I can’t believe that fifty years have gone by since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, one of three declarations coming from the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965). I was a high school senior at the Passionist Preparatory Seminary in 1962 and truly had no idea what that council would mean in my life. As I look back, it basically meant that I would live in a church that in the words of Saint Pope John XXIII would open up it’s 2000 year old windows and air itself out, aggiornamento I think he called it.
I believe that one of the greatest outcomes of that council was a new understanding of our relationship to other religions, especially our relationship to our Jewish sisters and brothers. Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee discusses 2,000 years of teaching in Christianity that made Jews “The other” in this short quip above. It is just a snippet of a longer (20 minute) PBS documentary on http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365587110“>Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) This document was promulgated fifty years ago by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.
If you are not familiar with it, I think you’ll enjoy discovering what tremendous strides Christians, in particular Roman Catholic Christians have made. If you are familiar with it, I hope you enjoy hearing and watching this great story as told by Rabbi Marans and the Rev. Dennis McManus a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the faculty at Georgetown University.
My brother Dave and I like to discuss current issues. The other day we chose, addiction which we both agreed is widespread in our society. Like the author in today’s TED selection, we have a history of addiction in our family. I, myself identify as an alcoholic and work a daily program based upon that awareness.
Back to our discussion. We could not figure out why some of the most “religious” people we know seem to be troubled with addiction, not just to alcohol, sex and all those good things (and yes, I do mean good things) but to almost every conceivable human activity we know, i.e. working, reading, cleaning… We call these obsessions, and I think they are the same.
Johann Hari in this TED Talk identifies “the cure” for this and I believe he’s right. He cites Portugal as an example of a country who is succeeding in truly helping addicts and they have been doing this for 15 years. In that time problems associated with addicts have decreased in Portugal by 50%.
I wonder what would happen if we took the same approach in our church communities? Of course, some of our church communities are successful in their programs for addicts. From my perspective these churches are the ones doing just what Portugal is doing. There are many churches however that are not succeeding. If you happen to be a member of a community that needs help understanding the addict, you might find Portugal’s experiment worth trying.
It is always good to have alternatives at hand for situations that seem to be getting out of control.
Alternatives are a compatible companion to freedom. While freedom can manage, or at least survive, without alternatives, having alternatives available is always helpful for enjoying one’s freedom.
There’s little we can do about our freedom, in so far as it is a gift of God to us. We are born free as a native endowment, and cannot boast about its presence in our lives. However, our exercise of this endowment is subject to forces sometimes out of our control. We may live in a politically oppressive society where our freedom is notably curtailed, whether we like it or not. Or we may find ourselves in another kind of situation for which we are more or less responsible, to the detriment of our freedom. This would be a jail sentence, for instance, that we bring upon ourselves. Or, less graphically, it may be an employment situation that notably reduces our freedom to manage our own time, even though we more or less freely chose the job we have. Or, it may entail a home condition with responsibilities toward a large number of children, or toward aged occupants (our parents), some of which constrains us, even though we freely assumed them.
But a wonderful help in these various scenarios involving freedom is the availability of alternatives. Some alternatives are present without our having to generate them. Other alternatives are available, thanks to the care we took to provide them. An alternative can provide a way of preserving a measure of freedom that may be in danger of curtailment. If I am jailed, for example, good behavior on my part may win for me certain privileges that diminish the burden of lost freedom. Or, I am tied down with domestic chores day in and day out, good relationships with a neighbor or two may generate an alternative that ameliorates the loss of freedom oppressing me day in and day out. Or, if I suffer ill health which more or less confines my ability to freely move about, following doctor’s orders by properly medicating myself is an alternative alleviating this condition.
God also accommodates Himself to the predicaments in which we find ourselves. He is, after all, the source of our freedom, a cherished gift of His. There are many other gifts He bestows upon us, though few match the quality of freedom. And He notes how we use our freedom, whether for good or for bad. In addition, He involves Himself in our exercise of freedom, doing so in a variety of ways, one of which is by providing alternatives. This is helpful to note since only too often do we complain about the curtailments that He imposes on us.
But, we should note the alternatives He held out to the Israelite people centuries ago—people who were so devoted to the prominence of the temple in their midst, with its intricate rules and regulations, provided by God Himself, on how to approach Him in prayer and worship, entailing details about the priests who conducted temple worship, and their tribal pedigree, and their observance of holy days, and their sacrifice of various kinds of animals, etc., we may make the judgment that they were a rigidly controlled group having little freedom to worship as they liked. Unless, of course, we note how God provides the people, and their priests, a considerable number of alternatives for worshipping him, such as keeping the law (considered an acceptable sacrifice or oblation), or doing works of charity (equivalent to a flour offering ), or giving alms (equal to a sacrifice of praise), or avoiding injustice (as valuable as an atonement) (Sir. 35.1-3).
