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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  .  .  .





Jan 27, Thoughts on Good Samaritan

It is an accepted principle that the Scriptures speak to us in the setting of whatever is going on in our life when we hear or read them. This is especially true of Jesus’ Parables. Since they deal with Truth there is never only one way to understand them. What is going on in one person’s life may be completely intelligible to someone else, and so might someone’s understanding of a Parable.

Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan. As we have heard so many times, a man on the way to Jericho was robbed and left for dead. Two church officials, a priest and a levite, passed him by without helping. They both had legitimate institutional reasons for doing so – ritual impurity etc. Then a Samaritan, who was strongly rejected by the religious institution simply because of the race God had given him, stopped to help. This was unheard of. In the eyes of the religious institution Samaritans were not good and were to be avoided by the institution’s members in good standing.

There might be some parallels today. The religious institution rejects folks in certain lifestyles that, for its own reasons, it considers “intrinsically disordered”. The folks have no more control over how God creates them than did the Samaritan over his race. The institution justifies its attitude on its own self-developed moral principles. In some cases it goes so far as to forbid its members and functionaries from providing any religious or pastoral care to these folks. So, as in the Parable, when the institution and its functionaries pass on by with institutionally legitimate reasons, other folks not of the institution step in and provide the needed pastoral care. Management proclaims that it hates the sin but loves the sinner, and then in many cases actively discourages pastoral care for the folks until and unless they adopt a lifestyle approved by the institution.

What is especially disturbing, too many of our brothers and sisters, feeling cast off and betrayed by the institution where they looked for God’s help and comfort, have left religion altogether. Through no fault of their own they have ben told to believe they are not accepted by God, when, in fact, they reflect God’s love and mercy in a way that few others can. Many have known intense suffering and pain that that defies description: the pain of feeling unaccepted by God; the perception by some that they are in sin because of who they are; the desire to be accepted for who they love; the sense of struggle as they determine who they are; the desire to do what is right in the eyes of society, especially painful when it means they are denying who they know they are. And so, they are learning to live without the God who creates and ives them as they are. While the Jesus of the Gospels offers healing and love, some institutions claiming to act in his name, set up obstacles. A number of traditions, Christian and other, offer the pastoral care the folks need – good for the folks, bad for the institution. And the institution continues to proclaim its self-righteousness. While Pope Francis says, “Who am I to judge?, the institution says, “we’ll do the judging for you”.

Then there are our brothers and sisters whose marriages, for whatever reason and without assigning blame, have failed. They have moved along on their journey and entered into new marital relationships. Yet, since their journey and their new marriages do not fit the institution’s categories, these good folks are denied full participation in Eucharist, something that, according to the institution’s own teaching, everyone has a need for. They are told to go through the annulment process which can be painful, and does not always work. The reasons for an annulment process make sense according to the legal structure and system, but not in the sense of personal relations and feelings. Folks don’t always understand the legal nuances, but they feel their own pain and want it to stop. They look to the institution for help and support, and, unless they are in the approved categories, are told they cannot receive communion. As did the priest and levite in the Parable, the institution walks on by, and the folks remain in pain.

Law is black and white, real life is not. The good order of the institution and the safety and preservation of the “sacramental system” seem more important than pastoral care for the folks on their journey. Some folks feel their first marriage was good and valid originally, but somehow fell apart, and so taking part in an annulment process would be a violation of their conscience, as well as humiliating and painful. They feel they are being punished for a painful time in their life, and this would, in fact, seem to be so, in spite of the institutional explanations and justifications. As so many have put it, “no one has the right to tell me I cannot receive communion”, and so they choose of themselves to continue receiving Communion, which they need. Many others have found welcome and support in other traditions, and in no tradition. And the intuition proclaims its self-righteousness.

A legitimate question might be what the Parable says to the institution, and not just to individual folks. There are many in institutional management who care very much for their folks but often are limited by the system in what they can and cannot do.

Also, there are many wonderful pastoral ministers of all kinds, ordained and not ordained, authorized and not authorized, who are doing their best to provide pastoral care for all who need it. The institution does not always make this easy, and often does its best to prevent it. These ministers are very creative and often private about what they are doing. Any who, at any level in the institution, are trying to serve pastorally face some difficulties and challenges, especially from the “religious police”.

