Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Guild of Our Lady of Ransom (commemorated in the UK under the title of OL of Walsingham) ; Catholic Church Extension Society of England and Wales
Founded in London, 1887, by the Reverend Philip Fletcher and Lister Drummond, a metropolitan police magistrate. Its headquarters are in London. The three special intentions of the Guild are:
The White Cross Ransomer, a priest, pledges himself to offer up the Holy Sacrifice at stated intervals for the intentions of the guild, and the laity undertake to say daily the special "Ransom" prayer.Blue Cross Ransomers obligations are purely spiritual.Red Cross Ransomers engage in some active work for the conversion of England and Wales, e.g., outdoor speaking from Evidence Guild platforms. The Ransom Guild is responsible for organizing annual processions through the streets in about 40 parishes in Greater London, and also the famous "Tyburn Walk" from the site of old Newgate Prison to Marble Arch, in honor of the martyrs who there suffered for the faith. Nine English pilgrimages are also conducted annually:
- the conversion of England and Wales in general, and of individuals in particular;
- the rescue of apostates and those in danger of apostasy;
- the forgotten dead, who, owing to the Reformation, or to being isolated converts, or other causes, are without special Masses and prayers.
The Guild of Ransom engaged in outdoor preaching for some 30 years before the Catholic Evidence Guilds were established. Between these different organizations there is now sympathetic cooperation. The Ransom Guild has developed a most important activity in the form of church extension work. Funds are collected for the building of churches and for the maintenance of priests in poor districts, grants being made from time to time to the bishops of various dioceses according to their needs. The guild has a constitution approved by the hierarchy of England and Wales, and is controlled by an elected executive committee of which the Reverend John H. Filmer, Master of the Guild, is chairman. The president is His Holiness Pope Pius XI, who on a number of occasions has shown a cordial personal interest in the work. In recent years the Guild has obtained permission from the different local authorities for the celebration of Mass on the site of the high altar in a number of the ruined abbeys of England. Its activities are recorded in the monthly magazine "The Second Spring." Contact information:
- Chelsea (Blessed Sir Thomas More)
- King's Lynn (the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham)
- Padley Wood
- Saint Albans
- York31 Southdown Road
vox/020 8947 2598
fax/020 8944 6355
(Double major, commemorates the foundation of the Mercedarians.)
On 10 August, 1223, the Mercedarian Order was legally constituted at Barcelona by King James of Aragon and was approved by Gregory IX on 17 January, 1235. The Mercedarians celebrated their institution on the Sunday nearest to 1 Aug. (on which date in the year 1233 the Blessed Virgin was believed to have shown St. Peter Nolasco the white habit of the order), and this custom was approved by the Congregation of Rites on 4 April, 1615 (Anal. Juris Pont., VII, 136). But the calendar of the Spanish Mercedarians of 1644 has it on 1 Aug., double. Proper lessons were approved on 30 April, 1616. The feast was granted to Spain (Sunday nearest to 1 Aug.) on 15 Feb., 1680; to France, 4 Dec., 1690. On 22 Feb., 1696, it was extended to the entire Latin Church, and the date changed to 24 September. The Mercedarians keep this feast as a double of the first class, with a vigil, privileged octave, and proper Office under the title: "Solemnitas Descensionis B. Mariæ V.de Mercede". Our Lady of Ransom is the principal patron of Barcelona; the proper Office was extended to Barcelona (1868) and to all Spain (second class, 1883). Sicily, which had suffered so much from the Saracens, took up the old date of the feast (Sunday nearest to 1 Aug.) by permission of the Congregation of Rites, 31 Aug., 1805 (double major), Apparition of Our Lady to St. Peter Nolasco in the choir of Barcelona, on the Sunday after 24 Sept. In England the devotion to Our Lady of Ransom was revived in modern times to obtain the rescue of England as Our Lady's Dowry.
by Michael J.L. La Civita
The Patriarchal Church of Constantinople — the Ecumenical Patriarchate — ranks as primus inter pares, "first among equals," in the worldwide Orthodox communion of churches. The present incumbent, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, exercises no authority over other Orthodox churches or patriarchs. Yet his prerogatives include second in honor after Rome among the ancient sees of the church; the right to hear appeals between clergy if invited; and the right to ordain bishops outside defined canonical boundaries.
Not all accept this status. Some canonists (particularly those associated with the powerful Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow) challenge the ecumenical patriarch's leadership. They assert the medieval claim "Two Romes have fallen. A third — Moscow — yet stands. A fourth there shall not be." The Turkish government rejects any global role of the ecumenical patriarch, citing only his leadership for the few thousand Orthodox Christians who remain in Turkey; most live in what is today called Istanbul.
Bartholomew I, nevertheless, enjoys international stature. He exercises varying degrees of authority over some 3.5 million Orthodox Christians in Turkey, northern Greece and those scattered beyond the traditional canonical boundaries of the ancient patriarchates, including the Americas, Oceania and Western Europe. And environmentalists have nicknamed him the "Green Pope" for his advocacy of and commitment to environmental conservation. Tradition attributes the apostle Andrew as the founder of the church of Constantinople. But its link to Caesar would catapult it to prominence within Christendom, rivaling even Rome.
Favor. Recognizing the ascendance of his empire's eastern provinces, the Roman emperor Constantine I moved his capital from Rome to Byzantion, a Greek port straddling Europe and Asia. On 11 May 330, the emperor solemnly christened his "new Rome" as a Christian capital and ordered the elite of old pagan Rome to move there.
In addition to the usual civic structures and monuments, Constantine built elaborate churches, including a cathedral dedicated to Christ as Hagia Sophia, "the Wisdom of God," that served as his personal chapel; and Hagioi Apostoloi, the church of the Holy Apostles, where he was later buried. These sanctuaries took on immense significance for the development of the church in late antiquity.
This development coincided within the confluence of cultures in the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. As Christianity grew and embraced converts from the Greek, Jewish, Persian, Roman and Syriac cultures, debate raged regarding the nature of Jesus, his relationship to the Father and how to preach and practice the Gospel. Competing schools of theology and philosophy evolved.
Post a Comment |Comments(0)
Christian Dalits fight for equality in their communities and nation
text and photographs by Peter Lemieux
A nun who advocated for low-caste communities in eastern India had just been murdered. In recent months, she had led protests against a large coal-mining company that tried to evict local low-caste residents.
"A revenge killing for her efforts to bring the offenders to justice," says Father Ariekal, "and no one's been arrested."
The priest takes the news with relative calm. As secretary of the Dalit Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, he knows well the dangers of working on behalf of India's downtrodden castes and tribes.
The village of Pappala is entirely Dalit, a Sanskrit word meaning "broken" or "oppressed." Better known as "untouchables," Dalits are a mixed population consisting of several castes that together constitute the lowest and most disdained group in India's ancient caste system.
"I go to visit only," says the priest.
"I'm proud to say I know their mentality. I know the pulse of this low-caste community. Most of the fathers [before me] failed to connect with them. They saw their caste, not their face."
Word of Father Ariekal's arrival spreads fast. Villagers gather at St. Thomas Syro-Malankara Catholic Church to welcome him. He consecrated the church in 1999.
"They will come one by one," he says.
