Category Archives: Clergy

Some thoughts on calling priests “Father”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elder knows what he is talking about.

Just saying . . .

Current local events — convocation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ride to the sound of the guns!”

Just sayin . . .

Where are th bishops these days?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying . . .

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 . . .

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  .  .  .

 

 

 

 

Final Response to Vatcan Questionnaire

Final Version – Response to Questionnaire for Family Synod

What I have written here is the result of numerous discussions with a number of folks and in greater depth than I expected. It was a learning experience for me. A lot of time, energy, and trusting went into it. I hope it will be treated with respect.

To his credit, Bishop Lennon was among the first US bishops to ask for input from priests. He did this with respect, and I am responding to him with the same respect.

Status: retired priest in good standing — as a retired priest I help out in a number of parishes.

1. How do people understand the Church’s teaching on the family? 

These teachings are not much known or understood in general, and are commonly seen as a system of rules and threats which do not reflect family life as it is lived by our folks. Managers legislate for folks they do not see and do not know. Increasingly our hurting folks do not find the church ministering to them and so look elsewhere outside the church, or outside of religion.

Understanding the Church’s teachings takes time and effort, which most folks are not interested in doing. Classes, catechesis programs, and discussion groups are offered in many parishes, but the majority of people do not take part. While many people might have a superficial awareness of the teachings, most just ignore them and try to do their best themselves.

Many families are busy about many things and just don’t give much attention to the church and its teachings. Many good folks just seem not to care about what the church says on these and other matters. They have too many other things to be concerned about.

In this area, as in others, the church is increasingly irrelevant. Much of this is because of the bishops’ treatment of the sex abuse situation which reflects their overall arrogance. The church’s teaching on the family has minimal impact. Most families take their values from the way they were raised and from society in general, not from the church. Many families have no contact with the church and yet are doing quite well. Many of them are models for all families.

2. How do people understand the Church’s teaching on marriage according to the natural law?

The notion of natural law is not understood by many folks. Most families are just trying to live good lives and don’t have the time or energy to get involved in anything they do not see as ‘practical’.

There is a lot of resentment to unmarried males telling parents how to live the most intimate parts of their relationship and raise children, so by far most married folks just don’t pay attention to them. Church management focuses on sterile ideas in black and white, while real life is gray and messy. The celibate male management just doesn’t get it. Not many of them have changed a diaper, sat up all night with a sick child, deal with the challenges of raising children and finding/keeping a job, or had to suffer or make difficult decisions with a critically ill spouse, yet they claim to have all the answers for spouses and parents.

Many believe the church’s doctrines are based on disproved and obsolete concepts of biology and psychology, and ignore the emotional realities of human life and relationships. The decreasing number of church weddings and baptisms reflect the growing idea that the church has nothing to offer married couples.

Many folks know or are related to persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite, questioning, and do not see them as “intrinsically disordered”. Many have no problem with marriage equality, or with a religious ceremony supporting a couple’s love for each other.

3. Pastoral care of the Family in Evangelization.

While there are some parish programs, most families are just too busy to waste time on something they perceive as irrelevant. There are too many other things clamoring for their attention. Day schools are doing some good. PSRs, etc, aren’t accomplishing much.

Most families have nothing to do with the church. Some kind of outreach is necessary, because the Gospel has a lot to offer, but not by the way the bishops are demanding.

4. Pastoral Care in Difficult Marital Situations, eg, divorced and remarried.

There are no difficult marriage situations, other than those that don’t fit the church’s desired orderly facade and organizational structure. There are real people, couples in love and in need of the support of the Body of Christ. The church responds with threats and condemnations, always in the name of Jesus, saying basically that we will not help you unless you change and do what we tell you.

There is not much pastoral care, although many pastors are doing all they can. The scope of pastoral care has to be rethought and shared so that it is dealing with the reality or life. Peer relationships in this area of pastoral care could help.

Because they are perceived to be “living in sin” many divorced and remarried catholics just stay away, and deal with their pain as best they can by themselves. Many feel they are being punished by the church for failing in their previous marriage. They do not see themselves as sinful, but as having broken a church law which may or may not have anything to do with God.

Some, however, are making the choice that the bishops do not have the right to deny them full participation in the Eucharist, and they act accordingly. They realize they have not done anything that would cause Jesus to turn them away, and so do receive Communion.  They just don’t tell anybody about their “status”. Many priests are supporting them in their choice. This reflects Francis’ saying the Eucharist is not a reward for good behavior, but nourishment for people in their weakness.

Turning divorced people away from the Eucharist was by far the cruelest gesture on the Church’s part. And the idea of Annulment is worse. Til death us do part is hard by anyone’s measure.

