Author Archives: Phrogge

Some thoughts on calling priests “Father”

Recently a well respected (definitely by me) Presbyterian Elder wrote an article entitled “Maybe it’s time to reconsider calling priests ‘Father’” for the NCR (National Catholic Reporter). He had some good thoughts and insights. His article attracted the usual comments, many of them snarky and devoid of charity and respect. Needless to say, I share neither their attitudes nor their often dated and closed/limited theology. I do, however, have a few thoughts on this.

When I was ordained 50+ years ago I enjoyed being called “Father” and always wearing the collar, not to mention cassock and biretta. A few years later I went on active duty as an Army Chaplain, rarely wore the collar, learned to be called “Chaplain” and often being addressed just by my first name. While it took some getting used to, I liked it, and I still do. I spent most of my years as a priest on active duty or connected to the Army. For many of those years as well as after retirement, I have also been called by my street name and call sign, “Frog”, and I enjoy this a lot. It cuts through a lot of protocol. In the Army I had a responsibility just like everyone else in uniform, and “Chaplain” recognized that. I don’t have to be called by a special title to help folks however I can. Crawling through mud and being afraid is a great equalizer. I am on the same journey as everybody else, we are all equal, and we help each other. I have been Jim longer that I have been “Father”, and I have earned “Frog”. I like this. In other words, I agree with Bill.

I don’t think I will ever forget my first week on active duty in a basic training camp in Louisiana. My first night involved having a rifle pointed at me by a guard, being told to drop into the front leaning rest position, and ordered to produce an ID card which I didn’t have. The Thursday of that week I spent the day going through the gas chamber with the trainees. It was not an enjoyable experience. The purpose of the exercise was to show them how to use their gas mask and to trust their equipment and training.

That evening the trainees went through the live fire infiltration course in the dark. Again, not an enjoyable experience. All of us were terrified. Once I had crawled through the course, dodging real explosions and live ammo fired just over my head, I felt very relieved and very scared. One of the soldiers in charge of the training said, “Chaplain, were you afraid? There are some young soldiers out there terrified, and your place is with them, so go out and do your job”. I did for several hours. Being ontologically changed and called “Father” didn’t mean a lot, and obviously I was not wearing a collar (cleric clothes are hard to keep clean in this kind of environment). I did the same things every Thursday for the next six months.

I did everything my soldiers did, to include their training. Gradually I learned that my place was with my soldiers whatever they were doing. Years later in Viet Nam, the best Commanding Officer I ever had told me after I had chosen not to get involved and so had gotten several soldiers killed, “Chaplain, whatever affects your people in any way is your concern, and don’t forget it, get involved and do something to help”.

A number of the comments to the NCR article referred to the ontological change ordination effects in a priest. I don’t see it that way. IMHO the only change is the role a priest plays in the church system. It is an important role for the church, but does not involve a change on the level of being. A priest is a man before ordination, and a man after ordination – nothing changes but his mission. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will be saying the same thing about women.

Several comments talked about the power the priest has to change bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood. IMHO the priest has no power, only the mission to lead folks in prayer, and it is the the assembled praying believing community that makes Christ present in his Body and Blood. This is not magic, and the priest is not Harry Potter. It is an act of prayer and faith by a community gathered together for that purpose.

I agree with the Elder that using titles like we have for priests, bishops, etc, continues to reinforce the male only model of the church institution. There is always room for questioning and wondering. With the people doing the questioning these days, it is clear the Spirit is alive and well.

I have found that many good folks want to keep calling priests “Father” to reinforce their notion that priests are removed from real life, to keep priests on a pedestal, in other words to keep clericalism alive. Quite often there is a lot of baggage attached to this.

A few weeks ago I wore a suit and tie to a wedding. Somebody there said to me, “You look just like a real person”. Gee, I’d like to think I am a real person. As a retired priest I help out at nearby hospitals and hospices. I am available when needed, but I will come as I am, e.g. if I am doing cardiac rehab when the ER calls, I will come in my gym clothes. I hear a lot “you look just like a real person”. I have learned that not wearing black does open conversations with folks who for whatever reason do not want to talk with someone in clericals. Its not good or bad, it just is. IMHO I do not have to wear clericals or have a “title” to help people. There is a time and place for them, and it is not every time and every place.

Jesus called ordinary men and women to be his disciples. He did not ordain anybody, he formed a community of his friends who were willing to spend time with him and learn from him, and then he sent them out to live and learn the kingdom of God. The system/institution we know as church came later.

While we will always need folks to lead communities in prayer, I’m not sure we will always need a patriarchal clerical caste. Intentional Eucharistic Communities are doing well with this. IMHO the questions are being asked, and the situation is evolving. The Spirit is at work calling us forward, often kicking and screaming.

The Elder knows what he is talking about.

Just saying . . .

Random thoughts, December 2016

Recently I was asked to join the board of an international organization dedicated to church reform. This has caused, or at least provided an opportunity for, some introspection on my part.

My guess is that if I acquiesce to this invitation, which is not something I really want to do, I will do so out of respect for someone who has devoted his life to educating others, has been instrumental in church reform, and through the years has been a great help to Army chaplains, especially in Europe.

I fear that somewhere along the line some version of politics will raise its ugly head. Politics has never been my strong suit. One of the neat things about being retired is that I don’t have to play politics anymore, so I just don’t and some folks don’t like it — their problem, not mine. While I was on active duty, every 3 years or so I would have to reinvent myself as I was reporting to a new duty station. I found it increasingly difficult to keep doing this. I do not look forward to having to go through the drill again, even if only through the internet.

I also know that not a few of my thoughts etc are considered controversial, eg, my “personalist” understanding of the Gospel as helping us live with people now rather than keeping a distant judging God happy and earning brownie points for getting to heaven later. To me the Gospel is about people and how we live with and for others. It is a Story of God loving us, welcoming everyone, and not a book of rules to keep undesirables out.

I don’t believe anybody is “intrinsically disordered” — either we are created in the image and likeness of God or we’re not, and no one but God gets to decide, and I think God has already decided. I like what Benedict said: “every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God; every one of us is important, every one of us is necessary; none of us is an accident”. The more we learn about God’s creation, the more we learn about God.

Also, I do not believe celibate males, of which I am one, are competent to determine a woman’s relationship with her own body. We do not know family life other than our family of origin, so where do we get off telling families how to live their most intimate relationships? I believe love is not limited to heterosexual relationships. 

Reputable scriptural scholarship has shown there is no problem with ordaining women priests. The fact that Jesus didn’t ordain any women doesn’t prove anything, since he didn’t ordain any men either. I learned from my military service that women provide a dimension to pastoral ministry that we celibate males will never have. The same is true about married priests. We pray for more vocations to the priesthood, but it seems we have all the vocations we need. Management just doesn’t want what the Spirit is giving us.

Many in church management, along with their minions, claim to speak in the name of God and really think they can tell people they don’t even know how they have to live their life, what choices and decisions they have to make, and whether or not, usually not, they are in the state of grace, whatever that is. The word chutzpah comes to mind. It seems to me that the only one in our church who is speaking for God is Francis. Look at the opposition he is facing.

My understanding of what it is to serve as a retired priest who is also a retired soldier often does not fit with others’ expectations. But, I enjoy it. I like the military concept of mission. Our mission is to take care of the folks who and when they need us and sort out the details later. I think I identify more as a retired soldier than as a priest, because the way I see things is often quite a bit different from how the priests I work with do. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. Our stories and experiences are different.

My focus is on helping folks wherever I can, not judging them, perhaps a carryover from my time in the Army where the mission is do what I can to help the soldier in front of me. I don’t see laws and rules as paramount. Much of the esoteric dialogue I read these days has little to do with the folks I meet every day. In other words, It doesn’t preach. In a number of ways and in different places and relationships I am helping with folks seriously affected by the devastating number of drug overdoses and the fentanyl curse in our area. This whole mess is causing unbelievable suffering in families, narcotics and law enforcement, first responders, etc.

Then there is the matter of homeless vets and vet suicides. The other day I had the privilege of officiating at the funeral of one homeless vet. There are some real good folks trying to help.

As I type this, I am listening to Lady Gaga singing “Til It Happens to You”, and her talk about living with PTSD, something I am familiar with. She spent time with LGTBQ youth at the Ali Forney Center in Harlem, and said some powerful things to the young people there that are worth listening to. Our LGBTQ folks, especially teenagers, are an important part of God creating, and we need to be with them because so many people are against them. This is especially true in our high schools where people have been disciplined for trying to help them, especially the ones who are “questioning”. There is also what I consider to be a (im)moral issue of bishops making a teacher’s off duty lifestyle or use of social media a condition of their contract and an excuse for firing them. There are similar situations for parish employees, ministers, and volunteers. I know some wonderful people who have been caught up in this. In my opinion this is plain wrong. 

Recently I had the grade school mass at a local parish. Somehow bullying made it into the homily, and this surprised me because it was not part of what I planned to say. At the end of mass before the blessing, and on the spur of the moment, I had a chat with the kids about drugs. Later from the principal and the pastor I learned that some serious bullying incidents, both through the internet and physically on the playground, had happened this week. After mass some adults talked with me about kids taking drugs from their parents’ medicine chests. Seems like grace happened.

As important and interesting as understanding the millennial generation may be, in my day to day life it is not even on my radar screen. I have only so many rounds in my clip, and I try to use them where they will do the most good.

I suppose the main reason I stay active is because I believe Jesus meant it when he said “I am with you always, even to the end of time”, and, “I will send the Spirit who will teach you to observe everything I have commanded you”. I believe this is happening. I also believe firmly in the Eucharist and the Sacraments. To me grace is real. I do not believe the Catholic tradition is the only way to “salvation” or whatever term we use to talk about our next step in life. I cannot tell other folks how to live their lives, I have enough trouble trying to figure out how to live my own. All I can do is share my journey with them, and learn from them.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about the institutional church. I think that as a group the USCCB is useless and irrelevant, more concerned about their own prerogatives and authority, and totally separated from the real life of the folks they are supposed to be leading, and definitely a Francis-free zone. Many seem to be biding their time until Francis dies and hopefully, for them, a new pope will come who will turn back everything Francis has done. But these guys do look cute when they get dressed up, like little kewpie dolls on a shelf. Fortunately there are some pastoral bishops who are doing their best and often are not known outside their diocese.

