Category: Ecumenical

Happy New Year!

By , September 6, 2013 4:25 am

Image: Lynn Lampert

Hello, you Christians! Are you conscious of the fact that our Jewish brothers and sisters have been celebrating the great feast of Rosh Hashanah since sundown this past Wednesday, September 4th, and will continue until nightfall tonight? This is the High Holy Day feast that begins the celebration of the Jewish new year, complete with delicious sweet traditional foods such as apples, honey, pomegranates, and raisin challah. I have to tell you honestly that I think that the Jewish mode of expressing this day is much better than the typical means we have of celebrating in our country on December 31st.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters approach each new year with a true desire to eliminate past failures in human relationships and to achieve forgiveness. Jews will spend the next week or so (the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) in reflection and repentance as they examine their own lives. They are ready to wipe the slate clean and start anew. I think that we are all aware that we have little moral cancers in our personal lives, and one of the most widespread is the failure to forgive- the desire to hold on to grudges. The Jews recognize this, and strive to eliminate it. God Bless them for it!

Let’s gather together now in these difficult times, saying “please forgive me for any wrongs I may have done to you, and truly, happy new year!”

Shana tovah u’metukah [A good year and sweet New Year]

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Real and Meaningful Ecumenism

By , April 29, 2013 4:45 am

Talk about ecumenism and a modest amount of movement in the ecumenical world has been going on at least since the 1960’s. Changed attitudes by Roman Catholics has helped tremendously because after Vatican Council II we decided to break up on circling the wagons and head West towards Christian unity. I am sure that it was a shove from the Holy Spirit after 300 years of religious isolation.
There has been a great deal of progress at the international level. Scripture scholars and major theologians have spent years exploring their religious roots, traditions and present positions and have discovered happily an amazing amount of unity that actually exists between the major Christian faiths in the world. This is especially true of Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics. While those meetings were tremendously important, they seldom reached down to the parish or neighborhood level.
Today I would like to spotlight a small group that I wish would become symbolic of the next phase of ecumenical activity. I am referring to a small group of clergy who meet at 10:00 a.m. every Wednesday morning in the parish rectory of St. Louis King of France. The host is Father Larry Covington, the pastor of St. Louis, and four or five neighborhood pastors representing all the major Christian traditions of the neighborhood. Finally, and this is truly wonderful, they are joined by a rabbi from the nearby synagogue. His presence is a real asset to the others not only because of his ability to contribute to discussions from the Old Testament, but with deeper insights in New Testament texts. These are hard working men serving large local congregations but they take the time to deepen their knowledge of their own faith and, at the same time, familiarize themselves with the religious traditions of others in the neighborhood.
Ecumenism for the last fifty years has always involved a relaxed ability to work together on social issues but it seldom got into deep open discussion of theological views. That is not true in north central Austin.
May God bless this group and may they become multiplied many times in the future.

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Changes At The Top

By , March 22, 2013 4:41 am

Credit: AP/Gregorio Borgia

While there may be no actual connection and no comparison in terms of areas of importance, I was fascinated last week to see that the Roman Catholic Church had chosen a new leader on March 13th and the People’s Republic of China chose a new leader on March 14th. Two new men to lead and direct two of the largest entities on earth – Pope Francis with his one billion, two hundred million Roman Catholics and President Xi Jinping as leader of the billions of Chinese. The Church and China live and function in different worlds but both are extremely important to the development of the planet and for peace on earth. I hope and pray that their leaders carry out their important missions and their new responsibilities effectively.
Neither one is free to do whatever he so chooses. The pope is bound by tradition and the Code of Canon Law. President Jinping is governed by the Politburo, a group of 25, who have very real power over the major decisions that will be made in China. Lately, China is a real cause for worry because it has been acting very aggressively in terms of crowding its neighbors in a number of different ways. The world is especially concerned about the tension that has been building up between China and Japan. Though neither country wants war, history shows that many wars have gotten started without the leaders in either country really wanting them to begin.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

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The Theatrics are Finally Over!

