Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wars of Relilgious -- again



This is a Rev. Know-it-all re-run. The Rev. Know it all has had an exciting week. 



I was shocked to discover that most of the wars in the world today are religious wars. Religion is the source of everything bad. War, the Crusades, the Inquisition, overpopulation, persecution, prejudice; it’s all religious. I have no idea whether or not there is a God, but if religious people would just leave the rest of us alone, we would all be fine. 
Respectlessly,
Bella Koes



Dear Bella,  



Let us first define our terms. We read in James 1:27 that, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”   
The Greek term, (remember them, the Greeks, precise to the point of tediousness?) is “threskeia”, which means “worship, religion, especially expressed in (religious) cult, that is, ritual.”  Translating the text into Latin, the word is religio, whence comes our word religion. Religio meant holding scrupulously to the ceremonies due the gods. There is no clear agreement among scholars as to the origin of the word. It seems to come from “re” and “ligare” thus would have something to do with holding back, or tying down.Above that the word “religion” may actually mean to restrain or tie back. 
In the Church, we talk about the virtue of religion, which is a dimension of the virtue of justice. Justice is that virtue which gives to each his due. It is impossible to give God what He is owed, but our attempt to do so is called religion. In the common understanding religion is “...all that God stuff, do unto others etc.” It can be thus argued, that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, is not itself a religion, but a faith and a fellowship that has a necessary religious component. (Boy is this boring. What is he talking about? ) Just this: you’re assuming that you know what religion is, and you don’t. “It’s all that God stuff, no?” 



 We need to define our terms. There are lots of religions. In the above mentioned passage, St. James says that some religion can be foolish. You are making the claim that religion is the source of human suffering. Which religions? Let’s look at the question of war and religion in tedious detail. The United Nations seems most interested in wars that involve a thousand or more fatalities a year, so we’ll start there. In this list are included  1) the Arab-Israeli Conflict with a grand total of 50,000 - 90,000 fatalities since its inception, then  2) the Somali Civil War, 300,000 - 400,000 fatalities, then  3) the Afghan Civil War 1,500,000–2,000,000 fatalities, a war into which we have recently jumped with both feet and a patriotic smile, though it was originally a Muslim vs. Communist war, then  4) the civil war in Darfur, Sudan, 450,000 (+/-) fatalities, then  5) the Iraq War, 500,000 - 1,500,000, then 6) the war in North-West Pakistan 13,900 dead and, finally, 7) the Mexican Drug War 10,000 fatalities or so.  



