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Welcoming Death without an Afterlife

Welcoming Death without an Afterlife

 

An unexamined life is not worth living.   –Socrates

An unexamined afterlife is not worth striving for.   –Milavec

[My initial thoughts at the time when I approach my personal death.]

 

Most people think that their soul survives after death.  How they come to this is very murky indeed.  Spiritualism, the practice of contacting the souls of those deceased, gives perhaps the greatest credence to such a belief.  Near-death experiences also provide some experiential glimpses of living outside one’s body.  Yet, even ordinary Christians find themselves praying for the souls of the faithful departed that the Lord of Creation would pardon their sins and admit them into the heavenly realm.  Most Christians, I dare say, believe in some conscious afterlife and if the choice is between heaven and hell (or purgatory); the beatific vision with the saints in heaven seems naturally preferable.

 

The first thing that 99% of Christians would find strange is the fact that the older layers of the Hebrew Scriptures establish Judaism as a religion of faithful service to God and humanity without any rewards in the afterlife.  In a word, they believed that holiness was its own reward and the sight of one’s family and children living a productive life that is a blessing to those close and those far is reward enough for the good life.   [See Stanley B. Marrow, S.J., “The Road not Taken”]

Sometime during the Maccabean revolution (2nd cen. BCE), those Jews who had seen the pious punished with terrible torments came to the conclusion that the Lord himself remembers the injustice done to them and, on the last day, when he comes to judge the living and the dead, he would surely resurrect these holy martyrs and given them a place of honor in the earthly kingdom of God.   Note here that none of these Jews believed that true bliss was to be found in a world or in a place outside of our present planet-home that God created for us.

Starting with Socrates, the beatific vision of truth, justice, and beauty would be the overwhelming delight of those “philosophers” who spent their lives cultivating these things.  This “beatific vision” was possible only for an immortal  soul released from the body at death.  Augustine and others imported this message into the faith of our fathers; hence, Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, named the “beatific vision” as the greatest joy that our souls would find in heaven.

Jesus, needless to say, knew nothing of this “beatific vision” in heaven for he always anticipated a future with God coming to earth “to wipe away all our tears” (Rev 21:4).  This same Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth. . . .” (Matt 6:9-13).  And when Jesus rose  bodily into heaven on a cloud, the two men in white [angels?] say, “”Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will come [return to earth] in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).   Thus, heaven is not the final resting place for Jesus.  Nor is it the place where the “beatific vision” takes place. Heaven is merely the temporary holding tank where God is preparing to send Jesus back to earth where he can be the Messiah on the Last Day (Acts 2:36, 3:20-22, 5:42).

When one considers this future on earth, the notion of living an existence as a bodiless soul in a realm where one praises God night and day (there being no necessity of sleep) would become exceedingly tedious, repetitious, and dull.  The so-called joys of heaven, accordingly, might be highly overrated.  The loss of a body and life on earth are highly underscored.  How could a violinist or a gardener or a wood-carver survive in a heaven where they could only envision (in their imagination) making something beautiful with their hands when, in fact, they would, both night and day, lament the fact that they have no hands?  How could imagined gardens or imagined musical performances give joy to those who have no ears or eyes or noses with which to feast on them?

In fact, what joy could one give to another person in heaven?  One could not stroke their cheek or play a game of ball or trek in the snow-capped mountains.  Maybe one could (supposing that there is such a thing as soul to soul communication that is wordless and earless) communicate about things long gone.  Yet, this very communication would generate a great sense of loss and be more apt to evoke a sense of longing and annoyance that one’s entire past has been obliterated by death.  Let this continue for a few hundred years (since one speaks of eternal life as the natural quality of the immortal soul) and one would have a society of malcontents who found very little to live for or to communicate about.  Even singing praises to God could degrade into a tedious choir practice that, after a few short months, would surely leave bitterness and grumbling in its wake.  If one could miraculously hear the heavenly choirs, that would be one thing.  But to live in a society of disembodied souls would mean that such music would be produced without vocal cords and without musical instruments.  Thus, the music itself would evoke a great sense of longing for a body and for the things of this present world.  So, from these brief examples, one can see how soulless an eternity in heaven would be.

I thank God, therefore, that he did not give me an eternal soul and I thank him that none of those that I love have immortal souls either.  Socrates willingly embraced death because he wrongly imagined that his eternal soul would escape his body and enter into its eternal bliss.  Socrates also wrongly misinterpreted “sleep” as the time when the soul leaves the body in order to explore strange cities and strange places.

The earth is properly our home, and what a home it is!  We were formed from the dust of the earth  [that originated in the death throes of giant red stars] billions and billions of years ago, and God saw that it was good!  Life is good.  I enjoyed seeing my daughter play her violin in the beginning strings tonight!  I also enjoyed hearing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” being performed by accomplished musicians in a small church in Venice the first night that we arrived.  I’ve enjoyed making music of my own (the guitar, the recorder, the spoons) purely as an amateur.  So I say: “Dear world, you are so beautiful!  Blessed be the Maker of the heavens (the stars above) and the earth (below my feet which attracts me toward its center even when I am upside down).”