With co-habitation becoming increasingly common, many couples don’t bother with marriage, either civil or religious. In the military there are benefits for spouses to have ID cards, and civil marriage is required for this, not a church service. Many couples do not go beyond civil marriage, seeing no need for church recognition.

Perhaps it is time for the church to get out of the marriage business where it functions as an agent of the state, and instead focus on Sacrament of Matrimony for those who want it after they have already been married civilly. It ought to be up to individual couples as to whether or not to have a church marriage.

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex.

A climate of fear is present in the church when our GLBTQ brothers and sisters are living in fear of losing their livelihood because of the way they are created. Often their parents share the same fear because they are supportive of their children. This fear is perpetrated by organizations and institutions who claim to act in the name of Jesus. As long as persons in a same sex relationship do not make their relationship public, things are relatively safe. The church is teaching folks to be less than truthful, as recent well known instances indicate.

Often ministry is provided below the radar, although there are some parishes that are “LGBTQ friendly”. Most people don’t pay attention to the bishops because they know their folks while the bishops don’t, and they reject church management’s statement that persons with same sex attraction are “intrinsically disordered”. All are created in the image and likeness of God.

A number of gay persons originally felt hurt by the church’s attitude towards them, but have worked things out. They feel God creates them and loves them as they are, and many don’t care if the Catholic Church accepts them because other churches do.

The perception is that it is not safe to be too public in this ministry. Adherence to doctrine and institutional rules is more important than caring for the hurting. While there are some parish support groups doing good work, a lot is going on below the radar. Many priests have no problem ministering to their folks, but do it quietly. The very fact that they have to minister in this way ghetto-izes our brothers and sisters. Folks realize that Jesus and his gospel are for everybody, regardless of what the church says. Jesus went to folks where they were, while the church says we will not help you unless you change to what we tell you to be.

In many parishes and church sponsored institutions claiming to act “after the example of Christ and at his command” there is an atmosphere of fear among folks that if they seem too “LGBTQ friendly”, seem to deviate from church norms, or are not anti-gay enough, they will lose their jobs or experience other forms of subtle or not so subtle persecution. Anecdotally there are numerous instances of such actually happening: parishioners being “discerned” as not qualified to serve as lector or ministers of the eucharist because their children are LGBTQ; students being afraid to be themselves because they will be bullied or otherwise mistreated; staff members being forced out of their positions because they are perceived as gay friendly or are not anti-gay enough; the list goes on.

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages.

Since the family is the primary religious educator, children in “irregular” marriages are further alienated from the Church because the catechism that is taught does not match the reality of their lives.  Why should a child go to mass or receive communion when their parents are unwelcomed at the Table? The Church is irrelevant because there seems to be little welcome and compassion, just rules and or elses.

7. The Openness of Married Couples to Life. 

Most couples feel they have the right and responsibility to determine how best to raise a family, and they make their choices as best they can and with good will. They ignore the bishops, as ignorant or unaware of the reality of everyday family life. Most couples, and very many priests, do not see birth control as a sin, so, if they go to confession, which very few people do, they do not mention it. Also, solid christian couples who are infertile are not celebrated for choosing the gift of life but condemned for using means that the church declares to be intrinsically evil.

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person.

Most families take their values from society and their own upbringing, and not from the church.

9. Other Challenges and Proposals.

Often the problem is that the bishops in general are perceived as arrogant and irrelevant, so anything they say is ignored and their credibility is minimal. They have lost the respect of the folks. This is due to the way the folks, including the priests, have been and are treated.

The emphasis is on “bishops in general” because there are many good pastoral bishops who quietly and pastorally serve their people.  That said, leadership that is arrogant, irrelevant, and with reduced credibility is the norm, not the exception.  This is a VERY bad state for the church.  An organization, religious or lay, whose leaders are mostly seen as lacking credibility is an organization in trouble.

The problem with the church’s teachings is the arrogance of the bishops who are proposing it. While the teachings are rich, deep, and complex, their value is minimized by the image of the bishops imposing it. And they do impose doctrine, not propose it. They seem to believe that only they have religious freedom and any who do not agree with them don’t have it.

In this day and age folks do not accept that certain topics may not even be discussed, and they resent the punishment that is imposed on folks, especially priests, who dare discuss them.

The message of the gospel is forever fresh; it can resonate with each generation, but leaders have to create that resonance.  Universal church with common dogma can resonate with varieties of faith communities and varieties of generations and historical periods. The message of the gospel remains the same, but how it is taught and lived changes: eg, Jesus didn’t have to worry about nuclear proliferation, AIDS, immigration, high unemployment, terrors, etc.

