Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hello, April

The weather for these past two months have demoralized many in the Northeast USA, but the month is finally over. Hopefully, the snow is gone too. As I finished my late afternoon appointment, I was planning to rush back home to dinner, but since the sun was shining and the weather fairly warm, I extended my route in Downtown Crossing to pass through Quincy Marketplace down to South Station. I easily made my daily 10,000 steps and I was treated with signs of spring.

First, my stomach started groaning when I smelled the sausages being roasted by the sidewalk vendors. Then, the roasted almonds and pretzels were next in the olfactory line. However, I'm a vegetarian (mostly) and I was on my way to dinner.

After crunching the snow and ice the linger over the sidewalks, I noticed that Quincy Market would serve us well by taking down the snowflakes and Christmas decorations. Keep up the lights. I love the bright lights - and even the white lights. Many tired wreaths are still hung in places that could not be reached because of the massive snow piles.

But then, I saw amply growth on the Forsythia that line the Greenway in Downtown Boston. What great pleasure to see spring growth.

Sometimes I forget that I am so close to Boston. I wonder why I don't spend much more time in the City and then I realize I have the ocean. Even if I did not have that, I have my painting and all is good.

Welcome, April. Don't be cruel to us. We need a weather friend.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Sacrament for Priests

Today, the central region of the Archdiocese of Boston held a liturgical service for the sacrament of reconciliation for its priests, prior to the Holy Week services. The day coincided with the Feast of the Annunciation. I was moved to participate in the service designed to fortify its priests before Easter.

It was comforting to see many religious order priests working within the central region. A good number of them were foreign priests serving minority populations. It is remarkable how easy it is to spot a religious order priest among the diocesan priests.

In total, maybe 60 priests attended. Next Tuesday, at the Chrism mass where the oils are distributed for the initiation sacraments, the priests will renew their promises to their bishop, in this case, Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Diocesan priests made solemn promises to their bishops each year, while religious order priests profess vows to their ordinary, their provincial, the head of a province.

Today's service reminded me that (1.) I have a larger community of priests where I can find companionship and support, (2.) I want to be part of a faith-sharing group during the coming year, and (3.) confessing regularly to a particular confessor aids the spiritual life just as much as spiritual direction. It was very good to see so many men strive for greater holiness.

All in all, it was a very good day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Recently, in pastoral conversations, a number of people have brought up their difficulty in dealing with others who are displaying passive-aggressive behavior. They struggle with the proper approaches to take. I noted to them that I would post some descriptors for them on my web page so they could read the materials at their own leisure. Understanding the dimensions of characteristic behaviors help a person not get hooked when someone expresses negative attention behaviors. 

Passive-Aggressive Behavior - Expressing negative feelings in an unassertive, passive way.

When resentment and contempt lurk beneath the surface of a dysfunctional relationship, Passive-Aggressive behavior is like a residue which rises to the top. It is a form of behavior where anger is not expressed openly, rather, it emerges in sometimes subtle ways which avoid direct confrontation.

It is common for someone who feels they are in a position of relative disempowerment to express their anger at the more powerful person through Passive-Aggressive behavior. They may feel inferior, or afraid of the person they are angry with, who may also be an authority figure such as a parent, older sibling, employer or teacher. Or, the person may be a peer such as a spouse, partner, sibling or friend who dominates or assumes the lead position in the relationship.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a common feature of relationships between people with Personality Disorders and those who act positively. People with Personality Disorders often feel a great deal of pain over their own situation. Because of the way their emotions can overwhelm their rational thinking, they are prone to destructive behaviors, emotional outbursts, making poor choices and having feelings of self-loathing, powerlessness and discontent.

Faced with this, it is common for them to look for a person who is willing to share the burden, help clean up the mess and help them feel better about themselves. Family members, spouses, partners and friends are prime candidates for this role - a role which they sometimes accept willingly; hoping to make a positive difference in their loved one’s life.

However, healthy people may hold over-optimistic expectations about the degree to which they can ‘help them change’. For the person with the Personality Disorder, the other's inevitable failure to solve all the problems and fill all the voids can create feelings of disappointment, disillusionment and even resentment . Filled with anger towards those who have disappointed them, yet consumed by fear that they will be abandoned by them , the Personality Disordered person may develop a pattern of Passive-Aggressive behavior towards the Non.

On their part, people are often confused about the erratic state of mind of the Personality Disordered individuals in their lives. They may respond to poor treatment with feelings of anger and hurt while at the same time they may become afraid of future outbursts. They may be fatigued from taking the “high ground” over contentious issues while also managing their feelings of anger towards a Personality Disordered person who appears to be taking the “low road” or taking advantage of them. They may themselves develop a pattern of Passive-Aggressive behavior as a way of registering their disapproval while not provoking further conflict.

What it Looks Like

Withdrawal - of material support, contribution to shared goals, Re-prioritizing alternate activities and goals, “go-slow’s”, procrastination or targeted incompetence.

Silent Treatment - inappropriate “one-word” answers, inattention, making yourself generally “unavailable”.

Off-line Criticism - propagating gossip or criticism to a third party in an attempt to negatively influence the third party’s opinion of a person.

Sarcasm, Critical and “Off-Color” Jokes - Humor which targets a specific individual is a form of Passive-Aggressive communication.

Indirect Violence - shows-of-strength such as destruction of property, slamming doors, cruelty to animals in the sight of another is passive-aggressive.

The Bottom Line

Passive-Aggressive behaviors and communication styles are rarely effective in getting people what they want, and are more likely to add fuel to the fires already burning. An assertive approach to managing conflict is far more likely to get both parties in a relationship what they want. Where there are episodes of abuse involved, assertiveness can also involve setting firm, healthy and appropriate boundaries which protect the Non from further abuse.

What NOT To Do:
Don't respond with a passive-aggressive approach of your own.
Don't feel responsible for another person's passive aggressive words or actions.

What TO Do:
Speak the truth, clearly, accurately and simply, then leave the conversation if that is not enough.
Do something healthy and productive for yourself.


Barriers To Overcome

Confusing communication. Passive-aggressive people might say one thing (like “Sure, sounds great!”) and mean quite another, which can be disorienting and disconcerting. You may simply have no idea how to respond.

Mixed messages. You may be tempted to consider a passive-aggressive individual’s apparent agreement as a commitment: She said she’d handle the project, didn’t she? And yet, on some level, you may sense there’s a very real possibility that she will not do what she “agreed” to do — or that she’ll do it but resent it, perhaps making you wish you’d never asked.

Fighting fire with fire. Since the passive-aggressive person is angry to begin with, he or she is likely to meet anger with even greater defiance. “You won’t get very far if you roll your eyes or get sarcastic in return,” says Oberlin. You’ll just escalate the situation.
Bad boundaries. “Passive-aggressive people tend to seek out people-pleasers,” says Oberlin, “because they know that they can push their buttons.” If you’re conflict-averse or have trouble setting boundaries, passive-aggressive people may tend to target you, making you the focal point of their hostilities. They may create dramas that directly affect you at work


Strategies For Success

Don’t take it personally. “A passive-aggressive person’s anger stems from his or her own background and life situation, and isn’t your responsibility,” says Oberlin. “You are probably just the most convenient person for him or her to interact with negatively.”

Moderate your response.
Oberlin recommends developing a “Teflon coating” for yourself when dealing with passive-aggressive people — stay calm, keep your voice neutral, hold your emotions in check. “The less reactive you are, the less fuel they have for their passive-aggression,” she says.
Empathize. Though it may be difficult, cultivating empathy for a passive-aggressive person can help disarm him or her. Oberlin suggests reflecting the person’s suppressed feelings by saying things like, “It seems as if you were frustrated by what happened in the meeting today. That must be difficult.”
Be direct. If you’re dealing with a person who resists assignments and requests, says Oberlin, “you need to be assertive and very clear about what you expect, and what the consequences will be if your expectations aren’t met.” Keep everything factual, not emotional, she suggests. Clarity and level-headedness are your two best defenses against passive-aggressive behavior.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Two New Saints: Blessed Marie-Alphonsine (1847-1927) and Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified (1846-1878)

This biblical salutation opens our Pastoral Letter, prepared in the See of the Apostle, James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, which brings us a double joy. This year is dedicated to Consecrated Life, which coincides with the canonization of the two daughters of the Holy Land: Blessed Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas from Jerusalem, foundress of the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, and Blessed Mariam Baouardy from the village of Ibillin, foundress of the Discalced Carmelites of Bethlehem, who, took the religious name Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified.