For me the church is the folks in the pews, those who used to be in the pews, and anyone who is interested. With the world in the mess it is in these days, the Gospel offers some powerful insights of how to live justice, love, and mercy. It is a Story of God loving all of us, not a book of rules.

The healing and help we all look for happens when when we let ourselves be led by the Spirit to be there for and with others. All this opens up a whole new insight to the Gospel for this coming Sunday: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.; and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Just saying . . .

Current local events — convocation

As the annual Convocation of Priests approaches, a theme of which is the priest shortage, there have been “consultative” meetings where doctrine from on high is presented to the priests. For reasons mentioned below I have not gone to any of these meetings myself. What I hear from others who have attended is pretty much the same — vague generalities, statistics, double down on maintaining the current clerical structure and not using available “non-clerical” folks to be more involved in parish leadership, no mention of the Eucharist and its importance to everything we do and are, the charade of pretending to consult with the priests.

IMHO, as I talk with other priests, there seems to be interest in having some sort of an off-line get together at the convocation to find out if any others share our views or similar ones. However, it also seems that no one is interested in exercising any leadership in making this happen. So, in all probability, nothing will be done about it.

I include myself in not being interested in exerting any leadership in this area. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am on the sidelines in all this, and that is fine by me. The way I see it, nothing that happens will affect me, since I will just keep on doing what I have been doing — responding to any pastoral request for help to maintain the parish and area schedules. I consider helping out in this way to be a privilege and an honor which I take very seriously, as do the other retired priests.

Also, I am used to meetings/gatherings where something is actually accomplished, consultation is real not feigned, real prep work is done through ongoing specific consultations with all concerned, with all the appropriate staff sections having input in their lanes or areas of responsibility. Engendering this atmosphere is a function of leadership. There are constant sand table and tabletop exercises to develop planning. When the CG gives the order everything has been thought out, and everyone knows their responsibility and role in the operation, and everybody feels necessary and important for the success of the mission. Obviously this is not happening here, and I get a strong sense that nobody really wants it to. We are just used to being fed pap and pious bromides about praying for more (male celibate) vocations, and are content to let it happen. “Please, sir, may I have some more?” I am not sure I want to be a part of this.

Some other dioceses have become very creative in the staffing of their parishes, using deacons and lay folks in responsible positions. This might be an area where the concept of best practices is worth being explored. While not much can be decided on a local level, we already have enough vocations, but they are not celibate males.There are a good number of our brother priests who have felt also the call to marriage and family. They are still priests, so why can we not make use of their gifts and talents as pastors? Then there are our sisters who have felt the call to priesthood. Some of them, at great personal cost, have acted on their call and have been ordained. They are doing a marvelous job as pastors and bishops in their own communities. This is a reality that cannot be ignored, and must be acknowledged without judgement and name-calling.

As I watch things unfolding and observe when I am helping out in parishes, it is clear that priests are wearing out, folks are walking away, some parishes are withering, others are dynamic. Some places can combine masses, while others, due to space limitations, cannot. We need to communicate laterally among ourselves, since it is obvious, at least to me, that vertical communication, as it is, does nothing but hand down insensitive vacuities: we downtown understand the situation and here is what you are going to do about it. The system does not understand the problem, and the primary goal of a system is to protect itself and its prerogatives. Stovepiping, especially in our current situation, is a fatal flaw. There has to be communication on the ground, and we priests, with our folks – those who still take part in parish life, as well as who used to take part in parish life, are the folks on the ground. There is a wealth of wisdom, experience, and competence in the pews and parish staffs, and we ignore it at our own peril. We cannot say the Holy Spirit is not involved here.

I believe Jesus meant it when he said “I am with you always”, and, “I will send the Holy Spirit to teach you to observe everything I have commanded you”. My question is what does it mean for me, for us, to be a disciple of Jesus in our current circumstances. I don’t think we can afford go take any of this lightly.

“Ride to the sound of the guns!”

Just sayin . . .

VP Biden Officiates Same Sex Wedding

As is fairly well known, recently Vice President Joe Biden officiated at the same sex wedding of two friends of his in his official residence. As would be expected, the management team of the USCCB (American Bishops) responded: “When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth”. They were quickly joined by their predictable minions and guardians of orthodoxy — the religious police.

What I find especially disturbing its that the bishops and these good folks are seeking to have what they consider the church’s view of a religious matter imposed on the general populace. It seems to me that churches can do whatever they want in their own internal religious matters (further discussion on this is not appropriate here) but they do not have the right to impose their religious positions on others outside their denomination.

There is a significant difference between the civil effects of marriage and the religious implications of matrimony. Civil marriage is regulated by the law of the land, while religious matrimony is regulated by religious traditions. The bishops are very big on “religious freedom”, but it seems this only applies to the bishops themselves. Good folks of other or no traditions who do not share the bishops’ ideas are said to be interfering with the bishops’ religious freedom. Others it would seem, have no right to this freedom. The bishops seem to think that strict enforcement of absolute obedience to increasingly detailed laws and practices that have nothing to do with doctrine imitates Jesus and brings people to him, and that folks are to fully accept these dicta even though their living experience shows they are neither valid nor true, always of course backed up by the veiled threat of denying Communion. It is no wonder people are just walking away.

We do not need to pass civil laws that make it easier for us to live the Gospel. Throughout history Jesus’ followers have lived where laws were pretty much unfavorable to living the Gospel, and they did well. Many folks today are living the Gospel in spite the bishops who themselves are unfavorable to them.
I do not think the bishops have any right to meddle in civil affairs as they are doing here and in several other areas. Joe Biden did not intend to perform a religious act, only a civil one. The two are not essentially connected. When I was assigned in Germany one of my soldiers was going to get married at the Standesamt, the civil marriage office, as required by law. I went along to support him. As it happened, the soldier he had chosen to be his Best Man was too young according to German law to fulfill that role, so I stepped in and served as Best Man. I was taking care of my soldier. I think that is pretty much what Joe Biden was doing — taking care of his friends. I don’t think either he or I had any intention of making a religious statement.

My views on freedom of religion seem to be moving toward the notion of freedom from religion. I resent someone trying to force their religious views on me, and I certainly do not want to force my views on anyone else, but I reserve the right to hold my views and live by them.

From time to time while on active duty there were situations involving the use of wine for catholic mass. There are religious traditions who see the use of alcohol in any form as sinful. Sometimes there would be attempts to ban the use of alcohol in army chapels. These usually came to nothing, and we had a sort of peaceful coexistence. At times there were flareups, as when a supply sergeant from one of the traditions would object to having to order wine – and act he considered sinful. Since our focus was always on serving the command, a military term for doing whatever we could to take care of our folks, we were able to work something out, with all of us respecting and supporting others’ religious traditions.

The United States is not a religious country, much less a catholic country. It does not have a state religion. All religions have equal rights. The bishops don’t seem to get this. They can make all the rules they want for their internal religious matters (room for discussion on this elsewhere), but they do not have the right to meddle in civil matters such as this.

Religious traditions and their differences are important. No one interpretation has a lock on Jesus. All of us together reflect Jesus better than any of us alone.

Just sayin . . .

Where are th bishops these days?

With all the recent madness in our country it would be nice to see some leadership from the USCCB, the American Catholic Bishops. Unfortunately there has been precious little. Unless an issue has something to do with preventing abortion, stopping same sex marriage, keeping gays and lesbians down, stopping the ordination of women, protecting the bishops’ freedom of religion against everybody elses’, nothing is said. Although while one bishop gets creative in keeping folks whose lifestyle he doesn’t like from receiving communion, another has decreed that gregorian chant has to be used in all masses in his diocese. This should take care of all the madness.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff, makes a good point — “To me this is not so much about gun control as it is about what is in men’s hearts. Until we come together as a nation to heal, as a people to heal nothing will happen. If we don’t come together as a people and this madness continues, we will perish as a people.” In the absence of any leadership from the American Bishops, we may have to act on Pope Francis’ words that the Holy Spirit is not the property of the priests, bishops, or the pope, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in facing this madness ourselves”.

While the USCCB (American bishops) persist in their irrelevance, the Spirit provides us with a powerful example example of pastoral leadership for our times — nuns. For generations nuns have taught us what it means to follow Jesus in our own times, whatever they may be. They are doing this among us now in action, not just pious pro forma words. But, nuns traditionally have taught us much more than the bishops.

Among many other things our nuns have done, in our own city a Saint Joseph sister organized “Circle the City With Love” yesterday in preparation for the RNC, and which had a significant impact on our city, our folks, our safety forces. Also the “Nuns on the Bus” tour is in our area doing positive things “to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with our message of inclusion”. Inclusion is something the bishops just don’t get. Recently the IHM Sisters published a letter stating, “We cannot let the voices of hatred and fear carry the day”.

The nuns in our lives have always been in our schools, on our streets, and in our neighborhoods, places the bishops have not been. As has been clear in the last few years, the nuns and their active ministries have been seen as a threat by the celibate male centered institutional management.

As anyone in leadership knows, leaders have to be with the people they are leading, and they have to lead by their own example. A good leader leads by example and says, “Follow me”, “do as I do”, like Jesus, like the nuns, like some pastoral bishops. A good leader never says, “Do as I say” “Do what we tell you to do” — that is for managers who issue directives, edicts, penalties, etc, are remote from the folks they try to manage, and seem truly to believe they know more about folks’ lives that the folks who are living their lives. The nuns are with us and showing us how to be open to the Spirit. While some bishops are pastorally active among their folks, where are the USCCB?

The Holy Spirit is moving among us, the nuns are responding and acting, not sure about the USCCB, apparently a Francis-free zone.

Just saying . . .

Thoughts on Abp Chaput’s guidelines

Recently Archbishop Chaput asserted in a new set of “pastoral“ guidelines that “divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as cohabitating unmarried couples, must ‘refrain from sexual intimacy’ to receive Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia”. I’m not sure what disturbs me more – the arrogance and pastoral insensitivity that he shows in these allegedly “pastoral” guidelines, or the lack of charity in so many of the arrogant and smugly self-satisfied comments on the various web pages about this issue. I wonder what it is like to know how everybody else should live their lives in order to remain in the state of grace, whatever that is.

