Monday, September 26, 2011


Below is the final official speech of Pope Benedict on his pastoral visit to Germany, which I have excerpted.  It is on the long side, but I have indicated by italics and underlining where I think crucial thoughts were being conveyed.  I encourage you to look for those selected passages and read the larger context for them. 

The liturgical language changes that we are about to experience are small enough, all things considered.  Are they like "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic"?  Perhaps, but EVERYTHING is like that, compared to Bl Mother Teresa's comment below.  It's the heart of what we need to do and be, to reflect the Church authentically as the Body of Christ for others.  See below...


Concert Hall, Freiburg im Breisgau
Sunday, 25 September 2011

Mr President of the Federal Republic,
Mr Minister President,
Mr Mayor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

I am glad to be here today to meet all of you who work in so many ways for the Church and for society. This gives me a welcome opportunity personally to thank you most sincerely for your commitment and your witness as “powerful heralds of the faith in things to be hoped for” (Lumen Gentium, 35 – validi praecones fidei sperandarum rerum); this is how the Second Vatican Council describes people like you who do dedicated work for the present and the future from a faith perspective. In your fields of activity you readily stand up for your faith and for the Church, something that, as we know, is not at all easy at the present time.

For some decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptized drifting away from church life. This prompts the question: should the Church not change? Must she not adapt her offices and structures to the present day, in order to reach the searching and doubting people of today?

Blessed Mother Teresa was once asked what in her opinion was the first thing that would have to change in the Church. Her answer was: you and I.

Two things are clear from this brief story. On the one hand Mother Teresa wants to tell her interviewer: the Church is not just other people, not just the hierarchy, the Pope and the bishops: we are all the Church, we the baptized. And on the other hand her starting-point is this: yes, there are grounds for change. There is a need for change. Every Christian and the whole community of the faithful are called to constant change.

What should this change look like in practice? Are we talking about the kind of renewal that a householder might carry out when reordering or repainting his home? Or are we talking about a corrective, designed to bring us back on course and help us to make our way more swiftly and more directly? Certainly these and other elements play a part and we cannot go into all these matters here. But the fundamental motive for change is the apostolic mission of the disciples and the Church herself.

The Church, in other words, must constantly rededicate herself to her mission. …

In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God. In this she follows the words of Jesus: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:16), and in precisely this way he gives himself to the world. One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform.

Secularizing trends – whether by expropriation of Church goods, or elimination of privileges or the like – have always meant a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness, for in the process she as it were sets aside her worldly wealth and once again completely embraces her worldly poverty. In this she shares the destiny of the tribe of Levi, which according to the Old Testament account was the only tribe in Israel with no ancestral land of its own, taking as its portion only God himself, his word and his signs. At those moments in history, the Church shared with that tribe the demands of a poverty that was open to the world, in order to be released from her material ties: and in this way her missionary activity regained credibility.

History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly. Once liberated from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world. She can live more freely her vocation to the ministry of divine worship and service of neighbour. The missionary task, which is linked to Christian worship and should determine its structure, becomes more clearly visible. The Church opens herself to the world not in order to win men for an institution with its own claims to power, but in order to lead them to themselves by leading them to him of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine: he is closer to me than I am to myself (cf. Confessions, III,6,11). He who is infinitely above me is yet so deeply within me that he is my true interiority. This form of openness to the world on the Church’s part also serves to indicate how the individual Christian can be open to the world in effective and appropriate ways.

It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church. Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency, not bracketing or ignoring anything from the truth of our present situation, but living the faith fully here and now in the utterly sober light of day, appropriating it completely, and stripping away from it anything that only seems to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit.

To put it another way: for people of every era, and not just our own, the Christian faith is a scandal. That the eternal God should know us and care about us, that the intangible should at a particular moment have become tangible, that he who is immortal should have suffered and died on the Cross, that we who are mortal should be given the promise of resurrection and eternal life – for people of any era, to believe all this is a bold claim.

This scandal, which cannot be eliminated unless one were to eliminate Christianity itself, has unfortunately been overshadowed in recent times by other painful scandals on the part of the preachers of the faith. A dangerous situation arises when these scandals take the place of the primary skandalon of the Cross and in so doing they put it beyond reach, concealing the true demands of the Christian Gospel behind the unworthiness of those who proclaim it.

All the more, then, it is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. …Only a profound relationship with God makes it possible to reach out fully towards others, just as a lack of outreach towards neighbour impoverishes one’s relationship with God.

Openness to the concerns of the world means, then, for the Church that is detached from worldliness, bearing witness to the primacy of God’s love according to the Gospel through word and deed, here and now, a task which at the same time points beyond the present world because this present life is also bound up with eternal life. As individuals and as the community of the Church, let us live the simplicity of a great love, which is both the simplest and hardest thing on earth, because it demands no more and no less than the gift of oneself.

