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Archive for September, 2013


Pope Francis… I like this man more and more every day

During an interview with the Pope this August by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, Francis stated the following:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Earlier he made this statement:

“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbour. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organisational reforms are secondary­ – that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.”

This will be taken out of context by both liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics alike, but he’s saying something that I have said before. The Catholic church as a whole has been so focused on what happens in the privacy of a marriage, and other issues relating to sexuality, that it has become a parody of the very values that it is trying to defend. Even in the context of abortion, which is a truly terrible thing, there are situations where the moral right, is less than clear and sometimes can be counterintuitive.

He’s right, there needs to be balance, and not all the dogmatic teachings are equal, and some like the immaculate conception, and infallibility should really not even be dogmatic in the first place.

To be clear, the Pope is not softening the position of the church on contraception or abortion, but he is saying that the focus has been out of balance, and that I agree with. Especially contraception, which at times has taken on an almost medieval tone in how it’s discussed, with some catholics breathlessly grabbing onto any position that has the appearance of supporting their views on contraception.

I still don’t agree with some Catholic doctrines, but I like Francis enough that for a time I was wondering if being Catholic again was something I should consider!

And that my friends says volumes about how much I respect this man.

You can read the whole interview HERE, it’s worth a read.




Traditions, Protestants, things essential and otherwise

As someone who is newly illumined into the Orthodox faith, it’s really quite odd (for a westerner) that for forty days you wear your Chrismation clothes (or baptism gowns), carry your baptismal candle, and go first for communion.

Coming from the Catholic faith, and further back the Protestant faith, all this fuss makes us very uncomfortable. Our biggest excitement as Catholics was the first Mass that we took communion quietly on our own, one of our RCIA teachers was there and gave us a HUGE smile, but she didn’t intervene. It was at that moment, and not during the Chrismation that we felt truly Catholic, it was a seminal moment for us. It meant that we had truly been accepted as members of the faithful, and that we could now get on with the business of being Catholic.

But as new Orthodox we are chafing a bit at having so much fuss worked up over us, we just want to be Orthodox. We don’t want to make a big procession with Candles and other things every time we commune, it’s an awkward position. The tradition is that by going first the church is praying for us, that is all fine and well. But throw in Candles, the same white clothes each week, and this big fuss of us going RIGHT after the subdeacons (which is not widely known apparently, since each time we have to cut to the front of the communion line). And it begins to wear thin, in fact three weeks ago we forgot our candles, and the subdeacon commented on it, AS I WAS WALKING UP TO TAKE COMMUNION… I eyeballed him, and then rolled my eyes, because what was I going to do? seriously, stop the whole parish and run into the narthex and starting rooting around for candles and matches?

We asked to please not be singled out any longer, it was becoming a deterrent to the Liturgy for us, Fr. called and was very kind in explaining it to us, but it’s a tradition (that is not always practiced), and he wants to keep doing it until we hit forty days. It’s a frustrating position to be in, and it puts us in a very uncomfortable place. So we each made a choice, he decided to continue to require the tradition, and we decided to step back for a bit and let things settle. Once things calm down, then we call sit and talk and work through the issue.

Michael Patton always talks about the essentials and non-essentials, and he’s exactly right. There are things that really matter, that we need to observant of, but there are other things that just don’t mean much outside our little sphere of influence.

Here’s the thing…

Protestants, in their own way, have a valid point about the traditions of men. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are what I would call essentials things, we find writings for them all way back to the time of the Apostles in the Didache. The liturgy of the Eucharist is especially important, given that Christ commands us to do so in memory of him. I would put a number of things that I can reference with clear ecclesiological material and a solid scriptural foundation as essential traditions.

But there are things that are simply not essential, and we as humans have a tendency to focus on them and lose sight of the bigger picture. Fr. Len at the Catholic church tells about when he was first a young priest, he wore his collar all the time, made sure he followed all the rules. It took him only a couple of years to realize that in the big picture it wasn’t that important, and he loosened up and stopped being a rule follower. He was much happier once he figured out that while wearing the proper attire while doing reconciliation, or serving at Mass are important. It’s not so much if he’s going to work out, or dig in the garden, or just go have a beer and talk theology. When we met with him to discuss theology, he was wearing a simple black T-Shirt and we had a great conversation, it was nice to not have to deal with the presence of the priestly garments, and just talk theology. He will always be a Priest, but it was good to see the man behind the collar.

I think he got it right, and I think our protestant friends have a good point, some traditions, are just that. And they are not always going to help us grow, they may make us and others feel better, but in the big picture they just don’t matter. Some people like to follow every rule, observe every fast, and can be technically pious. We have friends like that, who make huge and great efforts to follow all the rules. For us, there is so much going on, all the time, that sometimes we just forget, or at other times we just don’t. Asceticism is a tool to help us grow, and like all tools the more you use it, the better you become at it. We decided at the beginning of this journey to not get caught up in the rules and trappings, and not to burn ourselves out.

But there is a danger in replacing the important things, with the things that don’t really matter. I’ve said it before, there is no perfect church, and we never expected to find one. And we knew that becoming Orthodox would not make things magically better, but it’s interesting to see some of the differences in focus between Catholic and Orthodox traditions. I think a great of the difference stems from the fact that most Catholic churches are large, and it’s easy to find a way to fit in. In Orthodox churches you have a more community based dynamic, and while it’s not supposed to be about the rules, it’s unavoidable when your small and all very connected.

I’m not saying that Tradition is not important, it certainly is. But it’s also not the end all and be all, and sometimes it can cause others to stumble. It’s those times that we need to show wisdom and separate the essential from the non-essential.