The Common Good

God's Politics

7 Lessons from the Vatican’s Wild and Crazy Synod on the Family

Pope Francis and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up their two-week Vatican summit on the challenges of modern family life on Oct. 19 without reaching a consensus on a number of hot-button topics. So where does that leave Francis’ papacy? And the church?

Here are seven takeaways:

1. Hard-liners won the battle

A midpoint status report on the debate among some 190 cardinals and bishops was described as a “pastoral earthquake” because of its unprecedented (for Catholic churchmen) language of welcome of and appreciation for gay people, as well as divorced-and-remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples.

The media tsunami over that apparent breakthrough panicked conservatives, who waged an intense public and private campaign to make sure none of that language — apparently favored by Francis himself — made it into the synod’s final report. They succeeded, and even the few watered-down paragraphs on gays and remarried Catholics did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for formal passage.

Hard-liners claimed victory, and headlines spoke of Vatican “backtrack” and a “resounding defeat” for Francis that left his papacy “weakened.”

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My Cause Is Better than Your Cause

A while back, a blog post speaking into the pain of miscarriage was making its rounds on the Internet. Having never miscarried (that I know of), or grieved the death of any child, I asked my friend who lost her two-month-old son whether she felt highlighting the pain of miscarriage diminishes the story of her own tragedy. She replied:

“It is not very helpful to compare pain.”

But how often do we do just that? There is a phenomenon of what I call, “First-World-Problem-Shaming,” where we make people feel bad about their anxieties because somewhere in the world children are starving. I don’t know about you, but in general, I feel WORSE after being reminded of greater problems in the world in response to my petty issues, not better. We compare our pains, assigning degrees of severity attached to the problem, deem one pain more worthy of compassion than the other, and manage one another’s grief as if it can be contained by our metrics. Yet everything we know about grief is that it defies our expectations, bowling us over unsuspectingly or releasing us with surprising turns. Everyone grieves in their own way.

This dynamic carries over to the way we do justice.

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Protecting God’s Children: How Gun Violence Impacts America’s Youth

Michael Brown. Sandy Hook. Trayvon Martin. Aurora. Columbine. 

Within the last decade, the narrative of children and teenagers being killed by gun violence has become an all-too-familiar narrative in the American public sphere. In a recent report compiled by The Brady Campaign, statistics revealed that in 2011 alone, 19,403 children were shot and 2,703 children and teenagers lost their lives to guns.

That’s seven of America’s youth under the age of 20 killed every day.

In the book of Matthew, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus calls a child to join the group.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he answers.

If as Christians, children represent God’s creation in its most pure and innocent form, why is it that as Americans, we continue to let children die preventable deaths from gun violence? Gun control policies are a difficult discourse for the American public. Yet one thing we can all agree on is that children should not be killed.

Of the 2,703 children killed in 2011, 61 percent were homicides, 32 percent were suicides and 5 percent were unintentional shooting. These statistics propel gun-related deaths to the number two leading cause of death for youth in America.  

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Reformation Then and Now - Dismantling Walls Today

Just over fifty-three years ago, a huge wall was built, a mighty fortress – a wall around East Berlin, a wall to keep out and a wall to keep in. This wall isolated people and forcefully molded them into a single, straight, dreary one-dimensional way of living. The wall represented an oppressive system without cracks, without breaks, without life.

Almost 500 years ago, a monk by the name of Martin Luther felt the pressures of another oppressive system, one in which a person was never sure of God or God’s mercy, one in which a person could even pay to climb the stairway to heaven quicker and easier. In many aspects, the church itself had become a fortress, dictating who was in and who was out.  

Every system, every culture, every community risks succumbing to the temptation of shutting borders and protecting an identity. We are quickly seduced into the illusion of absolute control and power. Brick by brick, wall by wall, suspicion by suspicion, power is built, oppression takes hold. We construct an identity, a security, a world. We construct our own way to heaven. (Or is it to a ghetto?)

Who or what can defeat and break the walls, the towers, the fortresses we construct? Who or what can overcome oppression in the land? Where do we turn when creation shakes and societies are in an uproar?

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Greek Orthodox Launch Rebuilding of St. Nicholas, the Only Church Destroyed on 9/11

Leaders of a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center broke ground on a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that will overlook the 9/11 Memorial.