The news of the canonization of these two holy women is a blessing from heaven on our land, devastated by violence yet persevering in our longing for peace and justice. This long-awaited announcement of the double canonization, restores in us our trust and hope in Christ. The Lord wants to comfort our country, torn apart by conflicts and wars, and our people who continue to suffer and endure through injustices. Nevertheless, divine grace has always given rise to saints, who reveal to us the face of Christ, “meek and humble of heart”, full of love, mercy and forgiveness. Despite their human weaknesses, these saints imitated Christ, and continue to do so, in this most Holy Land, where God Himself walked!

The tribulations which we endure encourage us to become saints, through the example of our two holy women. This is not something impossible to do. Mother Marie-Alphonsine was humble on earth and is now “great in the kingdom of heaven.” She attained spiritual motherhood for a multitude, in becoming the foundress of a religious congregation so dear to our hearts.

Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, was a living symbol of God’s love. From her childhood, she understood that everything here on earth was passing and mortal, and that only Christ prevails in eternity. She entered the cloistered Order of Discalced Carmelite nuns, whose presence in the Holy Land is deeply appreciated. It is a discrete presence of prayer, meditation, humble work and absolute consecration to the Lord.

The Divine Master said: “Let your light shine before men!”(Mt 5:16) This commandment, reminds us always that Jesus himself is the “true light that gives light to everyone,” (Jn 1:9) and gives to humanity, prudence and strength. Christ is the only Light, all others are but a shadow of the truth. It is Jesus who gives splendor and radiance to living beings and everything that is good and beautiful. As saint Justin of Nablus said, “They are but rays of the Sun, who is the Word Incarnate.” (cf. Dialogue with Trypho cp. 121)

 Our two new saints are lamps for our path. Their love and faith inspire their religious families, the faithful in the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world. In their lives, they resembled in their vigilance the “faithful servants who awaited the return of their master,” (Lk 12:36) as well as the wise virgins who waited patiently for the arrival of the Bridegroom. For this reason they have entered into “the banquet of the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). There is no risk of remaining in “in outer darkness,” neither for them nor for the people who follow them!

They were simple in greatness and great in their simplicity. Their simplicity did not extinguish their greatness. Their entry into holiness manifests the victory of virtue over vice, of light over darkness, of love over selfishness, and of faith over indifference and rejection of God. The integrity of their life glorifies God. It exults their gifts and good deeds, just as the holy Virgin Mary proclaimed in her eternal canticle, the Magnificat : “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; for the Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is his name.” (Lk 1: 47 ff).

Our two new Saints, through an exemplary life, their silence and recollection, their fidelity amidst suffering and their heroic selflessness in sacrifices, offer us a magnificent lesson which can be summarized in the words of the Lord Jesus : “the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13). And, like Saint Augustine, we can exclaim: “Can you not do what these young men and maidens can?” (Confessions 8: 27). As Christ asks of us, our two Saints entered the narrow gate. Unfortunately, “few will manage to succeed” (Lk 13: 24). But for them, the door which was initially “narrow” became wide open to get to Christ !

Friday, March 20, 2015

Where Pope Francis stands when it comes to women

Thomas Reese  |  Mar. 20, 2015Faith and Justice

When it comes to women, Pope Francis has five strikes against him, but he also has some good points.
First strike: He is male. Any man who thinks he has something to say about women to women needs his head examined. The smartest thing men can do when it comes to women's topics is shut up and listen.
Second, he is celibate. Not having sex is not what makes celibates ignorant of women; it is not having a wife to set you straight when you say something dumb.
Not having daughters is also a problem. "Get real, Dad!" is not something celibate males hear, but they should. Nor is there anything like cheering on your daughter's soccer team to turn an otherwise Neanderthal male into a feminist.
Presidents of Jesuit high schools and colleges got scores of complaints from alumni when their institutions first went co-ed. A few years later, these same alumni were trying to get their daughters into Jesuit schools. Having a daughter makes a man more sympathetic to the rights of women.
Pardon the stereotyping, but the third strike against Francis is that he is Latin American. Latin American culture is patriarchal and paternalistic. Times are changing, but being "macho" is part of the Latin American male's DNA.
The fourth strike against Francis is that he has no experience of first-world feminism. In the U.S., we have had decades to learn and absorb feminist views. It has been impossible to get a college education or watch television without being confronted with feminist perspectives. You may love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it.
Pope Francis does not know the language of first-world feminism, so he often gets in trouble even when he is trying to say something nice about women. He falls back on the language of John Paul II and uses phrases like "complementarity" or "feminine genius." Then, when he lists the special virtues of women (tender, patient, sensitive), the response is: "Shouldn't men have these virtues? What about intelligence, courage, creativity?"

The fifth strike against him is his opposition to women's ordination. Many women (and men) see this as the stained-glass ceiling in the church. As long as authority is linked to priesthood, women will have only an advisory role in the church and no real power. Why only men can preside at the Eucharist and other sacraments is not understandable to women who have seen almost all roles opened to them in society and culture.

Five strikes would normally more than put you out of the game, but Francis is no ordinary player. Most women still love Francis and can forgive him these failings because they love so many other things about him: his simplicity, his concern for the poor, his authenticity, his stress on compassion, etc.
But even on women's issues, he is not a complete ignoramus. After all, he lived in the country of Eva Peron, who was one of the most powerful Argentines of the 20th century. As a young man, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a Peronista. And his country had a woman president long before the United States. True, he has had a rocky relationship with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, but he had the same problems with her husband when he was president.
So the first point is: He is used to seeing women in powerful political roles.
Second, although he may not have experience with first-world feminism, he did learn about women's issues by listening to the concerns of women in the slums of Buenos Aires.
As archbishop, Bergoglio sat in the homes of scores of poor women, drinking mate and listening to their stories. They told him of the crushing burden of poverty and the need for jobs for both themselves and their husbands. This made him a strong critic of capitalism and globalization and a strong advocate of the government's role in creating jobs. These women were not complaining about not becoming a CEO; they were afraid they could not put food on the table.
He also heard mothers worry about their daughters being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The authorities would not care about a teenage girl who did not return to her home in the slums. Slum kids are not a priority. Even in the United States, have you noticed that most of the missing children who make the news are blonde and blue-eyed?
But Bergoglio cared, and he became a leader in the anti-trafficking movement in Argentina. For third-world girls and women, this is a huge issue.
In fighting human trafficking, Bergoglio teamed up with a female lawyer in Argentina. I met her in Washington and asked her, "What was it like working with Bergoglio?"
"It was wonderful," she responded. "He did whatever I told him."
And this is the third point: Bergoglio is not afraid of smart women. He is not afraid of women with power. He has no problem working for a woman. In fact, in the first job he had as a young chemist, he had a female boss who mentored him. He was always grateful to her for her guidance, and they became close friends for life. She was a Communist, and he tried to protect her and her family from the military government.
Perhaps the most hopeful thing Pope Francis has said about women is that the church needs a new theology of women in the church. Some feminists do not even like this language. What is needed, they would say, is a new theology of person -- women should not be singled out. But let me put that objection aside for the moment.
The important point here is that the pope has admitted that we don't have an adequate theology on women. This is an extraordinary statement from the official who used to be presented as the man who had an answer for everything. Certainly, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI could never have said this. John Paul surely thought his theology of the human person included a wonderful theology of women.
By saying that we need a better theology of women, Pope Francis threw John Paul's theology of women under the bus.
By saying that the church does not have an adequate theology of women, the pope is inviting all the church (women and men, theologians and bishops), into a conversation about women.
In the long run, having this conversation in the church is probably more important than the pope simply mouthing some statements that feminists like. An ecclesial conversation on women's issues would be good for the church, of which women make up at least half of the membership.
Feminists are not going to be happy with everything the pope will say, but no thinking person should ever expect to agree with everything another person says. What we can hope for is mutual respect and dialogue. I think the pope is ready for that.
Wait a minute. Didn't I say that celibate males should shut up and listen? Whoops. Please ignore everything I just said. 
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Consolations and Challenges

These past few days have been filled with consolations and blessings. I co-directed a retreat for the Magis North group at Cornwall-on-Hudson at Isaac Jogues Retreat House in New York. The group was finishing their multi-year program with one final retreat and commissioning. I was certainly blessed to be among a group of people totally committed to bring Ignatian spirituality to others.