For a good ten years (1970-80), I persisted in believing that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the last day (even after I had abandoned any belief in a soul).  It might have made good sense for a few Jewish martyrs to be rewarded with a resurrection for offering their lives to God in the face of torturing tyrants; it is positively repellent however to imagine the chaos that would result from a general resurrection.  Our fragile planet earth has barely enough resources to support eight billion humans.  So how can one imagine the impossible situation of providing clean water, wholesome food, and shelter for fifty billion (the total of all the righteous persons who would be raised on the Last Day).

For the pious, it would seem entirely feasible for Christians to invite six times their number to share their homes.  Modern homes in the suburbs could indeed squeak by with six times the number of inhabitants.  There would be little privacy left and no one would ever again have their own bedroom; yet, who knows, maybe the advantages of communal living would far outweigh the limitations of space.

Yet, what about those situations where a family of five share a two room apartment in the center of Mexico or where a similar family shares a one-room shack in the slums of Calcutta.  It would be a slight bit monstrous to expect these families to welcome thirty people into their living situation.

Hospitality is a blessed virtue, to be sure.  It would work in the suburbs but never have a chance in the slums.  Just the use of the flush toilet by a world population six times our present size would quickly overtax all our current water purification systems.  Meanwhile, in those parts of the earth where untreated sewage is disposed of by dumping it into natural water sources.  I am thinking here not only of cruise ships and slums but of the hundreds of municipalities that routinely dump raw sewage into the Ohio River whenever their waste treatment facilities are overtaxed by incoming sewage.  You get the picture.  Increase the population of our planet by six and you get an entire planet drowning in its own shit.

Well, to save the day, there has been a lot of talk about the resurrected body being in some way “spiritualized” such that it doesn’t need to eat or to drink, ergo, not to pee or to defecate.  On the other hand, Jews like Jesus imagined eating and drinking in the Kingdom of Heaven (on earth) since, truth to say, not to have enough to eat and to drink was always considered a hardship.  On the other hand, Jesus liked to eat and drink with his friends and I’m sure he’d be a bit disappointed at finding that his resurrected friends had “spiritualized bodies” that no longer took any pleasure in or had any necessity to eat and drink.

So, to back up a bit, it might be important to examine whether resurrection from the dead is indeed what God has in mind for those who love him.  First off, it must be conceded that “spiritualized bodies” are not natural bodies and that their existence is just as problematic as that of the existence of immortal souls.  The blessing indeed is to be found in the natural condition of the human physical body that we are very familiar with.

What a piece of creation we are!  A true miracle.  Any cleaver bishop or theologian who tries to convince us (using either the bible or church dogmas) that the human condition can be improved upon and that God (since s/he can supposedly do anything) surely has an improved model ready for us in the resurrection from the dead should be shouted into silence.  What an affront to God to imagine that s/he has not already done his/her best in creating man and woman in his/her image and likeness!

Moreover, those who imagine that our spiritualized bodies will walk through walls, transport themselves effortlessly through the skies, and never grow hungry or sick or old are talking fables and nonsense and pious gibberish.  It’s one thing to imagine a perfect situation in the future.  It’s quite another thing to denigrate some of the best aspects of the present situation in so doing.

Walking through walls, for instance, would mean a world without privacy.  People could walk in on you at any time from any direction and have no way of signaling that they were coming.  What a problem that would be.  And what is so terrible about growing hungry, getting sick, or growing old?  Are these not the patterns within the miracle of creation that have been tried and tested and found beneficial?

Just take the last point—that of growing old.  I, for one, have found a blessing implicit in the human cycle of birth, infancy, adolescence, adulthood, old age, death.  As starters, the US situation is growing increasingly difficult because the old are living longer.  A full life, in the nineteenth century, meant living into the 60s or 70s but now, with improvements in medicine, most are anticipating living into their 80s and 90s.  Like it or not, those in their productive years are now having to work harder and longer to take care of the aging members of their immediate families.  The old now no longer live with their families, but are shunted off into assisted living, then nursing homes, then round-the-clock care.  This is not the best scenario for growing old; yet, the modern productive couple doesn’t have time to spend with their own children much less to spend with an aging parent.  Moreover, the young don’t want old people meddling in their lives—a thing which many aging parents do because they have the habit of taking liberties and advising their children in almost everything.

But this is getting off the point.  What if people never grew old?  What if people remained in their prime for an eternity?  Well, to begin with, this would lead to a great population problem.  In any given society, the number of deaths makes room for a certain number of births. Choke off one of the other prospect and you have either a society mushrooming out of control or moving toward extinction.  In a word, the system of being born and dying appears to be a superb design originated by our wise Creator to keep a balance between the new and the old, the coming to be and the passing away.

