic relations with the rest of the North and South. But for Pope Francis, this was an opportunity when he visited Cuba to get guarantees that Christians would be able to worship publicly and the Church would get her schools and facilities restored to her. His visit to Cuba in 2015 was only one of many extensive meetings with crowds in and outside Italy that made him as popular as Saint John Paul II. In 2013, he attended the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with an enthusiastic crowd where he urged them not to be "part-time" Christians but rather to lead full meaningful lives. In 2015, he visited Latin America again where he was greeted by crowds in Bolivia, Ecuador (some 1.5 million attended the Mass), Paraguay, and Cuba. In early 2016, he went to Mexico and urged Mexicans to stop trading in drugs (marijuana or cannabis) as he encouraged the poor of  Latin America to seek healthier and better moral life. In 2014, Francis visited South Korea where he beatified the first generation of 124 Korean martyrs and urged reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. In his first Mass before a 50,000 strong crowd, the pontiff asked Koreans to "reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers".  And How about Europe? In 2014, he visited Albania which he considers a model of harmony between religions  as a national unity government includes Muslims, Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Albania has for a few decades seen a revival in Catholicism partly due to the popularity of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who had Albanian origins. In November 2014, Pope Francis visited Turkey where he prayed silently, as did his immediate predecessors, in the Blue Mosque and solemnly prayed with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in the Church of St. George where Francis humbly asked Bartholomew I to bless him "and the Church of Rome"and reassured Orthodox faithful that "to reach the desired goal of full unity the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith". His shortest visit was to Strasbourg, France as he addressed the European Parliament on the issue of refugees to Europe. In 2015, Pope Francis visited Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia as well as Herzegovina where he stressed the importance of the ecumenical dialogue highlighted in his Mass at Koshevo stadium that drew some 67,000 pilgrims and 1,000 from Serbia too. Francis probably wanted too to stem tensions between Muslims and Christians in the region and encourage reasonable dialogue.

In May 2014, his first visit to the Middle East included Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, and Israel. There he appealed to all sides in the conflict to stop acts of violence and seek reconciliation. As a gesture he invited the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him in prayer at the Vatican which they duly accepted and attended in June of the same year (Cf. YouTube here and text here) while Pope Francis defended the saintly Pope Pius XII against charges that the latter did not do enough to protect the Jews in the Holocaust (Cf. here and here). In spite of current persecution of Christians in the Middle East which the Roman pontiff did mention in his above-mentioned interview, the moment reminded us of the visit of Saint John Paul II to the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, the first in history, where in 2001 he respectfully removed his shoes, entered the Mosque, and urged joint forgiveness by Christians and Muslims, whose faiths have warred for centuries over territory and spiritual primacy (Cf. here).

In January 2015, Pope Francis went to Sri Lanka and to the Philippines. He made history, as never before, when 7 million persons in the crowds cheered and celebrated the open Mass in Manila. On his way to the Philippines Francis made sure to communicate his blessings to the Chinese people and their leader. This was the first step by the pontiff to open the dialogue with Communist China for recognizing the  underground Catholic Church affiliated with Rome. In February 2016, another signal made the waves as Pope Francis used his political weight for an overture to the Chinese people recorded in an interview with Asia Times (see here and the interview here). In November 2015, Pope Francis visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic in Africa thus establishing direct communication with Catholics and other missionary Christians in this continent that witnessed much slavery in the past and needs the missionary Church today. While he urged local Catholics to hold on to the faith and witness to Christ, the trip was also an opportunity, which he used, for dialogue with Muslim leaders. 

