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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

'Big Love' by Richard Rohr

'Big Love' by Richard Rohr
Friday, July 22, 2016

We can't seem to know the good news that we are God's beloveds on our own. It has to be mirrored to us. We're essentially social beings. Another has to tell us we are beloved and good. Within contemplative prayer, we present ourselves for the ultimate gaze, the ultimate mirroring. Before this gaze of Love, we gradually disrobe and allow ourselves to be seen, to be known in every nook and cranny, nothing hidden, nothing denied, nothing disguised. It's like lovemaking. The wonderful thing is, after a while, we feel so safe that we know we don't have to pretend or disguise any more. We don't have to put on any kind of costume.

Letting your naked self be known by God is always to recognize your need for mercy and your own utter inadequacy and littleness. You realize that even the best things you've done have often been for mixed and selfish motives, not really for love. The saints often weep in the middle of prayer because they recognize how tiny they are in the presence of such Infinity. Your need for mercy draws you close to God. It's a wonderful and humiliating experience. Within contemplation, you stand under an immense waterfall of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Knowing your need for mercy opens you to receiving mercy. Knowing your intimate need for mercy is in great part what it means to know, need, or fall in love with God, because God is mercy itself and must be experienced as such! If you live like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable (Luke 18:9-14), where you do everything perfectly and you are never in need of mercy, then you will never know God! So don't be too good, even in your own eyes. Make sure you always and happily stand on the receiving end of God, just like the Three Persons of the Trinity do to one another, where self-emptying always precedes any new outpouring.

Frankly, it all comes down to this: God doesn't love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good!

Gateway to Silence
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."
--Zechariah 4:6

Adapted from Richard Rohr, True Self/False Self (Franciscan Media: 2003), discs 1 and 2 (CD).

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New rules to help contemplative women be beacons for the world

Pope issues rules to help contemplative women be beacons for the world
by Carol Glatz
posted Friday, 22 Jul 2016

The Carmelite Sisters of Mount Carmel Convent 
in Nairobi, Kenya (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Every institute of contemplative women religious will have to revise its constitutions in light of the new document

In an effort to help contemplative women religious renew their life and mission in the Church and the world, Pope Francis has issued a series of new rulings dealing with formation, assets, prayer life, authority and autonomy.

The new rulings include a mandate that “initially, all monasteries are to be part of a federation” based on “an affinity of spirit and traditions” with the aim of facilitating formation and meeting needs through sharing assets and exchanging members. Monasteries voting for an exception from joining a federation will need Vatican approval.

All institutes of contemplative women religious will need to revise or update their constitutions or rules so as to implement the new norms and have those changes approved by the Holy See.

Titled Vultum Dei Quaerere (“Seeking the face of God”), the document focuses on the life of contemplative women religious. Dated June 29, the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, it was released by the Vatican on July 22, the feast of St Mary Magdalene.

The 38-page document contains 14 new articles ruling on various aspects of life within monasteries and their jurisdiction, including a regulation outlining the criteria needed for a monastery to retain juridical autonomy or else be absorbed by another entity or face closure.

The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is now charged with creating a new instruction to replace what had been the current – but now no longer in effect – Verbi Sponsa, the congregation’s 1999 instruction on contemplative life and cloistered nuns.

Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the congregation, told reporters that the new apostolic constitution was meant to fill the legislative gaps that have become apparent since Pope Pius XII’s apostolic constitution Sponsa Christi, issued 66 years ago.

The bulk of the new document outlines 12 aspects of consecrated life that call for “discernment and renewed norms” in an effort to help contemplative women fulfil their specific vocation and “essential elements of contemplative life,” the Pope wrote.

The document also notes today’s pervasive “digital culture” and praises the potential of internet for formation and communication. However, the Pope calls for “prudent discernment” in the use of new media so that they don’t lead women to “wasting time or escaping from the demands of fraternal life in community” or become harmful to one’s vocation or an obstacle to contemplative life.

The Pope praised contemplative women and expressed the Church’s long-held esteem for men and women who chose to follow Christ “more closely” by dedicating their lives to him “with an undivided heart” and in a prophetic way.

Underlining how much the Church and humanity need their prayers, self-sacrifice and evangelising witness, the Pope said it was not easy for today’s world to understand their “particular vocation and your hidden mission; and yet it needs them immensely”.

Like beacons of light, contemplative women are “torches to guide men and women along their journey through the dark night of time,” pointing the way to the new dawn and the truth and life of Christ, the Pope said. They are “like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, [announcing] to us: ‘I have seen the Lord!'” and Mary, the Mother of God, who contemplates the mystery of God in order to see the world “with spiritual eyes.”

However, contemplative life can “meet with subtle temptations” – the most dangerous being: listlessness, falling into mere routine, lack of enthusiasm and hope, and “paralysing lethargy”, he said.

To that end, the Pope highlighted 12 aspects of contemplative and monastic life that needed particular attention and renewed norms for women: formation; prayer; the word of God; the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation; fraternal life in community; autonomy; federations; the cloister; work; silence; media; and asceticism.

The document includes clearer regulations saying that maintaining juridical autonomy will entail having “a certain, even minimal, number of sisters, provided that the majority are not elderly, the vitality needed to practise and spread the charism, a real capacity to provide for formation and governance, dignity and quality of liturgical, fraternal and spiritual life, sign value and participation in life of the local Church, self-sufficiency and a suitably appointed monastery building.”

If a monastery falls short of the criteria, then the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “will study the possibility of establishing an ad hoc commission made up of the ordinary, the president of the federation, a representative of the federation and the abbess or prioress of the monastery.” The commission’s aim will be to find ways to revitalise the monastery “or to effect its closure.”

Pope Francis repeats warnings he has made before in speeches to consecrated men and women, against “the recruitment of candidates from other countries solely for the sake of ensuring the survival of a monastery.”

Archbishop Rodriguez explained the Church was “not closing its doors” to its universal makeup, but that more thorough and careful discernment must be made by superiors and candidates in reflecting upon their reasons for entering monastic life.

The document, the archbishop said, also clearly states that nuns charged with formation can receive continued formation for themselves even outside the monastery, in a way that is consistent with their charism. The importance of their own formation cannot be sacrificed, he said, just because they have been called to live a cloistered life.

The other major change, the archbishop said, is contained in article 10, in which each monastery is to ask the Holy See “what form of cloister it wishes to embrace, whenever a different form of cloister from the present one is called for.”

“Once one of the possible forms of cloister is chosen and approved, each monastery will take care to comply with, and live in accordance with, its demands,” the document said.

Other mandatory norms each monastery will have to adhere to: verify the centrality and place of prayer in daily life; provide for “lectio divina” and Eucharistic adoration; find ways to involve the local church more; and provide “suitable moments of silence.”

The archbishop said no document on the life of contemplative men’s orders was in the works or being considered.

He said work on the constitution began two and a half years ago when the congregation sent out a questionnaire to every monastery, about 4,000 around the world. The responses were compiled and considered in the drafting process of the new constitution, he said, and contemplative women were “greatly listened to.”

Like the number of religious men and women, the number of contemplative women religious has declined the past decade going from more than 48,000 women in 2000 to less than 39,000 in 2014, he said.

Europe remains the continent with the highest numbers of contemplative women – more than 23,000, followed by the Americas with more than 8,000.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


by Aaron Taylor

6 . 13 . 13

The crisis in family life which has convulsed the West since the 1960s has meant that a good portion of the Church’s teaching mission over recent years has been dedicated to outlining a coherent and compelling vision of Christian marriage, and rightly so. But this should not lead Christians to downplay the nobility of the celibate life, which Christian tradition has always held in the highest regard. This is particularly important to bear in mind as the Church struggles with how best to help homosexual persons to holiness.

Aside from the obvious example of Jesus himself, St. Paul was the first to promote celibacy as a form of “undivided devotion to the Lord.” St. Paul wrote at a time before the existence of monasteries, and addresses himself to both sexes. He was not talking about priestly celibacy, or about the consecrated life. He was talking about the value of a celibate vocation lived out in the midst of the world.

The idea that homosexuals are “called” to celibacy sounds odd to many Christians today. We tend to associate celibacy with a conscious choice to forgo marriage. In other words, one can only really have a celibate vocation if one is first attracted to marriage, and later decides to renounce it as a possibility. Pope Benedict XVI expressed thoughts along these lines in Light of the World :
Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation. Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway.

Leaving aside any discussion about the suitability of homosexuals for priestly ministry, it must be pointed out that the choice-based view expressed here by Benedict is not the only way the Christian tradition has of thinking about the celibate life in general. Addressing women who knew they would never be able to marry because the lives of too many of their country’s men had been claimed by the Second World War, Pope Pius XII had the following to say in 1945:
When one thinks of the women who voluntarily renounce matrimony in order to consecrate themselves to a life of contemplation, sacrifice, and charity, immediately there comes to one’s lips a luminous word: vocation!
[But] this vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse ways . . . The young Christian woman who remains unmarried in spite of her own desires may”if she firmly believes in the providence of the heavenly Father”recognize in life’s vicissitudes the voice of the master: Magister adest et vocat te ”the Master is at hand, and is calling you . . . . In the impossibility of matrimony, she discerns her vocation.

For Pius XII, the “meaning” of celibacy lies not in our choice of a state of life, but in God’s choice of us. As a same-sex attracted Christian, the question of what I would like to choose is largely irrelevant. The important question is what God chooses for me. Celibacy, like marriage, requires consent”it cannot be enforced, but must be embraced in freedom. But the key to a right view of celibacy is not free choice , but free response : free and obedient response to the divine call.

This call may manifest itself in different ways. For many, the call will be felt as a gentle whisper in their ear as they prayerfully discern which state of life”out of a number for which they are suitable”they are called to. For others”as Pius XII points out”the divine call is discerned in and through the circumstances of one’s life, which often leave a person with little choice in the matter. But in both cases the vocation itself has the same dignity, provided only that it is embraced with the same generosity on the part of the person whom God calls.

It goes without saying, too, that the blessings attached to the celibate vocation”the opportunity to enjoy a deeper union in this life with Christ the Divine Bridegroom”are in principle open to all those who lead a chaste single life, no matter how they come to realize their vocation. This is an important point. Critics of the Church’s teaching often allege that it asks homosexuals to give up the possibility of intimate relationships in exchange for a life of misery and loneliness. However, when one considers that what is actually being offered in exchange is union with God through chastity, the deal begins to look slightly more attractive!

Sadly, churches are too often unwelcoming places for homosexuals. This should not be the case. Given the Church’s historically high regard for those who lead a chaste single life, it stands to reason that the Church ought to be the natural home of a group of people whom it calls to lead such a life on account of their sexual orientation. The Church is often quick to blame the secular media for misrepresenting its teachings and making it appear anti-gay. Though there is a kernel of truth in this, the bad news is that Catholics, in particular, largely have themselves to blame for being painted into a corner. Even tactful presentations of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality by orthodox speakers and writers often tend to bypass any positives that might be mentioned in favor of focusing solely on the wrongness of homosexual sex and gay marriage. The good news is it does not have to be this way. The Church in fact has a very special and positive message for homosexual people: “The master is here, and he is calling you.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Michelangelo’s Risen Christ nude makes a powerful theological point

The nudity of Michelangelo’s Risen Christ makes a powerful theological point
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
posted Friday, 1 Jul 2016

Deputy Chairman of Christie's Noel Annesley unveils a rare drawing 
by Michelangelo. 'Study for the Risen Christ' (PA)

The statue is coming to the National Gallery next year – it is a chance to correct a misperception about the Church

The National Gallery is holding what promises to be an interesting show dedicated to Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo, next year. The Guardian has a report on it, with lots of useful links. One of the star attractions is the Sebastiano del Piombo Pietà, a truly magnificent painting, which will be visiting from Viterbo, and which shows the clear influence of Michelangelo. These cross-overs are always of great interest.

As the article points out, most of Michelangelo’s oeuvre is not very portable, so another star of the show will be his statue of the Risen Christ, another version of which is on permanent display in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.

The Risen Christ is not, to my mind, a particularly great work, and if it were not by Michelangelo, it would not be very well known. As it is, it is not on the tourist trail of Rome in the same way as the Moses in Saint Peter in Chains. The version coming to London, which has only recently been recognised as by the master, may be better than the one on Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which has had a bronze loincloth added to it to cover up the nudity of the Risen Christ.

We all know the story of the Sistine Chapel, and how Michelangelo’s heroic nudes were covered up by the additions of “breeches” by other hands thanks to Catholic prudishness trumping the free artistic spirit. At least that is how the story goes.

It is undoubtedly the case that Michelangelo liked painting and sculpting the naked figure. Not only is there the David in Florence, but that city also has two Crucifixes by the artist which show us the body of Christ as that of a pale, defenceless and naked child – the more famous of these is in Santo Spirito, but there is also another, less well known, in San Nicolà. But the truth of the matter is, despite these representations (and other older ones, as in the baptisteries in Ravenna), we are not used to seeing images of Christ unclothed.

Is there any theological point to be made in unclothed images of the Saviour? Well, yes, there is.

Given that clothing is something that was only adopted by humankind after the Fall, according to the Book of Genesis, the nudity of Christ is making a statement about his unfallen nature as the second Adam. Just as Adam and Eve before the Fall did not wear clothes and did not know sin, so too Christ, being without sin, shows us a human body that has not been disfigured by sin.

So the nude representation of the Risen Christ which will be on show at the National Gallery will be making a powerful theological statement about the nature of the Resurrection and the fullness of redemption that comes with it. Just as the Risen Christ is without sin, so, one day, we pray, shall we be: and among the sins that will be purged by the Paschal Mystery, will be the sins of the flesh.

This message is one that the world needs to hear, and Michelangelo’s Risen Christ may do a great deal, if properly explained, to reverse the perception that the Church is somehow or another opposed to the flesh which Christ came to save by taking up the flesh. One wonders how the gallery will attempt to explain the nudity of the Risen Christ to the visiting public, and one hopes this great opportunity will not be missed.