This past weekend was for me an interesting and grace-filled one. I “heard confessions”, celebrated a vigil Mass, prayed the Commendation of the Dying for someone I grew up with in the presence of most of his family, celebrated a Sunday liturgy, went to the wake of a family I knew in my first assignment some 47 years ago. To me this is Church happening.
The local church to me is the real church. This is where the folks encounter God and respond to God’s call. Ideally a parish is a community centered around the Eucharist and responding to the call of grace. The Vatican, again to me, is the embarrassing anachronism. I think of the Rabbi’s prayer in Fiddler on the Roof, “God bless and keep the Czar (Vatican), far away from us”. Those who run the Vatican are dangerous, and in their way of operating they are not that much different from the czars. While the czars acted in their own name, the Vatican and the hierarchy up the ante by claiming to act in God’s name. This, they seem to believe, gives them the power to abuse whomever they deem to be out of line, in other words, anyone who doesn’t agree with them on anything, is thinking the wrong things or discussing what cannot by Vatican law be discussed, etc. And, as with the czars, there is no appeal. It is not safe to think. There seem to be some bishops, fortunately not that many that we know of, who assume this same power for themselves. Some have told their priests that voiced oppositions to their policies would not be tolerated. Some have acted with impunity in implementing their own choices in spite of counsel to the contrary, such as closing parishes, arbitrarily increasing the retirement age of the priests, etc., thereby inflicting unnecessary pain on their folks. How well do these bishops know their folks? How many care for their folks less than they care for their own agenda?
But then there seem to be some parishes that are no less czar-like. In an email to me last week someone said, “My younger brother, who is gay, believes that he was chased out of the Church because of his homosexuality, nor shall I say that he is wrong; my pastor spoke to me, threatening to deny me the sacraments since I termed the official stance on gay marriage ‘bigotry’”. No doubt some pastors are dictators, but there are many who are not, and truly are pastors to their people. The rich life of their parishes reflects this.
Someone for whom I have the deepest respect said recently, “I am still a Catholic; but my mind and heart are anchored in Jesus of Nazareth…not in the increasingly strange Jesus of Rome”. I can go along with that, my feeling are not too different. As someone else put it, “I have little interest in the Vatican’s opinion about anything! Christ moved out of there a long time ago!”. Roger that.
In another comment an Army Wife said, “I face the decision to remain Catholic and raise our son in the Church; what used to be a clear decision for me no longer is”. More folks are saying the same thing as they are making their own difficult decisions. I wonder how many in “leadership” care anything about these people, or if they are even aware of them. I hope these folks look around and try to find a parish that meets their needs before moving on out. One parish I am familiar with in the D.C. area is known as the “last stop on the way out”. Fortunately a great many folks of all stripes are finding plenty of reasons to stay with this parish. Hopefully there are other such parishes in other places. I think the search is part of our journey.
For me the Eucharist is everything. It is a time and space for worship, for healing, for growing. It is not a weapon, as some would try to use it. I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them”. I don’t think Eucharist is limited to the Roman Church. The fancy clothes and artificially phrased prayers might be, but not the Eucharist. It is for all of us.
What happens to priests like Fr. Roy who are tossed out? Are priests ordained a priest for ever just to serve the Roman Church, or are they priests for all folks and all times? Why can they not go elsewhere and celebrate Eucharist and other sacraments for any who ask? If they are thrown out of the Roman Church, then Roman rules no longer apply to them, and they can serve whatever folks ask them. I suspect the czars would not like that.
I watched some of the investiture of the new cardinals over the weekend. It was Imperial Rome at its best, right out of Cecil B. DeMille, a spectacular. Probably wasn’t cheap. I wonder if the folks recovering from Sandy would have appreciated all the panoply. Or the folks in Sierra Leone, Malawi, or Libya, and any other countries where folks are suffering and in some form of poverty. How many wonderful “consequences of a thought in the mind of God” (a quote from Benedict XVI at his enthronement) died from poverty-related circumstances while these ceremonies were taking place? Maybe the Vatican will publish the price-tag for those ceremonies. Inquiring minds want to know.
I also believe in the Holy Spirit working in all of us on all sides of these issues. The searching and questioning are part of our Spirit-guided journey, and each of us on all sides has to be true to what we prayerfully believe we must do. The operative word has to be “prayerfully”. None of this can be an ego trip for any of us. None of us has all the answers, but we do have our own questions, and we have to keep on searching.
Just sayin . . .