Recently I was asked to join the board of an international organization dedicated to church reform. This has caused, or at least provided an opportunity for, some introspection on my part.
My guess is that if I acquiesce to this invitation, which is not something I really want to do, I will do so out of respect for someone who has devoted his life to educating others, has been instrumental in church reform, and through the years has been a great help to Army chaplains, especially in Europe.
I fear that somewhere along the line some version of politics will raise its ugly head. Politics has never been my strong suit. One of the neat things about being retired is that I don’t have to play politics anymore, so I just don’t and some folks don’t like it — their problem, not mine. While I was on active duty, every 3 years or so I would have to reinvent myself as I was reporting to a new duty station. I found it increasingly difficult to keep doing this. I do not look forward to having to go through the drill again, even if only through the internet.
I also know that not a few of my thoughts etc are considered controversial, eg, my “personalist” understanding of the Gospel as helping us live with people now rather than keeping a distant judging God happy and earning brownie points for getting to heaven later. To me the Gospel is about people and how we live with and for others. It is a Story of God loving us, welcoming everyone, and not a book of rules to keep undesirables out.
I don’t believe anybody is “intrinsically disordered” — either we are created in the image and likeness of God or we’re not, and no one but God gets to decide, and I think God has already decided. I like what Benedict said: “every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God; every one of us is important, every one of us is necessary; none of us is an accident”. The more we learn about God’s creation, the more we learn about God.
Also, I do not believe celibate males, of which I am one, are competent to determine a woman’s relationship with her own body. We do not know family life other than our family of origin, so where do we get off telling families how to live their most intimate relationships? I believe love is not limited to heterosexual relationships.
Reputable scriptural scholarship has shown there is no problem with ordaining women priests. The fact that Jesus didn’t ordain any women doesn’t prove anything, since he didn’t ordain any men either. I learned from my military service that women provide a dimension to pastoral ministry that we celibate males will never have. The same is true about married priests. We pray for more vocations to the priesthood, but it seems we have all the vocations we need. Management just doesn’t want what the Spirit is giving us.
Many in church management, along with their minions, claim to speak in the name of God and really think they can tell people they don’t even know how they have to live their life, what choices and decisions they have to make, and whether or not, usually not, they are in the state of grace, whatever that is. The word chutzpah comes to mind. It seems to me that the only one in our church who is speaking for God is Francis. Look at the opposition he is facing.
My understanding of what it is to serve as a retired priest who is also a retired soldier often does not fit with others’ expectations. But, I enjoy it. I like the military concept of mission. Our mission is to take care of the folks who and when they need us and sort out the details later. I think I identify more as a retired soldier than as a priest, because the way I see things is often quite a bit different from how the priests I work with do. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. Our stories and experiences are different.
My focus is on helping folks wherever I can, not judging them, perhaps a carryover from my time in the Army where the mission is do what I can to help the soldier in front of me. I don’t see laws and rules as paramount. Much of the esoteric dialogue I read these days has little to do with the folks I meet every day. In other words, It doesn’t preach. In a number of ways and in different places and relationships I am helping with folks seriously affected by the devastating number of drug overdoses and the fentanyl curse in our area. This whole mess is causing unbelievable suffering in families, narcotics and law enforcement, first responders, etc.
Then there is the matter of homeless vets and vet suicides. The other day I had the privilege of officiating at the funeral of one homeless vet. There are some real good folks trying to help.
As I type this, I am listening to Lady Gaga singing “Til It Happens to You”, and her talk about living with PTSD, something I am familiar with. She spent time with LGTBQ youth at the Ali Forney Center in Harlem, and said some powerful things to the young people there that are worth listening to. Our LGBTQ folks, especially teenagers, are an important part of God creating, and we need to be with them because so many people are against them. This is especially true in our high schools where people have been disciplined for trying to help them, especially the ones who are “questioning”. There is also what I consider to be a (im)moral issue of bishops making a teacher’s off duty lifestyle or use of social media a condition of their contract and an excuse for firing them. There are similar situations for parish employees, ministers, and volunteers. I know some wonderful people who have been caught up in this. In my opinion this is plain wrong.
Recently I had the grade school mass at a local parish. Somehow bullying made it into the homily, and this surprised me because it was not part of what I planned to say. At the end of mass before the blessing, and on the spur of the moment, I had a chat with the kids about drugs. Later from the principal and the pastor I learned that some serious bullying incidents, both through the internet and physically on the playground, had happened this week. After mass some adults talked with me about kids taking drugs from their parents’ medicine chests. Seems like grace happened.
As important and interesting as understanding the millennial generation may be, in my day to day life it is not even on my radar screen. I have only so many rounds in my clip, and I try to use them where they will do the most good.
I suppose the main reason I stay active is because I believe Jesus meant it when he said “I am with you always, even to the end of time”, and, “I will send the Spirit who will teach you to observe everything I have commanded you”. I believe this is happening. I also believe firmly in the Eucharist and the Sacraments. To me grace is real. I do not believe the Catholic tradition is the only way to “salvation” or whatever term we use to talk about our next step in life. I cannot tell other folks how to live their lives, I have enough trouble trying to figure out how to live my own. All I can do is share my journey with them, and learn from them.
There are a lot of things I don’t like about the institutional church. I think that as a group the USCCB is useless and irrelevant, more concerned about their own prerogatives and authority, and totally separated from the real life of the folks they are supposed to be leading, and definitely a Francis-free zone. Many seem to be biding their time until Francis dies and hopefully, for them, a new pope will come who will turn back everything Francis has done. But these guys do look cute when they get dressed up, like little kewpie dolls on a shelf. Fortunately there are some pastoral bishops who are doing their best and often are not known outside their diocese.
For me the church is the folks in the pews, those who used to be in the pews, and anyone who is interested. With the world in the mess it is in these days, the Gospel offers some powerful insights of how to live justice, love, and mercy. It is a Story of God loving all of us, not a book of rules.
The healing and help we all look for happens when when we let ourselves be led by the Spirit to be there for and with others. All this opens up a whole new insight to the Gospel for this coming Sunday: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.; and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Just saying . . .