Pope Francis keeps saying that the institution has to get out beyond itself and its rules and walk with the folks on the periphery. Many are on the periphery because this is where the institution has put them. Each of us has to respond to the Parable in the setting of our own life, and not demand that others agree with us. As Francis has said, we need to be docile to the word of God as we hear it, and not require that others follow our understanding. We trust in the Spirit, and go where this takes us.

Just saying  .  .  .

20 January 2014, Trust

In Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 4:12-17) Jesus invites several fishermen to follow him, and “They left everything and followed him”. This Story might suggest a context for what happens on our journey when we are serious about  trusting Jesus – it ain’t always nice. We need to remember, as Francis tells us, that Jesus does not call us to ease and comfort, nor does he offer us certainty. He invites us to have faith, to trust in him and let this trust be the basis of our life.

It might be that we are called to think in a new way, to be open to persons we just don’t like, to take part in an activity we’ve never thought of before, or to do or say something that is well outside our comfort zone. At times it seems our journey with Jesus is forever beginning anew, and it is not always easy to put our trust totally in him. He isn’t always that obvious or clear. Doubt and questioning are, it seems, an integral part of following him.

It could be that Jesus is asking us to move in a direction that could bring us to difficult times with others who do not share our views on whatever. Throughout church history there have been prophets in the church who said what needed to be said at their time in history and were treated harshly for doing what they perceived to be right. There are prophets among us today who are also suffering for doing or saying what they believe is right. Jesus did not offer his followers an easy life, nor did he promise his followers would be loved and appreciated. He told them, as he tells us, to take up their cross every day and follow him. When we dare to express opinions that others, whether individual folks or the institutional church, don’t like, we get an idea of what the cross is. People and the institution can be very nasty and vindictive, always, of course, in the name of Jesus, who never acted that way himself.

In Scripture the image of journey is both important and dangerous. It marks a departure from the known to the unknown. Usually there are dangers along the way. Since the Scriptures speak to us in the setting of whatever is going on in our life when we read or hear them, the scriptural notion of journey has meaning for us in our life. There are dangers when we journey with and to Jesus. The institution is not very forgiving to any who do not toe the line. We need only look at prophets in our own day who have been silenced, thrown out of the church and/or their religious order for saying things the institution did not like or talking about institutionally forbidden topics. Again, always in the name of Jesus. But, as the saying goes, “sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do”.

One particular area is the way our LGBT brothers and sisters are treated. While there are a number of instances of ministry recognized by the institution, it seems often that many would serve pastorally in this area have to do so below the radar, since the institution can be very nasty to folks who don’t follow the party line to the letter, as many have found out. The institution does not seem to be aware of or concerned about the pain it’s decrees inflict on images and likenesses of God who don’t meet the it’s standards for “intrinsically ordered”, and so are proclaimed to be “intrinsically disordered”. If it is a matter of same sex marriages, any who appear to cooperate, support, or provide any pastoral ministry other than accusing the couple of sin is in for a rough ride from the institution, again, in the name of Jesus. It seems that we cannot even pray with, for, or over a same sex couple without incurring wrath from somebody in the power structure. The “religious police”, the catholic taliban, are especially active in making life difficult for any who do not follow their particular brand of orthodoxy.

Again, good things are happening below the radar. In some cases it is more like spec ops. Fortunately there are many pastoral bishops who are doing their best to serve their people with pastoral sensitivity. It is the public face of the system, and a number of public managers, that are causing much of the harm.

What really bothers me in all this is what we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer IV for Various Needs:  “Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ and at his command. And may your Church stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope”. In many cases this seems to be more a stated value than an operational value. Folks just want to be accepted for who they are, not condemned because they don’t measure up to someone else’s standards. When they look to an organization that claims to represent Jesus and are told they are wrong and in sin, no wonder they walk away, often hurt and angry.  Who can blame them? How is the institution comforting those who labor and are burdened, or serving them truly? Fortunately for them there are many other Christians who welcome and minister to them. Not so fortunate for the institution, though.

Pope Francis keeps saying the role of the Church is to live Jesus’ mercy with everyone, especially the folks on the peripheries, the hurting, the lonely. As yet the institution doesn’t seem to get it, but many do, and so good things are happening for some folks, perhaps in spite of the institution and its police.

