Is there a religious dimension to civility? Should we be concerned about a lack of civility not just as citizens but as men and women of faith? Reading the Gospels, one could argue that Jesus was not particularly civil. He denounced his enemies as hypocrites and accused his friends of lack of faith. He insulted people who asked favors of him and was rude to the people of his hometown. All of this can be interpreted, perhaps, as prophetic discourse; and prophets are not supposed to be polite. The word of God is always two-edged, as sharp as any sword.
Yet Jesus, in his own life and in his instructions to his disciples, rejected violence and demanded love of enemies and patience in suffering. Bearing witness to the truth, he asks for discipleship to be based on free assent. As Pope John Paul II often says: “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing … Love is the driving force of mission.” Speaking to the Catholic laity in the world of his day, St. Francis of Assisi wrote: “Realize, dear brothers and sisters, that courtesy is one of the properties of God. … It is the sister of charity, by which hatred is vanquished and love is cherished.”
Civility is a sign of humility, of the recognition that one is not the center of the universe, of the desire to be properly submissive to God and to those whom God gives us as companions on our earthly journey, especially those most in need. A civil person is grateful, because he or she recognizes that life itself is a gift for which one can only say “thank you.”
In El Paso, Texas, Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead, Catholics on each side of the Mexico-U.S. border will push tables against a common fence to form one altar. Bishops from both nations -- separated by wall and wire -- will concelebrate a Mass that will be the culmination of a huge organizing event coming together as “The Border Pilgrimage.”
The Mass will be offered for the more than 2,300 migrants who have died trying to cross the border in the past eight years. That estimate, compiled by the University of Houston, goes back to roughly the point at which construction of “The Wall” (NCR, Jan. 17), the 66-mile barricade that starts in the Pacific Ocean in the Tijuana-San Diego Bay, began to impede crossings close to San Diego.
Maryknoll lay missioner West Cosgrove, a key local coordinator with Jose Escobedo of the pilgrimage’s “Border Convocation” in El Paso, estimates that this year another 400 men and women could die in attempts to cross into the United States.
To add yet more programs to an already overextended parish calendar and parish staff does little to shift the focus from children and youth to adults. It is more likely to place added stress on families who are already juggling multiple commitments. In addition, periodic programs unconnected to the life of the parish or the parish vision can easily reinforce the already well-established belief that adult catechesis is something on the side, to be addressed when there is time and energy to do it. Or, even worse, if the program is poorly attended or unenthusiastically received, it can be discouraging to all involved. Soon the attitude becomes: “We’ve tried that before—it doesn’t work. The adults in our parish just aren’t interested.”
First, I think in some small way the meeting was historic. The non-Catholic public would probably assume that bishops and cardinals frequently talk with conservatives in the church. The non-Catholic American public would probably assume bishops and cardinals are the conservatives in the church. But this is not so. Conservatives in the church often feel that they are regarded, and not completely unkindly, as sort of odd folk, who perhaps tend to have a third hand growing out of their foreheads and tinfoil hats on their heads. We say, "Please, we must speak more as a church about abortion," and church leaders say, "We may possibly do that after issuing the report on domestic employment policy." We ask the church to teach Catholic doctrine, and they point out that the press doesn't really like the church. We ask them to discuss the pressing issues of the moment, such as cloning--we're entering a world in which industrial fetal farms may grow replacement people for replacement parts--and instead they issue new directives on how it would be better if people sang songs during the mass after communion, and hugged each other instead of shaking hands during the moment of peace.
I always thought it was conservatives who had been most outspoken against the "culture of complaint," but I guess when conservatives themselves feel like an aggrieved minority, they give themselves a pass. Is it any wonder that bishops might be less inclined to take conservatives seriously when they present themselves as a saving remnant and make sweeping comments ("I had planned to address the teaching of Catholic doctrine, which is something the American Catholic Church doesn't really like to do in any depth") that suggest the bishops are largely incompetent?
I'm not sure how I feel about the relative secrecy of the earlier meeting between a few bishops and some prominent liberal Catholics. I would like to know more about what had been said there. But at least the participants haven't been spouting off in the op-ed pages about how smart they are and how dumb the bishops are.
BACK ON THE JOB: Striking Catholic schoolteachers were back on the job yesterday. Speaking as a former union staffer, I can tell you there is nothing better than a strike that ends quickly with a contract both sides can live with (except, of course, getting a contract before the strike.
THE CHURCH'S HIDDEN JEWISHNESS: Interesting review in Christianity Today of In the Shadow of the Temple, a book by Oskar Skarsaune, professor of church history at Norwegian Lutheran Theological Seminary. Skarsaune argues against a widely held view that Hellenic culture decisively shaped the early church in many areas, and tries to show how Jewish influence was usually decisive where the two cultures conflicted. Can't comment on the strength of his argument since I haven't read the book, but at least it sounds interesting.
An interview with Skarsaune, published in the same issue, was a little more difficult to digest, as Skarsaune takes issue with Catholic beliefs about the priesthood and the Eucharist as sacrifice. Since he is a historian, I would have expected him to know that the roots of the priesthood and the Eucharist as sacrifice go back earlier than Constantine, but I guess this is one of those things you can debate for a very long time.
The Blantyre Archdiocese of the Catholic Church said on Monday people who do not agree with the church’s sermons on politics, justice and peace are free to leave the church and stop calling themselves Catholics. Reacting to a protest by some Catholics from Limbe Cathedral, calling themselves The Voice, against sermons that are delivered by priests at their church because they carry political messages, spokesman for the archdiocese Monsignor Boniface Tamani, said the Catholic Doctrine is about justice and peace and that the church will keep on preaching on this.