Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vatican's translation fiasco

January 25, 2011
This Vatican move, its about-face on liturgical language, may receive less automatic, unquestioning obedience than most.

For about thirty years, scores of translators, consultants, theologians, etc. had labored to add more reverence and awe to English-language Mass prayers that were hurriedly produced after Vatican II. It was agreed that the language of ritual needed a tone more elevated, more set apart from the familiar style heard in everyday speech. The product of decades-long work by the International Commission on English (ICEL), submitted to the Vatican with the expectation that it would be speedily approved, was rejected.

Instead, the Vatican imposes its own English translation, refusing to accept the work of the world-class experts assembled to carry out the liturgical reform launched at Vatican II. This time, reaction to Rome’s tyrannical move raises anger around the world in addition to the usual gearing up to obey.
Language experts find the Vatican-imposed translation of the missal awkward and obscure because it too slavishly maintains the structure of Latin, which renders the literal translations clumsy and hard to understand in English. Prelates around the world are affronted by this latest example of Rome reversing “collegiality"—the sharing of Church governance by the bishops begun at Vatican II. Some have responded with the words “scandal” and “outrage.” The National Catholic Reporter writes of liturgy wars.
Father Anthony Ruff, who worked for ICEL, complains that
a couple thousand passages in the new missal have to be in stilted, unnatural English to follow the Latin literally, . . . There is a major issue here of whether the Vatican has [a] coherent position in throwing 1998 in the wastebasket and then approving an incoherent mess like 2010.
[This appeared as an unverified comment that I should have verified. Anthony Ruff contacted me to say it doesn't sound like himself. I agree and actually wondered about the language in it—Anthony is highly articulate. I await his statement. Stay tuned. . . .
Here is Anthony's statement amending the one that inaccurately quoted him.
I would say that many passages throughout the new missal use stilted, unnatural English in order to follow the Latin literally. There is a major issue in the Vatican rejecting a coherent translation in 1998 and approving an incoherent approach to translation in 2010.
Catholic womanpriest Bridget Mary Meehan writes:
It appears the Vatican is heading full speed backwards to medieval times. . . . the good news is that Roman Catholic Womenpriests use inclusive language and imagery for God in our liturgies. . . . Let me make a prediction—one day—the Vatican will adapt or perhaps even copy our inclusive liturgie (sic).
It will be interesting to see how obsequiously Vatican marching orders will be followed by local bishops and—what could prove more interesting—theologians and linguists around the world. This “liturgy war” creates one more opportunity for Catholics to question top-down governance in their Church. We can add it to the forces mentioned in the previous post.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, the pope was next to God. Catholics might disagree with a priest—my dad did on occasion—but disobeying the pope was unthinkable. Today, critiques of the pope’s actions and words are common; Vatican directives are dissected and often resisted. While Benedict XVI may not be personally responsible for this translation fiasco, he strongly pushes centralized Vatican power, as NCR informs us in an article calling the eminent theologian Hans Küng a straight arrow.
Küng . . . believes that the present crisis in the church shows that he was right [about his progressive theological views]. The whole Roman system is in question, he maintains, though neither the Vatican nor the majority of the bishops yet realize it.

Küng recalls how French theologian Yves Congar, who played a major part at Vatican II (1962-65), would tell him, “If you want to understand the Roman Catholic church today, look at the 11th century.” There one sees the break between West and East, the rise of “Roman absolutism” and “enforced clericalism—including the law of celibacy.” Küng thinks that Benedict is still wedded to that paradigm. “He is an antimodernist in the deepest sense of the word.”
I agree with Küng that the whole system is in question, and to Bridget Mary Meehan’s prediction, I add my own. One day the Vatican will be a clearing house for Catholicism instead of its seat of government; it will be a unifying symbol instead of a tyrannical force. Prelates will stop wearing the garb and carrying the insignia of Roman emperors. Catholicism will cease being a monarchy and move closer to democracy, perhaps even adopting practices such as congregations choosing their pastors.

I may not be around when these things happen, but that the present system is falling apart I do not doubt.

