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November 4, 1988

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November 4, 1988 I Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 5  Mass Readings By FATHER DONALD DILGER Condemnation of the scrib00es: the poverty they cause00 Gospel Commentary for Sunday, Nov. 6, 1988 Mark 12:38-44 Today's gospel is the end of a series of con- frontations between Jesus ana the religious authorities. It begins with a condemnation of the hypocrisy of the scribes, the official interpreters of the Law of Moses. Jesus had just pointed out how inadequate their interpretations were. However, it is not their teaching which is condemned here but their actions. The scribes "like to go about in robes and to be greeted in the market place." The "robes" must have been some kind of distinctive flowing garment that set them apart from the rest of the people. The Greek word used indicates a garment with many folds. The same word is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe the official robes of the high priest and the robes of a king. One is reminded of some modern Mass vestments. As to the greetings in the market place, it was an Oriental custom to greet a distinguished person at some length, perhaps with a list of his titles and accomplishments. Somewhat akin to this custom would be our litanies with their long lists of titles and accomplishments. To this text of Mark, Mat- thew adds three titles by which a Christian is not to be known: Rabbi, Father, Leader. He adds that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. The scribes love the best seats in the synagogue and the places of honor at banquets. In the synagogues there was a bench in front of the ark (chest) that held the sacred rolls or scrolls. It was considered an honor to sit on this bench. Those who sat there faced the people and it was a great opportunity for showing off. The p!ace of honor at a banquet was the first couch that is the place next to the master of the house or the host. Thus, in some depictior, s of the Last Supper, the disciple John is shown in this place of honor to the right of Jesus. Sometimes Peter will be on the right and John on the left. A few weeks ago we read the Sunday gospel about the Zebedee brothers requesting these two places of honor. The scribes are said to devour the houses of widows, all the while hypocritically offering lengthy prayers. We are reminded of the awesome text of the prophet Amos, 5:21-24: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me sacrifices and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings... I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen." And why all this condemnation? Because all these liturgical works were going on while the same peo- ple were committing injustice against the poor and needy: "You harass the righteous, you take bribes, you turn away those in need." The defrauding of widows was specifically condemned in Isaiah 10:2. The condemnation was directed at "those who write," that is the officials or scribes. This makes it an interesting parallel to our own gospel text in which the scribes are condemned. Jesus now sits down opposite the treasury or bank and watches people depositing their gifts of money. There were supposedly 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles set up along a wall of an outer court of the temple, the court of women. It was into these that the people deposited their gifts of money for the temple and its services. The rich deposited large sums, but a poor widow came up and deposited a penny. That penny was all she had, "her whole living." Mark is not concerned about telling us how Jesus knew what was being deposited. Some commentators think public declarations were made as to the amount. We do not know. Mark has from time to time pointed to a preternatural knowledge of Jesus, but does not do so here. The usual interpretation of this story is that we have here a contrast between the scribes who rob widows and the poor widow with her boundless generosity. This meaning may be present or may have been present when the story circulated in some other context outside the Gospel of Mark. Here in Mark, however, it has a deeper meaning. It serves as the introduction to chapter 13, which begins with a prediction by Jesus of the destruction of the temple. But how can this little story serve such a purpose? From chapters 11 through 16 Mark is laying out his theological explanation of why the mission of Jesus to the Jews eventually went to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Mark has Jesus systematically taking on the whole Jewish religious establishment begin- ning with the temple itself. The cleansing of the temple is set between the cursing and the wither- ing of the fruitless figtree, a symbol for Mark of the fruitlessness of the temple and its worship. Then Jesus takes on the various religious groups, first the Sanhedrin or High Council, then the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and finally the scribes. This series ends with today's gospel in the condemnation of the hypocrisy of the scribes. The addition of the story of the poor who gave all is meant to point out that the greed of the scribes has led to the poor giving all they have to an institution, the temple, and to a system which no longer has any claim to legitimacy. This is robbery. Thus in the temple cleansing Jesus says to those in charge of the tem- ple: "You have made it a den of robbers." The in- cident of the poor widow reemphasizes this point. It is the inadequate teaching of the scribes and their greed that has brought this about. Jesus had given an example of their twisted teaching in Mark 7:9-11. The point was that the scribes taught that a man would not have to support his aged parents if he dedicated whatever he had to God, thus nullify- ing the