The Met, Catholic Vestments, and Colbert

In case you missed it, the annual Met Gala this past week drew upon ecclesial dress for its theme. The gala itself is an annual celebration of high fashion, and this year was no exception. As you might except, the overlap between celebrity, fashion, and Catholicism was not without controversy.

Alongside the gala, the Met is featuring an exhibit exploring the ornate design of papal vestments. The exhibition offers a rare glimpse at the gorgeous garments on loan from the Sistine Chapel’s sacristy. The Church’s nuncio to late night, Stephen Colbert, got a guided tour behind the scenes:

On the Death of the Rev. James Cone

Every pastor and theologian has a list of authors that upends their way of thinking, those authors who, page after page, grab us by the shoulder and push us in new directions. The Rev. Dr. James Cone ranks among those thinkers; few seminarians are the same after reading Cone’s God of the Oppressed or The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Rev. Cone died this past weekend, and the Church is all the poorer for losing his voice. You can listen to NPR’s obituary here. Continue reading “On the Death of the Rev. James Cone”

Pope Francis: Gaudete et Exsultate

Earlier this week, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) on holiness and sanctification. That is, how do we live into the joy of God’s grace and Christ’s resurrection?

At times, the Pope sounds like Luther:

The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative. The Fathers of the Church, even before Saint Augustine, clearly expressed this fundamental belief. Saint John Chrysostom said that God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into battle. Saint Basil the Great remarked that the faithful glory in God alone, for “they realize that they lack true justice and are justified only through faith in Christ”.

In the next paragraph, though, he cites to councils and synods. While Luther famously opposed most conciliar teachings, Francis’ reference to Trent underscores just how little divided Augsburg from Rome even during the 16th century:

The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace: “Even the desire to be cleansed comes about in us through the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit”. Subsequently, the Council of Trent, while emphasizing the importance of our cooperation for spiritual growth, reaffirmed that dogmatic teaching: “We are said to be justified gratuitously because nothing that precedes justification, neither faith nor works, merits the grace of justification; for ‘if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom 11:6)”.

There is much for Lutherans to agree with, there are words of challenge as well. With our emphasis on salvation by grace and faith alone, we all too often ignore what our Catholic and Methodist kindred have known all along: God’s grace is at work in us even after Baptism, sanctifying us and leading us to good works that continue God’s salvific work in the world. (The early Lutheran reformers understood the work of sanctification, addressing it in our confessional documents, but we lost that emphasis along the way.) While we cannot justify ourselves, by the grace of God we do participate in our sanctification. To that end, Francis writes:

Within the framework of holiness offered by the Beatitudes and Matthew 25:31-46, I would like to mention a few signs or spiritual attitudes that, in my opinion, are necessary if we are to understand the way of life to which the Lord calls us. I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well.

We are saved by God’s grace, and by God’s grace — given to us physically in the Sacraments and lived out in the community of the Church as the Body of Christ — we are being pulled further up and further in to new life through Christ.

Read more reactions at RNS, the National Catholic Reporter, and these three pieces from the Jesuit publication America Magazine.

Ponder Anew: Let Women Proclaim the Resurrection

There’s no shortage of reasons to ordain women, but the most effective argument I’ve ever heard is this:

Jesus Christ, on the first day of the new creation, sent Mary Magdalene as the first person to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, to tell the world that Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew picks up on this as he laments that he’s never heard a woman preach on Easter Sunday. Even though our Lord sent women out on that first holy morning, even though Mary Magdalene is the Apostle to the Apostles, women are so rarely in the pulpit on Easter morning.

For my own part, going on now thirty Easter sermons, I can only remember hearing a woman preach this most holy feast one year.

Gender inequality is still a very real problem in the Church, even in traditions like the UMC and the ELCA that ordain women. I know many women in ministry serving as solo and associate pastors, but off the top of my head, only know of one serving as the senior pastor of a parish. The way most parishes divide preaching responsibilities, with the senior preaching Christmas and Easter, that means that men are in the pulpit on Easter morning even in churches served by women in associate roles.

And so, as Aigner suggests:

Let’s follow Jesus’ example. Next year, let’s have a woman in every pulpit, preaching the good news of the resurrected Christ. In fact, let’s do the same thing every year.

Until next year, I leave you with two sermons from the Rev. Anna Tew and the Rev. Katherine Museus, faithful women and talented preachers serving Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church who were in the pulpit on Easter morning, sharing the Good News and envisioning a resurrected community.

Pope Francis: The Stones Cry Out!

From Pope Francis’ homily on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion:

Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”… It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?

Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.

And from his homily preached at the Great Vigil of Easter:

It is the silent night of those disciples who are disoriented because they are plunged in a crushing routine that robs memory, silences hope and leads to thinking that “this is the way things have always been done”. Those disciples who, overwhelmed, have nothing to say and end up considering “normal” and unexceptional the words of Caiaphas: “Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (Jn 11:50).

Amid our silence, our overpowering silence, the stones begin to cry out (cf. Lk 19:40) and to clear the way for the greatest message that history has ever heard: “He is not here, for he has been raised” (Mt 28:6). The stone before the tomb cried out and proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel. The stone before the tomb was the first to leap up and in its own way intone a song of praise and wonder, of joy and hope, in which all of us are invited to join.

Read the entire text for both sermons at Whispers in the Loggia.

RNS: Anti-Semitism and the Passion

The Church has a long and tragic history of anti-Semitism, and sadly the Lutheran tradition has played a large role in that story. From Luther’s own writings to Lutherans’ abject failure to oppose Hitler (the responses ranging from mere complicity to out-right collaboration), we need to reckon with and repent of our racism.

As we head in to Good Friday and turn our attention increasingly to the Passion narratives, especially Saint John’s, we are also entering a trying time for ant-Semitism. Saint John often used “the Jews” as a short-hand for religious leaders, especially the chief priests; as we read this story aloud on Good Friday, many will wince at the implications. The Jewish people in Europe were often charged with, and frequently attacked over, the charge of deicide, or the murder of God. For the Church to fully and humbly repent, it is vital that we put John’s language into its full and historical context.

To that end, I commend to your attention Rabbi A. James Rudin’s recent article over at the Religion News Service. The rabbi offers a brief history of Passion plays, their unfortunate anti-Semitic connections, and contextualizes the role of the chief priest as a Roman puppet. As we retell the story of Christ’s crucifixion, Rabbi Rudin reminds us, we must place the blame squarely upon the oppressive hand of the Roman Empire and their agents.