Once this is realized, it appears as an offense to the Creator to even imagine that giving creatures “eternal life” would be some sort of surpassing gift; rather, it would be a surpassing burden.  I recently read a short story that discussed a society in which aging was stopped and all sicknesses were cured.  It was a society in stagnation.  Very few new ideas were originated because those living had already made up their minds on just about everything that they were willing to accept or able to tolerate.  In a world in which not much changed, there was even less incentive to originate anything—new music, new gardens, new wood sculptures.  The repetition of human skills and crafts leads to dullness.  Hence, in the sci-fi novel that I read, what had to be done was to invent a competitive game that led to the death of the loser.  Then and only then did excitement enter into life.  And so it was that the very society that had achieved eternal life had to later introduce “death” in order to bring back excitement in life.

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PS: Here is the essay by Charles Hartshorne that was most helpful to me in coming to accept death as a gracious act and service to my family and friends.  I reproduce it here so that you, the reader, might come to understand how an old philosopher can be of service to the world.

THE ACCEPTANCE OF DEATH

By Charles Hartshorne

 

Since all of us die, it is clear that the meaning of life must be inseparable from the meaning of death. If we cannot understand death, we cannot understand life, and vice versa. Life and death are two sides of one reality.

In principle life is good while it lasts. The meaning of life is, in part at least, the simple goodness of living. Normally we are glad to be alive. We may imagine circumstances in which we would be much more intensely glad to be alive than we actually are, but still life seems better than just no life. Even when things go badly with us, I think we deceive ourselves if we think that we derive no satisfaction from the activities of the living. The person who proclaims her or his misery derives some value merely from breathing and eating, some value from choosing the words in which the self is expressed, some value from making one’s troubles an object of attention and observing the way other people react to them. I believe that living is essentially voluntary, and that no one can be compelled to exist, unless on a largely unconscious level. If the will to live really dies, then we are already virtually dead. The person who decides to commit suicide gets some satisfaction out of thinking, “now it will soon be over.” This satisfaction is what keeps the person still among the living until performing some physical action which ends life, but then the bullet or poison, not directly the will to die, is what ends the life. Willing to live and finding life better than nothing are, I hold, the same things.

Take the person who stays alive because of fear of hell. Then what sustains the will to live is the thought, “I am better as I am than I might be in hell; I don’t have to be in hell, at least not yet.” Thinking thus gives present life some value. Or, if a mother lives for the sake of her children, the interest in the children and approval of herself as living for them make it possible for her to achieve at least some mild satisfaction in her own activities.

Though living is always more or less voluntary, dying can be either with or without our choice, not only because, on the one hand, external forces in action ourselves, but also because we can will not to live beyond a certain point of time. Or at least, we can be entirely content with the thought of not living forever or much beyond some specified point in our individual careers. We can choose to stop trying particularly to live, accepting death as coming from old age or terminal illness; we can be on the side of the physical forces that tend toward our death.

There are three principal ways of trying to make death as such acceptable. We can believe, or try to believe, in personal immortality in the conventional sense, meaning that after death we are to become conscious again; somewhat as we do in waking from a deep sleep, but this time in some supernatural heaven or hell, or on some other planet or in some other animal body. This may or may not be with memory of our previous earthly career. In either case this is a view which cannot appeal to any definite well-documented or scientific evidence to support it. I think that the appeal of this view is largely a consequence of misconceptions about the nature of life as such, no matter where or when.

Another way of arguing that death is good, or at least not too bad, is that it is like going into a dreamless sleep and never waking up again. Thus, there is no suffering in being dead, though there may be in dying, and so we escape from the evils of life once and for all. Note, however, that only for the others, the spectators, can it be “better” that we are no longer suffering. The suicide who reasons, “I shall be better off dead” will not be better or worse off, not yet just the same: simply he or she will not be in any state whatsoever, good, bad, or neutral. Into no future will the person survive to benefit since the future after death will not be hers or his at all. The suicide must act whether for personal satisfaction in the moments before death, or else for the benefit of those who survive. My conclusion is that the comparison of death to dreamless sleep is not enough to show that death is a good thing for the individual who dies.

The third way of making death acceptable is that of transcending self-interest as our final concern. If, and only if, we can regard our entire lives as contributing to the good of those who will survive us and if we can find part of our present satisfaction in the thought of such contribution to the future of life beyond ourselves, can we find death positively acceptable. I call this doctrine “contributionism.” It includes, but is more than, what is sometimes called “service” to others, for that is too much confined to things we do for others, actions from which others may benefit, like giving lectures. By “contributionism” I mean more than this. I mean that simply by being what we are in ourselves we contribute to the future of life. Our present happiness is a central factor in this contribution.

Miserable people, even if they are useful, contribute less than happy people who are also useful. By giving posterity our misery to look back upon, we do them no special favor. It is joys one wants to recall, more than sufferings. Even admitting the truth in the poet’s phrase, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” still, in the composing and singing of these songs, there is more than misery; there is satisfaction in the beauty of the expression of grief.

