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ON THE 41st. ANNIVERSARY OF THE MARTYRDOM OF ST. OSCAR ROMERO

ROMERO’S PASSION:  ON GOSPEL AND ON TRUTH:

          Dear Friends:

          On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero came to celebrate the 6 PM Mass at the Chapel of The Divine Providence cancer hospital. The Mass was offered for Sarita, the mother of a friend, Jorge Pinto, whose weekly paper, “El Independiente,” had been blasted by a bomb two weeks earlier.

          The First Reading was from 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28: “Christ is indeed raised from the dead, the first fruits of those fallen asleep.” Then he led in the praying and singing of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . .  Though I walk in the valley of the shadow, I fear no evil.” The Gospel came from John 12: 23-26: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit . . . ”  The readings seemed to eerily anticipate what was about to happen . . .

          Romero gave a short, 10-minute homily. He spoke of Sarita’s commitment to building the kingdom of God; he encouraged the assembly to follow her example, and concluded: “So, let us join together intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer for Doña Sarita and ourselves.” Just then shot rang out from the rear of the chapel. Romero slumped to the floor. The bullet penetrated his left breasts, causing massive internal bleeding. Some members of the assembly placed him in a truck parked outside, took him to the Policlínica hospital, where he died within five minutes.

          Oscar Romero was a prophet, the “voice of the voiceless,” who defied the brutal repression of the military and police of El Salvador, who denounced the perpetuation of the structures of poverty, hunger, homelessness his people had been suffering for much too long. He had been installed as Archbishop of San Salvador on February 23, 1977. The ruling oligarchy of the country seemed to have welcomed his appointment, and according to some sources, may have influenced it. Romero was a man of intellectual proclivities, rather shy, and the wealthy and powerful of the land felt that he would not challenge or upset their privileges. They seemed to have welcome Romero as their private chaplain, a sort of guarantor of their economic and political hegemony.

          Just 20 days after his installation as Archbishop, on March 12, Romero’s seminary classmate and personal friend, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, along with two companions, Manuel Solórzano and 16-year-old Nelson Ramos, was assassinated while driving near Aguilares. Fr. Rutilio had developed a pastoral liberation ministry, centered in Scripture and popular liturgy,  that allowed lay people to get involved in social and political transformation without necessarily appealing to Marxist criteria. Fr. Rutilio thundered on issues of agrarian reform, liturgical inclusiveness of the laity, just salary and human working conditions, and living, preaching and witnessing to a Catholicism for the poor. While engaged in ministry at the parish of Aguilares, his home town, 1967-77, Fr. Rutilio became active in creating base ecclesial communities, and educating and commissioning “Delegados de la Palabra” (“Delegates of the Word”) to lead these communities in the absence of an ordained ministry.

          Rutilio Grande´s total and unstinting engagement with the poor and the hungry, his definition of local ecclesial communities with inclusive liturgies and Scriptural guidelines, his revolutionary empowerment of the laity, with the full brunt of biblical subversive power, drew, inevitably, the ire and fierce antagonism of landowners, the wealthy families that formed the Salvadorean oligarchy, and high-ranking military officers in the employ of the wealthy and powerful elites. Fr. Grande simply had to be silenced.

          Rutilio Grande’s death was, it seems, a defining moment for Romero. Like his murdered friend, the Archbishop’s prophetic advocacy of the poor, the hungry, the victims became ever more intense. Like all prophets, he met resistance and active opposition from within his own community. Some Salvadorean bishops wrote unflattering reports on Romero to high authorities in the Vatican. And then came Romero’s defining moment:

          On May 7, 1979, Romero met, at his own request, with Pope John Paul II. The pontiff seemed to be concerned about some of the reports which had reached him from the beleaguered church of El Salvador. He called Romero’s attention to it. A dialogue ensued. In Romero’s own words:

          “He recommended great balance and prudence, especially when denouncing specific situations. He thinks it’s better to stay with principles, because there is a risk of making errors or mistakes with specific accusations. I clarified for him (and he said that I was right) that there are circumstances in which the accusation has to be very specific because the injustice perpetrated, the attack committed, was very specific . . . He said the unity of the bishops is very important. Again recalling his time as a pastor in Poland, he said that keeping the bishops unified was the main problem. Again I clarified, telling him that this is also something that I want very much, but that I was aware that unity cannot be pretended. Rather, it must be based on the Gospel and on truth.”   

          “UNITY CANNOT BE PRETENDED! RATHER, IT MUST BE BASED ON THE GOSPEL AND ON TRUTH” !!! – This is the defining point of Romero’s prophetic heart, the luminous splendor of insight and truth that all true prophets possess – and, we might add, the deepest and most diaphanous reason why he was assassinated 10 months and 17 days later. The luminous splendor of a prophet’s soul is too much for those who wield the instruments of oppression, for those who bask in wealth and power at the expense of the hungry, the poor, the discarded, the victims of this earth. Prophets simply cannot be allowed to utter their dangerous words with impunity. Romero had to go.

          For Romero, among other things, had identified and unblushingly denounced that most seductive of all lies, a lie that seems often to find its most fertile ground to grow and diffuse within the church: the need for unity at all costs – meaning, at the cost of buying the silence of  the Church, of muting her plea for justice, compassion and commitment to the poor, the hungry, the crucified of history – at the cost, basically, of excising the text of Mt 25: 31-46 off the Gospels . . .  Romero knew that most dangerous of all truths: that unity cannot be purchased at the expense of justice, that true unity is either defined by, and based upon, the Gospels, or is not unity at all.

          Blessed Oscar Romero, intercede for us before the Crucified Lord, whose cross you bore, whose resurrection you now share – pray that we may receive the gift of living a risky, prophetic life for the sake of the true Kingdom of God, that we may commit ourselves to bring about Paschal joy for those still hanging from their crosses.

          Oremus pro invicem

ROMERO FOR LENT – PART II

ROMERO FOR LENT: PART II

          A prophet has to be angry with society when that society is not in accord with God.” – August 14, 1977 (cf. Pope Francis, “The Beloved Amazon”, 15: “We need to feel outrage, as Moses did (cf. Ex. 11: 8), as Jesus did (cf. Mk 3: 5), as God does in the face of injustice” (cf. Am 2: 4-8; 5: 7-12; Ps 106: 40),

          “When the Church is called the church of the poor, it is not because it consents to this sinful poverty. The Church draws near the poor sinners to tell them: Be converted, improve your people´s situation, that the Church is carrying out, is also bothersome. Because many prefer to have the masses asleep, to be people who are not awake, people who conform, who are satisfied with the nuts fed to be pigs” – September 11, 1977

          “These unjust inequalities, these masses living in misery who cry out to heaven are a sign of our anti-Christianity” – September 18, 1977

          “Christianity is not a collection of truths that one has to believe, of laws one has to keep, a list of prohibitions. That would be repugnant. Christianity is a person that loved me so much that he demands my love. Christianity is Christ” – November 6, 1977

          “Good works, Christian hearts, true justice, charity, this is what God is looking for in religion. A religion which means going to Mass on Sunday but committing injustices the rest of the week is not pleasing to the Lord. A religion which involves a great deal of prayer but with a hypocritical heart is not Christian. A Church that accommodates itself to be comfortable, to have a great deal of wealth, great comfort, but that ignores the clamor against injustice, would not be the true Church of our divine Savior” –  December 4, 1977

OSCAR ROMERO – PART I – THORNY ISSUES

OSCAR ROMERO: PART I: “THORNY, CONFLICITIVE ISSUES”

          “Don´t fear conservatives, especially all those who don´t want you to talk about social issues, about thorny topics, in the way the world needs today. Don´t be afraid that those of us who talk about these things have become Communists or subversives. We are only Christians, taking from the Gospel the consequences that today, at this time, humankind, our people, need” – Homily, October 30, 1977

          “Yesterday I heard over at Santiago de María that, according to some of my friends, I have changed, that I now preach revolution, hate, class struggle, that I am a Communist. You all know what language I use for preaching. It is a language that wants to plant seeds of hope; yes, it denounces earthy injustices, abuses of power, but not with hatred, rather with love, calling for conversion” – Homily, November 6, 1977

          “Brothers and sisters, we ought not to think it strange when there is talk of a persecuted Church. Many are scandalized and say that we are exaggerating that there is no persecuted Church, It always should be persecuted. A doctrine which goes against immorality, that preaches against abuses, that always preaches good and attacks evil, is a doctrine given by Christ to sanctify hearts, redeem societies. And, naturally, when in this society or in this heart, there is sin, there is selfishness, there is corruption of power, there is envy, there is avarice, well, then, sin jumps up like a serpent . . . and persecutes the one who tries to pursue evil, sin. For that reason, when the Church is persecuted, it is a sign that it is carrying out its mission” – Homily, November 25, 1977

          “A Gospel that doesn´t take into account the rights of human beings, a Christianity that doesn´t make a positive contribution to the history of the world, is not the authentic doctrine of Christ, but rather simply an instrument” – Homily, November 27, 1977

          “Mary, brothers and sisters, is the symbol of the people that suffer oppression, injustice, because represents the serene sorrows that waits for the resurrection. She is Christian pain, the pain of the Church that is not in agreement with the present injustice, but with no resentment, waiting for the moment when the Resurrected One will return to give us the awaited redemption” – Homily, December 1, 1977.

