News and Updates: September 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dean Anderson Reflects: Who Am I to Judge? Pope Francis and the New Evangelization

Pope Francis showed he truly understands evangelization when he famously asked, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge?”  While this has alarmed some Catholics, his question reflects a deep understanding of Catholic doctrine.  Evangelization does not tell people what they ought to regret, instead it offers the promise that what they actually regret can be forgiven.
More importantly, you cannot charge someone with sin, because sin is a subjective reality.  It is radically subjective because it is about the relationship between God, who is not an object, and a person, who is not an object.  Whereas Catholic doctrine identifies certain actions as objectively immoral, it does not equate what is immoral with sin.  A person has to believe that an action is sinful for it to be so.  If a person willfully did something that he or she believed was sinful, even if it was morally good, then it would be sinful for that person.  So it is not our task or our place to charge people with sin, especially if the goal is evangelization.  We should keep in mind the fact that contrition over sin is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is not the result of browbeating. 
St. Catherine of Siena perceived that the desire to punish is simply inconsistent with the Christian mission to save souls.  When a person believes that he or she has the standing to act as the judge of another, St. Catherine said that the person had forgotten the infinite nature of his or her sins.  Catherine wrote: “In this way [leaving judgment to Christ] you will come to me [God] in truth, and you will show that you have remembered and observed the teaching given you by my Truth, that is, to discern my will rather than to judge other people’s intentions.” (Dialogue #103)  Since judgmental people can no longer look at the sins of others with sympathy, they also lose their ability to discern the will of Christ.  They forget that Christ gave humanity the Church for the mission of salvation. 

The question of whether or not a living person is justified – which is the question of whether or not he or she is part of the Church – cannot be answered by us.  The Council of Trent taught that the formal cause of our justification is the justness of God.  This justness is real; and, it is a gift given to us through the action of the Holy Spirit.  So no one is justified for following the rules, for being right, for helping the poor, for personal virtue, or for meritorious conduct.  The Holy Spirit apportions justification to each individual as the Holy Spirit wills in view of each person’s disposition and cooperation. 
To judge, we would need to know a person’s disposition, which is a way of speaking about everything that we can attribute to genetics as well as environmental factors.  Of course, none of us knows this perfectly about ourselves.  Moreover, we would need to know is how much grace the Holy Spirit has given.  Finally, we would need to know how much people actually cooperated with the grace that was given to judge them.  Is the person who had a bad start in life, who received less grace, but who cooperated fully with the grace received, better or worse, than the person who had every advantage, who was showered with grace, but who only cooperated minimally? 

Pope Francis pointed the way to becoming a more evangelical Church with his simple and humble question: “Who am I to judge?”  He has not denied that there is sin, or that there is a judge, or that people need to embrace a life of ongoing conversion.  All he has denied is that it is our role to judge people, which liberates us to discern the will of Christ and to love one another. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Claudio M. Burgaleta, SJ discusses the hope for a more welcoming Catholic Church in Pope's NYC visit

Pope Francis visits the United States and Cuba this week after having helped the two re-establish diplomatic relations after a rupture of more than five decades.
As a brother Jesuit and Cuban-born fellow Latino, I await his arrival in New York with great excitement and anticipation.
I look forward to hearing his Argentinian Spanish and his uncanny ability to surprise with tender gestures and imaginative turns of phrase.
And then I wonder if he will drop in to one of our New York Jesuit communities, as he has done on some of his other international trips.
He is the first pope to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi, the first Latin American and the first member of the Jesuit order in history to serve as pope.
Since his election, his simplicity of life, humility, fluid rhetoric and gestures of joy and compassion have infused the papacy with incredible popularity and affection.
This has generated what some have called the “Francis effect,” or a sense of interest and hope in a more welcoming Catholic Church.
What can we expect from him as he comes to New York City?
His roots as an Argentinian Jesuit offer us some important insights.
Greater Buenos Aires, Francis’ beloved birthplace and site of most of his life’s ministry, is a cosmopolitan, world-class metropolis.
It is home to sizable Jewish and Muslim communities. Two porteños, as those from Buenos Aires are called, Rabbi Avraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, are great friends of the pope and accompanied him to the Holy Land last May.
And similar to New York, Buenos Aires is a city of immigrants, hundreds of thousands from Europe and more recently from poorer parts of Latin America. The Holy Father himself is the son of an Italian-immigrant family from near Turin in northwestern Italy.
It is understandable, then, that Francis is visiting an East Harlem Catholic elementary school, Our Lady Queen of Angels, that serves the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants.
As a Latin American Jesuit, Francis has been influenced by what’s called “the preferential option for the poor.”
As the pope himself wrote last year, urging us not to ignore or forget the less fortunate among us:
“Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
“The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
In 1968, Latin American bishops at Medellín, Colombia, placed themselves at the side of those seeking social justice. They saw the fight against social and economic structures of sin as an essential part of the prophetic ministry of Jesus, who came to bring the fullness of life, not only in the afterlife but in the here and now.
Buenos Aires is a city that experienced state-sponsored terrorism during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s, and the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in 1994, where 85 perished.
Sensibly then, his schedule includes an address at the General Assembly of the United Nations about world peace, economic justice and the migration crisis, and an interreligious prayer service at Ground Zero for an end to violence — in the name of God.
The Rev. Claudio M. Burgaleta, SJ is a native of Cuba and a professor at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University.