There are so many things to say about Pope Francis, and much has been already said. Maybe too much! Certainly his opening gestures and homilies are genuine evidence of his superlative qualities as a spiritual father. And these qualities were apparently on full display from his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here are some splendid pieces that delve a bit deeper than the typical media item on the latest occupant of St. Peter’s chair plus some words from Pope Francis himself. Enjoy!
1) In the Atlantic magazine: Slum Priests: Pope Francis’s Early Years
2) In Commonweal magazine: Pope Francis & the Junta (this piece is an important antidote to the New York Times-led campaign to discredit Francis over the past week)
3) Pope Francis’ inauguration homily – full text
Update: Pope Francis will visit prisoners and celebrate Mass with them – on Holy Thursday no less, according to this report.
I’m not one of those who believes that the gospel can be communicated in a secular idiom without some loss of meaning. I’ve read enough attempts to translate Christian theology into psychological or philosophical categories alone to believe that it’s just not possible to translate the Christian Word into some worldly parallel counterpart.
However… there are days when I read something that strikes me as so perfectly in tune with the Christian message from an allegedly non-religious perspective, that I begin to wonder. Here is a very well done article written by Emily Esfahani Smith concerning the life and thought of Viktor Frankl, Vienna psychaitrist and Holocaust survivor.
And I just have to say: it’s the perfect article to complement the Lenten season. Lent is often viewed as so much Christian dreariness: “why focus on sin and suffering?” ask the worldly crowds. “Be happy.” “Pursue happiness…” as the American constitution so famously puts it.
Well, no actually. Happiness is fleeting. But meaning isn’t. And Christian theology is not alone in saying so.
From midway down into the article:
Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.
Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.
Lent, as a season of reflection on the mystery of suffering endured by the Lord Jesus and the sinfulness of our world today -a world in which we are active participants – is not something ‘way out in left field.’ It marks a tangible, indeed necessary way to establish meaning in our lives with ties to a mixed past and linked to our planned future. This is about meaning, not happiness.
And that is okay because we can’t plan to be happy, not perfectly so anyway. And I’m happy to say that meaning takes care of that. Christian meaning trumps happiness completely, since it confronts evil and death (no less!) through the life of Jesus and the events of his death on Good Friday and Easter resurrection. I hope that you will find this article to be a meaningful gift as I did. And if it makes you happy, well … enjoy the moment!
With the possibility of new legislation or protocols being introduced in Quebec this coming spring concerning the application of the so-called ‘laïcité‘ principle, the topic of religious freedom is on some people’s minds. We are likely to see in the not too distant future legislation being introduced which would regulate the extent to which civil servants are permitted to wear clothing or jewellery that has a religious meaning attached to it.
Given the perilous state of Quebec’s minority government, it’s far from certain that such legislation, if proposed, will pass. Regardless: there are plenty of other issues that bear to a greater or lesser extent on the question of religious freedom, including the case of Montreal’s own Loyola High School. That case, which is still before the courts, does indeed concern religious freedom, the freedom of a school to teach about religion in accord with its Christian and Catholic character.
In Europe, things are more advanced (or in decline if you wish), and a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling on four cases dealing with religious freedom has recently been issued. A recent article by the famous American sociologist of religion, Peter Berger, makes for fascinating reading because in it, he compares the recent European rulings with a case or two from the United States, where constitutional guarantees concerning the separation of church and state have not led to a serene, uncontested public sphere – to put it mildly!
Another article by British academic, Roger Trigg, tackles the European cases astutely, noting that religious freedom, which is considered historically in many constitutions (and by the UN Declaration of Human Rights too) as a fundamental human right, has been trumped by political considerations. It’s a disturbing legal precedent, as he carefully makes clear, stating that:
The problem is that, for all their words about the importance of freedom of religion, in the cases of Mcafarlane and Ladele , the European judges do not appear to have put it in the balance against other rights, or tried to accommodate all parties. They have allowed the claims of religious freedom to be swept aside by other priorities.
He concludes soberingly:
Certainly, as is recognised in the case of conscientious objection in a time of war, it is the mark of civilised society to respect a conscientious stand, even if it is thought misguided. Whether freedom of religion can be simply replaced by an appeal to individual conscience is much more doubtful. Religion seems to be itself of deep importance in human life, and should be cherished. It has a social dimension, with institutional, as well as individual, aspects. What is quite clear is that once freedom of religion is not thought to be of absolutely fundamental importance in a society, but can give way to current social priorities, freedom of conscience also is challenged. Religious freedom, itself, is very hard to prise apart from the most basic freedoms that make any life worth living. It is regrettable that current European jurisprudence does not appear to take this point seriously.
These articles are somewhat challenging for those unaccustomed to reading about legal matters and such things.
But, given what’s coming in Quebec, we should perhaps sharpen our minds about how and why religious freedom is a vital issue for everyone, Christian or not.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve sometimes been approached at work to give to community charities, most of which I don’t particularly believe are as worthy as other charities. This happens quite a lot through my workplace. Since our charity giving is organized at home for groups that we know and appreciate, I tend to say ‘no’ to the other groups which come calling electronically or through the mail, via my workplace. Well, this story is an interesting twist on the possibility of charity ‘starting at work’ (as opposed to home). From the New York Time story:
On a cold November night in Times Square, Officer Lawrence DePrimo was working a counterterrorism post when he encountered an older, barefooted homeless man. The officer disappeared for a moment, then returned with a new pair of boots, and knelt to help the man put them on.
Charity begins at work? Well, if you are as kind and humble as this young police officer, yes apparently. Inspiring.
I like Ben Myers’ writing – it’s very honest-to-God and matter-of-fact. Myers is an Australian Protestant theologian, and he has a piece up from a few weeks ago on the importance of death. Yes, I know, not a funny subject, but it’s an honest and erstwhile attempt to approach a theologically laden theme within a narrative and common sense perspective. Refreshing almost. Enjoy the read.
Here is an excellent article from a Christian philosopher at Redeemer College in southern Ontario. In it, David Koyzis discusses a new book on the subject of tolerance by D. A. Carson. Koyzis remarks that Carson introduces an important distinction between an older form of tolerance and a newer form. The older one is much to be preferred. As Koyzis says:
Carson distinguishes between the older tolerance, based on the reality of a diversity of strongly held opinions coupled with the conviction that truth matters, and the newer tolerance, which is rooted in a refusal to judge the truth of any conviction other than that which says that truth matters.
The newer tolerance is actually relativism (the idea that my opinion and your opinion are equally valid no matter whether one view better corresponds to truth or not), and so the use of the label tolerance to describe an attitude of complete non-judgment towards anything and everything is actually an incorrect use of the word. Tolerance: an important idea, the true meaning of which we should not lose sight of.
Happy summer reading!
Here is an interesting story of a church group, based in northern Uganda, which has been playing a key role in restoring social peace and a sense of normalcy for the lives of many women and children who have been affected by the war that was brutally waged for many years by the so-called ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’. The leader of that army, Joseph Kony is a despotic, cruel tyrant who has been the subject of recent internet-based campaigns to track him down and bring him to justice. (He is alleged to be hiding out in southern Sudan.)
Here is a video about 10 year old Lydia Amito who, on a recent tour of the UK, gave the Queen a hug, contrary to protocol (I doubt whether anyone minded). Lydia, along with many other Ugandan children, suffered at the hands of the LRA for years, but peace is slowly returning to northern Uganda and so along with other children and women, Lydia has been returned to the area where she is from. Watoto, the church group which is assisting Lydia, is a charity. Like so many other charities, it is implicated in a host of compassionate (intended and unintended) consequences that follow from its good work. The apparent intended consequence is a sense of dignity which it is fostering among the people with whom it works. Perhaps unintentionally or indirectly anyways, this charitable work is bringing about the conditions necessary for a more prosperous and peaceful society, with all the political ramifications that this implies. That group is called Watoto, and here is their website.
Recently, I opened an itunes account (yes, I know, I’m late upon the scene … I’ve been busy for a few years) and searched around for some music that was totally different from what I’m used to.
Well, I came across a band that most people under 40 at least know well if not revere outright: Coldplay. Their music has been compared with that of U2. Fair enough… not so different from what I like.
What also interested me, apart from some very catchy melodies (especially the hauntingly restrained Clocks and the newer Every Teardrop is a Waterfall) are the vaguely spiritual and (not so vaguely) Christian references in the lyrics. The most plausible candidate for analysis here is the song (don’t laugh at the title… I did) Viva la Vida . Warning by the way: the links here take you to Youtube, where the ads are sometimes less than tasteful and so inappropriate for all of us and definitely inappropriate for younger eyes and ears.