By , January 4, 2013 4:11 am

Well, everybody is breathing just a little bit easier and so they should. For months and months we have heard endless debate on an agonizingly difficult financial situation where the Congress had locked itself into both forced cuts and increased taxes, a terrible combination which would have induced possibly a very severe recession. Since we are not completely out of the one that began in 2008, it would have been disastrous for a portion of the American people. In my opinion, the negotiators did not negotiate. They danced!
For the past several months, instead of hard, tough negotiation sessions, the two sides debated with each other through the evening news. I am no economist and certainly no prophet but I said in this space two months ago that we should not worry and although our representatives in Congress may not be all that bright, they are not insane. Now they have proven me correct on that score at least.
The decision arrived at between the president and the Republican controlled House is not perfect and not final but it has averted a temporary disaster and we can all be appreciative of that. Why did such a serious issue have to be handled by theatrics? Why is the word “bipartisan” become obscene and the word “compromise” despised as meaningless? Republicans never had the chance to win on this issue in any positive way. The president was elected after repeating countless times that the super rich had to pay a little more of their share of the cost of running the country. The position of the Tea Party was that rather than raising even $10 on the super rich, they would rather force a situation where taxes would increase sharply on the poor and middle class, ultimately an untenable position for them, but they stuck to that position until the last hour.
We squeaked by on this one. Let’s hope that the elected officials can deal with the debt ceiling in a little more reasonable manner.

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When Religious Formation is Absent

By , May 25, 2012 5:08 am

Have you noticed that there is a widespread view that the country is “on the wrong track.” Political candidates, TV commentators, newspaper pundits and preachers in various churches seem to be of a common mind on that. The Secret Service scandal, Walmart’s bribery in Mexico and beyond, “flash mobs” in department stores, the Navy captain providing pornographic movies to his crew, an $800,000 weekend meeting of the General Service Administration, an agency that is supposed to shepherd our financial resources, violation of corpses in Afghanistan, etc., etc., etc. None of these problems are new; none of them particularly original for this period. What is different is that these very discouraging modes of operation are more easily tolerated than was ever the case in the past. Most of us are saddened by it, most of us regret these activities but most of us feel that there is little that we can do about it. Is that the case?

Our culture, if you can call it that, is the first one in human history that has denied itself the right to pass on responsibility to the next generation its own set of values.

Not only does that lack of religious values add to the criminal activity I mentioned above, but it is one of the underlying causes of so many other agonizing human problems from which we are suffering in this country. Shattered marriages, all too many immature, irresponsible adults, alcoholism and drug addiction, lack of commitment to education and a host of other tragic let downs that mark our society, our families and our individual lives.

Why not try something new? Religious formation. Some of the churches have sizable school systems and most churches have Sunday school, but they tend to concentrate on the religious teachings of that particular church. The U.S. Supreme Court continues to feel that any religious formation in the public school system is a violation of the Constitution. What a tragic mistake.

Not only are the American people blocked from using its enormous educational system from transferring moral values in any realistic way, but the court has actually worked against outside groups, such as churches and synagogues to reach its students. Several decades ago, serious efforts were made in areas such as “released time” and other efforts to provide religious instruction to public school students, but it was always rejected by the Court. The vast majority of American people hold that religious values are extraordinarily important and they ought to be imported to each new generation as effectively as possible. Can anybody imagine teaching math and science one hour a week after school? If only half our students attended those voluntary classes, can you imagine the destructive effects on their education? Well, that is what we are doing with religious values and we are paying for it.

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Little Rock is a Rock for Justice!

By , October 21, 2011 5:50 am

Photo from

My heartfelt congratulations to Bishop Anthony Taylor, the Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas. He has just joined with the Methodists and the Baptists in his state in an intiative called Gospel Without Borders. It is a documentary produced by a divisive of the Baptist Center for Ethics and funded by a grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas. The documentary portrays how members of these three churches are trying to help immigrants who are all victims of the same injustice. We see all this together and will accomplish far more if they work together. The video focuses on the Scriptural mandate of Jesus common to all Christians.

The bishop has sent a copy of Gospel Without Borders to all the parishes in Arkansas. Regretfully, I have not seen the documentary myself yet, but I feel confident that it will produce a great deal of good across the State of Arkansas. What excites me even more than the production of this useful tool on behalf of justice is the bringing together, in a very concrete and organized way, of the religious leaders across the state in order to speak with one voice on the retractable issue that is not about to go away in the near future.

We constantly hear the figure that there are 12 million illegal people living in the United States at the present time. The largest portion of them are Hispanics from Central and South America. These workers are obviously needed for many sectors of our economy. There is, at the same time, an increasing hostility towards undocumented immigrants as manifested by the recent enactment in Alabama of the most restrictive law to date on the question of immigration. Happily, Archbishop Thomas Rodi, of Mobile, has joined the U.S. Department of Justice in opposing this law.

The United States has a right to make every effort to control its own borders, but once people are here, settled in, are productive and needed in the economy we need to be very careful on how we attempt to resolve this situation.

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It’s About Time! (For Christian Unity)

By , September 29, 2011 5:33 am

It’s four centuries since the Christian West was split asunder by the Reformation. That initial tragedy would lead to religious wars that would last for another two centuries. Religious wars calmed down in the 19th century and in the 20th century. With the Second Vatican Council, we have seen a solid movement across Christianity to somehow bring about the restoration of Christian unity. No one, however, has a clear idea on exactly what form the Church would have after the restoration of unity.

Now another step forward. Cardinal Kurt Koch, of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has announced that the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation are planning a joint declaration on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2016. “Without joint recollection, joint purification and without an admission of guilt on both sides, an honest commemoration will not be possible,” Cardinal Koch told the Austrian Catholic Press Agency. This is a wonderful new step and may carry us forward towards evermore unity and solidarity. Certainly, we can all pray for that.

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HOW Should We Pray?

By , September 7, 2011 5:20 am

The answer to that is easy. We should talk to God in a natural, relaxed manner that suits our personality, temperament, needs, circumstances, etc.

Thousands of books have been written to assist readers in various methods of prayer but ultimately it comes down to what suits you best. There are times when we can pray very fervently on our knees or even prostrate on the floor of a Cathedral. I, for one, find it easier to pray sitting down in a very comfortable position in a room that is absolutely silent. So, suit yourself.

One of the issues that seems to make prayer more intimidating for some of us is the fact that theologians and ecclesiologists in our midst want to define and classify everything. Are you going to say prayers of adoration or thanksgiving? Do you need to make intercession? Do you have an overpowering list of petitions? What about prayers of praise? These are all expressions that clarify our thinking about how we are praying or why we are praying but the MAIN THING IS TO REALIZE GOD’S IMMEDIATE CLOSENESS, His love for each one of us and know that He listens with infinite concern.

Let us pray.

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Prayer to the Rescue!

By , September 6, 2011 5:12 am

For several days, I have been talking about the agonizing reality of hunger in America. Over one-third of the country, 17 states, have more than 20% of their children living in food insecure households. This means inadequate learning ability, poor health and lives that are not properly developed. This is very sad but let me turn to something more positive – the need for prayer.

Most Americans believe in God but we are all over the place when it comes to our conversations with him. Most Americans would not consider themselves and many protest that it is rather difficult to talk to God since so often it seems to be a one-sided conversation. God is our friend. God loves each one of us individually with an infinite, all consuming love. If we can grasp that wonderful fact, that conversation with God should not be difficult at all. We should talk to Him about what it is that we are happy about, what causes us our distress, what we need to do in order to get through the next week or the next month, and about our concern for that high school nephew who is suspected of having cancer. While this conversation should take place rather easily, because it is based on love and acceptance by God. However, it is necessary to try to discipline ourselves to keep this conversation ongoing in our life. We should try to think about God and talk to Him briefly as we awaken in the morning and the same when we are shutting ourselves down at the end of the day. When wonderful things happen in the course of the day – we see a new grandchild, an extraordinary movie, make the right turn on the freeway thus avoiding a back traffic jam – we should try to instinctively thank God for his blessings and his gifts. When things go wrong, we should almost instantly turn to God who has created, who sustains us, who loves us and will carry us through life’s difficulties.

Prayer is necessary and prayer is easy. As the priest says repeatedly at Sunday Mass, “Let us pray.

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Why is the Eucharist Denied to Non-Catholics?

By , May 6, 2011 5:40 am

As a good Methodist, I’ll bet you’ve attended a Catholic wedding or funeral a number of times, and had the priest announce just before the Communion procession that those “not of the Catholic faith who wish to come forward should merely bow their heads and receive a blessing” implying, of course, that they are NOT to actually receive the Eucharist. This tradition is so old, that many people give it no thought whatsoever. But, other Christians, familiar with the open altar of their own church and that of other major Christian faiths, have a reaction that varies from confusion to anger, musing to themselves, “Who the hell do they think they are?”

I completely understand those reactions, and sympathize with them. The brief explanation that I offer here will probably not satisfy most readers. Let me try to say it succinctly. Receiving the Eucharist in the Catholic Church is a public act of faith. We are stating to those around us that we believe that in the simple but sacred moment, Jesus Christ Himself, both human and divine, comes in to physical contact with us and for a moment, we contain within ourself the real presence of the Blessed Trinity. It is an awesome act of faith! We feel strongly that someone who does not possess that belief should refrain from this act because it reflects a contradiction. We would be affirming something we don’t believe.

Let me say, however, that the Church is comfortable with persons receiving the Eucharist at mass if they are intellectually in union with what the Church teaches about the real presence of Jesus. This is especially true at weddings and funerals.

This is a situation that saddens everyone. On the night before He died, Jesus prayed that His followers would be united- that they would be of one faith. Tragically that is not the case today, but we are moving forward towards the much desired goal of Christian unity. Very specific advances in such unity are being achieved with Anglicans and Lutherans, and of course we have always had it with the Orthodox churches.

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