The graces grew as the retreat progressed. By the end of the second night, participants bonded extremely well and continued their exploration of being enriched by one another. It is unfortunate that these rich times together have to be curtailed by other pressing schedules. On the final morning, the group was very attuned to one another. They had certainly become Friends in the Lord.

I took a risk on this retreat. As I talked about prayer, the uses of many senses and various ways to express oneself, I showed my recent paintings as a way prayer is communicated through artwork. Fortunately, I was well received and it opened up discussions on many levels.

Isaac Jogues retreat house is near West Point Military academy. It is nestled into the tall hills that overlook the Hudson River. I was happy to spend some time with the Jesuit Community, which is part of the new province. The grounds were populated by deer and wild turkeys. During the evening, coyotes howled outside. Aside from their occasional calls, I had the best nights of uninterrupted sleep.

From their, I joined my community at Campion Center for our annual day of prayer and afterwards we dined together at a terrific Italian restaurant in Boston. It was a very nice day.

After saying the 8:30 mass, I hung around to hear the confessions of young candidates who are soon to be confirmed in the faith. It gave me enough time to make it to my next parish call to say mass in Spanish. I feel so bad at times because I rehearse the homily and then I don't deliver it as easily as I rehearse it. Anyways, I'm becoming more and more comfortable.

I was surprised to have four baptisms after mass. I had no preparation at all and I could not even practice pronouncing new words. The worst part of it is that I could not lift my eyes from the pages to gaze at the parents or children because my eyes were wedded to the text. I had to be very attentive to the choices in the text so I did not unnecessarily slow down the baptismal rite.

Anyways, it was a blessing to receive four new members into the faith. I can tell I'll be exhausted during Holy Week.

Is dialogue with Islam possible?

  Thomas Reese  |  Mar. 13, 2015Faith and Justice


Granted the Islamic State group and the multiple conflicts occurring in the Middle East, is dialogue with Islam possible? This was the question asked by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, nuncio emeritus to Egypt and former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

As a member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa and an Arabic and Islamic scholar, Fitzgerald is especially qualified to discuss this topic, as he did in a March 6 lecture at The Catholic University of America sponsored by the Institute of Policy Research and Catholic Studies and the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

Despite having spent most of his life in dialogue with Islam, Fitzgerald is not blind to the difficulties of dialogue. He began by examining three elements that make dialogue difficult with certain categories of Muslims.
First, "there is a great difference in the experience of Jesus and Muhammad, and thus in the foundational experience of these two religions," he said. Both were prophets with a message of conversion to the world. Both gathered around them disciples.
"Yet Jesus preached the kingdom of God, a kingdom which was not of this world," Fitzgerald explained. "His was an essentially religious message which, although it was designed to have an effect on people's behavior in this world, could be lived out within any political setting."
"[Muhammad's] message too was essentially religious, the acknowledgement of the one God as against the prevalent polytheism, but it had a social dimension to it, which was to bring about the formation of a new community bound not by blood ties or tribal loyalty, but by religion: the Umma." The Umma was both a religious and a political community, and it took up arms to survive. Muhammad was both a prophet and a statesman.
Pre-Constantine Christianity, on the other hand, was a purely religious movement that did not take up arms to survive.
"So although Christianity was, as it were, taken over and used by political entities, in the first place by the Byzantines and then afterward by various monarchs and rulers, in essence, it remains independent of any political power," Fitzgerald said. "Whereas Islam, from its very beginning as a separate community, has been both religious and political, and one would be tempted to say that striving to defend the community, if necessary by force of arms, is a natural component of the religion."
There is a tendency among Muslims to look back to its first period, that of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, as the time of glory and true Islam. This has inspired numerous revivalist movements throughout history. Jihads against Muslims who did not practice a pure version of Islam became common. Most of these movements were local and short-lived, but the Wahhabi movement, which started in the 18th century, is still with us and finds sponsorship in Saudi Arabia.
The attraction of the caliphate is the second issue examined by Fitzgerald. He notes that Islam split into Sunni and Shiite factions after the death of Muhammad because of disagreements over succession. 
The Shiite believe that Muhammad appointed Ali, his cousin, as his successor. For the Shiite, each imam designates his successor, who must belong to the family of the prophet. The Shiite believe that there were 12 imams following Muhammad and that the 12th imam went into occultation and will return at the end of time to bring about a reign of justice.

Sunnis believe Muhammad made no provision for succession and therefore succession would be determined through election by prominent members of the community.
Yet despite these divisions, the caliphate during its period of Islamic expansion and prosperity acted as a focal point of unity for Muslims. This lasted until the mid-10th century, when the caliphate began to lose its importance until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk finally abolished it in 1924.
Although an attractive ideal, the caliphate has not always been a dominant factor in the life of Islam and certainly for centuries has not functioned as a unifying political power. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's pronouncement that he is the caliph has been condemned by Muslim authorities. A leading scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, has said that the title of caliph can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation."
The last point Fitzgerald examines is Shariah by which the Umma is to be regulated. He notes that there are four sources for Shariah: the Quran; the Sunnah, or tradition of the prophet; qiyas, or analogy; and ijma, or consensus among scholars. The multiple sources and textual ambiguity lead to debate and disagreements over Shariah so that there are at least four different schools of interpretation.

So when it is proclaimed that Shariah law is going to be applied, the question will arise as to which Shariah. Who is going to decide which type of Shariah law is to be applied, and who is to control its application, seeing that all the conditions are fulfilled before a judgment is given?
Fitzgerald concluded: "The takfiri jihadists who have proclaimed an Islamic State where Shariah law will be observed under the guidance of a self-designated caliph are not upholding Islamic tradition, whatever they may say." He said he believes that dialogue is impossible with such people "who are convinced they hold the truth and therefore have no need of listening to others."
But dialogue with other Muslims is possible, he argued. He pointed to four types of dialogue that are possible and encouraged by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: the dialogue of life, the dialogue of action, the dialogue of discourse, and the dialogue of spiritual experience.

The dialogue of life, or what Fitzgerald calls harmonious living, takes place "where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations," in the words of the pontifical council.
Christians and Muslims have been living side by side for centuries in Africa and Asia, and now Muslims are present in increasing number in Europe and North America.
"Steps have to be taken in order to allow people to get to know one another and to create harmony," Fitzgerald said. Increased violence has made this more difficult, but also more necessary.
Second, there is the dialogue of action where Christians and Muslims work together to face up to problems of society. Christians and Muslims have found common cause in the pro-life movement as well as in advocating human rights, social reforms, and care of the environment. Working together creates understanding and trust.
The third is the dialogue of discourse where, according to the pontifical council, "specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other's spiritual values." Themes such as justice in international trade relations, business ethics, problems of migration, media and religion, respect for the environment, and questions of bioethics have all been taken up in these dialogues. Some dialogues have also discussed purely theological topics like the foundations for holiness and reason, faith and the human person.
Finally, there is the dialogue of religious experience, where, according to the pontifical council, "persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God." Religious communities like the Benedictines and Trappists have been involved in such dialogues.
Fitzgerald concluded "that Christian-Muslim dialogue exists, and therefore it is possible." But the situation is uneven. "There are places where there is very little or no interest at all in such dialogue, yet there are other places where relations with Muslim neighbors have become a normal concern for Christian communities."
But at the same time that cooperation is growing, so too is mutual suspicion, which renders dialogue more difficult.
Fitzgerald puts little faith in international meetings of religious leaders and scholars. It is dialogue and cooperation on the local level that makes a difference. He said local dialogue should not be seen as a fire brigade for responding to a crisis, but as a preventive strategy that builds relationships that inoculate communities from being drawn into violence by suspicions and misunderstandings.
"It entails increasing mutual knowledge, overcoming prejudices, creating trust," he explained. "It means strengthening bonds of friendship and collaboration to such an extent that detrimental influences coming from outside can be resisted."
"Its aim is to build up good relations among people of different religions, helping them to live in peace and harmony," Fitzgerald said. He noted that where Muslim and Christian leaders and communities have a history of cooperation, conflict is less likely to escalate into violence.
"It is the conflict that makes the news, not the absence of conflict," he noted. "And yet this absence of conflict is really the good news."
Where conflict has occurred, there will be a need for a purification of memories, which "means listening to the differing accounts of the same events, paying attention to both facts and perceptions, and trying to come to a common understanding," he explained. "When the past is examined with honesty, it will usually be seen that all is not black and white. There can be wrongs on both sides. In any case, the acknowledgement of wrongs done, of injustices, of atrocities is an important step in any process of reconciliation."
"Interreligious dialogue should lead to a common search for understanding, to a shared sympathy for those who are suffering and in need, to a thirst for justice for all, to forgiveness for wrong done, together with a readiness to acknowledge one's own wrong-doings, whether individual or collective," Fitzgerald concluded. "This would seem to be the true way forward for Christian-Muslim dialogue."
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Making Progress