There are many other smaller-scale armed conflicts that are currently causing a smaller number of violent fatalities each year, but still worth an honorable mention.  8) The Colombian drug war 50,000 to 200,000 fatalities;  9) the Communist/ Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines about 120,000 dead; then 10) the Kashmiri Insurgency in India, perhaps 60,000 gone; then 11) the Niger Delta and 12) Baluchistan conflicts, (who knows how many dead?) and finally in India, the 13) Naxalite Maoist insurgency whatever that may be!
I have not mentioned the Northern Irish situation, because at the time it seems to be over, but the famous conflict between Protestants and Catholics was not what it seemed.  Many of the so-called Catholics were actually Maoist Communists. The conflict seems to be ending because the combatants are just getting too old to continue. You can only do so much damage from a wheel chair.
So, of the twelve wars listed above, 10 involve Muslims, 1 involves Communists, and two involve drug dealers, admittedly in Catholic countries, though I suspect the drug lords don’t attend church that often. In the above list there is not one Vatican-paid Swiss Guard mentioned. So those miseries cannot be directly pinned on the Pope.
I would venture that some religions, like Islam, make war a positive virtue. Remember that Mohammed was himself a general who mandated beheadings. Other religions seem to restrain the impulse to kill. Jesus and Buddha seem downright opposed to war, though their followers occasionally ignore them. Still, I would venture that Christian/Catholic religion performs the function of restraining what seems to be the favorite pastime of humanity: murder on the grand scale. Where Catholicism has been practiced, war, though not eliminated, has been held back. Have you ever heard of the Peace of God and the Truce of God?  
The Peace of God was the protection from military violence won by special groups in medieval society. These included the clergy and their possessions; the poor; women; peasants along with their tools, animals, mills, vineyards, and labor; and later pilgrims and merchants: in short, the vast majority of the medieval population who neither bore arms, nor were entitled to bear them. The Truce of God, while often confused and later merged with the Peace, protected certain times of the week and year from the violence of the feudal class: no private or public wars were to be waged from Wednesday evening until Monday morning, during certain Saints’ days, during Advent, Lent, and Rogation days, also Holy Week, Easter Week and the 12 Days of Christmas, with its partridges and pear trees. This peace, though often broken, extended from the 800's until the Reformation in the 1500's. The Pope could excommunicate violators and people actually worried about such censures for almost 700 years. 
The History Channel and Hollywood have convinced you of the myth of the scheming evil popes bent on world domination who were overthrown by the glorious Reformation and the still more wonderful Enlightenment. Look at the numbers. If conducted by the rules, medieval wars were not much more violent than modern English soccer matches. (I’m joking, but not by much.) Remember you could only kill other knights and the technology of killing had not yet benefitted from the Enlightenment of the 1700's and the wonderful scientific revolution which has made our lives so much richer and our war so much more deadly. Medieval wars just didn’t kill as many people as modern wars do.
War in Europe really came into its own when the papal domination of western Christianity was overthrown. That’s when the “wars of religion,” really got rolling, principally in France, Germany and England.  These probably killed 10,000,000 (ten million) over the course of a century, certainly an inspiring achievement, but nothing compared to the progress we’ve made as we gradually shake off Christianity altogether. Take away the pope, and ten million die. Let’s see what happens when we take away Christianity all together.  