All we can do is respond to Jesus as we know Him, and as He knows us, and, in the words of Pope Francis, discern what is His word to us in our very personal circumstances.

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   .   .   .


25 October, Pharisee and Tax Collector

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector the Pharisee thanks God for making him better than others, while the Tax Collector simply asks God’s mercy.

A modern version of the Story might be something like this: “A ‘good catholic’ stands at the front of the church and proclaims, ‘I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity; I know all the right words to use, all the right things to believe and not believe, all the rules for how everybody else has to live their lives; I have no doubts, and am certain that I know everything and that I am always right, and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong.’ Pope Francis stands at the back of the church and says, ‘O Lord, I am a sinner, I don’t know everything, I have doubts and questions, I am often unsure of what you call me to do, have mercy on me’. I tell you the latter went home justified, not the former.”

The Pharisee’s kind of prayer can often be self-righteous and self-serving – “I am so much better than those who do not agree with me or think as I do. I am much holier than they. I don’t need anything from God because I already know it all, and I have no doubts. I can judge others as less worthy than myself. I must protect Jesus from any who disagree with me, to keep out any who do not think as I do. I am a guardian of orthodoxy, vigorously attacking any who do not use my words and ideas. The rules of charity and respect for others do not apply to me because I am right and they are wrong.”

Recently Pope Frances warned against making the Catholic tradition into an ideology, reducing it to a complex of definitions, dogmas, and rules. He said this actually prevents folks from coming to know Jesus as mercy, love, forgiveness, tenderness. When a person reduces following Jesus to an ideology, they actually lose the faith by turning it into rules and ideas, and do not encounter the real Jesus. Instead of becoming disciples of Jesus, they become disciples of whoever’s ideology they are following. They set up many rules and conditions for anyone who would want to know their version of Jesus. He reminds us that this is not Jesus, but only the Jesus they create to make themselves feel powerful and in control.

Pope Francis unabashedly states publicly that he is a sinner and needs God’s mercy and forgiveness. He encourages us to see ourselves in the same way, and to rejoice that Jesus is always with us, reaching out to us, and offering us loving grace and support as we do our best to live a good life with whomever is in our life. He also says there is always some uncertainty in our efforts to find God. We cannot hide behind rules and dogmas because they are not God, but our own creation to make ourselves feel safe and comfortable. If we have all the answers, he says, this is proof that God is not with us. He says we have to leave room for the Lord not rely on our own certainties. We have to be humble and willing to let Jesus lead us. When we claim to have all the answers, we will find only a god that meets our standards, and so ignore the God who is.

He reminds us that we are all good people trying to do our best in life. Our life is not a scripted play with our roles written out for us, something often described as God’s plan for each of us. Francis reminds us that God’s will for us is a relationship that we work out with every choice we make, and that we are bound to make mistakes, and that Jesus is always with us inviting us to trust and move forward, continuing to do our best as we see it. Ideologists forget this, and see others simply as categories who have to fit into their ideology. They overlook the fact that that these are real people whose marriages have failed and who have tried again to find happiness and fulfillment, or whose lifestyles some ideologies have branded “intrinsically disordered”, to mention just a few. These are persons who are “consequences of a thought in the mind of God, important, necessary, none of whom is an accident”.

He reminds is that following Jesus is not a code of conduct and a book for doctrines and definitions. It is a Parable of a Loving Father who sends his Son to live and share his love for all of us. As his followers he calls us to reach out in love and caring to all who are in our life, and to let others reach out to us. Doing this does not involve demanding that folks accept our definitions and rules, but simply letting our prayerful relations with Jesus guide us through our days.

We cannot encounter Jesus only by thinking or using our mind. We also really have to be open to mystery and possibility, ready to take chances, always open to the possibility that we might be wrong. It is exciting to try to be open to Jesus and then learn from time to time that he is real, that he does walk with us and offer to guide us in our choices and actions, that we are not in any way alone. He leads us to see our life and everyone in it as ongoing revelations of goodness and mercy, not judgment and condemnation. Every day becomes an adventure in the mystery of Jesus among us.

Loving, accepting, and walking with others and Jesus comes first. All the other stuff comes later.