"Soon, everybody will come." Indeed, a line starts to form before Father Ariekal, who greets each villager with warm embraces. Laughter fills the air.
"They have no money," says the priest.
"That's why they say to me: 'We have nothing but loving hearts to give you.' "
Suseelain Kamalain, a 55-year-old day laborer, eagerly waits his turn to meet Father Ariekal. The man wears a shirt unbuttoned to the waist, exposing his skeletal frame and sinewy muscles. A red cotton scarf — typical attire among India's working poor — is draped over his bony shoulder. His wide grin reveals a broken front tooth. And around his neck hangs a cracked crucifix.
For Mr. Kamalain, today was a good day. That morning, he found a job at nearby warehouse loading cement, for which he earned 100 Indian rupees (about $2). In his hands, he holds the fruits of his day's labor: three fried bananas wrapped in a newspaper and a plastic bag containing two boxes of toothpaste, four and a half pounds of rice — which when mixed with a little fish curry, will feed his family for three days — and candles for the altar in his home.
Armenians in western Ukraine rebuild church and community
text by Mariya Tytarenko with photographs by Petro Didula
As the cathedral's first pastor since Soviet authorities shuttered it in 1945, the priest indeed faced a daunting task.
At the time, the cathedral languished in a state of total disrepair. Rain and snow fell directly into the nave through gaping holes in the roof and broken windows. In the cool, damp air, a thick carpet of moss grew on the walls and ceiling, covering the vibrant 1930's frescoes by Polish artist Jan Rosen.
But from the ruins came more than just a restoration of a building. The story of the cathedral's revival is a testament to the steadfast faith and devotion of the Armenian people in Lviv.
The cathedral dates back to 1363. Originally a modest wooden chapel, it underwent major alterations in 1437, with the installation of a stone arcade; in 1527, with the erection of the stone belfry; and in 1630 and 1723, with the construction of the current stone nave in two phases.
In 1991, the Armenian Apostolic Church sent Bishop Natan Ohanesian from Armenia to Lviv to establish an eparchy to serve western Ukraine's dispersed Armenian community. In 1997, local Ukrainian authorities initiated the formal surrender of the cathedral to the new eparchy.
The eparchy, in turn, charged Father Gevorgian with not only restoring one of Lviv's oldest and most magnificent churches, but also rebuilding the local Armenian parish community.
"There was no money to restore the church, and the Armenian community was scattered," he says. "And it turned out that Pope John Paul II was planning on visiting the church three months after my arrival."
According to the priest, Pope John Paul II's interest in the cathedral was nothing short of a blessing from God. "Because of the pope's visit in June 2001, the government helped enormously to renovate the church. It would have taken me a full year to do the work it did in three days."
Father Gevorgian also stresses the crucial role the papal visit played in raising awareness among Ukrainians about the country's ancient Armenian community.
"The problem was that quite a few local people wrongly assumed, and some still do, that the Armenian Church was either Muslim or Jewish and not Orthodox Christian," he explains.
Two years later, in May 2003, Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II visited Lviv to consecrate the renovated cathedral. "There were many honored guests," says Father Gevorgian, "including Armen Khachatrian, a speaker of the Armenian parliament, Leonid Kravchuk, a former president of Ukraine, Charles Aznavour, a famous Armenian-French singer, and numerous Armenian ambassadors and representatives from different confessions."
From the 17th century to the end of World War II, the cathedral served as the center of the Armenian Catholic community. Just before the war, some 5,500 Armenian Catholics lived in Galicia — the historic region comprising what is now western Ukraine and parts of southeastern Poland. The eparchy administered nine churches and 16 chapels in the region.
Post a Comment |Comments(0)
Though most Christians are not believers in the so called 'prosperity gospel' as the author asserts in closing, the article is quite interesting, and possibly sociologically insightful. JC
Lawrence Solomon: World's most populous faith
Friday, Dec. 21, 2012
With traditional churches in North America and Europe struggling to fill their pews, with atheism on the upsurge and Islam still growing, it is easy to see Christianity as a spent force, fading in relevance to both modernity and Islamic ascendancy.
This view is mistaken. Short-lived setbacks aside, Christianity unambiguously continues the two-millennia-long ascendancy that has made it the world's most populous faith by far, and that has rewarded the nations that embraced its values with prosperity. Christianity shows no sign of losing its paramountcy, especially since Islam — its long-standing competitor — has never been an economic contender and will soon have peaked in population.
Stats released this week from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life show Christianity's dominance through the raw numbers of adherents. Almost one-third of the globe's population — 2.2 billion people — describe themselves as Christian, 600 million more than the world's Muslims, at 1.6 billion, and 1.2 billion more than the world's Hindus, at one billion the third-largest among the faiths. Apart from raw numbers, however, lies unparalleled long-lived accomplishment.
Christian Byzantium, the dazzling successor to the Roman Empire, for 1,000 years was the most affluent on Earth, until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Then Christian Europe emerged as a power, soon transcending all others in the arts, in the sciences, in economic and in military prowess. In the last century, Christian America has continued the march of progress, joining and eclipsing Europe in all manner of achievement.
In contrast, Islam under the Ottomans, as under the Arabs before them, advanced largely through conquest, plunder and often-brutal taxation of its subjects. Half a millennium ago, the Islamic Ottoman Empire stagnated and then steadily sank, its final collapse occurring during the First World War, from which it never recovered.
The overwhelming majority of adherents to Islam — 96% — today live in Third World countries. Although some Muslim countries have oil wealth, none have an advanced economy and few have the free-market culture and rule of law needed to propel them to the ranks of successful Christian nations. Neither does Islam have Christianity's near-universal appeal — to rich and poor, to men and women, to literally all ethnic groups and all political ideologies. Unlike Islam, Christianity is well represented throughout most of the world, with roughly one-quarter of all Christians each in Europe, South America, and Africa, and the final quarter split between North America and Asia.
No region better exemplifies Christianity's success than Black Africa, which in 1900 was a predominantly animist continent with many more Muslims than Christians. And no one better summarizes this success than Ahmad al-Qataani, leader of the Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, in a frank interview with Al Jazeera in 2006.
"Islam used to represent … Africa's main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. So in the section of Africa that we are talking about, the non-Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realize that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century.
"On the other hand, the number of Catholics has increased from one million in 1902 to … 330 million in the year 2000."
Al-Qataani attributes Christianity's success to the "Christian missionary octopus. … As to how that happened, well there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, six million Muslims convert to Christianity."
Al-Qataani's numbers for conversions to Christianity differs starkly from those that are reported to researchers at polling bodies such as Pew, which claims Christianity has made no gains at all at the expense of Islam. But there's a ready explanation for what could be severe undercounting of Christians and overcounting of Muslims by Pew — converts from Islam face extreme penalties, even death, making many unlikely to confide in pollsters. For different reasons, an undercounting of conversions to Christianity is likely to also occur in China, where Christians must worship surreptitiously to avoid the wrath of the Communist Party. According to Pew, China has but 67 million Christians. Estimates from other sources put the number at 100 million to 300 million.
Pew projects that Islam, which it believes has been growing somewhat faster than Christianity, will increase its share of the world's population to 26.4% in 2030, up from a current 23.4%. But a different analysis suggests Muslim women are becoming empowered at eye-popping rates, leading to plummeting birth rates in the Muslim world.
In a paper last year from the American Enterprise Institute, Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed, researchers Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah discovered that over the last generation, Muslim women have decided to have far fewer babies — an average of 2.6 fewer babies each on average in the 48 Muslim countries and territories they studied. In Oman, the number of births "plummeted by an astonishing 5.6 births per woman." Looked at another way, in 22 of the Muslim jurisdictions women had no more than half as many children, Iranian women reduced their number of babies by 70%. These findings, based on UNDP data to the year 2005, now appear to understate the baby dearth among Muslims. More recent government data indicates even further declines. In 2000, the UNDP projected that Yemen in 2050 would have a population of 102 million. It has now slashed that projection to 62 million; another official agency projects but 48 million.
With rising affluence and modernity, societies tend to produce fewer babies, we've long been led to believe. But Muslim women don't conform to the conventional wisdom. As the researchers put it, Muslim women now have "childbearing patterns comparable to those of contemporary affluent Western non-Muslim populations [despite Muslims having] substantially lower levels of income, education, urbanization, modern contraception utilization, and the like than those that characterize the more developed regions." Their explanation, which jives with a pathbreaking 1994 study, is that women (not socioeconomic factors) decide how many babies they want. Through ways the researchers don't understand, Muslim women in this globalized age are increasingly making choices for themselves, despite their reduced access to contraceptives. And all else equal, the researchers predict, Muslim women will in future have fewer children than non-Muslims.
With Muslim birth rates approaching those in the West, the prospects of Islam ever overtaking Christianity recede. Those prospects diminish further still because Christianity in the West continues to be strong — the great majority continue to identify themselves as Christian, because they hue to Christian values.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus taught that those who invest their money will be rewarded while those without initiative will be punished. In most countries, most Christians believe in the prosperity gospel — that God will grant wealth and good health to people of faith. Over the last 2,000 years, their faith in Him has been repaid.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of [external] Urban Renaissance Institute. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com
To see the study, Fertility Decline in the Muslim World, click [external] here.
For the Pew study, click [external] here.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Sunday, December 23, 2012
As many as 1 in 6 babies aborted after 12 weeks born alive: Danish study
Staff at Aarhus Skejby hospital, where the abortion was performed, warned the couple that their baby might be born alive. He was. Their son lived a few hours after birth, dying slowly in his parents' arms.
The following year the couple was pregnant again, only to be told once again that their son may suffer from the same kidney disorders. Once again the couple opted for a late-term abortion, and once again the child was born alive.
In both cases the couple held the babies, who they named Sejr and Hugo, and took pictures, then buried them in the cemetery. They still feel they did the right thing.
The couple recounted their story to Kristeligt Dagblad in the wake of the release of a study showing that their experience is far from isolated.
For the last 15 months, doctors at Aarhus University Hospital at Skejby have tracked how many babies are born showing signs of life following second-trimester abortions.
Statistics from Denmark's second largest maternity clinic at the hospital show that out of 70 babies subjected to late-term abortions between August 2011 and November 2012, eleven – or sixteen percent – were born alive.
Previously, medical professionals estimated only ten percent of infants gasped or showed other signs of life following abortions performed between the 12th and 22nd week of pregnancy.
Denmark allows unrestricted legal abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. After that, abortions are only permitted if the baby is expected to die shortly after birth due to defects, or if social circumstances cause the state to declare the mother unfit – for example, if the mother is a very young girl. Mothers seeking late term abortions must appeal to the state for special permission.
Peter Øhrstrøm, professor and theorist of science at Aalborg University and former member of the Council of Ethics, told Kristeligt Dagblad that when babies show signs of life after late abortion, it raises fundamental and serious ethical questions about the way permits for late abortion are handled.
"The requirement in the law is that the fetuses that you give permission to abort are not viable," said Øhrstrøm. "So when there are signs of life in the late-aborted fetuses, it appears that you have some babies that should not have been aborted, and that we should re-look at the rules and practices governing the authorization of late abortion."
University of Copenhagen professor Birgit Petersson, who just retired after 27 years on Denmark's Abortion Appeals Board, said the number of babies born alive after abortion is on the rise. She said the solution is simple: A potassium injection to heart of the baby before the abortion begins will ensure the child is born dead.
Said Petersson, "I have sat on the Abortion Appeals Board for decades, and it is only in recent years that problems have emerged. If today it is more likely than before that fetuses are viable, the doctors in those departments need to switch to potassium syringes."
The number of late-term abortions in Denmark has been rising steadily, from 659 in 2004 to 877 in 2010. If the one in six figure from the Aarhus study bears out, that means an estimated 140 babies were born alive after abortion in 2010 and allowed to die.
"It frightens me," said Olav Bjørn Petersen, of Aarhus Hospital. "It is crucial, however, to inform and take care of the couple who lands in a situation where an aborted fetus shows signs of life, and make sure, at least, the staff is trained to take care of it." He said Aarhus has created a special ward where six midwives work only with late abortions.
Camilla Skovhus and Thomas Mikkelsen, whose two sons were born alive after abortions, have followed the debate over whether Denmark should do as Birgit Petersson suggests and ensure more efficient abortions via potassium injection. They're aware that many people think it would be easier if late abortions were quicker and less painful.
But Skovhus said, "Why should we hurry to help the babies die? It does not make the pain less. The children die no matter what, if they are killed in the stomach or die in the arms of their parents. I can only think that they must be happy that they die together with people who want to take care of them."
The Danish study was released weeks after LifeSiteNews confirmed with Statistics Canada that nearly 500 babies have been born alive after failed abortions over the past decade in Canada.
Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Roman Catholic ChurchFrom http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/stances-of-faiths-on-lgbt-issues-roman-catholic-church .
The Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in the United States with an estimated 62 million members, has welcomed celibate gay and lesbian people into its church life but increasingly is becoming more intolerant even of this population. Most recently, the Vatican has issued plans to release a document to the church worldwide that will bar celibate gay men from Catholic seminaries. The Human Rights Campaign condemned the document for scapegoating gays. (The document will not affect already ordained priests and does not address lay members.)
The church does condemn legal discrimination against gays and lesbians and supports increased research into the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS; however, the decision to bar celibate gay men from the priesthood indicates that the Roman Catholic Church is taking a more aggressively anti-gay stance. In addition, the church has also been a staunch opponent of marriage equality for same-sex couples and rejects adoption by gay and lesbian parents.
It has been silent to date on transgender members.
On a Gay or Lesbian OrientationThe Roman Catholic Church does not consider a gay or lesbian orientation to be inherently sinful because it is not a choice, and "morality presumes the freedom to choose," according to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family's 1997 statement, "Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children."
Yet the church does consider a gay or lesbian orientation "unnatural," "disordered" and one of the many manifestations of original sin. The Catechism states:
"Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."Pope Benedict XVI, who was named pope in April 2005, has not shown support for GLBT equality in the church. During an address to a conference of the Diocese of Rome in June 2005, he criticized the movement for marriage quality, saying:
"The various forms of the dissolution of matrimony today, like free unions, trial marriages and going up to pseudo-matrimonies by people of the same sex, are rather expressions of an anarchic freedome that wrongly passes for true freedom of man."Before he became pope, he also made several statements condemning gays and lesbians. In 1986, while a cardinal, he had delivered a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, saying, "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil."
