The Chiapas Decision: About More than Mayan Deacons

Chiapas DeaconsA few days ago, Deacon Greg Kandra posted an item on the restoration of diaconate ordinations in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the State of Chiapas in Mexico. Read it here.  This is, of course, great news for the people of that diocese.  However, it is a decision which has far greater ramifications than the diaconate itself.  At issue is a renewed sense of ecclesial identity.  While some describe this as a “win” for a rehabilitated Liberation Theology, I believe it goes even farther than that.

Chiapas2First, we need to get our bearings.  Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico; it shares its eastern border with Guatemala. Chiapas is home, not simply to Mayan descendants, but twelve recognized ethnic populations.  Poverty is extreme, the terrain is rugged, and the people for centuries isolated from other parts of the region.  The history of the area is one of suppression of the indigenous peoples.

Second, we meet a young bishop named Samuel Ruiz Garcia.  Born in 1924, Samuel Ruiz was ordained a priest at 24 and was named bishop of Chiapas at age 35.  He went to seminary in Mexico and in Rome, completing a doctorate in Sacred Scripture after his ordination.  He was appointed bishop in November, 1959, and ordained and installed in January, 1960.  He remained bishop of that diocese for forty years, retiring as required at age 75, in 2000; he died in 2011.

Samuel Ruiz2Moving to Chiapas, and following a tour the diocese which was accomplished largely by mule in order to reach some of the remote areas of the diocese, the bishop was greatly affected by the way the indigenous peoples were being treated.  Not unlike Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, he was moved to do all he could to secure their rights and freedom.  Within two years he was attending the Second Vatican Council with its own renewal of ecclesiology, especially its ideas of collegiality, subsidiarity, co-responsibility, and human dignity.  Following the Council he was one of the guiding lights behind the Medellin Conference (1968) with its own focus on regional social justice.  His efforts involved adopting and adapting principles of what became known as liberation theology, which drew the ire of Mexican political leaders as well as Church officials.  He expanded efforts of inculturation, small base communities, and new catechetical methods.  And, after Pope Paul VI renewed a permanent diaconate in 1967, he looked into the diaconate as a way of encouraging and providing for indigenous religious leadership throughout the diocese.

I am not competent to discuss the civil and political aspects of Bishop Ruiz’ tenure, but from an ecclesiological standpoint, his forty years as diocesan bishop became a model for what is rightly termed “autochthonous” leadership.  Autochthonous has been defined as “indigenous” or “native”: specifically, “indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists”.  Bishop Ruiz’ obituary in the New York Times observed:

During his 40 years of presiding over a Roman Catholic diocese in Chiapas State, Bishop Ruiz cast light on abuses suffered by the Indians and sought to bring them into the church as equals with other Mexicans, challenging the rigidly stratified social order. . . .

Bishop Ruiz attracted a fervent following among Indians in Chiapas, who called him “Tatic,” which means “father” in a Mayan language. On Tuesday, Indian parishioners filled the cathedral in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial town in the Chiapas highlands, for a memorial Mass that also commemorated the 51st anniversary of Bishop Ruiz’s ordination there. . . .

Bishop Ruiz was influenced by the Second Vatican Council, which in the 1960s called for bringing the Catholic faith to people in a way that reflected their own cultures. . . .

Starting in 1970, Bishop Ruiz ordered translations of the Bible and other religious texts in the indigenous languages of Chiapas. He trained Indian catechists, or instructors, to organize village assemblies throughout the mountains and jungles of the diocese. By the end of his tenure, there were more than 20,000 Indian catechists in Chiapas, said Pablo Romo, a former Dominican priest who worked with the bishop.

“He made the word of God accessible to the people,” Mr. Romo said.

chiapas-samuel-ruiz-funeral-3In addition to those 20,000 catechists, Bishop Ruiz ordained hundreds of deacons: by the time of his retirement in 2000, there were 341 deacons in his diocese, out of a total in all of Mexico of only 800!  Several news sources have reported that this number is the largest number of deacons in any Catholic diocese in the world, this is not accurate; several dioceses in the United States exceeded that number, even in 2000.  Regardless, it is a significant indication of Bishop Ruiz’ commitment to indigenous religious leadership.  It also got him into difficulties with the Holy See.

