Category Archives: 2012

December 30, Thoughts on Holy Famiy

Some thoughts on the Feast of the Holy Family and current events. Recently in one of his first tweets, Pope Benedict said the way to live the current year of Faith in our own lives is “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need”. This might suggest an insight into the Feast we celebrate today.

There is no doubt that Mary and Joseph had a prayerful relationship with God. In the Annunciation Story the angel appears to Mary while she is in prayer and tells her she is to be the mother of Jesus. And Joseph, in a dream, gets the word that he is still to take Mary as his wife. Both of these stories tell Mary and Joseph to in effect disobey the current religious laws. Mary agrees to become pregnant even though she is not married and pregnancies outside of marriage are forbidden and disparaged by the religious law of the time. Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife even though religious law of the time demands that he put her aside. For both Mary and Joseph having a relationship with God in prayer, listening to what God says in the scriptures, and looking for God in the people of their time, put them at odds with the religious practices and authorities of their time.  In the Gospel Story for the Feast of the Holy Family (Lk 2:41-52) Jesus in effect runs away from his parents and goes to the temple. When Mary and Joseph find him, he says “I have to be about my Father’s business”. Rebellion rooted in prayer must be a family trait. As Jesus in his own way imitates his parents, it is a bit unsettling.

Jesus learned from his parents that the will of God cannot be limited to rules and regulations handed down by various religious traditions over the years. He learned that God is not remote and judgmental and to be feared, but very much involved in the happenings of ordinary, and extraordinary, human life. He learned God calls folks to take bold new steps that often lead them to run afoul of religious laws and traditions and the institutions and systems that depend on them for their power. He learned that each of us must be about our Father’s business, and that we find out what this business is for each of us by spending time with him. His parents lived this before him, and he lived this in his own life, and was put to death for it.

Among his teachings in his public life Jesus said that the two great laws are to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He showed us in the way he lived that when we see our neighbor being abused or ill treated we have to do something. It does not matter who the abuser is, we have to act. This is especially important when the abuse and ill treatment is alleged to be in his or his Father’s name. We have to act. And we might have to pay the price for acting. He did in his life.

Throughout his life his prayerful relationship with his Father was the basis and source for everything he did. He listened to what his Father said in the scriptures, and then look for his Father in the people who came into his life. He told his friends to imitate him, to live as he lived, to model their lives on his life. He did not tell anyone to worship. He probably knew that worshipping someone is a easy way to keep them at a distance and not let them have any real impact on folks’ lives. Worshiping is a lot easier than imitating, and a lot safer. It makes us feel good. Imitating is hard work and can get us into trouble.

Throughout Jesus’ life he knew that when a religious institution replaces the god it was founded to worship with itself, and makes following its rules either a substitute for or more important than living in a prayerful relationship with God, it can become a source and cause of abuse. Its own preservation becomes the reason for its existence no matter by what name it calls its mission and role. In Jesus’ day the religious ruling class had come with any number of laws and rules to keep the folks in line. The members of the ruling class judged folks and imposed punishments on any who did not live up to the demands of the system. These rules benefitted only the ruing class and made ordinary folk’s lives difficult if not painful. Jesus confronted them any number of times, and in the end, the institution and its minions had him condemned to death. Serving the institution and its leaders was more important than serving God. Fear and punishment were, and are, good tools for keeping folks in line. This is especially true when an institution sees God as its enforcer. It also shows how far some religious institutions will go to protect themselves and their power.

The Feast of the Holy Family shows the impact of a family’s values on the children, and the importance of a prayer life for all. Together Jesus, Mary, and Joseph learned what following God meant in their particular circumstances. Mary and Joseph from their own experience helped Jesus learn to become a person fully and completely open to God in every way. They are an example to us.

Just sayin   .   .   .

Christmas Eve wondering

And so we come yet again to Christmas. It is not an easy time. Most recently there is the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. There is the current fiscal cliff issue, the fighting in Afghanistan, many military families apart because of military missions, our own military killed or wounded in action and our many military dealing with post traumatic stress. Often folks are wondering just how to get through today, everyday, and many decide they cannot. Christmas is the feast of light, of joy, of peace, and yet there is not too much of any of this around. Life is not easy, folks are good, we try to help, and it doesn’t always work. There seems to be a major disconnect between what we celebrate and how we live every day.

In the traditional Christmas Story there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, so they ended up spending the night in a stable with animals and shepherds. They could not find room in the customary places, so they looked elsewhere, and found what they needed. The Story tells us that Jesus came among us outside the regular and accepted ways of society. Sounds a bit like today. There seem to be a number of parallels.

Many folks in our own day seem to be on a journey similar to that of Mary and Joseph as, wearied from their own journey, they look for a safe place to rest, and, again like Mary and Joseph, are being turned away because there is no room for them due to their lifestyle, their marital status, their questioning of the unquestionable, and so on. It is dangerous to be different, to question authority, to think for oneself. It is not safe to follow the Pope’s advice to “have a prayerful relationship with Jesus, to listen to him in the Gospel, to look for him in folks in need”, because to do so might put us in conflict with the system, even as Mary and Joseph were, and as Jesus became. They are good role models.

Another phrase from the Gospel Stories used at Christmas tells us, “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him”. Among the doctrines of our faith is our belief that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. Each of us ought to be able to approach Jesus without having to take an oath, follow a code of conduct, pass a background check. Yet there are many institutions uniquely claiming to be Jesus’ followers that tell us exactly under what conditions we can approach Jesus. Deviate from their standards in any way and there is no room at the inn. And thus many images of God have to look elsewhere while self-righteous institutions pat themselves on the back for their dedication to their unique version of the divine and scheme more diligently to impose their views on all others in the name of religious freedom.

Folks look to places where they have a right to find comfort in Jesus’ name, but instead are told they are “intrinsically disordered”, that their lifestyle is a threat to everybody else’s well-being. Others are silenced or suspended or excommunicated allegedly in the same Jesus’ name. As academics are learning, the institution cannot be questioned in any way, and deviations from the established thought process are not tolerated.

Years back I was serving in a parish in another country where the church was vibrant and involved, and culturally different from what I was used to. Their way of doing weddings was a little strange to me. I discussed this with the pastor who told me, “Please do not judge us, just accept us and love us”. Some persons in church “leadership” might think about this. I went on and did the weddings whenever it was my turn. None of us has all the answers for everybody. In the light that is Jesus we can learn from each other without judging or threatening.

The Story also tells us, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. Herein lies our hope. As each of us, perhaps in our own way, tries to live in fits and starts Jesus’ words, “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me”, we are asking to be led by this light. We may find ourselves being led to places and folks which of ourselves we probably would not choose, to do things or take positions we might not really want to but feel we have to. We have to follow the light and go where it guides us.

The Gospel tell of many journeys – Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the Holy Family to Egypt, the Magi following the star, Jesus traveling to Jerusalem, the disciples journeying to Emmaus, to name a few. We have to go where we are led, trusting the light we see, whether or not others approve.

Just saying   .   .   .

December 14, other ways . . .

Why can there not be more than one way to look at and live those parts of the catholic tradition that are not “essential”. In fact, there already are. There are the various Eastern Rites, the Anglican Ordinariates, celebration of the Tridentine Mass, admission of some married men to ordained priesthood on a case by case basis, to name a few. Why can there not be even more? God is One, but there is more than one way to know Her/Him.

John XXIII said his view of the Council was “to make the human sojourn a little less sad”. It seems to me that the current operation of the Roman Church is doing just the opposite. For some folks the operative value is the fear that God, or the Roman Church allegedly acting in God’s name, will punish them for something. Many folks, though, have seen through this toxic smoke cloud and have simply left in one way or another.

It has long been taught that whatever our notion of God may be, it is not God. God is beyond anything our minds can come up with. If this is the case, how can any Church say that only its interpretation of God and God’s will is the correct one for everybody always? It seems more than convenient that God as presented by these churches agrees with everything a given one of these churches does or says. What gives any church the right to impose its views on the citizenry through passing laws? Any who argue with such a course of action are accused by a church as infringing on freedom of religion. But freedom of religion belongs to everybody, not just a church that has the numbers to enshrine its values in law over against any other tradition’s values.

Why can there not be another authentic interpretation of the Gospel for today’s world that is lived without the fancy clothes and titles and bling, august and remote pronouncements, labeling, excluding, threatening, punishing? Jesus didn’t do any of this, and aren’t churches claiming to be his followers and disciples?

What began as a small group of people trying to imitate Jesus in loving service to God and fellow humans has morphed into a multinational corporation, perhaps even an empire, that seeks to impose its unique set of values on the rest of the world, stated values that it does not itself practice and which are not reflected in its operations, and doing so in the name of God that only it knows.

Christianity began as a movement. As years passed, in order to keep itself in existence, it became an institution. There is the danger, though, that fidelity to the institution and its rules may replace the original goals of the movement, as seems to have happened in some traditions. Being loyal to a given church has become for many folks more important than opening themselves to a relationship with the same Jesus who started the whole movement. Such a mindset is encouraged by the institution itself and its leaders. If folks don’t believe a whole laundry list of things determined by what calls itself legitimate authority, they are not catholic. Says who?

People often want “more faith”. For many good folks faith means believing every single thing the Roman Church or its leaders say. Some dioceses are demanding that catechists and other teachers sign an oath that states, among other things, “I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act”. Where is Jesus in all this? Isn’t there something about, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice”? There is a popular phrase making the rounds these days: “less church, more Jesus”. Makes sense. Rings true.

For many others, though faith means a deepening relationship with Jesus in some way as they just try to “not do to others what they don’t want others to do to them”, and do their best to lead a wholesome and meaningful life. Many folks in their own way are trying to maintain some sort of connectedness that goes beyond what they face every day but somehow gives context to it. The established churches do not always provide such a sense, and so many are looking on their own, and doing very well at it. Many have found that in their search for meaningful living they have chosen a course of action that has aroused the ire of an established church which feels its power threatened, and responds with some sort of violence, always, of course, in the name of the Prince of Peace who came to serve, not be served.

Just sayin   .   .   .

December 13, Papal Tweet

In one of his first tweets Pope Benedict responded to the question “How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?”  He said, “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need”. Nobody can argue with with what he said. But did he go far enough? He seems to have left a few things out.

He said nothing about what happens when a person speaks with Jesus in prayer, listens to what he says in the Gospel, and looks for him in those in need, and ends up doing something the hierarchy doesn’t like.

There is little doubt that Fr Roy Bourgeois has acted throughout his life as his speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to Jesus in the Gospel, and looking for Jesus in folks in need has moved him to. He acted in favor of women’s ordination, and look at what happened to him. In the name of Pope Benedict and under his authority Maryknoll kicked him out, and Pope Benedict’s Vatican has forbidden him to serve as a priest. The same can be said for Fr Brennan, the 92 year old priest suspended by the Archbishop of Milwaukee also for being in favor of women’s ordination. These are just two of many who have followed the Pope’s directions and ended up in serious trouble.

Perhaps the Pope should have said that the Hoy Spirit needs his approval or that of one of his congregations before She can dare to inspire someone to action. It might also be that only the Pope or one of his congregations can determine who is worthy of being needy in the sense that he uses the word in his tweet. Perhaps he should have said that Jesus needs to go through papal channels before he can speak to someone in prayer or through the Gospel.

One of his bishops in Madison has forbidden his diocese’s parishes and schools to use materials from an area interfaith spirituality center and banned the center’s staff members, including two Catholic sisters, from speaking at any diocesan events because, among other things, they teach a form of prayer called Centering Prayer, a type of contemplative prayer. The formal letter says “contemplative prayer is a charism usually only given to those advanced in the spiritual life, and in the absence of sound spiritual direction accompanied by orthodox doctrine, attempting contemplative prayer can be counterproductive and even seriously harmful”. It seems like the Holy Spirit, if She wants to be in a prayerful relationship with anyone in the diocese of Madison, also has to get the local bishop’s permission.  The bishop probably has some sort of a test to determine who is advanced in the spiritual life. Or maybe the bishop objects to the Holy Spirit doing anything with women. There is a lot of that going around in the Roman Church these days.

It might be that people in “leadership” in the church see themselves as gatekeepers to a relationship with Jesus. Only they can determine who gets to have such a relationship. The word chutzpah comes to mind here.

Perhaps Pope Benedict doesn’t know what things are like for ordinary catholic folks who are trying to get through life as best they can. He lives in a rarified atmosphere behind some pretty thick walls. Any who try to follow his guidance might very well find that prayer is not safe and can bring them up against pretty dangerous persons of other viewpoints. Many folks are also finding out that belonging to the Roman Catholic Church can be painful in the extreme. It is no surprise that so many are just walking way. Who wants to belong to an organization that treats its folks so badly for any violations of its book of Q&A or its code of conduct?

How does the Pope feel about the women who have followed his guidance and in so doing sense very strongly that they have a vocation to the ordained priesthood? Or what about the ordained priests who followed his guidance and realized that, in addition to a vocation to the ordained priesthood, they also have a vocation to married life? Or persons who have a prayer life and find themselves attracted to relationships not approved by the papal court? Or folks whose marriages have failed, and they have found a new and meaningful relationship but are denied the sacraments by the pope’s men? The list goes on.

But, then, the bishops who covered up child abusers in any number of ways, probably felt they were responding to their prayer in doing so, because no doubt their prayer told them protecting the institution and its hierarchy was much more important than protecting and providing true pastoral care to innocent children and seeking justice for all.

As right as Pope Benedict’s guidance may be, it leaves a lot unsaid.

Just sayin   .   .   .

6 December, hmmm

In today’s Gospel Story (Luke 3:1-6) John is described in scriptural terms as “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths; every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’”. Sounds like the same thing is happening in our own days.

The crying out is coming from many folks around the world, folks in the pews or who used to be in the pews trying to live Jesus’ Gospel message as they see it in their own everyday living. Folks trying to not do to others as they would not want others to do to them. Folks whose daily experience of living does not reflect the abstract impersonal decrees issued by celibate males in fancy robes in palaces and nice homes whose own experience of daily living has little in common with the daily living of the folks on whom they would impose their decrees. Who is to say that the voice of the folks is not also the voice of God calling them to speak from their lived experience?

Folks face many fears these days that hierarchs cannot relate to. The current economy causes many folks to be in a financial bind, to fear losing their job or not having a job. Church “leaders” have good job security and living conditions and don’t face such a possibility unless they commit the unforgivable sin of being in favor of women’s ordination. Many folks deal everyday with the challenges of raising and caring for a family, making responsible choices about children and relationships, healthcare, etc, choices that are merely theoretical for church “leaders”, few of which have any such relationships and so do not have to deal with the ‘messiness’ of being human. They do not understand the reality of failed relationships and the need of folks for understanding and support, and so they respond by denying these folks the sacraments in the name of Jesus. Folks are crying out that this is not the way of our loving God, and who is to say that they are not right? Folks know that the Jesus of the Gospels is not rooted in the fear and punishment practiced and imposed by the “leadership”.

By virtue of the Incarnation we believe the “way of the Lord” is among us right now. As Jesus so often said, “The Kingdom of God is among you”. If we believe this, we also have to believe the Spirit is moving among us making things happen and bringing the Kingdom together. Things are as they need to be for grace to happen. The opposing viewpoints on so many things are grace happening in the realities of everyday living. We cannot make straight the way of the Lord by using out of date maps. If we believe grace is happening, we go on to believe the Holy Spirit is bringing things together. If we believe in grace, we have to respond to grace showing itself in the folks in our life. We are all equal. As the song says, “All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir”, so we really have to listen to each other on all sides of the current hot button issues.  Everyone has something worthwhile to say. The Holy Spirit brings us together.

As we celebrate Advent, a time of waiting expectantly for Jesus, it might dawn on us that he is already here. In his name many of his followers, perhaps most in one way or the other, are refusing to see him in folks who make them uncomfortable, whose opinions differ, whose lifestyles are unacceptable. Can anyone really claim their viewpoint on any topic is the only one that can prepare the way of the Lord as the Lord wants it prepared? Can anyone claim that only they speak the correct words and everybody else has to accept them totally or else? Can anyone who claims to speak and act in the name of Jesus inflict threats and punishments never even remotely found in the Jesus of the Gospels? Can anyone judge that just because someone wears funny clothes and accessories they are automatically wrong and do not deserve to be listened to? Any of us If we claim to be responding to the Spirit have to look at our own life, and hear John’s words speaking to us right here and now on a very personal and intimate level. What is each of us being called to do to prepare the way of the Lord in our own life? What valleys do we have to fill and what mountains do we have to smooth in our own life, not in somebody else’s? What opportunities are we passing up? For each of us this has to be a prayerful journey, not an easy self-righteous stroll.

Any time we claim to be following the Spirit there is always doubt. How much of what we are doing is the Spirit, and how much is us? We need prayer in our life to give us the strength to do what we feel we have to do, to accept the possibility that we might be wrong, to live in the faith and trust that the Spirit knows what She is doing and is bringing everything together. Knowing her game plan is not part of the deal, but doing our best to be open to and acting in grace is. Each of us on all sides has a small but important role in the execution of Her mission. Being applauded for our action is not necessarily part of the deal, but being accused and reviled, and being threatened with sanctions, seems to be. The Spirit knows, but we don’t know, and we don’t have to. We just have to do our part.

While we’re preparing the way of the Lord, we might come to realize that we don’t know other folks’ stories or their journeys, so maybe it is not a good thing for us to demand they follow our plans for them or else. We might try to imitate Jesus in his compassion and understanding for folks he met. In his Story, the ones who were laying demands and punishments on folks were the ones who ultimately killed him because he didn’t follow their demands. He just tried to live his Father’s love with whomever he met.

Just sayin   .   .   .


3 December, recent . . .

Some interesting things happening. First off, the NCR (National Catholic Reporter) in an editorial came out in favor of women’s ordination. This is a courageous step, although the way these things are dealt with by “leadership”, anybody who helped write the editorial, print it up, cleaned the floors in any rooms where the editorial might have passed through, or read and enjoyed it, probably is excommunicated. There is a lot of that going around these days. There seems to be no more serious sin than to be in favor of women’s ordination.

The use of “conscience” is inadmissable in this court. You signed that away at ordination. Begone!