Each week, I read my Spanish homily aloud three times before I deliver it. I practice the pronunciation, even though I have no idea if I'm pronouncing it correctly. Mass today felt much better. I felt much more comfortable with the text and it feels like it is flowing much easier. I felt like I had some command of the language.

The priestly qualities came out as well as I heard confessions, blessed devotionals, and blessed children. I simply had to act rather than to think about what to say or how to say it, and of course, we sang a new song that I introduced. Listening is becoming easier too, and it is intriguing that I can never guess what the other person is going to say.

We are moving towards Holy Week and I'll be doing lots of different activities that are out of my comfort zone, so I'm thankful that I'm praying the language instead of poorly executing it. At times, I executed it so badly, but the people are forgiving.

As I was leaving today, a woman came up to me to say, "The people are happy." Thanks be to God.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Edward M. Kennedy Institute and Worcester Art Museum

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute open to the public on March 30th. Inside the structure is a replica of the U.S. Senate and the tablet technology allows each participant a chance to vote as a Senator-in-Training.

When you enter the building, you set up a profile as a Junior Senator, which allows you to participate in various votes and committee meetings. After your photo is taken, you enroll in a party and choose a state to represent. You then follow the prescribed issues of the day that range from immigration, education, defense, civil rights, and so on.

A participant learns how the Senate works after getting a tutorial on how the U.S. government was miraculously formed by the Founders of the Republic. You then learn the process of a bill and you work together to pass particular legislation. You can see the difficulty of passing even a favorable bill between the House and the Senate. For instance, our group successfully negotiated the topping of an ice cream sundae but could not get the house to agree on the toppings. The result: We will not have a National Sundae Day.

Most moving for me was the replica of Senator Kennedy's office. I admired his library but I was taken with the artwork displayed in his office as it was from his family. I learned he, too, was a painter. I liked the New England scenes he created.

The technology in the exhibit halls is great. Technology displays images onto blank walls that can be changed quickly. No permanent artifacts have to be worked around as the technology controls the visual stimuli. It is a creative way to establish a museum.

I also visited the Worcester Art Museum before stopping by the Kennedy Institute. The atmosphere of the museum was very calming. The integration of the Higgins Armory collection into the permanent collection is a stroke of genius, despite the unfortunate closure of the armory.

There is artistic depth in the Worcester Art Museum. In some ways, I wish I lived closer because I would be able to take the inexpensive art courses they offer. I will take a Saturday day soon and make the trip back to the museum simply so I can take it in on a more leisurely pace. It is certainly a trip worth making.


The Francis revolution

By Thomas Reese  |  Mar. 6, 2015

In only two years, Pope Francis has changed the face of Catholicism by radically reimagining how it presents itself to the world. From the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter's, he has presented a different style of being pope and a new set of priorities for the church.
The change in style was what first caught people's attention. He rejected the usual papal finery of silks and firs and presented himself to the people of Rome in a simple white cassock. A simple greeting of "Good evening" were his first words, and before he blessed the crowd in St. Peter's Square, he bowed his head and asked them to pray over him.
This was quickly followed by his decisions not to live in the papal apartments but in Casa Santa Marta; to celebrate his first Mass as pope in St. Ann's, the small parish church of Vatican City; and to celebrate Holy Thursday in a prison for young male and female offenders whose feet he washed.
These early gestures of the pope garnered him worldwide attention, but more importantly, they were symbolic gestures that communicated his vision for the church. He realizes that the Gospel is preached not just in words, but in actions. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary."
The pope's early actions were a direct assault on clericalism in the church by modeling what it means to be a good bishop, a good priest, a good Christian.
The pope's frontal attack on clericalism is an attempt to change the culture of the church. It is a call to conversion in attitudes and practices.
He has been clear that he wants bishops and priests who are close to their people, so close that they are shepherds who smell like their sheep. They should be "gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life," he said. They should "not have the psychology of 'Princes.' "

Leadership in the church is about service, not power and prestige.
Many observers do not recognize how revolutionary is the change in style and culture that Pope Francis is calling for. It is more important than moving around boxes on the organizational chart. The difficulty is that it requires buy-in by bishops and clergy throughout the world. There will be no "Francis effect" unless hearts and attitudes are changed. Too many seminarians and young priests see themselves as correctors of lay laxity and heterodoxy rather than as companions in a pilgrimage to the Lord.
The pope has also called for open discussion in the church. He is not afraid of arguments and disagreements. "Open and fraternal debate makes theological and pastoral thought grow. That doesn't frighten me. What's more, I look for it," he said.

He remembers attending synods where the bishops were told that certain topics were off the table. Rather, he told the fall synod on the family, "Speak clearly. Let no one say, 'This can't be said, they will think this or that about me.' Everything we feel must be said with parrhesia [boldness]." He purposefully used the Greek word that described the boldness with which St. Paul spoke to St. Peter at the council of Jerusalem in arguing against making the Gentiles follow Jewish practices.

Pope Francis has made his priorities for the church clear. We are not to obsess over abortion, gay marriage and birth control since everyone knows the church's position on these issues.
Rather, he wants a "poor church for the poor." He supports a church that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and cares for the sick. He also wants a church working for justice, peace and the protection of the environment. He sees no contradiction between works of charity and the work for justice. But he also wants the poor welcomed in our communities. We must not only feed them and fight for them, but also listen to them and love them as individuals.
The church of Pope Francis is not a reward for the perfect, but a field hospital for the wounded. The first words of evangelization are not a list of do's and don'ts but the announcement of God's compassion, mercy and love for us. He realizes that mystery first enters through the heart, not the head. People are not convinced through arguments but through the example Christians living lives of compassion and love.
He also understands that the church's message must be simple and not over-intellectualized. This is not a pope who worries about whether Jesus is one in being with the Father or consubstantial with the Father.
Most importantly, when people walk away from the church, he does not attack or condemn them, but rather asks what the church did wrong. As he asked the bishops in Brazil, was it because "the church appeared too weak," "distant from their needs," "cold," caught up with itself," "a prisoner of its own rigid formulas," "a relic of the past, unfit for new questions"?

"We need a church," he concluded, "unafraid of going forth into their night ... capable of meeting them on their way ... capable of entering into their conversation ... able to dialogue with those" who have left the church.
The pope has called for a new style of being church, a style that is pastoral and open. He has set out a new set of priorities that are rooted in the Gospel.
But the church is not the pope. Unless bishops, priests and laity follow his example and embrace his priorities, there will not be permanent change in the church. The temptations to clericalism and self-centeredness are too strong. We have to stop admiring the pope and start imitating him. 
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Friday, March 6, 2015

Springtime signs

Ah, we have finally pierced the heart of winter and have come through the other end. Tomorrow, we change the clocks forward, which gives us so much more daylight to brighten our spirits. It always fits in so well with Lent.

Yesterday, I was in New York City to discover sleety and icy conditions with every step. It slowed down so much of the city's pedestrian activities and the rails were slowed as well, but everyone can sense it is winter's last gasp. We know there may be a cough for a sputter before March and April bow out, but winter is whimpering away.

At my room in Worcester this morning, my prayer was pleasantly interrupted by a sheet of snow that rolled off the roof and landed with thud before my view from the window. Robins have returned and many different birds are singing brightly. Blue Jays and Cardinals color the tree branches. Color is returning to this monochrome existence.

But as I prayed, I noticed so much red in the trees. As one examines closely, the buds are building up and soon will gather nutrition from the sunlight. It is simply terrific. Even though much snow remains, it is comforting to know it will be gone within three weeks.

The tunnel months are almost over. People will get out of their houses soon and everyone will feel freer. Office and household tensions will decrease because we will feel alive again.

O.K. Off to Cape Cod to hear confessions at the KAIROS retreat.