Monthly Archives: February 2008

"Generous Spirit" shown by Rabbi Jacob Neusner

Readers of Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” will find that the name of Rabbi Jacob Neusner has a familiar ring. He is, of course, the author of the book “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus”, with which Papa B. entered into dialogue in his aforementioned book about Jesus. You can read more about that fascinating relationship in this article from Haaretz, although it should be known that at least one Jewish writer has complained that Neusner in fact holds a position that is impossible for Jews, ie. rejecting his claim to be the divine Son of God and still maintaining real respect for him as an individual spiritual teacher.

Nevertheless, Neusner seems to be leading the way in demonstrating exactly what he calls for–that is, a “generous spirit”–in the debate about the Good Friday prayer. A Zenit article quotes him as saying:

Israel prays for the gentiles, so the other monotheists — the Catholic church included — have the right to do the same, and no one should feel offended. Any other policy toward the gentiles would deny gentiles access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah…

And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship. God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom, they express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the Pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews — better ‘holy Israel’ — on Good Friday…

Both ‘It is our duty’ and ‘Let us also pray for the Jews’ realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope.

He may not speak for all Jews, or even a majority of Jews, but I must say that this “generous spirit” does indeed characterise the relationship between Christians and Jews of which I have been privileged to be a part.

The Zenit article also quotes Cardinal Kasper as saying that the prayer “leaves everything in the hands of God, not in ours” and that it “does not speak of missionary activity”. Quite.

However, we need to clarify that we do not simply pray for the spread of the gospel but do ourselves actively participate in this mission. The point to be made is that in this mission we do not target anyone according to race or creed (eg. “as Jews” or “as Buddhists” or as “Pakistanis” or as “Koreans”), but simply as human beings. For God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is for all races and tribes and nations and toungues, without distinction.

And from whom did we learn such a universal vision of salvation? That’s right, my friends. As Rabbi Neusner says (and John 4 confirms): “From the Jews”.


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"That Catholic Show" – On Confession

Okay, it takes me a little while to catch on to some things. “That Catholic Show” is probably old hat for most of you, but I just discovered it today following the link from Zenit. And they had this little number on Confession. It’s quite neat. Especially the bloopers at the end!

(And see if you can find what I found funniest about the whole video–clue: it has something to do with “spiritual direction”)

(okay, another clue: look for the arrows!)

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Dear Bishop Malone: Deacons are different from Priests, not "better"

Here is an idea we don’t want to encourage:

A deacon is one who serves, listens with diaconal heart, and is able to do this better because he is married.

According to this local report, it comes from the homily of Bishop Michael Malone of Maitland-Newcastle given at the ordination of a permanent deacon.

It should be remembered that all priests are ordained deacons also (as are all bishops), and that the charism of marriage and the charism of celibacy are different gifts that are used to serve God and his people in different–not “better”–ways.

I very strongly doubt the good bishop’s judgement that one is a better “listener” simply “because he is married”. Maybe the bishop’s own lack of personal experience of the state of marriage is showing through in his wishful thinking.


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"Priests" and the Seal of the Confessional

There is a very confused article in today’s Herald Sun (not a rag I read regularly–thank you Cathnews for alerting me) regarding whether the responsibility for reporting crimes such as child abuse extends to the priest who hears confession of such a crime in the confessional.

For a start it is entirely inappropriate for the journalist responsible to describe either the minister in question or the context for the “confession” in terms of Catholic priesthood and the Catholic sacrament of penance, since no minister of what the article describes as “a small evangelistic Christian church in the eastern suburbs” could be regarded as a priest “in the true sense” (as Rome would put it!) nor could any practice of “confession” in that church be regarded as the sacrament of penance (which sacrament and which power to forgive such “evangelical” churches strenuously deny).

The Catholic Church forbids (Canon 983.1) her priests to disclose any information received in the confessional or in any way to make use of the information received there. The Catechism states (p. 2490) that “It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason”.

The reason for this should be patently obvious. No-one would ever make auricular confession to a priest if he thought that in any way what was confessed would go anywhere beyond that forum. Removing the seal of the confessional for any reason would utterly destroy any confidence the faithful have in their priests or in this sacrament overnight.

For eg. Last Saturday night I went to mass in the Cathedral. I wanted to make my confession, and sat in the line for twenty minutes, only to be told (when I was two away from entering the box) that no more confessions would be heard since Father had to prepare to say mass in ten minutes time. I went to communion anyway after making an act of contrition, but also recognised that this obligated me to make my confession at the earliest possible opportunity. That opportunity came after mass in the sacristry where I confessed to the priest face to face. I know this priest and he knows me and we work together regularly. I have confessed to him through the grill before, but never face to face. If I thought that there was any way in which what I had to confess would leave that face to face encounter and affect either my work or my personal relationship with this priest I never would have had the confidence to do this. As it was, I know that he will not even allow what he heard in that confession to affect our personal relationship, let alone any relationships beyond this. I confessed to him as to the Lord, and as with the Lord, he doesn’t go babbling about it to anyone.

Now ask yourself if I would have had the confidence to do that without the guarentee of the seal of the confessional. I can tell you now that I would not have.

Making exceptions for the seal of the confessional will not lead to the uncovering of these crimes and to justice. It will lead to people never confessing mortal sins to their priest and never receiving forgiveness for it. At least in the current situation, the priest is able to use what influence he has in that personal pastoral relationship to see that repentance is sincere, justice is done and future harm averted.


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New Post on Sing Lustily

I have blogged a bit on Sing Lustily, my music blog, and was getting ready to add another entry on a recent reference Benedict made to Taize music. I could have sworn that the reference was in his Q&A session with the Roman priests, but I can’t find it there. Can anyone help me out?

Today I attended a prayer session at Wesley Uniting Church with Br Ghislain from Taize. He is on one of his regular visits to our part of the world, and will be back again for WYD in Sydney. We had a hour or so for Taize prayer accompanied by some very bad recorder playing (I’m allowed to say that without offending anyone since I was the offender).

Br Ghislain included a reading of Br Alois’ most recent letter. It is worth reading. I think there has been something of a swing to the Catholic and a swing to the theological in emphasis since Br Alouis took over writing these letters from his venerable predecessor.

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Tracey Rowland’s "Ratzinger’s Faith"

Forgive me for not having blogged much in the past week or so. Blame it entirely upon Tracey Rowland’s latest book “Ratzinger’s Faith” which she has kindly given to me to review for the Kairos (stay tuned for the full review). I have had my nose buried in this book since it arrived, and it has given me great joy and spiritual consolation.

So I have missed all the excitement surrounding the “great debate” between the Cooees boys (and girls, sorry Sister K) and Brian Coyne of Catholica.

But I catch up with most things eventually, and so to with this “gem” that they quote from Brian’s jottings:

Every public action of this man [Pope Benedict XVI] seems totally designed to appease the nutters, the insecure, and those who see “salvation” not being secured by the Cross of Jesus but by rules, bells and smells and some quaint “culture” of Catholicism that is rooted not in the time, and life of Christ, but in some kind of European feudalism or monarchism where some believed in the “Divine Right of Kings”. None of that “shit” has anything whatsoever to do with our salvation, resurrection or finding the “peace of Christ” in our lives that surpasses all human understanding.

Reading such a diatribe amidst reading “Ratzinger’s Faith” almost makes me physically sick. It is patently obvious that Brian knows not what he does, and perhaps he may therefore have recourse to the prayer of our Lord on the Cross for those who were crucifying him.

That he can accuse Benedict of seeing salvation as being secured by anything other than the Cross of Christ, or of trying to appease those who might think this to be the case, and that he can sum up the faith which Benedict expounds for the faithful as being only about “rules, bells and smells” indicates to me that he has not read a word of Benedict’s teaching.

Let me put up just two quotations from Tracey’s book, the first from Ratzinger himself (which I think I have already cited) and the second from the author herself:

If the Church were to accomodate herself to the world in any way that would entail a turning away from the Cross, this would not lead to a renewal of the Church, but only to her death. (page 39)

Raztinger wishes, however, to distinguish between the teaching authority of the Church and the practice of enlightened despotism. The Church, he says, is not in the business of leading in the same sense of the enlightened ruler who knows that he is in possession of better reason, translates it into regulations, and counts on the obedience of his subjects who have to accept his reason and its articulation as their divinely willed standard. Rather, it is a case of there being certain teachings which have been withdrawn from any possibility of majority judgement, by the bishops or by anyone else, because they are things which of themselves human reason has not discovered. They are gifts of Revelation. (page 89)


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The Strelan Article on the Theology of the Cross

Here is the full article on by John G. Strelan, Theologia Crucis Theologia Gloriae.

Just quickly summarising, while broadly agreeing with the basic distinction between a Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross, there are two points on which I have some doubts about the application:

1) I do not believe that it is a ‘Theology of Glory’ to affirm the certainty of faith which we may place in the means by which God has chosen to preserve and transmit his revelation to the world, ie. through the Church and the apostolic ministry. For just as it is precisely in the ‘hiddenness’ of God’s revelation in the crib and on the cross that made it possible for his revelation to be grasped by human hearts and minds and hands in the first place, so the means by which God chose to preserve and transmit that revelation (ie. through the writings and teachings of the human apostles and the continual tradition of the human society we call the Church) are equally and correspondingly incarnate and thus ‘hidden’. If it is not contrary to the Theology of the Cross to affirm the certainty of faith in the actual revelation itself, surely it is not contrary to the ‘Theology of the Cross’ to maintain certainty of faith in the means God chose to preserve and transmit it.

2) I do not believe that the ‘Theology of the Cross’ requires the rejection of the use of human reason, despite the fact that human reason alone could not discover the truth of God. For although there are many ways of thinking which, because of human sin, lead to idolatry and falsehood, yet it is to the human faculties of sight, hearing, touch and thought that God has made himself comprehensible. And while his Reason is far beyond ours and expressed predominantly as Love rather than pure rationality, nevertheless the God who is Love is also the God who is Logos/Word/Reason, and to say that God would act irrationally is itself irrational. Rejecting all human reason and philosophy from theological discourse and reflection would in fact be to rob God’s revelation of any conceivable or conveyable human meaning. God’s revelation may be ‘hidden’ but it is not meaningless.


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