To accept death as ending our personal career is to regard that career as a finite or bounded thing. We are finite in space and time; indeed, we are mere fragments of reality spatially and temporally, but then any work of art or beautiful thing is such a fragment, apart from the entire universe throughout time. Contentment with mortality is contentment with the finitude of our ultimate contribution to the whole of life. Should our careers have a last episode? Should a book have a last chapter? A poem, a last verse? Without beginning and end a work of art has no definite form or meaning. I personally regard a life as, with normal luck and good management, having something of the qualities of a work of art, and I see no reason why it should be endless; rather the contrary, it ought not to be endless.

Part of the interest of life is that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are dramatic contrasts between infancy and youth, youth and maturity, maturity and elderliness, and these contrasts are spanned by certain life purposes, finite in scope, that bind them together. What more does one wish? If going to sleep is nothing dreadful, why is it dreadful to think of a sleep without waking? For the sleeper the fact that he or she does not awaken is as nothing. Only the others experience the not waking up.

What bothers people is perhaps the idea that death is the mere absence of life, but my death is only the absence of my continued living, it is not the absence of all living. New lives make their finite contributions to the future of life as a whole.  [My death makes room for others to live life differently–more generously, more boldly and more securely.]

THE ACCEPTANCE OF DEATH

by Charles Hartshorne

http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/Hartshorne/1acceptance.html

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The Hazards of Believing that Death is not the End

#1  Ecology Gone Amuck in anticipation of the Apocalypse

When the Lord-God comes, should we actually believe that he will provide everyone with a new suburban home complete with a washer and dryer in every basement and a brand new fuel-efficient automobile in every garage?  Should we actually believe that God will miraculously fill thousands of dry oil wells so that these engines can burn gasoline for another hundred years?  What?  If God has already said a resounding “No” to Western Culture and its notion of development and well-being, will he/she suddenly change his/her mind on the last day.  More importantly, however, even supposing that God did (for some crazy reason) decide to play Sugar Daddy, how would the Lord teach ecological responsibility if he/she used miraculous powers to overcome the results of our greed and waste?  The same thing, of course, can be said of modern-day parents who lavish so many clothes and toys upon their children that they promote their thoughtless use and the throw-away mentality that goes with it.  Will God, in the world to come, then have to continually save us from our garbage?  [Didache, pp. 908-909]

#2 Celibacy Now In Exchange for a Sexual Afterlife

One of my early students at St. Leonard’s College, GF, OFM, once told me that he was going to be lavishly generous in accepting God’s calling to the religious life in order that, in the afterlife, God would  be lavishly generous is satisfying his sexual intimacy desires with “the perfect wife.”  This formula for “delayed gratification” may be very unhealthy and very wrong-headed (esp. if there is no afterlife).

#3  Allow Me to Die: Euthanasia in Belgium

Simone, a Belgium woman in good health has chosen euthanasia because she has no compelling reason to live and she wants to meet her daughter in the hereafter.  This comes up four times in her 44-minute video.  She says goodbye to others with the expectation that she will see them in heaven.   Her vision of the afterlife as promoted by her Catholic Church thus promotes, like it or not, voluntary euthanasia.  By law, physician assisted suicides have been accepted in Belgium.  source=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTpmQI0VoSI

 

Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk

Kevin Kukla’s Klaptrap — Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk

by Aaron Milavec

Two years ago I discovered Kevin Kukla’s claptrap on his website, ProLife365.org.  At first, I was just annoyed.  Then I realized that Kevin represented an educated, upwardly mobile Catholic Fundamentalist who is intent upon upholding and defending the entire Vatican ideology regarding the sexual issues of our day.  Moreover, Kevin imagines himself to be a crusader bent upon bringing to young people the sure and unchanging truths of Catholic sexuality that even most priests are embarrassed to teach.  As a Catholic theologian who has trained future priests and lay ministers for 25 years, I have sought to fairly and systematically examine Kevin’s claims.  My findings are as follows. . . .

What has Glenda revealed to me?

When I finally get a true confession from someone, I will publish it on this page.  I urge you, the reader, not to go to this page too quickly without declaring your hunches here:  http://www.churchonfire.net/?p=1238

Sorry.  I have not yet received a true confession from anyone.  But I believe that, in the end, that the truth will come out. . . .

Detective Adam Rose

Who is the real Glenda Smith?

[My email #15] Dear Glenda,

For the past two months, I have been in communication with a woman that I have come to cherish.  She identifies herself as Glenda Sue Smith, a name you used during your first marriage.  Her words have melted my heart and brought tears of recognition to my eyes:

for a good relationship to grow we need to trust each other and be honest with each other to achieve what we want to achieve well i am seeking for master which will be the flesh to my flesh and also the bone to my bone, It’s true I have never seen you and we have never met, Never shaken Hands or even truly hugged and yet! I know for sure you care for me by the kindness that you give and our keyboards keep us together doesn’t matter where we live. So I am emailing you to put a smile on your face and to let you know in my heart you have a special place. The sun is always shining just above the cloudy haze, as we share love across an online maze.

