Author Archives: Phrogge

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 . . .

 

18 June, Thoughts on Corpus Christi

In today’s Story for Corpus Christi (John 6:51-58) Jesus says, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”.  What happens when an institution claiming to act in Jesus’ name tells folks that, unless they please the institution they cannot have access to Jesus’ Body and Blood? The institution seems to be saying, “What Jesus said then is not as important as what we say now – we control the ‘real’ Jesus, and if you don’t do what we say, you’ve got a problem, so shape up, etc”.

Among the most obvious such situations is the difficult matter of someone whose first marriage failed for whatever reason, and they have entered into a second marriage that does not fit into the institution’s neat categories. The institution in effect tells them that, since their paperwork and canonical status are not in order, they cannot “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood”. This intolerable situation is the focus of much discussion, often nasty and uncharitable not to mention self-righteously judgmental, throughout the institution in preparation for the fall Synod on the Family. Those against making any kind of pastoral accommodation maintain that if these persons are permitted to share fully in Eucharist the entire institutional legal system will collapse. The corollary here is that the legal system is more important that the pastoral needs of persons trying to do their best to live a good life and have some sort of a life giving relationship with Jesus. While Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”, the institution seems to have other ideas. While this might not be germane, it is worth noting that very few of the institution’s managers have experienced married love in all its fullness and messiness, and not knowing what it is to be a spouse or parent, they reduce it all to logical processes and legal categories, neither of which connect with real life as lived by ordinary folks.

Other situations include, but are not limited to, treatment of persons who espouse forbidden causes such as ordination of women, marriage equality, or, in some places, persons who belong to “forbidden” groups, e.g. Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, etc. What Jesus gave as a gift to his followers to help them live in a life-giving relationship with him has been co-opted by the institution and turned into a weapon of fear and punishment, a tool to keep people in line. It seems that pleasing the institution is much more important than pleasing God by living his mercy.

Reflecting on the season of Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi, there might be some disturbing analogies. Institutions can try to keep Jesus in the tomb with the heavy stones of traditions, laws, forbidden topics, and guard the security of the tomb with thought police who try to keep Jesus in and questioners out. They lock the doors to bar ideas and questions, and threaten with severe reprisals any who dare to question or suggest new ways of understanding doctrine. Yet, Jesus persists in coming forth and walking among the people offering life, not threats and punishments. He gives us his peace, and the Holy Spirit, who continually calls forth folks who have new and richer understanding of doctrine, and who themselves experience Jesus life-giving presence among us. They in turn often are castigated by the institution and its minions, but are not intimidated as they point out the Risen Life-giving Jesus among us even today. Often the price they pay is excessive, imposed by an institution that claims to act in Jesus’ name doing things Jesus himself never did, displaying a self-serving and self-protective attitude that Jesus never had, inflicting the same pain that Jesus healed with his Father’s mercy.

Jesus tells us that unless a person “eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood”, they do not have life. No institution can interject itself between any person and Jesus. When Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18:20), he did not say anything about the place, getting anyone’s permission, the marital status or orientation of the persons gathered, or the gender of the presider.

For many the fact that these questions are arising in so many different places is an indicator that the Holy Spirit is very much involved in Jesus’ followers. Jesus is continually meeting and surprising us as he did with Mary in the garden and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He continues to come through locked doors, telling us not to be afraid, to receive the Holy Spirit and learn to forgive. He continually reminds us that, “as the Father has sent me so I send you”. As happened after the tongues as of fire in the upper room, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit and do  what we think we are to do, we need to be ready to be kicked around — and surprised.

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

Thoughts on Holy Week Liturgies

 

During the liturgies of Holy Week with their appropriate emphasis on ceremonies, and hearing the arguments about liturgical purity, the Tridentine Mass, whether women’s feet should be washed on Holy Thursday, etc,  I can’t help thinking back to the most memorable liturgies I have celebrated, all of them in Viet Nam. Among the most memorable was one of many Masses on Thanksgiving Day 1970 somewhere in the Americal Division’s 11 LIB AO.

