March/April 2015

Evangelical Counsels: Poverty

Michael A. Hayes

Pope Francis established a special Year of Consecrated Life to run from Advent 2014 to the Feast of the Presentation on 2 February 2016. In his letter1 establishing this special year he outlined three aims: to look at the past with gratitude, a call to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.

In this context a relevant chapter in the Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is chapter five: ?The Call to Holiness?. Here we have the universal call to all the faithful to be holy, taking the impetus from St Paul?s declaration: ?for this is the will of God, your sanctification? (1Th. 4.3). ?This holiness of the Church is constantly shown forth in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful and so it must be; it is expressed in many ways by individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others; it appears in a certain way of its own in the practice of the counsels which have been usually called ?evangelical?? (LG. 39). These evangelical counsels are traditionally, in the Christian tradition, identified as poverty, chastity, and obedience. In reflecting on poverty, the counsel is to be understood not in terms of simply of not having possessions, but rather as a deliberate and radical renunciation of them to challenge how possessions stand in the way of equitable sharing.

In vowed religious communities, poverty is the renunciation of ownership of material goods for personal use, and the holding of all goods in common. While that in itself is a laudable witness, it must be understood in the context of a modelling on the life of Christ. Evangelical poverty is a deliberate choice to enter into solidarity with the poor precisely in order to follow Jesus? example of self-emptying: ?For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich? (2 Cor.8.9) and again ?but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men? (2 Phil. 2.7). Understood in this way poverty is not perceived as something negative but rather as a positive disposition. It is a positive because it aims at following Jesus more closely, of adopting his options and identifying with him in his identification with the poor, as in the striking parable of the sheep and goats: ?Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me? (Mt. 25.40). That statement of Jesus is unqualified, and as such demands to be taken seriously ? the choice of living that out through the evangelical counsels is a strong witness to the power of that call.

The decision for poverty on the part of some is a choice of solidarity with the poor, and a challenge to the wider Church for what is called ?the preferential option for the poor?. The deliberate witness of the religious expresses therefore a call which is not just for the few but a requirement of all who follow Christ.

Since the beginning of his ministry Pope Francis has repeatedly given voice to those who suffer the plight of poverty:

?Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ, is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.?2 ?Poverty?, he states elsewhere, ?calls us to sow hope?. Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures.?3 Furthermore poverty he states is unacceptable in today?s world: ?the times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.?4
The call of Pope Francis to attend to the poor is the call of the gospel; in today?s world of mass communication it is clearer than ever because the reality of poverty alongside great wealth is so apparent. It is also a call which is not just spoken but which is made incarnate by the choice of women and men to identify with Jesus? message and their brothers and sisters through the choice of living out the choice of poverty in an affluent world.???

1 ??? Pope Francis, Letter for the Year of Consecrated Life, 21st November 2014
2 ??? Pope Francis, Address to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 6/14/13
3 ??? Pope Francis, Meeting with Students of Jesuit Schools ? Q&A, 6/7/13
4 ??? Pope Francis, Meeting with Students of Jesuit Schools ? Q&A, 6/7/13

John?s Gospel: A constant source of renewal and growth

Gerald O?Collins SJ

In response to Pope Francis? call for better preaching, we continue a series taking examples from all four gospels. Gerald O?Collins SJ is adjunct professor of Australia Catholic University.

Pope Francis expects homilies to be ?an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with the word of God, a constant source of renewal and growth? (The Joy of the Gospel (135)). Let us select passages from John?s Gospel and see how it can trigger such an experience, produce such an encounter, and prove such a source for spiritual renewal and growth.

God so loved the world
In a striking statement John says: ?God so loved the world that he gave his only Son? (John 3.16). Years ago someone sent me a card which commented on that verse: ?God cared enough to send the best.?

We might also comment on that verse by saying: ?As far as God is concerned, nothing but the very best is good enough for us.?

Yes, God truly cared enough to send the best. As far as God is concerned, nothing but the very best is good enough for us.

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The Catholic Church and freedom of conscience. The story of Dignitatis Humanae

Paul Keane

This article tells the story of the Vatican II document Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, and explores its repercussions. Paul Keane is Vice Rector of St Mary?s College, Oscott, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

Consider Switzerland. In 2009, the Swiss held a referendum which proposed that no new planning permission should be given for the building of minarets. The Swiss Catholic Bishops? Conference opposed the motion and supported the right of Muslims to build minarets as part of freely practising their faith. The bishops were guided by the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae ? the Second Vatican Council?s Declaration on Religious Liberty ? which was promulgated only on the very last day of the Council and after much vocal opposition. Its core teaching is that ?the human person has a right to religious freedom,? which it defines as immunity ?from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in associations with others? (art. 2)

Some Catholic voices, however, spoke up for the ban. Archbishop Marcel Lef?bvre, a Father of the Council, became so appalled by Dignitatis Humanae ? among other developments ? and what it suggested to him regarding the state of the orthodoxy of the Church that in 1988, without permission from the Holy See, he ordained four priests as bishops to continue the work of his group, the Society of St Pius X.

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Wrestling with Romans ? Part One

Adrian Graffy

This year marks five hundred years since Martin Luther wrote his Commentary on Romans. In two articles, Adrian Graffy explores the doctrinal teaching in the first twelve chapters of Romans. The author is Director of the Commission for Evangelisation and Formation in the Diocese of Brentwood, and was recently appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

I must begin with a confession. The title given to these articles is not my own. In 1979 the New Testament scholar John A.T. Robinson, who was most famous for his 1965 book Honest to God, published a short commentary on Romans under this title.

But why ?wrestling?? Anyone who approaches Romans does so tentatively. When we think of Romans, verbs like ?grappling?, ?struggling?, and so even ?wrestling? are appropriate. For most people, Romans is confusing and even intimidating.

Clever minds have wrestled with Romans. Spanning the centuries, some of those great wrestlers were St Augustine of Hippo, and numerous other Fathers of the Christian church; Martin Luther, for whom the interpretation of God?s ?justice? was critical; John Calvin, with his ideas of predestination; John Wesley, convinced of the immensity of God?s love; and the great twentieth-century theologian, Karl Barth.

John Robinson writes: ?I do not promise only blood, sweat and tears. On the contrary, the Epistle to the Romans offers what Winston Churchill also called the sunlit uplands, indeed the very heights of Christian experience and theology.?1 It is worth the trouble wrestling with Romans.

Difficulty with Paul?s writing is not a new phenomenon. In 2 Peter we read: ?There are some things in Paul?s letters which are hard to understand; these are the points that the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.? (2 Pt 3.16)

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St Thomas More, God?s servant first

John M. Samaha SM

St Thomas More, patron of statesmen and politicians, serves as a model of charity, courage, and fidelity for all seasons. Like many today, he was challenged in 16th century England to rise to the defence of his faith and the liberty of the Church. John M. Samaha SM?is a member of the Marianist community in Cupertino, California.

In the play and film, A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, Thomas More is deftly portrayed as a martyr of conscience. He is unyielding in his stance against King Henry VIII?s move to divorce Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Ours is a season in which Christians face the challenge of remaining true to the faith despite political pressure, the threat of sanctions, and the stigma of social ostracism. Secularism is rampant.

King Henry VIII weakens
The reign of King Henry VIII began with much hope for England. In fact More had called Henry ?the everlasting glory of our time?. But gradually the situation deteriorated, and after 17 years on the throne and 17 years of marriage to Katherine, Henry began an affair with Anne Boleyn. Nor was it his first affair. Determined to put Katherine aside and marry Anne, he asked the pope to declare his marriage invalid.

The 16th century was a tumultuous time for the Catholic Church in Europe. England had experienced occasional conflicts between the Church and the crown, but now the Reformation was in full swing. Martin Luther had already separated much of Germany from Rome.

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