January 31
No issue adds more urgency to the need for change in the Church than the exclusion of women from ordination, governance, and imaging the DIVINE. After the Vatican did its about face on liturgical language, the new team it brought in officially included only one woman. It adds significance to Bridget Mary Meehan’s prediction (below).

I attended a fascinating presentation on the Vatican’s upcoming language changes. The morning was exhilarating, as we heard an informative and fascinating explication of "What's Happening to the Mass." One AHA moment came for me because I am familiar with the role in some languages of inflectional endings, which in English have almost disappeared—“who” and “whom” are left but rarely used correctly. We were shown how Latin's inflectional endings clarify relationships between words in Latin, and these meanings are lost in word-for-word translations into English—only paraphrases can convey them accurately. But the Vatican directive specifically avoids paraphrases—part of the reason for the fiasco.

But then came a midday prayer that, as usual in Christian prayers, reduced the Transcendent Source of All to a humanlike male individual, a "he." It was a typical Christian prayer, and I suppose organizers just didn’t bother to clean up the language for this setting, but after the morning’s presentation, non-inclusive language stood out more conspicuously and offensively. It was an insult to the women and men there who know better and are open to a broader vision.

Ron Rolheiser in the Sunday Visitor models clean, uplifting language for Catholics. Here is an excerpt from his column:
“. . . God who is the author of beauty, sexuality, intimacy, truth, justice, energy, color and pleasure. . . . the One of which these things are only a pale reflection.
I appreciate his avoidance of male pronouns in reference to God.
The religious sister who emailed this comment to me also uses language that enlightens.
I continue to enjoy your blog. You make a difference in my life by clear explanations. I find it fascinating that our Beloved Source is NO THING, and ALL IN ALL, as well as VOID and FULLNESS OF BEING.
Sending positive energy to you and into the universe, Mary Lou
How I wish we could hear terms like these in our liturgies! Instead of conjuring up the image of a humanlike individual, they induce wonder and awe, a genuine appreciation of Transcendence. I believe we’ll see more of this language in the future as Catholicism absorbs lessons from science, other religions, and even the carping of some atheists.

February 5
Here’s the latest, reported in America magazine:
Anthony Ruff, OSB, a prominent liturgical scholar and professor of liturgy at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., . . . publicly withdraws from all diocesan speaking engagements promoting the new translation of the Roman Missal. . . .

“. . . When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord's teachings on service and love and unity—I weep."
Ruff came to a larger realization:
"My involvement in that process, as well as my observation of the Holy See’s handling of scandal, has gradually opened my eyes to the deep problems in the structures of authority of our church."
Finally someone with authority in the Church has the guts to tell the truth! Reactions to Ruff’s stance include predictable variations of “he is not obedient to Christ because he is not obedient to the hierarchy”—the conflation of hierarchy with divinity.

Now what we need are more men like Roy Bourgeois with the guts to participate openly in the liturgies of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. We need liturgies that induce awareness of holy Transcendence, using the sort of terms used by Mary Lou below. To use a not yet overused phrase, I hope the Church chooses the right side of history.

Martin Luther King & Catholics, January 20
Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of his most celebrated compositions. It was written in 1963 on jail-house scraps of paper to 8 white Christian leaders in Birmingham who criticized his work as “unwise and untimely.”
My present reading of his answer strikes me as remarkably wise, timely, and pertinent to the present conflict between the Catholic hierarchy and growing Catholic authority challenging the hierarchy. One center of such burgeoning authority is women religious with high status, responsibility, and visibility in health care, education, and other service areas. Another center is Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), and a third is the Catholic press, publications such as National Catholic Reporter and America.
Here are quotations from King’s Letter and their relevance to the conflict in the Catholic Church.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Church rulings with unjust effects for some threaten unjust effects for everyone. The whole institution is undermined by these:
• excluding women from ordination and governance,
• punishing persons who demonstrate exceptional moral courage (Roy Bourgeois and others for supporting women priests),

• punishing Catholic health care institutions for disobeying bishops whose decisions run counter to the views of ethicists,
• Punishing theologians who question familiar beliefs.
These acts of injustice by the hierarchy rob Catholicism of its moral authority when it addresses the larger society. Why listen to the pope or bishops talking of peace or pornography when they show such poor moral judgment in their own house?
It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
It is unfortunate that Catholics disobey their religious leaders, but it is even more unfortunate that people with conscience have no alternative.
I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." . . . we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension [that helps us rise] to the majestic heights of understanding . . .
To the gadflies I identified above as tension creators in the Church, I add theologians who enlighten us about the Divine Feminine.
Privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
We cannot expect Church hierarchy to surrender its privileges voluntarily.
As Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
Religious institutions (Vatican offices, bishoprics and parishes) are more immoral than individuals in them. How many of us have experienced compassionate individuals reluctantly laying down a rule they personally opposed? Individuals tend to perpetuate the norms of an institution they work for. It takes extraordinary discrimination and courage to discern its failings and act on them.
A just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. . . . A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.
The pertinence of this to Church laws discriminating against women and other lay people could not be more obvious.
Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Often I hear people express disgust with Christian churches. Catholics are leaving in droves. A Pew Forum study showed that about a third of American adults raised Catholic are no longer Catholic, 71 percent of them saying they left because their spiritual needs were not met. Until now I haven’t even mentioned the clergy sex abuse scandal, which exposed the clerical culture of privilege and the hierarchy’s growing irrelevance as a moral force.

I challenge Catholic leaders to apply Martin Luther King’s words about freedom “for the Negro” to freedom for our Church.

February 10
The events in Egypt remind me of the Catholic hierarchy’s tight hold on the reins of power. I do not promote or suggest revolution in the Church, but it’s good to see the parallels in our religious institution to a political system of oppression/repression. It’s good to look at the hard truth.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Infinite Depth

One morning in bed, which is where and when the best insights come, this phrase “Infinite Depth” came to me. Another term for what we call “God.” Out of that depth come all creative ideas, an infinite variety of physical forms, answers to intellectual questions, solutions to problems, and so on and on and on. The wisdom of this Depth comes to us because it’s within us. It’s the Within.
Teilhard de Chardin teaches us that consciousness and matter are aspects of the same reality, the Within and the Without of things. Evolution of all forms physical and spiritual is a progression in consciousness—humans are increasingly more conscious of our own consciousness, more aware of our own Within.

But we fail when we try to capture it in words because words refer to individual ideas, and the Within is beyond any individuals. There’s a story that an Eastern sage tried to express the inexpressibility of what we call “God” by saying something like this: Think of all the ideas and objects that exist or could exist—this could go on forever—and after each thought, ask, “Is this God?” Always we answer, “No, not this.” The Source is beyond all and yet Within all. The second part of that has largely been missed in Western religion.

In Christianity the apophatic tradition appreciates the Within, but our liturgy perpetuates misconceptions with its insistent, boring, misleading repetition of “He” and "Lord" and "Father." I keep mentioning them because, in the present reactionary climate, deleting them or at least lessening their use would be the simplest way to educate humanity about God’s transcendence.

In public discussions about “God,” it is assumed to be an individual entity, a somebody with humanlike thoughts and will, a person or thing separate from us and the rest of creation. And so the misunderstanding persists. Public discourse about religion focuses on externals such as church attendance and religious teachings and which religion attracts more adherents.

The common purpose of all religions—to mediate the Within of things—gets no press. Unfortunate.

SHE  WHO  IS     March 17, 2016

The Creator/Source of All That Is and Could Be is portrayed by traditional religions in ways that do not comport with present-day knowledge and awareness. I recommend Elizabeth A. Johnson's bookShe Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse for a differgent view.

These poems also say it better than I could.

We must not portray you in King's robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.
You are like a web or you are like a tree
or you are a forest through which I run,
or you are a herd of luminous deer
and I am forest and dark
and you run through me.
Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Joanna Macy)

Offering from a Catholic Sister

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the first time in the dark dank of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,
After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Well that she said it to him then,
For dry old men,
Brocaded robes belying barrenness,
Ordain that she not say it to him now.