Further on in the document he says that Catholics in same-sex partnerships, those remarried without a church annulment, and cohabitating persons may not serve on parish councils, instruct the faithful, serve as lectors, or dispense Communion. Sounds to me like kicking a guy when he is down.

The folks he is talking about have already been experiencing pain and suffering in their lives, and he is causing more pain for them, claiming, as so many church managers do, that he is acting in the name of Jesus. Hmm, how to deal with that chutzpah.

A great many of us already know folks who are suffering because of previous marriages that have failed. They do not need to be “abused” in the name of Jesus who never abused anyone, but welcomed all to his Father’s love and care. I don’t see much of Jesus’ example in this document.

Our faith is in Jesus, not a book or a code of conduct. Many of the rules and regulations have little to do with God, and a lot more to do with keeping order in the institution, keeping the folks in line, protecting the institutions rights and prerogatives — something Jesus did not seem to be worried about. When following the institution’s rules becomes more important than living the Gospel and being open to the Spirit as we perceive this in our own lives, there is something amiss. Of course, when we know all the rules and all the answers to questions we feel that we are qualified to judge any who disagree with us, because God Jesus would act as we do if he knew everything that we know.

Trying to imitate Jesus, to act as he wants us to in our very particular circumstances is not an intellectual or theoretical exercise. It is hard work. Contrary to what many catechism-thumpers seem to think we are not called to beat folks over the head with our rules and definitions, but simply to be there for them, walk with them, certainly not judge them.

Francis reminds us that the Spirit is not the property of the clergy or the bishops, but reaches out to everybody. The role of the clergy is to help folks come to be aware of the Spirit on their own life, not claim to control access to him — for many of us our own form of arrogance. This is disturbing to those who feel that they know all the answers, as I did 50 years ago before being an Army Chaplain in Viet Nam.

I think a number of priests, and I include myself, need to hear the Good News, and the Better News: the Good News is the Messiah has come; the Better News is that he isn’t any one of us. We are stumbling along just like everyone else, trying to make the best of life that is not always fair or easy. None of us has all the answers for our own journey, let alone for anybody else’s. Aside from our own family experience that we come from, we celibate males have limited awareness of what the families we serve are experiencing on their journey together. We can learn from each other as we journey together. When folks are suffering, cramming definitions or laws down their throat does no one any good. Perhaps we can just walk with each other, help to carry the load together, like soldiers plodding together through rice paddies or jungles — both of which life resembles from time to time.

Everybody in our life has the right and the need to be in our life. Each of us has the need to be open to the Spirit without any conditions whatever, and be willing to do whatever we sense the Spirit to be calling us to.

Just saying . . .

In the Gospel Story for this coming Sunday Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also, for this purpose have I come.” I wonder if he required them to to sign a contract that warns them about his demands about sticking verbatim to his teachings and literal obedience to his laws, particularly on sexual issues, and forbids their taking public positions that are contrary to his teaching. The Archdiocese of San Francisco did this with teachers in their high schools, warning them in a archdiocesan handbook for high school teachers, that if they deviate publicly or privately from church teachings they are in danger of losing their jobs.

I don’t think Jesus acted this way in his time, and would not act this way today. He went out to folks everywhere, “he cured many who were sick with various diseases”, and “he went into their synagogues and drove out many demons throughout the whole of Galilee”. Maybe some could see the action by the archdiocese as driving out demons, but Jesus did it in a much more compassionate way. He didn’t hit folks with a series of demands and threats, but spent time with them and shared his Father love. I, and maybe this is just my problem or lack of true, authentic subservience to the one and only magisterium, don’t see much of this in the archdiocese’s goings-on.

Pope Francis say the church does not teach doctrine or a tradition, it teaches Jesus to whom doctrine and tradition point. To me it seems that the archdiocese is taking a particular view of church teaching and imposing it on folks with the threat of loss of job and livelihood. He reminds us to be alert to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our world, and to not have a closed heart and a closed mind. These prevent us from seeing the Holy Spirit when she doesn’t act as we think she should. They keep us from the gift of being surprised as the power of grace happening all around us, and even in us.

Actions such as this encourage an attitude of fear on the part of teachers, and even students and parents, towards archdiocesan management, and maybe this is what the management wants — management by fear. There is no room for trust and respect, because there is no respect down the chain, there will be no respect up the chain. Respect is earned, not demanded.

Jesus left his disciples a way of life that did not include threats, closed minds and hearts. He did not load them down with rules and dogmas, nor did he forbid them to think for themselves or make their own decisions. I would imagine the teachers at the SF high schools are intelligent and dedicated, and quite capable of taking part in meaningful dialogue in these matters. I’m not sure about management. So far in many instances management has shown it believes it alone has all the answers to everybody for everything, especially in matters pertaining to sex and gender issues. The threats and the handbook, no doubt, are issued in the name of Jesus who management believes would act the same way if he had all the information that management has.

Management seems to be afraid of truth which can be inconveniently surprising. We come to know truth as we walk on our journey prayerfully asking Jesus to lead us. The truth Jesus offers us is our Father loves us as we are, and there is nothing we can do to make him stop loving us or love us more. This truth unfolds in our lives in myriad ways. Each of us come to know it on our journey which, by definition, is unique to us while having many commonalities with others. There is no fear in this truth.