ROMERO FOR LENT

 ROMERO FOR LENT

 Dear Friends:

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero gave his “last full measure of devotion” to the Crucified and Risen Lord, in whose face he could see all the crucified faces of history: the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the homeless, the despised. Like all prophets and martyrs before him, and since, Romero sowed seeds of Christian truth, of radical, scandalous and subversive witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow, Friday 24th, we celebrate the 37th anniversary of his final pilgrimage into the Crucified and Risen Lord’s Kingdom of justice, love and mercy. I reproduce here my reflection from last year. It is my way of sharing my anamnesis of Romero’s Eucharistic self-surrender.

In his Diary (“A Shepherd’s Diary,” St. Anthony’s Messenger’s Press), Archbishop Oscar Romero tells of his meeting with John Paul II at the Vatican, on Monday, May 7, 1979, 10 months and 17 days before his assassination, The pope apparently was uneasy about (misguided and misinformed) reports that Romero’s advocacy of the poor was causing friction and disunity within the Salvadorean episcopate, and was concerned that some of the accusations made by Romero against government military depredations might have been vague and unspecific. Let us hear Romero’s voice as he speaks to John Paul II:

“I clarified for him (and he said I was right) that there are circumstances – I mentioned, for example, the case of Father Octavio-in which the accusation has to be very specific because the injustice perpetrated, that attack committed, was very specific. He reminded me of his situation in Poland, where he was faced with a government that was not Catholic and where he had to develop the Church in spite of the difficulties. He said the unity of the bishops is very important. Again recalling his time as a pastor in Poland, he said that keeping the bishops unified was the main problem. Again I clarified, telling him that this is also something I want very much, BUT THAT I WAS AWARE THAT UNITY CANNOT BE PRETENDED, RATHER, IT MUST BE BASED ON THE GOSPEL AND ON TRUTH”  (Capitals Mine).

These words flow, like a river from its wellspring, from Romero’s crucified love. They defined his deepest intimacy with the Crucified Jesus, whose agony he saw clearly reflected on the faces of the poor and the oppressed, the martyrs who had suffered at the hands of a society ruled by an oligarchy of 12 wealthy families, who felt, not without reason, that they could buy the military forces for the preservation of their arrogant opulence and their despotic power, further, that they could buy the silence of the Church,  as indeed, once Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, they attempted to do.

 Romero’s candid, prophetic and bold words to the Pope were the scandalous and subversive definition of his heart, torn asunder by the pain of his people. They were indeed the deepest definition of the scandalous, insane and subversive Gospel of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, of the scandalous, insane and subversive Cross ( 1 Corinthians 1: 18-28), which he embraced so tightly that he was nailed to it.

            Romero resisted the seductive call to a prostituted unity, based on compliance and abjection to the demands of the opulent and the powerful. It calls to mind the situation in a parish nearby, where the holy Irish parish priest, acting on his own initiative, called the Latinos to form their own ministries, and started a Mass in Spanish. The racist crowd in the parish let a howl of anger and resentment against this threat to their parish primacy. . “Let us have one big, happy family in the parish,” they clamored – meaning, of course, an English-only liturgy, dominant-culture-only ministries, etc. – Let the inferior-race Latino keep quiet and sitting on the back pews –as one of them publicly said – I know, I have seen her letter. Letters were sent to the bishop, denouncing their parish pastor as a divisive, subversive agent provocateur, a socialist and a menace to the American way of life They were not entirely wrong: Father Frank O’ Loughlin was indeed subversive and divisive – Like all prophets, from Amos and Hoseah to Jesus of Nazareth, were, are and will ever be. Romero saw clearly, and he said this much to the pope, that unity can never be purchased at the expense of justice.

