By Juan M.C. Oliver

Editor’s note: This article is a response related to a recent At the Threshold series of articles on the St. Polycarp Worship Society in New Orleans.

Juan Oliver

Juan Oliver

And you thought it had all been decided centuries ago? Worship is once again in the forefront of talk about the churches’ mission into the 21st century.

This is not exactly new, though. As early as 1971 the superior general of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, was calling them to the work of inculturation.  By this term he meant,

“…the incarnation of Christian life and of the Christian message in a particular local cultural context, in such a way that the experience not only finds expression through elements proper to the culture in question (this alone would be no more than a superficial adaptation), but becomes a principle that animates, directs, and unifies a culture, transforming and remaking it so as to bring about “a new creation.”[1]

I have written elsewhere [2], about how in order to survive the current membership crisis and thrive into the future, Christian churches will have to invest huge amounts of creativity in trying new ways of doing things. Worship is certainly no exception, and the inculturation of worship is leading the way.

Briefly put, we must re-incarnate our worship so that it engages the local culture, for if we want to “… unify a culture, transforming and remaking it so as to bring about a new creation,” as Fr. Arrupe said above, we must speak its language.

Liturgical “language,” however, consists of much more than words. In a ritual setting every action, every item, every person is significant and charged with meaning. They work together as part of a holistic experience of the sacred in which a life lived in God´s presence is rehearsed and transmitted, forming a community of faith. Read More…

By Juan M.C. Oliver 

Juan Oliver

Juan Oliver

On March 13, as Cardinal Tauran named the new pope, I posted on Facebook, “It´s Bergoglio!” An old friend and wag immediately posted back, “Is that a wine or an olive oil?”

With everyone else I started trying to find out more about the new pope. Yet the image of wine and oil stayed with me since, for one thing, wine and oil are featured in the biblical story of the Good Samaritan — of how an outsider was the only one to care for a wounded man left on the street, pouring wine and oil on his wounds, not his priest, not his deacon, not his compatriots.

The Roman Catholic Church lies wounded by the side of the street. For too long its Curia, the Roman bureaucratic administration has passed by it and looked the other way, living in a culture of closets, secrecy and intrigue, sworn to omertá — the mafia’s code of silence. It’s a very sick puppy.

The outsiders who might come to the help of a wounded church are kept at bay systematically. In the last 30 years over 150 top notch theologians have been silenced, nuns are kept in their place, when not investigated, and Dignity, the association of Catholic LGBT people, can no longer meet in Catholic churches.

Can we expect the new pope to be the Samaritan? Will Francis be a bracing, cleansing wine, washing the filthy wounds? Will he be the oil that softens tissues and prevents scars? Read More…

By Charles deGravelles

Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, Trinity Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge 


Charles deGravelles

Charles deGravelles

Not long after I had returned to the Christian faith, I was in Santa Fe for a writers’ conference. It was hosted by St. John’s College, a very fine liberal arts university in a beautiful city known for its artists and poets. Among other literary celebrities, the conference featured Donald Hall, who would later become the 14th Poet Laureate of the United States, and I was able not only to hear him lecture worked with him personally and in small workshop settings.

By “returned to the faith,” I mean I was baptized as an infant and confirmed at 12, but never believed any of it, going through the expected liturgical motions as the path of least resistance. At the time of the writers’ conference, I was 34, and the preceding couple of years had produced some life experiences that had driven me to my knees. As a consequence, I had, with genuine surprise and absolute joy, discovered that there was Someone on the other side of prayer. The discovery that prayer is real and that God is real had led me back to church (this very church, in fact, in which I’m preaching today on this drizzly gray Ash Wednesday, 2013).

But back to Santa Fe, 1984, and the St. John’s Writers Conference. During  one of the conference breaks, a few fellow writers and I decided to walk the city and take in some of the sights. These young men and women were from all over country and their poetry or fiction, like mine, had been their ticket to this conference. Like all the writers I’ve known in my life, they were sharp, engaging, and fun.

One of the sights on our list was the San Miguel Mission, built between 1610 and 1626, and so the oldest church in the United States. For my new friends, it was just a historic sight, but when we entered, I had the overwhelming desire to pray, and so, as they quietly took in the ecclesial artifacts, including a magnificent wooden reredos stretching upward behind the altar, I prayed. Read More…

Juan Oliver

Juan Oliver

By Juan Oliver

The recent hand-wringing over declining membership in our churches has tended to blame either our conservative or liberal positions. I disagree. The churches are not shrinking because we are too far right or left. We are dying because we love control. As long as we ignore the core illness, no amount of palliative care of symptoms will heal the patient.

To understand the nature of our illness it is salutary to recall who we are as Christians and what we are as Christians and what we are supposed to be about. The whole church, and not only clergy, is called out by God to be sent out on a mission to serve the world.  Indeed, the mission of bishops, deacons and priests is to manifest three different aspects of the mission of the whole church. We are to proclaim, in deeds and words, the good news of coming of God´s Kingdom (or Realm) here and now, as we ask in the Lord´s Prayer.

Let´s get rid, once for all of the idea that mission consists of converting people to Christianity, or planting churches, let alone maintaining them. That is welcome of course, when it happens, but is not what God´s mission is about. God´s mission is to announce God´s Kingdom and pave the way to receive it.

By Kingdom, I do not mean something like “God´s Lordship over our hearts” (although that may well be the case) but the healing of this world through truth telling, justice, shalom and love — in that order for each presupposes the former. For the Kingdom is not just an interior event in the realm of spirituality, let alone a place in another dimension, after death. What the gospels mean by the Kingdom, as  N.T. Wright and other New Testament scholars have pointed out, is this world transformed by God´s healing power (“salvation”). Read More…