The Magisterium of Money within the Catholic Church – and Higher Consciousness Community

I came across two very disturbing pieces this morning (one written, the other a video) about faith in a time of chaos. The written article was an editorial in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) by the paper’s former editor, Tom Roberts. It elaborated on a theme I dealt with here a number of months ago about a “hostile takeover of the Catholic Church” by wealthy hedge funders, bankers, and business leaders.

According to Roberts, the wealthy’s buyout of the church is moving forward at an alarmingly rapid and efficient pace. And this to such an extent that the rich are on the brink of becoming the church’s “new magisterium.”

That is, their money and the media megaphones it buys are enabling them to override even the voice of Pope Francis and the teachings of the official magisterium about social justice and the gospel’s “preferential option for the poor.”

In place of those doctrines, the Magisterium of Money is centralizing issues that nowhere appear in the biblical tradition, viz., abortion, homophobia, free market economics, voter suppression, and Trumpian politics. It’s convincing Catholics that those unbiblical matters represent the heart of Catholic moral concern.  

The second disturbing piece that crossed my desk this morning was frighteningly related to the first. It too unwittingly affirmed the superiority of the viewpoint of the wealthy over that of the poor championed by the church’s social teaching. 

The affirmation took the form of a video invitation to join a course by Caroline Myss, described as “one of our greatest modern mystics.” Her course is called “The Mystical Truths Behind Radical Change.” The course’s trailer explained an image that is central to this particular mystic’s understanding of the spiritual life.

The human condition, Dr. Myss explained, can best be understood in terms of a stationary structure like the Empire State Building. Like those constructions, we’re all outwardly fixed and immobile in our settings. Internally, however, movement abounds. Elevators move us upward, even to penthouses high above the dirt, smells, and squalor that constitute the reality of those living on comparatively low rent ground floors.

For instance, from the top of the Empire State Building vistas of extraordinary beauty unfold. Squalor, noise, and disagreeable odors disappear. They’re replaced by antiseptic panoramic visions revealing the city’s order and splendor. Central Park, the Hudson River, clouds and even birds suddenly materialize. At night, the danger of Batman’s Gotham is replaced by a brightly lit, enchanted fairy kingdom called Manhattan.

According to Myss, her image represents the task of the spiritual life. It’s like taking an elevator to the top floor of our more modest (10 floor) stationary buildings. Spiritual development is about attaining a level of consciousness inaccessible from the ground floor.

I have no doubt about Dr. Myss’ good will and mystical acuity. And, at a certain level, I get her point about the need for “higher consciousness.” My fear, however, is that her image as well as her understanding of the spiritual life feeds into and supports the project of the Magisterium of Money. It implicitly contradicts Catholic Church social teachings and their preferential option for the poor.

Those teachings are based on the fundamental revelation (in a poor first century construction worker) that mystical awareness is developed primarily on the ground floor, among the street walkers, gang bangers, and garbage collectors. What some call “God” is found precisely in the ones invisible from the 10th floor, and even more so from urban penthouses. I’m talking about people like Jesus himself – harassed by the police and who end up in jail, in the torture chamber, and on death row.

In other words and according to the official Catholic magisterium, the spiritual life and “higher consciousness” is found precisely by descending from penthouses and fairy kingdoms to the stink, dirt and noise that cry out for the radical change Dr. Myss advocates and that the Magisterium of Money completely ignores.

Ironically (and as the Jesus event clearly teaches) “higher consciousness” remains inaccessible from the spiritual equivalent of penthouse perches and corner offices on Wall Street.  

Sunday Homily: “Lazarus come forth!” Pope Francis Brings Jesus Back to Life

Lazarus

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent: EZ 37: 12-14; PS 130: 1-8; ROM 8:8-11; JN 11: 1-45 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040614.cfm

A few weeks ago, Fortune Magazine identified Pope Francis as first among the World’s “Fifty Best Leaders.” President Obama did not even make the list. Bono and President Clinton were among the top ten.

Whatever the magazine’s reasons for selecting the pope, it’s clear that the “Francis Effect,” is real. Seventy-seven percent of Catholics say they have increased their church donations since the new pope took office. Francis has brought the Catholic Church back from the dead. More importantly, he has returned to life the Jesus of the gospels whom conservatives have long since hijacked and buried – the very one our world’s poor majority needs as never before.

That’s relevant this fifth Sunday of Lent where our readings have Ezekiel coining the highly political metaphor of God’s “raising the dead” to refer to Israel’s impending liberation from its own despair during its Babylonian Captivity. Ezekiel’s metaphor reappears in today’s gospel reading where John the evangelist’s presents his familiar parable about Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave where Jesus’ friend lay moldering for more than three days.