Romero’s life and death are, I submit, a privileged beacon for our Lenten journey. Like him, we are called to pray, fast and embrace the scandal and subversion of the Cross:

SCANDALOUS: The Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel and the world, nailed to a Cross? Who can believe this? Who can reasonably be expected to find and identify the Son of God, eternal beholder of the Father’s glory, bleeding to death in a cross for common criminals, for the rabble? Shouldn’t we have the right to expect Him basking among the applause, the power, of the wealthy and the opulent? :

SUBVERSIVE: Do we realize that if we follow Romero’s and all those whose lives have become broken bodies and spilt blood for the life of the poor, the homeless, the victims of racism, the marginalized, we will end up like them, one way or the other? Can we not see that Romero’s Way of the Cross, like so many others before him and since, subverts the order of so many “good Catholics” who live their faith as an endless parish party, as participating in a Church whose silence on Social Justice they feel (again, in some parishes, not without justification) they can, and do, buy, as men and women who define their identity as “good Catholics” by defending tooth and nail their parishes or diocesan communities as self-preserving enclaves for the “poor and perfect,” rather than a risky, vulnerable, scandalous and subversive commitment to a Church meant to be “a field hospital after a battle,” where all the wounded of the world are welcome and offered healing: ALL, no exceptions; the poor, the ill-clad, the homeless, the hungry, the leftovers of our opulent societies?

  Romero’s journey remind us of something Pope Francis uttered just recently: ‘The Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed.” This echoes his remarks to delegates of the Latin American Confederation of Religious: “The poor are the Gospel.” To those who, victimized often by the neglect and contempt of men and women of the church, despair and feel tempted to flee elsewhere, we dare to say: LOOK, look closely at Romero’s insane, scandalous, subversive embrace of the cross of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed – a man who, to the end, faced with attacks from within and papal misunderstandings from without, remained faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who dared dream –and die for that dream-with a “poor Church for the poor” (Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” 189).

This is indeed, our call in Lent: to live, proclaim, delight in, the insanity, scandal and subversion of the Cross, to witness to it, unto death, like Romero. The holy archbishop of San Salvador can be, if we allow him to, the luminous splendor of that undimmed Light that guides us to conversion, he can intercede to allow our hearts of stone be removed, and receive instead a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36: 25-27), palpitating, suffering, breaking and embracing all the crucified of the world.

Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us!

ISAIAH AND ST. IGNATIUS FOR LENT

ISAIAH AND ST. IGNATIUS FOR LENT

Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,

lift up your voice like a trumpet blast.

Proclaim to my people their transgression;

to the house of Jacob their sins.

They seek me day after day,

and desire to know my ways.

Like a nation that has done what is just

and not abandoned the judgement of their God;

They ask of me just judgements,

they desire to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see it?

afflict ourselves, but you take no note?”

See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,

and drive all your laborers.

See, you fast only to quarrel and fight

and to strike with a wicked fist!

Do not fast as you do today

to make your voice heard on high!

Is this the manner of fasting I would choose,

a day to afflict oneself?

To bow one’s head like a reed,

and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?

Is this what you call a fast,’

a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:

releasing those bound unjustly,

untying the thongs of the yoke;

Setting free the oppressed,

breaking off every yoke

Is it not sharing your  bread with the hungry,

bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;

Clothing the naked when you see them,

and not turning your back on your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your wound shall quickly be healed;

Your vindication shall go before you,

and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer,

you shall cry for help, and he will say,
“Here I am!”

If you remove the yoke from among you,

the accusing finger, and malicious speech.

If you lavish your food on the hungry

and satisfy the afflicted;

Then your light shall rise in the darkness,’

and your gloom shall become like midday . . .

                                    Isaiah 58: 1-10

THE THIRD KIND OF HUMILITY

            The third is most perfect humility; namely, when-including the first and second, and the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty being equal-in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honors; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, who was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.

                                                                        St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Spiritual Exercises,” 167

            Dear Friends:

            The texts from the Trito-Isaiah and from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises” need little comment. They are clear and straightforward in the prophetic and subversive message. They cannot be watered down – OR

            Allow me to correct myself – They can, have been, are and will be watered down by those who, seized by fear and ignorance, practice an emasculating exegesis of them, reducing them to vacuous or innocuous spasms of piety and devotion. Mired in their self-seeking rejection, they try to avoid being touched and converted by the voice softly thundering, in prophetic whispers, from deep within the Heart of the Paschal Mystery.