There were only 60 priests in the diocese, and Rome became concerned that there were so many deacons in relationship to the priests.  There were rumors, later found to be completely false, that Bishop Ruiz was ordaining women as deacons, as well as encouraging his deacons to join with rebel factions against the government. However, the Holy See’s interest was not only with Bishop Ruiz: In a pattern to be repeated elsewhere in Latin America, it is reported that St. John Paul II replaced as many as 86 of 100 Mexican bishops in two years alone, between 1997-1998. In 1997, two seminaries were closed.  The fear that Marxist applications of liberation theology were overshadowing its positive aspects, created great concern, and liberation theology as a whole came under considerable negative scrutiny.  John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both critical in their negative assessment of liberation theology, with Benedict XVI at one point apparently referring to it as “deceitful.”  (I’m still looking for the precise quote, however.)  Although Bishop Ruiz had been asked by the Holy See to suspend ordinations of any more permanent deacons, he continued.  Finally, his successor reluctantly agreed to a suspension, which the Holy See made permanent in 2001.

Felipe Arizmendi of ChiapasBishop Felipe Arizmendi, who has continued Bishop Ruiz’ pastoral plan for autochthony, has been in constant dialogue with the Holy See for the last fourteen years, attempting to explain his position, including his need to ordain as many as 200 new permanent deacons.  Until now, that has seemed an impossible task.  Many people confuse “autochthonous” with “autonomous” and they are two very different things.  No one wishing to maintain communion with the See of Peter would propose an “autonomous” church, and Bishop Arizmedi makes that position quite clear: that is NOT what they are doing.  An “autochthonous” structure, however, focuses on indigenous leadership, strongly enculturated by the people themselves.  It is this that Bishop Ruiz, and now Bishop Arizmendi, has sought.

But things seem to be changing.  Last year, Pope Francis welcomed Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican and honored a “founding father” of liberation theology.  In isolation, that may have been little more than a long-overdue sign of respect for Fr. Gutierrez and his ministry over many decades.  However, with this lifting of the ban on ordaining deacons in the diocese, perhaps more is at work here.

As I have long maintained in my own research and writing on the diaconate, we can never consider the diaconate out of the context of the entire Church.  Bishop Ruiz, and now Bishop Arizmendi, did not simply ordain deacons to have deacons.  They see the diaconate as it should be seen: as a sign of the servant-Church itself.  These deacons are serving as part of the larger pastoral plan to have an autochthonous church structure, much like those still in place in our Eastern Catholic churches, and which were the common polity of the ancient Church.  To read more about that, the wonderful work of another bishop, John R. Quinn, archbishop-emeritus of San Francisco, is most informative and helpful.  Find his books here.

Could this be part of a gradual movement in this direction, under the leadership of our first Latin American Pope?

In a June 12 letter following announcement of his intention to ordain 100 new deacons, Bishop Arizmendi lamented that 50 years after Vatican II revived the permanent diaconate, “in many parts its importance is still not understood.” I echo that sentiment, and pray for those about to be ordained to the service of the Chiapas vineyard of the Lord!

SanChristobal Cathedral

 

 

Happy 47th Anniversary to All Deacons!

At Salvatorian Seminary, 196618 June 1967.  I had just graduated from high school seminary at Salvatorian Seminary, St. Nazianz, Wisconsin.  I would soon be leaving to start college seminary.  So, I have to admit, I wasn’t paying much attention to what was coming out of the Holy See on 18 June, 1967.

paulvi-colourBut Pope Paul VI did something that day which was to change the lives of so many of us!  He issued, as the result of a decision reached three years earlier by the bishops assembled at the Second Vatican Council, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (“The Sacred Order of the Diaconate”): read it here.  He restored a diaconate which was to be permanently exercised to the Latin Church.