When someone claims their version of the truth is the only true authentic one, then comes fear. This view has to be defended, and so fear comes on the scene. We see this attitude at its fullest in ISIS and its acts of terror, but the germ or kernel of this attitude is clearly present in the attitude some managers have towards the managed: I am right, and any who do not agree with me are wrong, and I will punish you if you do not change and agree with me right now. There is neither room for, nor possibility of, dialogue. When management claims to have all the answers, why bother with dialogue. A common trait among church managers these days seems to be going through the motions of listening and then imposing an already pre-determined decision. The folks are not dumbbells, they know this, and recognize it for what it is – the futile rants of scared management. This actions has disturbing similarities to religious cults who also attempt, often successfully, to control their folks through fear and threats.

Any leader knows a necessary component of effective leadership involves motivating the folks to buy in to the project at hand. This involves making the folks they lead feel valued, respected, and cared about. It can be a laborious and time-consuming process, but it works. When the leader takes care of those he/she leads, the mission will happen. There is none of this in the SF situation. There is, however, bullying.

A disturbing, at least for me, spin-off of this is the rancor being expressed by so many folks on various op-ed pages. Jesus said, “Everyone will know you for my disciples by your love for one another”. I don’t know how much of this rancor can be translated as love for one another.

The teachers are in a tough spot. I don’t envy them. I don’t know what I would do if I were in their shoes. I would like to think I would have the integrity not to sign, but I don’t know. This situation is similar to local managers who require their priests to sign an oath of fidelity. I don’t see how I could sign that.

People are good. Our problem is that most of us don’t recognize, or cannot accept, our own goodness. Actions such as the SF action confirm and strengthen our lack of recognizing by saying, in effect, we are not able to think responsibly for ourselves. Jesus offers to change this by how he brings us into each other’s lives and moves us to live. Not sure management understands this. This is no way to treat anyone, especially teachers. Where would any of us be without them? Might we wonder who management’s teachers were?

Just saying . . .

4 Feb 2015, Some Thoughts of a Retired Priest

Bizarre as the following might be, these are my thoughts as I am prepping homilies for the coming weekend. I don’t speak for anyone but myself, and I have only the greatest respect for pastors and the other retired priests who are doing their best to serve the church. I don’t think thinking is illegal or immoral, although expressing thoughts might be considered by some to be seditious. So here goes.

As a retired priest and active duty Army Chaplain I am a “circuit rider”, going from parish to parish and helping out wherever and whenever I can. A multi-parish 5 or 6 mass weekend is not unusual for me and for many other retired priests. Won’t even mention daily masses. While I enjoying helping out my brother priests and meeting and celebrating with many wonderful communities, I am feeling more and more worn out. I look forward to weekends, but I also dread them and the feeling of Sunday exhaustion. I am not sure what good this process of multiple multi-local liturgies really serves except to maintain schedules and the facade that church is business as usual and there is no shortage of priests, and to put more mileage on the car.

It is clear to me that, despite any good intentions on my part, the quality of the liturgies I celebrate diminishes with each mass on any given day. This is due to my own human frailty and does not in any way refer to the quality of the liturgical preparations that each parish community does, much of which are quite good. That is not fair to the folks who are entitled to quality liturgy and pastoral care.

While some parishes might be able to combine liturgies so there are fewer on the weekend schedule, many simply cannot because of the size of the church building. The pastors are doing as best they can, and most of us retired guys are glad to help out. But we are not getting any younger, and our collective health isn’t all that great, either.

What keeps me going is my belief that Jesus really meant it when he said, “I am with you always”, and, “I will send the Holy Spirit to teach you all that I have commanded you”. I believe Jesus is among us, and that the Holy Spirit is very active these days, especially in the questioning. I am not so sure about the pat answers which are usually delivered in a spirit of self-righteous acrimony. I have expressed my thoughts on this and other matters publicly, and much of the response has been fairly virulent. Some folks feel there is no discussion allowed on this and other allied topics, case closed. Obviously I do not share their feelings on this.

I think we have to prayerfully, and the operative word is “prayerfully”, question what is going on in the church around us. One thing I see is that the folks are not being well served. This does not point to any lack of interest and dedication in any pastor, but a fault in the system and a lack of dynamic pastoral leadership. (Disclosure — in my own narrow-minded focus: I do not see any leadership at all, only management, which is significantly less than leadership; to call what our “leaders” are doing and not doing “leadership” is a slur on that word and an insult to real leaders, and I have had the privilege of knowing and serving with quite a few.)

There has to be another way. This is a good time for “brain-storming” with every option on the table, even those with emotional investments on one side or the other. Either we believe on the Holy Spirit and Jesus or we don’t. Pope Francis says God is not afraid of change. Many of us are. Many folks have the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude — change other things but don’t touch my sacred cows.

In our diocese there are about 100 priests who have left active ministry to marry. They are still priests, and could help serve and move the diocese/church to a new era if the bishop or USCCB chose to move in that direction. Whether they would want to is anther question. I have served with a number of married priests, and have learned that they provide a pastoral sense and wisdom that we celibate males will never have. The are a gift to the church, and we have many unopened gifts all around us.

We also have several ordained women priests, but this is an emotional issue that sets some folks off — their choice. Thanks to their courage and dedication a significant portion of our folks are receiving the pastoral care to which they are entitled. Often these priests are paying a steep price for following Jesus as they see him on their journey, and as he was, are the target of others’ vitriol and the church’s sanctions. More power to them.

One solution that is happening these days is the Intentional Eucharistic Community where folks take seriously Jesus’ words: “Wherever two or three are gather together in my name, I am in their midst”. When he said this he did not say where they had to meet, whose permission they would need, who would preside, whether there were any gender or marital stipulations, etc. But on occasions management has said they do not have the “real” Jesus”, whatever that means. These folks are responding to Jesus as they see him in their lives. In varying ways they plan and celebrate their liturgies. Some are quite creative. Communities I am familiar with not only have a good liturgical and prayer life, but also have active service ministries. Something to consider.

“The Spirit blows where it wills.” To me this whole matter seems like an issue of the perceived loss of power on the part of management and celibate males, a control issue. Jesus does not seem to share this need for power. Any system is a good tool and a bad manager. When a system fails to serve the purpose for which it was made, it has to go. Our folks are not being served — they are not receiving the quality pastoral care to which they are entitled. Something has to change — or go.

We old guys aren’t getting any younger, and the health of many active pastors is suffering. The status quo isn’t working. Some difficult pastoral choices have to be made. Some pastoral courage and integrity has to be shown somewhere. Pope Francis gets it, not sure about our mitered managers.

Just sayin  . . .

11 January 2015 Baptism of the Lord

A few random thoughts on the season, certainly not theologically profound, but personal in the setting of my journey these days. From the beginning of the Nativity Story it seems that God is showing quite clearly that “He” doesn’t care as much for a religious institution’s rules and regulations the institutions do. The Story is not so much about historical fact as about Jesus’ followers questioning what it meant for them in their time and place to be his followers — the same questioning many of us are doing today in our own lives.

Mary was a young girl who believed when an angel told her she would be pregnant by God, an unwed pregnant girl in a society that did not look favorably on such a thing. Joseph believed when he heard in a dream that, although Mary was pregnant and not by him, he should disregard social convention and not put her away, though by keeping her with him he would not be thought well of.

While we tend to exalt God and place “Him” on high, Jesus ended up being born in a very lowly place, because there was no room for him in the usual places. As the Story of the Magi shows, Jesus was a threat to Herod. In the Story for Jesus’ Baptism, which we celebrate this weekend, Jesus upsets things by insisting that John baptize him. According to the Story there is a voice which says, to us as well as to the folks present then, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. Evidently God approves of Jesus’ attitude to the religious systems of his day. Jesus went on to show the same attitude throughout his life. My question these days is what the Story is saying to me in my life at this time and place.

For most of my adult life I have been a part of two powerful systems — the Catholic Church and the US Army. In many ways I think the Army system is more akin to the gospel than the church’s system is. The Army is focused on accomplishing a mission while respecting and taking care of the people who are doing it. Respect up and down the chain a key part of Army culture. A senior NCO at the Infantry School taught, “Take care of your people and the mission will happen”. I have not found anything like this in the Church, whose attitude is along the lines of “we are the only ones who have the truth and can get you to the real God, so obey our rules or get out and be lost”, and throughout history continues to punished folks who dare to think for themselves. The Army tries very hard to ensure religious freedom for everybody, while church management seems to think that only they are entitled to religious freedom and can impose their values on everybody.

As the Miami Archdiocese shows, some bishops think they can trample on such basic rights as freedom of speech with impunity: even though marriage equality is the law in Florida, any archdiocesan employee who says or does anything public, including posting on social media, in favor of the law can lose their jobs. There is some philosophical similarity to the tragedies in Paris this week with people claiming to act in the name of Allah and Jesus. The Vatican’s statement “Without freedom of expression, the world is in danger” evidently does not apply to some areas of the Church itself. I don’t know what I would do if I worked for that organization. Fortunately other Florida bishops have a more pastoral approach.

Then there is the tragedy of Leelah Alcorn, a young southern Ohio transgender student, who shortly after Christmas, walked in front of a truck on I-71 in Lebanon, Ohio. She killed herself because her parents, for religious reasons, could not accept her transgender status. Many other young folks find themselves in similar positions due to religious standings which their parents choose to follow rather than accepting their child as a gift from God. Catholic teaching is that each of us is an image and likeness of God. It seems, though, that in some cases religious institutions claim to know more about people than God knows. They can never be wrong. God, on the other hand, might not know all that the systems know (and some really believe this). God does not make mistakes. All this in the name of Jesus who reached out to and loved everybody who came into his life.

There are many good folks among us whose first marriages have failed, and are trying to find love in another marriage. The system says that, since they have the audacity to be married without fitting into convenient canonical categories, they cannot receive the sacraments. Law and order management says the law comes first, and any attempt to allow these folks to receive the sacraments is an attack on the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. Bravo Sierra. Celibate males might know the books, but I’m not so sure we understand life. No one is questioning the indissolubility of marriage, only recognizing that some marriages fail. Pope Francis says that is is not so much that we have a right to the the sacraments, as that we have a need for the sacraments. No law can get in the way of this. It is a matter of pastoral caring and concern.