There is an interesting little book about the death toll caused by Communism entitled The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. The introduction, by editor Stephane Courtois, himself a former Maoist/Communist, asserts that “...Communist regimes... turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government.”   He cites a death toll which totals 94 million, give or take, not counting the “excess deaths” (decrease of the population due to lower than the expected birth rate). The breakdown of the number of deaths is as follows: 65 million in the Peoples Republic of China; 20 million in the Soviet Union; 2 million in Cambodia; 2 million in North Korea; 1.7 million in Africa;1.5 million in Afghanistan;1 million in the Communist states of  Eastern Europe; 1 million in Vietnam; 150,000 in Latin America; and 10,000 deaths “resulting from actions of the international communist movement and communist parties not in power." 
Courtois claims that Communists are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. Let us remember that both Communism and Nazism are socialist systems that deny the claims of God on humanity. The state is supreme, not God. Communism has killed about 100,000,000 (One hundred million) for political reasons. We’re not talking war here, just political ideology. Nazism “only” killed 25,000,000 (twenty five million) for political reasons, 6 million of them being Jews. This does not include the 40,000,000 killed as a result of combat in the Second World War.
So, take away the pope, ten million dead. Take away God, two hundred million dead, counting war. There are a lot more wars and religions we could go into, but enough is enough. I think you get the picture. Still, it is worth mentioning a religion that incorporates war as a divine mandate, such as Islam. Communism has been responsible for the deaths of maybe 100 million people.  Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam says, “Approximately 270 million nonbelievers died over the last 1,400 years for the glory of political Islam.” If he is correct, Hitler comes in third, a mere piker, a veritable camp fire girl. 
Wait a minute! You papists can’t get off that easy! What about the Crusades, the Inquisition and the conquest of the Americas? Aren’t I always warning you not to get your religion from the Discovery Channel? The Inquisition, though not something to be proud of, really didn’t give it everything they had. The Vatican has opened up meticulous records kept over the 400 years of the Inquisition’s heyday and in Spain and Portugal perhaps 2,000-3,000 were killed. 
How about the Crusades? In the course of two centuries perhaps one or two million died, and let us remember these were defensive wars. A very political religion burst out of the Arabian Peninsula with the express intention of taking over the world, a hope still warmly cherished by many Muslims. Christian lands were conquered and Christians killed. Remember that the Middle East was solidly Christian at the time. Around 1000 AD, Caliph Hakim of Cairo killed the entire Christian population of Jerusalem, burned every Christian shrine in the Holy Land, and hacked the tomb of Christ to pieces. Imagine what would happen today if a Christian tried to destroy the Ka’aba in Mecca! For us the Tomb of Christ is comparable to the Ka’aba, the central shrine of Islam.
Those assaults started the Crusades. If not for the Crusades, the slaughter of Christians would have continued unabated, until the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, were either dead or converted to the banners of the armies of Islam. The crusades lasted 200 years. Jihad is with us today after 1300 years. There’s no comparison either in terms of violence or motive. Crusade and Jihad are not moral equivalents Take a look at Professor Bill Warner on Jihad vs Crusade on Youtube.  Interesting. 
As for the conquest of the Americas, true, there were atrocities on the part of gold-crazed conquistadors, but the rights of the native Americans were defended by the priests and friars who followed in the wake of the conquerors. Most of the dead were killed by microbes, and that encounter between the microbes of the old world and the people of the Americas was inevitable.  
So there you have it. Where Catholic Christianity has been practiced, the murderous human spirit has been restrained. Where secularism and warrior religions are practiced, the deaths are counted in the hundreds of millions. 
Once again, I would like to remind you, don’t believe everything you see on television.  