Just saying   .   .   .

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 29, Marriage Equality

Recntly I read what I consider to be a very articulate blog over at Young Adult Catholics ( ): “I’ve made it no secret that I fully support marriage equality. And although I disagree with it, I also respect a church’s right not to bless a same-sex marriage. That’s where the separation of Church and State comes in. And that’s why it makes me so angry that people want to make secular laws based on their personal religious convictions, without any demonstrable benefit to the state or to the secular society the state is entrusted with regulating.” I agree. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

They way I see this whole thing, there are two separate issues: internal church doctrine, which a church demands its members believe in order to stay in good standing with the church; religious freedom, which says that every religious tradition has the right to live their beliefs without any other tradition’s beliefs being imposed on them by civil law. The former is a matter that has to be worked out among the members of a given church, while the later is a right granted to all religions by the values on which our country was founded. Simply put, religious traditions which favor marriage equality have the right to live those beliefs without coercion by laws enacted to reflect the contrary views of a tradition which, for the time being, has the numbers to enact laws reflecting their values. No religion has the right to impose their values on anyone else through civil laws.

The current civil law shows more charity and understanding than some churches. It recognizes the rights of churches both not to recognize same sex marriages, as well as their right not to perform or celebrate them. No one is being forced to sacrifice their own values, but all have to recognize that the values of disagreeing traditions have the right to exist.

An interesting spinoff is that fewer folks seem to be paying much attention to the hierarchy, as is shown by recents states allowing same sex marriage in spite of active campaigns against it on the part of the hierarchy. People who live outside big houses and palaces, work every day or are jobless, raise families, pay bills, etc, know a lot about life that we celibate males will never know. We can learn from them, unless, of course, we claim to have all the answers divinely revealed to us by God, in which case the folks have nothing to teach us. This is especially true of young folks, whose doubting and questioning I find to be both exciting and filled with hope. They are both the church now and the church of the future. I hope they will give their enthusiasm, which to me is a sign of the Holy Spirit stirring things up, to the church and fill it with their energetic zest for life.

Eventually the hierarchy may come to realize very few are listening to them, and then they might be able to get back to teaching the gospel by their own example, rather than their accustomed mode of threats and sanctions. Pope Francis seems to be moving in this direction. But, then, he has been a pastor, something most of the hierarchy cannot claim. Maybe they just don’t know any better.

A legitimate question might be why the church in the US, and some other countries, feels it has to be so involved in marriage, where it often functions as an agent of the state. It is not the same everywhere. In Germany persons wanting to marry must fulfill the civil requirements and be married first at the local “city hall” before there can be any religious ceremony. The religious ceremony has no civil implications. I don’t think this is a bad idea for us to look at in our own country. There is a significant difference between marriage as a civil matter, and matrimony as a religious matter. If a civilly married couple feel the need of a religious element in their married life, then they can approach their religious tradition. Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything.

Recently I had a terrific chat with a young man, a “military brat”* and budding young actor filled with hope and energy. He has serious doubts and questions which are on target, and he is working to figure out the implications, not the answers. He realizes the major disconnects between the gospel as he has learned it in his family, and as it is imposed by the church institution. He is well aware of the wrongs being done by the system and the folks the system has hurt and is hurting, and wants, I think, to be part of the growth in the Spirit that is going on.

It is possible to love the church and, at the same time, speak out about the things the church is doing that do not fit with one’s experience of Jesus and his gospel. We can love the church as it is, and at the same time speak out on what it can be. The chuch as an institution has hurt many folks in the name of Jesus by doing things that Jesus did not do, and even spoke against in criticism of the religious institution of his day. We know from the Scriptures that “perfect ove casts out fear”, but we also know and see that perfect fear casts out love. That perfect fear is alive and well today.

There is a latin saying, ecclesia reformata et reformanda: the church reformed and always in need of reform. Reforms traditionally have come from the bottom up, not from the top down.

*BTW, “military brat” is a badge of honor, as they themselves well know.

Just sayin . . .

May 03, 2013, Why I Remain . . .

Recently a good friend and, in many ways mentor, wrote this in his blog: “I am more a follower of Jesus of Nazareth than the Jesus of Rome“ ( I feel the same way myself. I think it is possible while remaining in the many goods of the Catholic tradition, at the same time to “transcend” the limitations of the roman system and be in the good that is everywhere in everybody. I believe the fundamental roman doctrines, but don’t much care for the systemic abuses. I think Jesus left the system long ago, but remains very close to his folks. I do not want to be without Eucharist, but I don’t believe only a male celibate priest can “make it happen”. Same goes for many other such considerations.

It seems to me that many, thankfully not all, bishops really believe they are princely autocrats who can rule by simple fiat while ignoring the legitimate questions and needs of “the faithful”. Jesus did not to go along with this sort of thing in his day, so probably he would not go along with it today. Yet, claiming to be acting in Jesus name, one american archbishop had the audacity to say that “Catholics who promote ‘same-sex marriage’ act contrary to Catholic law and should not approach for holy Communion; they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them.” This same archbishop threatened dire consequences for any priests taking part in a conference of reform-minded catholics being held in his archdiocese. Many priests ignored his order, just as many folks are ignoring his statements on same sex marriage. Jesus did not act like this, so why is the archbishop doing this sort of thing? Because he can. He can act with impunity. No one has confronted him. I would ask, though, who has the right to deny any person access to Jesus in the Eucharist for any reason? The retired auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese known for his pastoral sense said, “Don’t stop going to communion, you’re okay”.

Also while the catholic understanding of Eucharist may be unique, it is not the only way to respond to Jesus’ saying “do this in memory of me”, or “whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them”. When Jesus said this he mentioned nothing about permission of the bishop, believing the right things, etc. One local bishop went so far as to say that parishioners who had formed their own community after he had closed their parish, were not receiving the “real Christ” since their pastor had been excommunicated. All, of course, in Jesus’ name. This same bishop has stated that any who disagree with him or do not follow his directive are putting their immortal soul in peril, and are in danger of losing their eternal salvation. I certainly do not subscribe to any of this. I think the only danger to anything here is to bishops’ power as more folks are coming to see through this charade and realize the emperor has no clothes. None of these hierarchical antics are about the Gospel. They are about power.

On occasion I have the privilege of “covering” a local medical center for emergencies. I find this ministry deeply satisfying, and I enjoy it. Yet, there are pastoral ministers on staff there every day. Why can’t they celebrate the sacraments and minister to patients and staff whom they meet every day? Why do I, a celibate ordained male, have to come riding in on my white horse to save the day? Why cannot these pastoral ministers celebrate the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick? I see the current practice as an insult to the dignity and dedication of these pastoral ministers, as well as serious disregard for the rights and need of hospital patients and staff to celebrate these sacraments.

While I really enjoy helping out in parishes, hospitals, etc, I think this making use of us retired priests is at best a stop gap measure to address the priest shortage. It is not a real world or authentic solution. We “old guys” are dying off, too. Parishes need to be a community, and the community needs to include someone leading Eucharist and sacramental ministry who is part of and knows the community. Circuit riders, as most of us retired guys are, is not solution, just a finger in the dike. There is no long term plan for addressing this situation. The diminishing number of priests seems to be a blessing in disguise as it is focusing attention on the failure of the current roman system to acknowledge the rights of catholics to the Sacraments and the Eucharist. What the church management does with all this remains to be seen. With Pope Francis there seems to be hope.

I am impressed with what has come to be known as the Austrian Priests’ Initiative and its “Appeal to Disobedience”. I find this document to be very pastoral, and I have no problem with it. In fact, I admire it, and I have no trouble going along with it. It makes perfect sense. The roman system as it is today has hurt and is hurting countless numbers of folks who deserve better. The Appeal reminds us both that our responsibility is to serve Christ’s people and that we have to follow our own conscience in everything. Makes sense to me. This sort of thing is a real threat to folks who think every word from Rome or a bishop on whatever is to be taken as the absolute word of God to be obeyed unquestionably, and there is no room for discussion or other points of view. The religious police are active.

It bothers me that many priests fear the bishop so much that they are afraid to say or do anything even remotely controversial. I do not judge them, since I am in a different category and not subject to whatever threats they might face, but it does bother me. A few months back I spoke at a meeting with the bishop and area priests. I said a number of things that I had heard other priests say. Virtually none of them spoke at all. Last year I attended a gathering of a number of priests from our state province, some five dioceses. In the course of discussions we divided up into diocesan groups to discuss what we were looking for. Priests from other dioceses talked about Vatican II, collaboration, etc. Priests from our diocese talked about their fear of what the bishop might do if he found out we were at this meeting, or that some of us had taken part in a previous presentation sponsored by a “unapproved” renewal group. This sort of thing disturbs me. Perfect fear casts out love. Locally this seems to be our situation.

Just sayin . . .

17 March, Leadership

In his first day as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis told priest confessors at Saint Mary Major Basilica to “be merciful, the souls of the faithful need your mercy”. We need each other’s mercy, and to be ourselves merciful to all whom grace brings into our life. We do not need threats, judgments, excommunications, silencing. We need to recognize, support, and encourage God’s goodness in each other.

This is true of whomever would see themselves as leaders in the church. Too often leadership at all levels in the church is exercised through threats, sanctions, punishments, excommunications. This is done in the name of the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, but certainly not in his way of living his Father’s love. There is a clear disconnect between the church’s stated values and its operational values.

Many see a parallel between the story of Francis of Assisi being told by Jesus to “go and repair my house, for it is falling into ruin”, and Pope Francis’ choosing his name in our current circumstances. There are some pretty clear parallels. The church is in disrepair. The big thing, though, seems to center on how church authority treats the folks. As long as folks buy totally into the system, mouth the right words, blindly obey the appropriate dictates, do not discuss the undiscussable, and loudly proclaim their loyalty to Holy Mother church, they have no problem. However, if any choose to question the unquestionable, e.g., ordination of women, optional celibacy, etc, the punishments are swift and sure, much more so than with bishops who covered up child abuse. Nothing new here.

We need a church whose leaders are less concerned with their costumes and bling, their power and prerogatives, and more concerned with the total well-being of the folks they claim to lead. Accusing people of serious sin because they are in  certain legal categories, or have attractions that are deemed disordered by leadership, is no way to lead people to Jesus, or to point out the good Jesus is doing among them. We need bishops who enter into serious, honest, and open dialogue with folks throughout the painful process of closing or merging parishes, and who are truly willing to listen and pay real attention to what the folks are saying. Using excommunication as a medicinal measure on priests because they don’t toe the line seems to have little to do with Jesus and more to do with being in charge – along the lines of ‘why do I excommunicate? because I can’. Church-wide, and in many local areas, church leaders have lost the confidence of the folks in the pews, and especially of the folks who used to be in the pews but no longer are. Leadership does not seem to care.

We need a leadership that isn’t focused on the past, but is open to the present, and is able to examine the basics of our tradition and bring their values to today. We need leaders who lead by example, who say “do what I do”, not “do what I tell you to do”. Very few folks take seriously the current position on women priests and optional celibacy, to mention just a few issues. We need a leadership who are ready to teach us by how they live, are ready to recognize that folks who don’t agree with them have the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience too, and do not have to make themselves feel good by imposing their views on everybody through getting civi laws passed that support their ideas.

From one priest’s respective we need church leaders who encourage priests to speak out freely, who do not demand total compliance with their every dictate, do not threaten priests who do speak out or do not correctly mouth the party line, who really listen to the priests who do speak, who are willing and ready to treat priests as mature adults and not indentured servants. We need bishops who are truly spiritual leaders, who lead by their own prayerful and pastoral example, and whom priests would eagerly follow rather than fear or even worse. We need bishops who truly respect the priests, and demonstrate this respect continually and in all their dealings. Some bishops just can’t do this, no matter how hard they try. Maybe it isn’t in their nature. Some have forgotten what it is to be a parish priest, if they ever really knew.

We need to recognize that some bishops are hurting, too. They are not always well-treated either, and are often misunderstood. Like the rest of us priests, after all the show and tell of a day, they, too, go home to an empty room.

We all need the mercy Pope Francis spoke about at Saint Mary Major. We need, each of us, to start living it ourselves. While we have the example of Pope Francis to reflect on, we also need to realize the great movements of the church have not come from the top down. We priests are close to the bottom of the ecclesiastical food chain, so maybe it might start with us, somehow.

Just sayin   .   .   .