Category Archives: Current issues

4 Feb 2015, Some Thoughts of a Retired Priest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  . . .

11 January 2015 Baptism of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying . . .

Jesus and Peter on the Water – Some Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying . . .