Category Archives: Local Church

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   .   .   .

 

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   .   .  .

June 19, Who do you say I am?

In the Gospel (Luke 9:18-24) Jesus asks, “who do people say I am”, and, “who do you say I am”. There is a difference between what we hear about Jesus from others – our parents, teacher, church – and how we come to know him in our own journey and story. There is a difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone, like the difference between our looking at a map of New York City and our actually walking the streets and meeting the folks. This suggests some questions: whatever our idea of Jesus may be, do we have the right to force it on others; what if the way we come to know Jesus from our time with him in prayer and our walking with him leads us in a direction that a given religious institution might not go along with. This is what got Jesus in trouble.

Especially these days parents are concerned and upset when their children do not have the same religious values as they do. What they often forget is that every one of us at some point on our journey has to make our own choices on many things, one of which is religion. We live in an age when just about everything is open to being questioned, and this is a pretty good thing. Earlier generations might not understand this. God gives us an intellect and expects us to use it. God does not tell us mindlessly to accept everything a given religious tradition has to say. Many religious institutions are, to say the least, self-serving, saying something to the effect that “we alone are right, and everybody else is wrong”, or, “everybody else’s story is a myth, and only ours is true and accurate”. However, rather than hand-ringing or judgmental labeling, there always needs to be room for honest and open dialogue where all sides can learn from each other.

Many folks today see the big disconnect between the stated and operational values of some religious traditions, and they want nothing to do with these institutions. Who is to say they are wrong? If an institution proclaims that it alone has all the answers and therefore cannot possibly learn from anybody else, that is the only way to God, and declares that certain topics cannot even be discussed because authority disapproves and punishes dissent with draconian measures, why would any intelligent person want to be part of it? When a religious institution is perceived to consider formal obedience to its laws and belief in its dogmas as more important than following Jesus on a deeply personal level, folks will look elsewhere, as, indeed, is happening on our days. As Pope Francis has said, the church cannot continue to be “self-referential”, judging folks as to whether or not they meet the church’s standards. The role of the church is instead to live the gospel with everyone everywhere, and not demand that others live by its standards or else.

At some point on our journey we have to let go of what others have told us and move ahead on our journey with Jesus. It might just happen that we return to the ideas we have learned from others, and come to see them not just as dogmas, but as matters of our own experience. We come to know that these ideas, etc, are good as far as they go, but they go nowhere near to the reality that we call God. There is always the danger that for some, believing the “right things” about Jesus might become more important than believing and trusting in him.

Then there is the question of what happens when folks are sincere in their efforts to live in a relationship of open trust in Jesus as they have come to know him, and find they are moving in a direction that is putting them at odds with religious systems and institutions. Who can say they are not truly following Jesus as they are coming to know him? Are folks in favor of marriage equality wrong because their position is not the same as a given institution’s teaching? What about folks and communities who, in the setting of their own journey with Jesus, are trying to live the gospel with folks whose sexual orientation and lifestyle are not approved by some religious institutions? Are folks who favor the ordination of women not being true to Jesus because their position does not fall in line with a given religious institution’s teaching? Are the priests who are in favor of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative (also know as the “Disobedient Priests”) untrue to Jesus as they have come to know him because a given religious institution believes otherwise? Are theologians, and others who have been silenced for their opinions, departing from Jesus because their prayer and study on their journey has led them to conclusions that a given religious institution does not approve of? Are folks whose journey leads them to work actively for optional celibacy and allowing persons whose marital status is “irregular” to share fully in the sacraments wrong because their position is not that of some religious institutions? Is a parish community who, having been shuttered by a local bishop, moves ahead and their journey with Jesus and forms their own liturgy centered and ministerial community wrong because they are not knuckling under to a bishop’s threats and intimidations?

Who among us can say with absolute certitude that someone is not journeying with Jesus? Pope Francis reminds us not to do that, but to live the gospel with everybody, whether or not they share our views on whatever. None of us has all the answers. None of us knows anyone else’s story or journey. Most of us have enough trouble with our own. Pope Francis, and Pope Benedict before him, says our main responsibility is to live in a relationship with Jesus that leads us to be open to however and in whomever he chooses to come to us, and beg the courage to do what we have to so we can truly live the gospel with them, not cram our interpretation of the gospel down their throat. Pope Francis: “All the outskirts, all the intersections of paths: go there. And there sow the seed of the Gospel by word and by witness.This is a big responsibility and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity and the courage and the patience to go out, to go out and proclaim the Gospel.”

Jesus aso says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. Which is probaly what we will find from some religious institutions if one’s journey with Jesus differs from the established standards. After all, this is what happened to him.

Just sayin . . .