Pope Francis' defense of the persecuted Christians seems to ring louder today than earlier. His support for Christians in the Middle East can be seen in a number of declarations and homilies. In some of his statements, one is shown here where early on in his pontificate Francis recalls the Letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria….Jesus Christ Himself will look over it, and your charity.(Letter to the Romans, IX,I). In February 2015, Francis condemned the killing of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by ISIS extremists and called them "martyrs" (see here and here). In meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on February 12, 2016 in Havana, he co-signed a declaration in which they support persecuted Christians in the Middle East (see here). Francis probably offended some hardline Eastern Catholic bishops but his collaboration and humility were noticed. For him, the priority of love requires attempting to reconcile with estranged brothers even if those brothers have other priorities or, in this case, work for their own political authority; namely Vladimir Putin's challenge of superior western powers. When Saint John Paul II wished to visit the Russian Orthodox Church in the early 21st. century, his wishes were not welcome by Moscow. In Moscow, the feelings for the Polish Pope were mixed with returning churches to the Ukrainian and Russian Catholics, considered in their eyes to be their own. But the Jesuit Pope thought of the political and military support that Russia provided to Syria and Syrian Christians. The Declaration did not question the authority of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Ukraine, but it facilitated a victory for Pope Francis to consolidate his anticipated entry into Moscow. Underlining the importance of the ecumenical movement, the Havana Declaration represents a step forward towards a form of reunion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, a salutary addition to the desires of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox Christians and the openness of Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church.  A couple of decades ago, the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. asked "Why is not the Catholic Church entrenched in Asia?" It seems that his prayers have been partially answered. By eyeing the East, the Jesuit Pope managed a yet-to-be-fulfilled reconciliation between Rome and two great powers in the East: China and Russia.

One common element shared by Catholicism and Orthodoxy must also be mentioned - namely, the high regard attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary known in the Eastern and Catholic Churches by the title "Theotokos" or Mother of God as proclaimed in the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. The holiest among creatures, her close relationship to, and dependence upon, her son Jesus Christ places her above all the angels and saints in heaven. In recent times, Pope Pius XII defined in 1950 that the Mother of God was assumed to heaven body and soul. In closing Vatican II, Blessed Paul VI declared her "Mother of the Church."  Saint John Paul II 's motto was dedicated to her "Totus Tuus" meaning "Totally Yours." Pope Francis too always asks for her intercession in his homilies. Surprisingly the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the holiest woman is shared by Muslims too. Over 50 years ago, the popular TV Catholic televangelist Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen predicted that this great veneration of the Virgin Mary by Muslims is, in spite of what we see today, her role to bring them to worship her son; the Son of God.  

In spite of his phenomenal popularity, Pope Francis has been criticized in a number of undertakings:
1. During the 2014 Synod on the family, Cardinal Raymond Burke, at the time Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, criticized a widely-published proposal by the well-known theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper in which the latter proposes that the Church allow Communion for civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics after a period of penance. Kasper had been made secretary of the 2014 Synod. In October 2014, CNS published an interview with Kasper on his proposal (here). Cardinal Burke was later transferred by Francis to head the small Order of Malta.The act was seen by many as a sign of intolerance by Pope Francis. In the 2015 Synod on the family, Francis allowed public debates and participation of lay persons too. In his exhortation Amoris Laetitea (here and here) published in April 2016, Pope Francis concluded the debate on the family by encouraging married Catholics to remain faithful to each other and to the teachings of the Church.While reaffirming the Church's dogma that do not accept change, the pontiff encouraged local bishops to apply the remedies to moral issues without having to go back to Rome for approval since this is the meaning of inculturation in faithfulness to Catholic tradition as directed by Vatican II. This was a salutary pronouncement on "The Joy of Love".
2.  In his address before the American Congress and the General Assembly of the United Nations, he drew attention to care for nature, and help of immigrants as well as the poor to live a dignified life. About his defense for the life of every person, he was not able, however, to clearly defend the life of the human person in the womb - arguably the weakest of all - before Congress but did show his belief in the right to life of the unborn when he spoke to the bishops. It inflamed a liberal American when he found out the Pope's anti-abortion stance and opposition to homosexuality (see here). Although Pope Francis teaches and abides by the dogma of the Church, his keen enthusiasm to attract as many estranged faithful as possible back to the fold was sometimes understood to be too ambiguous on expressing the moral values that Christianity stands for. This is so because he wants to move away from abstract concepts and rather be a pastor close to people.
3. In 2014 when refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East became a global concern, Pope Francis encouraged European leaders to welcome them as the Gospel invites Christians to host and show love towards strangers. In September of the same year, he addressed the issue head on (here). However, not everyone agreed with him especially that Europe could not host millions of migrants notably those that may be linked to terrorism as found later in the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Germany's Angela Merkel took the lead for welcoming up to a million migrants but eventually had to stop the flow. With the difficulties and fears of terrorism that  Europe's policy makers have to deal with, criticism of Francis' unambiguous support for the refugees in Europe is growing more. In April 2016, Francis brought 12 Muslim families to the Vatican while all the indicators tell that Germany's lead in this case failed to a great deal...Europe is a different culture, already exhausted with relatively high unemployment compared to America...The Jesuit professor on Islam Fr. Samir Khalil Samir wrote recently that a conversation with Cardinal Tauran, a top aid to the Pope, reveals that Pope Francis had demanded the Greek authorities which received the refugees to ensure there are Christian and Muslim families for the pope to take to the Vatican. However, the Greek authorities had already been bound by the agreement reached earlier by leaders of the European Union and Turkey. Pope Francis had effectively no choice...
UPDATE: On Tuesday May 10, Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. was honoured by Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II for his 60 years contributions to theological writings and work in the ecumenical dialogue between the Vatican and the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. In his response, Fr. Boulad said that it was not only Christian unity that mattered to him, but unity of the entire humanity - a key element in the evangelization of the Jesuit Pope Francis ...In spite of reservations about Francis openness to Islamic refugees in Europe as it carries the high risk of unknowingly inducing terrorism, there is an overall objective that his lieutenants share. The Church needs to be more present in the East and the South where Christians have been persecuted...It is time that the material comfort enjoyed by North Americans and West Europeans be more fairly shared with the poor in Asia and Africa since they deserve to be lifted from their miseries and helped with education. In these poor nations, we find the Gospel received more fully. In fact, it is the materialist society that benefits from the sincere prayers of the poor. Francis' two conservative predecessors had called for a third way between outright materialist consumerism and materialist socialism that both enslave the human person to their materialist agendas (e.g. Centesimus Annus, here). Together with Pope Francis encyclicals, his predecessors encyclicals, since at least Pope Leo XIII, constitute the moderate path of the Church.
4. In April 2016, the schismatic group The Society of St. Pius continued a round of negotiations with Rome in which their leaders insist on their demands that they would not accept some Vatican II declarations (e.g. Nostra Aetate, Dignitatis Humanae) - (see here and here). If things go well, we do not expect a change in the criteria set by Pope Benedict XVI to receive the traditionalist group into communion with the Catholic Church.

