Category Archives: Equality

Random thoughts, December 2016

Recently I was asked to join the board of an international organization dedicated to church reform. This has caused, or at least provided an opportunity for, some introspection on my part.

My guess is that if I acquiesce to this invitation, which is not something I really want to do, I will do so out of respect for someone who has devoted his life to educating others, has been instrumental in church reform, and through the years has been a great help to Army chaplains, especially in Europe.

I fear that somewhere along the line some version of politics will raise its ugly head. Politics has never been my strong suit. One of the neat things about being retired is that I don’t have to play politics anymore, so I just don’t and some folks don’t like it — their problem, not mine. While I was on active duty, every 3 years or so I would have to reinvent myself as I was reporting to a new duty station. I found it increasingly difficult to keep doing this. I do not look forward to having to go through the drill again, even if only through the internet.

I also know that not a few of my thoughts etc are considered controversial, eg, my “personalist” understanding of the Gospel as helping us live with people now rather than keeping a distant judging God happy and earning brownie points for getting to heaven later. To me the Gospel is about people and how we live with and for others. It is a Story of God loving us, welcoming everyone, and not a book of rules to keep undesirables out.

I don’t believe anybody is “intrinsically disordered” — either we are created in the image and likeness of God or we’re not, and no one but God gets to decide, and I think God has already decided. I like what Benedict said: “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”. The more we learn about God’s creation, the more we learn about God.

Also, I do not believe celibate males, of which I am one, are competent to determine a woman’s relationship with her own body. We do not know family life other than our family of origin, so where do we get off telling families how to live their most intimate relationships? I believe love is not limited to heterosexual relationships. 

Reputable scriptural scholarship has shown there is no problem with ordaining women priests. The fact that Jesus didn’t ordain any women doesn’t prove anything, since he didn’t ordain any men either. I learned from my military service that women provide a dimension to pastoral ministry that we celibate males will never have. The same is true about married priests. We pray for more vocations to the priesthood, but it seems we have all the vocations we need. Management just doesn’t want what the Spirit is giving us.

Many in church management, along with their minions, claim to speak in the name of God and really think they can tell people they don’t even know how they have to live their life, what choices and decisions they have to make, and whether or not, usually not, they are in the state of grace, whatever that is. The word chutzpah comes to mind. It seems to me that the only one in our church who is speaking for God is Francis. Look at the opposition he is facing.

My understanding of what it is to serve as a retired priest who is also a retired soldier often does not fit with others’ expectations. But, I enjoy it. I like the military concept of mission. Our mission is to take care of the folks who and when they need us and sort out the details later. I think I identify more as a retired soldier than as a priest, because the way I see things is often quite a bit different from how the priests I work with do. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. Our stories and experiences are different.

My focus is on helping folks wherever I can, not judging them, perhaps a carryover from my time in the Army where the mission is do what I can to help the soldier in front of me. I don’t see laws and rules as paramount. Much of the esoteric dialogue I read these days has little to do with the folks I meet every day. In other words, It doesn’t preach. In a number of ways and in different places and relationships I am helping with folks seriously affected by the devastating number of drug overdoses and the fentanyl curse in our area. This whole mess is causing unbelievable suffering in families, narcotics and law enforcement, first responders, etc.

Then there is the matter of homeless vets and vet suicides. The other day I had the privilege of officiating at the funeral of one homeless vet. There are some real good folks trying to help.

As I type this, I am listening to Lady Gaga singing “Til It Happens to You”, and her talk about living with PTSD, something I am familiar with. She spent time with LGTBQ youth at the Ali Forney Center in Harlem, and said some powerful things to the young people there that are worth listening to. Our LGBTQ folks, especially teenagers, are an important part of God creating, and we need to be with them because so many people are against them. This is especially true in our high schools where people have been disciplined for trying to help them, especially the ones who are “questioning”. There is also what I consider to be a (im)moral issue of bishops making a teacher’s off duty lifestyle or use of social media a condition of their contract and an excuse for firing them. There are similar situations for parish employees, ministers, and volunteers. I know some wonderful people who have been caught up in this. In my opinion this is plain wrong. 

Recently I had the grade school mass at a local parish. Somehow bullying made it into the homily, and this surprised me because it was not part of what I planned to say. At the end of mass before the blessing, and on the spur of the moment, I had a chat with the kids about drugs. Later from the principal and the pastor I learned that some serious bullying incidents, both through the internet and physically on the playground, had happened this week. After mass some adults talked with me about kids taking drugs from their parents’ medicine chests. Seems like grace happened.

