Monday, 28 January 2013

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya OMI RIP

January 17, 2013 — A radical and innovative Asian theologian passes away

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya OMI, a Sri Lankan Catholic priest who once came to the attention of the world due to his excommunication by Rome which was later lifted, passed away yesterday in Colombo. He had been unwell for some time and was 89 years of age at the time of his death.

He was a trained economist and was ordained as a priest in 1953. He worked in many capacities such as the rector of the Aquinas University College, which was developed as an alternative for those who could not attend University, for many years and was the founder of the Centre for Religion and Society in Colombo. He played a prominent role in developing close links with all other religions and participated jointly with others in many progressive initiatives relating to various issues in Sri Lanka.

Beginning his career as a conservative priest growing under the tutelage of the then well renowned Fr. Peter Pillai, Fr. Balasuriya responded to the social changes that were taking place in Sri Lanka and began to call upon the Catholic Church to understand these changes positively and not to take a reactionary stance. His political acumen was, in fact, recognised by SWRD Bandaranayke, who later became a prime minister who invited Fr. Balasuriya to work with him. He refused and wanted to respond to the changes in Sri Lanka in his own way.

When Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council in the early 60s Fr. Balasuriya and a few others such as Bishop Leo Nanayakkara responded positively and, in fact, this Council’s teachings were to change their world views and their lifestyles. Later, other prominent persons like Fr. Michael Rodrigo, who was assassinated in 1987 and Fr. Alloy Peiris and many others took the same teachings as their guiding light for their lives and work.

Perhaps some of Fr. Balasuriya’s most active years in life were those immediately following the Vatican Council where he devoted his time to introduce these ideas to Sri Lanka and, in fact, to Asia as a whole. He was one of the pioneers of the Asian theological groups who were to approach the problems of religion with a deep commitment to society, particularly to the issues of justice. He also gained recognition as one of the most prominent writers on theological issues from this perspective in Asia.

His passionate pursuit of the Vatican perspectives led him to engage with the most progressive social thought of his time in many fields. He took the issue of gender seriously and studied feminist thinkers and theologians. It was his engagement on this issue which led to his excommunication relating to a book he wrote entitled Mary and Human Liberation . Though attacked on some technical expressions close observers say that the actual attack was on his agreement of the ordination of women as priests.

When the excommunication was announced he openly challenged it and demanded to be shown the issues on which he had erred theologically. This challenge was never answered. However, he was under severe pressure due to one of the most intense international campaigns in his favour which caused severe embarrassment to the Catholic Church. A team of theologians of his religious order arrived in Sri Lanka and had several days of negotiations with him and he was requested to make some statement for the sake of compromise. Later his excommunication was lifted. Perhaps this is the only excommunication in the Catholic Church which was to be lifted in such a very short period.

Fr. Balasuriya was essentially a thinker. He tried to provoke thought on national issues and also theological issues within the Church.

He lived the last years of his life very much in quietness as the overall environment within the Catholic Church had become hostile to the theological positions of the Vatican Council. However, to the last he remained a disciple and promoter of these teachings.

His work and writings will survive him and may contribute to the development of discourse in the future.

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya was a friend of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC played a very active role in creating a global protest against his excommunication.

May he rest in peace

Read more about Fr Tissa

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Today's Readings - The Law of Love

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time / Third Sunday after Epiphany – 27 January 2013

Book of Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10
Psalms 19:8-10,15
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

The readings for today struck me in a most unusual way. At first I did not see the connection; at first I did not see the relevance to today’s world (particularly if these readings are all taken together). Actually, I was drawn up short by the apparent irony in these selections.

In Nehemiah we hear how the people had just come back from the Babylonian Captivity and how they listened to Ezra read the LAW from morning to mid-afternoon. I thought there might be a theme with the audience. After all, Nehemiah tells us all the men, all the women, and all the children old enough to understand were there. That should tell us something, I thought. No discrimination when it comes to listening to the law.

But WHY were they listening to the LAW? The Pharisees must have loved this passage. People were crying with joy over having to listen to hours of reading of the LAW.