Consider the hopelessness of Ezekiel’s Israel. His sixth century was the saddest of times – the era of his nation’s Great Exile. The Hebrews had been defeated and humiliated by Babylon (modern day Iraq). Its leaders and a large portion of its populace had been abducted to that enemy state. The exiles felt as if they had been slaughtered culturally. They were far from home, controlled by foreign masters, and apparently abandoned by God.

But the prophet Ezekiel did not share his people’s general despair. So in an effort to regenerate hope, he coined the idea of resurrection. Ezekiel loved that concept. [Recall his Vision of Dry Bones (EZ 7: 1-14).] For Ezekiel resurrection was a political metaphor that promised a new vital future despite appearances to the contrary. Israel, he said, would be liberated from Babylon, return home and experience rebirth. They would come back to life.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG), Pope Francis embraces not only Ezekiel’s spirit, but that of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. To repeat, he actually revivifies Jesus and the Gospel. The pope does so by rescuing them both from conservative forces whose version of Christianity has held center stage for the last 35 years. It’s the version, the pope strongly implies, that has metaphorically killed the Jesus of the Gospels, who proclaimed the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom which belongs to the poor, not to the rich whom the conservatives prioritize.

Like Ezekiel, Jesus made his proclamation when all appearances indicated that Israel was dead. It was entirely under the heel of Roman jackboots and there seemed no escape. Yet Jesus described a horizon of hope that enlivened the spirits of the poor who were crushed by the Romans and by their rich Jewish collaborators who headed the temple establishment.

In such dire straits, Jesus proclaimed a new future where everything would be turned upside down. He said audacious things. In God’s realm, he insisted, the poor would be in charge. The last would be first, and the first would be last. The rich would be poor and the poor would be well–fed and prosperous. The powerless and gentle would have the earth for their possession. Jesus’ unemployed and famished audiences couldn’t hear enough of that!

So he elaborated. He told parable after parable – all about the kingdom and its unstoppable power. It was like leaven in bread – unseen but universally active and transforming. It was like the mustard seed – a weed that sprouted up everywhere impervious to eradication efforts. It was like a precious pearl discovered in the ash bin – like a coin a poor woman loses and then rediscovers. His metaphors, similes and parables were powerful.

To repeat, Pope Francis strongly implies that socio-economic conservatism has murdered the Jesus I’ve just described. It has done so by its “preferential option for the rich.” It embraces free-market capitalism, trickle-down theory, and cut-backs in health care, education, and anti-poverty programs. Conservatives complement such horrors with huge tax-breaks for the country’s 1%. All of this is was chillingly represented last week by “devout Catholic,” Paul Ryan whose budget promised to sock it to the poor and middle class, while enriching military industrialists along with his affluent friends.

The Joy of the Gospel makes it clear that no one can support policies like Ryan’s and claim at the same time to be a follower of Jesus.

In other words, Ryan and the pope are on completely different pages. While conservatives have buried the Gospel Jesus, Pope Francis calls him back to life. He stands before Jesus’ grave and shouts “Come Forth!” Even Fortune Magazine recognizes the resulting miracle.

Consider the Pope’s anti-conservative incantation that brings Jesus back to life. It runs like this:

• Wealth does not belong to the rich, but to the world’s poor (JG 57, 184).

• But the world economy as now structured concentrates wealth among an ever-shrinking minority of the rich (56).

• Wealth must therefore be redistributed (189, 204,215).

• Such redistribution must take place by government intervention in the free market, which (in contradiction to failed “trickle-down” theory) cannot by itself eliminate poverty (54).

• The rich who are unwilling to redistribute wealth to its true owners (the poor) are thieves (57, 189).

• More than that, they are murderers, since the world economy as presently configured is homicidal (58).

• This is a question of being pro-life (213).

• Favoring life certainly includes concern for the unborn (213).

• But “. . . defense of the unborn is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right” (213).

• Human rights include the right to food and shelter, education, health care, employment , and a just wage (191, 192)

• Respecting human rights involves renunciation of war and preparation for war (60).

• It also connects with environmental stewardship – defense of soil, insects, birds, fish, and the seas (215).

And so the tomb opens. And a Jesus who has been buried more than three decades stumbles out. And in doing so, he renews the faith of so many of us who had given up on the church.

Our faith is renewed because we recognize in Francis’ Jesus the embodiment of one of life’s fundamental truths: utopian visions of the good and true and beautiful can never be killed, even though they might appear lifeless and be pronounced dead by those who once loved them.

What should we do as a result of encountering the Jesus Francis has resurrected?

• Be bold in appropriating the vision of Pope Francis that is not at all idiosyncratic within the Catholic tradition. In fact, it represents the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church from Leo XIII to Vatican II and was even articulated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

• Accordingly and courageously incorporate into progressive political discourse the language and powerful ideas of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It can move people today just as it did in the times of Ezekiel and Jesus.

• Join Francis in refusing to cede the field of religion to the reactionary forces of neo-liberal conservatism.

• Expose that conservatism for the destructive fraud it is.