In addition, the Vatican also condemned gays and lesbians in a July 2004 document denouncing feminism. Entitled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World," the letter asserted that feminism would "call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality."
Funeral Denied Gay ManIn March 2005, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom received national media attention when he refused to allow a funeral to be performed in a local Catholic church for a gay man, John McCusker, who ran several gay nightclubs. Brom called McCusker's business activities "contrary to sacred Scripture and the moral teachings of the church" and said that by denying him a Catholic funeral, he was trying to avoid a "public scandal." After McCusker's funeral was held in an Episcopal church, Brom apologized to McCusker's parents and offered to celebrate a Mass for him.
Sex and MarriageSex and marriage are intended for procreation only, according to the Catholic Church. Heterosexual Catholics, therefore, are expected to remain celibate until marriage and then refrain from using birth control. Gay and lesbian Catholics are expected to remain celibate for life. Failure to do so is judged a sin.
On the other hand, if gays and lesbians refrain from acting on their sexual impulses, they are said to have the potential to achieve "Christian perfection." The Catechism states:
"Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."
Discrimination against GaysThe church allows gay and lesbian Catholics full participation in the church, provided they are celibate. Moreover, it supports the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people and rejects as sinful any acts of prejudice and discrimination against them.
Catholic parents of gay, lesbian and bisexual children are urged to accept and love their children. The 1997 "Always Our Children" statement tells parents:
"First, don't break off contact; don't reject your child. … Your child may need you and the family now more than ever. He or she is still the same person. This child, who has always been God's gift to you, may now be the cause of another gift: your family becoming more honest, respectful, and supportive. Yes, your love can be tested by this reality, but it can also grow stronger through your struggle to respond lovingly."Despite its stand against discrimination, however, the church rejects marriage rights for same-sex couples, adoption by gay and lesbian parents and openly gay clergy.
Marriage Rights for Same-Sex CouplesThe church has actively opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples, backing its opposition with both strong statements and money. These statements have been issued by both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The church has also instructed Catholic lawmakers and voters to oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Contrary to the counsel of church leaders, however, 82 percent of American Catholics say they can accept the idea of a same-sex couple living together "like a married couple," according to a March 2004 survey by The Los Angeles Times.
Former Pope John Paul spoke out against same-sex marriage in Memory and Identity, a book published in February 2005. The book referred to "pressures" that have supposedly been put on the European Parliament to support marriage equality, calling them "part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man."
In July 2003, the Vatican denounced same-sex unions as "evil" and called upon Catholics to oppose any legislation that would grant them equality. In a statement entitled, "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," it declared:
"Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth. … Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: … stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defenses and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil."Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, directed the website where the statement appeared.
In November 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops largely echoed the Vatican, with a document entitled, "Between a Man and a Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions." The bishops stressed that Catholics consider marriage to be exclusively the union of a man and a woman, and said that marriage between same-sex couples would pose a threat to that tradition.
Such a position is not discriminatory against same-sex couples, the bishops asserted, because "marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities."
The bishops also argued against lesser protections such as civil unions and domestic partnerships, declaring:
"The state has an obligation to promote the family, which is rooted in marriage. Therefore, it can justly give married couples rights and benefits it does not extend to others. … Some benefits currently sought by persons in homosexual unions can already be obtained without regard to marital status. For example, individuals can agree to own property jointly with another, and they can generally designate anyone they choose to be a beneficiary of their will or to make health care decisions in case they become incompetent."Church officials also have been actively engaged in influencing the political process concerning marriage equality. For example:
- In spring 2004, several Catholic bishops announced that they would refuse communion to politicians who failed to adhere to the church's stand on a variety of issues, including marriage rights for same-sex couples.
- Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Colo., went a step further in May 2004, writing a pastoral letter that stated that any Catholic who voted for candidates who supported such issues should be refused communion.
- In June 2004, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all U.S. bishops asking them to encourage their senators to support the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment.
- In March 2004, a group of church officials in New York advised the governor against allowing marriage for same-sex couples.
- In June 2004, lobbyists for Massachusetts' four Catholic dioceses sent letters to every parish asking Catholics to inform state representatives who had failed to oppose the state constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples of their "profound disappointment."
- In 2003, the four Massachusetts bishops sent a letter to every Catholic pastor in the state, directing them to read a statement during Sunday services that denounced marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Adoption by Gay ParentsThe Vatican has strongly condemned adoption by gay and lesbian parents. The 2003 document, "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," states:
"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such [same-sex] unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."
Openly Gay ClergyThere has been significant debate about whether the church should ordain openly gay and bisexual priests. Some officials have argued that gay men should never be ordained, while others have said gay and bisexual men are qualified for the priesthood as long as they remain celibate. Currently, the Vatican is planning to release a document to the church worldwide banning celibate gay man from Catholic seminaries. According to The New York Times, Vatican investigators have been instructed to visit each of the 229 seminaries in the United States, specifically with the plan to look for "evidence of homosexuality."
HIV/AIDSThe church has encouraged increased government research into the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. It also has stressed the need for support for the caretakers and family members of people with HIV/AIDS, denounced violence against those infected or perceived as being infected and condemned discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.
U.S. Catholic bishops also have stated the importance of ministering to people with HIV/AIDS. The 1997 statement, "Always Our Children," declares:
"Though HIV/AIDS is an epidemic affecting the whole human race, not just homosexual persons, it has had a devastating effect upon them and has brought great sorrow to many parents, families, and friends. … We reject the idea that HIV/AIDS is a direct punishment from God."
Resources for LGBT Catholics
- DignityUSA advocates for a more gay-inclusive agenda within the Catholic Church. It has a national office in Washington, D.C., and local chapters nationwide.
- New Ways Ministry, founded by the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, provides a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.
- The National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries is an association dedicated to encouraging pastoral care of gay and lesbian Catholics and their families.
- The National Catholic AIDS Network is devoted to helping the Catholic Church respond with understanding and compassion to the pain and challenge presented by HIV/AIDS.
- Fortunate Families ministers to the Catholic parents of LGBT children, encouraging them to share their stories with others.
Headquarters LocationIf you would like to communicate with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, here is their mailing address:
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth St., N.E.,
Washington, D.C. 20017
Blessed Gonsalvo of Amarante, O.P.
Memorial Day: January 16th
Gonsalvo de Amarante was a true son of the Middle Ages, a man right out of the pages of the 'Golden Legend.' His whole life reads like a mural from the wall of a church--full of marvelous things and done up in brilliant colors.In his boyhood Gonsalvo Pereira was gave wonderful indications of his holiness. While still small, he was consecrated to study for the Church, and received his training in the household of the archbishop of Braga. After his ordination he was given charge of a wealthy parish, an assignment that should have made him very happy. Gonsalvo was not as interested in choice parishes as some of his companions; he went to his favorite Madonna shrine and begged Our Lady to help him administer this office fairly.