Consider it this way.  On that June day in 1967 there were no “permanent” deacons in the Latin Church: all Latin deacons were destined for eventual ordination as presbyters (priests).  Shortly after the Pope’s action, deacons would be ordained in Germany and Africa, with more men in formation in Europe and other parts of the world.  Today there are more than 40,000 deacons around the world, with thousands more candidates in formation.

The Council of Trent in the 16th Century had stated a desire to have a kind of “permanent” diaconate again, but no pope ever acted upon that desire.  Without Pope Paul VI, we wouldn’t be here today, so thank you, Your Holiness!

Happy anniversary to ALL deacons, East and West!  Ad multos annos!  May God grant us all many years in his service.

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D-Day: A Personal Reflection

D-Day1I wasn’t at D-Day 70 years ago.  I wasn’t at Pearl Harbor 73 years ago.  I wasn’t in Poland 75 years ago.  But like everyone else alive today, my life has been given a context because of these events, the events which transformed the world.

The context is this: In the face of tyranny, good people rise up and take a stand and put their own lives and safety on the line in service of others.  The Polish citizens and their soldiers, most of whom were on foot or on horseback, trying valiantly to defend their homeland on 1 September 1939 against the Nazi juggernaut invading their country.  The sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen — along with untold numbers of civilians, who found their world exploding literally around them on 7 December 1941 in Hawaii.  And the day we remember today — D-Day — 6 June 1944, men and women from all walks of life who had abandoned their “real lives” in order to support the war effort to overturn the Axis powers, took to the ships, landing craft, and aircraft to mount an Allied response to tyranny.

Uncle JoeAll of us have family members who took part.  In our family, two uncles served as paratroopers, and one of them was part of the 101st Airborne “Band of Brothers” who jumped behind the lines that day.  He wrote a letter a few weeks after D-Day to his brother, who had been injured in training, and that letter has become part of our family’s treasured tradition.  He describes in phenomenal detail his experiences of D-Day and the days immediately following.  When I first read that letter as a young boy in the 1950’s I thought it read like a movie and was too fantastic to believe.  It also changed forever how I viewed my uncle, because that letter revealed a young man I hadn’t met before.  When I read that letter today, as a man in my 60’s who was a career Navy officer, I see a young man like so many other young men and women who rolled up their sleeves, year after year, conflict after conflict, put their own lives on hold, and did what needed to be done without counting the cost.

In my own Navy career of 22 years, going from Seaman to Commander, every duty station I was ever assigned, every place we lived, every place I was sent on duty, was because of the events of 70 years ago.  Cyprus, Guam, Okinawa, Hawaii, Midway, Kwajelein Atoll, Singapore, and even the Stateside assignments — the context of our family’s life is found in the sacrifice of those men and women so many years ago.  And we must never forget.

In our own time, we too are called upon to serve without counting the cost.  How are we doing?  Will future generations look back at us and say, “They have given meaning to our lives”?

Well, are we?

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Another Phenomenal Woman of Color: Sister Thea Bowman

thea3All of us have been touched and blessed by the life of Dr. Maya Angelou.  Her recent passing had all of us of a certain age reflecting on her life and impact on our own lives.  I re-read her wonderful poem “Phenomenal Woman” (read it here), and my mind wandered to the other phenomenal women I’ve known: ALL of the women in our family, for example, every one of them: my wife, mother, sisters, cousins, daughters!  And then, listening to the rhythms of Dr. Angelou reading some of her own poetry, I was reminded of still another phenomenal woman of color: the dynamic, brilliant, multi-talented, and courageous Sister Thea Bowman, who died of cancer at age 52 in 1990.  Born and raised in Mississippi, Thea was a religious sister, singer, actress, teacher, liturgist, dramatist, Ph.D. with a particular expertise on fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, and above all, a passionate evangelist.

thea2I remember first hearing of Sister Thea many years ago, shortly after leaving the seminary.  Many of us seminarians had been helping out in African-American communities as we could during the civil rights movement, and soon word began to spread about this fiery young sister who was appearing on the scene.  Although she had earned her Ph.D. in English at the Catholic University of America, and became known as an expert on Faulkner, she was never a stereotypical academic!  Her principal mission was to enable, empower, awaken and inspire people, and her influence both within and outside of the African-American community is incalculable.