I believe that this woman is you and that you are now 58 years old and living at 124 [not 24] Rosewood Drive.  If so, I am fully disposed to cherish you in the same way that my words have seemingly moved you.  As I have written:

It does not shock me if you are using your earlier name.  It does not turn me away if you have been an online thief.  Your sins only make you all the more precious in my eyes.  When we come together, the truth and the whole truth will finally come out as I cradle you in my arms and kiss you with an everlasting kiss and reveal to you just how precious you are. . . .

How do you suggest that we proceed from here? [I dare not say too much. My silence makes room for the real “Glenda” to speak to me within or without our earlier master-slave arrangement.  Who is the real “Glenda” who will arrive at my door in Cincinnati?]

ur admiring LuvDoctor Adam

So what might happen now?

  • Glenda might reaffirm that she has been and remains the 29-year-old sex slave pictured and described in her original ad in collarspace.com.
  • Glenda might tell me that she is the 33-year-old Holly Nicole Smith, daughter of Glenda Smith, and that she loves me and wants to be with me.
  • Or Glenda might tell me that she is the 58-year-old mother who uses a fictitious slave identity to pay the bills. This Glenda may want to know how the hell I was able to discover her true identity. She might also want to play out our master-slave fantasy where we left off.
  • Or Glenda might tell me that she is neither Holly nor her mother but a close friend of Glenda who accidently fell in love with me while pressing forward a scam that she designed by way of helping Glenda pay her enormous hospital bills following her recent car accident.
  • Or Glenda might tell me. . . .

So, now, I step back and address you, the reader:

What are your hunches?  What will Glenda tell me?
What evidence can you bring forward to support your hunches?

Please feel free to post your hunches below.

 

Free Sample Chapter

At first I was just going to give you a random chapter.  Now I’m thinking that you would be better served if I gave you a choice:

PaulVIChoice #1  If you are a history buff, I’d like to send you a blow by blow account of how Pope Paul VI blocked the bishops assembled during Vatican II from considering three key issues: priestly celibacy, the contraceptive pill, and indulgences.  After all the bishops went home, Paul VI then betrayed Vatican II by making his own prejudiced decisions based upon his faulty use of Scriptures and  upon his abysmal ignorance of church history.  He then used his papal authority to obstruct any further open discussion on these issues.   Click here to receive this story as a PDF file.     Or as an eBook chapter.

PlannedParenthoodChoice #2  If you are upset by the way that the abortion issue has divided the Church into two opposing camps, then I want to send you my personal history within the walls of Planned Parenthood.  I also want to show you step by step how and why the US bishops have sought to stop all abortions by relying on arguments that neither St. Augustine or  St. Thomas Aquinas could have ever endorsed.  Click here to receive this story as a PDF file.    Or as an eBook chapter.

coverlesbian420R400Choice #3  Key US Archbishops have undertaken a bloody program to entirely purge from our Catholic schools all teachers who are homosexual or who endorse same-sex marriages.   My latest book endeavors to show just how disastrous these purges have become and how our Catholic students have begun to fight these strong-arm tactics with nonviolent tactics that go back to the 1960s.  Click here to receive this story as a PDF file.    Or as an eBook chapter.

Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail

Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail

  • Pope Francis speaks with a cardinal as he arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15. At right is Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Faith and Justice
The synod on the family has created a lot of interest in the church and spilled a lot of ink (or electrons) in the media, but there are five reasons that it was doomed to fail before the bishops even gathered in Rome Oct. 4. Perhaps Pope Francis can perform a miracle and save it, but the odds are against him.First, the topic of the synod, “the family,” is too broad.

The family touches everything and is touched by everything. Anything bad in the world affects families, and any problems in families affect the societies in which they live.

Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.

Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.

Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.

And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.

It is simply too much to deal with in a three-week meeting.

Second, the membership of the synod makes dealing with the topic of the family difficult.

The 270 synodal fathers come from many different cultures and as a result have very different priorities and concerns, not to mention different cultural conceptions about family life.

Bishops in the Middle East and Africa see their families facing the constant threat of violence and death that forces them to become refugees fleeing their homes. How can you have a family under these circumstances?

Many bishops in the developed world are concerned about how to respond to high divorce rates. But outside the wealthy, industrialized nations, the issues may be human trafficking, arranged marriages, interreligious marriages, child brides, polygamy, female genital mutilation, and cultural customs where marriage is seen as taking place over time, not in the instant when the couple says their vows.

Can so many people from such varied backgrounds have any common understanding of the problems facing families and how to deal with them?

The third problem facing the synod is the synodal process itself.