            For, indeed, both the author(s) of the Third Isaiah, and St. Ignatius, meet us where we are, in our zones of comfort, complacency, arrogance, lust for power, wealth and fame, and summon us to conversion. Isaiah tells us unambiguously that the light from God’s grace, His own (in Christian language) Trinitarian dynamics of loving and compassionate tri-personal intercommunion is a summons to embrace “our own flesh,” the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the discarded, the “refuse” of our opulent societies.

            St. Ignatius defines the starting point. Only if we, discerning in prayer and contemplation, passionately seek to “imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord,” if we ardently desire to “be rated as worthless and fools for Christ, who was first held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world,” we will be, ourselves, make no mistake, be persecuted, ridiculed, ostracized. Only martyrs and saints can follow this path, only mystics can contemplate this deep Mystery – AND,

            THAT IS PRECISELY what we are called to be, all of us: saints, martyrs, mystics, Lent is a journey for stout-hearted Christians – it can be the most joyful and liberating, and, at the same time, the most painful, hurting and threatening pilgrimage, but that is the only way toward the fullness of our Christian and human vocation – The Trito-Isaiah and St. Ignatius of Loyola lead the way. We can follow it, and engage in a pilgrimage of life – or reject it, and choose the way of death.

            Oremus pro invicem

THE EVE OF LENT: HELDER CAMARA AND THE PROSTITUTES

THE EVE OF LENT

            Dom Helder Pessoa Camara (1909-1999) needs no introduction to those whose hearts convulse and agonize before the hunger, poverty, marginalization, homelessness and racism lavished upon the victims of the world. He was the prophetic bishop of Olinda and Recife, in the much impoverished Brazilian Northeast. His life was threatened, his homilies subject to vituperation by the standard-bearers of wealth, arrogance and racism, whose privileges and power he challenged.

            Dom Helder’s best-known quote is: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” The Brazilian bishop’s prophetic utterance surely anticipates and echoes Pope Francis’ plea to search for the “structural causes of poverty” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 188), In a manner of speaking, bishop Helder stood firm in the tradition of countless prophetic voices, before and after him, who have clamored to our deaf ears for a commitment, above and beyond our parish and diocesan “charity drives” and the occasional, condescending dropping of crumbs into a starving person’s lap, to a radical – really radical – questioning of the social, political and economic systems that we assume, matter-of-factly- as good and God-given, rewarding our “hard work” – i.e., our obsessions for wealth, power, and justifications for our arrogances and racisms – and that seem to find not infrequent support in our Catholic parishes and communities.

            BUT, there is another story about Dom Helder, perhaps more pregnant with subversion, more painful for our “good” Catholics to read: In 1975, Helder coordinated the Eucharistic Congress in Manaus. In his own words: “The bishops, priests, nuns, laity, all of God’s people who took part helped to make the connection between the sacramental Eucharist and the Eucharist of the poor: appearance of poverty,, real presence of Christ. At the most solemn moment of the Congress an unemployed worker, an abandoned wife with her children, and a prostitute spoke to us all. It was very moving.”

            Prostitutes, speaking at Eucharistic Congresses? Try suggesting that to a bishop, parish pastor, of three-piece-suited lay leader in our opulently appointed parishes, where vertical, socially-eviscerated Christianity is smugly lived out by our communities, safely sheltered from poverty, hunger, homelessness by their Country club walls, protecting the pure and the perfect – Prostitutes, speaking at Eucharistic Congresses Why not? Have we forgotten, or are we too afraid to read Jesus’ ever-subversive, ever disturbing words: “The tax collectors and prostitutes will preceded you into the Kingdom of Heaven”? (Mtt 21: 31).

Thundering across the centuries, slicing swaths of prophecy, subversion, change (radical, very radical change!!) and justice across our carefully tilled fields of placid, contented, oppressive, racist, versions of Christianity, challenging our whoring for wealth, power and discrimination against the “unfit,” the powerless, the ill-clad, the nobodies in the periphery of our societies, Dom Helder’s clamor is not only an advocacy for the victims of our history, but a revisionist, subversive Eucharistic theology

For the Eucharist is, in its most intimate essence, “not a prize for the perfect, but a most powerful medicine for the weak” (Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 47) – At the Eucharistic But we don’t like to see ourselves as “weak,” do we? Not in a society that rewards power, struggle, the might of arms – the weak, the poor, those cast into the periphery of our well-kept and clean societies and Catholic parishes, those need not apply for full membership into the exclusive club of “civilized humanity.”  YET
            “The poor are the Gospel” – Pope Francis, speaking to delegates from the CLAR, the Latin American Confederation of Religious – “I wish a Church that is poor and for the poor – we must let ourselves be evangelized by the poor – the poor have much to teach us” – Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 198.

