Good Press, Bad Press

catacombsI have been scanning the Religion News Service online, when I came across this article by David Gibson, about the Pact of the Catacombs.  It tells the story of what happened, when on November 16th, 1965, close to the conclusion of the Second Vatican, around forty bishops gathered in a chapel located in the Catacombs of Domitilla.  At the end of the liturgy, each of the bishops affixed their signatures to a document that came to be known as the Pact of the Catacombs.  In signing it they “pledged … to ‘try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters.’

The signatories vowed to renounce personal possessions, fancy vestments and ‘names and titles that express prominence and power,’ and they said they would make advocating for the poor and powerless the focus of their ministry.

In all this, they said, ‘we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try to make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs.’  ”

The ideals outlined in that ecclesial manifesto were adopted by many of the South American prelates, Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, of Brazil, a leading advocate for the poor, was one of the original signatories.  About 500 Latin American bishops would eventually sign the Pact; among them the assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.  These bishops strived to be shepherds of a church of, and for the poor.  Many found guidance in liberation theology, which placed them at odds with conservative clergy, their countries’ dictators, and eventually the Vatican.

The original signed document of the Pact has been lost, though its contents have been widely disseminated.  Only one of the original signers is still with us.  But its spirit is very much alive in the person of Pope Francis.  He has called on the Church’s bishops to adopt a simpler lifestyle, to be true shepherds, to have the “smell of the sheep.”  And he seeks to make real the desire of St. Pope John XXIII, and the other bishops to have a Church of the poor.

The Catholic Church is going to have some rough days ahead; this weekend, the movie, “Spotlight” will open in American theaters.  It will tell the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the extant of clergy abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston.  It was that reporting that opened the floodgates, and revealed a scandal that continues affect the Church.  Also, two books will be published and released in Italy, which will “reveal” continuing financial scandals in Vatican City.

In the days ahead, we are going to need to examples of the lives of those bishops, who truly committed themselves to living the Gospel, to be servants of all.  And we are going to accept the challenge of the Gospel ourselves, to be servants for each other, and the world.  To seek to replace hatred with love, and war with peace, if we can do that, try to do this, perhaps we can show the world the true face of the Church.

Laudato Si’ is Out; And it is Shaking Things Up!

Laudato Si 2On June 18th, the Vatican officially released Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment:  “Laudato Si’.”  Truth be told, I have not actually read the document myself; I am basing my own observations on the analysis and commentary of others, whose opinions I trust.  Chief among them is John Allen, Jr. of Crux who has done some analysis on the encyclical.

The theological analysis of the document I have; comes from Father Dan Horan OFM, of Dating God, who gives a Franciscan perspective on the encyclical.  The other comes from Jay Michaelson, of Religion News Service.  He brings out some of the theological points in the document that he considers truly radical.

As a Franciscan, the theological points that grabbed my attention were found in Chapter 2: “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbors, and with the earth itself.”  And in Chapter 3: “Our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”  To Western ears these statements may seem very strange, but they are not new.  If one was to get beyond the image of St. Francis of Assisi as a statue holding a birdbath, one can see a Francis who knew that because of his intimate relationship with God, he had to have an intimate relationship with all people, and all creation.  Joined intimately with Christ, through the Gospels, through the Eucharist, and prayer, he was fully open to, and accepted the reality that he shared a kinship with all people, with all creatures, with everything that exists.

Francis passed this realization on to his followers, through his words and his actions.  Sadly, some of his children did not realize the depth of his teaching, but in recent times, we are finally beginning to get the point.  In our Secular Franciscan Rule, we have Article 18: “Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.”

It is this idea of “universal kinship” that Pope Francis is calling on the world, on all of us, to realize, and to act on.  It is a call to change our way of life, that is abusing our earth, and live in ways that will enhance our planet.

I do plan to read this encyclical myself, and hopefully I will be able share my own insights with you soon.  Pace e Bene!