Synods are paper factories. They produce lots of speeches, recommendations and sometimes even a final document, but do they make a difference? In 1980, I covered an earlier synod on the family that faced almost every issue that this synod faces. Did it make any difference? If it did, I don’t see it.

The 1980 synod made many of the same recommendations that this synod will make: better marriage preparation, better formation of clergy so they can help families, better education programs, greater support from governments for families, less violence, more love.

New programs and ideas are not generated at synods. Bishops can only share what they bring. New programs are created by entrepreneurs who have an idea, experiment with it, and improve it through trial and error.

The fourth reason the synod is doomed to failure is that it is seriously divided on the question of what can and cannot change.

This clash is most obvious over the question of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion.

One side sees only the law — the marriage contract is permanent and can be terminated only by death. The other side sees millions of people suffering from broken marriages that cannot be put back together.

One solution to this crisis is the annulment process, whereby the church declares that, even though there is a signed contract, the contract is not valid because of some failure at the time the wedding took place. There was much support at the 2014 synod for making the annulment process easier and faster, and Francis acted on this between synods.

The attitude of the bishops toward annulments is the greatest change since the 1980 synod on the family, when the American bishops were fiercely attacked by curial cardinals for making annulments too easy.

Francis has gone way beyond the American procedures by allowing bishops to declare a marriage annulled through an administrative process rather than a judicial process. Even canon lawyers are scratching their heads wondering how this will work.

But the fundamental problem faced by the synod is the same one faced by the Second Vatican Council: What can and cannot change in the church?

The pope and the bishops are constantly saying that the synod will not change church doctrine, but only pastoral practice. Bishops appear to even be afraid to talk about the development of doctrine, lest they be seen as wishy-washy on doctrine.

The conservatives see the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion as violating a doctrine of the church — the indissolubility of marriage. To them, it would be an admission that the church was somehow wrong in its teaching in the past.

Any student of the Second Vatican Council recognizes that this was the same complaint of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and his conservative colleagues who fought changes in church teaching on ecumenism, religious liberty and other matters.

So for the bishops to allow divorced and remarried Catholics — who don’t have an annulment but are civilly married — to receive Communion, they must somehow explain it as only a change in pastoral practice and not a change in doctrine.

The fifth reason the synod is doomed is the absence of theologians at the synod.

One conservative curial cardinal complained of the “schoolboy theology” being presented in episcopal speeches. There is some truth in that complaint. There is little evidence in their talks that bishops consulted theologians in order to understand contemporary thinking in Scripture, ethics or doctrine.

The bishops would have been better off spending the first week listening to theologians do an exegesis of scriptural passages on marriage, explain the concept of the development of doctrine, recount the history of the church’s treatment of marriage, and propose resolutions to controversial questions.

The reason that Vatican II was successful was because an alliance was forged between the theological periti and the council fathers that was capable of defeating the Roman Curia’s intransigence. Tragically, this alliance was broken after Humanae Vitae, when theologians were cast into the outer darkness as dissidents whom the bishops were to avoid at all costs.

The result has been disastrous for the church. It is as if the management of a major corporation is not on speaking terms with its research and development division. Would you invest in such a company?

Is there hope for the synod? Yes. Francis has begun a process; he has opened the windows closed after Vatican II. It will take more than three weeks to move the church forward, but he is moving it in the right direction.

Perhaps the synod is not doomed to fail but simply to be unfinished.

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Archbishop orders priests to deny Communion to dissenters

Archbishop orders priests to deny Communion to dissenters.
Is Francis’ message lost?

October 14, 2015

(Photo: AP/Riccardo De Luca)

Only weeks after Pope Francis spent his visit to the United States calling for a culture of dialogue on contentious issues, some American prelates are back to business as usual.

In a memo sent to priests in his archdiocese this week, Archbishop John Myers of Newark issued strict guidelines for denying Communion to Catholics whose marriages are not recognized as valid by the church, and prohibiting the sacrament to those who support same-sex civil marriage. Parishes and other Catholic institutions, the archbishop decreed, should never host individuals or organizations that disagree with church teachings.

This is precisely the kind of fortress Catholicism — a church hunkered down behind imposing walls — that Pope Francis vigorously rejects.

Instead, the pope wants a church that acts like a “field hospital after battle.“ He insists that Communion is not “a prize for the perfect but powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” While the New Jersey archbishop sends a message that he is putting Catholic institutions on lockdown, Pope Francis recently welcomed Democratic U.S. mayors, including Bill de Blasio of New York City, and the pro-choice secular feminist Naomi Klein, to the Vatican for climate change talks. No one was carded at the door.

Before addressing Congress, Pope Francis warmly greeted Secretary of State John Kerry. The pro-choice Catholic became a lightening rod during the 2004 presidential campaign when a handful of conservative bishops publicly argued he should not receive Communion. In the wake of the pope’s visit, Vatican officials squashed efforts from Kim Davis and her lawyers to use the pope as a pawn in the culture wars. And when news broke that Pope Francis had held one private meeting in Washington, D.C., it turned out to be with a longtime friend from Argentina who has been in a same-sex relationship for nearly two decades.

