Category Archives: Clergy

15 November, Thoughts During PT

This morning I received this email from a respected friend: “Here’s a question: If God was willing to allow Adam and Eve (and so many others in our salvation history) freedom to choose, even knowing they might choose wrongly, why isn’t our Church willing to do the same?”. Good question, but then he is known for asking incisive questions. I responded, “are you confusing the church with God?”, to which he replied, “Hooah! No such confusion in my mind; I’m just amazed at the ability of some church leaders to say they are serving a God for whom freedom to choose is such an essential characteristic of created human beings, yet not allow the same freedom”. Disturbing, yet on target. Undoubtedly this has something to do with his practice of contemplative prayer.

In varying degrees institutions fear freedom for their members. The institutional church is more fearful than most, and punishes folks who have the temerity to suggest such freedom, raise disturbing questions, or otherwise seem to rock the barque of Peter. Yet we need creative thinking and choosing. The institution cannot continue business as usual. For those of us “on the back nine” this probably won’t be our problem, since when the crisis hits the church hopefully we will be somewhere else.

Our church is Eucharist centered. It is getting increasingly difficult to provide Eucharist to folks due to the diminishing number of priests. We retired guys are doing a lot to maintain the status quo in the numbers and places for masses. Many of us are circuit riders, but I’m not sure this is the answer. We need creative thinking and choosing, and the freedom to make mistakes as we move along on our journey. Pope Francis says he would like a “messy church”, and this is what we would have if we dared to think and make choices, but is there anything wrong with that? I, for one, don’t think there is. Each of us is an image of God, and each of us has a lot to offer if we were not being stifled by institutional church managers. The Holy Spirit is moving among us, Jesus is with us always, and “there is no restraining the word of the Lord”. Maybe we have to take the chance and say what we think needs to be said, and think what we feel needs to be thought, make some challenging choices, and go where the Spirit leads us. Spoiler alert: any who take this chance cannot expect to be loved and welcomed by the institution, more like threatened and punished with traditional measures that have lost their impact for ordinary folks.

Along these lines there is a very good blog entry over at Young Adult Catholic on Transubstantiation. While the institution might say it is not theologically precise and does not use approved terms and concepts, it is worth looking at as an attempt to get a better handle on Eucharist. Many of our young folks are asking meaningful questions and coming up with pretty creative answers and ideas. This sort of thinking and choosing ought to be encouraged and supported for the good of all of us. Topdown-approved topics and ideas don’t work anymore. Folks on the street need the opportunity and experience of thinking, choosing, making mistakes, and trying again. We need constantly to be open to the Spirit, and the freedom to follow Jesus who is with us always even to the end of time. He is among us, not imposing from on high. Who is to say, other than institutional management, that he is not encouraging us to take chances and make mistakes?

When Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them”, he didn’t say anything about permission, approval, faculties, or places. Along the lines of the blog mentioned above, could there not be other ways for Eucharist in various forms? Any words or concepts we use for God necessarily fall short of God. It seems dangerous, then, for us to get hung up on exact wording or terminology. Cannot Jesus be present among different folks in different ways? Does any one particular way that happens among some folks have to be defined as the only valid one over against all others? Can we not explore different possibilities of priesthood serving in different gatherings of folks? Does it have to be limited to celibate males? Do any of us have an absolute monopoly  and control over Jesus being present among us?

If there is to be any creative thinking and choosing, something has to be done about the atmosphere and culture of fear that pervades the institution. To me there is no leadership there, just management or command-and-control. Good leaders encourage their followers to take personal responsibility for their choices and their place in whatever is going on, and grow in the process, all the while enhancing the mission. Blind unquestioning obedience is not the ideal, as it seems to be in the religious institution.

Idealizing the past as the only way for the present and into the future is not a good way to do things. Jesus’ message and life were all about living his Father’s loving mercy. The message does not change, but how it is understood and lived is constantly changing. The folks in Jesus’ day did not have to worry about nuclear war, the economy, AIDS, contemporary moral issues, pollution, etc. We do have to worry about these. Yet, underlying everything we do is Jesus’ call to follow him and live our Father’s loving mercy in all that is going on. This calls for creative thinking and choosing.

In the face of all this we might remember that “perfect love casts out fear”, and not let the prevailing institutional atmosphere of “perfect fear casts out love” disturb us. We do our best to live in an open and trusting relationship with Jesus and beg the wisdom and courage to go where it takes us.

Just saying   .   .   .

 

15 November, Bishops Don’t Speak for All of Us

Increasing numbers of folks are saying “the bishops don’t speak for me”. Some would go so far as to say, “the church does not speak for me”. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that what the bishops say does not square with what folks experience in their own life.

We encounter God in life as we live it, not as somebody else tells us it ought to be. We hear the Gospel in the setting of whatever is going on in our life. There is a lot going on in all our lives these days, much of which has not happened before, and the Gospel offers context and insight. It is the same God who reveals His/Her Self in each of us with all our differences and our sameness. Since God’s first self-revelation is creation, the more we understand about creation the more awareness we have of God. In the words of Benedict XVI, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, everyone is important, everyone is necessary, none of us is an accident”. How then can the bishops declare anyone to be “intrinsically disordered”?

Folks today do not react well to threats, so they do not pay attention to the bishops’ threats, among which are: declaring that folks who vote for a particular candidate are committing serious sin; if a person is not strongly enough against abortion they cannot receive Communion; if a person lives an unapproved lifestyle they cannot receive Communion and are going to hell; priests who are in favor of the ordination of women can be silenced, excommunicated, or thrown out of their religious order; any person or governmental agency that does not wholly agree with everything the bishops say is violating the bishops’ religious freedom; the list goes on.

The bishops have been very effective at driving folks away, and many seem to be smugly proud of their performance. They pontificate on the “hate the sin love the sinner” phrase, which folks know is at the same level as “separate but equal” of a generation ago – false, misleading, abusive. They are either unaware of, or don’t care about, the pain they are inflicting on very many good folks. How does it feel for parents of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to hear their children condemned as “intrinsically disordered” from pulpits and in the media? How do our same LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel when they hear themselves so condemned? Always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did such things himself.

There are, though, compassionate and pastoral bishops who have found less confrontational ways to serve their people. They just keep quiet about it, and who can blame them? Many of their peers can be very nasty. Often they have been pastors, not bureaucrats, functionaries, or diplomats, and have a feel for their people, walk with them, and, in the words of Francis, “have the smell of the sheep”.

The bishops are very big on “religious freedom”, but it seems this only applies to the bishops themselves. Good folks of other or no traditions who do not share the bishops’ ideas are said to be interfering with the bishops’ religious freedom. Others it would seem, have no right to this freedom. The bishops seem to think that strict enforcement of absolute obedience to increasingly detailed laws and practices that have nothing to do with doctrine imitates Jesus and brings people to him, and that folks are to fully accept these dicta even though their living experience shows they are neither valid nor true. It is no wonder people are just walking away.

Francis is not telling us what to think, but showing us how to think — through the lens of Jesus’ loving mercy. Jesus calls all of us to live this way. Many folks on the street get this, even without using approved words or ideas. They know it is not right to cause people pain because someone disapproves of them or their lifestyle. They know the people in their lives and recognize the good will that all of us have in some way. We are all trying to do our best in a life that is not easy or fair. We do not need others who have no idea of what our lives are like telling us how to live. We need to love and support each other, not threaten or condemn. We do not have to agree always, but we have to be as like Jesus as we can.

If we are serious about following Jesus our responsibility is to look for him and the Holy Spirit in our lives and go where this takes us. For some this might mean closely following the bishops’ dicta, for others it might mean moving in a different direction.

The bishops don’t seem to get it. They are still issuing edicts and cramming miserable liturgical translations down folks’ throats. Other bishops’ conferences have rejected the mandated liturgical translations as bad. Not so the American Bishops’ Conference. They eagerly direct yet more wretched translations of other rites and ceremonies. Does anybody really care? Probably not, except the priests who have to make sense of the verbiage, and who often are quite creative.

Years back a bishop told me, “Do what you think is right, I don’t have to know everything”. Not much of that these days. Some priests are doing just that – helping folks as best they can, and just not publicizing it. In all honesty, there is good feeling in this. We are just trying to follow Jesus as we know him in our own prayer life.

Just saying   .   .   .

14 November, Current Church

In the Gospel Story for this Sunday (Luke 21:5-19) Jesus speaks of the end times when things will get bad before he comes again. In many ways this Story can be talking about the Church in our day.

Let me begin by saying I firmly believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I will be with you always, even till the end of time”, and, “ the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you”. I believe this is what is happening in our day.

Apocalyptic Stories like today’s Story were written to encourage Jesus’ followers back then, and when we let them, they can do the same for us in our day as we look at what is happening with the serious problems in our church today:

  • diminishing numbers of priests – male and celibate; yet in our own local diocesan area there are approximate 100 validly ordained priests who are not permitted to function because they have felt the call to marry and raise a family; they way they are treated shows the vindictive nature of an institution that claims to act in the name of Jesus who was not vindictive; the hierarchy prefers to deny people access to Eucharist and instead maintains its own power by insisting on celibacy.
  • the most serious sin in the church today is publicly being in favor of the ordination of women; a number of priests have been silenced, excommunicated, expelled from their religious orders for publicly supporting women priests; there are several groups of women priests who are prophetically blazing the way.
  • while the hierarchy is dead set against marriage equality, increasing numbers of folks are in favor of it; also, the way our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are treated by the hierarchy reflects neither the experience nor the attitude of increasing numbers of folks.
  • the hierarchy demands total obedience to non-doctrinal orders that reflect neither the gospel, Jesus’ own way of living and reaching out to folks, nor our own experience of life, which is, after all, where we encounter God.
  • many folks, especially the young, are just walking away since the church has no meaning or importance for them, and there are fewer church baptisms and marriages; many of these young families are living quite well without church involvement, and in their own way are living the virtues the church teaches (in words not often not by example), as when a young family chooses to share their lives by adopting a baby without laying down conditions, just moving along together in love and trust.
  • decreasing relevance of the hierarchy as fewer and fewer people pay any attention to what the bishops say about anything; the pontifications of the bishops on matters they know nothing about has demonstrated in the eyes of many their incompetence and irrelevance, and so they are ignored; very few bishops know first hand the challenges of family life from the husband-wife or mother-father perspectives, yet they presume to tell these couples how to live the most intimate areas of their relationships, and thus are promptly ignored; some bishops presume to practice medicine by condemning good folks who have with good will and and abundance of medical and ethics experience chosen a course of action that bishops don’t like.
  • the perception that the church management is more interested in its own privileges than in the welfare of the people and is not following Jesus, who reached out in love to everyone, but is more interested in controlling who can get to God: labeling LGBTQ as ‘intrinsically disordered’, keeping folks whose first marriages failed and whose second attempts to find happiness are not within church norms, from sharing fully in Eucharist.
  • rather than reaching out to all by living Jesus’ gospel and life of mercy, the institution sees its role as controlling access to God by keeping out any who do not subscribe to all its believe or who do not use exactly the right words, etc; keeping the rules of the institution is seen to be more important than following the example of Jesus as folks see it in their own life and according to their own conscience.
  • the hierarchy’s practice of silencing and punishing priests who dare to talk about matters which by church edict cannot even be discussed: optional celibacy, women priests, etc.; also the style of many bishops who govern by fear and threats, either stated or implied.
  • there seem to be two churches – the church of the hierarchy, and the church of the folks in the pews or who used to be in the pews; increasingly folks are writing off the former as embarrassing and irrelevant, while maintaining some connection with the latter; many ignore both.

I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching us what it means to follow Jesus in our own life today. God happens in real life – our life as we live and understand it, and not as someone else tells us it should be. As Benedict and Francis have said, our primary responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to live an open and trusting relationship with him and go where it takes us. Many folks are doing just that. The turmoil of these days shows the Spirit is stirring things up, and raising up courageous folks living prophetically at great cost to themselves and their families.

Structures and institutions are good servants but bad masters. They tend to develop their own goals of self-preservation at all costs. They have to be questioned constantly as to whether they still have the values of the reason they were created – in the case of religious institutions, do they live Jesus’ gospel? Do they facilitate folks’ learning from and following Jesus, or just the opposite?

A question for all of us is whether or not to get involved, or just to sit back and do nothing. Each of us has to answer for ourselves. The recent request from the Vatican (in preparation for next fall’s Synod on the Family) to consult with everybody down to the parish level shows some glimmer of awareness that the ordinary folks know things and have a lot to contribute, and that the Holy Spirit does not guide only from the top down, but often from the bottom up. We are all the People of God.

Having a prayerful and trusting relationship with God however we know Her/Him is essential these days. While we can share our thoughts, we cannot impose them on others, no matter who tells us that others who disagree with us have no rights.

Just sayin   .   .   .

25 October, Some Thoughts on Bishops

Recently Pope Francis said bishops are to serve, not dominate, their people. These words have generated a lot of commotion. I think, though, if I really believe that Jesus is with the Church always even to the end of time, and that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, there are certain consequences and responsibilities.

Let me begin by saying up front that I have made several complaints and registered my concerns about our local bishop to the Nuncio and to the Vatican, and I will do so again if I think it is appropriate. None of these have been acknowledge, which shows that common courtesy does not apply to the church bureaucracy which claims to act, as some documents begin, “in the name of God”. So I am writing these words primarily for myself. If I think there are problems with what a given bishop is doing or not doing, I believe I have a responsibility to speak up somehow, I have and I will.

In the Spirit of docility to the Holy Spirit, I think I have to posit good will with our bishops. They love the Church in their own way, which may not be my way, or the way I think a given bishop should. Just because I do not like the way a given bishop is doing things I cannot say he is not a good bishop, or that he is a bad bishop. I have been misjudged and misinterpreted many times myself, and I know it is not an enjoyable experience. This does not mean that I must agree with everything a given bishop does. If I feel I have solid grounds for registering a complain or a concern, it is my responsibility to do so. I believe I can posit good will to myself, too.

Like all priests I made a promise of obedience to my ordaining bishop and to his successors. I do not consider that promise to be one of blind, unquestioning obedience or subservience. After just shy of fifty years serving as a priest I think I am qualified to have my own thoughts and opinions, and to choose my own courses of action, to say what I think needs to be said. I am thankful to be “independent” in that I take no support from the diocese or any places I help out. I feel both a freedom and a responsibility to say and do what many other priests might be hesitant about. There is a big difference between what priests say among ourselves and what is said publicly. This is understandable in the light of the perceived power the bishops have over their priests.

There are bishops, though, whose mindsets seem to be in another historical era, who really think they are princes. Without attributing to them any malice, they just don’t know that they don’t know.They have no contact with their folks’ lives. They really think they know better than everybody else. Some even seem to practice medicine. Their idea of following Jesus seems to be one of limiting  access to him to those who follow their own crippling ideas. They seem to be more interested in protecting their own power and prerogatives at the expense of folks having access to Eucharist. Many of them choose to protect and value the image of the church above ministering to folks, especially children, who have been hurt by their malfeasance or nonfeasance. They really seem to like their bling and finery, so Francis’ mode of simplicity might be generating some angst in them.

