Monday, May 8, 2017

What Does It Mean To Be Clean Of Heart?

Is it permissible to disagree with a pope who is also a saint?

I have for some time been uneasy with some of the points in Pope John Paul’s  “Theology of the Body.” Don’t get me wrong –there is much good here, but….

One of those points is interpretation of the sixth beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart…”

In his General Audience of April 2, 1980, Pope John Paul interpreted Mt 5:8 (“Blessed are the pure of heart...”) as reference to human sexuality. He related that beatitude to “the possibilities of the human heart with respect to concupiscence of the body” (Man and Woman He Created Them, 23.6).

In the Sacra Pagina series, Daniel J. Harrington’s The Gospel of Matthew sees Ps 24:3-4 (“Who may God up the mountain of the Lord?...The clean of hand and the pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain”) as the background for the beatitude. Harrington says, “Neither a reference to sexual-ritual purity nor to single-heartedness, ‘pure of heart’ characterizes people of integrity whose moral righteousness extends to their inmost being and whose actions and intentions correspond” (p. 79).

In the Anchor Bible series on Matthew (commentary by W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann), the beatitude is interpreted as a purity of heart which focuses on the Divine. They wrote, “The Aramaic word would here be dakhin, ‘broken, humble, contrite’” (p. 47).  It is about a single-mindedness  as a pre-requisite for the vision of God as emphasized by Philo in his On The Contemplative Life (ii 473).

Catechism of the Catholic Church interprets the beatitude rather broadly, as reference “to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (2518). The Catechism refers the reader to 1 Tim 4:3-9 and to 2 Tim 2:22 in footnotes to the area of “charity” (let the reader judge whether exegesis of these two passages supports the area of charity).

The Catechism refers the reader to 1Thess 4:7, Col 3:5, and Eph 4:19 in footnotes to the area of “chastity and moral rectitude” (let the reader judge whether the references are of necessity implied in the beatitude’s expression “pure of heart”).

The Catechism refers the reader to Titus 1:15, 1 Tim 1:3-4, and 2 Tim 2:23-26 in footnotes to the area of "love of truth and orthodoxy of faith" (let the reader decide whether these footnotes are necessarily an exegesis of the beatitude).

The footnotes promote behavior appropriate to the Gospel and to the Kingdom but the reader must ask whether the Catechism’s application necessarily explains what is meant by the expression “pure of heart.”

There is to be sure a history of interpreting the beatitude in terms of chastity, but today’s scholarship questions that exegesis.

Church father Chrysostom gave this  interpretation: “By the pure are here meant those who possess a perfect goodness, conscious to themselves of no evil thoughts…” and then adds, “For as there are many merciful, yet unchaste, to show that mercy alone is not enough, he (Jesus) adds this concerning purity.”

Augustine interpreted the beatitude in terms of  Wisdom 1:1 (…"seek him in integrity of heart…"), explaining that the fool seeks to see God with a bodily eye while in truth He is seen only by the heart (Catena Aurea, Thomas Aquinas).

Trappist monk Fr Simeon (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis ) of St Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts , explains: “’Purity of heart’ is a quality that restores to a person the state of full grace and joy that Adam and Eve had before their sin. The Greek term katharos alludes to the Jewish rituals of purification, so that ‘clean’ here means not only ‘morally upright,’ ‘free of base thoughts and actions,’ but especially refers to a heart that has been removed from the realm of the profane and consecrated to the service of God, a heart in some sense made into a vessel to receive the presence of God” (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Ignatius  Press, 1996, vol.  1, p. 199).

Luke Timothy Johnson critiques John Paul’s use of “pure of heart” for leaving the impression that Matthew 5:8 refers to chastity “when he knows full well that the beatitude does not have so restricted a sense” (The Revelatory Body, William B. Eerdman’s, Publishing Co., 2015, p. 5).

There is much good in John Paul’s theology of the body, though it is on occasion difficult for me to understand, but application of the sixth beatitude as pointedly a matter of sexuality may well be judged as an escape into “proof texting” and such exegesis questionable.

There is more to “purity of heart” than sex.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prejudice Divides Church, Country, Families

By definition prejudice is prejudgment.

Human beings are endowed by God with intellect and will. The intellect is the spiritual power by which  we know; the will is the spiritual power by which we choose. By nature the intellect is geared toward truth; by nature the will is geared toward good.  We have, however, the ability to ignore truth and choose evil.

Thinking things through and trying to determine what is true can be challenging. Both require significant effort and time. Often we will by-pass the effort and jump to a conclusion. It is the reason why we have to respond,  “No, not necessarily,” to people who say that they are entitled to their own opinion

An opinion results from thinking things through. One is entitled to his own opinion only if he or she has put forth the effort to arrive at the truth. The chief distinguishing characteristic of the human animal is the ability to think. Entitlement to opinion depends on using intellect and will to determine what is true and good.  Refusal to seek truth and good undermines that characteristic which makes a human being “homo  sapiens.”

Prejudice or prejudgment can be helpful or harmful. Prejudgments based on wisdom or experience can safeguard life. Prejudgments that are arbitrarily applied to life, people, or experience can be harmful and fall far from the truth.

Wisdom requires a person to submit his or her prejudgment to rational assessment. Prejudgments that are prejudicial are generally understood to be pre-conceived opinions which are not based on reason or actual experience. 

Prejudice can undermine race relations, religious affiliation, political policy. Prejudice can promote sexual discrimination, nationalism, intellectual and linguistic bias.

Many of the divisions in the Catholic Church, in the United States, or in family relationships are founded upon prejudgments.

Prejudice leads to a “them versus us” attitude. The “out group” must be wrong because they do not see things as the “in group” sees them. It is found in the attitudes of conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, in-laws versus the nuclear family.

Pope Francis has been decried as an anti-pope, and no matter what Gospel he preaches, he will be dismissed or condemned by some members of his own Church. President Trump has heard calls for his impeachment, and no matter what  leadership he provides, he will be rejected or proscribed by some citizens of his own country. “Uncle Joe” has been rejected, and no matter what good he may do, he will be disowned and damned by some of the family.

If the enemies of Pope Francis or President Trump or Uncle Joe base their assessment on prejudgment without assessing the possibility of good in their adversaries they have failed to submit their attitude to a search for truth and good. They demean their own humanity.

Such a search may confirm the original conviction, but such a search is likely to come closer to an honest and open evaluation of the “out group.”  Such was the lesson of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or of Harper Lee’s To Killing A Mockingbird.

Spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle has said, “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.”

One way to heal the divisions in the Church, in our country, in family relations is to acknowledge our tendency toward prejudice and come together with civility and patience to meet the enemy and discuss the differences. If our country is polarized to the point that partisan-politics sabotages the good of the nation, then the words of Scripture and Abraham Lincoln ("House divided cannot stand") serve as a sobering cry for remedy. Re-assessment of individual and communal prejudice is a healing balm for the sores of society.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council resulted from 2500 bishops’ coming together and discussing their differences.  Born of heated debates, of political maneuvering, and intense compromise, the Constitutions and Decrees of Vatican II set the direction for the Church to follow for decades to come. The experience of differing people and differing ways of being Church came together and helped heal in a large way centuries of misunderstanding, conflict, and short-sightedness.

The US Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights are further evidence of the benefits which come from using reason, debate, and compromise to defuse fiercely held prejudgments "in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

Dorothy Day's mentor Peter Maurin urged people to work for a "common unity," which he further explained can become "community." Whether the goal is promoting the Gospel or preserving the nation or protecting family life, participants in any of these endeavors must acknowledge what is true and good even in the midst of their differences.

What is presented as "news" on major cable networks is often prejudice passed off as "expert" opinion. Ridicule, insult, disrespect, contempt, slander, dishonesty are symptoms of prejudice. It might be that Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social communication promote immediate, emotional reaction, and retard honest assessment.  The pressure to respond instantly takes precedence over reason. Even the left-leaning political critic Alexander Cockburn acknowledged that the first law of journalism is to confirm prejudice rather than contradict it.

The Gospel calls us to respond with love in every situation and setting, and the love which Jesus taught is ultimately the choice for good. It is the result of repentance (re-thinking) and then choosing what is good. It is the application of those two spiritual powers of intellect and will which characterize and specify our human nature.

You can hear the song from South Pacific:  “You’ve got to be taught to hate and to fear…to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Prejudice is the great divider. It may be the reason for Jesus’ prayer, “That they all may be one…”


Monday, January 30, 2017

Re-assessing Liturgiam Authenticam and English at Mass

How I welcome the news that Pope Francis has formed a commission to re-assess Liturgiam Authenticam, the instruction issued in 2001 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

It was this directive which caused translators to change from using the so-called “:dynamic equivalence” in translating to  the so-called “formal equivalence.”

In effect dynamic equivalence is the effort to translate into terms and expressions which convey the intent and meaning of the original language. Formal equivalence is translation of the words and grammatical structure of the original., even if the result be somewhat awkward.

To use a home-spun (some may say “extreme”) example, imagine how best to translate from English into German the expression, “The old man kicked the bucket.”  If I render it “Der alte Mann trat den Eimer,” will the German-speaking person understand what the English expression intends? It would be clearer, less likely to be misinterpreted, if I translate it simply as “Der alte Mann starb”--the old man died.

Liturgiam Authenticam instructed translators, “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.”

While the Vatican Congregation which issued the document included many wise instructions and appropriate cautions, and did insist on the responsibility of local Episcopal Conferences to oversee the translation work, the Congregation nevertheless insisted that the translation be submitted to the Vatican for approval before the translation could be printed and authorized for use.

In 2011 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the new translation of the Mass (labeled “the third typical edition”) as “The Roman Missal.” Most Catholics will recall some of the changes, such as,  “And with your spirit” instead of “And with you.” Or “…begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” replacing “begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”

Some (not all) priests have struggled with the new translation. Some of the presidential prayers (collect, prayer over the offerings, prayer after communion) are convoluted, awkward, tongue-twisting, and a challenge to interpretation.

The structure of the Latin language differs from that of English, especially to the ear of US citizens. The collect for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time challenges interpretation: “Almighty ever-living God, whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, we dare to call our Father, bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters, that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised. Through our Lord…”

That modifying clause “taught by the Holy Spirit” logically (theologically) refers to “we,” but in this sentence construction sounds as if it is attached to “whom” who it turns out is "God.”

Another common complaint is the frequent and rather gratuitous use of the word “merit.” Good theology suggests that we can do nothing to “merit” God’s inheritance. The Letter to the Ephesians (2:8-9) clarifies, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

Many priests who studied Latin and remember the days of the Latin Mass have confirmed that it was easier to understand the Latin than it is to understand the English as it is translated according to the mode of formal equivalence.

ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the committee set up in 1963 by English-speaking Episcopal conferences to translate liturgical texts of the Roman rite) prepared a new translation of the Roman Missal in 1998, but the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship rejected the new version, likely in part because they already had plans in progress for Liturgiam Authenticam, which was published in 2001.

Pope Francis’ call for a commission to re-assess Liturgiam Authenticam and the probability that responsibility for translations will be more fully restored to Episcopal Conferences provide hope that the Roman Missal as we know it will be revised and the translations of our prayers will come more from our culture and our hearts than from a slavish word-for-word rendering of a foreign text.

Little has been revealed about the new commission, but Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, is reported to be the commission president. Roche is an English-speaking prelate, a former president of ICEL,  and is thought by many to be more open to such a re-assessment of Liturgiam Authenticam than perhaps Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation.

The decision to re-visit the translation and Liturgiam Authenticam does not imply the document had no value. It does reflect, however, Pope Francis’ recognition of the need to respect the responsibility and authority of  Episcopal Conferences.

Of course, there will be backlash. Some have already warned that the words said over the chalice of Jesus’ blood “which will be poured out for you and for many” must not be rendered (as previously) “for you and for all.” They said that “for all” causes confusion. It might be said that “for many” is far more confusing. Did Jesus shed his blood for all or for a restricted many? A truly formal equivalent translation of the phrase should be “for the many,” an expression which means “for everyone.”

I welcome the news and the new commission. Now we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Though it will be years before the work of the commission is implemented, we see some light at the end of an otherwise dark tunnel. If  lex orandi, lex credendi (“how we pray displays what we believe”) is a valid theological, liturgical, dogmatic principle, then we will have taken a decisive step in saying what we believe and believing what we say.