fourth commandment. There is much food for thought in this gospel. In view of recent cases of defrauding the faithful by "men of the cloth," we see that a condemna- tion of the greed of the scribes who rob poor widows is as current as it was in the time of Jesus. We may see ourselves also in the condemnation of those "who go about in robes," who love first places and to be greeted by titles. Clerical dress as a witness to a way of life has its place, but it can also become ostentatious. The same may be said about titles. The Gospel of Matthew discourages the latter "because you are all brothers and sisters" and "because you have one Father who is in heaven," "one leader, the Christ." The words and warnings of the Scriptures are timeless. Other readings [or November 6, 1988: I Kings 17:10.16; Hebrews 9:24-28 Vatican Letter Bishop's Roman diary provides rare look at 'ad limina' visit By JOHN THAVIS NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) -- One of the most unusual and well- read documents being passed around Rome in October was the diary of a Brazilian bishop's ,ad hmina' visit to the vatican. The account drew immediate attention because it was written by Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga Pie, a self-described dissenter frora some church policies who was recently told by Vatican of- ficials to adhere to church teachings and stay out of other bishops' dioceses. The bishop's "Roman diary," published in the Italian atholic magazine I1 Regno, was a rare glimpse behind the curtain of secrecy normally pulled over such controversies. It offers an interesting if one- sided view of Curia figures and methods, from the perspective of a bishop who has been sharp- ly critical of both. Bishop Casaldaliga incurred Vatican disfavor when for 17 Years he refused to make the had hmina" visit required of eads of dioceses every five Years. During the last Brazilian visits in 1985, he cited the high cost of travel .and his doubts that such visits were worth- while. As bishop of the Amazon Prelature of See Felix do Araguaia, he said, he had more pressing problems to worry about: persecution of his parishioners, the economic in- justice to the diocese's natives, poor transportation and com- munication, and the battle for land reform. Throughout his career, the bishop has made social justice the touchstone of his pastoral ministry. But when officially notified of the Vatican's displeasure, the bishop agreed to come to Rome last June. He was to meet with Pope John Paul II, as well as with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the doctrinal congrega- tion, and Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, head of the Congrega- tion for Bishops. The bishop, a silver-haired 60-year-old native of Spain, re- counted how he showed up at the bishops' congregation of- rices in a borrowed wind- breaker. He said he was told by Archbishop Giovanni Re, secretary of the congregation, that he'd better find something more appropriate to wear for his meeting with Cardinal Ratz- inger that weekend. "It will be an encounter in full sincerity, with full liberty, in full fraternity," Cardinal Gantin told him. "It was then that I realized I would be subjected to a kind of ecclesiastical examination," the bishop wrote. He borrowed a habit from his fellow Claretians in Rome and, on the appointed day, went to meet with Cardinals Ratzinger and Gantin. His writings had been photocopied and sat on a table, annotated. Cardinal Ratz- inger smiled frequently, he said, and the encounter was polite and "without aggres- sion." The bishop described some of Cardinal Ratzinger's questions and his answers. The verbal sparring ran along the follow- ing lines: Q: Do you accept the Holy See's documents on liberation theology? A: In their totality, yes. {Here he argued that the pope himself had distanced himself from the first, more negative, document, saying it was written by Car- dinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratz- inger replied: These are rumors that circulate.) Q: You write of the preferen- tial option for the poor in terms Of "class." This term is loaded with a meaning that cannot be ignored. A: It is a valid meaning, I think. The conflict between classes is a reality. Q: You have defined Arch- bishop (Oscar) Romero (of San Salvador, E1 Salvador) as a mar- tyr. A'. I consid him our saint, our martyr. But we distinguish between canonical martyrs and "martyrs of the kingdom." Q: You spoke of revolutioniz- ing the church. A: I might equally have said, the church must be in constant renewal. At one point, according to Bishop Casaldaliga, Cardinal Gantin took over and, in a serious tone, accused him of in- terfering in other dioceses. The bishop had made frequent flips to Nicaragua without the per- mission of Nicaraguan bishops. "This is a fact!" Cardinal Gan- tin is said to have shouted. Bishop Casaldaliga argued that there were Nicaraguan Catholics "on both sides" and that the church hierarchy had a duty to give them all pastoral care. Q: You said the "ad limina" visit was useless. A: I Said it was "almost useless." The last visit of the Brazilian bishops was done in a new way, with more open discussions. Q: You are being used -- your words, your gestures, your writings. A: W.e are all used, even you, even the pope. We all need to understand clearly who is using us and how. At the end of the meeting, the bishop was given a paper to sign. He refused, saying he would not sign anything without time to reflect. The two cardinals agreed, assuring him, "This is not a trial." The three rose, and the bishop suggested they offer a prayer to make the church more evangelical. "To revolutionize it, no?" Cardinal Ratzinger said, smil- ing. "Well, yes, to revolutionize it evangelically," the bishop said. They prayed together the Our Father in Latin and a short See VATICAN page 16