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Looking back over Lents past

“Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”
A. W. Tozer
 
By Mary Morrell
Wellspring Communications
 
Looking back over Lents past, I have to admit my most meaningful Lenten experience happened when I spent the week before Easter in the hospital with my youngest son. It was certainly unexpected, but life doesn’t ask you if you’re prepared before it throws the unexpected your way.
 
After rushing a very ill 18-year-old to the emergency room, I spent the next eight hours waiting for a room, with nothing to do except observe what was happening around us.
 
During this time, I discovered that there really is no more fruitful place to spend some time journeying toward Easter than in the emergency room.
 
This is a place to truly experience the suffering of the cross.
 
Being present in an emergency room places a person in close proximity to the vulnerability of others. Here, amid the woundedness, amid the relationship of sufferers and caregivers, are powerful lessons to be learned.
 
Just observing how each person dealt differently with suffering was an education for me. There was the young woman, hysterical and in great pain, who was un-consolable until her husband arrived. His presence calmed her immediately.
 
Then there was a middle-aged man, involved in a car accident, who repeatedly entered into verbal warfare with a person in the room, attempting to place the blame for his injuries on someone else, as if that would make him hurt less. He made caregiving difficult.
 
But the patient who touched me the most was a little old lady, obviously suffering from some form of dementia as well as physical problems, whose repeated outbursts had the tone of a raspy voiced boxer. Time after time, throughout the course of a very long day, she called out to children who were not there, “Carol, I need my puffer!!”
 
“Carol, are you listening to me?”
 
“Carol, you’re killing me here!”
 
Obviously this woman realized she was totally dependent on others and had no choice except to surrender to their care, but she seemed also to know that surrender didn’t mean giving up the fight.
 
In fact, after one especially loud round of outbursts, a very wise nurse was heard to say, “She’s a contendah!”
 
And that she was, but to me she was also an example of the living, flame of faith that surrenders itself to God, and in so doing, gains more strength and more fire.
 
Still, every once in a while this suffering woman with the cartoon-character voice would lose her feistiness and plead with an absent son: “Help me, please, please, please!”
 
It was at those times that her anger would give way to the vulnerability that is manifest when a person acknowledges his or her needs. This is the time when true strength rises in the heart of a person, a time when we are strong enough to be humble.
 
Watching those around us in the emergency room was a reminder to me that pain is inevitable, and that the only way back to peace and joy is to walk through the pain, as Jesus did on the way to Gethsemane.
 
But a lesson was confirmed for me during what would be some very long days and nights in the hospital: The surest way though pain is with love—whether it is the self-giving of family or friends, the compassionate presence of a priest, or the exceptional care of nurses or doctors who make a person feel as if they really do matter.
 
A wise bishop once told me that Easter was the greatest love story ever told. With that in mind, it would be a blessing during this Lenten season to walk with another person through his or her suffering and see our love give rise to the amazing grace of resurrection in another’s life.
 
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Inequality of basic needs

Pope Francis noted in “Laudato Si’” how environmental degradation has a disproportionate adverse impact on the impoverished of the world.
 
That is quite easy to see in the developing world. However, it is a little more subtle here in the United States and in the rest of the industrialized West.
 
Take the city of Flint, Mich., and its crisis of lead in the city water. By every measure, this community is a poor and primarily minority population. Unemployment in Flint runs about 1 percent above the national rate. More than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. In 2015 the median household income was under $25,000 -- less than half of the national median household income. Less than 83 percent of its residents are high school graduates and only 11.2 percent are college graduates.
 
The combination of population characteristics in Flint is often associated with a relatively powerless population.
 
In contrast, more than 91 percent of Vermont residents are high school graduates and more than 40 percent have higher levels of education.
 
Flint has been in the news because of its water problems.
 
Prevention of lead poisoning has long been an essential aspect of running public water systems.
 
Lead poisoning was recognized in ancient Roman and Greek times; it was known to be toxic to the human body and to have an adverse effect on the human mind.
Without rehashing all the details from Flint, changes made to the water system resulted in lead being leached from antiquated lead pipes.
 
The process lacked due diligence for the safety of the residents. There was also a failure by public officials to alert the community to the hazard after the problem was recognized. Delays in remediation and communication of the hazard were costly to the health of many children.
 
A child’s brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning; lead poisoning results in reduced intellectual and emotional growth along with behavioral problems. Those health and social problems will continue impose burdens on these impoverished families and society for decades to come.
 
Flint’s poverty clearly played a role in this tragedy. City officials, perhaps operating in very good faith, saw an opportunity to reduce the cost of its water system and moved to take advantage of the savings without having done a sufficiently thorough engineering analysis that would have identified the potential problems and prevented the disastrous consequences. A more prosperous city might not have seen the need to take the risk or revamping the water system.
 
This is but one example of lead or other toxic chemicals in the drinking water, the air or the soil in less-affluent communities in the United States. Lead has been ubiquitous in paint on the walls of older housing stock in poor communities. Lead can even be carried in dust and transported by wind. The consequences of these hazards fall on the impoverished residents of those communities. According to a report from Reuters News Service, high levels of blood lead in children have recently been identified in nearly 3,000 other U.S. locations, including large cities and small towns.1
 
In Vermont, the chemical PFOA2 has migrated in ground water to North Bennington from a manufacturing plant in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. PFOA is suspected of causing cancer. Vermont officials and company officials have endeavored to respond appropriately to the needs of local residents, but in this situation it is hard to predict what the final economic and health burdens for residents will be.3 These burdens are worse for the poor since limited financial resources limit options to remedy a problem.
 
The moral imperative is clear. Health effects of hazardous materials must be properly and pro-actively addressed by public officials and private sector decision makers. There can be no excuse for exposing human beings to risk of significant harm, whether by overt action or by failure to act. With deteriorating infrastructure and increased budgetary pressures, I fear the problem may even get worse. The effects will disproportionately harm the impoverished and the voiceless.
 
 
Footnotes:
1 www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa- lead-testing/
2 PFOA: Perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used in producing Teflon.
3 www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/nyregion/vermont-town- is-latest- to-face- pfoa-tainted- water-scare.html?_r=0


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Of Immigrants and Refugees

American history has always fascinated me. We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. All of us, except for those descended from the Native American tribes, have immigration in our background. And with the exception of those descended from African American slaves, our families immigrated either seeking refuge from oppression or seeking economic and social freedom.
 
In history, a number of cycles of “nativism” have emerged over the years. Nativism is built on fear of the unknown, fear of those who are perceived as different. Among the groups of immigrants that faced opposition were Catholics (Irish, Italian and Eastern European), Jews (Russian, Eastern European and German) and Asians. It is ironic that with each wave of immigration, high achievement arose over one to two generations. That high achievement benefited not only the immigrant families but the broader community as well.
 
On Feb. 21, Pope Francis made a compelling statement that we all need to think about. EWTN News reported that on Feb. 21: “Defending (migrants’) inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedom and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted.”
 
We have to take his message very seriously.
 
Against this background, let us examine the current debate on immigration and refugees. Recent executive actions are playing into and exacerbating nativist fears and suspicions about two groups: Muslims and Latin Americans, especially the 11 million or so “illegal aliens” now living in the United States.
 
The current plan for “extreme vetting” plays well in the minds of many and would seem to be reasonable except for one thing: The average refugee admitted to the U.S. has already gone through about two years of vetting by U.S. agents. A moratorium that allows for a review of the current vetting process, again, sounds reasonable.
 
This is something that was discussed throughout much of the recent presidential campaign. But does this mean that the present vetting process should necessarily be suspended while this review takes place? The unfortunate decision to suspend all immigration from particular countries has lead to unnecessary human suffering.
 
Legitimate refugees continue to suffer in camps that fail to meet the basic human needs of the refugees. MOST of the illegal immigrants in this country work hard at agricultural jobs and whatever jobs they can find. Much of the food we eat is produced and picked by their hands. They are in the shadows of the economy. Some of them are our neighbors here in Vermont.
 
They have come to the U.S. with the same motivation that our own ancestors had -- to seek a better life for themselves and their children. They desire refuge from oppression and danger.
 
Does deportation really make sense? Not as a blanket policy that makes no distinctions based on individual situations. Perhaps some form of legalization makes more sense on a practical level.
 
We cannot morally turn our backs on these immigrants and on the refugees. Making it impossible for them to enter or remain in the U.S. under the ruse of security and legality simply is wrong! It is time for a better solution.
 
____________
 
Deacon Pete Gummere is Director of the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Burlington and serves at Corpus Christi Parish in the St. Johnsbury area. He is adjunct faculty at the Josephinum Diaconate Institute where he teaches moral theology and medical morality.
 
 

Movie review: ‘Rock Dog’

"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog," Elvis Presley famously crooned six decades ago. That pretty well describes "Rock Dog" (Summit Premiere), a feeble animated comedy about a canine with unlikely musical aspirations.
 
On Snow Mountain, high in the Himalayas, a Tibetan Mastiff named Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson) is stuck in the shadow of his stern father, Khampa (voice of J.K. Simmons). Their two-dog mission is to guard the village from marauding wolves eager to eat the resident sheep population.
 
Bodi prefers playing his guitar to sentry duty. When a passing airplane drops a radio from the sky, it's like manna from heaven. Turning the dial to a rock 'n' roll station (reception is remarkably clear), Bodi is entranced by the music of legendary rock-and-roller Angus Scattergood (voice of Eddie Izzard).
 
The village elder, fittingly named Fleetwood Yak (voice of Sam Elliott), convinces Khampa to let his son leave the village and seek his destiny in the big city.
 
"It's your life. Make it a happy one," Fleetwood tells Bodi.
 
And so Bodi hops the bus (mass transit is also surprisingly good), lands in the nearby metropolis -- filled with anthropomorphic species -- and seeks out Angus' heavily guarded compound.
 
The aging rocker, a hipster cat with a British accent and a sassy robot butler named Ozzie, invites the awestruck fan into his lair, but his motives are not sincere. Angus needs a new hit, and Bodi's fresh talent might be just the ticket.
 
Meanwhile, the big bad wolf pack, led by Linnux (voice of Lewis Black), is inspired by Bodi's departure to mount a final assault on Snow Mountain. Sporting gangster attire and driving stretch limos, these cool dudes have one goal in mind: feasting on grilled lamb chops.
 
Director and co-writer (with Kurt Voelker) Ash Bannon keeps the story moving while borrowing heavily from other animated films, including "Zootopia" and "WALL-E."
 
Despite the dangers characters occasionally face and Angus' mildly intemperate language (he says things like "stupid bloody idiot!"), "Rock Dog" is mindless fare acceptable for all -- except possibly the most easily frightened.
 
The film contains a few scenes of peril.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
 

Book review: 'The Best is Yet to Come'

“The Best is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment.” By Sister Anne Bryan Smollin. Indiana: Sorin Books, 2016. 192 pages. Paperback: $15.95; Kindle: $10.99; Nook: $10.99.
 
Let’s talk about a number, and that number is 86,400.
 
This is how Sister of St. Joseph Anne Smollin begins her final book, “The Best is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment,” and it becomes clear very quickly that she has not chosen this number arbitrarily. In the first of many parables – this book is full of them -- Sister Smollin proposes this hypothetical situation: Suppose you win a contest and the prize is a bank account in your name. Each day, the bank deposits $86,400 into that account, and you are free to spend the money any way you want.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?
 
But there are a few rules you must abide by. The first is that you and only you can spend the money. Second, you can’t transfer any of the money to someone else’s account. And third, anything you don’t spend is taken away at the end of the day. At the beginning of the next day, the bank deposits a fresh $86,400 into your account for you to spend on that day and that day only. The final rule is that the bank can close your account at any time without warning, and you will not be issued a new one.
 
We all have such an account, Sister Smollin says; it’s called time, and 86,400 is the number of seconds, or moments, we are gifted with each day.  How we spend this gift is totally up to us; we can use it to live in love and joy or we can squander it on complaining and negativity. What Sister Smollin’s book does is show us, through humor, personal experience and stories just how to do the former.
 
As a counselor and educator, Sister Smollin spent her life helping people learn to use God’s gift of time to the fullest. Many of the anecdotes in this book are drawn from those people and experiences; quite a few of them take place in airports and on planes. (She was an international speaker and spent her share of time traveling.)  All of them are positive and affirming, and several are just plain funny – Sister Smollin obviously took great pleasure in conveying an important lesson by way of a good joke. And she is just as apt to let the joke be on her; she has that rare quality of taking her message seriously and herself lightly.
 
There are 27 chapters in this book, and each one is easily manageable in a sitting.  This does not mean, however, that what is written is trite. On the contrary, these seemingly simple stories tend to creep up on the reader until he or she is suddenly aware that what made them laugh (or cry) has also made them think.
 
Sister Smollin died unexpectedly though peacefully on Sept. 25, 2014, having just celebrated 50 years of religious life.  This book was published posthumously, and the foreword, written by her best friend Sister of St. Joseph Patricia A. St. John, stands as a testament to the authenticity of Sister Smollin’s life and her words. “We never know what another person is carrying in their heart: what sorrow, pain, discouragement, devastation,” Sister Smollin once told her friend. “Let’s always err on the side of kindness.”
 
This is ultimately both a kind and a wise book, one which shows us the way to live in God’s joy, every minute of every day.
 
Sister of St. Joseph Anne Bryan Smollin (1943– 2014) was an international lecturer on wellness and spirituality. An educator and therapist, she earned a doctorate in counseling psychology from Walden University in Florida and was executive director of the Counseling for Laity center in Albany, N.Y. She is also the author of “Tickle Your Soul” (Sorin Books, 1999), “God Knows You’re Stressed” (Sorin Books, 2001), and “Live, Laugh, and Be Blessed” (Sorin Books, 2006).
 

Other persons are a gift

A few days ago I met a very little girl who made a big impression on me. Grace and her older brother, Benedict, suffer from a rare genetic disorder that has resulted in serious hearing impairment and limited physical growth. The two come to our home for the elderly each week with their mother to pray the rosary with our residents. Watching Grace and Benedict interact with the elderly, I was amazed by their maturity and graciousness. I almost felt that I was in the presence of angels – such was the radiance of these two beautiful little ones in the midst of our frail seniors.
 
In all likelihood, Grace and Benedict will never make an impact on the world scene, and yet I believe that they, and so many other little, hidden souls, make a huge difference in our world spiritually. This is what our Holy Father is suggesting by his Lenten message this year.
 
The theme he has proposed for our 2017 journey through Lent is “The Word is a Gift. Other Persons are a Gift.”
 
Using the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from St. Luke’s Gospel, Pope Francis turns our attention to those whom we might usually ignore. He compares the anonymity of the rich man, who is never named in Scripture, with Lazarus, who appears with a specific name and a unique story. Lazarus “becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast.”
 
The pope continues, “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value.” Lent, he says, is a favorable season for recognizing the face of Christ in God’s little ones. “Each of us meets people like this every day,” says the pope. “Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.”
 
This is what our foundress St. Jeanne Jugan did so beautifully. Mindful of Christ’s promise that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to Him, she opened her heart and her home definitively to the needy elderly of her day. She often counseled the young Little Sisters, “Never forget that the poor are Our Lord. … When you will be near the poor, give yourself wholeheartedly, for it is Jesus Himself whom you care for in them.”
 
Jeanne Jugan looked upon each elderly person with the loving gaze of Christ and so she saw each one as a treasure worthy of reverence and loving care. She knew that despite outward appearances, each person to whom she offered hospitality was someone for whom Christ died and rose again; each one was someone worthy of the gift of her own life.
 
Pope Francis’ prayer this Lent is that the Holy Spirit will lead us “on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.” Let us pray for one another, he concluded, “so that by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and the poor. Then we will be able to share to the full the joy of Easter.”
 
I thank God for my recent encounter with Grace and Benedict, for they opened my eyes anew to the beauty in each human person. My wish for you this Lent is that God lead might you to a similar life-changing encounter.
 
Sister Constance Veit is the director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 

Listen for the Gentle Whisper of God

“Rebuild my Church.” That was the call and will of God as St. Francis first “heard” those three powerful words. He would hear that request more than once, as he prayed in a worse-for-wear battered old chapel. So Francis took to repairing the chapel, and did so with great care and prayer.
 
But in his heart, Francis began to understand those haunting words were more than a literal “fix it” job. God was inviting him to fix what was wrong with the society and spirituality of the times.
 
From those three little words, came a revolution in the form of what would be a new kind of religious order and indeed, a new kind of Church.
 
Our Lenten and Easter Days, blossoming into 50 Days of Easter, touch us too in the 21st Century. As St. Francis discovered, the doors of the heart open if we spend some time listening and opening those doors.
 
What better time to do so than throughout the solemn days of Lent, the Triduum
of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the glories of Eastertime.
 
The key is to carve out some quiet time with the Lord. Why not try to arrive at church 15 minutes early. That might provide some “listening” time to seek God’s will.
 
And during the liturgy, we need to listen attentively to the readings and Gospel for the day, for listening to God’s Holy Word is indeed a powerful prayer.
 
Also, listen throughout the day, listening with courtesy to others – in our home, in our family and at work. We need to listen closely because the Lord answers in His own way.
 
With St. Francis, we come to the Lord in the silence of our hearts, sweeping out the cobwebs of our own excess and selfishness. Ask God what is right for you. Many people seek the help of a spiritual director. But as Francis found, we must pray silently: “Have mercy on us” (in Lent) – and “Alleluia” (in the Easter Season).
 
Perhaps then, even arriving just 15 minutes before Mass will afford time to kneel or sit quietly, leaving behind all the hectic moments of our charged lives, the better to ask God for His will in our particular lives. Ask God to help you know what “mission” is needed in the new life of grace showered on us in this holy season.
 
Father Campagna is provincial of the Province of the Immaculate Conception and director of Franciscan Mission Associates.
 
For more information, go to www.franciscanmissionassoc.org.
 

The Whole-Hearted Beauty of St. Anthony

By Father Robert Campagna, OFM
 
The name Anthony spans many cultures and seemed to prophesy a distinguished history, at the very least. St. Anthony of Padua, born Fernando Bulhones, was the only son of a distinguished Portuguese family serving the king and the Church in the early 13th Century. His baptized name, Fernando, meant “seeker” or “peace combatant,” a moniker looking to a future leader’s pathways.
 
Yet, even through childhood, young Fernando made it clear that he aimed to serve Jesus. By the year 1221, Fernando was an Augustinian priest for two years. He was a devout and brilliant young man with a profound love of the Gospel and the poor. With God’s grace, he transferred to a new and radical Franciscan order, taking the name Anthony. He had long hoped to answer a call to radical poverty and hermit life.
 
He learned that surrendering to God’s will is the heart of Christian living. And thus, he became a great teacher, confessor, preacher, father to the poorest of the poor, even a historian in many ways. His homilies still speak to all of us today.
 
This great preacher and priest always got to the heart of the matter. No frills.
 
Speaking of putting God first in our lives, St. Anthony went right to the First Commandment: You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart. His sermons drew thousands, often spilling into fields and village squares. Hold back no corner of your heart, he said, when praying and especially in asking pardon for our sins. He cited dear Lord’s opening his Sacred Heart because of His love for us.
 
When we imitate Our Lord in giving all – even to his Body and Blood, St. Anthony understood, God will take our “all” and give it back to us. But, when touched by
God, whole, purified, cleansed and with a new heart, God waits for us.
 
The moral of his sermon: We all need to make choices. But it is easier to do so with a heart growing to accommodate more love than we could even imagine, a love-filled heart burning with the image of God’s own heart.
 
Father Campagna is provincial of the Province of the Immaculate Conception and director of Franciscan Mission Associates.
 
For more information, go to www.franciscanmissionassoc.org.
 

Movie review: 'The Lego Batman Movie'

In 2014's "The Lego Movie," Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City's Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff "The Lego Batman Movie" (Warner Bros.), Arnett's character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage.
 
Despite occupying the spotlight, however, this time out, the Caped Crusader will have to learn some important lessons in humility, teamwork and emotional openness if he's going to meet his latest challenge. That's because his longtime adversary, the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis), is leading an army of bad guys in a bid to prove that he is Batman's most important enemy.
 
Just as the isolated, relationship-shunning hero insists on working alone to fight crime, so he slaps the Joker down when the Clown Prince of Crime puts himself forward as the Cowled One's indispensable foil.
 
"You're nothing to me," Batman growls in a scene that cleverly inverts a familiar trope, substituting the Joker's longing to be told he's hated for the more usual goal of exacting a declaration of love. Soon the spurned villain is scheming to destroy Gotham and thus bring his rivalry with Batman to a decisive close.
 
To vanquish him, Batman will have to accept the help of the trio of supporters who have rallied to his side: would-be adoptive son Dick Grayson, aka Robin (voice of Michael Cera), love interest Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl (voiced by Rosario Dawson), and father figure (as well as butler) Alfred Pennyworth (voice of Ralph Fiennes).
 
Still burdened by the loss of his parents -- their murder is only hinted at by a childhood photo taken at a moment aficionados of chiropteran lore will recognize as laden with doom -- Bruce Wayne, and therefore his alter ego, finds it difficult to make himself vulnerable again. It will take all of Robin's irrepressible good spirits and Alfred's patriarchal concern, as well as Barbara's head-turning effect on Batman, to break through his barriers.
 
Fast-paced fun is the order of the day in director Chris McKay's animated treat for viewers of almost every age. Still, scenes of danger and a bit of potty humor as well as a few joking turns of phrase designed for grownups suggest that small fry would best be left at home. The wide remaining audience will find the screen chockablock with good guys, black hats and monsters -- and the dialogue enlivened by sly wit.
 
The film contains perilous situations, including explosions, and a couple of instances each of vaguely crass language, scatological humor and mature wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
 

Theology isn't math

During the heyday of the Solidarity movement, a famous Polish slogan had it that, “For Poland to be Poland, 2 + 2 Must Always = 4.” It was a quirky but pointed way of challenging the communist culture of the lie, which befogged public life and warped relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, colleagues and neighbors. For Poland to be something other than the claustrophobic Soviet puppet-state it had been since 1945 – for Poland to be itself, true to its character and history – Poland had to live in the truth: It had to be a country in which 2 + 2 always equaled 4.
           
That Solidarity slogan harkened back to George Orwell’s “1984.” In Orwell’s dystopian novel, a totalitarian state maintains social control by obfuscating reality, using what the British author called “Newspeak” and “doublethink” to compel its subjects to acknowledge as true what they know is false. Thus one of the more odious of the characters in the novel, a regime stooge whose job is to break the will of “thought criminals,” explains that if Big Brother and the omnipotent Party say so, two plus two doesn’t necessarily equal four: “Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once.”
           
Which brings us to a tweet earlier this month from Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a prominent figure on the current Roman scene.
            
I don’t use Twitter, so its syntactical wonderland is a bit foreign to me. And having had previous experience of Father Spadaro’s capacity for provocation-via-Twitter, I’m prepared to think that, in this case, he may have been trying to say something other than what he seemed to be saying. But as his tweet rang ominous bells for anyone familiar with Orwell or Solidarity, it’s worth reflecting upon.
           
Here’s what Father Spadaro tweeted (in linear, rather than Twitter, format): “Theology is not Mathematics. 2 + 2 in Theology can make 5. Because it has to do with God and real life of people.”
           
Now that was not, so to speak, a tweet in a vacuum. It was a message projected into an already-overheated Catholic conversation about the proper interpretation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In that context, the charitable reading of the tweet is that Father Spadaro was reminding us of the obvious – that pastoral care is an art, and that the priest dealing with complicated and messy human situations is not like a first-grade teacher drilling six-year olds in addition.
 
But then the question inevitably arises, what is the relationship of truth to pastoral care? And why suggest, even in Twitter-world, that there are multiple “truths” – a convention of the post-modern academic playpen that leads by a short road to the chaos of “your truth” and “my truth” and nothing properly describable as the truth?
As for theology, the word means speaking-of-God, which in Christian terms speaking of the One who is Truth – the Truth who makes us free in the deepest meaning of human liberation. There are many ways of doing theology, and not all of them are strictly syllogistic; St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, doctors of the Church, were not logicians. But if theology decays into illogical forms of Newspeak, it is false to itself.
           
It was providential that Christianity had its first “inculturation” in a milieu – Greco-Roman antiquity – where the principle of non-contradiction was well-established and something couldn’t “be” and “not be” simultaneously. That cultural environment was where Christianity found the conceptual tools to turn confession and proclamation – “Jesus is Lord” – into catechesis and creed. Suppose the first “inculturation” had been in a setting where it made perfect sense to say “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is not Lord” at the same time – like the culture of India two millennia ago? It made a great deal of difference that the first formative centuries of Christianity took place in a culture where 2 + 2 always equaled 4.
           
Applying the truths of the faith to the complexities of life is not a matter of logic alone. But if attempts to do so are illogical, in that they stretch truth to the breaking point, they’re unlikely to be pastorally effective. Because the soul needs truth to be free.       
 
 
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