I firmly believe that Jesus meant it when he said “I am with you always”, that the Holy Spirit is very involved in what is going on these days, and Her work happens more in sincere questioning than in pat standard answers. Jesus loved people. As important as laws may be, they do not trump God loving God’s creatures and our responsibility to do the same.

What does it mean for me to be a follower of Jesus these days? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I really want to know. I think it demands great courage which I certainly don’t pretend to have. I know I can’t go along with much of what church management demands, e.g.: telling certain folks they cannot receive the sacraments; denying even in the civil setting folks’ right to marry the person they love; insisting that women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus didn’t ordain women; telling someone that since they do not fit the institutional models of whatever they are wrong and in sin; firing someone because of what they do in their private life; letting church management tell me what to think and what I can or cannot say. I have been the Army too long to accept this. One of the many things soldiers are good at is helping folks who cannot help themselves. I hope I can still think that way. Duty first, and perhaps my duty is to respond to Jesus’ call however I may think I see it. Don’t know if I have the courage to do this.

I feel some anger rising up at all this, and I don’t want it to get control. I remember my angry days, and I don’t want to go back there. Not sure what the Spirit is asking here.

Just saying . . .

Jesus and Peter on the Water – Some Thoughts

In today’s Gospel Story (Matthew 14:22-33) Jesus invites Peter to leave the safety of the boat in rough seas and walk to him on the water. As Peter does so, he fears, and begins to sink. Jesus pulls him up and chides him for his weak faith. It seems that on our journey with Jesus we are bound to experience this Story in our own life, probably more than once.

For many folks there might be a similarity with what they are experiencing on their own journey with Jesus these days. There is no doubt that the christian church as we know it in all its many versions, is being tossed about by rough seas. This is especially true of our Roman Catholic version. For many it seems safer to stay in the boat and weather the storm by reinforcing the traditions and dogmas, often by threats and sanctions. Some see this approach as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Others, however, recognize Jesus in the storms around them, calling them to come to him on the water. And so they feel the need to get out of the boat and go to him. Then they begin to really experience the storms, and from time to time their faith might weaken as the storms become real and personal, and they reach out to take Jesus’ welcoming and supporting hand. The practices and threats of the boat crew can be even more severe than the storms on the sea. There are consequences to not following their demands, and many good folks have learned. They are also coming to a deeply personal understanding and experience of Jesus’ words that “anyone who wants to be my disciple must take up their cross everyday and follow me”.

Some folks have faced the wrath of the boat crew as they have committed the worst sin of all — being in favor of ordaining women priests. For this they have been publicly ridiculed, threatened, silenced, excommunicated. This is especially true of women who have sought and received ordination. Fortunately, their faith has remained strong, and their lives courageous as they follow Jesus whom they are continually coming to know ever more deeply. Their priestly ministry has become really profound among folks who no longer feel welcomed or nourished in the Roman Catholic tradition is it is currently enforced. Who is to say they are not responding to Jesus as they are coming to know him on their own journey?

Among others facing the wrath of the boat crew are those in favor of enabling full participation in Eucharist (receiving Communion) to folks whose first marriages have failed and who have tried to find love in another marriage that does not fit the system’s legal categories. There seem to be two views on this: people exist to serve the system which must be maintained at all cost, allowing no exception ever; the system exists to serve the people, and so can be adjusted when necessary for the good of the people. Needless to say, any who favor the putting the individual persons first are in for rough seas. Many folks simply follow their own consciences and, if the system has not driven them completely away, receive Communion. Who is to say they are not responding to Jesus as they are coming to know him on their own journey?

Another storm is around the issue of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and marriage equality. The church has traditionally taught that we come to know God through His works, through creation. People are part of God’s creation, so as we come to know God’s people better, we come to know God better, and we know God is not “intrinsically disordered”, and neither is God’s creation. However, people who try to provide pastoral ministry to these our brothers and sisters who share the gift of being created in the image and likeness of God are also in for a rough time from the boat’s crew. In the matter of marriage equality, the boat’s crew is demanding that other boats and crews, and even folks on the shore, follow its laws and practices. Can we say that the folks trying to provide pastoral ministry, as well as the folks they are ministering to, are not responding to Jesus as they are coming to know him?

Can any of us ever say that someone is not following Jesus as they know him because they are not following our version of Jesus? Is our version of Jesus the only legitimate one for everybody always? While we might strongly maintain otherwise, each of us has our own version of Jesus, and whatever it may be, it says more about us than about Jesus.

Jesus’ disciples became afraid when they saw Jesus walking on the water, so he called out to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid”. As we try to follow Jesus everyday in our own life on our own journey, he says the same thing to us. If we believe we are following Jesus, we have to do what we think is right. As did Peter’s, our faith probably will falter from time to time, and we will probably doubt. But then he chides us, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” For Jesus and his disciples faith does not mean believing the right things about Jesus, but believing in Jesus in such a way that we do our best to be open to him however he comes to us.

The nature of a system/institution is to protect itself. From time to time it might be good to look at the reason the system/institution began, and determine if it is still doing what it started out to do.

Just saying . . .