Category Archives: Leadership

Final Response to Vatcan Questionnaire

Final Version – Response to Questionnaire for Family Synod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Pastoral care of the Family in Evangelization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex.

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages.

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

7. The Openness of Married Couples to Life. 

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

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person.

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

9. Other Challenges and Proposals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

just sayin   .   .   .

17 November, Homily Maybe . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying   .   .  .

 

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   .   .   .

27 July, More Questions

Another question: what does it mean to follow Jesus? Is a person to follow Jesus as she/he is coming to know Him, or are they to follow a Jesus someone else tells them about? If someone is coming to know Jesus as one among us who loves each of us beyond anything we can describe, how are they to deal with a Jesus presented as someone to be feared and obeyed, and whose dictates conveniently correspond to those of a given religious institution? On one’s journey is it possible to be firmly committed to be open to Jesus as we come to know him, and yet reject rules and demands that clearly conflict with the Jesus one is coming to know? If Jesus tells his followers to love God with their whole being and love their neighbor as themselves, how does one’s relational or marital status affect their ability to do this? Or how does anyone get the right to tell others whom they can love and how?

What is a person to do when they come to realize that the operational values of an institution purporting to be the only way to Jesus clearly do not reflect the values that Jesus lived and taught to his disciples? What happens when a person realizes that, while Jesus said people will know his followers by the love they have for each other, many who claim to be his followers conduct themselves in a self-righteous, judgemental, belittling, and abusive way, castigating any who do not agree with them? What happens when folks on their journey come to realize that the Father presented to us by Jesus is not an angry God who plans to send people to hell for missing Mass on Sunday, or not thinking holy thoughts about him all the time, or the occasional sexual lapses or “bad thoughts”, and so on?

What does it mean when a tradition teaches that each of us without exception is made in the image and likeness of God, is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, each of us is important, each of us is necessary, and none of us is an accident, and then some institutions claim in God’s name to lay down qualifications and standards as to what God really had in mind, and it is not some folks if they are in certain categories? What does it mean when a person is coming to know profoundly in their own life the experience and meaning of the “Our Father” as being in direct contact and relationship with God, and then encounters a system that imposes its own interpretation with itself as the sole intermediary and means of access? What does it mean when persons, perhaps aware of God with them on their journey, perhaps not, find themselves in a strong and committed relationship and some institutions condemn them for this? How are these folks to feel? While they might know somehow God loving them, they do not find his love in some institutions that claim to speak and act in his name. What are they to do?

What are folks to do when they approach representatives of religious institutions with serious life impacting questions and receive all-knowing answers which clearly do not reflect real life issues and relationships? Can an institution really have relationships? Is there a difference between relationships as studied in books and classes, and as lived out in real life? What happens when a person on his/her  journey comes to realize that Jesus doesn’t always provide answers, but very often raises more questions?

What happens when persons who are suffering the pain of coming to know their own sexual identity are told by an institution claiming to speak on behalf of God that, unless they follow a lifestyle that is in accord with the institution’s norms they will be punished for all eternity, as will their parents if they do not change their offspring’s behavior? What gives any person or institution the right to tell these images of God that they are “intrinsically disordered”? Where is Jesus in all this?

What about an institution that claims to be the only way to a loving God, yet keeps its ministers in line by threats and silencing, and the perceived power to damage their livelihood – in other words don’t rock the boat, speak the party line, or you will be in trouble? Faced with this, few ministers speak out publicly what they think and say privately, and who can blame them? Many who have had the courage to speak out loud are paying the price.

Is this what Jesus had in mind when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another; by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”?

Just wonderin   .   .   .

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   .   .  .

30 June, Journey

In the Story Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” where, according to Luke’s perspective, he would be put to death for his unacceptable ideas. He invited several folks to follow him, but they were concerned about what it might cost them. Jesus said things like: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head”; “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God”. He doesn’t offer much comfort and security as we understand them. He doesn’t offer fancy clothes, bling, nice houses, comfortable lifestyle. What he really offers is a chance to follow him in suffering. This is serious stuff. He does not promise popularity or approval. On our journey each of us has to do what we think is right. While we might share our journey with others, we cannot ipose it on anyone.

Jesus does not call his followers to an easy life, but often to suffering. There are many folks who believe Jesus is calling them to take unpopular positions on controversial topics, which bring them into conflict with a religious institution. Can anyone say for certain that folks who feel their journey with Jesus calls them to come into conflict with a given church’s position are not truly following Jesus?

In the current commotion around DOMA and Prop 8 there are many folks whose perspective is not that of the hierarchy. Can anyone say for sure that these folks are not doing what they believe Jesus is calling them to do? Can anyone say for sure, as some are, that the Justices who voted either way were not following what their consciences and Jesus told them was right for them to do?

Can anyone say that parents of children who are described by church hierarchy as “intrinsically disordered” are not following Jesus’ example in loving and supporting their children? Or that persons who minister to the gay and lesbian community in ways not approved by the hierarchy are not following Jesus as they are coming to know him?

Any idea of Jesus, no matter how great or grand it might be, is nowhere near who Jesus really is. Anyone’s idea of Jesus tells more about them and their perceived needs than about Jesus. If we find that Jesus always agrees with us on everything, we might have to relook and rethink. No one has the right to impose their notion of Jesus on anyone else, or to judge someone whose idea of Jesus is different.

Many of these folks are already coming to experience what Jesus meant when he said that his followers had to take up their cross daily and be his disciple. Our crosses show us Jesus and teach us about ourselves. Jesus tells us not to judge, but to walk with each other and help each other with our crosses. We need a prayerful relation with Jesus to bring us all together. There is a lot of pain these days. Each of us has caused some for others. Each of us can also bring healing to others. This is why Jesus tells us to follow him and spend time with him, so we can come to know him, and gradually move towards living as he lived.

We need to give serious though as to how serious we want to be about trying to be Jesus’ disciple. It might be pretty costly. Look how his journey turned out.

Just sayin . .