18 June, Thoughts on Corpus Christi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

Thoughts on Holy Week Liturgies

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

Easter Thoughts 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

 

 

 

23 March 2014, Woman at the Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying  .  .  .

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 .  .  .

 

Final Response to Vatcan Questionnaire

Final Version – Response to Questionnaire for Family Synod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Pastoral care of the Family in Evangelization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex.

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages.

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

7. The Openness of Married Couples to Life. 

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

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person.

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

9. Other Challenges and Proposals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

just sayin   .   .   .

17 November, Homily Maybe . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying   .   .  .

 

15 November, Thoughts During PT

This morning I received this email from a respected friend: “Here’s a question: If God was willing to allow Adam and Eve (and so many others in our salvation history) freedom to choose, even knowing they might choose wrongly, why isn’t our Church willing to do the same?”. Good question, but then he is known for asking incisive questions. I responded, “are you confusing the church with God?”, to which he replied, “Hooah! No such confusion in my mind; I’m just amazed at the ability of some church leaders to say they are serving a God for whom freedom to choose is such an essential characteristic of created human beings, yet not allow the same freedom”. Disturbing, yet on target. Undoubtedly this has something to do with his practice of contemplative prayer.

In varying degrees institutions fear freedom for their members. The institutional church is more fearful than most, and punishes folks who have the temerity to suggest such freedom, raise disturbing questions, or otherwise seem to rock the barque of Peter. Yet we need creative thinking and choosing. The institution cannot continue business as usual. For those of us “on the back nine” this probably won’t be our problem, since when the crisis hits the church hopefully we will be somewhere else.

Our church is Eucharist centered. It is getting increasingly difficult to provide Eucharist to folks due to the diminishing number of priests. We retired guys are doing a lot to maintain the status quo in the numbers and places for masses. Many of us are circuit riders, but I’m not sure this is the answer. We need creative thinking and choosing, and the freedom to make mistakes as we move along on our journey. Pope Francis says he would like a “messy church”, and this is what we would have if we dared to think and make choices, but is there anything wrong with that? I, for one, don’t think there is. Each of us is an image of God, and each of us has a lot to offer if we were not being stifled by institutional church managers. The Holy Spirit is moving among us, Jesus is with us always, and “there is no restraining the word of the Lord”. Maybe we have to take the chance and say what we think needs to be said, and think what we feel needs to be thought, make some challenging choices, and go where the Spirit leads us. Spoiler alert: any who take this chance cannot expect to be loved and welcomed by the institution, more like threatened and punished with traditional measures that have lost their impact for ordinary folks.

Along these lines there is a very good blog entry over at Young Adult Catholic on Transubstantiation. While the institution might say it is not theologically precise and does not use approved terms and concepts, it is worth looking at as an attempt to get a better handle on Eucharist. Many of our young folks are asking meaningful questions and coming up with pretty creative answers and ideas. This sort of thinking and choosing ought to be encouraged and supported for the good of all of us. Topdown-approved topics and ideas don’t work anymore. Folks on the street need the opportunity and experience of thinking, choosing, making mistakes, and trying again. We need constantly to be open to the Spirit, and the freedom to follow Jesus who is with us always even to the end of time. He is among us, not imposing from on high. Who is to say, other than institutional management, that he is not encouraging us to take chances and make mistakes?

When Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them”, he didn’t say anything about permission, approval, faculties, or places. Along the lines of the blog mentioned above, could there not be other ways for Eucharist in various forms? Any words or concepts we use for God necessarily fall short of God. It seems dangerous, then, for us to get hung up on exact wording or terminology. Cannot Jesus be present among different folks in different ways? Does any one particular way that happens among some folks have to be defined as the only valid one over against all others? Can we not explore different possibilities of priesthood serving in different gatherings of folks? Does it have to be limited to celibate males? Do any of us have an absolute monopoly  and control over Jesus being present among us?

If there is to be any creative thinking and choosing, something has to be done about the atmosphere and culture of fear that pervades the institution. To me there is no leadership there, just management or command-and-control. Good leaders encourage their followers to take personal responsibility for their choices and their place in whatever is going on, and grow in the process, all the while enhancing the mission. Blind unquestioning obedience is not the ideal, as it seems to be in the religious institution.

