Thursday, February 28, 2013

Of Popes and Jesuits: Australia's Province Express

Of Popes and Jesuits

Depending upon the times or one’s prejudices, Jesuits have been portrayed across a whole gamut of descriptors, from ‘the Pope’s storm troopers’ to ‘His Majesty’s loyal opposition’. And the General of the Jesuits has long been styled ‘The Black Pope’—an ambiguous epithet suggesting either the leader of the largest body of religious priests and brothers, or something more sinister. It is true that the Society’s relationship with the Papacy has been a long and sometimes very testing one.

The Popes in Ignatius’ time

Ignatius, of course, was the Pope’s man. It comes through unambiguously in his Exercises, theConstitutions, his autobiography and huge correspondence. In the formation of his men, he introduced a fourth vow at the final profession of a Jesuit. Often misunderstood, it is not a special vow of loyalty to the Pope or his teachings; all religious have that in their vow of obedience. No, it is a vow 'for mission' by the Pope, a ready availability to go wherever the Pope might send an individual or a group of Jesuits to meet a particular need.

The early years of the Society, a time of great missionary outreach to an expanding globe, saw the Pope making many requests of Fr General for such missions. In more recent times, the late Pope Paul VI asked the General for a special mission, not to a place but to a challenge. It was to respond to the rise of atheism in intellectual and practical ways. Many Jesuits immediately took up that call and began a new and quite different mission of the mind.

When Ignatius founded the Jesuits, his order had significantly different characteristics and many people, Roman cardinals especially, were skeptical (at least) or suspicious (at worst). One such was Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa. Ignatius disagreed with him on many occasions. Carafa had founded the order of Theatines and wanted Ignatius’ Society of Jesus to merge with them. Ignatius, of course, resisted.

Carafa was a harsh, intolerant autocrat, given to nepotism and hated anyone or anything Spanish. So imagine Ignatius’ perturbation when he learned that the Cardinal had been elected Pope Paul IV. A witness (and later Ignatius’ biographer, Luis da Câmara) reported that when Ignatius heard of Carafa’s election, ‘he shook in every bone in his body’. Sadly, relations did not improve with any ‘grace of office’—even to the point of the Pope suspecting Spanish treachery and having Ignatius’ quarters searched for arms and weapons. Of course, none were found. There was an uneasy truce.

Ignatius was well aware of the suspicions people had of his Society. He was scrupulous in gathering documents in its support, many judgements vindicating it after false accusations brought before Church authorities, and testimonials by others of note. Being the man of deep interiority that he was, Ignatius always knew that ultimately the hand of God was in whatever transpired. When once asked what he would do if the Pope were to suppress the Jesuits, he quietly and confidently replied that he would need fifteen minutes of prayer and he ‘should think no more about it’!

The suppression of the Jesuits

That hypothetical question became a reality some two centuries later when Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society in 1773. Clement was a weak Pope who bowed to the pressures of the inter-related royal houses of Europe, the Bourbons. Admittedly, the Jesuits were moving in powerful and influential circles in the courts and were making many and powerful enemies. Kings and princes were threatening to break away from the Church and also threatening the Papal States. Clement yielded, ‘in the name of peace of the Church and to avoid a secession in Europe’. Our General, Fr Lorenzo Ricci, was jailed in Castel Sant’ Angelo, poorly treated and humiliated, and even prevented from celebrating Mass. He died two years later.

But four decades on, in 1814, Pius VII (himself a captive of Napoleon and exiled in France) made his way back to Rome and restored the Jesuits, affirming that he ‘would be guilty of a capital crime if he neglected to employ the skilled rowers for the storm-tossed barque of Peter which the Society could provide’. Additionally, he endorsed the restoration of schools and colleges as a key ministry of the Society.

Fr Arrupe and the Vatican

In more recent times, Paul VI was a strong supporter of the Society and its works. In an address to Jesuits gathered in Rome for a General Congregation in 1974 he said:

Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between thedeepest desires of humankind and the perennial message of the Gospel, there also there have been, and there are, Jesuits.

… Your Society is, we say, the test of the vitality of the Church throughout the centuries; it is perhaps one of the most meaningful crucibles in which are encountered the difficulties, the temptations, the efforts, the perpetuity and the successes of the whole Church.

If they were encouraging words, they were also challenging ones. And if we were indeed ‘Papal storm troopers’ then the Pope was exhorting us into the fray.

Soon after Pedro Arrupe assumed the mantle of leading the Society in 1965, he picked up the decree of the Second Vatican Council for all religious orders to go back to their roots to rediscover and renew their original charism. Arrupe soon became known as ‘the second Ignatius’.

Some more conservative Jesuits thought this was too much, too soon. The Society’s mission of ‘the service of faith and the promotion of justice’ led to a renewed ministry of service to the poor and the marginalised. Some of our critics saw the manifestation of this in so-called ‘liberation theology’ as crypto-Marxism. The then Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, condemned liberation theology in the 1980s. At the same time, Pope John Paul II had concerns regarding the direction of the Society and his relationship with the General was fractured. This was a cause of great sorrow for Arrupe because he was a son of Ignatius through and through.

Getting on in years, he asked to be allowed to resign, but the Pope refused, perhaps not wanting another General Congregation which would ensue and have the Society push the boundaries even more. Sadly Arrupe suffered a stroke while in office. But instead of his own Vicar General taking over in his place, the Pope stepped in and, in a highly unusual intervention, appointed his own man, an eighty-year-old traditionalist philosopher, Fr Paolo Dezza, as administrator until the next Congregation. The move rocked the Society, but the Jesuits accepted the Pope’s intervention, as extraordinary as it was. Some Vatican watchers remarked that the Pope was expecting unrest, but was surprisingly moved by the Society’s loyalty. His relationship with the invalid Arrupe warmed and he became a regular visitor to the invalid Pedro.

Compliments and expectations

After the long reign of John Paul II came the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope. His history as Prefect of the Congregation which had investigated the teachings of a number of Jesuit theologians, and found them wanting in areas of orthodoxy, was in the minds of many Jesuits. These theologians had been called to Rome to explain themselves, or had their publications or their teachings censored. So it was that the Society was somewhat anxious about its relationship with the new Pope. At the Congregation to elect Kolvenbach’s successor, the new Pope addressed the assembled delegates. He began by saying how he had just completed his annual retreat, using the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. This was a good omen. Then he shared how hard he found that final prayer of Ignatius, the ‘Take, Lord, receive all my liberty.’ Did not others find it so? This was an even better omen! He went on to say,

As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.

Nowadays [...], the obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice. This is why the Church is in urgent need of people of solid and deep faith, of a serious culture and a genuine human and social sensitivity, of religious priests who devote their lives to standing on those frontiers in order to witness and help to understand that there is in fact a profound harmony between faith and reason, between evangelical spirit, thirst for justice and action for peace. […] At the same time I encourage you to continue and renew your mission among the poor and for the poor. [...] For us the choice of the poor is not ideological but is born from the Gospel.

Once more, from the Papacy, a compliment, but also a weighty expectation; an enormous mission. And may we be graced to fulfil it.

Interestingly, our previous General, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, had asked Pope John Paul II if he could resign from office, but was refused. When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, the General once again asked, and was given, permission. Now the Pope himself has followed suit. Soon our Society will have another Pope to serve in our special way. Like all healthy relationships, it will have its bruisings, but also its blessings.

Currently there are six Jesuit cardinals world-wide. Four of them are over the voting age of eighty, so unable to join the conclave to elect the new Pope. But the Jesuit Cardinal Archbishops of Buenos Aires and Djakarta will be voting. We wait prayerfully for the graced workings of the Holy Spirit.

And (in case you are wondering) there has never been a Jesuit Pope.

Fr Ross Jones SJ, Rector, St Ignatius’ College Riverview. First published in Viewpoint newsletter.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The wind through my hair

I took off after Mass this morning to visit Umm Qays, the place where Jesus was driven out of town because he healed the possessed strong man from Gedara and sent the legion of spirits into swine before they fell off the cliff. I was reluctant to go because I could have completed a lot of timely tasks.

I deliberated as to whether I ought to get on the road early or get to mass. I decided I would go to mass because I felt like I was receiving a good invitation. I'm glad I did.