We can make the same judgment about our Church today, representing God in our life, with its rules and regulations, for example, about going to confession before receiving communion (if we have a serious sin burdening our conscience) or its admonition about receiving communion frequently. There are alternatives available to us in these matters, such as the freedom to approach communion in a state of sin, if we are truly sorry for this, and if there is a special reason for doing so (such as the wedding mass of a family member or the funeral mass of a relative) but no opportunity to go to confession beforehand, and we are determined to go to confession at the first possible time following our reception of the eucharist, or the practice of a “spiritual” communion (within the privacy of our mind and heart), in place of sacramental communion, should access to the eucharist in the usual way be impossible for us.
These are alternatives available to us when our freedom, for one reason or another, is curtailed or restricted. This happens at multiple levels of our lives. Sometimes we don’t realize this, or, If we do, we don’t take advantage of it. It is helpful to look at all the alternatives available to us before we make a complaint about the curtailments on our freedom.
All of us acknowledge unfinished business, some of us moreso than others. This situation largely derives from our propensity to defer to tomorrow what we can easily enough do today. Admittedly, much of this is trivial, so few significant setbacks are suffered from this practice, but periodically this tendency of ours does result in some unfortunate situations, both for ourselves, and also for others.
For example, we can be in contractual relationships with others, as in business arrangements, and we can ill afford to run a successful business where time and punctuality are of the essence of an operation. But even in more intimate, personal relationships, constant reneging on an agreement to do such and such for a friend or a family member can weaken the bonding among us, and leave us with a humiliating acknowledgment of our tendency toward unfinished business.
Of course, there are situations where we have no other option than to defer to a later time what we had initially intended, or even agreed, to do earlier. On such occasions all we can do is to take responsibility and make amends, by carrying out the earlier agreement as soon as feasible. Since such situations victimize us all, we often receive an understanding response from those we have failed—provided this doesn’t become habitual. We must keep the “out” bin on our desk as active as the “in” bin frequently becomes.
But, as is sometimes the case, there is no good reason why we have deferred our follow through on our initiatives. This may puzzle even us, as we ask ourselves: why did I fail to do this? We might give serious consideration to the possibility that some of the souls in purgatory are there precisely because of the unfinished business that has accumulated around them. Likely the great Italian poet Dante (would have) assigned a special place in his panoramic DIVINE COMEDY for those who passed on to the next life, and who have had to compensate for unfinished business in their lifetimes, because they reasoned: why do today what I can delay till tomorrow?
The great feast of Pentecost is upon us. It’s an occasion for coming to terms, even at the level of religious faith, with the inroads that unfinished agendas have made into our lives. Unfortunately, most of us are mystified as to why the church insists on regarding it on a par with days like Christmas and Easter. But the church does so. She regards Pentecost as the birthday of the church, and the culmination of Christ’s coming among us to establish His kingdom. He taught us to pray: “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The church was part of the rationale for Christ making His appearance among us. It is the marvelous extension of His presence in our midst, and the occasion for introducing us to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Holy Spirit. This achievement facilitated His return to the heavenly Father, knowing that His life’s work was now in good hands.
For the Holy Spirit continues what the Son had initiated, and, in doing so, is a good example of unfinished business being passed on in a fruitful and beneficial way. For we know from Jesus’ own words that He had many more things to teach us than He could do in the time allotted to Him. (Jn 16.12-14). In fact, even the initiatives He began never came to our awareness because they never made their appearance in the Book that already recorded so much of what He had said and done during His brief time among us. (Jn 21.25) So, even in the case of Jesus, there was an agenda to be carried out, but not enough time for Him to do so: unfinished business. But He would provide for this, telling us not to worry, because He would send the Holy Spirit, the Adocate, among us to bring to mind the things He had taught us. (Jn 14.26 ).
Here we have the job description of the Holy Spirit. He is the memory of the church, to safeguard against the accumulation of too much unfinished business. Sometimes, those prone to memory loss don’t realize that this is happening to them. The Holy Spirit is our safeguard against this in church matters, but, unfortunately, the Holy Spirit Himself is at times the victim of oversight and faulty memory on our part. For we often don’t think of Him or call upon Him. He is the forgotten Person of the Blessed Trinity. Strangely enough, we forget the One Who is our memory, responsible for all the unfinished business that Christ left behind at the time of His ascension into heaven. Fortunately, there is a backup system in place, the hierarchy of the church, especially the Pope, to safeguard and preserve, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this treasure trove of wealth, both old and new (Mt 13.52). In this way, the church offsets an accumulation of unfinished business. This is why we see such significance in the feast of Pentecost. It compensates for our amnesia and loss of memory by reminding us of the help available, the “apps”, so to speak, that can link us up with that invaluable source of information that is now entrusted to the Holy Spirit, for our benefit and enrichment
I will never forget the comment of one of those young inmates. “Reverend, almost all of us in this prison are from about four or five neighborhoods in New York City. It’s like a train that begins in your neighborhood. You get on when you are 9 or 10 years old, and the train ends up here — at Sing Sing.”