It was a rainy day and I was flown out to the hillside in a Primo 11 BDE Aviation LOH. It was not a nice neighborhood, and the locals were not friendly. First, I held a non-denominational service with whomever wanted to take part. The soldiers who did not take part provided security. After this service the catholics came together and the other soldiers pulled guard. About ten of us were huddled together in a very small tent made of shelter-halfs. We all sat crossed legged (I could do that back then). The altar was the soldier sitting across from me, his hands on his knees: one hand held the paten, the other held the chalice. For communion we passed the paten and chalice around. It was a brief Mass, but an emotional experience for each of us. Considering what came later, it was worth while.

No doubt some folks will be upset with this. Everything I needed for masses I carried in my pockets as the chaplain’s kit was too big for some operations. I did not wear vestments, since doing so would not be a good idea in a semi-tactical situation when the idea is to blend in and not make oneself a target. We did not have an Entrance Procession or an Offertory Procession. We did not kneel for the Canon, as it was called back then. Also, I did not use latin or celebrate “ad orientem”. I did not ask where the soldiers stood on optional celibacy, ordination of women, contraception, abortion, marriage equality, if their marriage was valid by church law, who was catholic, etc, since it just didn’t matter. All of us on that hill were living our own ministry of “selfless service”. A common thread back then, and in all of my military service, was taking care of each other.

That experience, along with many other similar masses, leads me to see the current hot-button arguments about liturgical things as so much fluff having more to do with egos than anything else. I have learned to adapt liturgies to the circumstances and exigencies of the given situation. There are times and places for liturgical extravaganzas and for simple celebrations. Whatever it takes to serve the folks – do it.

I think I learned to hear confessions on a hillside in Viet Nam. As we were waiting for the helicopters to come and take us  out to a bad place, a soldier asked me to hear his confession. He was in the kind of situation that meant he could not receive the sacraments. When I told him this, he cried, literally washing my boots with his tears. Then it was as Jesus himself was standing there with us asking me who was I to decide who he would forgive. Wow! So, I asked the soldier to forgive my pride and stupidity, and went on to hear his confession and a plot of others. It was a life changing event for me. I owe that young soldier a lot. The rest of the afternoon was bad.

I have known many folks whose marriages were/are “irregular”. So what does that have to do with approaching Jesus? As that young soldier on the hillside taught me, nobody has the right to to tell anyone not to come to Jesus. There is enough suffering in life, and we need not add to it while claiming to act in Jesus’ name and doing something he never did.

Just sayin  .  .  .

Easter Thoughts 2014

Jesus’ Resurrection is so great and profound that there are any number of ways to hear it speaking to us in our lives now, and not just offering hope for us after death. As important as the Resurrection Event is, what might be more important is who was raised. Jesus was an outcast, rejected by both the religious and civil authorities of his day because he did not accept their values and classifications, a person who reached out to other outcasts and folks on the peripheries, accepted everyone as they were regardless of what the institutions of his day said. He ate with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the crippled, lame, divorced, etc. Today he would be accused of spending time and eating with gays, lesbians, divorced and remarried, women who feel a call to be priests, men who feel a call both to be priests and married, folks who dare to talk about or favor forbidden topics, folks whose own life experience does not reflect the demands of religious systems and whom these systems reject or discriminate in some way. He was motivated by his Father’s love, and not a desire for power and control.

Because of his deep relationship with his Father he had a strong sense of the oneness of all creation, everything arising from his Father’s love. He reached out to everybody, and excluded no one – something it seems religious systems are unable to do. His teaching that “the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” would not go over well with the religious systems of our day. Folks who today try to live as he lived find themselves in big trouble, just as he did.

Being open to Jesus in this way takes some faith and courage on our part because it is easier and, perhaps, safer, to limit him to our rules and dogmas, and not take the chance of looking to where they point us. We might prefer to keep Jesus in the tomb, outside our locked doors, or run away from him for our own comfort and safety.

Recently Pope Francis spoke about what he calls “the idolatry of a narrow mind and thought, a closed way of thinking that is not open to dialogue, to the possibility that there is something else, the possibility that God speaks to us; the idolatry of their own way of thinking – ‘it has to be this way, and nothing more’”.

All the Easter Stories (Empty Tomb, Mary in the Garden, Disciples on the way to Emmaus, Disciples behind locked doors, Doubting Thomas) suggest Jesus breaking through the defenses his followers had set up to protect themselves against the unknown. They were so afraid of losing Jesus as they had come to know him that they could not recognize him in his new way of being.

Jesus comes to us in the people who are in our life. We try to keep Jesus in the tomb when we refuse to accept him in folks whose lifestyle does not meet our standards. Each of us is as God creates us in God’s own image and likeness, “the consequence of a thought in the mind of God – important, necessary, not an accident”. When we choose not to accept folks unless they conform to our rules, perhaps labeling them as “intrinsically disordered”, we are refusing to accept the Risen Lord as he tries to come to us. Yet, as the Story tells us, he rose from the tomb in spite of those who tried to keep him there. He is doing so today.

If we are serious about knowing the Risen Jesus in our everyday life, we might want to take a good look at the defenses we set up to protect ourself from losing Jesus as we have known him thus far in our life. As did Jesus’ disciples, who knew him better than any others, we might have our own idea of who he is, and are reluctant to let go of it. But our idea of Jesus says more about us than about Jesus. Often we are heavily invested in our idea of Jesus, comfortable with it, perhaps to the point of keeping him in the tomb and away from our everyday life, reducing him to words, ideas, and laws, and not letting him burst into our life and become an experience which we live every day. We know all there is to know, and will not let him teach us anything new. He is safer for us in the tomb, outside our locked doors, back in whatever we are running away from. We set rules for how others must live if we are to see them as images of our Jesus. There is safety for us in rules, because we have all the answers and can tell others how they must live if they want to please our god and enter our heaven. Of course, any who do not agree with us are wrong.

A church that knows all and has an answer to everything is not believable. It separates itself from life as lived by the folks, and reduces everything to rules and doctrines. In trying to follow Jesus we do not have a set of unchangeable doctrines and laws that we have to enforce and defend, but an invitation to encounter the Risen Jesus as he is in our real everyday life. Our commitment to him is open ended and without any reservation. We try to go where he draws us and let him show us in very specific circumstances how to live as he did. This might entail some serious growth for us. We don’t have to know, but to believe and trust – something Jesus’ Apostles learned from him.

The Risen Jesus offers unlimited hope and love, and this has to happen through us every day. So, if we are serious about letting the Risen Jesus touch our lives, we have to look at what we are doing in to keep from recognizing him as he is in our life. He shows us the importance of people as instances of God to be loved, respected, and cared about, not judged and condemned as he was. He offers us a relationship of trust and willingness that enables us to rise above our fears and prejudices and come to know that goodness that each of us is. All of us, regardless of lifestyle, are precious images of God, more alike than different, and each of us uniquely reflects a facet of God.

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

 

 

 

23 March 2014, Woman at the Well

In today’s Gospel Story (John 4:5-52) Jesus meets the Samaritan Woman at the well. According to Jewish religious law at the time, Jews were forbidden to have any contact with Samaritans, who were considered to be outcasts because their understand of God was different from that of the Jewish religious system. Also, Jewish men did not talk to women alone.  So, by talking with her Jesus became defiled. In the course of their conversation Jesus told the woman about her life and marital status. He did not condemn or judge her, but just talked about it with her, and this got her attention.

The Story highlights some differences in religious approach to life: some folks say, “we have a Story”, while others say, “we have a System”.

“We have a Story.” Our Story is about Jesus becoming one of us to show us our Father loving us always and without exception. When we focus on the Story we are very much like Jesus’ early followers as we look at how Jesus lived, what he said and did, and ask ourselves what does this mean for us in our time and place right here and now. We welcome folks who are different from us in any way.