Rev. Know-It-All




Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is Rabbi Lefkowitz for real?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all, 
You talk about your friend, Rabbi Lefkowitz a lot. Does he really exist or is he just a fig newton of your imagination?
 Yours, 
Harold “Hal” U. Sinayshun
Dear “Hal,”
There really is a Rabbi Lefkowitz. You couldn’t make him up no matter how hard you tried.  I met the rabbi years ago when I worked in a very tough part of town. He and his small congregation were trying to revive a synagogue just a couple blocks north of the church where I was pastor. Every Friday night the rabbi and his sons would walk past the church on their way to Friday evening services. I am very German-American (I did one of those gene tests. It turns out that I am completely German except for 3% Neanderthal and one three-hundredth East Asian. I am not making this up. However, I was raised in a home that though Catholic, was very aware about things Jewish because of my father’s work, so every Friday I would exchange a Shabbat shalom with the Rabbi to which he would respond “Gut shabbas, Father.” So began a friendship.  

The first time I was invited to the Rabbi’s home for Sabbath Eve dinner was the clincher. It was a Friday night in Lent.  Out came the gefiltefisch, a sort of aquatic spam. No problem. Out came the Noodle Kugele. No problem. Out came the turkey. Problem. 
I told the Rabbi’s wife, I can’t eat turkey. It’s Friday in Lent. 
She said, "But it’s shabbas!" 
I said, for you its shabbas. For me it’s Friday in Lent. 
She said surely the Lord would send you a nashoma (an extra spirit) to do the fasting for you so you could eat turkey on shabbas. 
I said, I don’t think the Lord is going to send a gentile an extra nashoma so he can eat turkey on a Friday in Lent. 
She shrugged and went in and got more noodle kugele. Al the while the rabbi sat smiling at the far end of the table to see if my Catholicism would be strong enough to resist that force of nature which is  the Jewish mother trying to feed someone. When I was able to resist the irresistible force, he decided I meant business, and sometime later he said that he liked me because I was orthodox. Not Jewish, but at least orthodox. 
The rabbi is ultra-orthodox, a Lubavitcher Hasid, and a friend and disciple of the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson. Most people would think such a friendship a bit unlikely, but a true disciple of the late Rebbe would not. The longing for heaven, the hope of messiah and a sense of orthodoxy are matter enough for friendship. 
One day the rabbi and I were discussing the nature of orthodoxy and it occurred to us that not many people, even those who claim to be orthodox, understand the nature of orthodoxy. They mistake narrow mindedness, ideological rigidity and personal intolerance for orthodoxy. It occurred to us that orthodoxy, at least in the Judeo/Christian sense, is the belief that Heaven has spoken, thus the duty of the believer is to hear as clearly as possible and to obey as fully as possible. 
True orthodoxy rests on the humble admission, that we will never, in this world, understand heaven fully, because we are fallible creatures. We will not hear with perfect clarity, nor will we be able to obey completely. Still, orthodoxy is a lifelong desire to hear and obey. It involves untiring study and unceasing prayer. Though orthodoxy pursues the things of heaven, it never declares that the believer has completed the course. Orthodoxy is a life of constant learning and constant repentance. Orthodoxy is the most flexible and humble position one can take, because it admits the perfection righteousness only of God, and never arrogates perfection to the believer. 
Religious liberalism is quite the opposite. By its very nature liberalism must be content with self. We use the word “liberal” without understanding it. It derives from the Latin word “liber’” a free man. The liberal movement in Christianity started with Friedrich Schleiermacher around 1800. He was a German pastor and theologian who tried to reconcile the critique of the Enlightenment with Protestantism. In short, Protestantism depends on the principle of “sola scriptura,” or “bible alone.” When the thinkers of the Enlightenment pointed out the inconsistencies and textual problems of scripture, Protestantism was shaken to its core. Thinkers like Schleiermacher said even if you take the scriptures from me, you can’t take away my personal experience. 
Liberalism, in general, is a belief that the freedom of the individual is a paramount good and that the opinion of the individual is sufficient truth for that person.  In religious terms liberalism holds that the truth of scriptures matter much less than what scripture means to me. This fits nicely with a modern attitude toward truth. In our times, one might hear a person say, “That may be your truth, but it isn’t my truth.” For the liberal truth has no meaning beyond the experience of the person.  The truly orthodox person believes that absolute truth exists, though I might lay hold of it only imperfectly. The liberal believes that the truth does not exist independently and externally.  It is my truth and I can own it. This is only problematic when your truth gets in the way of my truth. 
The French Revolution was the great liberal upheaval in whose aftershock we all try to live. The great motto “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” echoed over the battlefields of Europe. “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” would do away with the tyrants of the old order. It would end the unjust rule of the aristocrats and throw off the shackles of religion. It would allow common men and women to work out their own destinies in freedom. It didn’t work out very well, no matter how good the slogan sounds. Liberty and equality are enemies. 
Children on the playground know this. If two children at play both have 20 marbles, they might seem equal at first, but if one child is just plain better at shooting marbles, he will have all the other child’s marbles by the time recess is over. If on the other hand, the rules say that when I win your marbles I must give them back so that we will both always have 20 each, I will soon be at the other end of the playground playing tag. 
If I am guaranteed equality, liberty must suffer. If I am guaranteed liberty, equality will be its first casualty. This is exactly what happened. The king lost his head to Robespierre who in turn lost his head to the committee of security, the successor government of which was edged out by Napoleon and Europe has been at war ever since. Napoleon was a worse autocrat than any Bourbon king had ever been. 
The revolution didn’t even work for an afternoon. The revolution in France marks it true beginning with the siege of the Bastille. The Bastille was an old fortress in the heart of Paris. Sure that the government was hoarding food, the Parisian mob decided to liberate the Bastille and its gunpowder stores on the morning of July 14, 1789. By 6PM the head of Bernard De Launy, the governor of the Bastille was firmly jammed on a pike, after the first beheading in what was to be a string of uncounted thousands.  He was killed without trial without reason because his truth and the truth of the mob collided.  So began the revolutionary upheaval that continues to this day. Modern liberalism believes that opinion, whether popular or individual, is as good as truth, because there is no truth beyond opinion.  Liberty and equality are enemies. Fraternity is the casualty of their struggle. The only successful patron of the brotherhood of man has been and always will be the objective truth of the fatherhood of God. Without that you have nothing but good intentions that leave the weak at the mercy of the strong.
The assertion of true orthodoxy is that we bow before the truth. The assertion of liberalism is that the truth must bow before the self, whether that self is an individual or the angry mob to which that self belongs.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, October 31, 2014

