Posted in category "Faith"

Pope Francis’ Little Book of Insults

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 29, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Dissent, Faith, Humor, Popes

The Truth hurts!

The author missed my favorite:  “The Church is not a museum.”  (Pope Francis’ opening sentence at the Synod on the Family.)

Enjoy the Little Book of Insults here.

 

Pious Trash: The Fake Pachamama Scandal

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 13, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

There is a wealth of Pious Trash in Msgr. Charles Pope’s column, “Church’s Silence Deafens World” published in the National Catholic Register this month.  It was a long discourse on the negative effects of tolerating bad behavior in society and in the church as defined by Catholic conservatives, and a major whine on why isn’t the Pope doing something about it!

The faithful are not discouraged, they are confused and scandalized. Many have been led to think that sins like divorce and remarriage, homosexual acts and idolatry are compatible with the Catholic faith.  They are not! Yet some of the most awful things have been done and said by Church leaders (purportedly or definitively) without any clear explanation, let alone attempts at refutation.  The silence has been deafening. The enemies of the faith are encouraged while the faithful are disheartened.”

I hope Msgr. Pope is not defining “enemies of the faith” as liberal Catholics, feminist Catholics, lesbian and gay Catholics and our defenders, Catholics who have divorced and remarried, and Catholics who are weary and fed up with legalistic and narrow definitions of “faithful Catholics.” 

By idolatry I assume Msgr. Pope is referring to the wooden carvings of Pachamama, a representation of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman that were displayed and part of  some ceremonies during the Amazonian Synod in October.  The Pachamama is a female fertility figure venerated as “Mother Earth” by some native peoples in the Amazon region. The woman who presented it to Pope Francis called it “Our Lady of the Amazon.” It is a symbol of Life. Why is this idolatry compared to our church statuary? Most churches and cathedrals in the U.S. have a statue of the Blessed Mother standing on a snake. She is crowned by real or plastic flowers every May. I remember singing when I was a teenager: Bring flow’rs of the fairest, Bring flow’rs of the rarest, From garden and woodland, and hillside and vale; Our full hearts are swelling, Our Glad voices telling, The praise of the loveliest Rose of the Vale. O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May, O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May. 

The lyrics certainly represent spring and fertility. The ritual of flowers and the observation has its roots in Pagan Europe.  In addition, every parish church has a statue of their patron saint.  St. Bartholomew holds his skin and a flaying knife; Saint Denis holds his talking head, and St. Lucy holds a plate with her eyeballs. Everyday Catholics are familiar with gruesome martyrdom stories, but I can imagine the wide-eyed reaction from first-time visitors who think displaying such figures is  weird, icky or sick.  To us it’s not idolatry. It’s an artistic representation that’s part of our heritage.

The ongoing sex abuse crisis has ALL Catholics scandalized. This includes not only the priests and religious that used the young and vulnerable for sexual pleasure and release but the bishops and others in the hierarchy who protected and covered up for them, and in some cases, were abusers themselves. On top of the sex abuse lies and hypocrisy, a second scandal involves the millions and millions in contributions and gifts that were used to fund decadent  lifestyles, hush money and settlements that were out of public view.  They were protected by opaque accounting practices and careerist clerics who kept their mouths shut.

Are any priests or bishops willing to forfeit their ecclesiastical careers and name names?  Release hidden records to newspapers and the local District Attorney?  Drag the scum out into the light of day?  The silence is deafening from the men who know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Fr. LaCuesta’s Awful Funeral Homily

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 6, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

“If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us–and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives. Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth – that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits. The finality of suicide makes this all the worse. You cannot make things right again.” 

Read the whole homily here.

Those comforting, inspiring and hopeful words were spoken by a priest, Fr. Don LaCuesta, at the funeral Mass of a high school student who had committed suicide.  Fr. LaCuesta is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan. In discussing the service with the priest, the parents had asked that he focus on their son’s life. They also discussed some other arrangements for the service, including having his siblings cover his coffin with the pall.

None of that happened.  Instead, the family got blindsided with a lecture about the sinfulness of suicide and its awful consequences.  The family, relatives and classmates of the deceased were visibly distraught.  Many of them did not know the young man had committed suicide.  The father twice approached the pulpit asking the priest to stop the homily, but the priest refused and continued to the end of his sermon.

Since then, the story has received national attentionArchbishop Allen H. Vigneron, publicly reprimanded and sanctioned him.  The youth’s mother recently filed a lawsuit against Fr. LaCuesta and the Archdiocese which details their grievances. 

I’m not sure why Catholic conservatives always feel compelled to defend their brethren, even in nonsensical situations.  The Catholic World Report recently reprinted a column by Dr. Edward N. Peters about the incident entitled “God Bless Fr. LaCuesta.”  Dr. Peter’s comments certainly earned him Honorable Mention in this week’s Pious Trash award.

 

 

 

 

The Lady in Blue

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 1, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History

The Venerable Maria of Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665) was an abbess and mystic.  Her bilocation between her convent in Spain and native peoples in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona is legendary. 

Maria of Jesus spent her entire life within the confines of her family compound in Agreda, Spain. She never left her cloister. When Maria was twelve, her mother converted the home into a convent for herself and her daughters. When she was 25, Maria became abbess of this Franciscan Convent of the Immaculate Conception.

Sr. Maria is mainly known for three parts of her life: an 11-year period of bilocation to New Mexico and Texas; her correspondence of 22 years with King Philip IV and a four-volume work on the life of the Virgin Mary, titled the Mystical City of God.  She said the Virgin Mary herself dictated most of the material.  She was investigated by the Inquisition several times but exonerated. Her friendship with the king may have been an important factor in ensuring that outcome.

Maria said she first visited New Mexico in 1620. It was the first of more than 500 journeys or flights, sometimes as many as four in one day. They continued until 1631.  She did not know whether she traveled in the body or out of body.  They started when she expressed a desire to see and evangelize the native peoples.  They stopped, she said, when they had access to baptism and the Eucharist.

She spoke to people in Spanish but was understood.  She understood the languages native peoples spoke to her.  Because they did not know her name, they called her “The Lady in Blue” because of the blue cape or mantle she wore over her habit.

Sr. Maria was able to describe the plants and animals there, as well as the way people dressed and painted themselves. She described one landscape she visited as a place where two rivers meet.  In San Angelo, Texas, the Middle Concho River is joined by the South Concho River.  The current bishop of San Angelo, Bishop James Sis, said many of the native people in the area who are Catholic have a strong devotion to the Lady in Blue. 

In 1690, Franciscan priest Fr. Damian Massanet helped to create San Francisco de los Tejas, the first mission in east Texas.  In a report to the Viceroy, he relates an incident that took place during the expedition. While they were distributing cloth as gifts to the local people, their chief or “governor” as Fr. Massanet called him, asked for a piece of blue baize.  He wanted to use it as a shroud to buy his mother when she died.  Massanet writes, “I told him that cloth would be better, and he said that he did not want any other color than blue. I asked then what mystery was attached to the color blue, and the governor said that they were very fond of blue, particularly for burial clothes, because in times past a very beautiful woman visited them there, who descended from the heights, and that this woman was dressed in blue and that they wished to be like her.”

Two reports of a nun teaching the native people about Christ and Christianity reached the Archbishop of Mexico, Francisco Manzo y Zuniga about the same time. One report was from Maria’s confessor, Friar Sebastian Marilla, who contacted the Archbishop to learn if Maria’s report to him that she had mystically traveled to the southwest was true.  The other report came from missionaries in the territory who related how the natives sought them out under the direction of a Lady in Blue.  To determine the truth of the reports, the Archbishop assigned Friar Alonso de Benavides to investigate. Friar Benavides had arrived in New Mexico in 1626. He was a Franciscan priest of Portuguese descent. Charged by his order as Custodian (head) of the missions, Benavides toured New Mexico extensively, overseeing the establishment and strengthening of missions. 

In 1629 Benavides was sitting outside the Isleta Mission (south of Albuquerque, New Mexico) when a group of 50 natives from an unknown tribe approached him and asked that he send missionaries to their territory.  The travelers were Jumanos, and they had traveled a great distance from a place called Titlas, or Texas. The Jumanos said a woman dressed in blue had appeared in their midst and had taught them about the Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. She told them to ask for further instruction and baptism from the Franciscan missionaries. They knew where to find the Franciscan friars from the directions given to them by this Lady in Blue. Two missionaries were sent back with the Jumanos.  The friars found the people well instructed in the faith and baptized the entire tribe. 

Friar Benavides included this story in his famous 1630 Memorial, or report, which he personally presented to King Philip IV of Spain. This history of Spanish activity in the southwest included descriptions of the geography, culture of the native peoples, evangelization efforts, and the impact of contact with Spanish clergy, settlers and soldiers.  Benavides praised the abundant wildlife, arable land and potential mineral wealth of New Mexico.  It was a successful fund-raising document. King Philip IV continued to fully fund Franciscan missionary efforts in the region.

Benavides visited the abbess in Agreda in April 1631 and interviewed her over a period of three weeks. He wrote “she convinced me absolutely by describing to me all the things in New Mexico as I have seen them myself…She told me so many tales of this country, that I did not even remember them myself, and she brought them back to my mind.”  He even obtained the habit she wore when she went there.  “The veil radiates such a fragrance that it is a comfort to the spirit,” he wrote. 

Friar Benavides is primarily remembered for his 1630 Memorial which included the first mention of the Lady in Blue; and for bringing the religious statue of La Conquistadora to New Mexico.  On February 12, 1634, he presented Pope Urban VIII with a revised copy of his Memorial. In that edition Benavides urged that New Mexico be given its own bishop and a cathedral built in Santa Fe.  He actively lobbied for that appointment.  Instead, for some unknown reason, he was appointed as the new auxiliary bishop for the Portuguese colony of Goa. Benavides was last seen in Lisbon, taking ship for India.  After that, he disappears from history. He may have died crossing the Arabian Sea.

Another written testimony to the presence of Sr. Maria among the natives in Arizona comes from Captain Juan Mateo Mange, who traveled with Jesuit priests Eusebio Francisco Kino and Adamo Gil on the expedition to the Colorado and Gila rivers in 1699. The explorers questioned some elderly natives and asked whether they had heard stories about Don Juan de Onate, who passed through their region with soldiers and horses around 1606.  The people told the Spanish that they could remember hearing of such a group from the old people who were now dead. They added—without any prompting—that when they were children a beautiful white woman, dressed in white, brown and blue, with a cloth covering her head, had come to their land. She had spoken, shouted and harangued them…and showed them a cross.  Warriors had shot her with arrows, leaving her for dead.  She revived and disappeared into the air. They did not know where she came from or lived. After a few days, she returned again and then many times after to speak to them. 

Sr. Maria only mentions her bilocation in two documents written almost twenty years apart.  The first was a 1631 letter to Franciscan missionaries working in New Mexico to encourage them in their efforts to convert local people. She described her visits to native communities and the resistance to conversion by some members of these communities which feared Christianity as a source of evil. On several occasions the natives turned on her, and shot arrows at her, leaving her for dead. She said she felt the pain of the attacks, but when she would come to herself later in the Agreda convent there was no sign of wounds.

In 1650, Sr. Maria described her mystic journeys in a letter to Bishop Pedro Manero of the Inquisition.  In her letter she attempted to clarify some of the information included in Friar Benavides Memorial (or report) published in 1631. She argued that some of the descriptions he included were not false but had been exaggerated. She always maintained that she was unsure as to whether she had traveled in corporeal form or only in spirit, or whether it may have been an angel disguised as her.

Is there any truth to Sr. Maria of Agreda’s claims?

The native peoples of the southwest U.S. and Mexico had extensive trade and travel networks.  They also had contact with Spanish explorers, soldiers and religious since the 1530s—almost 100 years before Maria’s spiritual journeys.  It is probable they heard stories about Catholic beliefs, practices and veneration of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother is often portrayed wearing a blue cloak in statues and art.  Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow shipwreck survivors, Esteban, Alonso Castillo and Andres Dorantes, sojourned with the Jumanos and other Pueblo peoples in their trek from Texas to Mexico.  They undoubtedly used Catholic prayers and blessings as part of their healing ceremonies as shaman-doctors.

Could the natives have witnessed a Marian apparition, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, or heard stories about Our Lady of Guadalupe?  She was also a beautiful woman dressed in a blue cloak.  She appeared to Juan Diego several times in 1531.  Stories of this apparition could have made their way north to other peoples. 

Another Spanish nun, Mother Luisa de Carrion (1565-1636) also claimed to have undertaken many visits to the native people of New Mexico.  Could it have been her?  In 1629 her cross was carried by Franciscan priest Francisco de Porras to a mission he established at Awatovi among the Hopi.  Mother Carrion fared less well with the Inquisition than Sr. Maria with her bilocation journeys.  She was forced to have her tongue measured “to determine if it was short, like a witch’s.” The political tensions and social fissions Fr. Porras caused by his proselytizing were resented by many tribal elders. Poison was suspected when he died in 1633.

Sr. Maria may have heard stories about New Mexico, the native peoples and Franciscan missionaries from travelers, pilgrims and others who visited Agreda.  I’m sure she yearned to go herself, but she was confined to a convent. In liminal space during prayer, Sr. Maria either took flight in her imagination, or really made the trip herself, bilocating to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I believe Sr. Maria bilocated at least once, traveling to the Jumanos people of Texas to direct them to the Franciscan missionaries to be baptized.

Who is the Lady in Blue?  Was it Sr. Maria of Agreda; an apparition of the Virgin Mary, or a composite legend with its root in an ancient mystical event?  Whatever the truth may be, she is an incongruous figure: a venerated woman in indigenous folklore, and a useful evangelist who helped promote Spain’s colonial ambitions in the 17th century southwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Christina the Astonishing’s Vision of Purgatory

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 10, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History, Humor, Saints

Does Purgatory exist?  Is Hell real?  When I was growing up, I thought so.  I stopped believing in both places as a young adult; now I’m not so sure.

I grew up being taught to pray for people in Purgatory as well as to light candles and have Masses said for them.  The living were responsible for remembering those in Purgatory in prayer and for trying to set them free to get to Heaven. 

The biggest reason I stopped believing was the stupidly of the punishment for sin:  missing Mass on one Sunday, saying the Lord’s name in vain one time—after a life of goodness—could condemn a person to Hell for eternity.  Conversely, a person who lived a mean, cruel, self-centered life could avoid any consequences by one expression of repentance at the end.  If God is merciful—and I believe God is—then it seems more measured to consider the whole span of life. God may not follow my logic.

Was Purgatory as a place conceived as a place of purification?  Purgatory was a relatively new formal teaching for Christians when St. Christina the Astonishing experienced it in the 12th century; but other experiences of Purgatory were also popularized when she lived. 

The idea of purgatory as a process of cleansing dated back to early Christianity as was evident in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The 12th century was the heyday of medieval other world-journey narratives such as the account of an Irish knight in “Visio Tnugdali,” and of pilgrims’ tales about St. Patrick’s Purgatory, a cave-like entrance to purgatory on a remote island in Donegal, Ireland.

St. Christina the Astonishing was born in 1135 at Brustem, near Liege, Belgium.  She was orphaned as a teenager and worked as a shepherdess.  She had two older sisters. Sometime in her early 20s, she suffered a massive stroke or seizure. When people found her in the field, she was limp and unresponsive.  Unable to hear a heartbeat or feel breathing, everyone assumed she was dead.

She was carried into church for her funeral Mass in an open coffin. After the Agnes Dei she suddenly sat up and flew up to the rafters “like a bird” and perched there.  All the mourners except the priest and her oldest sister fled.  Christina said that had taken refuge up there because she could not stand the smell of sinful human bodies.  The priest reached out to her and told her to come down. She told him angels had guided her into a dark place where she saw many people she had known in torment.  This was Purgatory.  Then she was taken to Hell, where she saw other people suffering. Finally, she was taken to Heaven and given a choice: stay in Heave or return to earth to offer penances for those in Hell and Purgatory so they might be released.  Her suffering would also help to convert the living.  She immediately woke up when she chose to return to life.

After her experience of death and vision of Purgatory, Hell and Heaven Christina felt called to suffer for others so they could be released from suffering.  She voluntarily lived in extreme poverty, homeless and dressed in rags.  She lived by begging. She often fled to remote areas, climbed trees and rocks. She hid in ovens. Christina avoided human contact as much as possible, saying she couldn’t bear the spiritually stinky smell of sinful people. 

Christina also sought out suffering to increase the penance she felt she must endure.  People watched her intentionally throw herself into fires and remain there for extended periods of time.  She would appear to be in terrible pain, but then would exit the fire completely unharmed. She allowed herself to be attacked and bitten by dogs and would intentionally run through thickets of thorn bushes. In the winter, she would plunge into the freezing Meuse River. The current sometimes carried her downriver to a watermill where the wheel “whirled her around in a manner frightful to behold.” Christina would emerge from all these self-torments bloody but unhurt—no scars, burns or broken bones.  Despite a lifetime of abuse and hard living, Christina died at the ripe old age of 74 on July 25, 1224 at the Dominican Monastery at Sint-Truiden (Saint-Trond). She spent the last three years of her life there, and according to the prioress was generally docile and well-behaved.

People had mixed opinions about Christina.  Was she insane? Was she possessed? Was she a holy woman and mystic sent to warn people about the fires and pains of Purgatory?

Centuries later, we read regularly about people who have near death experiences and believe they have glimpsed the afterlife.  Most of them describe tunnels of light and bliss, but some have described a Purgatory or Hell-like place.  We also know now that people who experience a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury can wake to cognitive, physical and psychological changes. This injury appears to be what happened to St. Christina the Astonishing.  She most likely had a heart attack or massive stroke and oxygen didn’t reach her brain for several minutes or longer, resulting in a deathlike state and permanent brain damage.

Several saints besides St. Christina have had a vision journey to Purgatory and back.  They include St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, and St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska, the saint who inspired Divine Mercy Sunday. Several of the “seers” of Medjugorje have visited Purgatory, Heaven and Hell with the Blessed Mother, who regularly sends messages to the seers about these places and the people populating them.  The main message is that they need to believe in them, pray and do penance to help the people who are there.  There is nothing new or original in these visions. We have seen the same scenes in paintings, stained glass windows, catechism lessons, books and TV.

Jesus mentioned Paradise and Gehenna, but never a place like Purgatory. Was it concocted as a way station for pilgrims on their way home or a course correction for the living? Does Purgatory answer a primal need for a connection to the dead; and prayer and penance a way to commune and express our care and love for them?  It is also an outreach to the forgotten—something the Church teaches us to honor in the here and now.

 

 

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 21, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, History, Politics, Popes

On October 15, 2017 Pope Francis announced a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region to take place in Rome.  It is scheduled for October 6-27, 2019. 

The synod arose out of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, “Caring for Our Common Home,” which called for action on global warming, environmental pollution and pinpointed the Amazon region as a chief area of concern.

The Pan-Amazon region spans over two million square miles within nine countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. It is home to 33 million people, among them 3 million indigenous people representing 400 different tribes.  It is the source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves.

Taking part in the synod will be bishops from the nine countries encompassing Amazonia, presidents of the seven bishops’ conferences, and representatives of non-governmental organizations that work in the region.  Chief among them will be REPAM, or Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, an ecclesial network of bishops created in 2014 to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon. It is backed by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Caritas Internationalis is a founding member. REPAM embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

The 16-page preparatory document for the synod was published on June 8, 2018. It is titled “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”The document was written by the Vatican’s office for the synod with the help of an 18-member council appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the 2019 meeting.  The synod council included three cardinals, 13 bishops, one nun and a layman.  Most members are from countries in the Amazon region.  The document is organized as a Preamble, Section I – Seeing, Section II – Discernment, Section III – Action, and Questionnaires that were widely circulated to provide material for each of the three sections.

The synod’s preparatory document makes clear that central issues will focus on environmental protection, the rights of indigenous people, and evangelization. But what is articulated within these issues will ignite change not only in the Amazon, but throughout the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that most pundits from Europe and North America who follow church happenings did not read this document carefully. If they did, they would be shocked. This synod is not about a group of natives in the Amazon rainforest with a few mentions of climate change thrown in. Pope Francis and the Synod Council are attempting to shift Catholic culture and religious practice from the Eurocentric and clerical sub-culture model to one drawn from values and cultures based in the Southern Hemisphere, with ripples extending to Africa and Asia. Europe’s domination of 1,000 years is ending. 

The clash of values that dominates so much of the Eurocentric Church today will be subsumed into other cultural debates. There, they may find a new voice, fade away or be viewed as irrelevant. How important are religious liberty, same-sex marriage, denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, sex abuse and cover up, women priests, married priesthood, conscience rights, “authentic” Catholic definitions, and “reform of the reform” of Vatican II in Amazonia?  Newer issues like racism, rights of indigenous people, migrants and immigration, gender theory, LGBT civil rights, lay involvement, habitat protection, and economic equity should get more traction, but the results will be a mixed bag of blessings for both progressives and conservatives.

Here is what I see emerging from the Amazonia Synod:

  1. A new emphasis on “Integral Ecology” – everything is connected and environmental abuse as sin
  2. Evangelization to where people are physically and spiritually–however remote
  3. Older married men ordained as priests to administer the sacraments
  4. Increased role in ministry and governance for women
  5. A cultural and spiritual sift away from a Eurocentric Catholicism

Each of the sections of the preliminary document has markers and flash points intimating where Pope Francis and the Church are heading with this Synod.

  1. Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia

“Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory. Such interests lead, among other things, to the intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforest, as well as the contamination of rivers, lakes and tributaries (due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxins, oil spills, legal and illegal mining, and byproducts from the production of narcotics.) Added to this is drug trafficking, which together with the above puts at risk the survival of those peoples who depend on the region’s animal and plant resources.” 

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, and with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator.  Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payes, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

2. Toward a Pastoral and Ecological Conversion

 “This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

“Integral ecology, then, invites us to an integral conversion. This entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, failures and omissions by which we have harmed God’s creation and leads to heartfelt repentance.  Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles – and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard – affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.”

3. New Paths for a Church with an Amazonian Face

 “The Church is called to deepen her identity in accordance with the realities of each territory and to grow her spirituality by listening to the wisdom of her peoples. Therefore, the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region is invited to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its people.”

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.  This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with a native face.”

“It is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values.  Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.”

The Synod’s preparatory document cites a wide swath of church documents, three provide the biggest stamp:

1. Laudato Si – (“Praise Be to You”) The 2nd encyclical of Pope Francis has the subtitle, “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, Pope Francis critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warning. It calls on the peoples of the world to act. The encyclical was published on June 18, 2015.

2. The Aparecida Document – This document summarized the 2007 meeting of CELAM—the regional Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was held in Aparecida, Brazil, and was chaired by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.  In the document, the Latin American bishops expressed what they believed to be keys in keeping Catholicism alive and relevant in Latin American.  Those “keys” included a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, and a serious concern for the environment.

3. Pope Francis’ January 19, 2018 Address to the Indigenous People of Amazonia at Maldonado, Peru – During his trip to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met and addressed thousands of native Amazonians in an indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, a city on Peru’s Amazon frontier. It is the capital of Madre de Dios, a region plagued by illegal mining and human trafficking. In his remarks, the pope noted that the “native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present.”  He spoke about threats from extractive exploitation, environmental contamination and illegal mining. He also addressed the oppression of native people by certain policies and movements under the guise of preserving nature that deprive them of their land, natural resources and livelihoods.  Pope Francis promised participants to affirm a “whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

There are several key players in the development of the Synod Council and preparatory document. Since I don’t read Spanish, and there is very little coverage of South America by U.S. journalists, I may have missed a few names but I believe I netted the biggest fish.

Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from South America, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.  The first Jesuit pope, Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and from 1973-1979 was the provincial superior for Argentina.  Prior to his election as pope, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998-2013.  He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.  In his six years as pope, Francis has championed the world’s poor and marginalized people, emphasized mercy over rules, and been actively involved in environmental advocacy and political diplomacy.

“We are not faced with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

 Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

Cardinal Baldisseri has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops since September 21, 2013.  He introduced and explained in depth the Amazonia synod’s preparatory document during the Vatican press conference on June 8, 2018.  Hand-picked by Francis to reorganize the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He has served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal and Brazil (2002-2012). In Brazil, he negotiated an agreement regulating the juridical status of the church.

“Although the theme refers to a specific territory, such as the Pan-Amazon region – and this is why we speak about the “Pan-Amazon Synod” – the reflections that concern it go beyond the regional context, because they regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet. These reflections are intended to bridge to other similar geographical realities such as, for example, the Congo basin, the Central American biological corridor, the tropical forests of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani aquifer system. This great ecclesial, civic and ecological project allows us to extend our gaze beyond their respective borders and to redefine pastoral lines, making them suitable for today’s times. For these reasons too the Synod will be held in Rome.”

 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Pope Frances chose Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as regulator general of the October synod on Amazonia.  The nomination of the 84-year-old retired archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican on May 4, 2019. The regular is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarizing the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.  Cardinal Hummes was a former perfect of the Congregation for Clergy and has been a close friend of the pope since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of REPAM, or the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica (or Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.)  Founded in 2014, REPAM is a network backed by the Latin American Bishops Conference to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.  Caritas Internationalis is a founding member.

“Back in 2015 the pope started to tell me, “I’m thinking of convening a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. As of yet, I don’t know what type of meeting or assembly, but I think that it could even be a synod.” He said to me, Let us pray about it together, and he began to speak to the bishops, to the episcopal conferences of the Amazonian region, about how to have an assembly, and so in his heart there grew the idea of a synod, and eventually in 2017 he convoked it.  We have worked hard for the synod, and we will continue to do so in this very important service for the future.  The synod serves to find and trace new paths for the Church.”

“We know now there is another step to take: we have to promote an indigenous Church for the indigenous peoples, to help give birth to and nurture the growth of an indigenous Church. The aboriginal communities that hear the Gospel proclamation in one way or another, and that embrace it, which is to say, they welcome Jesus Christ, have to be able to ensure that, through an opportune process, their faith can become incarnate and inculturated in their traditional reality.  Then, in the context of their culture, identity, history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can arise with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always united within itself, and in total communion with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in indigenous cultures.”

Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno

 A Jesuit, and archbishop of Huancayo, Peru since 2004, Cardinal Barreto is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.  He is also vice president of REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica).  According to Cardinal Barreto, “new paths” will be defined during the synod, directed toward care for creation and evangelization.

Cardinal Barreto has long been a proponent of environmental protection.  Back in 2005 he told his brother bishops during a synod that bread and wine offered at the altar were no good if the land they came from was not properly cared for. “I said that if we offer bread from land that’s contaminated, we are offering God a contaminated fruit. And the same for wine…I remember that the bishops looked at me as if they were saying, ‘What does the Eucharist have to do with ecology?’”

“Too many people think the indigenous in the Amazon are savages with nothing to teach us. ..as one Amazonian indigenous person told me, the savages are the ones who wear suits and ties and have money because they not only exploit natural resources irrationally but also expel (the indigenous people) from their territories and allow those from the outside to attack their culture simply to profit.”

 General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira

 Augusto Heleno, 72, is a Brazilian politician and retired general. He was military commander of the Amazon and chief of the Department of Science and Technology of the Army.  He was chosen by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, to head the Institutional Security Cabinet, an executive level office of the federal government responsible for assistance to the president on matters of national security and defense policy.

Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights to designate land in the river’s sprawling basin as preserves.  In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

A major Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported on February 10, 2019 that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government. General Augusto Heleno was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.” The government’s strategy for neutralizing the Amazonia synod reportedly includes planting intelligence agents to monitor preparatory meetings and putting diplomatic pressure on the Italian government to intercede with the Vatican to avoid, or at least tone down, criticism of Brazil’s Amazon policies.

“There are foreign (non-governmental organizations) and international authorities who want to intervene in our treatment of the Brazilian Amazon…I’m worried that this Synod is going to interfere in our sovereignty.  We know what we have to do.  We know how to do sustainable development, to stop deforestation.”

 Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio Lopez is the executive secretary of REPAM.  He was the one lay person appointed to the Synod Council by Pope Francis. Lopez grew up in Mexico and was educated in Jesuit schools.  He and his wife, who is Ecuadorian, moved to Ecuador over a decade ago.  In 2009, he took a trip to the part of the Amazon basin that sits on Ecuador’s eastern borders.  “I came by bus from the highest mountains with snow,” he described, and suddenly I entered this beautiful place, where I saw the biggest river, the entrance into the Amazon, and how the flora and fauna were always changing as we went down, down, down. The temperature changed radically, and I felt, too, a change within me,” he said.

“The Amazon reality requires us to be a braver and more prophetic church.”

The Amazonia initiative brings back an echo of my own past. 

Back in the mid-1970s, as a young woman in Alaska, I fought for large tracts of Alaskan lands to be preserved as wilderness areas–national parks, refuges and monuments. I wanted government agencies to insist on environmental protections for areas that were mined, logged or slated for oil and natural gas extraction. The native peoples of Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiat and Yupik were different, but each group was deeply connected to the land by a deep love for it, cultural heritage and identity.  One connection was through the subsistence lifestyle—fishing, trapping, hunting and harvesting on their ancestral lands.

During that time, I never heard a religious person—priest, religious sister, bishop, pastoral associate, anyone—speak up for Alaska natives or for wise natural resources management.  At that time, the Catholic church made no connection between Nature and Faith.  I missed having my faith strengthen my environmental activism and support for native land rights; and my love for the land and forest strengthen my spirituality and religious conviction.

It now seems like a dream come true; one I have waited almost 40 years to see. Thank you, Pope Francis, and everyone who is making the Amazonia Synod happen.  I’ll be praying for you and us.

 

 

 

Too Late for a Christmas Card

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 24, 2018 | Categories: Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays

Every year for 20 years or so we received a Christmas card from our friend, Peggy C. By the time we received the last one we hadn’t seen one another in years, but Peggy was faithful and we always heard from her during the holidays. When I didn’t hear from her after a year or two I pulled out my address book and sent her a card. No response. In 2014 my card came back–no one at that address. I wanted to try again this year and googled her name and last address. In the results I saw Peggy’s executrix sold her apartment in 2014. That was it. Too late for a Christmas card.

I wasn’t as faithful as Peggy about sending Christmas cards. For many years Christmas was little but a mountain of stress: the year-end rush of work, shopping, dinner, managing emotional expectations, a constant blare of noise and rushing around and piped in holiday music. I got to hate Christmas and could hardly wait for it to be over. Christmas cards were at the bottom of the list. Too often I ran out of energy or enthusiasm to do them.

But I always liked to get them, and really appreciated the little notes sharing a happy memory or the latest news. I also appreciated Peggy’s constancy. I heard from her every year.

I started to think about Peggy as I made up my Christmas greeting list this month. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in almost 25 years, but she is so present for me every Christmas. I remember Peggy as a tall, very nice, refined and poised woman. She had dark blond year. One year she legally changed her name from her father’s to her mother’s–some unhappy story there. Peggy was quiet and had a very calm personality. She lived in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan for decades. When I asked a friend about her memories of Peggy, she said Peggy taught deaf students in the public school system. After she retired, she studied at the Interfaith Center on Riverside Drive. She was also a heavy smoker. Perhaps this had something to do with her death.

I met Peggy at a meeting of Catholic lesbians at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center on West 13th Street. The CCL-Center Group met monthly from 1985 to 1995. Peggy took over the mailing list from me when I had to choose between lesbian activist and hockey mom. Peggy was there at every meeting whether two or twenty women showed up.

What I learned from Peggy is the value of faithfulness. There was a card from her every year whether I reciprocated or not. She is my inspiration when I pick up my pen to write a note in each Christmas card, letting someone know I am thinking of them with love and affection, and they are remembered in this happy and holy time of year.

 

 

Tainted Love: The North American Martyrs

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 10, 2018 | Categories: Faith, History, Politics, Saints

The 17th century in North America was a time and place in a constant state of flux. Cultural clashes, religious struggles and fights for territory spread from pockets to regions. Conflicts in the Old World–England, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland–struck sparks in New England, Quebec and Ontario. Native nations in this region–the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois); Wendat or Wyandot (Huron), Abenaki, Wampanoag, Pequot, Narragansett, Mohegan and Lenape (Delaware) to name a few, leveraged colonists and Europeans in their animosities with each other and settlers. Alliances and advantages were the tidal kind–they shifted back and forth. Sometimes huge waves formed, engulfing everyone in their path before their energy was spent.  Anxiety reigned–neighboring people, people who you traded with, even friends, could suddenly turn on you without much warning.

Saving Souls in the New World

Into this frontier paddled French Jesuits and their lay helpers. Their first motive was quite simple: save souls. In those days the dogma was quite clear: the unbaptized went straight to Hell. The rest of their motives for coming to New France were complex: an eagerness to serve in a remote, dangerous place; a desire to introduce their religious and secular ideas and ideals to the native population to improve their lives; and for some, a path to martyrdom. A painful, bloody death would bring them closer to Christ’s passion, and earn a glorious place in the pantheon of martyrs.

The North American Martyrs

Eight men make up the North American Martyrs.  They include six Jesuit priests and two lay Jesuit companions. They were martyred between 1642 and 1649 in what is now New York State in the United States and southern Ontario in Canada.  The first group, who were killed in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, included Fr. Isaac Jogues (October 18, 1646) Rene Goupil (September 29, 1642) and Jean de Lalande (October 19, 1646).  They were all in their 30s when they died.  The remaining six Jesuits were killed by Mohawks in Huronia in 1648-1649. They included Fr. Jean de Brefeuf, Fr. Antoine Daniel, Fr. Gabriel Lalemant, Fr. Charles Garnier, and Fr. Noel Chabanel.  

The same missionary spirit they felt has existed throughout the history of the church up to the present day.  The beating, rape and murder of Sr. Maura Clarke, a Maryknoll sister and her companions Sr. Ita Ford, Sr. Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan by soldiers in El Salvador’s military forces mirrors the deaths of the North American Martyrs by beatings, torture, and tomahawks.

Suspicions of Sorcery

One of the reasons these two groups of missionaries were killed was the perception they were introducing ideas and beliefs that would undermine or cause conflict with the existing native culture and power structure. The North American Martyrs were also suspected of sorcery and evil magic.

Jesuit missionaries worked among the Wendat, a people who lived in the Georgian Bay area of Central Ontario. The Wendat were farmers, hunters and traders who lived in villages surrounded by defensive wooden palisades for protection. The missionaries were not universally trusted by the people. Many Wendat believed them to be malevolent shamans or sorcerers who brought death and disease wherever they traveled.  In fact, they did: terrible epidemics of smallpox,, flu and other infectious diseases followed in their footsteps and decimated the Wendat and other native peoples. The rivals and enemies of the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, considered the Jesuits legitimate targets, as the missionaries were generally allied with the Wendat and French. Retaliation for attacks was also a reason for their raids and warfare.

Capture and Death 

In 1642, a tribe of the Haudenosaunee, the Mohawks, captured Rene Goupil and Fr. Isaac Jogues as they were traveling from the Jesuit outpost of Sainte-Marie in Ontario to Quebec.  They were brought to the Mohawk village of Ossernenon near present day Auriesville, New York.  Both men were ritually tortured and mutilated and Goupil was killed. Fr. Jogues was taken in by a Mohawk family. He lived with a kindly “Auntie” and was protected by members of a clan. But his status in the tribe is unclear; he may also have been a slave.

Rescue and Return

Fr. Jogues was eventually rescued by Arendt Van Corlaer, a local Dutch official, and Rev. Johannes Megapolensis, a Dutch Reform minister. He returned to France for several years but then sailed back to Quebec. In 1646 Fr. Jogues and Jean de Lalande, a “donne” or lay Jesuit, were killed during during his second peace mission to Ossernenon. During his first peace mission to Ossernenon, Jogues was given permission by the clan leaders to establish a mission. Before he left for Quebec in June 1646 to gather supplies and helpers to build the mission, Fr. Jogues left a black box with his vestments, books and items. The black box generated suspicion and fear. Illness and crop failure plagued Ossernenon that summer and fall, and an evil spirit in the black box was blamed.

On October 14, 1646 Fr. Jogues, Lalande and a Wendat companion were ambushed a few days walk from Ossernenon.  They arrived in the village on October 17 to await their fate. Members of the Bear Clan wanted to kill Jogues, the Wolf and Turtle Clans were against his death. Jogues was invited to a Bear Clan longhouse, but his Auntie counseled him against going.  He went anyway and was tomahawked shortly after he entered the longhouse. Lalande heard the commotion and knew Jogues had been killed.  Against the advice of the Auntie, he went to recover the body and whatever Jogues had carried with him.  He was also killed.

Shrine of the North American Martyrs

Ossernenon, the site of the three Jesuits’ killings, is now known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. It is also called the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs.  Some archaeologists have recently disputed the location of Ossernenon, placing it nine miles to the west. However, on the shrine site there are signs indicating where the prisoners ran the gauntlet on their arrival from the river below; and the ravine where Rene Goupil’s body was tossed after two warriors killed him.  The site is also the reputed birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Born in 1656, she was the daughter of a Wendat captive and a Mohawk chieftain.  She must have heard stories about the Jesuits growing up.

The World in Which They Lived

I traveled to Ossernenon/Auriesville last month to visit the martyrdom shrine and site.  I wanted to sort out my feelings for the missionaries and see where they had lived out their faith and met their death.  I first tried to see them in the context of their time. In the 17th century France, England and the Netherlands were fighting and agitating with one another all over the world to stake out riches, land and trading claims.  The plague was still widespread in Europe, along with syphilis and other diseases picked up and carries by armies and traders.  Thousands of witches were burned at the stake or hanged; the fear of the supernatural fanned by public hysteria over disease, crop failures and anxiety over the future. The reverberations and rivalries between Catholics and Protestants–the Reformation and the Catholic Revival–and subsequent clashes between competing Protestant ideologies were still being felt. Finally, there was a great movement of peoples in response to all these events–either to escape or take financial advantage of them.

The native nations of North America were impacted and changed by their contact with Europeans. They valued the European-made goods, and the increased territorial dominion from trade, firearms and military alliances. They also experienced an inflow of new religious ideas and observances as missionaries made their way to villages following the paths of traders and explorers.

There was an unflinchingly cruel aspect to the age. The native nations ritually tortured and maimed enemy captives; some of them were burned to death taking hours to die. Men, women and children of all ages would be tomahawked and scalped. As policy or retribution, Europeans and colonists annihilated whole villages. Their indiscriminate attacks often fell on villages and native leaders that had pledged peace and good will. Whites also killed for scalp bounties and introduced the first germ warfare by giving smallpox infected blankets to the natives, killing or sickening and scarring everyone. Colonists became accustomed to warriors and their families visiting or living close by to their settlements.  The encounters could be friendly, uneasy or hostile.

Who Were the Martyrs?

Who were the three Ossernenon martyrs? Rene Goupil had aspired to be a Jesuit priest but was not accepted because he was deaf. Instead, he became a donne or lay Jesuit and volunteered to go to Quebec to help the missionaries as a physician. After hearing Fr. Jogues describe the great need for medical care in Huronia, he agreed to accompany him. During the voyage he was captured by the Mohawks and brought to Ossernenon. In what Fr. Jogues described as “an excess of devotion and love of the cross,” Rene Goupil made the sign of the cross over a Mohawk boy. Unaware of the meaning of this gesture the boy’s grandfather thought it was evil magic, and sent two warriors to kill him. Goupil either ignored or was not in the country long enough to understand that his blessing would be interpreted as an attempt by an evil shaman to betwitch a small child. Fr. Jogues describes what happened:

“One day, then, we went out of the village to obtain a little solace for our stricken souls and to pray more suitably with less disturbance. Two young men came after us to tell us that we must return to the house. I had some premonition of what was going to happen, and said to him, “My dearest brother, let us commend ourselves to our Lord and our good Mother, Mary.  I think these people have some evil plan.” We had offered ourselves to the Lord shortly before with much love, beseeching him to receive our lives and our blood and unite them with his life and his Blood for the salvation of these poor natives.  Accordingly, we returned to the village reciting our rosary, of which we had already said four decades. We stopped near the gate of the village to see what they might say to us. One of the two young Iroquois then drew out a hatchet  which he had concealed under his blanket and struck Rene, who was in front of him.  He fell motionless, his face to the ground, pronouncing the holy name of Jesus.  At the blow, I turned around and saw the bloody hatchet. I knelt down to receive the blow that would unite me to my dear companion, but, as they hesitated, I rose again and ran to the dying man who was not far from me. They then struck him two blows on the head with the hatchet, which killed him, but not before I had given him absolution.”

What kind of person was Fr. Isaac Jogues?  He was personally brave.  He ran to the aid of his dying companion; and during one attack in Huronia he left a good hiding place to aid and comfort his fellow voyagers. Having faced death and torture on his first trip to North America, he left the safety of France to return to Quebec. He was single-minded in his passion for the salvation of souls. He loved the aloneness in the forest, even though supernatural forces were present: “How often on the stately trees if Ossernenon did I carve the most Sacred name of Jesus so that seeing it the demons might take to flight, and hearing it they might tremble with fear.” “The village was a prison to me.  I avoided being seen.  I loved the quiet, lonely places, in the solitude of which I begged God that he should not disdain to speak with his servant, that he should give me strength in the midst of these fearful trials.”  

Did he have a death wish? As I walked along the Shrine’s paths and in the Ravine I couldn’t decide if he actively sought martyrdom for glory; or he wanted to experience suffering as a means of mystical union with Christ; or both. He might have also desired to validate his missionary work with martyrdom, since the French priests made so few converts and were generally unsuccessful in their missionary efforts.

Of the three Jesuits martyred in New York, I liked Jean de Lalande the best.  His motives were the clearest and least complicated. He wanted to serve, was aware of danger and accepted it. I also imagine he had a keen curiosity and interest to see the wilderness and meet its people. Lalande arrived in Quebec as a lay brother. He accompanied Fr. Jogues to Ossernenon, offering his skills as a woodworker and woodsman during the journey and to help build the new mission. Lalande was killed when he tried to retrieve Jogues’ body. A brave gesture, since he probably knew he would be killed in the attempt.

What Did the Wendats and Mohawks Think?

They did not treat the French Jesuits any differently then they did their own in war and peace.  The priests did not get the deference as clerics they would have expected in France and Quebec. They were expected to do physical labor and contribute to the welfare of the longhouse. I looked out over the ancient village site and marveled again at the hospitality and tolerance the Mohawks granted to the strangers in their midst. They attempted to integrate them into their own culture, fed them, and attempted to protect them at the cost of their own physical safety. The Jesuit missionaries were clumsy and cloddish and did not pick up on social cues or listen to the advice their “Auntie” and other people tried to give them. They were killed because some leaders believed they brought harm or disease to the people by their magic gestures and items used in devotions or Mass.  The Jesuits were in the vanguard of Europeans who infected and wiped out whole villages. There might have been quite a different outcome if the native nations had not been wiped out by diseases to which Europeans were immune, but lethal to the native people.

How the Martyrs’ Story was Revived

As the French and British were beaten back into Canada and Europe the stories of the Jesuits killed in Ossernenon faded away. They weren’t American colonists and they were Catholic, so theirs wasn’t a history that was preserved. That changed when Fr. John J. Wynne, S.J. took an interest in them.  

Widely recognized as an editor, educator and intellectual, Fr. Wynne (1859-1948) founded the Jesuit periodical America (1909) and the Catholic Encyclopedia.  From the 1890s to his death in 1948, Fr. Wynne became a big promoter of these “American” martyrs so that immigrant Catholics might be perceived more readily as “real” Americans by the WASP elite in power.

The canonization of Fr. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean de Lalande in 1930 by Pope Pius XII gave the United States its first saints and martyrs.  That provided some stature to the church in America, which was politically powerless in the Vatican and always suspect in matters of doctrinal purity.   (“Americanism” was one of the Modernisms that infuriated the late 19th and early 20th century papacy.)

But devotion to the North American Martyrs never caught on in the United States. Immigrant Catholics didn’t warm to them since their rural Auriesville, NY shrine was hundreds of miles away from the struggles of urban Catholic ghettos. Most of the inhabitants were other tribes: Irish, German, Italian, Polish. Catholic colonists didn’t venerate them either because Jesuits like Fr. Sebastien Rale incited and led the Abenaki and others to attack settlers in New England. As the descendant of Maine settlers who were victimized by the French and their tribal allies, I was glad to read he was eventually killed and scalped by colonial troops.

Personal Reflections

I visited the Auriesville shrine last month shortly before it closed for the winter.  I expected to scoff and came away a fan. I liked its rustic simplicity.  I liked how the builders how incorporated the wooden palisades of the native people and French into the altar design. I especially liked the wooden chapel dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, where only screens separated worshipers from nature.  

It is a shame that more people don’t visit the shrine. There is a lot to learn, and feel, and be inspired by the faith of the Jesuit martyrs and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. They sought God among the people they encountered, the rivers and lakes, forests and fields, and that sustained them. That makes them true North Americans. 

We can be equally inspired by the Mohawk and the Wendats’ courage and loyalty, their patience and hospitality, allowing strangers and migrants into their homelands to preach, trade and settle. Their generosity cost many of them their lives, their lands, their way of life, in fact, everything. Some of them died for their new Christian faith. They should also be honored as saints and martyrs. I thought of them all with respect and gratitude, as I said a quiet prayer toward the end of a warm afternoon.

Additional Reading

The Jesuit Martyrs of North America: Isaac Jogues, John De Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Noel Chabanel, Anthony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Rene Goupil, John Lalande by John J. Wynne, S.J

The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs by Emma Anderson

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (accounts of missionary activities from 1610-1701)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Thessalonians 5:23

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 5, 2018 | Categories: Faith, History

In May 1986 the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) held its biennial gathering at Meadow Lake Camp in Auberry, California. About 100 women attended the weekend event. They came from throughout the United States, with many drawn from California, Texas and Arizona. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 64, with most in their 30s and 40s. I was 34, and one of the organizers of the conference.

The great, electric charge of the conferences was the opportunity to be with many other women who identified as both Catholic and lesbian. This kind of connection was usually limited to one or two or a handful of women together–never a large group, and certainly not public.

Everyone there by necessity was closeted or discreet in parts of her life–family, friends, job, parish, school, religious community.  The conference provided a time and space where attendees could be lesbian and Catholic at the same time. It was liberating to some and a great relief to others to be fully present and open to the world in body, soul and spirit.  There was a wonderful peacefulness when the tension between our identities dissolved.

As we gathered for dinner on Friday night, a slim, grey-haired woman sat down at the old camp piano and started to play. You could hear the music in the background over the din of excited voices. She played classical pieces and show tunes, and seamlessly wove in special requests from some of the diners. I went over to introduce myself and thank her for the unexpected music.  I’ll call her “Jean.”

Jean said she was from Tucson, Arizona, and was a retired schoolteacher.  She had just recently come out. Jean said she was thrilled to be at the conference.  Closeted most of her life, she had only been with small groups of lesbians a few times before, and never imagined being with a group as large as this one at Meadow Lake.

Jean was very grateful to be part of the group and to everyone who attended.  She wanted to give us a gift in appreciation, and her gift was to play the piano during dinner.  Her music was by turns happy or intent, but mostly lighthearted and playful.

Jean surprised me. I had never met anyone that old who just came out. (I smile at the memory–I’m older now than Jean was then.) But what I remember is how happy she was. My young eyes looked at Jean playing and thought how sad it was that she had been closeted and alone for most of her life. My older eyes looking back at the memory understand why Jean was happy. She was in a place where she was free. That was a gift.

In the year following the conference, I asked one of my friends about Jean and how she was doing.  I used to travel to Tucson for work and retreats, and I wanted to try to see her while I was there. My friend told me that Jean had died several months after the conference.  I was shocked. No one seemed to know if Jean was aware she was dying, or if her death was unexpected.

This past winter, my wife, Lori, and I took our retirement trip to Tucson. One of the things I wanted to do was find Jean’s grave to say a prayer of thanks for her, and tell her I have never forgotten her gift of music at dinner. She is buried next to her mother and father.  It is a peaceful place. The grass is cropped low. Trees nearby keep her in shade.

Her gravestone is inscribed with her name, dates of birth and death, and a whimsical sketch of a roadrunner. Over her name is “1 Thessalonians 5:23”, the concluding prayer in St. Paul’s “First Letter to the Thessalonians.” The verse reads:

May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy, and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When I looked up the verse to write the post, I wondered why and when she had chosen it for her epitaph.  My guess is that she trusted God to see her for who she was in spirit, soul and body, and to raise her up on the last day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) – An Updated Call to Holiness

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 9, 2018 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Faith, Politics, Popes

Ultra conservative Catholic Wall Street Journal readers choked on their toast and scrambled eggs this morning when they read the headline of an article by Francis X. Rocca: “Pope Says Fighting Poverty Is as Essential as Opposing Abortion.”

Here is the article in full –  

“Pope Francis criticized Christians who emphasize opposition to abortion above social causes such as poverty and migration, in his latest effort to readjust the priorities of Catholic moral teaching from what he has characterized as an overemphasis on sexual and medical ethics.

“Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” the pope wrote in a document released by the Vatican on Monday. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born,” including the neglected elderly and victims of human trafficking.

The pope’s words appeared in “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), a reflection on “holiness in today’s world” that includes advice on resisting the “verbal violence” of social media and achieving spiritual concentration amid a “culture of zapping.”

 Pope Francis has repeatedly called for reducing the emphasis on certain moral issues and increasing attention to social and economic justice.

That approach stands in contrast with that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who specified opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage among a handful of “nonnegotiable” values for the church.

In terms of ethical priorities, Pope Francis wrote in the document released Monday that an exclusive focus on abortion reflects a “harmful ideological error” of those who play down the importance of social action or denigrate it as “superficial, worldly, materialist, communist or populist.”

“We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice” in the form of economic equality, the pope added.

The pope also criticized what he characterized as an exaggerated focus on moral relativism, a concept closely associated with the teaching of Pope Benedict, who famously denounced what he called a “dictatorship of relativism” in contemporary culture.

“We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” Pope Francis wrote.

He also warned against the danger of seeking social change while neglecting personal piety through prayer and Bible reading.

“Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism” exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the pope wrote.”

Catholics are now called to do more than be against a handful of sexual sins and sinners to declare themselves “Faithful Catholics.”