My confusion continued as I saw that the Psalm centered about the Law of the Lord being perfect. I am so used to hearing the “Thou shalt nots” from the Old Testament that I had trouble focusing on what the Law of the Lord might be.

The reading from First Corinthians is a discourse on the Body of Christ and on how each person is a part of that Body of Christ and each person is important to the functioning of the whole body. How does that ever relate to people crying about hearing the LAW?

In the gospel, we find Jesus teaching in the temple. Jesus firmly proclaims that the passage he quoted from Isaiah was fulfilled – in him. He came to bring glad tidings, liberty, sight, freedom, and so forth. How does that ever relate to people crying about hearing the LAW?

Suddenly I could see a relationship. Look at it with me for a moment. It all fits so beautifully!

Nehemiah’s people were indeed crying for joy because they were back from captivity and they could hear the essence of their faith system. The Jewish LAW set these people apart from their neighbors. That is why they had their dietary restrictions, why they had certain codes, why they had certain prayer requirements, and why they had countless other obligations. It was their IDENTITY.

But, the LAW of Judaism was imperfect from a Christian perspective. Jesus came to FULFILL the LAW. He did not negate it; he fulfilled it. He got to the essence of the law and that is what he taught.

The Psalm tells us that the Law of the Lord is perfect. Indeed it is perfect in every way! The people about whom Nehemiah was writing did not know their LAW was imperfect. They were just grateful to have their identity. It seems that the Psalm is almost prophetic because the LAW as Jesus taught it was indeed perfect – even if the Jewish law was imperfect. Perhaps imperfect is not the best term. Perhaps we should say that the LAW of the Old Testament was incomplete because Jesus had not yet come to complete it or to pull it all completely together.

In a way, the reading from First Corinthians is juxtaposed with the gospel. In First Corinthians we see how each person has a role in the Body of Christ. But we don’t quite know yet what that means.

Picture Jesus in the gospel; he must have had a commanding presence because people certainly paid attention to him. He walked into the Temple (which was his right as a Jew) and he asked for a scroll. Now envision him reading that passage from the scroll and then with piercing eyes telling everyone present that that passage had been fulfilled. Can you hear his monologue? Perhaps he was waiting for a response but there was none. If you were in the crowd there, would you have wondered what Jesus meant?

Does the passage from Isaiah seem strange? Glad tidings, liberty, sight, freedom, and so forth? That doesn’t sound like the LAW as described in Nehemiah. That doesn’t sound like that perfect law of the Psalm. Ah, but wait! We need Jesus to fulfill the LAW – to make the LAW perfect.

The ancients loved their incomplete LAW and that was good. The ancients recognized that the LAW of the Lord was perfect and they rejoiced in that. But the ancient LAW was not perfect in the way we think today.

All of the good things that Jesus promised as a fulfillment of the prophesy were actually a fulfillment of the ultimate LAW of God – the ultimate LAW that Jesus gave us. That LAW is the LAW of LOVE. That fulfillment is not the list of “Thou shalt nots.” That LAW that was fulfilled – with freedom and glad tidings and sight and a myriad of other good things – was the LAW that Jesus came to fulfill, the LAW of LOVE.

The ancients had this LAW of LOVE but Jesus summarized it. Next week’s gospel is the great love passage from First Corinthians. It all fits in perfectly. And how many times did Jesus say he had come to fulfill the law? And how many times did Jesus say that the LAW of LOVE was the summary of the LAW and that therein we would find all of the LAW and the prophets. It is truly all there.

Now, let’s skip back to the reading from Nehemiah. ALL the people – men, women, and children old enough to understand – were ecstatic over hearing the LAW (albeit the imperfect or incomplete LAW). That must mean that the whole LAW applies to everyone old enough to understand. In other words, all are equal with this LAW of LOVE and there is no discrimination with this LAW of LOVE.

How does this Body of Christ fit into this scheme? Well, if we do what we are called to do, we are immersed in love. We give love, we radiate love. We are – or we become – that part of the Body of Christ that we are supposed to be. We fulfill that mandate that is given to us. And, in the process, we experience that freedom and that tremendous sight that Jesus has promised.