Can you explain papal infallibility?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
Can you explain papal inscrutability?
Yours,
Betty Kencownzell 
Dear Betty,
I think you mean papal infallibility, and of course I can explain it. Have you forgotten to whom you are writing?
The Oxford dictionary defines “infallible” as incapable of making mistakes or being wrong. Papal infallibility means that the Pope is never wrong when he speaks a) in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, b) in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, and c) when he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.
When the pope, successor of St. Peter as Bishop of Rome, speaks “in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians”, he is said to speak “ex cathedra.” A “cathedra” was a straight backed chair, or throne. A cathedral is, thus, where the teaching chair of the bishop is kept. The “cathedra” in question is the teaching chair of St. Peter. There is an ancient chair kept at St. Peter’s in Rome, enshrined in the great bronze throne behind the main altar.  It was thought to be the chair from which St. Peter taught. It was probably a gift from Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875. Still, it’s a nice thought.
The reason much ado is made about a chair, is that at least at the time of Christ, rabbis taught while sitting in a teaching chair. When Jesus went up the mountain with His disciples to deliver His famous sermon on the mount, He sat down to do it.  “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and opening his mouth he taught them.” (Matt 5:1) If a rabbi had something important to say, he said it sitting down; hence he spoke “ex cathedra” or “from the chair.”
 There is a swell book, a real page-turner by, a German theologian, Heinrich Denzinger (1819-1893) called the Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum. It contains the chief decrees and definitions of all church councils, along with the oldest forms of the Apostles' Creed and a list of condemned propositions. The first edition has just 128 documents. The latest editions have included the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and recent Popes, so if you want to know what some doctrine means, get what, in seminary, we fondly called “a Denzinger.”  Here is what Denzinger has to say about infallibility.
“What is claimed for the pope is infallibility merely, not impeccability or inspiration”  and that to  speak infallibly “The pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as pastor and doctor of all Christians, not merely in his private capacity as a theologian, preacher or allocutionist, nor in his capacity as a temporal prince or as a mere ordinary of the Diocese of Rome. It must be clear that he speaks as spiritual head of the Church universal.” 
Denzinger has a lot more to say about infallibility, but why be tedious in a church bulletin? What people don’t understand about the teaching of papal infallibility taught by the first Vatican Council (1869-70) is that it limits the pope’s authority.
There have been some really wild and wacky things popes have said over the years. For instance, according to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) “All princes should kiss the feet of the pope alone…” and “that it is lawful for him to depose emperors …” and in 1302 Pope Boniface VIII said in the papal bull Unam Sanctam, “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. And how about the unpleasantness with Galileo? Didn’t the church infallibly declare that the earth was the center of the solar system?  No, what Cardinal Bellarmine, a really nice guy, said was that “treating heliocentrism as a real phenomenon would be a very dangerous thing, irritating philosophers and theologians, and harming the Holy Faith by rendering Holy Scripture as false.”  The Cardinal was thinking about the wars of religion north of the Alps in which Protestants and Catholics were killing each other in the millions and he thought, “We don’t need that down here right now.”  The problem was that Galileo was directly saying that the Bible was wrong, and in so doing he was laying the groundwork for a social upheaval that was dangerous. If Galileo had said it differently, there wouldn’t have been a problem.
In fact Galileo was wrong. His theory didn’t fit the number. The planets don’t travel; around the sun in circles as he claimed — they travel in ellipses. Why get thousands killed over a theory that didn’t work mathematically. Galileo declared himself far more infallible than any pope. The Church is not capable of speaking infallibly about science. Neither are scientists and that was the point!  
As for the statements of Boniface and Gregory, they were political in nature, and thus couldn’t be called infallible. That is why there is not a lot of foot kissing going on in the Vatican these days.  (By the way “papal bull” refers to the Latin word “bulla” or “seal” in English by which the pope applies his personal seal to the letter to guarantee its authenticity. Don’t get any silly ideas.) So you see, the First Vatican Council reminded popes that they were not infallible when they spoke about politics, cosmology, ecology, and most other -ologies. They were infallible only when they spoke about faith and morals, and it has to be clear that they are doing so. Furthermore, the pope has infallibility, not impeccability or inspiration. Lack of impeccability means that he can sin and the lack of inspiration means that he cannot come up with new doctrine. He can only illuminate and declare what the Church has always held and believed. We Catholics are not Mormons.  We have no chief “Prophet, Seer, or Revelator, “as do the Mormons. The “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” is the title of the supreme Mormon authority. A Mormon revelator “makes known, with the Lord’s help, something before unknown. It may be new or forgotten truth, or a new or forgotten application of known truth to man’s need.”
Before 1978, anyone with African ancestry could not be priest in the Mormon Church, and could not participate in most temple ordinances, including celestial marriage. That meant that they could not go to the highest heaven. But, Glory Be! In 1978, the prophet seer and revelator said that God had changed His mind and now blacks would be allowed into the highest heaven.  A pope could only dream about such infallibility. Our poor pontiff is stuck with what we have held and taught from the beginning, things like marriage being a relationship between a man and a woman since Jesus said that, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt. 19.5)
For Catholics, Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the only sources of revelation. The magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) is not a source of revelation. It can only bring forward and restate what we have believed from the first. The last words my boyhood pastor said to me were “Keep that faith handed down to us from the apostles Peter and Paul.”
 Lord knows I’m trying, Monsignor O’Brien, Lord knows I’m trying.

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, October 24, 2014

What's with the synod? Has teaching changed?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
Is it true that the synod has accepted gay marriage and will allow people to be married more than once?
Yours sincerely,
Mary Talbliss 
Dear Mary,
No. It is not true, despite what the mindless hair-hats of the media are telling you. The extraordinary synod (meeting) just concluded was a preparation for a larger ordinary synod of bishops in October of 2015. There was a mid-meeting “relatio” (report) on the group discussions thus far that was slipped in by the very progressive Archbishop Bruno Forte the read thus.  
“Le nostre comunit√† sono in grado di esserlo accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale, senza compromettere la dottrina cattolica su famiglia e matrimonio?”
The English translation prepared by the Vatican read thus:
 “Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
The word “valutando” was translated into English by the Vatican as “valuing.” Bad translation.                          
 “Valutando” in fact means “evaluating,” “weighing” or “considering.”  This “considering” is, furthermore, part of a question. The English speaking press jumped on this like squirrels on an acorn because they want it to be true. It ain’t true. Bishop Bruno wants it to be true. The press wants it to be true. It still ain’t true.
Cardinal Pell says that three-quarters of the bishops were opposed to the wording of the relatio and insisted that they hadn’t said that. In fact the topic only came up in one of the small group discussions! Let me quote a little of the incomparable Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s translation of Marco Tosatti’s report in la Stampa, an Italian magazine
Cardinal Baldisseri, the General Secretary of the Synod announced the decision NOT to publish the reports of the Circuli Minores (small groups’ discussions) the announcement provoked the protest of Card. Erdo (the president of the synod) and numerous other Synodal Fathers. The Pope, silent and very serious. At last, Fr. Lombardi announced that the reports of the commissions would be made public. Erdo took the floor, implicitly distancing himself from the report that bore his name, and saying that if that “disceptatio” had been made public, then the others of the Circulo Minores ought to be made public. His speech was followed by an avalanche from many others along the same line, underscored by thunderous applause. The Secretary of the Synod, Card. Balidisseri, was watching the Pope, as if in search of advice and lights, and the Pope remained silent and very serious.  
Needless to say, the small group reports are now published.
Some news outlets were using the word “earthquake” to describe the change in the Church’s position. The Church has not changed her position. The real earthquake was the brouhaha on the synod floor. Bishops don’t behave that way. Not since the Middle Ages. The earthquake is the bravery of so many bishops in the face of a few self-important people who want to push a failed liberal agenda. They fail to understand that if the Church has nothing better to offer the world; the Church only becomes useless to the modern, dying world.
The African Church in particular is distressed by the full court press of some German bishops led by Cardinal Kasper to allow Catholics married outside the Church to receive Communion. The bishops of Africa make the point that if Europeans must have more than one wife, how can they tell Africans to end the time honored custom of polygamy? (You see in the West we believe in polygamy, that is having more than one spouse. We have only one wife…at a time, but we still have as many wives, or husbands as we please.)
Cardinal Kasper told the press:
Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects…..I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much. 
To make matters worse, Kasper denies giving the interview. The interviewer produced the tape in which he says exactly the words quoted. What moral cowardice!  
So, the Africans and the Eastern Christians don’t have much to tell the Church in Europe and the “developed” world? As any regular reader knows, I am proud of my German heritage. There is no place in the world I feel as at home as the little hill in the Central German town from which my family comes. It is the little hill on where lie the graves of my ancestors. I can close my eyes and I am there looking down into the town, the cobbled main street, the castle tower and the church spire. I grieve for the land of my ancestors because the faith of my ancestors is, in all parts, dying and, in most parts, dead. 
Let me tell you about the church in the land of my ancestors. It is one of the richest churches in the world, even though the faith itself died in the aftermath of the holocaust. If the churches are empty how can the hierarchy be rich? Let me explain the Kirchensteuer, the church tax. 
To be a Catholic or a Protestant in Germany is a kind of ethnicity. I have often met people who will say things like, “I am Catholic, but I don’t go to church, or I am Catholic, but I don’t believe in God.”  To be Catholic or Protestant is not a matter of faith for many, but of custom. I come from a Catholic or Protestant town, family, region, etc. If I want to be baptized, married or even buried in a Catholic cemetery at the side of my ancestors, (and this is important to Germans) it is expected that I am a Catholic.  To leave the Church is to leave my heritage. To change religions is to change ethnicity. If however, you consider yourself a Catholic, or a Protestant or the member of any church, you must pay a percent of your income which the government deducts from your salary.  If you are not a member of your church, you must go to the rectory and tell the pastor of the church to take you off the rolls. In effect, it costs most people about $1,000 a year to be Catholic.  So to be a Christian is not necessarily to believe the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It can also and in our time more often mean to have a membership in a club, a kind of burial society. A dead church, I suppose, needs a burial society. 
More and more people are saying, “Why should I pay money to a society that means nothing to me? I am not a believer. My parents and grandparents were not believers. Why should I pay?” 
I suspect that the hierarchy of Germany see power and wealth slipping away and want to tell the faithless in Germany that they needn’t trouble themselves about the less convenient demands of Catholic morality. So, to accommodate the dying church of Germany, they want to tell the African and Assyrian/Chaldean/Arab Christians to just shut up.
SHAME! SHAME! I am embarrassed for the graves of my ancestors. A dying church tells the most vital churches in the world to mind their own business. The Arabs and the Africans have nothing to tell us? Five-year-old children are dying for the faith in Africa, in northern Iraq and in Syria. Their severed heads displayed on pikes by bloodthirsty jihadists, while we in the West insist that our pleasures and preferences should not keep us from partaking in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross!
If any high school principal in the United States had said or even implied that the opinions of non-Europeans were insignificant things, he would be forced to resign, yet as of this writing Cardinal Kasper remains one of the pope’s closest advisors.
Thus saith the Lord! “Behold, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matt 23:38)
The future of the faith is Africa. Its past is Europe.