I believe that if there is any hope of reducing violence in our lives and our communities, it will come from the church. No doubt many church people, myself included, have help spread violence when we passed on the hurt, the pain or the indignity, rather than following Jesus’ example on the cross, prayed: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (LK 23:24) The above video has given me insight, hope and compassion for those of us caught in the world of violence. I hope it does the same for you.
It’s refreshing at times to encounter a recent convert to the Catholic faith, and to hear him or her speak glowingly of their new experience in the church. Most of the time their expressions are glowing. The contour of the churches, the layout of their interiors, the art work found within, whether statuary, stained-glass windows or paintings, the music, whether classical organ motets or those of recent vintage, the layout of the sanctuary with the focus on the altar and the tabernacle, the orderly arrangements of the ministers around the altar in their array of variously colored vestments—all these strike the newcomer as a thrilling display of taste and orderliness, and contribute to the “uplift” that recent converts to the faith experience. This is all for the good.
Over and above that, some of these recent converts are eager to give accounts of how they were drawn to the Catholic faith, and some of these are exceedingly interesting, to say the least. They may have involved hearing an inner voice or having a sensation of someone near at hand or witnessing some remarkable event or undergoing some other out-of-this-world phenomenon, etc.
Now, cradle Catholics stand outside these series of events, all of which are on the “wonderful” side, and either regard them as “hard to believe” or as privileged events reserved to the chosen few. And they may wonder why people like themselves, who have plodded along somewhat unenthusiastically and maybe sullenly at times, have never undergone comparable wonders or even had occasion to engage in admiration at the familiar sights and sounds of their Catholic faith, comparable to what some converts to the faith have apparently had.
We might well identify these two kinds of Catholics in terms of the two great apostles of our faith: Peter and Paul. Peter was an “ole timer”, in a manner of speaking. He was one of the very earliest companions of Jesus, accepting His invitation at the very outset to join Jesus’ ministry. He fulfilled the criterion expressed years later when a replacement for the unfaithful Judas had to be chosen: that he be : ”…one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of Jesus until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to the resurrection.” (Acts 1.21-22) He was a companion of the “historical” Jesus, so to speak, from beginning to end of His public ministry: a cradle apostle, so we might describe him. And while He did witness the wonders Jesus performed and heard His marvelous discourses, He also experienced Jesus in the “down” side of His life here on earth, the opposition and ridicule He underwent, the criticism He endured, and, above all, His sufferings and death on the cross.
Paul, on the other hand, was a typical convert to the faith, one of the first. His very first encounter with Jesus was a remarkable event. Paul (at the time, Saul) was a belligerent Jew, a fanatical Pharisee, a sworn enemy of this new group, the followers of Jesus (all former Jews themselves). In fact, he was on his way to Damascus to do them some harm when he encountered the risen Jesus in some kind of remarkable experience that knocked him to the ground, blinded him and challenged him: “why are you persecuting me?” From that moment on, Saul was a changed man, on his way to becoming the apostle Paul. He became the quintessential convert to the faith, who never met the historical Jesus, as Peter had, and whose very first experience was one of awe and wonder, that continued and expanded throughout Paul’s life.
So here we have examples of the “cradle apostle” and the new convert to the ranks of the apostles: Peter and Paul. Peter plodded along, had his ups and downs, saw the down side as well as the upside of Jesus and stuck it out from beginning to end, trudging the roadways of the Holy Land. Paul was the new kid on the block, profoundly influenced by a remarkable event at the origin of his conversion, whose whole life became a living out of that initial experience. Both men are apostles. They stand at the origins of the faith handed down to us. They were nurtured by different kinds of experience: Peter was an early companion of the Jesus Who lived among us here on earth, Paul was a late-comer who encountered Jesus in His risen state, one of power and glory. They both contributed to the faith that we have inherited, each in his own way. We need and treasure them both.
Fr. Sebastian in his post on October 2, 2014 suggested that preserving the abandoned Churches in the inner city could possibly be an answer to stemming the violence we read about almost daily. He wrote:
“If they are given some exposure, in an open, clearly visible venue, surrounded by nature’s contributions of trees, bushes, flowers and lawns, they can be oases of the awesome, the majestic, the transcendent, into the neighborhoods now besmirched with liquor stores, shuttered houses, debris-littered alleys, vacant lots, and graffiti inscribed walls, that, in short, spell ugliness. “
I would like to build on Father’s suggestion. Would if we established some co-housing (read: affordable housing and see above YouTube) around these churches developing a kind of new neighborhood, one centered around a reinvisioned church and community or maybe a shrine to a Passionist Saint or to the Cross. Maybe the church could be a cultural center as well as a multidenominational place of worship, one where Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Protestants and Catholics alike could worship?
Co-housing would not displace current residents from their neighborhood. Any attempt would start with them planning to renew their community and not only keep them there, but invite new members to join them in the process of making their neighborhood one that is safe, welcoming and full of life and oh yes, affordable.
Anyone know of any abandoned church in need of such a solution? Just a thought.