Although there are different opinions as to what Pope Francis has achieved and the future of the Church under his leadership as successor of St. Peter, we need nevertheless to believe that the Spirit of Christ our God will continue to guide him and the Church in her mission.

We influence each other for better or for worse. If everyone attempts to get closer to moderation, we may find peace in this polarized world of today!

"Be moderate in everything except in love" St. Augustine...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Power of the Resurrection - Henri Boulad, S.J.

Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. gave, today Easter Sunday in Egypt, a powerful homily on the Resurrection of Christ (in French here).  He explained briefly that Christ does not have life like us who will lose it one day but he IS life...We utter words but he is The Word of God. Our lives will end on earth. Persons like Lazarus raised or resuscitated by Christ, the son of the widow of Zarephath resuscitated by Elijah and Tabitha resuscitated by Peter died again. However Christ did not resuscitate. He was the only human person who was dead, traversed death, went to hell and restored humanity to his beloved Father by his death...He rose from the dead never to die again in a glorified body that those who saw him after his Resurrection did not know him at first.

Jesus Christ tells us that he will open for us a door to eternal life...not a book or a rule nor some wisdom like Mohammed, the Buddha, Confucius, and others. God is love, wrote John. His story is the story of love eternal that is the essence of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One in essence for ever. His Resurrection is the epitome of how much God loves humanity; His incarnation, wonderful healing, magnificent new covenant with his passion and death to the depth of hell, and his glorious Resurrection hidden yet powerful that resulted in the courageous apostles and disciples who had been hiding out of fear but now proclaim Jesus the Son of God to whom every knee shall bow. His mind and will are love that gives us faith and hope to enjoy life beyond life in the abundance of the beloved ones.

Christos Anesti....The risen One  is not only Jesus of Nazareth but also with him you and you and you...This is Easter: I am the Resurrection and Life. He has assumed all humanity in crushing death and opening life, eternal life... It is mutation, or change beyond the bio-physics because he who dies will find himself in Christ's hands...
P.S. I added a few words on my own to explain ...

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


See Links to Websites Below