A ‘Francis Effect’ in the U.S.?

Pope Francis left U.S. Catholics with plenty to think about and act on after his first whirlwind visit to this country. This refreshing and complicated papacy presents unique challenges and opportunities for the American church. The pope’s desire to find a “new balance” that recalibrates the Catholic conversation beyond the flash points of a few hot-button issues — along with his muscular focus on the root causes of structural injustice — should shake up the politics of the church and our values debates in American politics.

But any real “Francis effect” will depend on whether religious leaders, elected officials and those of us in the pews wake up to the pope’s bracing call for radical change.

A pope who describes economic inequality as the “root of social evil,” insists on the moral urgency to address climate change and wants a “poor church for the poor” is clear and consistent in his messages. Don’t underestimate this smiling reformer exuding gentleness and joy. The captain of this ancient and sometimes leaky ship known as the Catholic Church is charting a definitive course.

At the White House welcome ceremony on his first full day in town, Pope Francis smiled at the pageantry in his honor but wasted little time before challenging complacency.

“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” he said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history.” Powerful American politicians, knee deep in oil- industry contributions, were not called out by name, of course, but plenty of conservative Catholics on Capitol Hill and Republican Catholics campaigning for the presidency don’t share the pope’s sense of urgency or even believe that human behavior contributes to the problem. The status quo is comfortable. It rewards the privileged. Francis knows the poor and most vulnerable already suffering from the impact of environmental degradation don’t have the luxury of indifference.

Pope Francis also offered a timely antidote to the resurgent nativism and xenophobia on the American right. Donald Trump rose in the polls by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” He stokes fear and resentment, the demagogue’s weapons of choice for centuries. In contrast, Francis introduced himself as “the son of immigrants” and reminded us of our American experience. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” he said during the first papal address to Congress in history.  (source)

Letter to the Pope

Letter to the Pope

Synod on the Family 2014

23 January 2014

Dear Father in Christ,

The proposed Synod on the Family holds great potential for the survival of faith and the spiritual well-being  of many of our faithful. On behalf of an international group of Catholic scholars I am sending you our Statement on Marriage and the Family with the scholars’s signatures which, we hope, will be of use to you in your planning of that Synod.

I realise that most preparatory information is being gathered through the medium of local Bishops’ Conferences. However, our Statement – on account of the international character of academic signatories – does not fall under any particular country, which is why I am addressing a copy directly to you.  I have, however, sent a complimentary copy to Archbishop Vince Nichols, Primate of England and Wales.

The original draft of the Statement was drawn up by Professor Joseph Selling, emeritus moral theologian of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. It has been subsequently discussed and signed by 74 Catholic experts in many fields: dogmatic theology, ethics, psychology, medicine, moral theology, sacred scripture, and so on. Their views are representative of the considered opinion of the majority of Catholic scholars world wide.

In recent decades, genuine freedom of expression has been suppressed in Church circles.  Many theologians, priests and lay people realise that a number of so-called Church ‘teachings’ do not stand up to scrutiny. This is very damaging to the Church. It undermines the credibility of authority and shakes the confidence of the faithful. That is why we are expressing our views frankly, conscious of the fact that our “freedom of research, freedom of thought and freedom of expression” acknowledged by Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes § 62), is not only a right but also a duty. “Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else. It must be obeyed if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts us with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim even of the official Church” [Joseph Ratzinger, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, part 1, chapter 1].

We feel that the time has come for the Church to adjust its official position on a number of regulations affecting sexual ethics. These regulations are neither revealed doctrine, nor unchangeable traditions. Rather they often derive from Greek philosophy and scientific perceptions of the Middle Ages. It is imperative that the Church’s guidance on the morality of married life reflects the theology, science and understanding of our own time.

We wish God’s blessings on the important process of consultation and decision making that will be made possible through this Synod.

With respectful greetings in Christ,

John Wijngaards

_____

 

Petition to Widen the Circle of Consultants at the 2015 Family Synod

Widen the Circle of Consultants at the 2015 Family Synod

Petition to Cardinal Baldisseri and the Bishops of the World

Widen the Circle at the 2015 Family Synod
5,124
of 6,000 signatures


Campaign created by Deborah Rose-Milavec


As faithful Catholics, we are deeply concerned that the perspective and experience of a large number of Catholics will not be represented at the upcoming Synod. Therefore, we are writing to urge you to widen the circle of people invited to participate in the upcoming Family Synod 2015.

We know our Church would benefit from listening to representatives of the many constituencies present in the church community and from engaging in the dialogue Pope Francis has been calling for since the beginning of his papacy. The Lineamenta points out, “In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis advocates for engaging in pastoral activity characterized by a ‘culture of encounter’ and capable of recognizing the Lord’s gratuitous work, even outside customary models.”

