Thursday, April 03, 2008

Parishioners' Newsletter of 03/30/08

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Catholics of the Rio Grande Valley
March 30, 2008

“The parish used to have a ‘social activist’ priest, but now has one who is ‘spiritual and focused on the Eucharist.’” from Father (now Monsignor) Bert Diaz, Chancellor of the Diocese, in his discussion with representatives from Holy Spirit Parish, 6/29/05.

“In 1971 the essential link between faith and justice was written into magisterial teaching when the World Synod of Bishops wrote that ‘action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel’ (Justice in the World, Nov. 30, 1971)” from Roger Haight, S.J., in America, 3/17/08.

The contrast between Father Diaz’s statement, which implies that “action on behalf of justice” is some sort of personal preference of a pastor that can be abandoned for some other personal preference (like being “spiritual”), and that of the bishops of the Church gathered in Synod which calls such action “a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel” could not be more striking. This diocesan administration seems to take the stance that “participation in the transformation of the world” is a hobby that might be tolerated (if it doesn’t ruffle too many feathers) but certainly is not something required of its priests (in their preaching or their actions) or required of the faithful of the Rio Grande Valley. It gives one pause to ask what this Bishop believes is required of the priests and of the faithful—do pious practices and a spirituality limited to “me and God” do the trick, while the “essential link between faith and justice” is conveniently ignored (or even ruthlessly condemned and vilified)?

The most recent Holy Spirit Peace and Justice Affirmation Night (held last Friday, March 28) brought to the front of people’s consciousness, once again, the sharp differences of practice and attitude between the current diocesan administration and that of Bishop Fitzpatrick. The stories that were told of the sanctuary movement, the struggle of the farm workers, the rise of Valley Interfaith, the efforts to work with immigrants on education and health issues, etc. all bore the marks of heavy involvement of individual Catholics and the official involvement and strong support of the Diocese of Brownsville. Under the two succeeding bishops virtually all of that has been dismantled. Bishop Peña periodically “talks a good line” but there are no “action[s] on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world” coming from the chancery these days and those in the Church who become too vocal in their own actions soon find themselves marginalized and even persecuted.

It was inspiring to hear the history of that era, to affirm those who were part of that work, and to affirm those who continue it today, but it was disappointing to be reminded, again, of the failure of the official Church in the Valley to live up to the Gospel mandate. The judgment described in Matthew 25 does not speak of novenas and holy pictures and special chapels—it speaks of our obligation to justice, for where justice is absent we have the hungry and the naked and the homeless and the…

During the past few weeks, the word cancer has come up in different settings. News of friends with a diagnosis, prayers for a friend whose cancer has reappeared, and even a few references to situations being like cancer – growing, changing and seeming to overtake anything in its path. I think we can all identify moments in our lives when emotions, events or conditions seem to be overwhelming – like a cancer taking over our world, sometimes maybe even our church. One Easter when my father was battling his kidney cancer, we found the following poem that helped me regain my perspective. It is another way of saying at Easter we remember to celebrate more than ever that God is bigger than anything we experience. In the shadow of God’s love, cancer and our challenges in whatever form they take regain their proper perspective.

Cancer is so limited…
It cannot cripple love, It cannot shatter hope,
It cannot corrode faith, It cannot eat away peace,
It cannot destroy confidence, It cannot kill friendship,
It cannot shut out memories, It cannot silence courage,
It cannot invade the soul, It cannot reduce eternal life,
It cannot quench the Spirit, It cannot lessen the power of the Resurrection.
from Michelle Peña

Either/Or vs. Both/And
One of the interesting things to think about these days is what the Church will be like down the road when Western Europe/North America will no longer be the dominant culture within the Church (the day has long past when the majority of Catholics come from that culture). It seems that our current Pope cannot envisage such a time as he calls for reinforcement of “Catholic identity”—which appears to be an attempt to stave off a cultural remaking of the Church into a Latin American, African and Asian church. Such a staving off is really impossible and a more useful effort would have Western Europeans begin to reflect on what the Gospels sound like within other cultures and what a theology developed in another cultures tells us.

The liberation theology developed in Latin America arrived at a lot of conclusions that have unsettled folks trained in Thomism with its reliance on Greek philosophy and a narrow approach to understanding the Scriptures. The work of Father Peter Phan, an Asian working in the United States, has roused the ire of Rome recently. The list goes on—ultimately, non-European cultures will develop their own expressions of Catholicism which will become, by default, the standard.

One difference between the West and the East has been described as the fact that West is dominated by the powerful engine of logic, which relies on the ability to dissect a situation into “either/or” alternatives and proceed by eliminating one of them. The East, on the other hand, is very comfortable with “both/and” being possible and living with the ambiguity that results. Keep in mind that the Scriptures are Semitic literature (though parts are in Greek) and so are more of the East than the West.

Baptized Into ...
So many of my family and friends no longer seem members of the institutional church into which they were Baptized.

But wait a minute?

Were they baptized into an institution or into a Faith?

I can certainly understand why Institutional Church no longer appeals to them; Abusive, Tyrannical, Fraudulent, Sexist, Exclusionist, Unaccountable, Retro, Non-transparent, Stifling, Fear-based, Suppressive, and still treating adults like an uneducated immigrant laity.

So many have Just Moved On or Never Intended Joining Some Exclusive Club.

By leaving the institution behind, have they nullified their Baptism?

I suspect our Baptism, just like that of John the Baptizer and Jesus to follow is not a Baptism into a human organization, but into a Faith far deeper and more advanced than the hierarchs wish us to go.
from John Churchman

Prepared for all Valley Catholics and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues in the Church or have any other comments, please contact

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