• More particularly, expose Paul Ryan and other Bible thumping Republicans as the heretics they are as they defend the interests of the rich and starve the poor in the name of the Gospel.

• Insist that our pastors get on board with Pope Francis in universalizing his pro-life vision to foreground issues of hunger, war and peace, capital punishment, full employment, universal health care, affordable housing, environmental protection. . . .

Francis reminds us that united with our neighbors, we too, the People of God, possess the power to raise the dead.

So as we stand before the grave of God, the church, and Jesus, let’s echo the pope’s cry: “Jesus, come forth!”

Second Thoughts about Pope Bergoglio: A Liberation Pope or Just More Blah, Blah?

Bergoglio-foot-washing

I’m still trying to figure out the new pope, Francis I. Initially, I was very skeptical and even negative about his election. After all he was carrying all that baggage from Argentina’s “dirty war.” And some incidents there made me see Francis as just another right-winger in the tradition of his immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Tongue partly planted in cheek, I called for his resignation.

Gradually however, I’ve come to question my rush to judgment. True, the new pope faltered with early missteps regarding women. He seemed to reiterate Benedict XVI’s admonition to U.S. women religious to focus more on the issues of contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage, rather than on social justice for the poor and electoral politics. He even warned a group of sisters against becoming “spinsters” or “old maids” (depending on the translation) rather than fruitful celibates.

But then he went to that women’s prison on Holy Thursday and drew fire from conservatives for including women among those whose feet he washed that day. I concluded that the jury is still out concerning Francis and women. Like most of us males, he clearly has room to grow.

As I wait for the jury’s verdict, two recent incidents have led me towards a more positive evaluation in the court of my own mind. To begin with, Leonardo Boff, a leading liberation theologian who had been silenced by the Ratzinger-Wojtyla team, surprised me by his own positive assessment. He even identified the new pope as a “field” liberation theologian as opposed to a “desk” theologian. Despite his reservations in the past about liberation theology, Bergoglio, Boff said, was truly committed to the poor. Boff was hopeful that the Argentinian might change the direction of the Vatican policy of suspicion and rejection over the last 30 years towards the “preferential option for the poor” so central in the thought of activists committed to the welfare of the world’s poor majority.

Then a couple of weeks ago, a second occurrence made me think Boff might have a point. The pontiff made some surprisingly critical remarks about capitalism and ethics to a group of new ambassadors to the Vatican.

Here are some excerpts. They are worth quoting at length:

“. . . We must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. . . The financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in . . . the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight . . the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started a throw-away culture.

This tendency is . . . being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules . . . The will to power and of possession has become limitless.

Concealed behind this attitude is a rejection of ethics, a rejection of God. Ethics, like solidarity, is a nuisance! It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market. God is thought to be unmanageable by these financiers, economists and politicians, God is unmanageable, even dangerous, because he calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery. . . I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs” (Homily on Lazarus, 1:6 – PG 48, 992D).

. . . There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. . . Money has to serve, not to rule! The Pope . . . has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them. . . .

The common good should not be simply an extra, simply a conceptual scheme of inferior quality tacked onto political programs. . . . In this way, a new political and economic mindset would arise that would help to transform the absolute dichotomy between the economic and social spheres into a healthy symbiosis. . . .Are you surprised by those words? Here the pope is saying that:

1. The wealth gap between the rich and poor is completely unacceptable.
2. It is caused by unfettered markets which reduce people to consumers subordinate to material production.
3. Free markets are heartless, inhumane and idolatrous.
4. Remedying that problem necessitates government interference in the marketplace.
5. . . . based on an ethics of solidarity taking its lead from the poor and prioritizing human welfare and the common good over untargeted economic growth.
6. Solidarity ethics find their origin in God who calls all humans to liberation from slaveries and idolatries of all kinds.
7. So governments must overcome their reluctance to correct the wealth-concentrating tendencies of free markets,
8. . . . and the attitude which sees ethical and theological concerns as counter-productive when they
prioritize the needs of the poor over the profits of financiers and the moneyed classes.
9. Avoidance of these responsibilities makes governments complicit with the crimes of robbery from the poor who (rather than the rich) are the true owners of the resources of God’s creation.
10. Economics and social justice should not be understood as standing in opposition to one another, but as mutually nourishing.

I find the pope’s words encouraging and quite promising. True, most popes (even J.P.II and Ratzinger) made isolated statements in tune with the comments just quoted. And taken as a body, the social teachings of the Catholic Church from Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) to Vatican II’s “Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes, 1965) are progressive enough though they remain the church’s “best kept secret.”

Yet, the words I’ve quoted come from a new pope who (as Boff notes) has demonstrated his concern for the poor in practical ways, and has embodied a preference for simple living, And that might be sufficient reason for hope the pope’s words will define his papacy rather than simply being more papal “blah, blah.”

The jury’s still out.