There are some bishops who seem to believe that people are made to serve the law, and so are less important than the law. The law is paramount regardless of the suffering it causes, and real live people seem secondary. They forget, if they have ever known, that the folks they are abusing (and I don’t think this is too strong a word) are the “consequence of a thought in the mind of God, are important and necessary, and none of them is an accident”. Perhaps some bishops might think about trying to learn from their folks and stop dictating and threatening.

One of the very common remarks I heard over and over gain in the Army was, when a person came in with some sort of difficulty, “We’re going to help you with this, but I don’t know exactly how right now; can you come back in an hour or so?”. This reflects a military attitude of helping folks. Too often the attitude of the church system seems to be, especially with couple in second marriages, “we’re not going to help you; you did this to yourself”. To me the military attitude is much closer to the Gospel. Good leaders want to help their people move forward, not keep them down. I have known some very caring and creative military leaders. There are probably some in the church, too, but they are keeping their heads down and caring for their people quietly under the radar. Then, some folks and couples are making their own decisions and caring for themselves. I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in all this.

While a given bishop may be personally caring and pastoral, he might not be able to translate this into pastoral leadership. Perhaps folks are expecting him to do something he just cannot do. Some bishops just do not know how to listen to the folks. They go through the motions of listening, but it is obvious that they have already made up their minds on whatever issue is at hand. Something has to be done. In some dioceses it will take a very long time to recover from the damage and harm certain bishops have inflicted on their people, and especially on the priests. In some places the deteriorating morale of the priests is manifesting in varying degrees of physical and emotional sickness.

Just saying   .   .   .

 

Some Thoughts on Military Chaplains These Days

Let me begin by saying I am a retired Active Duty Army Catholic Chaplain, having served for 27 years, and I have never felt my religious freedom to be threatened. A core value of the Army Chaplaincy is to “perform or provide”, something we are justly proud of. We help the soldier and family member who is in front of us, and if we cannot do what they ask, we find someone who can. We do not judge. We serve constantly with other chaplains who do not share our beliefs, and we support each other in taking care of our folks. We might disagree, but we do not condemn each other. I have, and if I were still on active duty would continue to d so, helped any soldier or family member, any commander, any unit, in any way I could. Also, I strongly resent anyone saying that soldiers I have served honorably and enjoyably with are “intrinsically disordered”.

Chaplains_Crest_3

Recent statements from religious “leaders” concerning how their chaplains must conduct themselves in regards to soldiers in same sex marriages disturbs me. Some of the writers of these statements have served as military chaplains, others have not. Those with military service write from their own experience, which may have been different from mine. They are certainly entitled to their opinion. I am concerned with those who have had no military service experience at all. Undoubtedly they form their opinions based on what others tell them. I wonder, though, if they have any solid frame of reference to provide context for what others tell them.

As I see it, perhaps due to my own prejudice and narrowmindedness, there is precious little in the guidelines of some writers reflective of either Jesus or Pope Francis. Francis is turning away from many issues that cause folks to wonder or even leave. He has spoken out against things like careerism, authoritarianism, clericalism, . He has indicated he is against rigid dogmatism and an excessive focus on morality that closes the door to meaningful dialogue. He says the church’s first proclamation is Jesus and his mercy, not a code of conduct: “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious iperatives”.  He does not want the church to be a small chapel for a few, but a large church for many. He tells us to go to people where they are, let our prayerful relationship with Jesus guide us in living his mercy.

I don’t see anything remotely resembling this in the guidelines issued by some church agencies. They are more along the lines of, “I love you, but first I’ll tell you what is wrong with you and what to have to do to earn my time; only I and those who think as I do are the way to God, and we will tell you how to get there, and we’ll decide whether you are worthy of us letting you in; we’ll try to be nice to you until you come around to our way of thinking”. Some of these guidelines claim to have been written to avoid scandal, but Pope Francis says, “sanctity is greater than scandal”.

Life is messy. We can’t avoid this. Rarely is it neat and orderly. The role of any who would be followers of Jesus is to have a prayerful relationship with him that lets us follow him where he calls us. When we took the Oath we asked to help us in our ministry to the men and women in the military. Because of our Oath this is where we found God – in our soldiers and famiies. We tried to live Jesus’ mercy wherever we were. For Francis the priority is the person. In the words of Benedict, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God; every one of us is important, every one of us is necessary, none of us is an accident”. When we know Jesus in our own prayer life, we come to recognize him in others, and we  learn to walk with him in whomever he brings into our life. We try to let uur relationship with him lead us to love and care about whoever is with us at any given time. In spite of guidelines, we do not have the answers for how everybody else has to live or what they have to believe. We do not know their story.The only Story we do know, and hopefully try to imitate, is Jesus and our Father’s love and mercy. This is what we proclaim.

Our mission as chaplains is to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen, all of which is supremely honorable, and compatible with following Jesus in any tradition. Francis says, “I see the church as a field hospital afer battle . . . heal the wounds, heal the wounds”. Don’t cause them. He tells us to heal the wounds first, then we can talk about everything else. Many folks already feel hurt and rejected for any number of reasons. They don’t need to feel rejected by their chaplain. He also says, “In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany the,starting fromtheir situation; it is necessary to accompany them with mercy; when that happens, the Holy Spirit inspiries the priest to say the right thing”.

