National Catholic Reporter

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Spirituality

Speakers discuss images of God

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NEW YORK -- Speaking the evening of May 2 at Fordham University, where she is a professor of theology, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson described a well-known portion of Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which depicts God as an old, muscular, bearded white man who creates a younger man in his own image.

She said the example illustrates how a society's art, as well as the imagery in its language, reflects people who are at the pinnacle of that society. Just as artists imagine God as an older, white, powerful male, language describes God with the words king, father and lord.

"Why is this the case? Because historically, the public culture of the church was shaped by rulers who were men with power, and the power of naming," Johnson continued. "Why could God not be spoken about with the qualities of someone who is young or black or female, or all three in combination?"

U.S. bishops blast book by feminist theologian

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A widely popular 2007 book by Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of America’s most prominent feminist Catholic theologians, is marred by a series of “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” and thus “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points,” according to a statement released today by the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In particular, Johnson’s treatment of the Trinity in Quest for the Living God, according to the bishops, “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in the Gospel.”

Despite that conclusion, the bishops did not call for any disciplinary measures against Johnson, such as a ban on teaching or publishing. Johnson, 69, is a distinguished professor of systematic theology at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York.

Watch in wonder, gather the courage to act, and pray

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Earth & Spirit

I used a prayer bench for the first time recently, one of those comfortably padded contraptions that enable kneeling in an upright posture, attentive yet relaxed. On a chilly day, the opportunity came to spend an hour quietly meditating in an atrium room with a skylight and plants. My wife and I were housesitting for a weekend at the home of friends.

Bishop first in US to approve Marian apparitions

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CHAMPION, Wis. --Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay has approved the Marian apparitions seen by Adele Brise in 1859, making the apparitions of Mary that occurred some 18 miles northeast of Green Bay the first in the United States to receive approval of a diocesan bishop.

Ricken made the announcement in Champion during Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. More than 250 invited guests filled the shrine chapel to hear Ricken read the official decree on the authenticity of the apparitions. He also issued a second decree, formally approving the shrine as a diocesan shrine.

As he declared, "I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief," the congregation burst into applause, with many in attendance moved to tears.

Joining Jesus' story with the new science story

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Michael Morwood is an Australian author, speaker and teacher. His first book, Tomorrow’s Catholic, was declared to be “in error” by Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne, but sold well. A former priest with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Morwood works in adult faith formation in Australia and in the United States. His retreats and workshops focus on helping Christians articulate faith in Jesus in ways that resonate with a contemporary understanding of our place in the universe.

He has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College. Following his silencing by Pell, Morwood resigned from religious life and priestly ministry. He and his wife, Maria, live in Perth, Western Australia. He is also author of From Sand to Solid Ground: Questions of Faith for Modern Catholics and Is Jesus God? Finding Our Faith (Crossroad).

NCR: Your books respond to the need of contemporary Christians to understand their faith in ways that respect their secular worldview and enable them to believe in Christ and believe in themselves and our place in the universe.

Relics, faith and truth

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Each summer, the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka, hosts a two-week-long Buddhist festival, Esala Perahera.

The main feature is a daily procession through the streets featuring thousands of torchbearers, dancers, drummers and other musicians. Each group of performers is followed by a decorated elephant. Even the elephants get into the mood, doing a sort of ponderous pachyderm pavane.

A tiny, humble piece of bread

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Catholic writer Paul Wilkes’ latest opus, Holding God in My Hands: Personal Encounters with the Divine, is a book of contemporary parables focused on the Eucharist. In particular, it is series of stories about Wilkes’ ministry, bringing God, in the form of a host, to the sick and dying. Each story, then, becomes a springboard for spiritual reflection. Author of more than 20 books, Wilkes is also a contributor to the National Catholic Reporter.

Fox: Why this book?
Wilkes: I’m a eucharistic minister at my local hospital. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I go every week. I’ve probably seen 5,000 patients. I’ve been keeping track of the people I talk to, and if I would see them again I would make a note or two about what their condition was or what I or my parish might be able to do for them. The stories just started to occur.

You write about bringing the real presence of God as you visit patients. What’s that like?

Seeds of the Gospel in cinema

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The idea of cinema divina -- that is, sacred viewing -- first crossed my spiritual path in 1991, when I read an article in the Review for Religious by Benedictine Fr. Benedict Auer: “Video Divina: A Benedictine Approach to Spiritual Viewing.” He wrote, “Video divina requires a set disposition which says, ‘This evening, I wish to get closer to God, so I think I’m going to watch this film, which might give me better insights into myself or why my neighbor acts as she or he does.’ ”

Prayer expands the heart and inspires action

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ESSAY

The invitation to offer an essay on prayer came as a surprise. I am not a contemplative. My personal history recalls prayer styles that failed to increase my faith or stir my spirit. As a young sister, litanies bored me. As an older one, labyrinths hold no appeal. I explored the charismatic movement, and I profited from its emphasis on shared prayer and scripture, cherishing forever the injunction of the prophet Micah: To act justly, to live tenderly and to walk humbly with God. I walked away from the rest of it because it felt artificial. But each of the three I discarded is a wellspring of grace for others and I am happy for them.

The universe's communion of subjects

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My wife and I went out recently to an observatory site run by the local astronomy society to gaze at the universe, which was making big news headlines at the time, thanks to scientists Nikodem Poplawski and Stephen Hawking. With our telescope we joined a dozen others to observe the area around the constellation Sagittarius, located above the southern horizon in the summer and early autumn.

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November 21-December 5, 2014

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