Smoky stoves and global solidarity

A visit to their sister parish in San Marcos, Guatemala, led parishioners at St. John the Baptist Parish in Covington, Wash., to a new understanding about the realities of life in their sister community. An article by Terry McGuire in The Catholic Northwest Progress, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle, details how the parish raised $19,000 to purchase fuel-efficient, ventilated stoves for as many as 100 families in the 10 villages that make up the Guatemalan parish.

Vatican document on use of psychological testing in seminaries available in Origins

A week ago the Vatican released the long-awaited document called “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.” (We had coverage of it here and here.)

The full text was difficult to find at first, but now we have it available in the latest edition of Origins, our documentary service. Origins’ subscribers can read the document by clicking here. (It’s in Vol. 38, No. 23, dated Nov. 13, 2008.)

We also offer single-copy sales of this edition of Origins for just $5. To order, call (202) 541-3290 and we’ll mail one out to you.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the provoked’

While the world financial crisis remains with us, for now it has been pushed from the forefront of the news in favor of this week’s historic presidential election.

But over at Provoke Radio, Jesuit Father Stephen Spahn is keeping the economy up front by exploring the spiritual lessons from the still-evolving economic upheaval.

Father Spahn, associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, has hosted Provoke Radio since its inception in 2004. Through incisive interviews and compelling storytelling, Father Spahn makes the connection between social justice and contemporary issues of the day.

Each program closes with a catchy reminder that “blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the provoked.”

“We know that as thoughtful people there are many issues on our mind and some that should be that aren’t,” Father Spahn said. “We’re also faithful people and we believe on a good day that our faith should inform everything we do. (At Provoke Radio) we try to connect those dots and look at those pressing social issues.”

Sponsored by the Maryland province of the Jesuits, Provoke Radio can be heard on a handful of radio stations around the country, including in Baltimore, San Francisco, Cleveland, St. Louis, Denver, New York, South Orange, N.J., and Fairfield, Conn. Podcasts and archived programs can be accessed around the clock.

More on what the election means for us

Picking up where we left off yesterday:

10:54 a.m. ET: Catholic high school in Arizona had an election-night watch party so that “dry facts” of the classroom could come to life. (From The Catholic Sun of Phoenix)

9:30 a.m. ET: The national Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor offers three post-election perspectives:

— Editor John Norton (a proud member of the CNS alumni association from his work in our Rome bureau) writes that Catholics must find ways to work together after this divisive election season even though some are jubilant at the results and some are sickened to the core because of the president-elect’s “pro-abortion ideology.”

— Longtime Catholic author and commentator Russell Shaw has a column titled “What an Obama presidency means for Catholics,” in which he notes both the challenges facing the pro-life movement and the questions surrounding the influence of the U.S. bishops over their flock.

— Also online is the paper’s first post-election editorial, simply headlined “President Obama.”

CNS Bible Blog: No shortcuts to our `second birth’

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

The story of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3 is the key to understanding much of the fourth Gospel. It describes in symbolic form the human condition — the inability to understand spiritual things as well as the inability of many to understand and accept the teachings of Jesus.

The end of the prologue has prepared us for this scene, for 1:18 informs us that no one has ever seen God except the Son, who alone can make him known. All human beings are ignorant of God (according to John), even the best and holiest. There is a “glass ceiling” in our striving for God that renders direct and true knowledge of God impossible without divine help.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis, SJ

Nicodemus symbolizes “everyman” and is the best that human society can create. He is educated, pious, and righteous -– a decent human being. Nicodemus appears on the scene by night -– in John’s Gospel, darkness is the absence of God.

His preliminary flattery is brushed aside by Jesus with an almost brusque insistence that one must be born from above in order to see the Kingdom of God. In a Johannine pun, the Greek word anothēn means both “again” and “above.” Speaking from the limitations of ordinary human consciousness, Nicodemus interprets the word in a literal fashion — “again” — and is therefore flummoxed in his attempt to understand the absurdity and impossibility of a grown man returning to his mother’s womb to be born a second time.

As Jesus continues, he contrasts human nature with what is born from above, the earthly and the heavenly, the above and below. In several places in the Gospel Jesus tells the uncomprehending crowds that they are from below while he is from above. Ordinary human nature is incapable of comprehending the world of the spirit or having true knowledge of God. The doors of perception must be cleansed, and only by being born of water and the spirit — baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit — can one enter the Kingdom of God and experience spiritual illumination. No one has ever ascended to heaven to be with God — only the one who has descended from there (Jesus) is able to speak from experience. The Kingdom of God is understood not as a place but a state of spiritual consciousness or awareness.

In the story Nicodemus symbolizes a whole group of people, namely those who are open or sympathetic to Jesus but do so in secret. He is attracted to the message of Jesus, but wants it both ways — he wants to be part of the system and accepted by his peers and is afraid to make a public commitment and face the cost, just like so many of us! He appears again in 7:50 and 19:39, and appears to be rather timid and weak, refusing to take a positive and unequivocal stand.

So how does one experience this second birth from above if human perception is so limited? First of all, one must recognize the flawed and provisional nature of all human knowledge, especially the conventional or received wisdom. The enigmatic parables and word plays serve to destabilize the reader’s awareness and understanding so he or she can begin to question and search.

Secondly, Jesus gives many signs that disclose his divine and transcendent identity. Those who read the signs and are willing to put their faith in him — and remain in him — are led into an ever-deepening spiritual awareness. But let the reader beware: The Johannine understanding of faith is not belief in specific doctrines or creeds. It is a total surrender of the self and all aspects of one’s life to the one who has descended from above. No shortcuts, no easy out — but a whole new life.