As important and interesting as understanding the millennial generation may be, in my day to day life it is not even on my radar screen. I have only so many rounds in my clip, and I try to use them where they will do the most good.

I suppose the main reason I stay active is because I believe Jesus meant it when he said “I am with you always, even to the end of time”, and, “I will send the Spirit who will teach you to observe everything I have commanded you”. I believe this is happening. I also believe firmly in the Eucharist and the Sacraments. To me grace is real. I do not believe the Catholic tradition is the only way to “salvation” or whatever term we use to talk about our next step in life. I cannot tell other folks how to live their lives, I have enough trouble trying to figure out how to live my own. All I can do is share my journey with them, and learn from them.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about the institutional church. I think that as a group the USCCB is useless and irrelevant, more concerned about their own prerogatives and authority, and totally separated from the real life of the folks they are supposed to be leading, and definitely a Francis-free zone. Many seem to be biding their time until Francis dies and hopefully, for them, a new pope will come who will turn back everything Francis has done. But these guys do look cute when they get dressed up, like little kewpie dolls on a shelf. Fortunately there are some pastoral bishops who are doing their best and often are not known outside their diocese.

For me the church is the folks in the pews, those who used to be in the pews, and anyone who is interested. With the world in the mess it is in these days, the Gospel offers some powerful insights of how to live justice, love, and mercy. It is a Story of God loving all of us, not a book of rules.

The healing and help we all look for happens when when we let ourselves be led by the Spirit to be there for and with others. All this opens up a whole new insight to the Gospel for this coming Sunday: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.; and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Just saying . . .

VP Biden Officiates Same Sex Wedding

As is fairly well known, recently Vice President Joe Biden officiated at the same sex wedding of two friends of his in his official residence. As would be expected, the management team of the USCCB (American Bishops) responded: “When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth”. They were quickly joined by their predictable minions and guardians of orthodoxy — the religious police.

What I find especially disturbing its that the bishops and these good folks are seeking to have what they consider the church’s view of a religious matter imposed on the general populace. It seems to me that churches can do whatever they want in their own internal religious matters (further discussion on this is not appropriate here) but they do not have the right to impose their religious positions on others outside their denomination.

There is a significant difference between the civil effects of marriage and the religious implications of matrimony. Civil marriage is regulated by the law of the land, while religious matrimony is regulated by religious traditions. 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, always of course backed up by the veiled threat of denying Communion. It is no wonder people are just walking away.

We do not need to pass civil laws that make it easier for us to live the Gospel. Throughout history Jesus’ followers have lived where laws were pretty much unfavorable to living the Gospel, and they did well. Many folks today are living the Gospel in spite the bishops who themselves are unfavorable to them.
I do not think the bishops have any right to meddle in civil affairs as they are doing here and in several other areas. Joe Biden did not intend to perform a religious act, only a civil one. The two are not essentially connected. When I was assigned in Germany one of my soldiers was going to get married at the Standesamt, the civil marriage office, as required by law. I went along to support him. As it happened, the soldier he had chosen to be his Best Man was too young according to German law to fulfill that role, so I stepped in and served as Best Man. I was taking care of my soldier. I think that is pretty much what Joe Biden was doing — taking care of his friends. I don’t think either he or I had any intention of making a religious statement.

My views on freedom of religion seem to be moving toward the notion of freedom from religion. I resent someone trying to force their religious views on me, and I certainly do not want to force my views on anyone else, but I reserve the right to hold my views and live by them.

From time to time while on active duty there were situations involving the use of wine for catholic mass. There are religious traditions who see the use of alcohol in any form as sinful. Sometimes there would be attempts to ban the use of alcohol in army chapels. These usually came to nothing, and we had a sort of peaceful coexistence. At times there were flareups, as when a supply sergeant from one of the traditions would object to having to order wine – and act he considered sinful. Since our focus was always on serving the command, a military term for doing whatever we could to take care of our folks, we were able to work something out, with all of us respecting and supporting others’ religious traditions.

The United States is not a religious country, much less a catholic country. It does not have a state religion. All religions have equal rights. The bishops don’t seem to get this. They can make all the rules they want for their internal religious matters (room for discussion on this elsewhere), but they do not have the right to meddle in civil matters such as this.

Religious traditions and their differences are important. No one interpretation has a lock on Jesus. All of us together reflect Jesus better than any of us alone.

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 . . .

 

Thoughts on Holy Week Liturgies

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

Easter Thoughts 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

 

 

 

23 March 2014, Woman at the Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying  .  .  .

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   .   .  .

 

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   .   .   .