Along this same line, Fr Bill Brennan, a 92 year old Jesuit Catholic priest who participated in a eucharistic liturgy with a woman priest last month, has been ordered to no longer celebrate the Mass or perform any other priestly duties at the direction of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, WI. Brennan, a retired parish priest and former missionary to Belize, said he was hesitant to confirm the news regarding his loss of faculties because he was also ordered not to talk to the press. Secrecy and power. Sounds like more bullying to me. This was done, no doubt, in the name of Jesus.

Recently the church began a Year of Faith encouraging everyone to return to Jesus as known, loved, and taught by the church. If the treatment of this 92 year old Jesuit missionary and parish priest is an example of the love of Jesus, who would want to have anything to do with it? Fortunately people know Jesus really is love, and never treated people in any way even remotely resembling this. Unfortunately, though, many of those who claim to be his apostles haven’t learned that. In a comparison of personal courage and integrity between Fr Bill and the hierarch who ordered this treatment, Fr Bill wins hands down.

The website for the Year of Faith says, “God has opened the door of faith for each one us and he invites us to step through the threshold into a deeper relationship with him. . . the Year of Faith is an opportunity for every Catholic to turn towards Jesus Christ, encounter him in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and rediscover the Faith and Church”. What door? What Faith? What Church? The one guarded by those whose goal is to protect their own power at all costs, who bully folks disagreeing with their discrimination against women and their protection of their own who covered up child abuse, and who think the folks aren’t smart enough to see what is really going on here? Is this the faith handed on from the Apostles? No, it isn’t. Folks know the Jesus of the Gospels is not the Jesus of the hierarchs imposed by threats and fear. When we try to learn from Jesus and imitate his loving and caring, we come to know we are not going to find him in the threats and pontifications of “leadership”. Folks want to turn towards Jesus, but there are some nasty people standing in the way. Any who are serious about turning back to Jesus  may have to do it in spite of them, as many folks already are.

Today’s Mass Readings are interesting, considering what is going on. The reading from Isaiah talks of what we come to know as the Gifts of the Spirit: “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD”. Fear of the Lord is a matter of loving trust having nothing to do with fear of punishment. Folks know this, so fewer and fewer pay any attention to hierarchs’ threats. Some stay in the pews and try to do what they believe is right. Others walk away and try to do what they believe is right. All of us are trying to do what we believe is right in any situation, and so good happens.

The Reading from Luke says, although you have hidden these thing from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike”. Perhaps the “wise and the learned” are the ones with all the answers, while the “childlike” are the folks with all the questions. Answers are closed, questions are open. Answers know, so there is no need for faith. Questions don’t know, so there is plenty of room for faith. Trying to figure out how to form and follow one’s conscience is a journey of questions and faith, wide open with room to grow. Fr Bill and Fr Roy, among many others, show us what it is to question, and the price many questioners have to pay. Questioning leads to growth. In the face of authoritarian fear, questioning can be costly.

Just sayin   .   .   .


26 November, thoughts on a weekend

This past weekend was for me an interesting and grace-filled one. I “heard confessions”, celebrated a vigil Mass, prayed the Commendation of the Dying for someone I grew up with in the presence of most of his family, celebrated a Sunday liturgy, went to the wake of a family I knew in my first assignment some 47 years ago. To me this is Church happening.

The local church to me is the real church. This is where the folks encounter God and respond to God’s call. Ideally a parish is a community centered around the Eucharist and responding to the call of grace. The Vatican, again to me, is the embarrassing anachronism. I think of the Rabbi’s prayer in Fiddler on the Roof, “God bless and keep the Czar (Vatican), far away from us”. Those who run the Vatican are dangerous, and in their way of operating they are not that much different from the czars. While the czars acted in their own name, the Vatican and the hierarchy up the ante by claiming to act in God’s name. This, they seem to believe, gives them the power to abuse whomever they deem to be out of line, in other words, anyone who doesn’t agree with them on anything, is thinking the wrong things or discussing what cannot by Vatican law be discussed, etc. And, as with the czars, there is no appeal. It is not safe to think. There seem to be some bishops, fortunately not that many that we know of, who assume this same power for themselves. Some have told their priests that voiced oppositions to their policies would not be tolerated. Some have acted with impunity in implementing their own choices in spite of counsel to the contrary, such as closing parishes, arbitrarily increasing the retirement age of the priests, etc., thereby inflicting unnecessary pain on their folks. How well do these bishops know their folks? How many care for their folks less than they care for their own agenda?

But then there seem to be some parishes that are no less czar-like. In an email to me last week someone said, “My younger brother, who is gay, believes that he was chased out of the Church because of his homosexuality, nor shall I say that he is wrong; my pastor spoke to me, threatening to deny me the sacraments since I termed the official stance on gay marriage ‘bigotry’”. No doubt some pastors are dictators, but there are many who are not, and truly are pastors to their people. The rich life of their parishes reflects this.

Someone for whom I have the deepest respect said recently, “I am still a Catholic; but my mind and heart are anchored in Jesus of Nazareth…not in the increasingly strange Jesus of Rome”. I can go along with that, my feeling are not too different. As someone else put it, “I have little interest in the Vatican’s opinion about anything! Christ moved out of there a long time ago!”. Roger that.

In another comment an Army Wife said, “I face the decision to remain Catholic and raise our son in the Church; what used to be a clear decision for me no longer is”. More folks are saying the same thing as they are making their own difficult decisions. I wonder how many in “leadership” care anything about these people, or if they are even aware of them. I hope these folks look around and try to find a parish that meets their needs before moving on out. One parish I am familiar with in the D.C. area is known as the “last stop on the way out”. Fortunately a great many folks of all stripes are finding plenty of reasons to stay with this parish. Hopefully there are other such parishes in other places. I think the search is part of our journey.

For me the Eucharist is everything. It is a time and space for worship, for healing, for growing. It is not a weapon, as some would try to use it. I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them”. I don’t think Eucharist is limited to the Roman Church. The fancy clothes and artificially phrased prayers might be, but not the Eucharist. It is for all of us.

What happens to priests like Fr. Roy who are tossed out? Are priests ordained a priest for ever just to serve the Roman Church, or are they priests for all folks and all times? Why can they not go elsewhere and celebrate Eucharist and other sacraments for any who ask? If they are thrown out of the Roman Church, then Roman rules no longer apply to them, and they can serve whatever folks ask them. I suspect the czars would not like that.

I watched some of the investiture of the new cardinals over the weekend. It was  Imperial Rome at its best, right out of Cecil B. DeMille, a spectacular. Probably wasn’t cheap. I wonder if the folks recovering from Sandy would have appreciated all the panoply. Or the folks in Sierra Leone, Malawi, or Libya, and any other countries where folks are suffering and in some form of poverty. How many wonderful “consequences of a thought in the mind of God” (a quote from Benedict XVI at his enthronement) died from poverty-related circumstances while these ceremonies were taking place? Maybe the Vatican will publish the price-tag for those ceremonies. Inquiring minds want to know.

I also believe in the Holy Spirit working in all of us on all sides of these issues. The searching and questioning are part of our Spirit-guided journey, and each of us on all sides has to be true to what we prayerfully believe we must do. The operative word has to be “prayerfully”. None of this can be an ego trip for any of us. None of us has all the answers, but we do have our own questions, and we have to keep on searching.

Just sayin   .   .   .

24 November, “. . . of yourself?”

In today’s Gospel Story for the Feast of Christ the King (John 18:33-37) Jesus asks Pilate, “Do you say this on your own, or have others told you of me?” Many of us are content to stay with what others have told us about Jesus and don’t get to the point where we can speak of ourselves. For many it is enough to know about Jesus, and there is no need to know Jesus directly. Second hand knowledge is good enough. It is enough to look at a map of New York City, so there is no need to go there and walk the streets and neighborhoods and meet the people. Some folks don’t get to realize the difference.

It is also a lot safer to be satisfied with what others in our particular group tell us about Jesus, to limit ourselves to the doctrines and ideas, the questions and answers. If we got to know him directly ourselves, he might ask us to do things we don’t want to do, like love our neighbor as ourselves, or not do to others what we don’t want others to do to us. We might come to see our everyday life from a different perspective, perhaps as the gradual unveiling of our role in God’s kingdom here and now. That could be work.

It is a lot safer to concentrate on what the church leadership tells people to do, to be so focused on being a “good catholic”, on having the approval of others, that we never let ourselves get to where everything in our tradition points us – a real and living relationship with Jesus. The church announces this relationship and points us towards it. The church does not make this relationship happen, nor is it a condition for this relationship, nor can it control access to this relationship. This relationship is a journey we have to make of ourselves, at times even in spite of “leadership”. No one can make it for us. Many have made this journey ahead of us, and we can learn a lot from them. But it is our journey, and rarely is it easy.

In the Story Jesus says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over”. Jesus’ kingdom is not like the Roman Empire – maintaining an army to keep people in line by force, threat, and punishment. It would seem though, that some groups who claim to be Jesus’ followers have adopted the style of the Empire and do keep their folks in line with their own version of an army and making use of threats and punishments, using sacraments and worship as weapons against those who might disagree with anything the system wants. They fight to keep Jesus from being handed over to folks whose lifestyle is not acceptable, whose ideas are not completely in line with established norms, or who dare to talk about forbidden topics. A question, though, does Jesus really need anybody to defend him from his own people, the people he himself creates and loves? Who is defending what here?

Folks who seek to know Jesus of themselves, to get beyond what various groups say about him, might come to see all this, and then their life becomes difficult. What to do about their experience of the great disconnect between what Jesus said and what is going on in his name today? They might come to realize that Jesus does not offer absolute certainty about anything, or the safety of knowing they are right. Instead he seems to offer the excitement of questioning, of wondering, of doubting, of realizing that they might be wrong. He offers mystery and trust – the mystery of coming to know him and the trust that doing what they feel called to do, taking whatever course of action they feel is the right one, and for them the way to go, and Jesus is making all things right. While there is certainty and safety in accepting totally the rules of a given group, there is fear and uncertainty in going where one feels Jesus is calling them. In its own way the cross becomes real.

These days in the church making one’s journey to Jesus seems especially difficult. “Leadership” has been coming down hard on any it suspects of independent thinking, of espousing the wrong ideas, or not knuckling under, all of which are seen as much more serious crimes than abusing children or covering up such abuse. “Leadership” acts this way of course in the name of Jesus. Folks who form their own thoughts on matters the system deems closed and their discussion prohibited are denied the sacraments, no matter what their age is. With impunity the system imposes pain and suffering on folks trying to live decent lives, but who do not conform to the system. The methods used by some of these organizations resemble those of totalitarian movements throughout history, even though these groups claim to follow One whose kingdom is not of this word.

These days it can be dangerous to be on one’s own journey to Jesus. A person on such a journey will be alone and probably afraid, wondering what they are to do, knowing that simply withdrawing back into the safety of the groupthink is not an option. Yet they will have ample opportunity to live in faith and hope, maybe even leading to love in the deepest and most practical sense of the word – living for others.

“Do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?”

“My kingdom is not of this world.”

Just sayin   .   .   .

22 November, Thoughts re Fr Roy Bourgeois

These are my thoughts, and my thoughts only.

Fr Roy Bourgeois’ expulsion from Maryknoll and dismissal from the priesthood by the Vatican ought to give all of us food for thought. What is our role these days? Is it simply to mouth what is given to us from church authority, or to live in a personal relationship with Jesus, and go wherever this takes us and do whatever we feel we are called to do? These days the two seem mutually exclusive. Roy’s situation reminds us again how dangerous it can be for any of us to prayerfully follow our own conscience as opposed to blindly following the hierarchy’s dictates. Basically any priest who says something authority doesn’t like can be tossed out. This is already happening on the world wide level. When will it happen on a local level? There have been hints recently in the area of same sex marriages where it seems already to have begun. Standing up for what we believe these days can get us thrown out of the church to which we have given a large part of our lives.

I am not proposing any specific course of action, only raising questions. I would not tell anybody what to do, since I can’t figure out for myself what to do. Many folks claim to have the answers and often are self-righteously abusive to any who question them. I enjoy having questions much more than having answers. For me Jesus is more in the questioning than the stock answers.

I see in the hierarchy’s mode of operating reflections of totalitarian governments throughout history, including many of the extremist attitudes of today. Some groups say, for example, if anything does not fit with our world view, we will destroy it, as is reflected in the destruction of ancient statues of the Buddha. Some will not allow women to be educated because they might be a threat to their power, and so they attempt to silence permanently any who disagree, even if they are only ten years old. The difference in the church these days is only in degree, not in fundamental philosophy: “leadership” will destroy what it cannot control. The attitude is that of a bully who abuses people simply because he can, because nobody stands up to him. There are numerous examples of this style of knuckling under to bullies in the last few centuries by groups who seem just plain afraid of higher authority. Perhaps the matter of the imposing the missal translation and the recent USCCB choosing to update the breviary translation are examples. “Please, sir, may I have some more?” What is going on? Do I really want to tolerate or be part of a system that abuses people this way? Hmmm  .  .  .

The hierarchy has more control over priests than over laity, simply because they can take away the priest’s livelihood, while the laity don’t need the church in order to survive. So this puts most of us in an unenviable position. Somehow this is part of our prayer journey, so our prayer life has to be very important to us. Nothing surprising here. The fact that priests are being overworked and often mistreated has to be considered prayerfully. What is Jesus calling each of us to do? It can well be that we are called to different things according to what our particular ministry is.

I see a great difference between the hierarchy and the local parish. I am privileged to help out in several parishes, and I see tremendous good happening there. Each parish is doing its best to meet the needs of its folks, and it is a privilege to make even a very small contribution, and to support wonderful pastors who are overworked and often worn out, and terrific parish staffs.

A question here is what to do about this. Just stand idly by? Get involved? I don’t know. “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” I don’t know if this applies here. I don’t know if what the hierarchy is doing is evil, or just annoying to me. There are some things I resent, but my resenting them doesn’t necessarily make then evil.

Also, the church teaches we are ordained priests forever, except, it seems according to the letter from Maryknoll, when the convenience of the Vatican deems otherwise. For me he will always be Fr Roy.

Some worthwhile questions might be, who’s next?, what now? Huh?

Lead me, Lord.

Just sayin   .   .   .

19 November, recent events in church history

It was announced today that the Vatican has expelled Fr Ray Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Order and dismissed him from the priesthood. His offense was that he took part in the ordination of a woman priest. This act was obviously much more serious than being a bishop convicted of covering up for a priest he knew to have child pornography on his computer. The church “leadership” shows again that it aims at thought control and the repression of the free speech rights of catholics, especially priests and religious. They continue to get away with this because there is no way to stop them. They have their palaces and cars, their skirts and other fine clothes, their bling, places of honor in churches and at dinners, and are called by their honorifics. As long as they mouth the party line and keep close to the nether regions of their superiors they are home free. Not many of the rest of us have such job security.

No doubt the “leadership” claims to be acting in Jesus’ name and how Jesus would act if he had all the facts. Being loyal to the magisterium, really just another convenient tool to keep the folks in line, is more important to “leadership” than living in an authentic and vibrant relationship with Jesus and doing whatever this relationship calls us to. Some would say, however, that a relationship with Jesus is not real and authentic unless the bishops say it is. What Jesus said is not nearly as important as what the “leadership” says Jesus said. So, where our prayer life leads us is not important unless the bishops approve it. Then there is the matter of living according to one’s own conscience. Unless one’s conscience is in line with what “leadership” says it should be, it obviously is in error and therefore cannot be followed. “Leadership” has all the answers for everybody always. How many folks really care what “leadership” says about anything? It looks to be fewer and fewer. Perhaps they are getting their smaller and purer church.

It is interesting that when Jesus said, “Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am with you”, he did not say anything about the permission of the bishop, background check on folks to see if they believe the right things and talk about them the right way and don’t talk about anything that shouldn’t be talked about, coming together only in approved places, using only the approved words or wearing only the prescribed clothes. He also didn’t say much about titles, except telling folks not to imitate those who sought them. The letter announcing Fr Ray’s expulsion from the order referred to him as Mr. Bourgeois. Titles are not important too often. They set people apart and, in the case of the church, put people on a pedestal, which the hierarchs probably enjoy. In some situations, especially the military, titles are necessary because they signify rank and responsibility, both of which are necessary in a well functioning military. In the church, however, when the purpose of the church is to point out the presence of the Lord among us, only his title is necessary. In the time of Jesus folks didn’t come up to him and kiss his ring. Wonder where the whole ring idea started anyway. Not with Jesus.

means I am always right about everything, and therefore I don’t need to learn from anybody.

It seems that the hierarchs have placed themselves in the position of being gatekeepers to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Nobody gets in without their ok. Fortunately not many people pay attention to this. Jesus doesn’t seem to because he keeps popping up in places the hierarchs just don’t like.

Two other things happened in the past few days that should restore the credibility of the church to its original purity.

Alarmed by a decline in the use of Latin within the Catholic church, Pope Benedict is planning to set up a Vatican academy to breathe new life into the dead language. Benedict issued the motu proprio Latina Lingua establishing the Pontifical Academy for Latin. The aims of the Academy are: a) to encourage the knowledge and study of Latin — language and literature, classical and patristic, Medieval and humanistic — in particular at the Catholic institutions for formation at which both seminarians and priests are trained and taught; b) to promote the use of Latin in various contexts, both as a written and as a spoken language. No doubt he hoped for resurgence of Latin will go a long way in restoring catholic morals to all the world.

Homage to clerical

Also, the Vatican Secretary of State has directed that bishops and priests wear their cassocks when they are in Rome. This has to be among the finest accomplishments thus far of the Year of Faith, and the New Evangelization.

John Chuchman at

Meanwhile a number of governments throughout the world are in various stages of arranging investigations in to the Church’s handling of the clerical abuse crisis. No comment on this from the Vatican, or from the American Bishops who just finished their meeting in Baltimore. If they ignore it maybe it will go away. But, bad news does not get better with age.

There must be a few bishops who don’t go along with “leadership” on some things. But if loyalty to the group keeps them from saying anything, are are being tarred with the same brush.

Jesus said, “I will send the Holy Spirit who will teach you to observe everything I have taught you”, and, “I am with you always, even till the end of time”. This I firmly believe.

The Holy Spirit is alive and well, and stirring things up, as She does so well.

Just sayin   .   .   .