Over the last few days, I’ve mentioned her name to several people and to my amazement they had never heard of Thea.  This must not be allowed to happen!  I’m going to put up two videos here.  First is a biography of Sister Thea produced. shortly after her death.  As you can see, she continued to inspire even after the cancer that was killing her had confined her to a wheelchair.

 

The second video is truly remarkable.  The quality of the recording is not very good, so let me explain what you will see.  The US Bishops meet in general assembly twice a year.  This video is from one of those meetings, in 1989.  The bishops, as you will hear from the late Bishop John Ricard, had formed a Committee to support Black Catholics, and Sr. Thea was one of the consultants to that committee.  Terminally ill, she was invited to address the bishops, and — well, you will see what happens.  Keep that in mind: from her wheelchair, a dying Thea brings the bishops to their feet.

How many other Theas and Mayas are out there, still finding their voices?

RIP, Dr. Angelou.  RIP, Dr. Bowman.

Pray for us.

UPDATE: I was just informed that Brother Mickey McGrath has recently published his own work on Sister Thea.  Here’s a link to Amazon.com in case you’re interested.  I haven’t had a chance to enjoy it yet, but can’t wait to do so!

A Fresh Look at St. John XXIII

John XXIII by Mickey McGrathI don’t often review books, but here’s another pleasant exception!

I recently received a copy Brother Mickey McGrath’s new book on St. John XXIII, entitled Good Saint John XXIII: Quotes & Quips from the Prophet of Peace (Princeton: Clear Faith Publishing, 2014).  Once again, Mickey’s art dazzles and explodes exuberantly from each page.  There’s a wonderful introduction by Father Jim Martin which sets the stage very well.  Jim makes the point that Mickey’s art is always joyful, and this is so true — and also appropriate for this particular subject.

St. John XXIII was fond of a saying he found in Teilhard’s work, that “joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.”  Joy filled St. John’s approach to the papacy, even during the darkest days dealing with wars, brinkmanship, illness and frustration.  Mickey captures all of this in his book, filled not only with “quotes and quips” from St. John himself, but by Pope Francis, St. Francis de Sales, and others: all through the lens of the man still known to millions as the “Good Pope John.”

I often give retreats based on the spirituality of St. John, and I will certainly be making use of Brother Mickey’s beautiful work (with his prior permission of course!).  I would encourage everyone to get at least one copy, because they will make great gifts as well.

Thanks, Mickey, and God bless!

The Point Remains: It’s “The Mass of Pius V”

francis elevation[Editorial Comment: I have prayed over what to do about this post.  I remain convinced that the overall point I want to make remains valid.  My mistake, for which I have apologized, was to specify a particular blogger (Father Zuhlsdorf) as being among those who make the mistake in question.  I stand by that apology.  I also stand by the fundamental thrust of my original posting; namely, that there are people who do associate the name of St. John XXIII inappropriately with the Mass of Pius V.  There is an appropriate and correct way to do that, since St. John DID promulgate an editio typica of the Mass of Pius V in 1962.  There are also inappropriate and incorrect ways of describing that reality as well, and THAT was the point I was trying to make.  So, I have edited the original posting to remove references to "Fr. Z" and still make the point I wished to make.]

I write this post with respect, although with an obvious and unapologetic sense of intellectual frustration.  Clearly the topic I want to explore is not a “Kingdom issue” or something that need be at the forefront of every person’s daily concerns!  However, for a lifelong Catholic like myself, a student of the Church and her liturgies, and someone for whom the Church as People of God, Mystical Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit carries great significance, this is something that I think must be addressed. So, what is it?