Many traditions claim to follow Jesus. For some. however, while this is a nice sounding stated value, it certainly is not an operational value. It could very well be that a chaplain who is acting in given situations in accord with what he or she feels to be the call of Jesus, moves in a direction that does not please managers of a given tradition. Nasty things begin to happen, always in the name of Jesus, and as Jesus would act if he had all the facts. Precepts are written (evidently this is a big thing for some traditions).

It is a humbling privilege to be asked by a soldier or family member for help, to be asked by a Commander to provide input on anything, or to take part in a service or ceremony. At these time we can follow Francis as he calls priests “to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized and to be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep’”. He also said, “God anointed his servants so they would be there for others, serving the poor, prisoners, the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone”.  Military chaplains certainly do this. Not sure about some guidlines writers. We do not bring Jesus’ healing power to folks by saying, “Let me tell you what is wrong with you first”.

The message of the Gospel is, “My Father loves you”. No conditions, in spite of the guidelines. Jesus might be in trouble with some folks.

Just sayin   .   .   .

26 July, This Week’s Questions

There  are some big questions surfacing these days about what it is to be a follower or disciple of Jesus, and what is the role of the church, or of any religious system, in all this.

For example, is sharing in Eucharist the right and need of all people, or is it a reward for good behavior and thinking right thoughts, and threat of its withdrawal a weapon to keep folks in line? Is society really evil and a threat to religious freedom, or is society where the Reign of God happens since it is where people are and live? Which is is more important in a relationship – its quality or its mechanics? Why is there such a disconnect between the lived experience and pastoral needs of folks on the one hand, and on the other the disciplinary and management structure of the church? Why does church management (it certainly does not qualify as leadership) consistently ignore the lived experience of the folks, their talents and wisdom, the practicalities of their daily living, and instead attempt to impose its dictates on all? Is it time for the church to stop carping on marriage and focus instead on Holy Matrimony?

Celibate males, who seem to have been calling the shots through much of church history, rarely have any firsthand experience of the pain of a failed marital relationship. They cavalierly issue decrees on how folks have to fit in with given norms and similies of marriage, and if they don’t, punish them for their failure and pain by denying them Eucharist, always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did any such thing during his time among us. They take the position, it seems, that this is how Jesus would act if he had all the facts. The lifestyle of church managers keeps many of them from having to experience the pain and messiness of ordinary folks’ daily life.  Relationships are rarely neat and orderly, and often messy, but they are real and happen among real persons, not subjects of a law. Management, whose decrees are far removed from many folks lived experiences, claim to speak for Jesus. And so they establish procedures for folks to get back to the good graces of the church, procedures that are often experienced as humiliating, invasive, and abusive. Put bluntly, the system neither recognizes nor cares for the pastoral needs of the folks.  Maintaining power, order, and control is much more important. Apparently that is ok, because “The Church Says  .  .  .”. Always in the name of Jesus. Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Management seems to reverse this, teaching that folks have to obey management’s rules first before they can draw near to Jesus. Its consequences for folks remarrying after divorce is a good example, as are those for “unacceptable” relationships. Folks who would offer sincere pastoral care are often brutally sanctioned for their efforts.

Is society really evil? Francis doesn’t seem to think so. Fortunately it doesn’t look like our young folks think so either. American church managers see society as dangerous to religious freedom. Whose religious freedom? It seems that in their minds they are the only ones entitled to this. Any who do disagree with them are not. Francis points out the good that is happening in the midst of evil and suffering, and encourages folks to let their relationship with Jesus move them to get involved and make things better. He might be saying the same thing about the evil that is in religious institutions and systems where folks are being mistreated and abused, punished for thinking and questioning.

A number of respected theologians throughout the world are asking if it is time for the church to get out of the marriage business and focus instead on Holy Matrimony. Marriage is a civil matter with civil consequences, none of which need concern the church. In many countries a couple must get married civilly before they can have a religious ceremony which has no civil impact. Sounds to me like a good idea. If a civilly married couple chooses to have a religious dimension to their marriage they can approach a church and ask for a religious celebration of Holy Matrimony. Their choice.

It seems, rightly or wrongly, that in many cases the only way to get any good done in many areas of the church these days is through some form of disobedience. Many priests and pastoral care ministers are faced with this on a regular basis. But, then, Jesus did the same. He welcomed and ate with folks deemed unclean by the religious system of his day. He touched the untouchables, spent time with outcasts, spoke and acted forcefully against abuses, lived and moved among the people. He reminded them constantly that they had direct and immediate access to their Father, and lived his Father’s love. It seems in many ways he is doing the same things today through his followers, many of whom are experiencing the same mistreatment as he did.

It must be said that there undoubtedly are many wonderful and pastoral church managers whose decisions reflect their own personal pastoral care and courage. They just are not well-known outside their own territories. If they are known, often they are sanctioned in some way.

There is another basic question: which is more important – meeting the pastoral needs of the folks, or keeping an institution’s self-preserving laws? Often one has to make a choice, as often the two are mutually exclusive. As both Benedict and Francis have said, the basic role of any who would be followers of Jesus is to live in an open and trusting relationship with Jesus, and go wherever it takes them. And be ready to take up the cross.

Just sayin   .   .  .

6 March 2013, Excommunication- Part Deux

The Q&A part of the Bishops’ letter states excommunication is the Church’s way of saying a person has done something that harms the Church and also harms the person’s relationship with God. In threatening people who disagree in some way with the Church the phrase is often used that they are putting their immortal soul at risk. I don’t buy that. The Roman Catholic Church is not the only way to a relationship with God, with Jesus. A given action might damage a person’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, but that is not the same as damaging their relationship with God. Being in trouble with the RC Church is not the same as being in trouble with God. There are some wonderful folks who are in trouble with the RC Church, yet who are in a solid relationship with God and who are doing their best to respond to what they believe is God’s call to them. Can anybody absolutely say they are wrong? God and the RC Church are not co-terminus. I am not sure that the hierarchy have anything to do with anyone’s immortal soul other than their own. Jesus criticized the religious authorities of his day with saying pretty much the same thing – that their way was the only way to God for everybody always. I have served with many folks of many and no traditions who were good folks. Who is to say that they were not in a solid relationship with God, as they understand God, or with the good, as they understand it?

Can anyone say with absolute certainty that the priest in question is not in a real relationship with God, with Jesus, and doing what his prayer journey is calling him to do, that he is not in some way a prophet speaking out on the injustices and inequities in todays RC Church? Most of his critics, knowing very little about the practicalities of priesthood, find him to be wrong simply because he is not conducting his life as they believe he should, armchair quarterbacks who have no special insight into his prayer life or his journey. The words of Teddy Roosevelt come to mind here: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I am not sure that the promise of obedience made by priests at ordination is one of absolute or blind obedience. To me it is a mature attitude of listening to the Holy Spirit in the setting of what is going on in our life at any given time, prayerfully examining all courses of action available to us,. In many ways blindly following the dictates of a one’s bishop is easier than following the call of one’s conscience, especially if one believes the Holy Spirit is calling them to walk a difficult and lonely path. It might have something to do with taking up one’s cross everyday and following Someone.

The priest’s community has some discerning to do. As they have in the past, they will probably do their best to be open to the Holy Spirit. The fruits of their collective prayer life are obvious in their community’s ministries. Again, those with only a theoretical understanding will be quick to judge and declare solutions. They do not know the stories and journeys of the community’s folks as individuals and families, or of the community itself, yet they have the answers. I believe it is essential to posit good will for everyone involved on all sides of this issue. Self-righteous finger-pointing and judging do nobody any good. The important thing is for all of us to help each other heal the pain.

Benedict XVI tweeted that the way to follow Jesus is to “have a prayerful relationship with Jesus, listen to what he says to us in the Gospels, and look for him in the needy folks around us”. He also said that “Loving the church also means having the courage to make tough choices, suffering, having always before you the good of the church and not yourself”. He didn’t say anything about telling others that they have to live by our standards. His words are worthwhile for all of us on all sides of these issues.

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is involved in all this. I do not claim to know just She is involved, nor do I claim to have any answers for anyone. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what I am supposed to do. The Holy Spirit has very good OPSEC (operational security, keeping Her plans secret).

This is both a disturbing and an exciting time for our diocese, and for the RC Church, but not pleasant by any means.

Just sayin   .   .   .

 

6 March 2013, Thoughts on Excommunication

Yesterday’s announcement by the Bishop is a disturbing event in our diocese. Probably it will lead to self-righteous judging and polarization on all sides, always, of course, in the name of Jesus. There is a lot of pain.

The Bishop cannot be happy with the position he as taken. He is a good man with a pastoral sense who, I believe, cares deeply about the excommunicated priest and the so-called breakaway community. He has taken the only position he believes canon law allows. This whole process cannot have been easy or joyful for him.

There has to be pain also for the priest and the community — good people all who have been trying to do what they believe is they only thing they can. Their community in many ways reflects what parishes are looking to be — quality liturgies, educational opportunities, community ministry involvement. The priest is prayerful, well-educated, liturgically gifted, and also pastoral. No doubt all are suffering from the way their home parish was closed, and are dealing with their pain as best they can.

There are any number of theories about how we got into this mess, most of them involving finger-pointing of some sort. But that is the past, and the past cannot be undone. How we got here is not as important as what we do now that we are here. In the annals of international diplomacy there are numerous stories about dangerous issues being resolved by “underlings” from different sides of issues who get together and talk about things when their principals could not. The story is told about a potentially world-ending situation being worked out by a low level functionary of the White House meeting with a low-level functionary of the pertinent embassy getting together in a Georgetown bar just talking and relaying ideas back to their principals. When folks get on stage with a public position there is rarely any wiggle room, and nothing can get done. Its a bit like two branches of our government these day, each pointing fingers at the other while everyone suffers. Some things are best discussed in privacy and confidentially by folks who do not have an emotional investment.