We do our best to be open to the Spirit guiding us. Religion is not so much a series of doctrines, as important as doctrines may be, but more an awareness of and openness to the depths, richness, and beauty of human experience and everyone’s own life. It is always a willingness to be led to these in the challenges of our everyday life and the folks we encounter. By its very nature the Story of God loving us moves us to be open and reach out to all, welcoming and not judging, accepting and not excluding. The Story’s motto might be, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do to you”, or, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27)”. The Story by its nature is inclusive – it invites people into the community – and open to transcendence and mystery – the Holy Spirit in our everyday living.

“We have a System.” Our system is absolute, telling us what to do and believe in every circumstance. We have no doubts, and we don’t question anything, especially the forbidden topics. Any who do question these are severely punished. We don’t have to think, we just have to conform. Any who disagree with this system are wrong, and they cannot come in. We exclude folks who are different from us in any way.

For many this system has replaced the Story. It more important to follow the system than to try to live Jesus’ Gospel. The system always knows exactly what Jesus would do and have us do. Throughout history this system has done significant things based on its interpretation of the Gospel: it fostered the crusades in which countless thousands were killed because they were different and the System deemed them wrong; it developed the Inquisition to protect itself from all who would question it; it approved and justified slavery; it encouraged racial and gender segregation; it taught/teaches that women are secondary and so are to be denied the same rights and privileges as men; it inflicts pain on folks whose marriages have failed and who have tried again to find marital happiness, judging them as living in perpetual sin and denying the access to Eucharist. The system’s adherents often see themselves to be holier than others, whom they judge to be in error and wrong.  Its ultimate goal is to protect itself and its power at all costs. The System’s motto might be, “Get thee behind me, Satan”, or, “Man was made for the Sabbath, not the Sabbath for man”. The System by its nature is exclusive – it keeps people out of the community.

There is no doubt where Jesus stood. It is his Story that his followers are trying to live. By reaching out to the Samaritan Woman he showed that the religious system of his time was wrong in being exclusive, that his Father’s love is inclusive. He did not always accept the system’s values, especially when they claimed certain folks to be defiled or unacceptable. He showed us that in his Father’s love everyone is acceptable and loved. He told the Woman about her life, and did not condemn her, and loved her with her story. And so as she began to know the story in her own life, she shared it with others in her town. They also responded to the Story.

This is not to say that some kind of a system isn’t useful. Any system is a good servant but a bad master. Pope Francis seems to be trying to move the system back to being a servant of the Gospel, rather than the Gospel being a servant of the system. He calls us to read Jesus’ Story continually, and to be open to wherever it would take us. Many folks do not accept him and believe that he is wrong. The System is strong and its followers entrenched., and the nature of the System is to protect itself at all cost and against all comers, even the Pope. Following Jesus’ example, we might learn from Francis that honest and open dialogue, not rancorous judging, is necessary as we try to live the Gospel in our own life’s setting. This has to come from our own prayer and openness to the Gospel. He reminds us that we all need Jesus’ help, that we are all sinners, and this is good.

Another element of the Story might come to us as Jesus talked with the Woman about her life. He knew everything that she had done, and seemed to recognize that she didn’t love herself. He simply spent time with her and loved her with her own story. And so with us. Jesus knows everything we have done, our deepest and darkest secrets, and loves us with them. Those parts of ourself that we do not accept or love, he does accept and love. Perhaps, as we become aware of the Story in our own life we might begin to live it where we are. We might realize we do not have to judge others since we are all in the same boat — we need Jesus’ Story ourselves. And others need us to live it.

Just saying  .  .  .

Jan 27, Thoughts on Good Samaritan

It is an accepted principle that the Scriptures speak to us in the setting of whatever is going on in our life when we hear or read them. This is especially true of Jesus’ Parables. Since they deal with Truth there is never only one way to understand them. What is going on in one person’s life may be completely intelligible to someone else, and so might someone’s understanding of a Parable.

Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan. As we have heard so many times, a man on the way to Jericho was robbed and left for dead. Two church officials, a priest and a levite, passed him by without helping. They both had legitimate institutional reasons for doing so – ritual impurity etc. Then a Samaritan, who was strongly rejected by the religious institution simply because of the race God had given him, stopped to help. This was unheard of. In the eyes of the religious institution Samaritans were not good and were to be avoided by the institution’s members in good standing.

There might be some parallels today. The religious institution rejects folks in certain lifestyles that, for its own reasons, it considers “intrinsically disordered”. The folks have no more control over how God creates them than did the Samaritan over his race. The institution justifies its attitude on its own self-developed moral principles. In some cases it goes so far as to forbid its members and functionaries from providing any religious or pastoral care to these folks. So, as in the Parable, when the institution and its functionaries pass on by with institutionally legitimate reasons, other folks not of the institution step in and provide the needed pastoral care. Management proclaims that it hates the sin but loves the sinner, and then in many cases actively discourages pastoral care for the folks until and unless they adopt a lifestyle approved by the institution.

What is especially disturbing, too many of our brothers and sisters, feeling cast off and betrayed by the institution where they looked for God’s help and comfort, have left religion altogether. Through no fault of their own they have ben told to believe they are not accepted by God, when, in fact, they reflect God’s love and mercy in a way that few others can. Many have known intense suffering and pain that that defies description: the pain of feeling unaccepted by God; the perception by some that they are in sin because of who they are; the desire to be accepted for who they love; the sense of struggle as they determine who they are; the desire to do what is right in the eyes of society, especially painful when it means they are denying who they know they are. And so, they are learning to live without the God who creates and ives them as they are. While the Jesus of the Gospels offers healing and love, some institutions claiming to act in his name, set up obstacles. A number of traditions, Christian and other, offer the pastoral care the folks need – good for the folks, bad for the institution. And the institution continues to proclaim its self-righteousness. While Pope Francis says, “Who am I to judge?, the institution says, “we’ll do the judging for you”.

Then there are our brothers and sisters whose marriages, for whatever reason and without assigning blame, have failed. They have moved along on their journey and entered into new marital relationships. Yet, since their journey and their new marriages do not fit the institution’s categories, these good folks are denied full participation in Eucharist, something that, according to the institution’s own teaching, everyone has a need for. They are told to go through the annulment process which can be painful, and does not always work. The reasons for an annulment process make sense according to the legal structure and system, but not in the sense of personal relations and feelings. Folks don’t always understand the legal nuances, but they feel their own pain and want it to stop. They look to the institution for help and support, and, unless they are in the approved categories, are told they cannot receive communion. As did the priest and levite in the Parable, the institution walks on by, and the folks remain in pain.

Law is black and white, real life is not. The good order of the institution and the safety and preservation of the “sacramental system” seem more important than pastoral care for the folks on their journey. Some folks feel their first marriage was good and valid originally, but somehow fell apart, and so taking part in an annulment process would be a violation of their conscience, as well as humiliating and painful. They feel they are being punished for a painful time in their life, and this would, in fact, seem to be so, in spite of the institutional explanations and justifications. As so many have put it, “no one has the right to tell me I cannot receive communion”, and so they choose of themselves to continue receiving Communion, which they need. Many others have found welcome and support in other traditions, and in no tradition. And the intuition proclaims its self-righteousness.

A legitimate question might be what the Parable says to the institution, and not just to individual folks. There are many in institutional management who care very much for their folks but often are limited by the system in what they can and cannot do.

Also, there are many wonderful pastoral ministers of all kinds, ordained and not ordained, authorized and not authorized, who are doing their best to provide pastoral care for all who need it. The institution does not always make this easy, and often does its best to prevent it. These ministers are very creative and often private about what they are doing. Any who, at any level in the institution, are trying to serve pastorally face some difficulties and challenges, especially from the “religious police”.

Pope Francis keeps saying that the institution has to get out beyond itself and its rules and walk with the folks on the periphery. Many are on the periphery because this is where the institution has put them. Each of us has to respond to the Parable in the setting of our own life, and not demand that others agree with us. As Francis has said, we need to be docile to the word of God as we hear it, and not require that others follow our understanding. We trust in the Spirit, and go where this takes us.

Just saying  .  .  .

20 January 2014, Trust

In Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 4:12-17) Jesus invites several fishermen to follow him, and “They left everything and followed him”. This Story might suggest a context for what happens on our journey when we are serious about  trusting Jesus – it ain’t always nice. We need to remember, as Francis tells us, that Jesus does not call us to ease and comfort, nor does he offer us certainty. He invites us to have faith, to trust in him and let this trust be the basis of our life.

It might be that we are called to think in a new way, to be open to persons we just don’t like, to take part in an activity we’ve never thought of before, or to do or say something that is well outside our comfort zone. At times it seems our journey with Jesus is forever beginning anew, and it is not always easy to put our trust totally in him. He isn’t always that obvious or clear. Doubt and questioning are, it seems, an integral part of following him.

It could be that Jesus is asking us to move in a direction that could bring us to difficult times with others who do not share our views on whatever. Throughout church history there have been prophets in the church who said what needed to be said at their time in history and were treated harshly for doing what they perceived to be right. There are prophets among us today who are also suffering for doing or saying what they believe is right. Jesus did not offer his followers an easy life, nor did he promise his followers would be loved and appreciated. He told them, as he tells us, to take up their cross every day and follow him. When we dare to express opinions that others, whether individual folks or the institutional church, don’t like, we get an idea of what the cross is. People and the institution can be very nasty and vindictive, always, of course, in the name of Jesus, who never acted that way himself.

In Scripture the image of journey is both important and dangerous. It marks a departure from the known to the unknown. Usually there are dangers along the way. Since the Scriptures speak to us in the setting of whatever is going on in our life when we read or hear them, the scriptural notion of journey has meaning for us in our life. There are dangers when we journey with and to Jesus. The institution is not very forgiving to any who do not toe the line. We need only look at prophets in our own day who have been silenced, thrown out of the church and/or their religious order for saying things the institution did not like or talking about institutionally forbidden topics. Again, always in the name of Jesus. But, as the saying goes, “sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do”.

One particular area is the way our LGBT brothers and sisters are treated. While there are a number of instances of ministry recognized by the institution, it seems often that many would serve pastorally in this area have to do so below the radar, since the institution can be very nasty to folks who don’t follow the party line to the letter, as many have found out. The institution does not seem to be aware of or concerned about the pain it’s decrees inflict on images and likenesses of God who don’t meet the it’s standards for “intrinsically ordered”, and so are proclaimed to be “intrinsically disordered”. If it is a matter of same sex marriages, any who appear to cooperate, support, or provide any pastoral ministry other than accusing the couple of sin is in for a rough ride from the institution, again, in the name of Jesus. It seems that we cannot even pray with, for, or over a same sex couple without incurring wrath from somebody in the power structure. The “religious police”, the catholic taliban, are especially active in making life difficult for any who do not follow their particular brand of orthodoxy.

Again, good things are happening below the radar. In some cases it is more like spec ops. Fortunately there are many pastoral bishops who are doing their best to serve their people with pastoral sensitivity. It is the public face of the system, and a number of public managers, that are causing much of the harm.

What really bothers me in all this is what we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer IV for Various Needs:  “Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ and at his command. And may your Church stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope”. In many cases this seems to be more a stated value than an operational value. Folks just want to be accepted for who they are, not condemned because they don’t measure up to someone else’s standards. When they look to an organization that claims to represent Jesus and are told they are wrong and in sin, no wonder they walk away, often hurt and angry.  Who can blame them? How is the institution comforting those who labor and are burdened, or serving them truly? Fortunately for them there are many other Christians who welcome and minister to them. Not so fortunate for the institution, though.

Pope Francis keeps saying the role of the Church is to live Jesus’ mercy with everyone, especially the folks on the peripheries, the hurting, the lonely. As yet the institution doesn’t seem to get it, but many do, and so good things are happening for some folks, perhaps in spite of the institution and its police.

All we can do is respond to Jesus as we know Him, and as He knows us, and, in the words of Pope Francis, discern what is His word to us in our very personal circumstances.

Just saying .  .  .