Category Archives: Local Church

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 . . .

Current local events — convocation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ride to the sound of the guns!”

Just sayin . . .

Where are th bishops these days?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying . . .

4 Feb 2015, Some Thoughts of a Retired Priest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  . . .

18 June, Thoughts on Corpus Christi

In today’s Story for Corpus Christi (John 6:51-58) Jesus says, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”.  What happens when an institution claiming to act in Jesus’ name tells folks that, unless they please the institution they cannot have access to Jesus’ Body and Blood? The institution seems to be saying, “What Jesus said then is not as important as what we say now – we control the ‘real’ Jesus, and if you don’t do what we say, you’ve got a problem, so shape up, etc”.

Among the most obvious such situations is the difficult matter of someone whose first marriage failed for whatever reason, and they have entered into a second marriage that does not fit into the institution’s neat categories. The institution in effect tells them that, since their paperwork and canonical status are not in order, they cannot “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood”. This intolerable situation is the focus of much discussion, often nasty and uncharitable not to mention self-righteously judgmental, throughout the institution in preparation for the fall Synod on the Family. Those against making any kind of pastoral accommodation maintain that if these persons are permitted to share fully in Eucharist the entire institutional legal system will collapse. The corollary here is that the legal system is more important that the pastoral needs of persons trying to do their best to live a good life and have some sort of a life giving relationship with Jesus. While Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”, the institution seems to have other ideas. While this might not be germane, it is worth noting that very few of the institution’s managers have experienced married love in all its fullness and messiness, and not knowing what it is to be a spouse or parent, they reduce it all to logical processes and legal categories, neither of which connect with real life as lived by ordinary folks.

Other situations include, but are not limited to, treatment of persons who espouse forbidden causes such as ordination of women, marriage equality, or, in some places, persons who belong to “forbidden” groups, e.g. Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, etc. What Jesus gave as a gift to his followers to help them live in a life-giving relationship with him has been co-opted by the institution and turned into a weapon of fear and punishment, a tool to keep people in line. It seems that pleasing the institution is much more important than pleasing God by living his mercy.

Reflecting on the season of Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi, there might be some disturbing analogies. Institutions can try to keep Jesus in the tomb with the heavy stones of traditions, laws, forbidden topics, and guard the security of the tomb with thought police who try to keep Jesus in and questioners out. They lock the doors to bar ideas and questions, and threaten with severe reprisals any who dare to question or suggest new ways of understanding doctrine. Yet, Jesus persists in coming forth and walking among the people offering life, not threats and punishments. He gives us his peace, and the Holy Spirit, who continually calls forth folks who have new and richer understanding of doctrine, and who themselves experience Jesus life-giving presence among us. They in turn often are castigated by the institution and its minions, but are not intimidated as they point out the Risen Life-giving Jesus among us even today. Often the price they pay is excessive, imposed by an institution that claims to act in Jesus’ name doing things Jesus himself never did, displaying a self-serving and self-protective attitude that Jesus never had, inflicting the same pain that Jesus healed with his Father’s mercy.

Jesus tells us that unless a person “eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood”, they do not have life. No institution can interject itself between any person and Jesus. When Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18:20), he did not say anything about the place, getting anyone’s permission, the marital status or orientation of the persons gathered, or the gender of the presider.

For many the fact that these questions are arising in so many different places is an indicator that the Holy Spirit is very much involved in Jesus’ followers. Jesus is continually meeting and surprising us as he did with Mary in the garden and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He continues to come through locked doors, telling us not to be afraid, to receive the Holy Spirit and learn to forgive. He continually reminds us that, “as the Father has sent me so I send you”. As happened after the tongues as of fire in the upper room, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit and do  what we think we are to do, we need to be ready to be kicked around — and surprised.

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

Thoughts on Holy Week Liturgies

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

Easter Thoughts 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

 

 

 

Final Response to Vatcan Questionnaire

Final Version – Response to Questionnaire for Family Synod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Pastoral care of the Family in Evangelization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex.

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages.

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

7. The Openness of Married Couples to Life. 

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

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person.

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

9. Other Challenges and Proposals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

just sayin   .   .   .

17 November, Homily Maybe . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying   .   .  .

 

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   .   .   .