The Eucharist is, in its deepest, subversive and prophetic reality, the Eucharist of and for the poor – It is the sacrament of tax collectors, of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed . . . and the prostitutes.

We do need, when everything is said and done, a radical conversion, a conversion towards change, toward challenging the structural and institutional causes of poverty, of hunger, of the suffering of countless victims – a change more radical than most Catholics today can, or perhaps, better, dare to contemplate. Yet, it is our only hope, and Pope Francis, our uniquely prophetic and subversive pope, knows it, and clamors for it.

Yes, indeed, how true it is> “The tax collectors and prostitutes will preceded you into the Kingdom of Heaven”

Prostitutes of the world, whoever you are, wherever you are, PLEASE, keep the doors of heaven open, for behind you –well behind you- there is a countless throng of “good Catholics” who think they have purchased heaven with their donations to their Catholic social clubs disguised as parishes, who in fact do buy the silence of the Church in matters of social justice, who will need you, dear prostitutes, to give them a push into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Prostitutes of the world, pray for us, for all of us!!!

Oremus pro invicem

JOAN CHITTISTER: A REMINDER, IN THE MIDST OF POLITICAL OPTIMISM, ABOUT OUR TRUE PRIORITIES

The heart of our country must be considered when rebuilding our economy

VINTAGE CHITTISTER: IN THE MIDST OF POLITICAL OPTIMISM, A REMINDER ABOUT WHAT THE TRUE CHRISTIAN PRIORITIES OF THE MOMENT SHOULD BE
Amazing, isn’t it, how quickly life changes, becomes good again, gets resolved? Goes back to “normal.” Maybe. At least we seem to think so.

We are on our way, the understanding is, to social and, most of all, political “normalcy.” You can almost hear the sighs of relief. The second “long, national nightmare” — President Gerald Ford’s name for the events leading up to and including Richard Nixon’s resignation of the American presidency — “is over.”

The question, of course, is to which “normalcy” are we headed? The one we got accustomed to in the last 30-some years, when after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world was open for business again?

More than that, the U.S. government itself could settle into an even more relaxed agenda, less trained on the country’s military readiness and more concerned about the social development of the United States. Congress could simply go on, working together to prod growth in U.S. markets, U.S. inventiveness, U.S. international competition, U.S. businesses of all ilk.

There were problems, or course. The Middle East and its military hot-spots became a priority for the United States. Republicans retook Congress after a 40-year absence. Social reforms — insurance, taxes, technology, education — occupied the minds of both business and government.

Then racism reared its ugly head in public — spurred perhaps by the election of an African-American to the presidency, and not least of all, the ascendancy of Donald Trump, certifiable narcissist and incipient autocrat of a presidency bent on power. Perhaps on even a kind of modified imperial power in a hitherto democratic republic.

The government began to teeter a bit between those who called for a more stringent foreign policy and those who were concerned about our driving allies away. Clearly, the country was becoming split over multiple issues. Congress — Republicans on one side, Democrats on another — began to wage a private war among themselves.

Which brought us to another crossroad: the national election of 2020 and the very democratic removal of Trump from office by a clear 7,000,000 democratic votes. Some called it “back to normalcy” without defining it. Others called it fraud — without a stitch of evidence to claim it.

So what’s what? Are we in a political civil war or on the brink of national reunification?

We are clearly a people in transition. But going from what to what? Are we a people who hardly know ourselves after all that internal struggle, all that national tension, all that cultic campaigning, all that division and partisanship and demagoguery that ended in an attack by domestic terrorists on the Capitol of the United States?

How do we recover from all of that?

What will put Humpty Dumpty together again? I myself have no idea who, in the end, will do that, but I can tell you what one of the desert monastics considered the key to the resolution of a life in transition.

After Theodosius declared the “toleration” of Christianity and then Constantine its eventual legitimation, the notion of what it meant to be a Christian became a serious question. Since Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the empire, Christians themselves doubted the authenticity of simply naming people as Christian who had never identified with Jesus, this new religion, this public identity at all.

Christians, for the most part, had lived their Christianity in secret. If discovered, many were imprisoned or, in some periods and in many locales, condemned to death.

Martyrdom, the risk being a follower of Jesus could easily exact, called for more than simple “commitment.” It called for the courage to literally lay down one’s life, as Jesus had done, to be faithful in a pagan world that saw its own gods threatened by these Christian usurpers of truth.