Dear friends, it remains for me to invoke God’s blessing and the strength of the Holy Spirit upon us all, that we may continually recognize anew and bear fresh witness to God’s love and mercy in our respective fields of activity. Thank you for your attention.

Friday, September 23, 2011


The proposed petition to the United Nations to establish a State for the Palestinians is problematic on more fronts than people sometimes realize.

Let us be clear from the outset: the State of Israel has a right (even the obligation) to exist, and in fact to thrive, in peace and in security and in authentic fellowship with her neighbors.

Beyond that, there must be room for Palestinians who have also lived in the Holy Land for centuries. They cannot be disenfranchised and dismissed out of hand. Torah itself teaches us this:  You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt... (Ex 22:20)

As must be obvious to all but the most fanatical, terrorism cannot secure these two needs, nor can a resolution from the United Nations.

But there is a complicating factor in what is too often assumed to be a conflict between Jews and Muslims. It is that significant numbers of Palestinians are in fact Christians: typically they are Catholic or Orthodox. They are distained by Israelis as being Arab; they are held in contempt by Muslims because they are Christian. They are caught in a cross-fire that dismisses them as unimportant.

We have seen the results of contempt for Christians in the Middle East: in Egypt, in Iraq, in Syria and Lebanon. Christian Arabs are leaving in record numbers, either by their being killed, or else by self-imposed exile in the face of (I use the word deliberately) pogroms.

Too many ethnic groups have memories that are too long and too alive: what happened hundreds of years ago is kept burning as though it were yesterday. This is tragic. All have made disastrous mistakes—Jews least of all, it must be said. They have been victims vastly more often than anyone else. Given the history of European Jewry and Christendom, there is no wonder there is mistrust of motives when Christians speak well of Jews. We must move beyond that.

Muslims remember the Crusades. These began in 1095. Do Muslims also remember the Saracens’ attacks on Rome (and especially the church of St Peter’s there) in 846? The slaughter in and desecration of that church (and the tomb of St Peter) were massive, and it was in contempt of a holy place of Christians.

We must all learn to forgive, even if we do not (or cannot, or should not) completely forget. We must live in the present and face the future; pre-occupation with the past is counter-productive.
Our Mobile Trialogue (Christians, Jews and Muslims together) is an attempt to build a community of tolerance and reconciliation. It is far easier to achieve this goal here in Alabama than in the Holy Land. But perhaps with patience and prayer one day we can hold hands and proclaim (with Martin Luther King Jr) “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


What did Jesus see in Matthew/Levi the tax-collector that He called him?

What did Matthew see in Jesus “the Messiah”(?) that he followed Him?  That is, when he finally looked at Jesus--judging by the painting, money was far more interesting to Matthew...

Matthew must have been a leader: look at the numbers of tax-collectors who joined him and Jesus and His disciples for dinner.

What do we see in Jesus?

Whom might we lead to the Lord (or away from Him) by our example?

It’s good to be called; it’s even better to respond and follow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It is remarkable to read words like those below, especially when they were penned by the judge of the original sentence of death. I share these with readers of the blog for several reasons: they speak against the fairness of capital punishment, they remind us of the irrevocable nature of such a punishment, and they reinforce the evidence that many capital cases are resolved in favor of death because of inexperience: how often are indigent defendants actually represented by adequate counsel in their trials? It is for this reason that a moratorium (at the very least) needs to be placed on executions in the State of Alabama. We want justice to be served, not simple rage and blood-lust, no matter how understandable those emotions might be.  Please read on:

The Huntsville-Madison County NAACP is sponsoring a Candlelight Rally in support of Derrick Mason's death sentence being commuted based upon the compelling legal reasons provided by the trial sentencing judge, Lloyd H. Little (retired) in his letter to Governor Robert Bentley requesting that Mason's death sentence be commuted and changed to life imprisonment. Judge Little cited Mason's attorneys and his own lack of experience in trying a capital murder case and stated: "That lack of experience, combined with its being my first experience in capital litigation, more than likely affected how the case was tried..... I believe that more experienced defense attorneys could have more effectively presented evidence of the mitigating factors (his age, lack of significant criminal record and drug and alcohol use) that could have affected the jury's recommendation and my ultimate decision." He further stated:

".... [T]]he law of Alabama requires that this aggravating factor of being especially heinous, atrocious and cruel be so when compared to other capital murders. In hindsight, and with so much more experience now in these cases, I do not believe this aggravating factor would have been available to the jury or the Court. Without that as an aggravating factor to consider, the advisory verdict of the jury wuld [sic] most likely have been different. They would have recommended life without parole and I would have followed that recommendation. That is what should have happened 15 years ago."

