Friday, March 22, 2013

Sin in Cyprus

Here's an interesting title to a news story I just read:

Cyprus will pay dearly for its sins

You hardly see such a word in the press or the media anymore.  But this time the writer (or his editor) has hit the nail on the head:  Sin.

You learn so much every time there's a crisis:  History, geography, economic, social, and political forces, they all show up, playing a role in the current economic crisis gripping a part of the world, which heretofore may hardly have been on your radar screen.

What Paul Krugman terms The Sum of all FUBAR is occurring on a small island.  So for its beleaguered citizens there's currently no way out of there - unless they own a boat or plane or can muster the cash to purchase a ticket.  I feel for these people.  I'd hate to be trapped like that. 

But as for FUBAR, Krugman doesn't detail the half of it.  And it all boils down to that word "Sin" - and I mean sin.  It's a perfect example, and a lesson for us all, of how a society (or a person), blurring moral and ethical boundaries in one area, can find its effects spreading and spreading, till they're mired in the worst sort of muck.  And mired they are in Cyprus!

Based upon simple web searches last night, our household learned some very sad facts about Cyprus.  And it all begins, it would seem, in a business model, which is apparently now dead.  But as the old saying goes:  "When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas."  So, it would seem that once you decide to cater to folks who want to launder money, avoid taxes, and heaven knows what else, you leave yourself prey to purveyors of human trafficking, prostitution, shady real estate deals (another bubble ready to break), and alliances with thugs, gangsters, and probably drug smugglers galore.  And it all started because a little island nation wanted to make a living off of unethical rich depositors.  Perfect example of a moral/ethical slippery slope...

Yes, as the article states, Cyprus will pay dearly for its sins.  And ironically this tiny island is also awash in religion.  Mosques and Orthodox churches (multiple cathedrals!) abound.  Indeed the country's own Orthodox Church owns a huge portion of its patrimony when it comes to land and wealth and real estate.  Not to speak of the Russian (Orthodox) community there now as well... 

A reckoning has come.  And let us hope that the crisis and its aftermath, which will be extremely, extremely painful for all involved, will somehow force people - even us - to examine the moral/ethical compromises which led a beautiful island, an educated society, to sell its soul.

Let us truly pray that we not be led into temptation....

[Also posted here.]

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Bishop" of Rome: Sign to the Eastern Church

Like everything else Pope Francis has shown us, since his election - his humility, his avoidance of pomp or extravagance, his demeanor of compassion, mercy, and love -  the Papal Installation in St. Peter's Square carried a message of hope, a breath of fresh air, evidence of a return to Gospel values, and a powerful plea for unity and collegiality within the church at large.

In his role as Fisherman, it seems, Pope Francis is clearly angling for a reunion of East and West, the two lungs of Christ he calls them, insisting that they need to breathe together.

Small but potent signs of this plea for unity continue to pile up.  From his first moments as Pope onward, Francis has kept reiterating his role and title as Bishop.  Of Rome.  This is a key signal, a clarion call to the Eastern churches - since, for the Orthodox, the Pope is viewed, not as a ruler, not as an authoritative deliverer of infallible statements - but as first among equalsThis status was clearly evident during Francis' first official act of the Installation - when he descended to pray and venerate the tomb of St. Peter - flanked  by a flock of Eastern Patriarchs (and no one else!) lining the entrance to the tomb.   Even the Ecumenical Patriarch was present, someone who has not attended a Papal Investiture for a thousand years, coinciding with the great rift between East and West.

The significance of this gesture on the part of Pope Francis and the Eastern Patriarchs cannot be underestimated.  Nor can the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, considered first among equals in the Eastern churches, where collegiality has never been abandoned, not even when it led to schism from a Roman church that demanded obedience to the pope - rather than fraternal unity, to which the East has always been open.

Note as well that the Gospel Book (given the Pope on this occasion) was carried, from start to finish by a Deacon of the Eastern Rite, wearing Eastern rite robe and stole.  Using eastern rite gestures for reverencing the Gospel Book and eastern rite chanting - in Greek - of the Gospel itself.  Given that the Gospels were originally written in Greek and the Ecumenical Patriarch always comes from the Greek Orthodox tradition, this powerful gesture is another clear sign offered to the Eastern Churches.

Additionally, an Eastern Rite choir sang the chants surrounding the the Gospel - using Orthodox chant style. Another clear signal:  That Francis intends to continue reaching out to the East as Pope, similar to his role in Argentina, where he exercised authority both as bishop in the Roman tradition and as patriarch of the eastern church there.

All of this falls like spring rain on the ground of Eastern Orthodoxy.  On the potential for Christian unity.

We are witnessing a time of great hopeMay we all be one.  May this springtime be fruitful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"A great brotherhood in the world" says Pope Francis

I am very moved by this new Pope.  I realize some have already been quick to criticize this or that from his past.  But I'm looking at this in terms of his personality.  I see a clearly humble man.  A man whose first act was to lower himself and beg for a blessing from the crowd, from us who were watching, bowing in the silence, prior to giving his first blessing as Pope.  A man who initially simply stood quietly on the balcony as he was applauded.  A man who, when he began to speak, simply said:  "Good evening" - which rings so tenderly in Italian, "Buona sera."  His subsequent words, more like a chat with the crowd as he spoke to them.  Then wished them a pleasant rest before departing.

Before you rule him out, as some may do, consider all the bad options that could have resulted from this papal election.  Consider, as well the signs after the ex-pope resigned:  the lightening strike; the earthquake.  And ponder the delightful image of the seagull perching on the Vatican chimney, just prior to the election of a pope, who has chosen the name of Francis.  You can say these are just coincidences.  But really, nothing is merely coincidental.

Given those, from among whom a choice was made, we have a pretty good result:  A humble man, a man who lives very simply, a man concerned about the poor and the disaffected.  It also speaks well of the conclave that they sought someone unassuming, whose bearing seems to breathe a life of quiet prayer.

Let's give this man a chance, the benefit of the doubt, our fervent prayers.  For none of us is perfect.  And no one could possibly provide, as pope, all that everyone is hoping for.  For me, a person's worth can be seen in his body language, his manner of speech, whether he seems full of himself or full of love for his brothers and sisters.  In that regard Pope Francis wins me over - his bearing, his humility, all these suggest hopefulness to me. 

I will admit I was moved to tears - again and again - during his first appearance.  And folks, I have never been moved to tears by a pope!

Addendum:

This charming recollection by the new Pope's former spokesman:
An anecdote from his former spokesman Guillermo Marcó when Bergoglio was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. On February 21, 2001, Bergoglio was in Rome to be anointed cardinal. As they got ready to leave the house for priests where they were staying, Marcó asked how they should travel to the Vatican.

"Walking, of course," said Bergolgio. Marcó protested that Bergoglio was wearing his red robe. "Don't worry," Bergoglio said. "In Rome you could walk with a banana on your head an nobody would say anything."

When they arrived to the Holy see on foot, the Vatican guard was astounded. "The majority of cardinals arrived with large retinues," Marcó said. "Bergoglio arrived with just myself and a couple of relatives."  [The Guardian]

The bottom line:

Here, to my mind, is the key to the Papacy of Francis, Bishop of Rome, whose choice of a name (and emphasis of a title) underscore his theological understanding of his role and calling at this moment in the catholic church, akin to that of St. Francis in his own time:
St. Francis was moved when praying by a voice from the altar, which spoke these words:  “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.
I have posted a reflection on the scriptural underpinnings of these words which St. Francis passed along to us, and which undoubtedly would be well known to this new Pope - who has chosen to follow (and lead us along) the path of his forebear.  (You can find it here.)