Monthly Archives: April 2012

Teilhard’s Mass on the World

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Jesuit theologian, paleontologist, died on April 10, 1955, which was Easter Sunday that year.

During his life his philosophical and theological writings were banned from publication. But his thoughts which try to bring together faith and science have spoken to many of the beauty of the Creation made by God.

Once, in Chine, without bread and wine for Mass, he express his love for the Eucharist in a Mass on the World. It begins thus:

Since once again, Lord — though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia — I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.

All creation, all the labors and sufferings of the peoples of the world are offered up with Jesus, who became flesh, who gives himself to us, Body and Blood,  in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gregorian chant

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor and theologian was put to death by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler.

His story and his theology are an inspiration to many. His notion of costly grace is a great antidote to the cheap grace being sold to much of Christianity.

His was a theology that saw the need to be BOTH transcendent and imminent – looking beyond this world, but also totally submerged in the reality of the world we live in. As he wrote from prison to his betrothed, “I am afraid that Christians who dare to stand with only one leg on earth, stand with only one leg in heaven.”

But a quote of his from about 1938 has affected me deeply:

“Only he who cries [out] for the Jews may sing Gregorian chant.”

That makes sense to me. The failure of much of the churches to speak clearly and openly against the persecution of Jews is a blot on the church. I know some religious  leaders did speak up. Others quietly rescued Jews. But there was much “prudential” silence.

Enlarging the context of the quote I think we might say today that only the person who cries [out] for the persecuted and suffering may sing Gregorian chant.

I love chant.

I remember the occasion in 2004 when I sang a chant, the Regina Coeli, the Easter hymn to Mary, in the church of St. Ann in Jerusalem. The church has the most incredible reverberation and I decided to sing. I was inspired to sing that beautiful chant.

As I reflected later I realized that I needed to cry not only for the Jews, but also for the Palestinians.

Today, I’d also say we need to cry out for the Iraqis, Afghanis, Hondurans, and many others. Then we can sing Gregorian chant.

Martin Luther King and work

April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King. Jr., was assasinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember the night well.

I also remember the night I saw and heard him speak,

About 1965,  a friend and I went to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., speak in North Philadelphia. It was a moving experience and we were some of the few whites in the crowd. But I remember clearly one of his quotes, which I found in another speech. (King like many good speakers, often recycled his best ideas.)

Whatever is your life’s work, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.”

In societies that undervalue or demean manual labor or look down upon those who work on the land, these words of King speak clearly.

Until a few months ago I was unaware of one the reasons why I bristle when people speak poorly of campesinos here, especially those who have not studied much – or at all.

I realized that my roots are in blue collar workers. In addition, neither of my parents finished high school. Dad didn’t go to high school but went to work. He was a man with a good heart for others and he also had a good head; he could work out complicated math problems in his head! And Mom had to quit school to go to work because of the depression. Yet she continued to love to read. (I guess I get my taste for reading from her.)

They were both blue collar workers who suffered in the depression. And thus Martin Luther King’s quote echoes deeply in my heart.

May our world recognize the value of all work and may all workers see how their work can be a part of God’s work of living as signs of the Kingdom of God here on earth.



The challenge of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II [Karol Wojtyla]  died on April 2, 2005. I’ve found him an enigmatic figure. He said enough to disturb almost everyone, though mostly more liberal Catholics have found him problematic.

He was formed in the totalitarian environment of Nazism and Soviet Communism and so tended to see most of the world from this perspective. I think that because of this he was very suspicious of Latin American liberation theology. Yet he told the Brazilian bishops that “it was not only useful but also necessary.”

When he went to the Latin American Bishops’ conference meeting in 1979 his prepared remarks seemed fairly critical of the bishops’ activism in support of the poor. Yet when he visited the indigenous people he spoke warmly of the need to protect their rights.

Some US Catholics have thus used Pope John Paul II to support a libertarian political and social agenda. But it is not clear that that was his stand.Many of these same Catholics also ignore his stand against the death penalty and his opposition to the Gulf War and the Iraq war.

But these words of Pope John Paul II at Yankee Stadium on October 2, 1979, are a continual challenge to the US and its treatment of the poor and ought to be central to our faith:

The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance and not just of your abundance in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table.