Friday, June 17, 2011

Vatican's Nostalgia for Eucharistic Adoration an Attempt to Return to "Ocular Communion"

The National Catholic Reporter yesterday posted Religion News Service coverage of Vatican attempts to inject new life into discredited practices of eucharistic adoration. It was heartening to read that several reputable theologians share my view that such devotions are inimical to a genuine understanding of the eucharist as a sacred meal. As a meal, it does not lend itself to being captured in a monstrance and worshipped as though it were a sacred thing or, even worse, the physical presence of Jesus himself.

Excerpts from the article follow. I eliminate paragraphs in which various right-wing Catholics try to defend eucharistic adoration. Those nostalgic for such theological claptrap can link to NCR's full coverage.

For seven centuries, Eucharistic adoration—praying before an exposed consecrated Communion host—was one of the most popular forms of devotion in the Roman Catholic Church, the focus of beloved prayers and hymns and a distinctive symbol of Catholic identity.

Following the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the practice fell from favor, especially in Europe and the U.S. But over the last decade, under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the church has strongly encouraged a revival of the practice.

Next week (June 20-24), the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome will host an academic conference on Eucharistic adoration, where the speakers will include six prominent cardinals, focusing on the rediscovery of the practice.

At the same time, however, some theologians object to adoration as outdated and unnecessary, and warn that it can lead to misunderstandings and undo decades of progress in educating lay Catholics on the meaning of the sacrament.

Eucharistic adoration by the laity originated in the 13th century as a substitute for receiving Communion at Mass, said Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America.

At the same time, he said, the church often encouraged a believer’s sense of “personal unworthiness” to receive the sacrament—which Catholics believe to be the body of Christ—so many resorted to so-called “ocular communion” instead.

Eucharistic adoration was also used as a teaching tool to reaffirm the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a noted theologian at the University of Notre Dame.

For instance, McBrien said, devotion grew during the 16th- and 17th-century Counter-Reformation, in response to the arguments of some Protestant Reformers that the Eucharist was merely a symbol, not the actual body of Christ.

In the days when priests celebrated Mass in Latin with minimal participation by the congregation, the hymns and prayers associated with adoration gave lay Catholics an opportunity for public worship, Irwin said.

Liturgical reforms after Vatican II greatly increased the laity’s participation at Mass, which Irwin said satisfied the “felt need for participation in public prayer.” Irwin called that an “underlying reason” for the practice’s decline.

McBrien acknowledged that some Catholics find adoration “spiritually enriching,” but said many liturgists see it is a “step back into the Middle Ages.”

“It distorts the meaning of the Eucharist,” McBrien said. “It erodes the communal aspect, and it erodes the fact that the Eucharist is a meal. Holy Communion is something to be eaten, not to be adored.”

For that reason, McBrien said, the practice should be “tolerated but not encouraged.”

Perry's 'Day of Prayer' Violates Church-State Separation, Houston Clergy Say

Twenty-five Houston clergy said in a column in the Houston Chronicle today that Gov. Rick Perry's planned day of prayer at Reliant Stadium on August 6th--to which only Christians whom Perry approves of are invited--violates the separation of church and state. Their column follows. The signatories may be found at the posting on the Chronicle's website.

As Houston clergy, we write to express our deep concern over Gov. Rick Perry's proclamation of a day of prayer and fasting at Houston's Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6. In our role as faith leaders, we encourage and support prayer, meditation and spiritual practice. Yet our governor's religious event gives us pause for a number of reasons.

We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state. Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing a religious event rather than focusing on the people's business in Austin.

We also express concern that the day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is not an inclusive event. As clergy leaders in the nation's fourth-largest city, we take pride in Houston's vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a live-and-let-live city where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor's prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city. Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim-Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.

As religious leaders, we commit to join with all Houstonians in working to make our city a better place. We will lead our communities in prayer, meditation and spiritual practice. We ask that Gov. Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state.

Earth Needs: People Possessing Less, Working Less--and Birthing Less

Ten days ago New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had an excellent commentary spotlighting the views of Paul Gilding, an Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who has an insightful new book titled The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.

Gilding argues that we have reached a global population that is demanding the resources of 1.5 Earths--and that the longer we wait to tackle the problem, the more intractable will be the crises that we face. He sees the need for a growth model that will give people more time to enjoy living, but with fewer possessions. I wish I could share his optimism that "We may be slow, but we aren't stupid"--so that the size of the current problem and the obviousness of the antidote will cause global leaders to mobilize "as we do in war." We can certainly pray that Gilding is right.

Moreover, it seems even more obvious that 'possessing' fewer children is one of the critical things people will have to do to make his new model work. Friedman's column doesn't have Gilding saying much about that. But maybe his book does. Here are some excerpts from Friedman's column:

You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornadoes plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

“The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many “planet Earths” we need to sustain our current growth rates. G.F.N. measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says G.F.N., we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. “Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem,” says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once.

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

It is also current affairs. “In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” China’s environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. What China’s minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that “the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.”

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.

“We are heading for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Elizabeth Warren: Why the "Big, Bad Banks" Are Very, Very Afraid--and Should Be

Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy posted an excellent analysis May 28th on why the "big, bad banks" have a bevy of reasons to be afraid of Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard lawyer, University of Houston graduate and former University of Texas law professor who is charged with setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) established by Congress in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

A decade before the financial crisis, Warren grasped--and warned in scholarly papers and books--that banks are willing to bankrupt their customers for short-term profit and that their short-sighted greed would lead to economic collapse.

Steffy notes: "In 2006, two years before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, she warned that banks' attitudes had shifted so dramatically in the past 80 years that the greatest threat to the economy wasn't customers making runs on banks, but banks making 'a run on the customers.'

"Ruining customers through excessive fees and gimmicks, driving them into foreclosure, default and bankruptcy, would lead to the same economic collapse that bank runs did during the Great Depression, she warned."

Steffy spent the rest of his column mocking the efforts of the banks' Republican lapdogs in the current Congress to badger and embarrass Warren into weakening the CPFB:

The big banks are tough.

They can handle Dodd-Frank. They can handle being labeled a "vampire squid" in the pages of Rolling Stone. They can even outlast the threat of criminal prosecutions for taking the global economy to the brink of collapse.

But what scares them the most is Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who has spent years learning their secrets.

Last week, the banks' representatives in Congress grilled Warren over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a panel created in response to the financial crisis that might just give consumers a fighting chance against banks' exorbitant fees, debt spiral schemes and outright fraudulent lending practices.

Warren is a veteran of contentious congressional hearings, most recently ones she conducted as head of the oversight panel for the federal bank bailout. During those sessions, she squared off with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner over the government's handling of bailout funds and its claims that banks' balance sheets are sound.

So last week, when Warren didn't crumble under his badgering, Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Bank of America's home state of North Carolina, decided to try to humiliate her. Knowing she had scheduling conflicts that had already been discussed with committee staffers, he tried to delay the hearing and when she protested, he basically called her a liar.

The lack of decorum speaks to the desperation that the big banks feel over Warren and the CFPB, an agency that she is helping to establish and that would have broad powers to act on consumers' behalf.

In other words, the banks fear Warren because she knows their games and she has the data to expose them, and the prospect of Warren running the CFPB has fostered a growing desperation in the industry.

Last week, bereft of other arguments, the congressman from Bank of America resorted to name calling.

Elizabeth Warren isn't a liar. She's one of the few people in Washington with the courage to tell the truth.