Idealizing the past as the only way for the present and into the future is not a good way to do things. Jesus’ message and life were all about living his Father’s loving mercy. The message does not change, but how it is understood and lived is constantly changing. The folks in Jesus’ day did not have to worry about nuclear war, the economy, AIDS, contemporary moral issues, pollution, etc. We do have to worry about these. Yet, underlying everything we do is Jesus’ call to follow him and live our Father’s loving mercy in all that is going on. This calls for creative thinking and choosing.

In the face of all this we might remember that “perfect love casts out fear”, and not let the prevailing institutional atmosphere of “perfect fear casts out love” disturb us. We do our best to live in an open and trusting relationship with Jesus and beg the wisdom and courage to go where it takes us.

Just saying   .   .   .

 

15 November, Bishops Don’t Speak for All of Us

Increasing numbers of folks are saying “the bishops don’t speak for me”. Some would go so far as to say, “the church does not speak for me”. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that what the bishops say does not square with what folks experience in their own life.

We encounter God in life as we live it, not as somebody else tells us it ought to be. We hear the Gospel in the setting of whatever is going on in our life. There is a lot going on in all our lives these days, much of which has not happened before, and the Gospel offers context and insight. It is the same God who reveals His/Her Self in each of us with all our differences and our sameness. Since God’s first self-revelation is creation, the more we understand about creation the more awareness we have of God. In the words of Benedict XVI, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, everyone is important, everyone is necessary, none of us is an accident”. How then can the bishops declare anyone to be “intrinsically disordered”?

Folks today do not react well to threats, so they do not pay attention to the bishops’ threats, among which are: declaring that folks who vote for a particular candidate are committing serious sin; if a person is not strongly enough against abortion they cannot receive Communion; if a person lives an unapproved lifestyle they cannot receive Communion and are going to hell; priests who are in favor of the ordination of women can be silenced, excommunicated, or thrown out of their religious order; any person or governmental agency that does not wholly agree with everything the bishops say is violating the bishops’ religious freedom; the list goes on.

The bishops have been very effective at driving folks away, and many seem to be smugly proud of their performance. They pontificate on the “hate the sin love the sinner” phrase, which folks know is at the same level as “separate but equal” of a generation ago – false, misleading, abusive. They are either unaware of, or don’t care about, the pain they are inflicting on very many good folks. How does it feel for parents of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to hear their children condemned as “intrinsically disordered” from pulpits and in the media? How do our same LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel when they hear themselves so condemned? Always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did such things himself.

There are, though, compassionate and pastoral bishops who have found less confrontational ways to serve their people. They just keep quiet about it, and who can blame them? Many of their peers can be very nasty. Often they have been pastors, not bureaucrats, functionaries, or diplomats, and have a feel for their people, walk with them, and, in the words of Francis, “have the smell of the sheep”.

The bishops are very big on “religious freedom”, but it seems this only applies to the bishops themselves. Good folks of other or no traditions who do not share the bishops’ ideas are said to be interfering with the bishops’ religious freedom. Others it would seem, have no right to this freedom. The bishops seem to think that strict enforcement of absolute obedience to increasingly detailed laws and practices that have nothing to do with doctrine imitates Jesus and brings people to him, and that folks are to fully accept these dicta even though their living experience shows they are neither valid nor true. It is no wonder people are just walking away.

Francis is not telling us what to think, but showing us how to think — through the lens of Jesus’ loving mercy. Jesus calls all of us to live this way. Many folks on the street get this, even without using approved words or ideas. They know it is not right to cause people pain because someone disapproves of them or their lifestyle. They know the people in their lives and recognize the good will that all of us have in some way. We are all trying to do our best in a life that is not easy or fair. We do not need others who have no idea of what our lives are like telling us how to live. We need to love and support each other, not threaten or condemn. We do not have to agree always, but we have to be as like Jesus as we can.

If we are serious about following Jesus our responsibility is to look for him and the Holy Spirit in our lives and go where this takes us. For some this might mean closely following the bishops’ dicta, for others it might mean moving in a different direction.

The bishops don’t seem to get it. They are still issuing edicts and cramming miserable liturgical translations down folks’ throats. Other bishops’ conferences have rejected the mandated liturgical translations as bad. Not so the American Bishops’ Conference. They eagerly direct yet more wretched translations of other rites and ceremonies. Does anybody really care? Probably not, except the priests who have to make sense of the verbiage, and who often are quite creative.

Years back a bishop told me, “Do what you think is right, I don’t have to know everything”. Not much of that these days. Some priests are doing just that – helping folks as best they can, and just not publicizing it. In all honesty, there is good feeling in this. We are just trying to follow Jesus as we know him in our own prayer life.

Just saying   .   .   .