Rev. Know-it-all

Monday, October 20, 2014

How's that Religious Ed program working out?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

A while ago you published something about some hair-brained scheme to change the nature of religious education. How did that ever work out?

Cecilia “Cee Cee” Dee

Dear Cecilia,

I have asked the crackpot clergyman who hatched the scheme to write a report. Here it is:

When I came to this parish, I found a fairly standard religious education program. The records were well kept. The ceremonies for the sacraments were well organized, things ran like clockwork and very few of the children or their parents went to Mass. The religious education schedule followed the public school schedule exactly. The public schools had a three day weekend; we had a three day weekend, and so on. I could always tell when the public schools were not in session on Monday. There were no children in church on Sunday.

I tried to visit the children in the classroom. Everyone reminded me how important that was. “It’s very important for the pastor to visit the children.” They never said why it was so important. The children couldn’t distinguish me from the tooth fairy. They just knew I was some guy who wore black. In the first few months of my tenure here, I attended a meeting of the teachers to share my vision for religious ed. I said that I wanted to include a component that stressed biblical literacy.

All the teachers said, and I quote, “NO!”

One of the teachers, who fancied himself a moral theology professor, for fifth graders said that what he was teaching was just too important to modify.

 Religion classes went from 9 am to 10:30 or 11:00 am about half the Sundays of the year. I had Mass at 8 AM and 10 AM after which I raced from room to room when I had the energy and there weren’t other things I was supposed to be doing.  When I walked in to the classrooms, I found teachers at lecterns lecturing about commandments to be memorized, assignments to be studied and tests to be taken in order to qualify for the three C’s, Confession, Communion and Confirmation.  I found children with heads on desks, hollow sunken eyes and thinly veiled anger.  

It was clear that they had neither eaten nor slept well. They had been in a classroom in the government schools where for five unrelenting days they had been subject to preparation for government tests. In our times good performance on tests guarantees government money for government employees. Test preparation passes for education and government employees masquerade as teachers. Now, these captive children were being subjected to a sixth day of the same unrelenting droning on about facts. They hated all religion and Catholicism in particular.  Thus Religious Education!

The first thing I did was to move back the time that classes would start from 9 am to 10 am. The children were delighted. The adults were peeved and tried to convince me to reconsider. My suspicion was that they had better things to do with their Sundays than spend them in church. One parent was furious with me. I quote, “How dare you decide what’s best for my family.” Her Sunday’s were rigidly scheduled to include shopping and athletic events. It was important to get religion out of the way as early as possible. As she berated me for ruining her domestic life, all I could think was, “Please don’t hit me….”  She didn’t but she, her frightened husband and her unsmiling, well-disciplined brood promptly left the parish.

After this, I waited for at least a year and then announced that I wouldn’t put up with parents dropping their kids off for religious  ed and then leaving.  It was common to see minivans pull up at the school door and a parent, dressed in flip flops and pajamas waved as their children stumbled into class.  It was a great deal, a babysitting service that promised to watch your kids for three precious hours on a Sunday morning. That left time for Starbucks, K-mart and the dry cleaners.

The children were expected to go to an hour and a half class and an hour long Mass.  This often didn’t happen. The kids sat around in the parking lot playing computer games and texting one another while Mass went on inside and their parents went to the K-Mart.

Enough was finally enough. I announced that if kids didn’t go to Mass they wouldn’t be passed on for sacraments. A furious parent called me to say, “How dare you tell me I’m not a good Catholic. I attend Mass faithfully EVERY Christmas and Easter and pray at home. Who are you to tell me what I should do?”  Angry letters were sent to the bishop.

After this debacle and a cooling off period I announced my next move. We would expand the religious education program. It would start around 9: 45 with doughnuts and other sugary snacks. Next there would be a half an hour or more of chasing around like wild savages and some semi-organized games that involved yelling a lot and running. Then the children would go to their classes around 11, finally going together to the noon Mass. I firmly believe that before there is catechesis there has to be Biblical literacy and a personal prayer life. If you don’t know Jesus, if you haven’t met Him in prayer, why learn about Him? The Bible is a story of a family (c.f. Jeff Cavins Great Adventure Bible Study.) It’s the story of MY family into which I am adopted through sacraments.  Why join a family about which you know nothing?

I planned three levels of instruction:

  1. First comes Biblical literacy, knowing the essential story of the Bible. This gives our beleaguered Catholic kids a fighting chance when they go to high school or college and meet atheists who say the Bible and the faith are just a bunch of myths, or meet anti-Catholic sects that say the Catholic Church doesn’t teach the Bible. 
  2. After the kids know the basic story of salvation they can go on to learn the truths of the faith in a more catechetical style. 
  3. The study of the lives of the saints as a vehicle to Church history and Catholic spirituality is the third essential idea of the program. To be Catholic is to be part of something great and something to be proud of as witnessed to by the saints of our history.  

First food, then fun, then instruction. At the end of the class period, they spend a few minutes preparing for Mass and then go up to the noon Mass as a group.  (The noon Mass is our more contemporary Mass. My liturgical tastes run to the Neolithic, but hey, you have to put the hay down where the goats can get it.)  My great hope was that someday a child would have a tantrum because they could NOT go to church this morning. This has actually happened.

I was told, “Father, this will never work where we are because of sports.”

To blazes with sports! Go for quality over quantity. If people prefer sporting events to their religious life and their Sunday obligation, they are committing idolatry and are probably going to hell anyway.
Start with a small fanatical group of Catholics and pretty soon, if what you’re doing is really fun, kids will prefer religion to living out the athletic fantasies of their ageing parents. If you prefer sports or shopping or anything else to the life of grace, you probably should just admit it and not try to get the three C’s (Confirmation, Confession, Communion) for your children. If you don’t believe this stuff why should they?  I suggest watching the movie “Chariots of Fire”, the only movie that has ever made me envy Presbyterians.  

Things are a bit smaller. We have about 120 kids in the program, but I see most of them in church. We just started our second confirmation class of the new system. We only have about 20 thirteen- and fourteen- year-olds in the group, but I actually know every one of the kids in the class from church on Sunday.

Our most radical move so far was to move to a home school model for First Communion preparation. We have classroom preparation for First Confession, so we are pretty much covering the material twice. Parents hated the idea until they did it.  It turned into a refresher course on the faith for the parents. It also gave them a way to share their own faith with their children. I was astonished that our First Communion Mass had almost no pictures taken. Parents were involved in the actual religious meaning of the Mass. I even caught a few parents softly crying because of the beauty of the faith they had shared with their own children.

In short it has almost worked out the way I hoped. There have had to be some concessions to practicality. There is oatmeal, not just sugary snacks for breakfast, things like that, and we still have a few parents dropping off kids and then leaving, but I think there is less of that. The church is packed with kids and the young adults and parents who teach them, so all in all I think it is working out.

I wish I could take the credit, but the real credit goes to the extremely enthused and motivated
teachers who have taken it on themselves to share their faith with the kids. It is a beautiful thing to see.

Fr. Simon