What is the Body of Christ besides a communion of believers, each of whom has a task and each of whom has been granted the absolute liberty and glad tidings found in the fulfillment of Jesus’ LAW of LOVE, which was, in essence, the completion of the LAW given to our ancestors and read to the people by Ezra in the Book of Nehemiah? That was true then; and it is true now. And this is our faith system – the LAW of LOVE.

-- Roberta

Monday, 21 January 2013

Attitudes for confronting the current crisis

by Leonardo Boff
Earthcharter Commission

No one can be indifferent to the present crisis. Decisions and finding a liberating solution are urgent. To avoid being mistaken, we will present here a few possibilities, and see which is best.

The first attitude is that of the catastrophists: the flight to the depth. They emphasize the chaotic aspect that inheres in every crisis. They see the crisis as a catastrophe, a decomposition and the end of the current order. To them, the current crisis is something abnormal that must be avoided at all cost. They accept only certain adjustments and changes within the same structure. But they make them with so many objections that they undermine any innovative change.

The good pope John XXIII already said about catastrophists, referring to the Church, but applicable to any field: «Real life is not a collection of antiquities. It is not about visiting a museum or an academy of the past. One lives to progress, learning from the experiences of the past, but always going forward».

The generalized crisis does not have to end with a fall into the abyss. As Pierre Furter, a Swiss philosopher and pedagogue who loves Brazil very much, wrote: «To characterize the crisis as a sign of a universal collapse is a subtle and perfidious way that the powerful and privileged avoid changes, by devaluing them beforehand».

The second attitude is that of the conservatives: the flight backwards. They point to the past, looking through the rear view mirror. Instead of taking advantage of the forces contained in the present crisis, they fly to the past and seek old solutions for new problems. That is why they are archaic and ineffective.

A large portion of the political institutions and world economic organisms, such as the IMF, the World Bank, the OMC, the G-20, but also most Churches and religions, seek to solve the grave problems of the world with the same old principles. They favor inertia and slow down innovative solutions.

Leaving things as they are will inevitably lead us to failure, to an unimaginable ecological and humanitarian crisis. Since the old formulas have exhausted their ability to convince and to innovate, they will end up turning the crisis into a tragedy.

The third attitude is of the utopists: the flight ahead. They try to solve the crisis-situation by flying towards the future. They are on the same plane as the conservatives, but facing the opposite direction. Therefore, utopists and conservatives can easily reach agreement.

They are generally headstrong and forget that in history only those revolutions that are made take place. The last slogan is not a new thought. The most audacious critics can also be the most sterile. It is not uncommon for audacious non-conformism to be nothing but evasiveness in facing hard reality.

There are presently all types of futurist utopias around. Many are of an esoteric character, such as those who speak of the alignment of cosmic energies that affect our minds. Others project utopias founded in the dream that biotechnology and nano-technology will solve all our problems and make human life immortal.

A fourth attitude is of the escapists: they flee within. They see the darkening of the horizon and of the fundamental convictions, but ignore the ecological alarms and the cries of the oppressed. They avoid confrontation, preferring not to know, not to hear, not to read and not to question themselves. These people do not want to coexist. They prefer the solitude of the individual, but are generally connected to the Internet and social networks.

Finally, there is a fifth attitude: that of the responsible: they face the here and now. They are those who develop answers, which is why I call them responsible. They are not afraid, nor do they run away, in order to avoid. Rather, they assume the risk of developing new paths. They seek to strengthen the positive forces contained within the crisis, and formulate answers to problems. They do not reject the past simply because it is the past. They learn from the past as the repository of great experience that should not be wasted, but not as an excuse for not undergoing their own experiences.

The responsible define themselves as being in favor of and not simply by being against. Nor do they waste their time in sterile polemics. They work and are profoundly committed to developing a model that corresponds to the needs of the time. They are open to criticism and self-criticism, always ready to learn.

What is most in demand now are politicians, leaders, groups, and others who feel responsible, and who force the passage from the olden times to the new.

Leonardo Boff


Free translation from the Spanish sent by

Melina Alfaro,, done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU