Wednesday, November 13, 2019

St. Mary of Edessa

St. Mary of Edessa was born in Syria in the 4th century. Her parents died when she was young and she went to live with her uncle Abraham Kidunaia, a hermit. She followed her uncle’s example and lived as an anchoress for 20 years.

One day when she was visiting her uncle, a monk caught sight of her and sought to seduce her. He spent a year befriending her until she gave herself to him. Horrified by her own sin, Mary tore her tunic and was terrified of facing her uncle in disgrace. She ran away, thinking that she could not be redeemed. In despair, she assumed she was a tarnished woman and might as well go live in a brothel.

Her uncle did not know what had happened. All he could do was to pray for her return. Two years later, he received news that she was a prostitute. He hadn’t left his hermitage in years, but he immediately went to the brothel where Mary lived and begged her to come home. She had thought he would be angry and disgusted by her, but he showed only love and concern.

She returned to her home and began a life of penance and prayer. People were drawn to her spiritual zeal and visited her cell.

October 29 is the feast day of St. Mary of Edessa and her uncle St. Abraham Kidunaia.  She is a patron against sexual temptation.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Up the River without an Idol

The biggest scandal to come out of the Amazon Synod involved the use of wooden figures in Rome. During the synod, displays representing the Amazon region were set up around the Vatican and Rome, including plants, canoes, and wooden figures of a pregnant woman. In one instance, people bowed to the display, to these figures. When asked what the figured represented, people were first told she was Our Lady of the Amazon, presumably Mary, thought such a title had never been heard of before. While I think an Amazonian depiction of Mary would be wonderful, I’m not sure this was carved as that intention. Later it was said she represented “life, fertility, and Mother Earth.” So, not Mary. Not Christian. And then it was said she was a representation of indigenous fertility idol Pachamama – unambiguously not Christian.

So were pagan idols brought into Christian churches in Rome or not? No one would give a clear explanation, and the fact that no Church official would only caused the concern to grow. I would have understood if we (Europeans) misunderstood a symbol from another culture, but the fact that no one could clearly say “X means Y” made me believe it was a pagan idol after all. A couple of men took the figures from the church and threw them in the Tiber. Yet the figures were fished out and on display at the conclusion of the synod.

Was this a case of Euro-centric Catholics not understanding an Amazonian expression of the faith? Or was this a case of pagan rituals being brought into a church under the guise of dialogue? Christianity has always adopted pagan symbols and practices. There is nothing wrong about taking a symbol a culture already knows and using it to share to the faith. But it must be baptized—cut out of its pagan meaning and given a Christian identity. A culture’s practice can be kept and used, but it must be reordered to Christ. It must teach truth. These figurines caused confusion and division. Christianity cannot not let a pagan remain pagan.

A goal of the synod is to listen and understand the unique needs of the Amazon region. And that includes, perhaps, practices that we don’t understand at first. Perhaps the statues are Christian but just look different than our ideas of Mary. But perhaps not. The concerning part is no one would say. And we can’t let it remain ambiguous. A dialogue goes both ways, and we must reach a conclusion of what the Church can and cannot allow. #1: You will have no gods before me.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Up the River without a Paddle

The Amazon Synod—I intended to not pay much attention to it, but as the synod went on, a couple of items went viral, igniting the armchair experts. The Amazon Synod was called to addressed the challenges of the Church in the rural Amazon region, covering a massive amount of land with a small, indigenous population. From the beginning, some have claimed it’s being used to shoehorn progressive ideas into the Church—first for this specific region then spreading to the rest of the world. And indeed, the synod did suggest allowing married men to be ordained priests and women to entrusted as deacons. But I don’t want to focus on the particular issues or conclusions of the synod. I want to look at how the Amazon region and its people have been presented during this process.

I think the need for dialogue and addressing local challenges is needed in the Church. The Church is universal and should not look like Italian colonial copies dotted all over the world. Yet, the Church is universal and should remain consistent in her teachings and liturgies so that no matter where you are, when you enter a church, you are at home in the presence of Christ.

I did not hear much for the Amazonian people themselves from the synod. Instead, I heard about how unique the region is, how the people are tribal, indigenous—in other words, they are noble savages. These untouched, pure primitive ways had to be preserved—a privilege most cultures did not receive from colonizers.

I understand the dark history of colonialism and the desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past. But it feels like the pendulum has swung the other way, where cultures must never share parts of themselves for fear of “tainting” or “imposing” on another. No culture is pure; no people are a museum piece that must be preserved. The Amazonian people can be exposed to Christianity and still maintain their identity. Ideally, that is what would happen. We must not be afraid to share the truth. Christianity calls for change. We should meet people where they are but not leave them there. 

Bishop Erwin Kräutler (principal author of the synod’s working document) claimed that “indigenous people don’t understand celibacy.” He is calling for married priests because apparently the Amazonian people won’t respect a celibate man. How is that not demeaning to the Amazonian people, that they are incapable to learning about the virtue of celibacy in relation to the Church? He implies the people of the region are too naïve or dumb to learn the principles of Christianity that have been taught in every other region of the world.

It is still a colonial attitude that suggests how we treat one people should be different from how we treat others. It creates a system that “others” the Amazonian people by suggesting they are too different to follow what the rest of the Church is able to uphold. There may be practicalities that are unique and need addressing, but to suggest the people don’t understand or won’t accept some teachings is saying that the Church isn’t really universal at all.

Monday, October 21, 2019

St. Marguerite Bays

St. Marguerite Bays was born on Sept. 8 (the Nativity of Mary), 1815 in Switzerland. She was the second of seven children, and her parents were farmers. She was known as a good student in school. In 1830 she began an apprenticeship as a seamstress and soon served as a seamstress for several households.

She was pious and made a small alter in her room at home for prayer. Many around her suggested she join a religious order, but instead, she remained a single laywoman and virgin and devoted herself to an austere life of work and caring for her siblings.

During that time, local farmers were losing jobs to mechanization. She served them by delivering milk and bread and doing their washing and mending. She joined the Secular Franciscans. She regularly attended Mass and adoration and taught catechism to children.

In 1853 she got bowel cancer. On Dec. 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the immaculate conception dogma. On the same day, Marguerite found herself cured of the cancer and took it as a sign. Also in 1854, she discovered she had the stigmata and consulted her bishop. While she tried to keep it secret, news got out. She would fall into ecstatic raptures and feel the pain of Christ’s death once a week. She had a medical exam in 1873.

She grew very sick and weak in early 1879 with acute pain in her head, throat, and chest. She died at 3 p.m. on June 27, 1879.

She was one of five people canonized this past Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Her feast day will be June 27, and she is a patron of Franciscan tertiaries.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Praying for the Kurds

The Kurds have faced ethnic persecution for generations. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Kurds have wanted their own country, yet instead they comprise a sizeable majority in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Kurds have been on the forefront of fighting ISIS and rebel groups in Syria. Many Kurdish fighters are women. The U.S. has worked with Kurdish forces throughout the fighting.

Last week, Kurds logged into Twitter and discovered they had been betrayed. The U.S., with no warning, was pulling out of Syria and allowing Turkey to invade. Turkey is suffering from the mass of refugees that have fled Syria during the war. They claim they need to invade and secure a safe zone between Syria and Turkey, where they will return over a million refugees. That zone just so happens to be the Kurdish region of Syria. Turkey has long sought to stamp out Kurdish culture in Turkey. Thousands have been killed in recent years of fighting between Kurdish nationalists and Turkey. Erdogan has said that Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria are terrorists, same as the nationalists in Turkey.

In just days, there are reports of ISIS prisoner breakouts, civilian casualties, closed hospitals. Tens of thousands are being displaced. There is chaos and carnage in a place where stability was already fragile. The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told a senior US diplomat, “You are leaving us to be slaughtered.”

The situation is terribly complex, of course. Yet this moment is clear. The U.S. betrayed a weaker ally. We enlisted them to fight in a war then abandoned them. We used to say we were the defender of freedom. But this moment shows no love of freedom, no leadership, no courage, and no morality.

The Kurds are used to being ignored. They are used to be persecuted. And now they experiencing devastating betrayal. One less ally to call upon. One less ally in which to place hope. One less friend on the world stage. They are learning that the U.S. is not trustworthy. That they are on their own.

When trust is lost, so can hope waver. How can one hope as their land is revenged, as their people die, as the world throws on one more betrayal? I certainly don’t have any solutions to the chaos in Syria. But I pray for the Kurds who continue to get up each morning and fight against evil. I hope that the slaughtering will end. I hope there are moral people who will find solutions. I hope that the refugees and the fighters and the civilians all caught up in this misery don’t lose hope.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

St. Hunna

St. Hunna was born in the 7th century to a duke. She was known as being kind to the poor. One of her acts of service was washing the laundry of her needy neighbors in Strasbourg. Her neighbors called her the "Holy Washerwoman."

She married Hunon, who founded the village of Hunawihr in her name. Their son Deodatus became a monk. She and Hunon spent their lives donating money and land for churches and monasteries and serving the local poor through personal encounters. She was always willing to clean or do laundry for the poor. Though she was well-loved, there is not much else known about her. She died in 679.

She is the patron of laundry workers and washerwomen. Her feast day is April 15.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Monday Motivation: Faith, Hope, and Charity

“Faith, hope, and charity go together. Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.”  
—Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Monday, September 2, 2019

Monday Motivation: Labor Day

"The following duties bind the wealthy owner and the employer: not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character. misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers - that is truly shameful and inhuman. ...His great and principal duty is to give every one what is just. Doubtless, before deciding whether wages are fair, many things have to be considered; but wealthy owners and all masters of labor should be mindful of this - that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one's profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven."
-Pope Leo XII, Rerum Novarum

Today is Labor Day, and while many take their three-day weekend without much thought, there was a lot of toil and fighting that led to the concept of a weekend at all. We often take for granted the laws and provisions in place that make the workplace a safer and more just environment. Labor in the U.S. is far from perfect, and employers will still try to find loopholes to maximize profits at the expense of their employees' well-being. But we've come a long way. And we need to honor those who fought for our health, livelihood, and dignity, and we need to stay vigilant to ensure human worth is upheld above profit.