We urge the Vatican Synod office to make every effort to include a wide diversity of Catholics, especially those from the constituencies being discussed including divorced and remarried people, cohabitating couples, interfaith families, impoverished families, single parents, families with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, same-sex couples, and families torn by the violence of war and abuse. These women and men can share their lives and stories in a way that creates greater understanding among the bishops who will, in the end, make critical recommendations about the Church’s priorities and pastoral practices for years to come.

We ask that Synod planners reach out to those on “life’s periphery” (Evangelii Gaudium), those who have not felt welcome in our church. Their invaluable perspectives will greatly enrich and enlighten discussion at the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October.

As stated in Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church (2014): “The baptized….are endowed as members of the body of the Lord with gifts and charisms for the renewal and building up of the Church….Not only do they have the right to be heard, but their reaction to what is proposed as belonging to the faith must be taken very seriously. . . “ (#74).

We assure you that the mission of the Family Synod is in our prayers.

Click here to sign this Petition.

Why is this important?

The synod would benefit from listening to Catholic representatives from diverse constituencies and from engaging in the dialogue Pope Francis has promoted throughout his papacy. We believe widening the circle will create greater understanding among the synod fathers whose final recommendations to Pope Francis may impact our Church’s pastoral practice for years to come. This petition is sponsored by:

Aggiornomento, Australia (ACCCR)
American Catholic Council
Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests
Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal (ACCCR)
Australian Reforming Catholics ARC (ACCCR)
Call to Action
Catholic Church Reform International
Catholics for ministry CfM, Australia (ACCCR)
Catholics for Renewal, Austraiia (ACCCR)
Catholic Network for Women’s Equality, Canada
CORPUS
The Cyber Community, Australia (ACCCR)
DignityUSA
Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council
Fortunate Families
The Friendship Group WA, Australia (ACCCR)
FutureChurch
Inclusive Catholics, Australia (ACCCR)
International Movement of We Are Church
Loretto Women’s Network
National Coalition of American Nuns
New Ways Ministry
Noi Siamo Chiesa (Italian section of IMWAC)
Pfarrei-Initiative, Schweiz
Pfarrer-Initiative Austria
Parrish Initiative Switzerland
RAPPORT
Roman Catholic Womenpriests RCWP-USA
Sisters of Providence Peace With Justice Committee, St. Mary-of-the-Woods
Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference
Vision of Faithful People (Netherlands)
Voice of the Faithful
We are All Church, South Africa (WAACSA)
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
Women and the Australian Church WATAC (ACCCR)
Women’s Ordination Conference
Women’s Ordination Worldwide

How it will be delivered

On March 4, 2015, we will deliver the signatures by email and mail to all the English speaking bishops and to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. We will also hand deliver the petition to Cardinal Baldisseri at the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

Archbishop: School that fired gay teacher showed ‘character’

Archbishop: School that fired gay teacher showed ‘character’

By MARYCLAIRE DALE July 13, 2015 4:07 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Roman Catholic school officials who fired a married gay teacher are not seeking controversy but showed “character and common sense” by following church teachings, Philadelphia’s archbishop said Monday.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, in a statement, thanked Waldron Mercy Academy leaders “for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented … in accord with the teaching of the church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

The church opposes gay marriage. Of homosexuals, Pope Francis has said: “Who am I to judge?”

Teacher Margie Winters recently told a newspaper that she lost her job last month as religious instruction director even though she had told the school about her same-sex marriage when she was hired in 2007. She was told she could be open about her marriage with faculty but not with parents at the school, Winters told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“So that’s what I’ve done,” Winters said. “I’ve never been open. And that’s been hard.”

Nonetheless, she said, a few parents found out and complained to the school or the archdiocese. She was fired after she refused a request to resign, Winters said.

“In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current church teachings,” Principal Nell Stetser said in a letter to parents obtained by the Inquirer, “but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings.”

Many parents are upset by the dismissal, and Philadelphia’s Democratic nominee for mayor, Jim Kenney, a Catholic-school graduate, has criticized the firing.

Spokesman Ken Gavin said last week that the archdiocese “did not influence” Waldron’s decision at the nondiocesan elementary school.

However, Chaput on Monday weighed in with his statement.

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief,” he wrote. “There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple a matter of honesty.”

As archbishop of Denver in 2010, Chaput supported a diocesan Catholic school in Boulder that refused to let two young children of lesbians re-enroll. Chaput, in his weekly column, called it “a painful situation and said the church “never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education.”

However, he said parents choose Catholic schools for their children so they can see their religious beliefs “fully taught and practiced.”

“That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents,” said Chaput, who described people with different viewpoints on marriage as “often people of sincerity and good will.”

Chaput said children of single and divorced parents are welcome in diocesan schools as long as their parents support the Catholic mission.

Chaput is scheduled to host the pope’s two-day visit to Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families.