Cleveland, Currente Clamando

I wish I knew what to make of Bishop Lennon’s latest move in refusing to let Bob Begin continue on as pastor of St Colman’s. I feel bothered, and perhaps a bit disheartened by the whole mess. Bob was ready, willing, and able to stay on. Under his leadership St Colman’s has developed a very active social ministry for the neighborhood and beyond. Bob is the focal point for the parish’s successful impact on the city. He is a good and pastorally zealous leader. He has grown with his people.

I hesitate to judge the bishop. I have been misjudged myself a number of times, and I know how painful it can be. Most of us have been down that road a few times. I have personally experienced his tremendous personal pastoral sense and caring, and for this I am profoundly grateful. But there is a major disconnect between his personal pastoral gifts and his management style, which is causing much hurt among the folks of the diocese, including the priests.

Every once in a while it seems Bishop Lennon is sincere about trying to repair whatever relations he has with the priests of the diocese, and then he does something like this. His reputation is that he continues to forget what he has previously said about any given topic. From the documents and timeline I have been able to see this seems to be the case here. One might wonder why this is.

When he came to Cleveland it seems he set out deliberately to demolish Bishop Plla’s Church in the City concept. He is continuing to do so with this latest move. Either he doesn’t understand parish life in the city, he just doesn’t care, or he is out to destroy it for whatever reason. He showed this in the parishes he closed. None of this had to be. This current situation with St Colman’s doesn’t have to be either. It would appear that in his management style the bishop is concerned only with what is legal in canon law, not with what is pastoral and good for the folks. He does things because he can. No one has called him on it. Except, perhaps, the successful appeal to Rome by some closed parishes. But, he still hasn’t learned.

We need the Church in the City. Our neighborhoods and their parishes are our strongest points. Our ethic diversity is, and historically has been, rich. Our city is a good melting pot in the best possible sense. In Cleveland we have always worked together, especially through the rough spots. St Colman’s is doing good work. It is high energy and moving ahead under Bob’s capable leadership. The bishop can do much more good by simply sitting down and talking with the folks and working with them. Dialogue is always good. Some pastors are willing and able to stay on past 75. Bob is one of them. How does the bishop decide who goes and who stays? What about the priests who really want to retire and he won’t let them? There are quite a few priests hurting because of the way the bishop treats them. There is a lot of fear among some who have strong opinions but will not speak out because of what he might do to them. I’m not in that situation, so I want to be very careful of treating them unfairly. It will take a long time for a healing process to happen among many priests. The bishop himself has to be hurting, too. There is no fun in this for anybody.

Do parishioners have any rights here? It would seem that in the bishop’s mind they don’t. I have a lot of respect for the Community of St Peter for the way they dealt with their situation. They acted, and continue to act, with courage and faith. Perhaps its time for another parish to stand up for what they think is right. When my mother’s family on Ellen Avenue went to St Colman’s it was a tough Irish neighborhood with a tough Irish pastor, Msgr Dr Martin. Maybe the parish has retained its character. I, for one, hope so. St Colman’s parishioners are having meetings to decide what to do in the current situation. I wish them all the best, and pray they have the courage to do whatever the Spirit calls them to do. There is enough energy and firepower in the parish to generate significant commotion, if that is what it takes, and it just might be.

It would seem to me that it is about time for the bishop to be accountable to the people of the diocese, including the priests. I don’t know how he deals with the various consultative groups, but anecdotally it seems he already has his mind made up by the time he consults. There is secrecy in all these matters, but secrecy is one of the operational marks of the true church. Maybe he is not capable of honest and open dialogue. His style seems to be I talk, you obey. In this he reflects the current hierarchy style.

In this day and age this is no way for a bishop to treat any parish.

Just sayin   .   .   .

 

May 13, Ordination Thoughts

Recently a local friend told me of her upcoming ordination to deacon in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, as well as her ordination to priesthood next year. She asked me for any words of encouragement or advice. She, and all other women who follow their conscience believing they are responding to Jesus’ call, believe they are and remain christian and catholic. Who is to say they are anything else? The Roman version of christianity will declare her to be excommunicated. While this threatened sanction has nowhere near the impact it once had, it is still something to be reckoned with, either by knuckling under or by standing courageously in truth to one’s conscience.

What can I possibly say to her in the face of her profound personal courage? I feel humbled even to be in her presence. I have been a priest for a few years, but, then, I am of the accepted gender, while she is not. The accepted gender has been determined solely by others of the same gender, who claim to be acting “after the example of Christ, and at his command”*. Other than the minions of the accepted gender’s managers, few folks these days believe the institution’s stated excuses for not allowing women to be ordained. Yet, with the emotional investment of the institution and its religious police, taking such a step is an act of courageous faith.

Her choosing to be ordained, based on her belief that Jesus is calling her to be a priest, is proclaimed by the institution to be a “grave delict”, a serious sin. In my opinion, a sin against God, no. A sin against the institution’s efforts to preserve its male oriented power and influence, yes. Since the institution’s managers claim to be the only ones who can speak or act in the name of Jesus, any challenge to their prerogative is a challenge to God. And so they would claim that this courageous woman, and others who walk with her, is a challenge to God.

I think she is following Jesus’ words to us that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross every day and follow me”.  She, and other such priests before her, display courage, no doubt of that. She will be subject to threats, name-calling, vitriol, and undoubtedly “christ-like paternal concern” from management. She has a tough road ahead of her, made even more difficult by those claiming to be acting in Jesus’ name, doing things and having attitudes that Jesus didn’t have or do. The “Catholic Taliban” is alive and well.

She has a solid prayer life, no doubt of that. She will need it on her journey. She will have the support of a Eucharistic Community, even though institutional management will vehemently deny folks who support and agree with her the right to use these words. But the Eucharistic Reality will still surround them. When Jesus said “wherever two or more gather in my name I am with them” he didn’t say anything about getting anybody’s permission or authorization, what words to use or clothes to wear.

I wish her courageous firmness, and perhaps a bit humility, on her journey. She will need it. Jesus’ followers are not always the kindest or most charitable folks. She will learn as she celebrates Eucharist the power and reality of Jesus’ words – all of them. Hopefully she will come to “recognize and know what she does, and imitate what she handles”**. Perhaps she will come to recognize Jesus present in the most unexpected folks, relationships, and situations, and realize that grace has brought her to where she is needed, and grace is always powerfully real.

Ultimately she may come to realize it is not about her, her call, or her response. It is about her living in a prayerful and practical relationship with Jesus that leads her to be open to however he calls her. Perhaps she will learn continually to beg the courage to do whatever he calls her to do. Undoubtedly she will beg the grace not only to love whomever Jesus brings into her life, but to care, really care for and about, too.

*from Eucharistic Prayer IV for Various Occasions.

** paraphrase of the ordination rite.

Just sayin   .   .   .

May 04, 2013, Why I Remain, Part II

Then the is the church in the pews. It is in the parishes where the “good stuff” happens. The folks there aren’t involved in the hierarchal posturing and threats. For most the hierarchy is remote and uninvolved. The folks just want to do what is right. For them, doing what is right involves going to Mass regularly. Some do more, many don’t. Rightly or wrongly they don’t want to be disturbed.

These days the ministry of pastor borders on the impossible. As one pastor put it, the constant flow of directives and requirements emanating from “downtown” makes one think of sitting in a first floor office directly under a second floor lavatory with incomplete plumbing. The stuff just pours down. The downtown offices don’t seem to talk with each other. Each office maintains their pet projects are “top priority”, often with short fuse unrealistic timelines that have to be followed or else, and are pretty much unrelated to real life as lived in parishes and people’s homes. Programs are to be implemented immediately without regard to whatever else is already going on in the parish.

Pastors worry very much about how to minister to divorced and remarried folks. Many do not agree with the current “married outside the church” status and the consequent prohibition against receiving communion. They know it is not right, but they are powerless to do anything about it. Some, however, have gotten  pastorally creative. Some have paid the price for that.

There is also the church of the folks who used to be in the pews but are no longer. Many, if not most, of these folks are better educated than the hierarchs who would tell them how to live their lives. They certainly know more about real life. They know what it is to make real flesh and blood life impacting decisions. They have seen that the emperor has no clothes and have just walked away. They are doing quite well without the church. However the church is not doing quite well without them.

They have a lot to teach the hierarchy, which, since it already knows everything, refuses to listen. From my experience these folks are living the gospel values in real life, even though they probably would not use these terms. They know how to take care of each other and of those who cannot take care of themselves, to balance with each other the good days and not so good days. They have come to ignore celibate men telling them how to live married and familial life. They realize nature does not make mistakes and is trying to teach us to look beyond what is now to what can be. They are a lot less judgmental and condemning than many religious systems, and a lot more caring.

Without using exact words they are not much interested in a god “out there somewhere” who watches for folks to make a mistake to he can punish them, or who gets involved once in a while and maybe answers prayers on occasion. They are more in tune with God as taught by Jesus who is present in all creation always, and who does much good as people interact among themselves, although they probably would not use this terminology.

They have come to know love is good and worthwhile among and between all folks, and are not concerned about gender “requirements” as laid down by religious systems. They know more love, respect, and charity among themselves than would ever be seen in many religious institutions.

My guess is that these folks do not reject God as God, but are not interested in god as presented by self-serving religious institutions. They reflect a God who is loving and caring, not judging and condemning, a God who is very much involved as folks love and care for each other. While they might resent religious terminology which brings with it so much useless baggage, they certainly do their best to live what it points to.

Just sayin   .   .   .

6 March 2013, Excommunication- Part Deux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin   .   .   .

 

6 March 2013, Thoughts on Excommunication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin   .  .   .