--Sister Frances Croake Frank

Books recommended by Bp. Regina Nicolosi from the forum The Feminine Face of God
                      March 13, 2011

The first time this next poem stirred me, we were having Mass in a living room. The presider sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a small, draped coffee table. The rest of us were comfortable on chairs, floor, or whatever. The “homily” developed in reflections from whoever was inspired to speak, and prayer petitions likewise.
We passed around the plate and cup, breaking off pieces of the bread for each other. Ritually we became bread broken for each other, as each of us received from one and gave to the next. Then this poem:


Bakerwoman God,
I am your living bread.
Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft, and being-
shaped loaf.
I am your rising
bread, well-kneaded
by some divine and knotty
pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.

I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.
Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red flood.
Self-giving chalice swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up
in a red pool
in a gold world
where your warm
sunskin hand
is there to catch
and hold me.
Bakerwoman God,
remake me.

  Alla Bozarth-Campbell

The Creator/Source of All that Is and Could Be is portrayed by traditional religions in ways that do not comport with present-day knowledge and awareness. These poems say it better than I could.

We must not portray you in King's robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.
You are like a web or you are like a tree
or you are a forest through which I run,
or you are a herd of luminous deer
and I am forest and dark
and you run through me.
Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Joanna Macy)

Her Faith Is Mine  February 12, 2016

Since the 1990s I have communicated with German relatives at Christmas time. This last December Eva Igelmund wrote that their tulips were rising from the ground, almond trees were starting to bloom, and birds didn't know if they should stay or go south. I laughed upon reading this, but it also is sad and frightening to see predictions of global warming that I read decades ago come to pass.

In a later email she reported that the forecast for Christmas weekend called for 62 º F. Germany lies at a slightly higher latitude than Minnesota’s, but western Europe is warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Minnesota reaches temperature extremes because it is in the middle of a continent. Lake Superior is the closest large moderating body of water. Because of Eva's news I was actually glad that winter returned to Minnesota in January after an unusually warm December.

Eva summarized her relationship with religion and in doing so summarized mine. She gave me permission to translate her German words into English. Describing herself as a free spirit, she writes,
Although born and bred Catholic and from earliest childhood interested in spirituality, I began to question as a young child. Or did I perhaps question for that reason?

I read extensively and tried many paths, stayed away from the Catholic Church for a time, but never from God. Since then I have made my peace with the institution, knowing that its officials have the faults and weaknesses of us all.
I live an intense life of faith, celebrating daily worship by maintaining contact with the Creator/Jesus/God/One Source of all Being. From day to day, the face of this power shifts as my moods shift, depending on my experiences and sources of inspiration.

My childhood image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, now gives way to images more diffuse, ineffable, exalted, unbelievably near and trusted, but formless Being. Whatever the form imagined, uniting with it brings solace, power, joy, confidence and hope.
Eva’s words delight me, as they could be my own confession of faith. She states my thoughts and feelings as if she were in my mind. That she says them in German intensifies their meaning for me and the pleasure of having words convey thoughts.

If anyone would like to see Eva’s statement in German, email me. Hit the contact button at godisnot3guys.com 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jesus an idol?

Jesus’ real significance was concealed by the halo put around the man. The god in our liturgy and popular piety started emitting a bad smell for me early in my life. Worshipful language by Jesus-freaks turned me off. 

What a different figure I found when I read the scriptures with new eyes! A person so refreshing, so human, so real—a feisty, earthy, gutsy, and passionate man! He uses spit and dirt to heal, weeps openly, raises havoc, makes merry, and gets angry. He calls people names, loves it when a woman fusses over him, and uses shocking language to thrust home his points.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).
Jesus did not act like a “good Christian”—always nice, always accommodating, always smoothing things over. I like the real Jesus a lot better than the image coming out of evangelical fervor.

