Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Execution "Tragic"

I come from a background (Evangelical) that embraced the death penalty for certain horrific crimes as a social deterrent.

Now, as a Catholic, I have promised to support the Church's teachings, which is very clearly against what I formerly held to be just. Certainly, I reasoned, God took lives for horrific deeds.

But that is precisely the difference that my mind needed to embrace, and as a Catholic I have been forced to think much more critically.

Below is the text from a CNN report that explains well the Catholic Church's position. And I uphold it. Not so much out of a gut understanding, but because I love Christ and the Church he established, and trust the Holy Spirit's leading in matters of faith and morals. And yes, in the minutes before Saddam's execution I prayed for his salvation. I wanted to see him in heaven, and know that God's grace has no bounds. And who knows, perhaps that did happen.

Eternity will tell.


VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Saturday denounced Saddam Hussein's execution as "tragic" and said it risked fueling revenge and new violence in Iraq.

"An execution is always tragic news, reason for sadness, even in the case of a person who is guilty of grave crimes," the Holy See's spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement released by the Vatican press office.

Earlier in the morning, Lombardi made similar comments on Vatican Radio.

"The position of the Catholic Church — against the death penalty — has been reiterated many times," the spokesman said in the statement, referring to the Vatican's overall opposition to capital punishment.

"Killing the guilty one is not the way to rebuild justice and reconcile society," the spokesman said. "On the contrary, there is the risk that the spirit of revenge is fueled and that the seeds of new violence are sown."

"In this dark time in the life of the Iraq people, one can only hope that all leaders truly make every effort so that in a dramatic situation glimmers of reconciliation and of peace finally can be seen," Lombardi said.

The Vatican's top official for dialogue between religions, Cardinal Paul Poupard, said: "We pray to the Lord and for the dead and the living so that this will not become an occasion for new violence."

"We are always sad when men take lives which belong to the Lord," Poupard told the Italian news agency ANSA.

In an interview published in an Italian daily earlier in the week, the Vatican's top prelate for justice issues, Cardinal Renato Martino, said executing Saddam would mean punishing "a crime with another crime."

In one of the late Pope John Paul II's encyclicals, "Evangelium Vitae" (The Gospel of Life) in 1995, the pontiff laid out the Catholic Church's stance against capital punishment, saying that in a modern world, with improved prison systems, cases in which the death penalty could be justified were "practically nonexistent." The staunch opposition was reiterated in 1997, in the Church's updated catechism, a compendium of Church doctrine.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nectar in a Sieve

Nectar in a Sieve has affected me deeply, although I am familiar first hand with the life described in it. Although I am a westerner, born and raised in the U.S. Midwest, white, upper-middle class, well-educated, and Christian -- I know something of India -- and know that the spirit and essence of this story is as true as anything real. It is of immeasurable value.

L-R:Ruth (Willobee) Williams, Edith
(Flesher) Willobee, David Willobee,
Hope (Willobee) Winke, Ross Willobee
My mother (Ruth) and aunt (Hope) were born of missionary parents in India in 1912 and 1915. Their father (Ross), my grandfather, died there of black fever, and a few days later their 2-year old brother (David) dropped dead while playing -- all during a famine. Their mother (Edith) stayed on. India was British back then, but poverty was deep and wide throughout the land, and my grandmother lived nearly as poor as those around her, being supported by donations from the U.S. that amounted to 25 cents to a dollar at a time. I have her accounting books and I grew up with stories, and later came across over 1,000 pages of diaries from her that are very much in keeping with life that Kamala Markandaya writes about.

In 1982 I accompanied my mother and aunt back to their birthplaces, which were still in the midst of extreme poverty and the ignorant stupidity of which Kamala describes through the eyes of the white doctor Kenney. I've eaten with families on dung floors, and help stir pots of curry over open fires. I've met and photographed families living on streets with only what they can carry to their name. I've been to temple in the middle of the night and breathed the pungent smoke of dung cakes used for fuel, and watched as a dead leper was carried from her mud-dung hut and given an impromptu funeral in a field before being carried off to be buried in the sands of a river so animals could easily dispose of her body at night.

Perhaps it was all of that which spoke to me in Ms. Markandaya's writing. But I will tell you this. Reading this novel, if you are a Westerner of any ilk, is more important than eating. Let your children go without food for a few meals, if that will give you time to live, love, and walk with Rukmani. This book should be required reading (period - no qualifications). In its reading you will be a better person, and your children, sans meals, more healthy. If you are a priest that hands on penance, Nectar in a Sieve should be reading for any sin involving wealth, greed, abundance, or a lack of human dignity or marital infidelity. I dare to say that before Christ came to Earth to care and love the poor, he read this book. (It is a possible thing, you know.) On the outside Nectar in a Sieve is about the suffering and trials of living near the bottom of the cast system in rural India. But what it's really about is how love and hope can possess the human heart in the most desperate of lives.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Story of the Common Ground DVD

The DVD, Study Guide, and Book can be ordered HERE along with more information.