"Governor Bentley, I am confident that when I am asking you to do now is absolutely the right thing to do under the facts of this case and the law of this State."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


This past several days I've been in a whirlwind of ecumenical and inter-faith encounters. I enjoyed lunch on Friday with Rev Joy Blaylock, an old friend of mine who is now pastor of St Paul Lutheran Church (ELCA), really just round the corner from Our Savior. She is, in her own words, passionate about communion and unity.

Sunday was the celebration of our parish feast (Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which we transferred to Sunday evening)—Pastor Chris George of 1st Baptist Church in downtown Mobile was our guest preacher, and his words on behalf of ecumenical outreach and longing for unity were deeply touching.

This week we welcome Rabbi James Rudin to speak in our Christian-Jewish Dialogue; a special meeting of ecumenical and inter-faith clergy will also gather at our Cathedral’s rectory, graciously hosted by Archbishop Thomas Rodi: over coffee and pastries we will converse about the future of Christian-Jewish relations, nationally and locally here in Mobile.

What is the real point in all of this?

Is it just to make us feel good, to feel that somehow because of a few social and intellectual encounters we are breaking down walls of discord? Is it to trick us into thinking that our differences don’t matter, after all, and we can simply hold hands and think we all think (and believe) alike? Is it a desire to make an actual beginning of barrier-breaking, even if we don’t know what the barriers really are, or if any are genuinely necessary for the sake of preserving personal integrity?

For myself, I am immersed in this activity because I am convinced that the destiny of the human race (a destiny we seem wonderful at thwarting) is to unite and be one family in relationships (as we surely are, in genetics). Why should we not long to sing together, “Free at last; free at last; thank God almighty, we are free at last”?

There was an old saying in early ecumenical endeavors: “Doctrine divides; service unites.” I want to modify this: “Sin divides; love unites.” The motto of our Christian-Jewish Dialogue is “Hands that reach will touch.” If I do not reach out, does that mean that I am wrapped up in myself? Probably…

Can we eat together, or pray together, or serve together, or minister together, or witness to justice together, or love together?

If not, why not? Is our family really too big for new brothers and sisters?  Today's title ("All men shall be brothers") comes from Schiller's An die Freude, set famously by Beethoven in his 9th symphony.  The text continues: 
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt? 
[Can you sense your Maker, World?]
Such ihn über’m Strenenzelt!   
[Find him well beyond the Stars]
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt      
[Brothers, well beyond the Stars]
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.  
[Surely dwells a loving Father.]

I want to be part of the family; who wants to join me?

I hope you will enjoy the section of Beethoven's last symphony which includes these words and this sentiment.  Ut unum sint!

Saturday, September 3, 2011


A couple of years ago I wrote this as a "mass mailing e-mail" to about 425 folks who had signed up (since then Outlook decided I was spamming and has blocked the sending of these items--oh, well).  It was addressed to President Obama on the occasion of comments he made in the context of his invitation to give the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009 (this explains the use of 2nd person in my questions).  I offer them in this forum as a way of reflecting on an item in the 9-3-11 Mobile Press-Register (by the Associated Press), reporting that pregnant women who take illegal drugs can be prosecuted for endangerment of a child, provided the woman is carrying a "viable fetus."  This application, along with its terminology, begs many questions--some of them reflected in my remarks below.  I hope they can still generate meaningful dialogue in pursuit of truth. 

1. You support a woman’s right to an abortion. Is this on the basis of a belief that a pregnant woman is not carrying a human life, or on the basis of a belief that that human life is not worthy of protection?

2. In either case, what is the scientific/medical information that leads you to this conclusion?

3. In either case, when do you believe that human life (or human life worthy of protection) does begin, and how scientifically/medically did you determine this?

4. If an unborn child at 8-1/2 months of gestation can be aborted by the mother, what logical barrier is there for not following Prof. Singer of Princeton and thinking that a baby 2 weeks after being born cannot also be “aborted”? The answer must surely involve more than “location”...

5. You have said you are “wrestling” with the issue of life. If the unborn child is not a human life or a life worthy of protection, with what are you are wrestling?

6. If induced (adult) stem cell research is offering such promising results, as opposed to the results of any kind of embryonic stem cell research, why is the Administration reducing funding for such research?

7. If the unborn child is not human life or human life worthy of protection, why express willingness to work to reduce the numbers of abortions?

8. If the unborn child is not human life or human life worthy of protection, why should the slaying of a pregnant mother be regarded in a court of law as a “double homicide”?

These are questions that not only deserve but cry for an answer in honest dialogue.