Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Gospel I Wanna Reject

One of my closest friends, recently ordained as a priest in the Episcopal church, sent me a copy of the sermon she's going to preach this Sunday.  I liked the sermon a lot.  The only problem is that I don't much like the gospel story on which it's based.  We're talking here about the parable of the rich man who is indifferent to the hunger and suffering of his poor neighbor, Lazarus.  I don't like that gospel story because I see myself in the rich man.  I see him in me.  (Maybe that's why Lazarus gets a name and the rich man doesn't.  Fill in your own name, in other words, if the shoe fits.)  I'm the one who is experiencing material comfort right now--and, quite honestly, for all of my life up to this point.  (Sure, I bought groceries at Aldi's during graduate school, but I was always able to buy plenty of them.  And if I had needed my parents' assistance--as I sometimes did--I could put out a call to my parents.)

Make no mistake.  I don't really want Lazarus's misery.  I don't view him in romantic, grandiose terms.  I want desperately to avoid his fate, his suffering, while on this earth--both for myself and for those whom I love.  But I also do not want to hear Jesus calling me out for enjoying my creature comforts while the poor--the poor within thirty miles of me, as well as the poor around the globe--suffer in very palpable ways.  It's painful to think that Jesus means me--not somebody else, not some abstract entity who exists in some other society--when he's telling this story.  It's me who has not helped them--not nearly enough--in meeting their material needs.  It's me who has not done enough to respect and protect their human dignity.  It's not that guy to the left of me Christ is talking about, nor the woman on my right.  I'm the one he's pointing his finger at every time I hear this story.

I don't like this Sunday's gospel.  Which is a pretty potent sign that this is the gospel, perhaps more so than any other gospel proclaimed throughout the year, that I most need to hear.  The one I need to wrestle with, pray over, reread.  And more than all that, the one I need to figure out a way to do something about.

If I end up in hell some day (please God, no), my guess is that it's my sins of omission that will get me there, not stuff I've done.  Too much good untapped; too many good intentions not put to work.  And too many Christs-in-need walking around whom I ignored for too long.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Join a Retreat: Fifteen or Twenty Minutes a Day

Something I love about Catholicism:  the call, through the centuries, to step away from the pressing demands and numbing routines of daily life and seek out what is timeless, spirit-filling, truly enriching.  This call can be found in the writings of the ancient monks (modern monks too), and even in the gospels, where Christ tells his disciples to come away with him for rest, prayer, recharging.  (All right, I guess Christ never did call it recharging--seeing that electricity and batteries weren't part of the vocabulary then.)

Creighton University, which has a wonderful daily reflections center (with many of the scripture reflections written lay people, as well as scripture scholars), also is home to this online Ignatian retreat.  I meant to follow along last autumn but somehow got distracted.  This time, I'm doing it.  Dug into the book about three o'clock this morning, actually.  (Yep, you can do the retreat totally online or with paper, your choice.)  I'm grateful to the people associated with Creighton who put these things together.  Great resource; food for my faith life, and I need that food.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Yes, Virginia, Sometimes You Sure Can Take Things Too Literally

Over at Standing On My Head, Dwight Longenecker is proud of taking this weekend's gospel admonition (i.e., that we are to "hate" our family members in order to fully please Christ) literally.  He looks askance, predictably enough, at folks who think that particular reading should not be taken literally.  He comes close to expressing regret for the love that exists in important, familial relationships because that love does not involve God and God alone.  (How one can love a family member or friend and not have God involved at least indirectly, well, I don't know.  Is not the God we worship the very definition of love?  Where does love come from, if it is not from the ambiguous-yet-definitely-there, impossible-to-ignore frosted-glass tracings of God?)

Too many human relationships are lacking in love.  Let's not be sorry, on the basis of God's supposed jealousy, about the ones we are part of that do include love.  Lean into Christ, put nothing before him, take up your cross; that's an inevitable part of the Christian ethic.  But love your neighbor as yourself:  that's part of the same ethic, not a value we need to renounce, not a value for which we need to  hem-and-haw out an apology.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

And we wonder why we're short of priests

One of the Catholic blogs I read on a regular basis belongs to a conservative young priest who nonetheless strikes me as a decent fellow, a smart guy.  Needless to say, we disagree about seventy percent of the time on liturgical and theological issues--but as I said, I like him just the same; I'm convinced he has a good heart.  A few days ago, Fr. D posted in his blog a letter from the vocations director for his diocese (which also happens to be my diocese).  At one point, the vocations director asks, "Is there someone there [in your parish or circle of friends] who might just possibly make a good priest?"  I've heard this question posed any number of times over the last three decades.  It was asked frequently when I was a teenager finishing up at my Catholic grade school.  When I was fourteen, I seriously considered the priesthood myself.  Not for me, though I respect people who are called to it.

Still, I can't help but laugh (gently) at the irony of the Catholic church asking this question so frequently, with mixed results, even as it fails to consider ordaining women to the priesthood.  Conservatives/traditionalists in the church will offer a dozen arguments about why the church does not--"cannot," in their words--ordain women as priests.  Ultimately, though, human prejudice is a factor that cannot be overlooked, though defenders of a male-only priesthood always do deny that there's anything vaguely resembling sexism at work here.

Do I know--have I known--promising, faith-filled Catholics who would make excellent priests?  Yes indeed.  But some of those folks are female.  Unfortunately, the church has told them not to apply; we Catholics in the pews evidently do not need those folks (you know...women) to minister to us, to bring the sacraments into our lives, as priests.  The Holy Spirit has basically been told by Church leadership, over and over, that only males are eligible.  How out of whack is that?  And how very unfortunate for those of us who want to see the priesthood flourish!  (I realize, yes, that the Church would characterize the situation otherwise.)  May God, in God's wisdom, send His ministers, of whichever gender, to those churches that will accept them.  

Pray hard for vocations, yes!  Truly!  And try to keep an open-mind and be non-sexist in those prayers -- that would be a wonderful charge for the Church to give itself.  Priest shortage indeed.