Click the title above, or subscribe top right.

An amazing ecumenical thing is happening just North of Detroit.

The story begins with a large Evangelical Church in Troy, MI called Kensington Community Church. It is modeled successfully after Bill Hybels' Willow Creek Church near Chicago. Kensington has been growing by leaps and bounds under the leadership of a number of humble and astute men and women and its founding pastor Steve Andrews. Before Pam and I converted to Catholicism, we occasionally attended Kensington (even though it was an hour away) principally for the good music, mini-dramas, practical teachings, and presentation excellence.

A couple of years ago some members and leaders at Kensington became disturbed by the bad rap that a number of the ex-Catholics attending Kensington were giving Catholicism. While the leadership was not going to become Catholic by any means, they definitely considered Catholicism a significant part of Christianity and thought there was a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding taking place.

Kensington's Spiritual Formation Director (Dan Kopp) started a mid-week small group in his home to talk about the common ground shared by Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants -- and he refused to allow any Catholic bashing. Dan also created a “Pastors & Priests” seminar that he teaches at Kensington, which looks at what Catholics and Protestants believe and why – including the Pope, the Virgin Mary, confession, and purgatory. This seminar has been going on for a few years now and has seen hundreds attend.

In the Spring of 2006, at nearby St. Anastasia Catholic Church (pastored by Fr. John Riccardo) a "dialogue" was held before an SRO crowd where spokespersons for Catholicism and Protestantism presented talks on the similarities and differences between the two faith traditions. Shortly after that Fr. Riccardo spoke from the Kensington stage along with Kensington staff on "The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction."

Next came a DVD produced by Kensington's production department where Pastor Steve Andrews interviewed Father John Riccardo before the Blessed Sacrament at St. Anastasia. Pastor Andrews asked about, and Fr. Riccardo cleared up, many of the misunderstandings that Evangelicals and Protestants have toward Catholicism. Fr. John also suggested some important things that Catholics can learn from Protestants.

Large portions of the interview were played before the Kensington Congregation on two Sunday mornings, and over the next few weeks over 2,000 copies of the DVD were sold through the Kensington Church's bookstore. It was on that second Sunday that I began negotiations with Kensington to release the DVD, and we, at Nineveh's Crossing (see link), will release the DVD internationally sometime in January 2007 under an exclusive distribution agreement with Kensington. For my conservative Catholic readers who may wonder if this an exercise in marginalizing Catholicism for the sake of ecumenical pats on the back, Fr. Riccardo's explanations of Catholicism (on this DVD) have been reviewed and approved as being faithful to the magisterial teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. (see Common Ground)

Then, last night (Dec 15, 2006), at St. Anastasia, the two churches gathered for an evening of prayer. The two pastors lit several candles placed on a small table before the altar before the service began, but Steve Andrews was having a very difficult time lighting his candle. Finally he gave up and commented over his open microphone, "I guess I wasn't suppose to be Catholic." (We laughed with him.) Fr. John helped Steve get the candle lit, but in the process knocked it to the floor, which Steve retrieved, and the process started all over. It was both funny and poignant illustration of these two ministers of the Gospel, neither perfect but both trying their best to honor God and lead their congregations to ask God that we might be one.

About 500 attended. There was music from both churches, both pastors gave short talks on prayer, Scripture was read (Luke 11:5-13), members of both congregations led us in a series of prayers for a variety of common concerns, and a basket filled with written petitions from the congregation was brought forward and placed before the altar. Then, the two men knelt before the altar and the Blessed Sacrament beyond, we all knelt with them for an extended time of silent prayer asking God to hear us, heal us, and unite us, so that the world would know that Jesus was sent by the Father. Both pastors made it very clear that as Jesus prayed in John 17, the lack of unity of Christians in the world, made Christians oftentimes the laughing stock of the world and hindered our ability to proclaim the Gospel effectively.

Just before we recited the Lord's Prayer together, a layman who organizes the small groups that are now meeting from both churches presented both pastors with purple stoles, the kind that priest's use when they hear confessions. Our pastors put the stoles on proudly, and you see a picture with this posting.

It was a time of healing and exhilaration. There are still differences that divide us. But a great deal of the misunderstanding and miscommunication between these two large congregations is slowly dissolving away; and hopefully the community around us will know we are Christians by our love.