I listened to Billy Joel's "The Stranger" as I drove through the outskirts of Amman. I rolled down the window and let the warm air flow through the car. It was nice to get out of the city. I drove about 1.5 hours to the northern border of Jordan where I had to pass through three checkpoints to get to my location. It was eery because I realize that I was suddenly alone on those roads. Others must know where the checkpoint are and they go around them.

The area to the north is very green resembling New Zealand. I then listened to Jimmy Buffet because it seemed like summer weather. When I started heading through a couple small towns, I was very pleased to find some workers in the middle of the street who were collecting trash and trimming the hedges of the small palm trees. That gave me hope that the people want a clean area.

I certainly had trouble finding Umm Qays. The GPS directed me to this very narrow steep hill that led to nowhere. A kind gentleman came out to help me. The hill was so steep I was afraid my car would not make it. He gave me better directions, but those led to nowhere. He invited me in for a smoke, which I politely declined.

I circled around Gedara for quite a while and I turned back home disappointed I did not find my target destination. Then I said, "To hell with it," and I went back one last time. I was led very far away from the GPS directions and then I finally saw a sign that gave me hope. Even if I didn't make it there, I would have been happy because the place was serenely quiet and filled with fresh air. I wanted to take a nap because the air was so clean. Though the green was lush, it was also shallow. The greens will turn to brown in a few months, but for right now, it was beautiful and refreshing.

I thought I might turn around when 10 guides, each at different times, begged me to hire them as guides. "No" does not mean "no" to them. "As you wish," they finally say when they realized they have upset me. I don't want to yell at them, but I do want to yell at them. They are annoying and the language makes it all the more complex.

Just as I've had it with the merchants and faux guides, I run into a tourist police officer who is the nicest man. We had a pleasant conversation, though short because I used up all my Arabic. The man in the museum is quite nice as well. They erased the bad memories of those faux guides.

As I was taking photographs, I kept seeing feral cats. They would look at me and then look away. The guides reminded me of the same. They wanted me to catch their eye as an invitation to come closer. I am not relating these men to animals, but it did strike me that the actions were similar. I do feel badly for them because they depend upon tourists for their livelihood. I'd rather take photos at my own pace and sit down when I want.

I lunched at the restaurant within Umm Qays. The food was quite good, yet the scenery was awesome. There were no bugs and the views were expansive and peaceful. I was very glad to be out of the city. The site overlooks the Jordan River Valley and the restaurant stares at the Golan Heights. If you look closely, you can see Syrian fortifications. Lake Tiberias is at the base of the Heights and it is easy to imagine that Jesus walked there frequently. From the restaurant, the Jordanians says there is a cave where Jesus slept for one night before the Gadarenes kicked him out.

It would have been fascinating to see the place the Romans built in all its glory. All the blood, sweat, and tears that was needed to build the Empire must have been tremendous. It is no wonder the people hated them. They did, however, build monuments of glory.

During lunch, a family made the way up the steps to get to the restaurant. They had a four year old child who looked at me and smiled. She was cross-eyed, but she made her way up into the chair and sat with me. I said a few words to her and her father gently coaxed her to follow them to the restaurant. She then came over and kissed my back as I remained seated. When they returned, she climbed up the chair again to sit with me. Her dad was beside himself. He kept apologizing.

I wondered if only men are waiters in restaurant. It just dawned on me that I've never seen a woman serving food.

On the way home, I saw lots of cows, horses, sheep, and goats. I saw a dead camel, which was curious because its legs were sticking straight up in the air. I thought he might rest before it he was tipped over.

I traveled through Irbid. I thought this is exactly where U.S. citizens ought not to be on their own. Few English-language signs helped me find my way out of there and sometimes the roads were very narrow and borderline dirt roads.

On the way back, since we are close to St. Patrick's Day, I listened to some Irish music. I sometimes let myself go and get into the music. I noticed I entertained a few drivers, who celebrated the fact that I was happy.

To see photos of my trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Umm Qais
2. Pics of Lunchtime in North Jordan
2. Pics en route to North Jordan

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ongoing Traffic

I left early for my art class today so I would avoid the end-of-day school traffic congestion. It worked, but the drivers are still certainly dangerous. Every time a car or truck tries to enter the road from a side street, they come out without regard to any cars on the road. If they do happen to stop, they are already encroaching on the traffic so everyone has to go into the opposing lane for safety. I really experience no regard for anyone else. None. While I am used to it, it is still an offensive behavior because it conveys disrespect. The other driver's concern to get where they want to go first is more important than any person's safety. Maddening.

The other day I was run off the road by someone on a side street who had no intention of stopping as he bullied his way onto the main road. Since it was evening, I turned on my high-beams to display my anger towards him. He was very offended that my lights were on. To him, I was being rude to him and not following the customs of courtesy. Doesn't that makes sense at all?

On the way home from class today, traffic was awful. Drivers do not know how to navigate roundabouts and traffic comes to a standstill. No one will budge an inch and they make sure they stop traffic instead of letting anyone pass through so traffic can flow.

I was so glad to get back to the Center. I was thinking, "I'm never going to drive again." I had it for the day. Nothing went right with driving. Just as I'm pulling into the driveway, a pedestrian who was waiting to cross the road, motioned me on, and gave me a big smile. Maybe there is courtesy after all.

What the Church Can Learn (Part III)

 Below is an article, Reforming the Vatican, written by Tom Reese and published in Commonweal in April 25, 2008, describing what is necessary for Vatican Reform.

April 25, 2008
Thomas J. Reese

Possible reforms

If history shows that the church has always borrowed ideas and structures from civil society, then the question arises: What are some of the best practices in civil society that can help the church today? Over the past two centuries, civil society has learned that good government calls for: the elimination of a powerful nobility, adherence to the principle of subsidiarity, and creation of a system of checks and balances. I will propose six reforms I think reflect practices that have proved successful in civil society.

Make the Vatican a bureaucracy, not a court. Most countries have found that a royal court composed of a king and his nobles is not a good way to govern. The Vatican is still as much a court as a bureaucracy, with cardinals referred to as princes of the church and bishops acting like nobles. I would recommend that no Vatican bureaucrat be made a bishop or a cardinal. One of the problems with nobles and bishops is that it is difficult to fire them even when they are incompetent or when there is a change in administrations. Such a reform would also remind the Vatican bureaucracy that it is a servant of the pope and the college of bishops and not itself part of the magisterium.

Strengthen the legislative bodies in the church. At the same time that the role of the nobility in governance was declining in civil society, the role of independent legislatures was increasing. No modern political philosophy would advise a polity to depend only on the wisdom of an executive. There is universal recognition that the synod of bishops created by Paul VI has failed to rise to expectations. I would recommend that no member of the Vatican bureaucracy be a member of the synod of bishops: they could attend the synod as experts and staff, but not as voting members. All of the members of the synod should be elected by episcopal conferences; none should be appointed. The synod should also meet on a regular basis—say, once every five years—and, of course, the synod would need committees to prepare agendas and documents between meetings. There should also be an ecumenical council at least once every generation.

Convert congregations into elected synodal committees. Vatican congregations and councils are committees of cardinals and bishops appointed by the pope. Each is responsible for a special domain within the church-such as liturgy, ecumenism, evangelization, and canon law. The Vatican cardinals are the most influential members of these committees. The chairman of each committee (called a prefect for a congregation and a president for a council) is also the head of an office of the same name. These offices advise the pope and implement church policy.

One important function of any legislative body is oversight of the bureaucracy. Members of Vatican congregations and councils should therefore be elected by synods or by episcopal conferences; that way synods and conferences can act as policy-making and oversight bodies for the Vatican bureaucracy. Vatican bureaucrats should not also be members of congregations, though they could attend meetings as experts and staff.

Create an independent judiciary. One of the most important elements in a government that operates under the rule of law is an independent judiciary. To allow the executive to indict, prosecute, judge, and sentence a defendant is today considered a violation of due process. The treatment of theologians accused of dissent by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is one of the scandals of the church. The potential for such scandal will remain as long as the CDF continues to act as policeman, prosecutor, judge, and jury. An independent jury, perhaps made up of retired bishops, could correct the problem.

Elect bishops. The appointment of bishops by the pope is a modern innovation that follows a corporate model, whereby the pope acts as CEO and the bishops as branch managers. While this corporate model is highly centralized, successful political models teach us that local leaders need to be chosen by local citizens. Today it might be possible, and advisable, to return to the system endorsed by Pope Leo I, so that every bishop would be elected by the local clergy, accepted by the people of his diocese, and consecrated by the bishops of his province.

Strengthen episcopal conferences by making them councils. Not everything can or should be decided by a centralized government. Catholic social teaching speaks of the importance of subsidiarity in political structures and policy: what can be done locally should be done locally. In ancient times, local and regional councils of bishops played an important part in determining church teaching and discipline. Episcopal conferences need to become episcopal councils. They need to regain their independent role in establishing church policy. They should not need to have every decision and document reviewed and ratified by the Vatican. Bishops must be trusted to know what is best for the local church.

These six reforms will not bring about the kingdom of God. No governance structure is perfect, and every reform has negative side effects. But these reforms would help the church follow the principles of collegiality and subsidiarity. It is worth remarking that most of these reforms would mean a return to earlier practices and structures of the church. Of course, spiritual reform and conversion are finally more important than structural reform, but that doesn’t mean that structural reform is unimportant.

What are the chances of such reforms actually taking place? As a social scientist, I’d have to say they’re probably close to zero. The church is now run by a self-perpetuating group of men who know such reform would diminish their power. It is also contrary to their theology of the church. But as a Catholic Christian, I still have to hope.

Monday, February 25, 2013


I'm very pleased with the two spirituality groups I am running. Monday morning's group is about 12 - 14 women who are professionals that have questions about the church's practices. This morning our conversation focused on reconciliation and the definition of sin. The Thursday group is also around 12 - 14 men and women. We are focusing on ways to deepen one's relationship to God and to become a friend of God. I'm enjoying seeing the hunger they have for something meaningful.

I would love to see a group for Filipinos, Sri Lankans, and Indians, but I haven't found a way, a topic, or an opportunity to have them come together to learn.

I am doing well with NOT shaking hands after Mass. I simply touch my heart and smile at parishioners or I bless them by laying a hand on their heads. I'm told that this spring flowers are opening up, many new times of flora will affect people. Many people get tired from the sand in the air, the floral fragrances, and the rapid shifts of temperatures. We'll see. I'm tired of being sick.

I saw a few new flowers today that look interesting. A daisy-like flower is seen in gardens, but the pistils and stamens are purple instead of yellow. I think I need to make a few side trips to capture the early spring patterns with my camera. I see local artists are putting on a photography show sponsored by the Institute Francais in March.

I'm using a gargle everyday now. It kills bacteria for up to 12 hours. I am trying it out while still being reluctant. I know that the mouth needs to produce good bacteria to fight off the bad ones. We'll see if I remain healthy a bit longer.

I'm still learning

This morning our gardener went into the refrigerator and took out a tomato. I never saw him to that before today. Ten minutes later he came back and took another one. I thought, "He must be hungry. I never see him in the kitchen." Ten minutes later I went outside and there he was with the two tomatoes cut open. The flesh was gone, but the seeds were on the cement. His purpose was to pick out the seeds to start new tomato plants with them, but the first tomato was seedless. I knew that one must start new tomatoes with seeds, but I never saw it done in such a way. It was an eye opening morning.

On Saturday, I saw a girl (about 12 years old) and two adult women at the Jesuit Center. I was in my car getting ready to go to Mass. I figured they were Iraqi waiting for church to begin. I asked, "Can I help you?," but the language difficulty couldn't generate a conversation. The girl said, "We are waiting for church." I, in sign language, tried to tell her that the door was unlocked. She shouted back at me, "La," which means "no." Expressively, I told her the door was open, but she said, "la." I finally sent her up the stairs, asked her to put her handle on the door knob, and then turn it. She went up and did what I said, except she didn't turn the knob. She just pulled. She ran down and said, "It is locked." I encouraged her to come up the stairs with me to show her how to turn the knob. She said, "It is locked." I turned the knob and opened the door and she looked at me and shouted, "I'm stupid."

It crushed me. Women here have such poor esteem because they are often told by men that they are nothing. I was trying to help her have a success and it turned into a failure. She thinks she is no good, poor thing. We had such a difficult time communicating that she could not understand my words to validate her. I'm haunted by it because I know it happens too frequently.

I went to a meeting this morning and the drivers were particularly bad. I was even following someone I knew and she didn't use her directionals at all. On the way back, some drivers were very slow. I was on Al-Razi Street and behind someone who was just plugging along. I adopted the Jordanian custom and gave a short honk to hasten him along. Traffic was steady in the opposite direction. This man decides to do what many Jordanians do. He stopped outside a cigarette market just as if he was double parked. It was right in the middle of the road. I honked again and he threw up his arms, like I was bothering him because why would I deprive him of his cigarettes.

I honked again because now I was too close to him. I couldn't pass because of the traffic in the other direction. I couldn't back up because of the long line of cars. I honked longer and now he was upset. I'm saying to myself, "This is ordinary driving behavior here." He still didn't move and he didn't get out to get cigarettes. I honk again and now he is upset. Finally two men come by and push his car down the hill. Still, no one can pass and he is moving 2 mph. His engine had stopped and he is in neutral as he is just coasting down the hill. He doesn't pull over to let others pass. He just keeps creeping along. I followed him .8 of a kilometer until I turned into the Jesuit Center. I wonder how far he made it.

Bees and warmth

Bees are buzzing around Amman these days. Not many, mind you, but enough to say that the warm weather is here to stay. Today will be 70 degrees; tomorrow 74 F. Everyone is walking around with fewer layers of clothing. Many people seem to be happy to be outside.

An increased number of birds are around as well. I saw a mother sparrow with two young ones right outside my window the other day. They don't know that I am merely a foot away from them because they can't see inside the mirrored-film window. 

As I said Mass this morning, I remember thinking to myself that very few hear my homily because most of them have basic English. They are faithful though. The come every day. There's a French gentleman who brought a French friend, an Arabic speaker who knows limited English, but tries to teach me Arabic every morning, and other foreigners who do their best to understand. To my astonishment, I said something this morning (and yesterday at Sunday mass) that really hit home to a couple of them. I laughed interiorly because I was half-heartedly thinking I should skip giving homilies from time to time.

I have begun to chant the opening and closing prayers at Mass. I'm trying to use cantors as well. It is all working out fine.

The New England Provincial and the Jesuits of the Near East province came for a visit. Each year, every Jesuit makes an account of conscience to the provincial as part of our governance system. He stayed with us for nearly a week and he was able to enjoy some sight-seeing too. Back to a normal schedule now.

I missed two events last week. I could not go to my art class because an Iraqi artist was showcasing his work. I was scheduled to go to the Dead Sea for a chorus retreat, but the changes in the provincial's schedule necessitated changes in mine.

I'm off to one of the two new spirituality groups I am leading. They are fun. I like the people who come to it.

One aspect of the food that I like here is that there are no hormones in them. Chickens are smaller than we get in the U.S. (unless we go to Popeye's) and they seem tastier. It feels healthier and more natural.

O.K. Heading off to one of the groups now.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What the Church Can Learn (Part II)

 Below is an article, Reforming the Vatican, written by Tom Reese and published in Commonweal in April 25, 2008, describing what is necessary for Vatican Reform.

April 25, 2008
Thomas J. Reese

Centralized papacy

The contemporary papacy rules the church with powers that would be the envy of any absolute monarch: the pope holds supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority with few checks on his power. This power is especially evident in the appointment of bishops.

In the first centuries of the church, the local bishop was chosen by and from the people. Ideally, the people gathered in the cathedral, where, after praying together, they selected a holy and talented man to lead them. In practice, factions supporting opposing candidates would often clash, sometimes violently split-ting the community. The faithful did not always speak with one voice.

As time went on, the selection process evolved to include not only the people, but also the local clergy and the provincial bishops in a system of checks and balances. Pope Leo I (440–461) described the ideal by saying that no one could be a bishop unless he was elected by the clergy, accepted by his people, and consecrated by the bishops of his province. The clergy knew the candidates better than the populace and were less likely to resolve their disputes by recourse to violence. Still, as leader of the community, the bishop had to be acceptable to the people. The clergy, then, would present a candidate to the people, who would normally indicate their approval by cheering. If they booed, the clergy would have to try again. To become a bishop, the candidate had to be consecrated by the bishops of his province under the leadership of the metropolitan archbishop. If he was unacceptable because of heresy or immorality or some other fault, the bishops could refuse to ordain him.

The problem with this democratic process was that it could be circumvented by powerful nobles and kings who had no respect for democracy. They could simply impose their desires on the church through force or threats of violence. As Fulbert of Chartres wrote in 1016, “How can one speak of election where a person is imposed by the prince, so that neither clergy nor people, let alone the bishops, can envisage any other candidates?” The appointment of bishops by kings and nobles led to the corruption of the episcopacy when royal bastards and political favorites were chosen.

Papal reformers from Gregory VII on saw their role as fighting off political influence in the selection of bishops. But it should also be remembered that nobles and kings were sometimes reformers of the church. It was the German Emperor Henry III who, in the eleventh century, deposed three “popes” to begin a long line of reform popes. And it was another German king, Emperor Sigismund, who was able to end the Great Western Schism.

All of this changed in the nineteenth century, when revolutions wiped out most of the Catholic monarchs in Europe. Rather than returning the selection of bishops to the local church, popes made it their own prerogative. Unsurprisingly, this led to the appointment of bishops who were loyal to Rome and would support its preeminence in the church.

But the appointment of bishops is not the only example of the papacy’s consolidation of power. In the early centuries of the church, regional or national councils of bishops helped define doctrine, coordinated church policy, and even provided a forum for judging bishops. The bishop of Rome acted as a court of appeal when bishops and councils disagreed. National bishops’ conferences are the true successors of these councils, but the Vatican refuses to allow them the independence to act like the councils of old. Similarly, ecumenical councils once had greater independence; according to some theologians, the councils even had the authority to impeach popes.

The centralization of power in the Vatican was often a legitimate response to the political interference of kings and nobles in the life of the local church. Popes could stand up to kings better than the local church could. But now that few kings or noblemen are in a position to meddle with the church, one could argue that such centralization is no longer necessary—and that it is in fact counterproductive.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Alison 9 of 9

9. Concluding remarks on the Our Father

It is with this then, that Jesus leads up to teaching the “Our Father”.

Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [11]

Space and time prevent me from going into a line by line reading of this. For our purposes, I just want to point out two things which I hope are obvious. First, the Our Father is all about desire. It begins by addressing the Other other who is manifesting himself, has a desire, an intention, a project and a reality which are way prior to anything that the social other knows, and yet which can begin to have incidence in the life of the social other. And secondarily, it takes for granted, and underlines, the fact that we are entirely mimetic animals. The goodness of the Other other can only be unbound in us, flow through us, to the degree that we agree to be unbound towards our co-members of the social other. Just as our “selves” are what they are entirely thanks to the social other, so our “new selves” are only going to be “new selves” in the degree to which we unbind the social other. It is strictly in our relation with what is other than us that we will be found to be. Please notice that this, the insistence that letting go of the social other, and being let go by the Other other is exactly the same thing, is the only part of the Our Father which Jesus repeats, rubbing in the basic anthropology once again.

I hope you will agree then that “desire according to the desire of the other”, and the absolute and mechanical mimetic working of our desire do not seem to be a foreign import into these texts, but to offer a rich reading of them that goes with their flow and can help us to be found on the inside of the adventure of prayer.

São Paulo, February 2009


[1] Matthew 6:7-8. back

[2] Matthew 6:6. back

[3] Romans 8:22-27. back

[4] Mark 8:33. back

[5] Matthew 6:1-4. back

[6] Matthew 6:5-6. back

[7] Luke 18:1-8. back

[8] Matthew 5:44-45. back

[9] Isaiah 55:1-3. back

[10] Matthew 6,7-8. back

[11] Matthew 6: 9-15. back

© 2009 James Alison

What the Church can Learn (Part I)

 Below is an article, Reforming the Vatican, written by Tom Reese and published in Commonweal in April 25, 2008, describing what is necessary for Vatican Reform.

April 25, 2008
Thomas J. Reese

Too often when someone proposes the reform of church structures, the reformer is attacked for borrowing from the secular political field, as if this were necessarily a bad thing. But throughout history the Vatican has often imitated the organization of secular political institutions. Today the governance of the church is more centralized than at any time in its history. To make the church more collegial, the Vatican should once again adopt practices of the secular political world.

When St. Peter arrived in Rome, he did not immediately appoint cardinals and set up the offices that we see in the Vatican today. He had only a secretary to help him with his correspondence. In early centuries, the bishop of Rome had helpers much like those of any other bishop: priests for house-churches, deacons for charitable assistance and catechesis, and notaries or secretaries for correspondence and record keeping.

By the fourth century, notaries were a permanent fixture in the papacy, as they were in the imperial court. As staff for the pope, these men wrote letters and kept records of correspondence and other official documents. They took minutes at the Lateran Council of 649 and prepared its acts. Because of their training and experience, they were sometimes sent by popes on diplomatic missions or to ecumenical councils in the East.

By the thirteenth century the apostolic chancellery was an important office, and the chancellor was the pope’s principal adviser and assistant, just as chancellors were the principal advisers of European monarchs. Before becoming pope, John XXII (1316–1344) had been chancellor to the French king, and he used his expertise in organizing the French chancellery to handle papal business. The chancellery was later eclipsed by the apostolic datary, then by the office of the privy seal, and finally by the secretary of state. All of these had parallels in secular society.

Likewise, the college of cardinals evolved from a group of the principal priests and deacons of Rome to a papal court that advised and elected popes. The cardinals often compared themselves to the old Roman Senate. As time went on and papal business increased, the practice of consulting the college of cardinals in consistory became common. At first the college met monthly, but by the beginning of the thirteenth century it was meeting three times a week—on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In many ways the pope and the cardinals functioned as a court, similar to the royal courts of Europe during the Middle Ages; but the fact that the cardinals elected the pope gave the college of cardinals a kind of power not enjoyed by the nobility in most nations. Later the role of cardinals was severely curtailed by increasingly powerful popes, just as the power of nobles was curtailed after the rise of “absolute” monarchs.

So the structure of the Roman curia has changed over time, and popes have frequently borrowed or adapted practices from secular government. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that changing the organization of the Vatican today by adopting practices from the contemporary political world would be in keeping with the long tradition of the church.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Question: Combine Blogs?

What do you think?

Shall I merge the two blogs I operate into one? On the Ignatian Spirituality blog, I posted daily prayers and homilies/Saints of the Week/This Day in Jesuit History. On the other, I write about my experiences in the Frontiers: Jordan and the Middle East. The two are distinct, but would it be wise for me just to post on one or keep them separate?

Alison 8 of 9

8. Not leaving Las Vegas

Let us get back then, finally, to Matthew and the conclusion of Jesus’ remarks about prayer. I hope that they will read somewhat differently now:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [10]

I remember standing on a hill overlooking Lake Titicaca and watching the local Yatiris, shamans or priests, plying their wares. You could go to them, and for an appropriate offering, they would then light candles around little portable shrines, burn incense, and say the requisite prayers or incantations, which were in an amazing mixture of Latin, Quechua, Aymara and Spanish. The prayers or incantations were for a fairly repetitive list of things: protection from a neighbour’s evil eye, quick riches, death of a troublesome mother-in-law, to get an unwilling prospective love-match to fall for me, various forms of vengeance.

The pattern seemed to be simple: God, or the gods, are a sort of celestial Las Vegas slot machine, full of amazing bounty, but inclined to be retentive. So prayer is the art of conjuring this capricious divinity, by exactly the right phrases, repeated exactly the right number of times, into parting with some of its treasure. As if the priest were a particularly expert puller of the slot machine handle, one who could ensure that three lemons, or five bars, line up and so manipulate the divinity into disgorging its riches.

What this presupposes is a pattern of desire where we are subjects who are in control, and God is an object who must be manipulated: we are back to the blob and arrow picture of desire. What Jesus is teaching is exactly the reverse of this. In Jesus’ picture it is God who is the subject, who has a desire, an intention, a longing, and who knows who we are and what is good for us and we who are capricious and somewhat inert slot machines who are always getting our handles pulled by the wrong players. In this picture it is precisely because our Father knows what we need before we ask him that we must learn to pray: our Father’s only access to us, the only way he can get to our slot-machine handle, is by our asking him into our pattern of desire.

You remember that with the blob and arrow understanding of desire, Jesus’ phrase about “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” works as a way of making prayer pointless. But with the mimetic understanding of desire which I hope to have shown to be at work throughout this passage, the same phrase works in exactly the opposite way. It becomes the urgent reason why we need to pray: so as to allow the One who knows what is good for us, unlike we ourselves, whose desire is for us and for our fruition, unlike the social other and its violent traps, to gain access to re-creating us from within, to giving us a “self”, an “I of desire” that is in fact a constant flow of treasure. We are asking, in fact to become a symptom of his pattern of desire, rather than that of the social other which ties us up into becoming so much less.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Alison 7 of 9

7. Seeing myself through the eye of Another

Let us step back now, into our larder or pantry, to consider further the oddity of this place of the interface between our desire and the voices which run us. So far I’ve emphasized the negative – the rupture – what we are becoming dislocated from – the way we have been run by the regard of the social other. Now please note that there is no alternative to being run by the regard of another. It is not the case that we can strip off the false-selves given us by the social other, and that there, underneath it all, radiantly, will be our true self, untrammeled by the social other.

No, we always receive ourselves through the eye of another. The really hard matter of prayer is learning to receive ourselves through the eye of Another other. For what on earth is it like to be looked at by Another other? What does that “regard” tell us of who we are, and who we are becoming?

My sense is that the collapse of the “self of desire” which begins when we step out of the regard of the social other is much easier to notice than the much quieter and more imperceptible calling into being of a new self-of-desire, without any flashy over-againsts, or bits of grasped self, sodden with the wrong sorts of meaning. But it is here that the work of imagination, to which Jesus was appealing in his example of the importunate widow, has its proper place. For it is as we stretch the boundaries of our imagination formed by the social other that we may catch glimpses of being looked at by One who is not part of that at all.

What, for instance, is meant by the deathlessness of God? And here, I don’t mean the usual associations which come with “immortality” or “eternity” – meaning something like invulnerabililty, or going on for an awfully long time. Rather, part of what we mean when we talk about being looked at by God is that we are held in the regard of someone who is αθανατος – deathless. Someone for whom, unlike anyone we know or have ever known, death is not a parameter, a reality, a limit, a circumscription. Someone, therefore, for whom mortality, existence in limited time, our reality, looks entirely different. Someone who can wish us into acting as if death were not. This is the sort of regard that can suggest into us the possibility of believing it is worthwhile to undertake projects whose fruition we may not see. The sort of regard that is unhurried enough not to be bothered by my failure, that empowers me to share the space of those who are despised because secure about my long term prospects. It is the sort of regard for whom Keynes’ famous phrase “in the long term, we’re all dead” is simply meaningless, for the only long term that exists is one in which death has no incidence.

Or again, what does it mean to be looked at through eyes that only know abundance, for whom scarcity is simply not a reality, for whom there is always more? Think of the rupture this produces in my patterns of desire! “If you want more, there won’t be enough to go round” or “there’s no free meal at the end of the universe” or “Grab what you can before it all runs out”, or just the gloomy depressed “euugh” of disappointment with things, life, and so on not matching up to expectation, the way of being in the world and perceiving everything which the ancient Hebrews referred to as Vanity, or futility. What does it look like to spend time in the regard of One for whom it is not, as the whole of our capitalist system presupposes, scarcity that leads to abundance by promoting rivalry, which we then bless and call competition? Rather it is a hugely leisured creative abundance that is the underlying reality, and an endless magis, “more”, is always on the way.

What does it look like to spend time in the regard of one for whom daring and adventure, not fear and caution underlie the whole project of creation, for whom everything that is is open-ended and pointing to more than itself, and for whom we are invited to share in the Other’s excitement and thrill, to want and to achieve crazy and unimaginable things?

What is it like to sit in a regard which is bellowing at us “something out of nothing, something out of nothing”? Our pattern of desire says “unnhh, nothing comes from nothing” and feels sorry for itself. Yet the heart of the difference between atheism and belief in God-who-is-not-one-of-the-gods is not an ideology, but a pattern of desire which thrills to “something out of nothing”. The wonderful verses of second Isaiah, fresh from the great breakthrough into monotheism in the sixth century BC shout this out [9]:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

This is a definition of God as quite outside the pattern of desire into which the social other inculcates us: “something out of nothing”.

Well, these terms – deathlessness, abundance, daring and something out of nothing – are just a few of the sorts of phrase by which the Scriptures attempt to nudge our imagination into spending time undergoing a regard that is not the regard of the social other, one which has a wish, a longing, a heart that is for us, much more for us than we are for ourselves, one which we can trust to have our long-term interests at heart. And in each case, spending time in the regard of the Other other will work to produce in us a way of being public which seems to go directly counter to the expectations of the patterns of desire which the social other produces in us. Our temporary abstraction from public life will not have made us private. It will have empowered us to be public in a new way, whose precariousness and vulnerability rests on an unimaginable security.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


When I stepped outside today, I noticed two trees in our garden was littered with white blossoms. Buds are appearing on many of the bushes and dormant flowers are showing signs on new buds. Sure signs of spring even though the days are overcast and cloudy.

I began two spirituality/catechetical groups this week. The first one will deal with understanding the tenets of our faith that we profess in the creed. The second one will examine ways to develop your prayer as a personal relationship with God. I'm excited about both of them. The people in the group are very enthusiastic. They are the nicest people.

I'm getting to know many different types of people in Jordan and they are very kind and welcoming. Most of the time, the Arabs I meet are the average people on the street, but I'm getting to know a different type of Arab, whether Jordanian or Palestinian. There are keen differences between the Arab community and they tell me a lot about their culture and norms.

I find little difference between the people I am meeting and people in the U.S. I'm meeting professional and business oriented people. The choral group I joined has many people who love music, are well educated, are interested in their community, and love to laugh and enjoy good times. The only difference is: they speak a different language than I do, but they are very accommodating and hospitable.

It is very nice.

Global Zero Initiative

Global Zero is the international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Since its launch in Paris in December 2008, Global Zero has grown to include 300 eminent world leaders and more than 400,000 citizens worldwide; developed a step-by-step plan to eliminate nuclear weapons, built an international student movement with more than 100 campus chapters in ten countries, and produced the acclaimed documentary film, Countdown to Zero.

Global Zero members understand that the only way to eliminate the nuclear threat — including proliferation and nuclear terrorism — is to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, secure all nuclear materials and eliminate all nuclear weapons: global zero. The movement combines cutting-edge policy development and direct dialogue with governments with public outreach, including media, online and grassroots initiatives to make the elimination of nuclear weapons an urgent global imperative.

President Barack Obama, President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have endorsed Global Zero, with Obama declaring, “Global Zero will always have a partner in me and my administration.” Leading newspapers have backed Global Zero’s plan, the Financial Times concluding that, “Global Zero’s plan has shown the direction to be travelled; the world’s leaders must now start moving.”

For more information go to the website below:

"Global Zero Website."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Alison 6 of 9

6. The importunate widow

Before returning to our Matthew text, let me give a couple of further examples of the pattern of desire the Gospel texts on prayer point to, for they fit well into this larder or pantry where we find ourselves dwelling in the interface between our desires and our internal “voices” – the voices of the social other which we have internalised. Here is the model who Jesus puts before us for prayer in Luke’s Gospel: an importunate widow. [7]

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

OK, hold that thought. At first blush this sounds as though Jesus is giving advice about not becoming discouraged. I want to suggest that it is rather more than that. It is about how, through becoming insistent desirers, we will actually be given a heart, be given to be. If we do not desire, we will not have a heart.

He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

Please notice that this judge is a perfectly non-mimetic person. In fact he is more like a concrete block than like a person, since he is able to be moved neither by the social other, nor the Other other.

“In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.'”

Now we have an inconvenient person, the sort of person who has no one to stand up for her, who is not held in high regard, and whose satisfaction is of no importance to those living in the city. She is the equivalent of a smelly desire. But she is persistent, and just keeps on with her demand.

“For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

The judge has an enviable degree of self-knowledge, for he understands perfectly well that he is a concrete block, hermetically sealed from mimetic influence. Even so, he eventually concedes, anxious to avoid a drubbing at the hands of this redoubtable widow. I say “drubbing”, for the word υπωπιαζη, which we translate as “wear out”, was apparently the language of the wrestling arena or the boxing ring.

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

Does Jesus really think that God is like an unjust judge? Indeed not. But he knows how all of us are inclined to have an unjust judge well-installed into our consciousness. In fact as part of our socialization we acquire a voice or set of voices which seem to be completely impervious to anything. This voice or voices, should we be so bold as to want something, will quickly send down little messages to us: “Shouldn’t want that if I were you - better not to want much, so as not to be disappointed” or “Getting above our station are we?” or, as in the famous Oliver Twist scene “More?!!”. And the point of these messages is to shut down our desire – to get us to mask our discontent with remaining mere puppets of our group. Our unjust judge is internal to each one of us, a glowering “no” in the face of our potential happiness.

Yet what Jesus recommends is a long-running, persistent refusal to have our smelly little desires put down. Instead to engage in a constant guerrilla warfare of desiring, so that eventually even the block in our head starts to yield, and what is right for us starts to become imaginable and obtainable. God is not like the judge, a hermetic block, he is like the irritating desire which gets stronger and stronger. It is only through our wanting something that God is able to give it to us.

“Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Curiously, at the end of this teaching Our Lord shows a certain ambivalence about us: imagination and desire feed each other positively, and this is a vital element of faith: becoming able to imagine something good, and so to want it, and then as one wants it more, finding it more possible to imagine it more fully. Here he seems aware that despite what he is attempting to implode in our midst, we are frighteningly likely to be content with far too little, to go along with our internalised unjust judges, and so not to dare to imagine a goodness which could be ours, and thus not dare to want it, let alone become crazed single-minded athletes of system-shattering desire. He wonders whether we will really allow ourselves to be given heart.

Before moving along from this image, I’d like to point out an important part of the way the new “self” of desire is brought into being. That is by saying “I want”. Please notice that this simple act of saying something, and in fact saying it frequently is much more important psychologically than it seems. For it is not that there is an “I” that has such and such a desire, which it is now expressing. Rather, among the patterns of desire which are running this body, this body is having the humility to recognise that it needs to be brought into being by being directed in a certain way, and so is, as it were, making an act of commitment to a certain sort of becoming. “I want such and such” is an act of commitment to be found in a certain becoming, an act of alignment. “I” am agreeing that in my malleability, the desire according to the other, which precedes me, and which I’m agreeing to take on board, will bring me into being. Language makes this public, which is why it can be such a relief finally to be able to say “I want such and such”, even “privately”, because saying it has involved me in getting over the shame of being found to be the sort of person who wants such a thing.

A couple of final examples of the Gospel teaching the same pattern of desire as regards prayer. In Luke 6,28 we read:

“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

I hope it now makes much more sense why this is emphatically not a way of saying “Jesus wants me as a doormat”. On the contrary. Jesus knows very well how we become intimately involved with that subsection of the social other which are our enemies in just the same way as we become intimately involved with those whose approval we seek. He knows how susceptible we are to taking our enemies on board, and becoming just like them by acting out reciprocally towards them. So he offers us this recipe for freedom: do not allow yourselves to be run by those who do you evil. This involves a refusal of negative reciprocity and a learning to move from the heart towards them in a way which has nothing to do with what they have done to you. In fact he is saying “step out of the pattern of desire in which you are enthralled by, and in thrall to, your enemies, and step arduously instead into a pattern of desire such that you are not over against them at all, but are able to be, as God is, for them, towards them, without being their rival”.

In case you think I’m making this up, Matthew’s version of the same saying is perfectly instructive:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. [8] (Italics mine)

The rationale for praying for those who persecute you is set out clearly: it is so as to become part of the pattern of desire of the Other other, who is not part of the reciprocity, the tit-for-tat, the good and evil of the social other, but is entirely outside it, not in rivalry with it, and perfectly generous towards it.

Video: Inside the Space Station

I found the tour of the Space Station fascinating. Much thought had to go into each detail to make living conditions possible. It can be played by clicking the link below:

"Inside the Space Station."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Can a Pope Resign?

Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (Harvard University Press, 1996). He was editor in chief of America from 1998-2005.

What happens when the pope gets sick?

If the pope becomes sick, he can delegate some of his authority to the cardinal secretary of state or to any other person. In the long history of the papacy, popes have formally or informally delegated authority to Vatican officials, cardinal nephews and other members of their families. But today the logical person to run the church while the pope is sick would be Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, who is more like a prime minister than a U.S. secretary of state. Such delegation presumes that the pope is still capable of making at least some decisions (such as the decision to delegate) and communicating. He cannot, however, delegate some aspects of his authority, such as his ability to teach infallibly.

The life of the church, which is lived mostly at the parish level, continues. Mass is celebrated and the sacraments are received. Bishops continue to run their dioceses. In the Vatican, the pope appoints people whom he trusts to follow the policies he has set. They can continue to do the ordinary business of the Vatican, but they cannot change policies without his approval. Also, when differences of opinion arise in the Vatican or between diocesan bishops and Vatican officials, these would normally be brought to the pope for decision. If he is too sick to deal with these, problems will not be dealt with.

Can a pope resign?

Yes, a pope can resign. The number of popes who may have resigned has been estimated as high as 10, but the historical evidence is limited. Most recently, during the Council of Constance in the 15th century, the Gregory XII resigned to bring about the end of the Western Schism and a new pope was elected in 1417. Pope Celestine V’s resignation in 1294 is the most famous because Dante placed him in hell for it.

Most modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable. As Paul VI said, paternity cannot be resigned. In addition, Paul feared setting a precedent that would encourage factions in the church to pressure future popes to resign for reasons other than health. Nevertheless, the code of canon law in 1917 provided for the resignation of a pope as do the regulations established by Paul VI in 1975 and John Paul II in 1996. However, a resignation induced through fear or fraud would be invalid. In addition, canonists argue that a person resigning from an office must be of sound mind (canon 187).

In 1989 and in 1994, John Paul II secretly prepared letters offering the College of Cardinals his resignation in case of an incurable disease or other condition that would prevent him from fulfilling his ministry, according to Msgr. Sławomir Oder, postulator of the late pope’s cause.

Catholic News Service reports:

The 1989 letter was brief and to the point; it says that in the case of an incurable illness that prevents him from “sufficiently carrying out the functions of my apostolic ministry” or because of some other serious and prolonged impediment, “I renounce my sacred and canonical office, both as bishop of Rome as well as head of the holy Catholic Church.”

In his 1994 letter the pope said he had spent years wondering whether a pope should resign at age 75, the normal retirement age for bishops. He also said that, two years earlier, when he thought he might have a malignant colon tumor, he thought God had already decided for him.

Then, he said, he decided to follow the example of Pope Paul VI who, in 1965, concluded that a pope “could not resign the apostolic mandate except in the presence of an incurable illness or an impediment that would prevent the exercise of the functions of the successor of Peter.”

“Outside of these hypotheses, I feel a serious obligation of conscience to continue to fulfill the task to which Christ the Lord has called me as long as, in the mysterious plan of his providence, he desires,” the letter said.

Historical evidence for papal resignations is limited, especially if one eliminates resignations that may have been forced.

Clement I (92?-101). Epiphanius asserted that Clement gave up the pontificate to Linus for the sake of peace and became pope again after the death of Cletus.
Pontian (230-235). Allegedly resigned after being exiled to the mines of Sardinia during persecution of Maximinus Thrax.
Cyriacus. A fictional character created in the Middle Ages who supposedly received a heavenly command to resign.
Marcellinus (296-304). Abdicated or was deposed after complying with Diocletian’s order to offer sacrifice to pagan gods.
Martin I (649-655). Exiled by Emperor Constans II to Crimea. Before he died, clergy of Rome elected a successor whom he appears to have approved.
Benedict V (964). After one month in office, he accepted deposition by Emperor Otto I.
Benedict IX (1032-45). Benedict resigned after selling the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI.
Gregory VI (1045-46). Deposed for simony by Henry III.
Celestine V (1294). A hermit, elected at age of 80 and overwhelmed by the office, resigned. He was imprisoned by his successor.
Gregory XII (1406-15). Resigned at request of Council of Constance to help end the Great Western Schism.

Source: Patrick Granfield, “Papal Resignation” (The Jurist, winter and spring 1978) and J. N. D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986).

Will Benedict XVI resign?

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict responded unambiguously to a question about whether a pope could resign: “Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

On the other hand, he did not favor resignation simply because the burden of the papacy is great.

“When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say someone else should do it.”

Pope explains decision to resign

Pope explains decision to resign 'My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of my ministry'
11 February 2013

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

Alison 5 of 9

5. The interface of desire and voices

Now here’s the trouble with spending time in the larder, removed from the eyes of your public, unable to act out. You gradually start to lose “who you are”. You start to dwell in the strange place which I call the interface between your “own” desire, very small, and only tentatively coming into being, timidly and somewhat shamefacedly, and the voices which run you, and which you have in fact so perfectly ventriloquised. I presume I’m not unique in having, after some time spent alone, occasionally detected the person who was speaking through me – the voice of my father or mother, or a headmaster, or some admired teacher, or political or religious leader. In other words, I had been giving voice to a pattern of desire taken on board from someone else. And of course, doing it with all the conviction of it being really me who was talking and desiring.

And that can be quite a shocking moment, as I realise how easily I have allowed myself to put aside, and indeed even to trample on, whatever delicate hints were pulling me in other less strident directions, and have instead rushed headlong into the first “persona” that seemed to give me a chance of being someone who counts. It is only with time spent in the larder that I may find that the One who sees me in secret is actually calling forth a quite different and richer set of desires, without such an easy and narrow straightjacket as my current persona. Furthermore, the One who sees in secret seems to be in much less of a hurry for me to avoid shame and “measure up” than I normally am.

Imagine, if you will, a childhood scene. Little Johnny is about to go to bed. Mummy comes to tuck him in and says “Little Johnny, did you say your prayers?” “Yes Mummy”. “Good, little Johnny. And what did you ask for in your prayers?” “I asked for… chocolate pudding tomorrow and for Arsenal to win on Saturday” “Oh no, little Johnny, you shouldn’t ask for chocolate pudding tomorrow and for Arsenal to win on Saturday. You should be praying for an end to suffering in the Middle East, relief for the famine in Bangladesh and the Holy Father’s Mission intentions for the month of May!”. Well, of course, little Johnny will take this on board. His smelly little desires have been urinated upon from a very great height, and he has been taught to despise them and instead to want much more “noble” things, things that will make him stand tall in the world of his parents. In fact, he has been taught St Matthew’s Gospel in reverse: desire according to the social other so as to get approval.

Here’s the thing: little Johnny is fast on the road to becoming a perfect puritan, a dweller in a world in which there are things that are nice but naughty, things one wants but shouldn’t say so, but also one in which there are things which are good but boring, which one doesn’t really want, but should at least say you do.

The curious thing is that, if we are to believe the Gospel, this is the reverse pattern of what God wants. It would appear that “Your Father who sees in secret” doesn’t despise our smelly little desires, and in fact, suggests that if only we can hold on to them, and insist on articulating them, that we will actually find for ourselves, over time, that we want more than those desires, but we really do want something with a passion. In other words, he takes us seriously in our weakness and unimportance, even when we don’t. If we learn to give some voice to those desires, then there’s a chance over time that we may move through them organically until we find ourselves the sort of humungous desirers who throw ourselves into peace work in the Middle East, or into famine-relief in Bangladesh, or even into being the sort of missionary for whom the Holy Father wants people to pray in May. But we’ll be doing so because we, who start from not really knowing what we want, by not despising our little desires, and learning to articulate them, have discovered from within that this is what we really want. And in our wanting will be who we come to be.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Another good party

We had another good parish party at the De Lasalle church tonight in honor of St. Valentine. We had lots of goodies to eat before we played Bingo. I won one of the three prizes, but what did I win? I purchased two tickets for three Jordanian Dinars and I won one dinar back. It looks like we'll need some revisions to this game. Hmmm.

When I came home I ate a meal that a parishioner packed for me. I was stunned. I was about two pounds of Maine lobster in a sweet and sour Asian sauce. Very lovely. I hadn't had a combination like that before. I enjoyed it.

I then went to do the first of two of my art projects. This was a lot of work. It took 1.5 hours to draw three still life objects and their shading. I did myself in because I made the objects large, which makes the shading more difficult. Tomorrow, when I begin the next piece of homework, I'll choose a more manageable scale.

After doing some writing, I'm heading to bed early. It is already 10:45 p.m.

Two Turtledoves

I took some time this afternoon to sit on the roof deck and breathe in the spring air. I would have spent more time, but it is time to get ready for mass. It was lovely to breathe in fresh air and take a breather for the weekend. Three workers from Jesuit Relief Services were busy planning their schedules on the deck as well. All seemed peaceful.

When I came back to my office, two turtledoves sat outside my window and began cooing. They can't see me because of the reflective glass, but they sounded melodic. It is nice to see wildlife other than those feral cats. Store owners put their parakeets and other birds outside this morning for some fresh air.

Street vendors are cooking outdoors and people are beginning to hang out more. The food idea looks good. I wish there were a park where people could gather and enjoy themselves. A woman came by our center today just to pray in our gardens. Besides the flowers I mentioned earlier, the place is filled with grass. It is too bad they will all burn down in May. It is good that people are feeling they can just remain outside a bit.

Bacon and eggs

I awoke early this morning to check to see how much snow we received overnight, but then when I realized I was in Amman, I headed for a cup of coffee. I'm glad everyone I know is safe from the blizzard. Unfortunately, a few deaths occurred. One boy was trying to stay warm. He sat in his car with the engine and heater turned on and he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast as it is a Sunday. It was delicious. Every strip of bacon was uniformly cooked - lightly crisp, but not overdone. Yum. I had some bread, cheese, olive salad, and a banana for dessert.

Last night at the parish was fun. Much was going on and it was difficult to catch a breath. We welcomed a young woman into the R.C.I.A. process. She's from a Protestant background and has been meeting with me for a while to learn about the faith. Her sister is also interested in understanding more about Catholicism.

I ran around. I heard confessions, organized the Rite of Welcome, rehearsed the choir, made sure the hall was open (which is always a major effort), set up the altar, met two visiting priests, made sure the second collection was going to happen, and gather my notes for announcements. When I started saying Mass, I found out I also had to cantor the psalm. I was introducing new music anyways. I just had to brush through Mass rather than think about anything.

I baked two cakes for the parish gathering after mass. I was very happy that 40-50 people came to meet one another, especially to meet the woman who is to be received into full communion this Easter. It was filled with good spirits - a very happy time. They loved that I baked a cake for them. Some suggested I ought to market it for commercial value, but it is really just out of a cookbook.

I'm beginning two classes this week on spirituality. I'm glad to be offering something like this to the parish. It is where I excel.

Spring is in the air! Shrubs are noticeably expanding and early spring flowers are dotted the few gardens. We have miniature jonquils, buttercups, and a daffodil-like flower in bloom. An apricot tree produced a bud and flowers are popping up because the amount of daylight is lengthening. I'm told that spring comes in early to mid-March. We are almost there.

But............ I don't like hot weather.


I learned why many people in Jordan still smoke a lot. Jordanian cigarettes cost 1 JD, which is equivalent to one U.S. dollar. The price was lowered in November from 1.5 JD because the government wanted to have lower prices for home-grown cigarettes rather than have people spend money on foreign brand cigarettes. People will never stop smoking as this is a disincentive.

Traffic is heavy again as the children have resumed classes this week.

We had a Jesuit visitor from the U.S.A. east coast this week. It was good to be with him. We went to a Jordanian Italian restaurant called La Calle and had a very tasty pizza and two pints of beer. The next day I ate at a Mexican restaurant and I enjoyed the food and the company a great deal.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Alision 4 of 9

4. The public nature of desire

The first thing I want to point out about them is that they take for granted the public nature of human life and relationships including prayer. As one would expect, given the understanding of desire which I’ve been trying to flesh out with you, it is not the case that there are two equal and opposed realities: who I am in public and who I am in private. Rather it is the case that there is one reality: who I am in public. Privacy is a temporary subsection of an essentially public way of being. Jesus, and the New Testament as a whole, simply takes for granted the public nature of religious, cultural and political life. Given that, it becomes more plausible to see why Jesus is described in various places as withdrawing to pray. Typically these moments of withdrawal come in the immediate aftermath of a major interaction with a crowd following a miracle. And it is not hard to see why. The risk which any leader runs, especially one who is enjoying a certain success, is becoming infected by the desires of their followers, allowing themselves to believe about themselves what the followers believe, and to be flattered into acting out the projections which have raised them up, and thus to become the puppet of their crowd’s desires.

Jesus’ moving off to pray shows that he understood his need to detox from the pattern of desire which threatened to run him – people wanting to make him King, or proclaim him as Messiah in a way that was far from what he was trying to teach them. He was acquainted with what we call temptation – the risk of being lured by the social other into a pattern of desire which is presented under the guise of being good but is not good. So, he needed to spend time having his “I” strengthened by receiving his pattern of desire from Another Other. One classic recognition of Jesus’ being tempted, and his refusal to be beguiled by it, comes when he tells Peter “Get thou behind me, Satan!” [4]. He rejects Peter’s attempt to dissuade him from entering into the pathway of suffering that will lead to his death. Peter is linked to the Tempter, the stumbling block, and is told that his mind is disposed according to the culture of men, and not according to the culture of God.

Given this, let us turn to Jesus’ explicit teaching about prayer, especially as we find it in Matthew 6, but with some reference to Luke also.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus’ comments on prayer are embedded in a teaching about patterns of desire.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” [5] (Italics mine)

Before he gets to talking about prayer, Jesus is already demonstrating an understanding of desire. His presupposition is that we are all immensely needy people who long for approval and rewards. He doesn’t say “Really, this is too infantile. You shouldn’t be wanting approval or rewards. Grow up and be self-starting, self-contained heroic individuals who act on entirely rational grounds”. On the contrary, he takes it for granted that we desperately need approval. The question is: whose approval is going to run us? The danger of seeking approval from the social other is that you will get it, and thereafter you will be hooked on that approval. It will literally give you to be who you are and what you will become. You will act out of the pattern of desire which the social other gives you.

I used to think that the phrase “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward”, especially when pronounced in booming tones by a Scots-accented Calvinist preacher, was a euphemism for sending someone to Hell. But it makes much more sense if you see it as an anthropological observation: the trouble about seeking the approval of the social other, is that you will get it. You will act in such a way as to get that approval, and then become its puppet. And because of that you will be selling yourself short. You won’t be wanting enough, you will have too little desire. Your “self” will be a shadow of what you could be if you allowed the Creator to call you into being.

(As an aside: isn’t it interesting that Jesus gives as an example of how one should give alms something which is physiologically almost impossible. What on earth does it mean, in practice, for the left hand not to know what the right hand is doing? It suggests the kind of lack of personal coordination that only a person who isn’t a stable self can manage. I’m not quite sure what is being recommended here, but I got a hint of what it might mean not long ago. After some time of going along with the seemingly endless requests for money from a friend whom I had been supporting, I was tempted to do some accounting and work out how much I had given him over time as part of a way of trying to put some parameters into place as to what my giving and our relationship might look like in the future. Mercifully I’m not a very good accountant, but in any case, half-way through my record-checking exercise, I realised that I was, as it were, grasping onto my own generosity, attempting to make of it something that defined me over against him, in such a way that it became a bargaining chip in a relationship. And I also realised that in that very moment of grasping, what I had been doing had ceased to be an act of generosity, and I had ceased to be someone through whom Another other’s generosity might flow.)

When Jesus turns to prayer the understanding of desire is identical: what people really want is approval, a particular reputation in the eyes of others and this leads them to act out in such a way that they will get that approval – and that is the problem. They get the approval, and with it, they are given a “self” that is the function of the group’s desire. Belonging and approval go together. This means, incidentally, that someone is thereafter exceedingly unlikely to be self-critical in relationship to their group belonging. They will agree to cover up whatever in themselves and in other group members needs covering up in order for the group to maintain its unanimity, and for themselves to keep their reputation, which means their “self”.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [6]

Instead Jesus urges his disciples to receive their “self” from “Another other” (and the Matthean code for “Another other” is “your Father who sees in secret” or “your Father who is in heaven” – that is, the Creator who is absolutely not part of the give and take, the tit-for-tat reciprocity of the social other). The image Jesus uses here is curious, since mostly our translations refer to a “room” into which we are supposed to go, which we in turn tend to associate with our bedroom, assuming that to be a private place. Yet the word ταμειον is more accurately rendered “storeroom”, larder or pantry. This was the room, in an ancient Middle Eastern house, which was totally enclosed inside a building, with no windows. The purpose of such a space in a culture which had neither central heating nor refrigeration was to ensure that perishable food stored in it would be less susceptible to extremes of either cold or heat. It also meant that once you had shut the door from the inside, you could neither see out, nor be seen.

Here in short, Jesus is recommending the psychological equivalent of the physiological dislocation we saw in the previous example. He is saying: “You are addicted to being who you are in the eyes of your adoring public, or your execrating public, it doesn’t matter which, since crowd love and crowd hate give identity in just the same dangerous way. So, go into a place where you are forcibly in detox from the regard of those who give you identity so that your Father, who alone is not part of that give and take, can have a chance to call your identity into being.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alison 3 of 9

3. Which other?

So thoroughly do we assume the “blob and arrow” model of self and desire that we find it difficult to imagine that the New Testament authors might be closer to the world of what we would consider primitive animist cults than to our own. For in the world of animist cults it is perfectly obvious to everybody that people are moved by what is other than themselves. Indeed, in the various trances or dances into which the participants are inducted by mixtures of music and chanting, “spirits” will “come down” and “possess” or “ride” the participants, whose normal demeanour will be temporarily displaced by the quite recognisable public persona of the spirit in question.

Given this, it is perhaps interesting to see how much closer to that world St Paul is than we sometimes imagine:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [3]

To paraphrase: “We are part of a new social other that is being brought into being, painfully, in the midst of the collapse of a dead-end way of being human. This new social other is being brought into being through our learning to desire it, which is something we want, but are very poor at articulating. The tension of being pulled between two sorts of social other is absolutely vital for us – and what enables us to live it is hope. Given that we don’t know how to desire and express our desire, the Spirit is Another other desiring within us without displacing us so that it will actually be we who are brought into the New Creation.”

Please see what Paul and the animists have in common: the understanding that we are more desired-in than desirers. And that this is, in itself, neither a good nor a bad thing. It is just what we are. The difference between the animists and the Hebrew question is not whether we are moved by another, but by which other are we moved? For “spirits”, idols and so forth are merely violent disguises by which the social other moves us, such that those spirits temporarily displace us, make us act “out of character” and trap us into being functions of themselves, usually demanding sacrifice. Whereas the Spirit of God is the Spirit of the Creator, and thus is in no way at all a function of anything that is. Quite the reverse, everything that is is a function of the Creator. The Creator is not in any sort of rivalry with us, and is thus able to move us from within, bringing us into being, without displacing us.

Let us not be fooled by a difference of language here: traditionally we refer to spirits possessing people, and there is, in the word “possess” a note of violence concerning the relationship between the spirit and the person possessed. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we refer to the Spirit indwelling, or inhabiting the person, words without any connotation of violence. However, please notice that the human mechanism of being moved is the same in both cases. What is different is the quality of the “other” that is doing the moving.

I hope that we are now in a better position to look at some of the Gospel texts on prayer.