There was no complaint with Gonsalvo's governance of the parish of Saint Pelagius. He was penitential himself, but indulgent with everyone else. Revenues that he might have used for himself were used for the poor and the sick. The parish, in fact, was doing very well when he turned it over to his nephew, whom he had carefully trained as a priest, before making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Gonsalvo would have remained his entire life in the Holy Land, but after 14 years his archbishop commanded him to return to Portugal. Upon his arrival, he was horrified to see that his nephew had not been the good shepherd that he had promised to be, the money left for the poor had gone to purchase a fine stable of thoroughbred horses and a pack of fine hounds. The nephew had told everyone that his old uncle was dead, and he had been appointed pastor in his place by an unsuspecting archbishop. When the uncle appeared on the scene, ragged and old, but very much alive, the nephew was not happy to see him. Gonsalvo seems to have been surprised as well as pained.
The ungrateful nephew settled the matter by turning the dogs on his inconvenient uncle. They would have torn him to pieces, but the servants called them off and allowed the ragged pilgrim to escape. Gonsalvo decided then that he had withstood enough parish life, and went out into the hills to a place called Amarante. Here he found a cave and other necessities for an eremitical life and lived in peace for several years, spending his time building a little chapel to the Blessed Virgin. He preached to those who came to him, and soon there was a steady stream of pilgrims seeking out his retreat.
Happy as he was, Golsalvo felt that this was not his sole mission in life, and he prayed to Our Lady to help him to discern his real vocation. She appeared to him one night as he prayed and told him to enter the order that had the custom of beginning the office with "Ave Maria gratia plena." She told him that this order was very dear to her and under her special protection. Gonsalvo set out to learn what order she meant, and eventually came to the convent of the Dominicans. Here was the end of the quest, and he asked for the habit.
Blessed Peter Gonzales was the prior, and he gave the habit to the new aspirant. After Gonsalvo had gone through his novitiate, he was sent back to Amarante, with a companion, to begin a regular house of the order. The people of the neighborhood quickly spread the news that the hermit was back. They flocked to hear him preach, and begged him to heal their sick.
One of the miracles of Blessed Gonsalvo concerns the building of a bridge across a swift river that barred many people from reaching the hermitage in wintertime. It was not a good place to build a bridge, but Gonsalvo set about it and followed the heavenly directions he had received. Once, during the building of the bridge, he went out collecting, and a man who wanted to brush him off painlessly sent him away with a note for his wife.
Gonsalvo took the note to the man's wife, and she laughed when she read it. "Give him as much gold as will balance with the note I send you," said the message. Gonsalvo told her he thought she ought to obey her husband, so she got out the scales and put the paper in one balance. Then she put a tiny coin in the other balance, and another, and another--the paper still outweighed her gold--and she kept adding. There was a sizeable pile of coins before the balance with the paper in it swung upwards.
Gonsalvo died about 1259, after prophesying the day of his death and promising his friends that he would still be able to help them after death. Pilgrimages began soon, and a series of miracles indicated that something should be done about his beatification. Forty years after his death he appeared to several people who were apprehensively watching a flood on the river. The water had arisen to a dangerous level, just below the bridge, when they saw a tree floating towards the bridge, and Gonsalvo was balancing capably on its rolling balk. The friar carefully guided the tree under the bridge, preserving the bridge from damage, and then disappeared (Benedictines, Dorcy).
| || |
As he was being carried to the baptismal font as an infant, he fixed his eyes on the church's crucifix with a look of extraordinary love.
| || |
He was directed to the Dominicans by a supernatural directive that he should join the Order in which the Office began and ended with the Ave Maria.
| || |
When workers who helped briefly with his bridge building ran out of wine, Gonzalo prayed, smacked a rock with a stick, it split open, and wine poured out.
| || |
When the workers ran out of food, Gonzalo went to the water, called out, and fish jumped onto the river bank to feed them.
| || |
During a homily, in which he wanted to show the horror of exclusion from the Church, he 'excommunicated' a basket of bread; the loaves immediately became black, rotted and inedible. When he removed the 'excommunication' a few minutes later, the bread became fresh and wholesome again.
Born: 1187 at Vizella, diocese of Braga, Portugal
Died: January 10, 1259 of natural causes
Beatified: By Pius IV in 1560
Ant. Strengthen by holy intercession, O Gonsalvo, confessor of the Lord, those here present, have we who are burdened with the weight of our offenses may be relieved by the glory of thy blessedness, and may by thy guidance attain eternal rewards.
V. Pray for us, Blessed Gonsalvo.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Ant. Well done, good and faithful servant, because Thou has been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many, sayeth the Lord.
V. The just man shall blossom like the lily.
R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord.
Ant. I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock..
V. Pray for us. Blessed Gonsalvo.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us Pray: O God, who didst wonderfully enflame the mind of Blessed Gonsalvo, Thy confessor with the love of Thy holy name, grant, we beseech Thee, that, treading in his footsteps, we may ever think of Thee, and with fervent zeal do those things that are agreeable to Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God of mercy and compassion, in your grace Blessed Gonsalvo came to love your holy name and served you in the solitary life. By the help of his prayer and the grace of the Spirit may we keep you in our thoughts and with burning zeal do what is pleasing to you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. - General Calendar of the Order of Preachers
(Vatican Radio) - Pope Benedict XVI has convoked a Synod of bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church for January, 2013. The aim of the Synod will be to elect a successor to His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, whose resignation was accepted by the Holy Father on Wednesday. Emer McCarthy reports:
The Chaldean Church is the largest Christian group in Iraq, consisting of eight dioceses, 100 parishes and approximately 500,000 faithful. The number has fallen drastically however, since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
During the war and subsequent insecurity, Christians in Iraq were the targets of an often violent persecution including bomb attacks, murders and abductions. This led to a wave of emigration generating a large Iraqi Christian diaspora.
The Chaldean Church has other dioceses and eparchies in countries including Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It is estimated that the Chaldean population is over one and a half million worldwide.
During the turmoil that ensued the 2003 invasion the Chaldean Church suffered great losses. Most notably, the young priest Father Ragheed Ganni, of the Chaldean Church of the Holy Spirit, who was killed on 3 June 2007 in Mosul, alongside the subdeacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed, after he celebrated mass.
Also in Mosul, the Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted on February 29, 2008, and murdered a few days later.
Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, 85, was elected Patriarch of the Chaldean Church on December 3, 2003, succeeding the late Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid. He was created a Cardinal Bishop by Pope Benedict XVI on November 24, 2007. On that occasion Pope Benedict was said the gesture demonstrated his "spiritual closeness and affection" for Iraqi Christians.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Had the Rev. Brian Maguire hit on the idea 30 years ago, he might have found himself facing some very annoyed congregants. Four hundred fifty years ago, someone professing similar notions might even have been hanged.
The 35-year-old pastor's brainstorm concerned a scheduling conflict on the day of the Annunciation. The holiday, which celebrates Mary's learning from the angel Gabriel that she will give birth to the Messiah, always falls on March 25, precisely nine months before Christmas. But this year the 25th is also Good Friday, when Christians somberly recall that same Messiah's Crucifixion.
Roman Catholicism, which traditionally observes both dates, has rules for this eventuality: Catholics worldwide will mark the Annunciation on April 4 this year. But Maguire is not Catholic; he is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio. And in light of what he calls "a beautiful, poetic opportunity," he says that rather than preach on Jesus alone this Good Friday, he will bring in Mary as well. "If you have Jesus' entrance and exit on the same day," Maguire explains, "she should play a part in that--because she was the first and last disciple to reach out during his life."