No doubt there have been missteps on all sides. But who is to say that all involved in this mess are not following the Holy Spirit as they see her in their own prayer? All the people involved in this are good people, perhaps so involved and entrenched in their own positions as to be unable to see the good in the other side. This is just part of human nature. But finger pointing doesn’t work. In many ways the Holy Spirit is process, one that has been described as the ongoing revelation of the Trinity.

Perhaps we might learn from some of the studies of war and PTSD. Pain is a terrible thing, both for individual folks and for institutions. It has to be dealt with, and it will be dealt with one way or another. It is better if persons in pain deal with their pain on their terms rather than on the pain’s terms. If it is not dealt with, the pain will arise with a vengeance when we are not ready for it, and it is devastating. Without pointing fingers, it might be that this is some of what is happening here. Perhaps collectively our diocese is going through its own form of PTSD. Pastors who have watched their parishes being closed have experienced pain, and I would guess that many of them have not gotten the needed help, so they have hidden their pain and moved on. The same can be said, in my opinion, about many congregations, including the community at the center of all this. Maybe not. I don’t know, but it looks that way to me.

The Bishop has stated publicly that he wants to repair what is seen as damaged relationships with the priests of the diocese. He seems to be trying, and there is anecdotal evidence that things are getting better. I believe we all want to see him succeed. He has had a tough time here. But every once in a while something happens that causes wonder. Rightly or wrongly, because of his previous track record with us, anything he says or does is met by many of us with skepticism and mistrust. Morale among priests is not all that good.

We priests also want to see things get better for our diocese and our Bishop. Yet there are many who are afraid to say what we really think and feel. Many are still stung by the previous years of our Bishop’s tenure. Some issues are the “arbitrary” and “unilateral” movement of the priests’ retirement age from 70-75. Many priests are wondering if they will live long enough to enjoy their retirement. Some priests are hesitant to express their thoughts because of the reprisals they fear the Bishop will take against them. Maybe this fear is justified, maybe it isn’t.  It points out the underlying current in our diocese. The atmosphere of fear among priests is real, subtle, unnerving, and debilitating. Many are just not happy. As some say, “it’s just not fun anymore”. It is not fair to judge any of them. It would be nice if more of us would express publicly what we say privately.

Perhaps our current situation might provide some hints as to where the Holy Spirit is calling all of us. In the interests of full disclosure, I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of time”, and “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you”. I believe he was speaking not only of the universal church, but also of local churches, of our local church today.

Just sayin   .  .   .

23 January, fulfilled?

In the Gospel for this coming Sunday (Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21) Jesus in the local synagogue reads the following passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor; He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord; rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him; He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’ “. But is it fulfilled in our hearing today?

One might wonder how the institutional church is living out these words in our own day. How does its mode of governance bring glad tidings to the poor when it closes churches in our inner cities and moves them to suburbs? How does it proclaim liberty to captives when it is itself making captives of any who disagree with its formularies? How can it proclaim recovery of sight to the blind when it imposes blindness itself on folk by forbidding them to think or to discuss any number of topics, when it violently (sign this document of submission or else) demands complete assent of intellect and will to pronouncements most folks don’t believe anyway, insisting its decrees take precedence over one’s own conscience? Such is the case with Fr Tony Flannery in Ireland. How can the institutional church claim to let the oppressed go free when it is the one doing the oppressing, as is the case with the LCWR, with any who favor the ordination of women or optional celibacy? It may be proclaiming a year acceptable to the Lord by providing an opportunity to the Holy Spirit to raise up folks who question these practices and are willing to pay the price for doing so. It seems to be rewriting the scriptures as its operational values reflect the principle that perfect fear casts out love, that obeying God in the call of one’s conscience is not nearly as important as obeying the church in all its self-serving dicta. It cannot lead with love, so it imposes with fear. It keeps folks in line by threats and punishments. Fewer folks are paying much attention to this, and there is not much the Vatican can do to them.

For priests, however, it is different. The institution and its minions beat priests up over their notion of the vow of obedience made at ordination, and, for religious order priests, at their religious profession. It is difficult to live this vow as one only of slavish and non-thinking obedience, as it is seen by many who have not taken it. The idea of listening prayerfully to the call of one’s conscience seems to the system and its minions to be both a threat to the system and an act of disloyalty. Those who have actually taken the vow might have different ideas about it, who both made the vow and live in deep love of Christ and the Church, and who are learning how difficult and painful this love can be. Obedience involves prayerful dynamic listening, and equally dynamic response. There is nothing slavish about it. It is a challenge that one must meet on one’s own, and which will be misunderstood, criticized, and attacked by others for whom it is merely an intellectual and theoretical exercise. Being a priest these days isn’t easy. The meanest input seems to come from folks who know very little about what it is, but who have their own agenda and expectations.

There seem to be some instances of abusive treatment of priests even on local levels. There is the story of a group of priests who were getting together for lunch and had invited a retired bishop from another diocese to join them and share some thoughts. This visiting bishop called the local ordinary to mention he was coming to town. Very shortly thereafter he called a priest helping to organize  the luncheon and asked him “to tell the brothers that he ‘thought it advisable not to come’”. It would seem that the visiting bishop’s conversation with the local ordinary was a key factor in his deciding not to come and join the priests for lunch. I was not privy to the phone call, so I may be way off in my thoughts. But there are questions.

There is not much respectful and honest dialogue in the institutional church these days. In his second inaugural address President Obama said “We cannot treat name-calling as reasoned debate”. Yet this is what many do in criticizing our brothers and sisters whose journeys and stories differ from ours and which we do not understand. There is precious little kindness or respect, and plenty of venomous self-righteousness. We have learned this from “leadership”, and they have taught it well by their own example. The “speaking in the name of God” and “eternal salvation” cards seem to trump a lot of other hands. But, fewer and fewer folks are paying attention. One wonders, though, is the god they claim to represent that same God that Isaiah knew and whom Jesus read about in the Story?

Each of us might ask ourselves how the Story speaks to us in our own setting. We may or may not be able to look to the institution for example or guidance. We may have to act in ways that are perceived as disloyal or as a threat by the system and its minions. The whole idea of following Christ and taking up our own cross every day becomes decreasingly theoretical and increasingly real. The system has various ways to send the message that “we are watching you”. Sometimes its hard to care just what they do. Each of us has to follow our path as we prayerfully discern it. The operative word is “prayerfully”.

Just sayin   .   .   .

 

10 January, random thoughts, Heschel

Recently I heard a program about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. One of the things he said was, “It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats; religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid”. This certainly seems to be the case with the current situation of the Roman branch of the Catholic Church. It is fast becoming irrelevant to an increasing number of catholics, as it does not reflect the life they are living every day. It is dull and insipid in its pronouncements and ridiculous costumes. To say the church leadership is oppressive is truly an understatement. In the way the Vatican deals with any who do not follow the party line exactly it is abusive, violent, brutal, repressive to say the least. Its leadership style is more reflective of tyrannical despots than of the Prince of Peace and the Son of a Loving Father, in whose name they claim to speak.

A few days ago I received a letter from an Army Wife I knew when I was on active duty, and whom I respect very much. This letter is in the previous post. She reflects Rabbi Herschel’s statement. I think she expresses what many folks feel, both the folks in the pews, and many of those who have just walked away. To me her letter is yet another indication that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much involved.

An ongoing question for us is what does it mean in our particular circumstances to live as Jesus lived. When we prayerfully consider the Gospels and their Stories, what do they say to us in our life? Not what does someone else say they say to us, but what do we hear them saying to us. The Gospels speak to us on our journey as it is, not as anybody else tells us it should be.

More and more folks seem to be saying in one way or another that the Gospels are calling them to question what is allegedly being done in Jesus’ name. Questioning is important.  If the teachings of the church do not reflect real life as lived by folks, where and why is the disconnect? Few people question the basic teachings of the church. It is the discrimination and the abuse that bother many of them, such as the silencing of any who raise questions about matters deemed to be not discussable by “leadership”.

For many years catholics were told to do certain things under pain of sin. Among these is going to mass on Sundays. This was presented simply as a matter of obedience – you have to do it because we tell you to “or else”. The “or else” part of this is mortal sin. If someone misses mass and dies before going to confession, they will die in mortal sin and go to hell — or so the story goes. Many parishes felt all they had to do was provide mass and the folks would come, because of the “or else”. The quality of the liturgies was not important, because the people had to come regardless. This continued on, but folks started to stay away in droves. Who can blame them? Who really believes the Father of Jesus would be so angry at someone for missing mass that he would condemn them to hell for all eternity?Yet, “leadership” seems to be trying to get back to that same mentality. Folks are just ignoring them, so “leadership” just hollers louder. The “do it because we tell you to” mentality is gone, hopefully forever.

The church system maintains a caste system based on gender that is disappeared throughout most of the world. It does not allow women to be priests. No matter how “leadership” fancyfies its rationale, fewer and fewer people believe it. So “leadership” just hollers louder, and fewer folks listen. If anybody wants to get in serious trouble with “leadership” all they have to do is come out in favor of women priests. This is especially true if the person is a priest, a theologian, or a teacher in a catholic school. Questioning this “doctrine” is not permitted, and the penalties are severe. This is also true with the “great gift of celibacy” and the priesthood. Discussion is not permitted. But, as some have said, if priestly celibacy is such a great gift, why can’t we talk about it?

The church is currently celebrating a Year of Faith, urging catholics who have walked way to return. I don’t know what the success of this campaign is. The faith has a lot to offer, but “leadership” keeps getting in the way with their inane threats and pronouncements. Its not about them. Its about Jesus bringing his folks together and working with them to live his message of Our Father’s love for everyone. Everybody has something to contribute, not just the celibate men in the funny clothes.

Many folks, upset with the way “leadership” is acting, are forming their own eucharistic communities where they gather to worship, to be led, and to perform their own apostolic works. While they might not be strictly roman catholic, who is to say they are not eucharistic? “Where two or more are gathered together in my name, I am with them.” This might be a worthwhile option for some folks. The Holy Spirit is alive and well. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Who is to say this is not what is happening?

Just sayin  .  .  .