If the priests were asked what they think of the church as it is now, would the bishops really listen? Many priests are afraid to speak out publicly on what they know is wrong because of the perceived power the bishop has over them — assignment, salary, retirement, livelihood, silencing, etc.

In general the bishops have lost the respect of the folks. They have a credibility problem. They don’t know real life. Folks know that bishops in other countries have taken strong stands on things like the missal translation and communion for divorced and remarried catholics, and are wondering why the US bishops don’t do something similar.

As one person put it, Jesus wanted us to love one another and that He was joyful. The Bishops etc, need to help the people find Joy in the Lord. I have never heard this mentioned. Why are the bishops making it so difficult to get to God?

The parish/church is important only for special occasions, e.g. baptism, wedding, funeral. This also is diminishing. People are leaving? Does anybody ask them why?

“Internal migration” (varying degrees of just going through the motions while not paying attention to church teaching and practice) is a common phenomenon, and management ought to look into it.

A good practice of leadership is the “exit interview”.  Asking catholics to “come home”  is great if the invitation to “come home” would be accompanied by interest in “why did we lose you?”, along with an honest attempt, once learning why, to adapt leadership practices? Why would catholics want to come back if the institution treats them the same was as when they left?

just sayin   .   .   .

17 November, Homily Maybe . . .

God “happens” in our reality, not in our fantasy, and in our present, not our past or future. God is “happening” in the commotion going on in the church today as Jesus “is with us always, even to the end of time”, and “the Holy Spirit is teaching us to observe everything Jesus has taught us”. Things are as they need to be for us to be ware of grace happening among us. Our reality is that the church as we know it is in turmoil, plain and simple. Our prayerful relationship with Jesus guides us in how we deal with it.

There are some serious problems in the church. The diminishing numbers of priests raises questions about how folks will be able to share in Eucharist, and we are a Eucharist-centered church. There are not enough celibate male priests. But there are in our own area 100+ male priests who have felt also the call to marry. They are still validly ordained, and able to lead Eucharistic celebrations, except for church discipline rules. Then there are a number of organizations of women priests who are providing Eucharist for increasing numbers of folks. We old guys are doing our best to help maintain parish schedules and the status quo, but I am not sure that is the way to go. The situation has to be addressed more fully and openly. Those of us “on the back nine” recognize the crisis, but its full impact will hit after we have gone to another pace. The folks in the pews will have to deal with it. It might be a good idea to start dealing with it now.

Many folks, especially the young, are just walking away from the church because they know that what church management is saying does not reflect what they see in their life. They know that folks labelled as “intrinsically disordered” are not, that they are good folks who do not deserve to be treat as they are by management. Members of the church who reach out and work with them often have to stay under the radar because the management doesn’t like it. Increasing numbers of folks favor marriage equality, despite what management says. Managament is becoming less and less relevant to folks, so they react by doing bizarre things like performing exorcisms over stte legislature’s passing marriage equality laws. And folks just walk away.

Many folks are put off by what they see as management’s practice of declaring any who disagree with them as violating their religious freedom, in effect saying that only management has this freedom, and no one else does.

There is some concern about the fact that, with all the things going on in the church today, the most serious sin a priest can commit is to be publicly in favor of women priests. Management says this is wrong for everybody, but only priests can be punished, usually by silencing. There is concern over using access to Eucharist as a weapon to keep folks, especially politicians, in line.

Basically, its seems that the official policy is, management knows everything, folks know nothing.

Yet, in all this God is happening. From the beginning God, however we may understand the term, has created us in freedom with the ability to make our choices and the responsibility to fully accept their consequences. God’s plan is not  script, but a relationship that we work out with our choices. It seems that when we are open to God in all things, what changes are the values we use to make our choices.

Both Benedict and Francis remind us that our basic responsibility as followers of Jesus is to live in a prayerful, open, and trusting relationship with him that lets us respond to him however he calls us. This is the basis of how we choose to respond to what is going on. It seems there are a lot of folks on the pews who will passively accept whatever comes, and eventually will walk away. Following Jesus is not a passive exercise. It is a dynamic journey, an exciting roller coaster ride, a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump. Perhaps Jesus is inviting some of us to get involved, and this is what we have to do. Perhaps he is inviting some of us to not question anything, and this is what we have to do. Nobody can make our choices for us.

The Spirit brings folks together, as we see from Jesus’ way of living. There is always dialogue, based on an open and honest respect for others, a willingness to learn, and a mutual respect that acknowledges the good will in each of us. This is an opportunity to understand the unchanging message of the Gospel – Jesus living our Father’s loving mercy for all – and living it in an ever-changing world. Instead of seem current events as doom and gloom, we might come to see them as the Spirit reminding us, “Behold, I make all things new”.

Just saying   .   .  .