The new domed building is scheduled to open in 2016, the same year as the church’s 100th anniversary. The church has raised $7 million of about $38 million needed.

Plans to rebuild the church were stalled by a dispute with the Port Authority of New York, which is in charge of overall rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. Under an 2011 agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop its lawsuit in return for building at a larger site.

On Oct. 18, government and church leaders joined on a concrete platform surrounded by steel foundation beams and orange construction netting to break ground for the church, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Patrick J. Foye, who was named earlier this year as executive director of the Port Authority, said the future building would be “an iconic house of worship,” comparable to the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown.

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Forgive Us

I attended Catholic school for one year as a child. My second-grade year in Philadelphia’s St. Athanasius left me with a strong sense of the mystery of the church. The most mysterious space there was the confessional booth. I wasn’t allowed to enter because I wasn’t Catholic, so I just sat and watched others enter with pinched brows. Then they would exit with peace painted over their faces.

There is a scene in the book Blue Like Jazz where author Donald Miller sets up a confessional box in the center of the Reed College campus. But Miller’s confessional worked in reverse. Students of Reed, which is known as the most liberal campus in the country, entered the confessional booth with curiosity, cynicism, skepticism, or worse — to disprove this thing called Christianity. But what they encountered upon entry was disarming — even healing. Rather than prompts to confess their sin, Miller sat on the other side of the veil and confessed of the sins of the church. This was a revolutionary act in the context where, according to Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman’s modern classic, UnChristian, the general consensus about Christians is decidedly negative.

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Weekly Wrap 10.17.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Race and America’s Gun Culture
"Whites walking down Main Street with an AK-47 are defenders of American values; a black man doing the same thing is Public Enemy No. 1."

2. Keeping the Faith: How Childhood Influences Churchgoing
From college education to birth order, this article offers all the latest stats on American religiosity.

3. WATCH: British Nurse Who Survived Ebola Will Return to Africa Because ‘There’s Still A Lot of Work to Do’
William Pooley is a volunteer nurse who contracted the disease in Sierra Leone. He plans to return.

4. Dear White People: Art Imitating Life’s Racism
"Simien told The Root he’s not trying to embarrass but instead is trying to open a dialogue through his humor. He wants white filmgoers to know, ‘It’s not an hour-and-a-half indictment of your people.’ Instead it could be taken as a 108-minute indictment of all people."

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A New Hymn for Sunday: Rendering to Caesar and to God

“Is It Lawful to Pay Taxes?”  

“Is it lawful to pay taxes when they prop up Caesar’s rule?”  

So some people asked of Jesus, wanting him to seem a fool.  

Saying “no” would be sedition; saying “yes” would be a sin.  

Jesus changed the conversation, calling them to look within.      

 

“Find a tax coin in your treasure; see the image that it bears.  

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. (Give to rulers what is theirs.)”  

Yet he pressed on with his message; “Give to God what is God’s own.”  

We who bear our Maker’s image worship God and God alone.  

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Change in Translation Epitomizes Bishops’ Debate Over Gays

The tug-of-war at the Vatican over calls for the Catholic Church to be more open to gays and cohabiting couples intensified Oct. 16 as conservative bishops sought to rein in or renounce draft language they feared might condone lifestyles not in accord with church teachings.

The lobbying at the two-week summit of church leaders — a synod on family life that is set to wrap up Saturday with a final report — was epitomized by the retranslation of a headline from “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons.”

In the text, the line “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?” was changed to, “Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing … them … a place of fellowship in our communities?”

The change in the English version was not made in the Italian original, where the term “accogliere,” which means “to welcome,” was kept.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the first document was only a “transitory text” and suggested there were errors in translation.

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Ebola Prompts Hands-Off Mass in Fort Worth, Texas

The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”

These are but a few of the guidelines the Diocese of Fort Worth — not far from the Dallas hospital where three Ebola cases have been diagnosed — has sent to its parishes to calm fears about the deadly disease and to prevent the spread of flu.

While the diocese is perhaps the first in the U.S. to send around such a memo thanks in part to Ebola, such restrictions are common during flu season in Catholic and other churches that offer Communion.

“It’s the same guidelines we have used in past years,” said Pat Svacina, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “This is just a normal thing. There is no panic whatsoever.”

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