Present-day worshippers would shun the man who actually walked the paths of Palestine 2000 years ago. The real Jesus of Nazareth railed against privilege and honor; “lord” and “king” do not fit this revolutionary critic of status-seeking.

When I broke free of the stuffed-shirt Jesus, I found a spiritual rebel in the synoptic gospels who could be sharp, blunt, combative, and even caustic. He does not think, talk, or act like a guy trying to fit social expectations. With pluck and spunk he defies them, displaying uncommon freedom from the opinions of others. He hangs around with scum. Nice people are appalled.
Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Lk 7:34)!

I believe the historical Jesus taught and modeled spiritual goals taught by all spiritual masters. The Nazarene did not think he was God. Scholars agree that he didn’t say the words put into his mouth by evangelists of the Fourth Gospel. Jesus didn’t give himself an exalted title when he called himself the son of humans. “Son of man” was foolishly and mistakenly given ponderous significance by generations after Jesus who did not understand his Palestinian culture.

One way the man in history shatters popular images of Jesus is in his relationships with women, the most shocking with Mary Magdalene. I hope you can study this information about the Beloved Disciple without the prejudice I had in my first response to it. Whatever the historical details of Jesus’ conversations with women, it is unlikely that an evangelist would have invented the stunning reversal of patriarchal and hierarchical norms we see in the gospels. 

Jesus an idol?   January 10, 2011

“Father” is a mythic image, not a fact.
Since I wrote this, I keep coming back to it, realizing that most Christians—let’s face it, most Christian leaders—actually don’t know this. Those who do are prevented by Church authority from educating congregations to the realization that religious stories—yes, our Christian stories too—are myths, not facts.

The thing is, we need the poetry of myth. Imagine trying to inspire a religious gathering with the message that “Father and Son” are mythic images, not facts. Such factual language doesn’t scour. We need the poetic images, but a plethora of disparate ones. Balance Father with Mother, He with She, Judge with She-bear, Rock with Spring, Warrior with Midwife, lord with woman giving birth. All these images of our Source/Creator inhabit the Bible (See Women and the Word by Sandra Schneiders, IHM, STD and Goddess in the Bible.

These disparate images are mutually disruptive, that is, they prevent a certain image or type of image from monopolizing and conditioning minds, from creating an idol. An idol is what we now have in our Christian churches.

Ouch! You don’t want to hear that. You think idols are only what non-Christians worship? Consider this:
The First Commandment prohibits idolatry or worship of an idol, which is any object other than the Transcendent Source we call “God.” What do Christians worship but a certain monochromatic male figure? This male idol, this external deity, this GREAT GUY IN THE SKY, dominates the minds of Christians because liturgies repeat “Father” and “Lord” as if these were the official names of the Source we call “God.” Nothing can so effectively disrupt the domination of this image as feminine figures—Mother, She, woman giving birth, and so on—images not used in our liturgies.

But they could be. It would be easy to intone, “Our Mother/ Father . . . ,” and the congregation would naturally continue with the prayer. In this way pastors could educate Christians about the transcendent nature of what we call God without explaining the abstract concept of transcendence and idols. And pastors should stop repeating the words that perpetuate idolatry—“Father,” “ Lord,” “He/Him/His.”

Karen Tate’s thoughtful explication of Jesus in the context of Goddess spirituality (in the previous post) provides a good alternative to the monochromatic male images that have become idols.

There’s another benefit from introducing Her to God-talk. Religious intellectuals today are challenged by the new atheists, a virulent brand of atheists aggressively proselytizing for their unique brand of faith—hatred of religion. Some atheists, not all, deny the existence of spiritual reality altogether. But when I study their writings—Christopher Hitchens, for instance—I detect a love of spiritual matters, and I see that literal belief fires their animosity to religion, in addition to Christian hypocrisy and . . . . . . oh, we’re all familiar with the sins of religion that so inflame atheists.

If religious leaders want to challenge atheist materialists, I suggest they try adding the Divine Feminine to their poetic imagery. The sophistication of that would astonish atheists who disdain religious ignorance. Including the GREAT SHE in liturgies would signal understanding of our own Christian mythology.