It is the tendency of some commentators to refer to the 1962 editio typica of the Missale Romanum as “The Mass of St. John XXIII”.  I’m not sure why such an error is being made, and I don’t want to ascribe any motivation to something which may be nothing more than a simple error of fact.  It does seem, however, that this description of the Mass seems to be made most often by critics of the Mass of Paul VI, so perhaps it is their way of suggesting a contrasting hermeneutic of church and liturgical worship.  I don’t know.  Assuming that this is nothing more than a simple error, then, this post is offered as fraternal correction.

Here’s the deal.  As we all know, a wide variety of ancient liturgical texts developed.  These took a variety of forms and often varied widely from place to place.  There were also attempts over the years to consolidate or to unify liturgical practice in the Latin Church, often following the patterns used by the Church in Rome.  There are many good studies of all of this so there is no need to recount those details.  However, the custom of “naming” the Roman Missal is what concerns me here.

1896 Missale Romanum Title PageIn 1570, following the decisions of the great Council of Trent, Pope Pius V promulgated a new editio typica of the Roman Missal.  This became known, then, as the “Mass of Pius V.”  In fact, I have open on my desk at the moment an 1896 printing of the Roman Missal, and the title page states: “Missale Romanum, ex decreto sacrosancti concilii tridentini restitutum, S. Pii V Pontificis Maximi”.  Ah, “but Deacon, but Deacon,” you’re probably saying, “St. John XXIII came up with his own typical edition in 1962!”  Let’s continue, and all will be made clear.

Following that first typical edition of the so-called “Tridentine Mass”, many subsequent popes made changes to the Mass of Pius V, and some of these popes issued their own typical editions: Clement VIII in 1604, Urban VIII in 1634, Leo XIII in 1884, and Benedict XV (reflecting much of the work of his immediate predecessor, St. Pius X) in 1920.  In 1951, Pope Pius XII issued a number of significant changes to the Missal, especially involving Holy Week, but none of these changes were placed into a new typical edition.  Finally, in 1962, St. John XXIII published the last of these typical editions.  Now, here’s the point: at no point in all of this history did we as a Church change the attribution of the name of the Mass.  When Clement VIII issued his typical edition, we didn’t start calling it the “Mass of Clement VIII”; when Urban VIII issued his in 1634, we didn’t call it the “Mass of Urban VIII”; when Leo XIII issued his, we didn’t. . . , well, you get my point.  It was ALWAYS, even in 1962, referred to as the “Mass of Pius V.”

Want more proof?  Pope Paul VI issued the first typical edition of a post-conciliar Roman Missal in 1969 (although earlier changes had been made), and it became known as the “Mass of Paul VI.”  Then, he issued another typical edition in 1975, and it was still the “Mass of Paul VI.”  In 2002, St. John Paul II issued the third typical edition of — you guessed it, the “Mass of Paul VI.”  We didn’t start calling it the “Mass of St. John Paul II”, did we?  Of course not: it is still, to this day, the “Mass of Paul VI.”

Readers of the original version of this post have pointed out, of course, the very legitimate use of the term “Missal” to describe the various editions of the Mass; so, for example, one might refer to the “Missal of Urban VIII,” or the the “Missal of St. John XXIII.”  This is not my point, although I must say that I have yet to hear anyone refer to the current edition of the Roman Missal as “The Missal of St. John Paul II, either.  If one wishes to speak of the “Missal of St. John XXIII” wouldn’t we also speak of the “Missal of St. John Paul II”?

Pope Pius VAs I said at the outset, this is not an issue upon which the Reign of God depends.  I guess my real plea is to remind all of us that the Mass is that of Jesus Christ.  I would hope that, whichever Missal is being used for the full, conscious and active participation of the entire church, we seek clarity and unity with charity.  For those times when I have not practiced charity, I apologize to those who have been hurt.

God bless all who visit here.