This new political authentication of Christian identity caused a rift in Christianity itself. Those who had lived under the threat of martyrdom doubted the seriousness, the validity, of this blanket certification of what it meant to be Christian.

As a result, many Christians left the cities. They went to live in the desert, with all its denial and deprivation, as clear witnesses to this new kind of martyrdom. These Desert Monastics became living reminders of what it meant to live the real Christian life.

It is in that context that Abba Pambo’s words were saved as sign of the Christian life — both then and now. Abba Pambo, a Coptic desert monastic of the fourth century preached: “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”

That statement may deserve even more reflection in a time such as ours.

A new president, Joe Biden, in the face of the rampant Republican takeover of Congress in the last administration, has called for two things: for cooperation and bipartisanship from both congressional Democrats and Republicans. And, at the same time, he wants the quick release of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package* for families ravaged by lost jobs, lost savings, unpaid mortgages, impossible rental demands, and homes full of hungry children.

In place of the government-defined coronavirus relief in the Biden proposal, Republicans offered the president a $600 billion dollar package instead. Or to put it more clearly, perhaps, they offered about one-third of what economists estimate is needed if small businesses and salaried workers in the country are to stay viable until the virus itself abates.

The situation created by the last administration that had no national plan to control the virus, which demanded no universal masking procedures to keep people well and shopping, and whose head promised a miracle in place of social distancing at its rallies is now penny-pinching its relief checks.

Abba Pambo would say, I think, that at the end of the day, the figures that should determine tfinal status of the stimulus bill are the figures that come from the heart.

Heart takes into account what it means for a family that has no income to be evicted.

Heart reaches out to provide the money families need to feed their children, to sustain their non-working elderly.

Heart requires that workers receive unemployment benefits high enough to keep them secure while the companies for whom they made that money are now investing those saved wages in their company bank accounts.

Heart requires that the country keep testing and tracing coronavirus infections and keep distributing the amount of vaccine it will take to get enough people back to work to restart the country’s economic engine.

Heart asks whether or not the Republicans who approved no national plan to control such an infectious disease should be the people whose truncated financial plan to provide one $1,200 and one $600 stimulus check in all that time should control this one.

Heart requires the accessibility of food stamps for families until June rather than allow them to expire.

Heart asks a lot of things about what it will really take to “Make America Well Again” — like educational programs, small business grants, school reopenings and, oh yes, mental health services for those whose mental health has been strained to the maximum for no reason of their own making, when so little was done to contain the virus in the first place.

Heart is soft, yes, but not in the face of human hardness.

From where I stand, it is the thoughts of Abba Pambo and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the country needs to consider as criteria for the aid we give to those who need it. After all, when those families and businesses and children’s lives fail, so goes the country. Eventually.

Abba Pambo says, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”

Yellen, who is also past chair of the Federal Reserve, said in an April 2020 interview with PBS Newshour, that it was “simply essential” for households and businesses to receive government support amid the worst of the pandemic turmoil.

We are about, it seems, to find out how much “heart” America really has.The amount of the proposed relief plan has been corrected

FROM “LA CROIX INTERNATIONAL”: FRANCIS DECRIS CRISIS OF DEMOCRATIC VALUES

POPE FRANCIS DECRIES CRISIS OF DEMOCRATIC VALUES

In his annual speech to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, the pope expresses alarm at worldwide “political crisis” evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic

By Loup Besmond de Senneville |

Pope Francis has voiced alarm over a worldwide “political crisis” that has become more and more evident because of the coronavirus pandemic.And he’s warned that it could lead to more global conflicts if countries do not commit to finding common solutions to the world’s problems.”One of the hallmarks of this crisis is the increase in political conflicts,” the pope said on Monday in his annual speech to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.A changed date and venueThe annual address to the diplomats — now representing some 183 countries and inter-governmental organizations — had been scheduled for January 25, but was rescheduled because the pope had a sciatic nerve flare-up.It was held in the Hall of Benedictions above the portico of St. Peter’s Basilica, rather than its normal venue (the Sala Regia), in order to ensure physical distancing in accordance with anti-Covid protocols.Speaking at the end of a year marred by the global pandemic, Francis offered an usually strong and frank assessment of the current state of the world, sharing a deep concern that the health crisis could spawn more “political conflicts”.Over the course of nearly an hour, he analyzed the current crisis from a health, economic and environmental point of view.He offered a vision that was somber at times, calling on world leaders to take seriously “the difficulty, if not actually the inability, to seek common and shared solutions to the problems afflicting our world”.The 84-year-old pope’s blunt assessment was that the world is now experiencing a true “crisis of… democratic values”.”This has been a growing trend,” he said, arguing that this political crisis is “much deeper” than others.Underlining the gravity of the current situation, Francis repeated words that Pius XII used during his famous Christmas message of 1944.”To express their own views of the duties and sacrifices that are imposed on them, and not be compelled to obey without being heard – these are two rights of citizens which find in democracy, as its name implies, their expression,” Pius said at the time.”Inclusive, peaceful, constructive and respectful dialogue””The democratic process calls for pursuing the path of inclusive, peaceful, constructive and respectful dialogue among all the components of civil society in every city and nation,” Francis insisted in his message to the ambassadors.This is not the first time he has warned of the dangers of rising populism and the suppression of certain rights, but his words took on a special resonance given the precarious political situation in many parts of the globe.The Jesuit pope explicitly mentioned Myanmar, where he had visited in 2017, and where the government was overthrown by a military coup on February 1.As he had done the day before during the Angelus, he renewed his concern for the fate of the country and called for the release of the imprisoned political leaders.But Francis’ cry of alarm concerned not just those countries usually considered politically fragile. He also voiced deep concern for nations famous for having a “long democratic tradition”.”The development of a democratic consciousness demands that emphasis on individual personalities be overcome and that respect for the rule of law prevail,” the pope said, insisting on the need to, first and foremost, always seek the common good.”Our world has too many weapons!”Given this situation, Francis said political leaders should not hesitate to undertake reforms.”We must not be afraid of reforms, even if they require sacrifices and often a change in our way of thinking,” he said, adding that neither the Holy See nor the Roman Curia is absolved from doing the same.But the pope pointed out that threats to democracy concern more than individual nations. They also affect international organizations.He doubled down on an appeal he made last September in a video message to the UN General Assembly to save multilateralism.Francis repeated his concern that the effectiveness of these international bodies was now “compromised”, while their mission remained to “foster peace and development – on the basis of law and not on the ‘law of the strongest'”.Nevertheless, he encouraged the global organizations to continue their efforts towards disarmament, including “conventional weapons”.”Our world has too many weapons,” the pope repeated to the ambassadors.”Efforts in the area of disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that, despite difficulties and reluctance, must be intensified,” he insisted.Faced with this situation, the pope urged the countries of the entire world to react promptly, not only politically, but also more broadly.”Dear Ambassadors, 2021 is a time that must not be wasted,” Francis said.”Along with vaccines, fraternity and hope are, as it were, the medicine we need in today’s world,” he concluded.

KARL RAHNER ON ST. THOMAS AQUINAS

KARL RAHNER ON THOMAS AQUINAS: SELECTIONS FROM RAHNER´S “THE CHURCH YEAR”

          Thomas was a monk, a theologian and a mystic . . .  Thomas was a theologian. A theologian who had no need of stirring up cheap emotions, and for whom it was always and everywhere a matter of reality. He was one who under certain circumstances renounced going to choir for the sake of study. He was one who studied and taught with the kind of objectivity that is the sign of the greater hearts, who love the subject more than their subjectively selective curiosity. He had the courage for clarity where clarity was possible, and the courage for mystery. He could distinguish in order to unify. He could muster the courage to contradict the traditional opinion (without being a sensationalist of making novelty the criterion of truth); he could even, whenever it had to be and no better solution could be found, stick with the traditional opinion, although he may have perceived its obscurity and its insufficiencies. He spoke in his theology about God and not about himself. He is prosaic even though he is a person who could also write poetry. He is a speculator and would trade Paris for John Chrysostom´s  “Commentary on the Gospel of John . . . ”

COVID-19: CUBA REPORT

COVID-19 – CUBAReport from the CyberCuba News Agency:786 new confirmed cases – total 22614

4668 active cases

4621 clinically stable

16 in critical condition.

31 in serious (grave) condition

200 deaths (3 today)

17703 `recovered patients

2 evacuated

BY PROVINCE:

La Habana – 344

Santiago de Cuba –

121Guantánamo

– 82Matanzas –

48Camaguey –

44Ciego de Avila –

29Villa Clara –

28Holguin .

24Artemisa –

21Pinar del Rio – 25

Mayabeque – 9

Sancti Spiritus – 3

Granma – 2

Las Tunas -1

Let us pray for all – and for all the COVID victims everywhere

SIXTO