There is an elegance to this plan; Maguire, who attended Princeton Theological Seminary, is no theological naïf. But until quite recently, his decision to pair the gravest day on the Christian calendar with a Marian celebration would have struck most of his fellow Protestants as peculiar, if not doctrinally perverse. For roughly 300 years until the 1900s, Protestants, while granting Mary her indisputable place as the mother of Jesus, regarded any additional enthusiasm as tantamount to "Mariolatry," the alleged (and allegedly nonbiblical) elevation of the Virgin to a status approaching Christ's that some understood as a cause of their initial breaking with Catholicism. Even as open hostility largely abated in the U.S., some taboos prevailed. Beverly Gaventa, a professor of New Testament literature at Princeton, has portrayed Mary as the victim of "a Protestant conspiracy of silence: theologically, liturgically and devotionally." Most Protestants (excluding some high-church Episcopalians) can identify with the experience of Kathleen Norris, an author who has written of her upbringing, "We dragged Mary out at Christmas ... and ... packed her safely in the crèche box for the rest of the year. We ... denied [her] place in Christian tradition and were disdainful of the reverence displayed for her, so public and emotional, by Catholics."
But things have begun to change, and not just among theologians. Xenia, Ohio, is no radical hotbed. Campaign signs there still promote Bush, half the weekday- morning radio dial features conservative religious fare, and most of Westminster Presbyterian's 300 members are middle-aged or older. Yet with a few exceptions, the 21 who recently gathered at the Rev. Maguire's Bible class were fascinated by his thoughts on Mary. "I always thought of her as the first disciple," said Corinne Whitesell, 74. "Rosaries and Hail Marys, that's not right. [But] that total submission to God is one of the most beautiful things about her." Said Gloria Wolff, 78: "We grew up in a time when women couldn't be elected as church elders. It's important to teach young women about the strong female role models in the church." Remarked John Burtch, 75: Maguire is "the new guy on the block, and he's got some interesting ideas. So we listen to him. We're open to change."
IN A SHIFT WHOSE IDEOLOGICAL BREADTH is unusual in the fragmented Protestant world, a long-standing wall around Mary appears to be eroding. It is not that Protestants are converting to Catholicism's dramatic exaltation: the singing of Salve Regina, the Rosary's Marian Mysteries, the entreaty to her in the Hail Mary to "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." Rather, a growing number of Christian thinkers who are neither Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox (another branch of faith to which Mary is central) have concluded that their various traditions have shortchanged her in the very arena in which Protestantism most prides itself: the careful and full reading of Scripture.
Arguments on the Virgin's behalf have appeared in a flurry of scholarly essays and popular articles, on the covers of the usually conservative Christianity Today (headline: THE BLESSED EVANGELICAL MARY) and the usually liberal Christian Century (ST. MARY FOR PROTESTANTS). They are being preached, if not yet in many churches then in a denominational cross section--and not just at modest addresses like Maguire's in Xenia but also from mighty pulpits like that at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church, where longtime senior pastor John Buchanan recently delivered a major message on the Virgin ending with the words "Hail Mary ... Blessed are you among us all."
This could probably not have happened at some other time. Robert Jenson, author of the respected text Systematic Theology, chuckles when asked whether the pastor of his Lutheran youth would have approved of his (fairly extreme) position that Protestants, like Catholics, should pray for Mary's intercession. "My pastor would have been horrified," he says, adding, "The pastor was my father." Yet today Catholics and Protestants feel freer to explore each other's beliefs and practices. Feminism has encouraged popular speculations on the lives of female biblical figures and the role of the divine feminine (think The Red Tent and The Da Vinci Code). A growing interest, on both the Protestant right and left, in practices and texts from Christianity's first 1,500 years has led to immersion in the habitual Marianism of the early and medieval church. And the influx of millions of Hispanic immigrants from Catholic cultures into American Protestantism may eventually accelerate progress toward a pro-Marian tipping point--on whose other side may lie changes not just in sermon topic but in liturgy, personal piety and a re-evaluation of the actual messages of the Reformation.
The movement is not yet prevalent in the pews. And it has its critics. While granting that Mary shows up more in the New Testament than some churches recognize, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Southern Seminary, charges that those who use her full record to justify new "theological constructions" around her are guilty of "overreaching," "wishful thinking" and effectively "flirting with Catholic devotion." Yet Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten, co-editor of an essay collection on what might be called Marian upgrade, claims, "We don't have to go back to Catholicism. We can go back to our own roots and sources. It could be done without shocking the congregation. I can't predict how exactly it will happen. Some of it will be good, and some of it may be bad. But I think it's going to happen."
THEY BURNED MARY IN WALSINGHAM IN 1538. In a spate of iconoclasm ordered by King Henry VIII, the founder of Anglican Protestantism, his commissioners stormed the Catholic pilgrimage center in the east of Britain. Its famous statue of the Virgin warranted special treatment: she was transported to Chelsea and publicly immolated. Nine men who objected were reportedly executed. A local ballad went, "Sin is where Our Lady sate: Heaven is turned to hell ... Walsingham ... farewell." Walsingham, says Joseph Leo Koerner, author of The Reformation of the Image, was just one example of an ire that extended through Europe for a century: other Marys were chopped up for kindling or paraded through bordellos before their destruction.
Mary was not always such a lightning rod. Early on, Christianity rallied around her importance. The Council of Ephesus in 431 affirmed her to be the Theotokos, or Mother of God. Admittedly, the move was less about her than him. It repudiated a specific heresy--that Mary's son and the Messiah were two different beings--and in general it made the Incarnation much more immediate. God's taking on human flesh became far less abstract when one discussed his human mother and the actual fact of his birth.
In time, Mary's Mother of God role merged with several other potent personas. As monks meditated on Christ's sufferings, Mary became a super co-sufferer, later dubbed Mater Dolorosa. She collected other titles: Queen of Heaven, Bride of Christ, Mother of Mercy, each reflecting a different attribute. Most important of those was as humanity's merciful mediator. The church's growing emphasis on Christ as the stern arbiter of Judgment Day left a kind of vacancy, and believers came to view Mary as a special pleader to him in our name. In 1568 Pope Pius V officially added to the popular Hail Mary prayer the line "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." Eventually, folk piety left doctrine in the dust, and believers intoned, "Our mother who art in heaven ..." Commented the horrified reformer Philipp Melancthon in the 1500s: "The fact of the matter is that in popular estimation, the Blessed Virgin has replaced Christ."
Martin Luther was fond of Mary; he found in her a perfect example of God visiting his grace, unearned, upon the most humble. The former monk extrapolated that "Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, [and] prepared broth ... for God." But his generation of reformers condemned the "abominable idolatry" of her role as heavenly intercessor. Disgusted by a church whose earthly middlemen sold indulgences for sins not yet committed, they also yearned to demote cosmic mediators who they felt diluted God's sovereignty. And, as Fourth Presbyterian's Buchanan observes, "Mary was a kind of point person for Catholicism, so she took the biggest hit." Catholics defiantly boosted Mary to even greater heights, eventually promulgating two additional doctrines: in 1854, Mary's Immaculate Conception, and as late as 1950, her bodily Assumption into heaven.
Over time, Protestant anathemas against Mary lovers gave way to a kind of sullen neglect of the Virgin. That was more pronounced among Presbyterians, some Baptists and others with a strong Calvinist tradition. (The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.'s 1991 Brief Statement of Faith praised the prophets, the Apostles and the Hebrew matriarch Sarah but omitted Mary.) Yet Protestants of all stripes could still appreciate a joke told by Harvard minister Peter Gomes about Jesus' receiving a Protestant theologian at the pearly gates and making appropriate introductions: "Ah, Professor, I know you have met my father, but I don't believe you know my mother."
THAT WAS ROUGHLY THE WAY BEVERLY Gaventa found things in 1989 when the Princeton Scripture specialist was invited to write about Mary for a series called Personalities of the New Testament. She knew of the pulpit silence regarding the Virgin but was still somewhat shocked to find that her academic peers had been equally mute. "We were quite happy to yammer on about Mary Magdalene, about whom we know next to nothing," she remembers, "and you would find a bajillion essays on Doubting Thomas. But there was very little on Mary's presence at the Cross." She was further bemused when callers invited her to speak at their churches. "I would offer to do something on Mary," she says, "and there would be this embarrassed pause, and they would eventually say, 'Oh, we're mostly Protestant around here.'" In fact, she says, she approached her Mary work in "a Protestant sort of way. We pride ourselves on reading Scripture, so let's read Scripture and see what we find."
What she read--and what Protestants had been more or less skimming for centuries--was a skein of appearances longer and more strategically placed than those of any other character in the Gospels except Jesus. There is, of course, the Annunciation, where Mary's earnest question "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" is followed (once Gabriel has answered) by her famous assent, "Let it be." Less often preached or parsed was her interaction with her kinswoman Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother, or Mary's hymn beginning "My soul magnifies the Lord" (hence its Latin title, the Magnificat), which in addition to the prediction "Generations shall call me blessed" presents a powerful vision of a God it describes as having "put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree ... filled the hungry with good things, and the rich ... sent empty away."
While Mary's role in the Nativity is recalled dutifully each December, largely overlooked is the subsequent presentation of Jesus at the temple, during which the righteous old man Simeon tells Mary that "a sword will pierce your own soul also." Also neglected are her maternal frenzy when her 12-year-old son goes missing to debate the temple elders and her role at the wedding at Cana, where, at her behest, he performs (somewhat grudgingly) his first miracle, changing water into wine. The most striking omission, at least from Protestant sermons, is a recognition of the import of her role at the Cross. Although the first three Gospels don't place Mary there by name, many readings assume she is one of the women who remain, watching Christ's agony, after the male disciples have fled. In John's Gospel she shares that witness with an unnamed disciple (often thought to be John), and Jesus, near death, commends them to each other, telling her, "Woman, behold your son!" and telling John, "Behold your mother." Mary makes one final appearance, as the only named woman in a mostly male group gathered in an "upper room" who, guided by the Holy Spirit, will make up the new church.
Gaventa's conclusion was that although Mary's appearances can be brief and frustratingly devoid of anecdote, "there isn't a figure comparable to her." No major player appears earlier in the story, and none, she notes, "is present in all these key situations: at Jesus' birth, at his death, in the upper room." Protestant treatments, Gaventa asserted, tended to limit themselves to what God does through Mary rather than talk about Mary herself. "You could say the same thing about the Apostle Peter--that the stories are not really about him," Gaventa says. "But that doesn't keep people from talking about Peter as a role model from whom Christians can learn things."
And so, in the book she finally wrote, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus, and in essays and lectures, Gaventa began reviving or establishing Marian titles that, unlike Queen of Heaven, are more appropriate for Protestant use. One was First Disciple. Traditional commentary saw Mary's "Let it be" primarily as a statement of obedience. But Gaventa, and many who followed, heard in it a thought-through acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah made long before any other believer's. In a Christianity Today article, Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., paraphrases some of the original reformers, saying, "If she had not believed, she would not have conceived."
Gaventa also focused on the Magnificat. At a minimum, the song would establish Mary as rhetorical heir to the Old Testament prophets, whose voice and social concerns it reflects. But Gaventa claims it makes the Virgin a prophet herself, both by her eloquence and in the enunciation of the idea that "in Jesus, God is overturning things as they are," which will be one of Christ's major subsequent themes. Scot McKnight, an evangelical moderate, has devoted a chapter of his own book, The Jesus Creed, to suggesting that the Magnificat contains "virtually every theme in Jesus' teaching and ministry." He imagines a kind of 1st century red-diaper baby: "I think she sang him to sleep with these kinds of songs and had a profound influence on him."
Gaventa's example has emboldened other writers. Her collection Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (co-edited with Cynthia Rigby) presents a variety of feminist approaches. One slyly contrasts Mary's situation with the standard conservative concept of "family values," and another reinterprets the biblical refrain that "Mary kept these things to herself and pondered them" from a model of housewifely passivity into a deep mode of reflection and prayer specific to motherhood. A more conservative collection, Mary, Mother of God, edited by Braaten and Jenson, features several evangelical scholars striving to rehabilitate that Ephesian title. They believe Matthew and Luke fully support the description. But they also hope that calling Mary Mother of God reminds people that Jesus was God, refuting the modern tendency to see him as simply a wise man or teacher. Baptists, says George, should no longer fear common cause with conservative Catholics: "We face a common enemy-- secularism and radical pluralism and the demotion of Scripture."
Almost all the revisionists find Mary's presence at the Crucifixion inspiring in a way that their denominations seldom acknowledge. Without elaborating on the Gospel stories (as even Michelangelo's Pietà does, since the Bible doesn't mention Mary's reception of Jesus' body), they explore the late-medieval notion that Mary's excruciating presence during her son's death kept Christian witness intact almost single-handedly through its darkest moment. Some focus on the absence of most of the male disciples. "She's not just alongside the Apostles. She's ahead of the Apostles," says Braaten. Others are reconsidering Jesus' words from the Cross to his mother and John. Protestantism has traditionally rejected the Catholic interpretation that in naming Mary John's mother, Jesus transmuted her into the "mother of all believers." But readers like George think it equally strained to conclude that he was merely looking after Mary's extended care. "I think that John does to some extent represent the church and that the scene indicates that Mary is to be honored and given a kind of recognition in salvation history," he says. "And I don't think you have to be Roman Catholic to say it."
THE REV. DONALD CHARLES LACY, 72, A Methodist minister, has been here before. In the early 1960s, as part of its Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church took several steps back from full-bore Marianism, maintaining the Virgin's intercessory role, Immaculate Conception and Assumption but warning against "all false exaggeration" on her behalf (although the current Pope, it must be stressed, is a devoted Marian). Young Protestants like Lacy, discussing their apparent narrowing of differences with equally idealistic Catholics, were inspired to form new groups like the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the moment passed. Lacy was denounced by a superior as a "priest" and ousted as pastor by one of his congregations. His work was largely rejected by Methodist publications--until four years ago, when a Methodist house suddenly printed his Collected Works. "I stood alone for so many years," Lacy says now. "It's very gratifying to see [people] begin to come this way."
Lacy attributes the revival to the Holy Spirit. If so, the Spirit may be working increasingly through intermarriage. Methodist Mark Eutsler, a 4-H director in Linden, Ind., and a Lacy fan, began investigating his Catholic wife's faith when they married 17 years ago. He admires the Virgin's combination of uncowed curiosity and openness to God's will when Gabriel calls. "You know that bracelet, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?" he asks. "There ought to be another one, HOW WOULD MARY REACT?"
Mary is also gaining popularity at Protestant divinity schools, where her icons adorn future pastors' walls. Even evangelical publishing is interested. Although one house was leery of a Marian guide for teens by author Shannon Kubiak if its title referred even obliquely to Mary ("They didn't want to come across as ever elevating Mary, and they didn't know how to touch her without elevating her," Kubiak says), a second snapped it up. God Called a Girl: How Mary Changed Her World and You Can Too will appear just after Easter.
There were 11 years between the day Mary Burks-Price, manager of pastoral-care education at a Louisville, Ky., hospital, gave birth to her own special child and the day a death seemed to cleave her soul. But together they turned her into a Marian Baptist. Growing up, Burks-Price knew the party line: avoid spiritual contemplation of Mary, since Catholics had turned her into a graven image. But in 1987, at a Christmas Eve service two years after her ordination as a minister, Burks-Price experienced a surge of identification. She had had a difficult pregnancy. And now, cradling her 4-month-old son in a back pew of the church she attended in Louisville, she felt for the first time that Mary's pregnancy must have been as miraculous as Jesus' birth.
Then in 1998 a close friend died in a plane crash. Burks-Price fled to a rural retreat center run by a local Catholic convent and late one night went walking, "sobbing and praying and asking why." She found herself standing before a tall marble statue of Mary next to a barn. "Her hands were outstretched, and her face was looking down on me with this great compassion," says Burks-Price. "I realized that she knew what it was like to see her son die on the Cross, to bear that sorrow and grief. I felt she was giving me a window into the compassion God had for me in my own experience." Burks-Price is still a Baptist, but her office is filled with Marys: porcelain statuettes, laminated prayer cards, icons. She keeps a Rosary for Catholic patients, and sometimes, she says, "I know [the prayer] better than they do."
Burks-Price was drawn by what may be the most meaningful Marian lure: access to a central Christian image of love, at birth and through death, that Protestantism never officially repudiated but from which it has been estranged almost from the start. The hunger for this is illustrated by the evangelical reception of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Conservative pastors interviewed by Christianity Today particularly lauded its treatment of Mary, which featured scenes not found in Scripture: Mary witnessing her son's scourging, sopping up his blood, kissing his bloody face--and her flashback, as Christ stumbles in carrying the Cross, to a moment in his boyhood when he fell and cried and she could cradle him in her arms.
That sequence also moved Fourth Presbyterian's Buchanan, who preached last year, "We're inclined, you and I, to think about our faith in terms of ideas and propositions and truth claims. [Yet] Mary reminds us that our faith is a response to a love that was expressed not in a carefully reasoned treatise but in a human life." Mary, he said, is "a reminder to the mother whose son was killed in Iraq last week ... [to] children and wives and husbands who wait in fear and in hope. Let her be a reminder of the mercy and compassion and nearness of God."
Yet it is such sentiments that most upset Southern Baptist theologian Mohler. He is underwhelmed by the Scripture-based reconsiderations of people like Gaventa. "Insofar as Evangelicals may have marginalized Mary's presentation in the Bible, it needs to be recovered," he concedes. "But the closer I look at the New Testament, the more convinced I am that it does not single her out for the kind of attention that is being proposed. We have not missed the point about her. To construct a new role for her is simply overreaching."
He is most exasperated that "Mary is held forth as the maternal face of God, some dimension that is fundamentally absent from Scripture. God's love is presented in biblical terms without any need for Mary as an intermediary. To suggest that need, even as 'symbolic' instead of doctrinal"--he pauses--"this is the Reformation in reverse. It's simply profoundly unbiblical, and it leads to the worst excesses of Marian devotion."
MOHLER'S JUDGMENTS MAY SOUND BLUNT, but his questions are legitimate Protestant ones. The point at which Marian respect turns into Marian veneration is more easily parsed by theoreticians than by believers trying to work out its practice. For instance, pro-Mary Protestants who claim not to use her as an intercessor but readily admit they recite the "pray for us sinners" line of the Hail Mary may be living a contradiction. Similarly, can seminarians whose walls boast Mary's icon but whose crosses (like most Protestants') omit the figure of her son truly be said to be keeping his primacy in mind? And when her Mother of God role is emphasized, is there an easy way to prevent her from transcending humble humanity and becoming semidivine in her own right?
In the end, Mary's role may be less influenced by people like Mohler and Gaventa than by a group only now beginning to make its considerable Protestant presence felt. A man stands at the lectern at the El Amor de Dios church on Chicago's South Side reading in Spanish, tears streaming down his cheeks. His text is a treatment of the Virgin Mary from one of the Bible's apocryphal books. Another congregant follows, reciting his own verses to the Virgin from a dog-eared notebook filled with tiny, precise printing. Flanking the altar are two Mary statues with fresh roses at their feet, and hanging from the hands of the baby Jesus is a Rosary. The altar cover presents the church's most stunning image: Mary again, this time totally surrounded by a multicolored halo, in the traditional iconography of the Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The church is Methodist.
"Right now Marianism is not a front-burner issue for people revising liturgy in major denominations," says Marian agitator Braaten. "But I think it will come in because of the great influx of Hispanics into Protestantism." Indeed, there are some 8 million Protestant Hispanics in the U.S., with the count climbing. Many hail from Mexico, where the Guadalupan Lady is as much a national icon as a religious one, and are from historically Catholic families. El Amor de Dios' pastor, the Rev. Jose Landaverde, says his Marian additions are "mainly cultural." But "in the context of this neighborhood and embracing these people, this is what they need." Our Lady, he says, "creates hope." Church rolls have risen, Lazarus-like, from a dozen people to several hundred since he added the Mary elements.
Some of Landaverde's fellow Methodists dismiss this new wrinkle. The Rev. Enrique Gonzales, pastor of El Mesias United Methodist in nearby Elgin, wrote a piece accompanying Christian Century's Mary story asserting that Latin Protestants are especially wary of such enthusiasm because "the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not actually introduced to Roman Catholic people in Latin America because only Marian doctrines are taught to them." Yet Ted Campbell, president of a local Methodist seminary in Evanston, Ill., says, "This is a phenomenon that's growing in a lot of Protestant churches." When he first heard what was going on at El Amor de Dios, he confesses, he thought, "Cool."
"It raises interesting theological points," Campbell explains. "It gives us a chance to look at our doctrine and to ask, 'What do we actually teach?'" Such reflections and questions will undoubtedly be heard more and more as Mary's Protestant restoration builds, not just at Christmas or Good Friday but throughout the year. --With reporting by Chris Maag/Xenia, Tim Padgett/Louisville, Maggie Sieger/Chicago and Sonja Steptoe/Los Angeles
- Find this article at: