Wednesday, December 14, 2011

God Embraces Outcasts -- Then & Now

Thom, author of the blog Faith in the 21st Century, has a great post today in which he considers how the socially marginalized (the outcasts from Proper Mainstream Christian Society) would come into play if Jesus were to appear in our midst and offer us a fresh version of his teaching that "tax collectors and prostitutes are entering heaven before you" (Luke 11:46).  Well worth a read.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Advent: Less Running, More Stillness

I was googling around a few minutes ago, in search of a quick, one-off Advent reflection.  (I haven't picked up the Advent booklet at my bedside in several days:  too busy.)

This is the line I came across on the Internet.  I know nothing about the author or what else he has written.  But it works for me right now.  It fits the spiritual state I'm in at the moment.  And it speaks to this time of waiting.
Advent: the time to listen for footsteps -- you can't hear footsteps when
you're running yourself
.” -- Bill McKibben
I need to slow down.  I need to stop running.  I need to get myself quiet on the outside, and then quiet on the inside as well.  Avail myself of the possibility that Christ might just be willing to take up residence in my flawed soul.  Make myself available to the peace that God is willing to offer -- and which I must be willing to accept.

Advent 2011.  The season when what I really need is fewer bright lights, less noise, less shopping, less greed for what appears in the ads from the big box stores.  And more moments waiting for the peace and love and mercy of God, which most likely will come in small moments, quiet moments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Making and Finding Silence in Advent

We are now in the first week of Advent.  I love Advent; I love what it's all about -- waiting for God and, as we wait, trying to make a home for God in our hearts.  It's a liturgical season that is, in a sense, all about getting pregnant -- getting pregnant with Christ.  Each of us, female or male, old or young, can help bring Christ into this world.  Each of us is responsible for saying yes to God's call and now we wait for God's presence to grow in our souls rather than in a womb.

For me, silence has to play a role in all this waiting.  Otherwise I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the commercial enterprise that is Christmas 2011, a season of bargains and parties and food and outward trappings that often fail to lead me back to the spirit of quiet possibility -- the sacredness -- found in "mangers" both ancient and modern.  (There's a "manger" two hundred yards to your right or left, if you're willing to keep your eyes open and you don't require farm animals or straw.  Humble, unassuming places where one can be open to the in-breaking of God in our world.  Places where the incarnation still seems like it has a real chance of occurring in the human soul, even in this busy, high tech era known as 2011.)

Now, in the middle of the night as I write this, I realize that I may not have an easy time of finding silence each day during Advent.  Plenty of Christmas carols in the air, some of which I like a good deal.  (A friend just sent our family a beautiful CD of Christmas carols performed by a girls choir.  We'll be playing that many times in the coming weeks and finding food for our souls in the playing.  Thanks, Jeanne!)  Still -- if I want to find moments of quiet during Advent, I'm going to have to kill the remote and turn off the car radio more often and stop myself from blathering on, too.

I'm going to have to make silence, in other words.  Valuing silence at different points during the day is helpful (perhaps essential) if I hope to make space in my heart for Christ's love, Christ's mercy, Christ's grace.  And maybe cultivating an inner spirit of quiet is essential if I hope to attain the equilibrium to share a bit of that love with others too -- since even in the quiet of the manger, the doorway was left open for shepherds, travelers from afar, and even (let's face it) curious livestock.  I have to imagine that Mary and Joseph savored the quiet -- occasionally broken by the Christ child's cries, for sure -- before they let those strangers in, before they pulled back the blanket a bit to let the visitors see the innocent face of love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Martin Sheen -- Interviewed by the NCR

Great interview of Martin Sheen in the National Catholic Reporter.  A superb actor, sincere Christian, and good father and citizen.  Not to mention a damn good TV president...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Merton and Contemplation . . . on YouTube

Someone reading out loud the first chapter ("What is Contemplation?") from Thomas Merton's beautiful little book, New Seeds of Contemplation.  Have some coffee handy.  The voice could put you to sleep.  Merton's words, however, may deepen your life.

"Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from HIm Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everythat is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Online Retreat -- Another Gift from Creighton University

I've been wrestling with myself for a couple years now who has the better site for prayer and scripture reflections  -- Saint Louis University or Creighton University.  They're both great sites, albeit in very different ways.  Creighton wins this month, however, as it provides an entryway into its annual online retreat, which begins next week.  (Actually, you can begin it anytime, but you'll be going through it in sync with even greater numbers of other folks--if such things matter to you--should you happen to start it in the third week of September.  There's also a retreat book available for purchase, though you can participate in the retreat just fine with your mouse.)

Not sure if I'm going the online route or not this year; probably not, as I'll be going on retreat later this year in the old fashioned way (for the first time in a decade, actually).  Truly, though, it's great to have Creighton's prayer resources out there to remind us that you can go on a retreat--send your soul on a retreat--no matter your transportation options, your budget, your job schedule, or child care/family responsibilities.  Jesus was in the habit of going away to a quiet place to pray.  These days, sometimes that quiet place is in front of a monitor.  Whatever works, however you can make it work . . . trust that God will make it work.  This is the God of limitless love, boundless mercy, infinite creativity.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."  --Matthew 11:29-30
Just as the human body needs and deserves sleep, the soul needs its own rest--the time and opportunity to trust completely in God's love, to unfold itself in the radiant warmth of God's love.  Whatever good deeds you hope to carry out in the world, your soul needs the warmth of God's love if you hope to carry that love out into the world.  Don't kid yourself into thinking a retreat is a selfish thing.  It's no more a selfish thing than an annual visit to the doctor (even though you'll probably enjoy your retreat more than that visit with your physician).

Okay, your turn:  Have you gone a retreat at some point yourself?  Would you do it again or not?  What did you get out of it?  There's an empty comment box just waiting for you.  It's pretty empty, really it is.  Or almost empty.  Go on.  You know you want to type in your thought...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Remembrance

Those who died on September 11, 2001, live on in many hearts, most especially in the lives of those who knew and loved them.  May we trust, through God's grace and mercy, that they also live on in God's loving embrace.

May we honor their lives by living in generous, life-giving ways.

May we acknowledge the injustice of their deaths by rejecting hatred, violence, and vengeance.

May we pray for their families, that they find peace in the years and decades to come.

May we view this anniversary, and future anniversaries, as times when we respect all human life, rather than as partisan occasions for name-calling or recrimination.

Nothing can undo this tragedy.  Nothing can help us to make complete sense of it.  But seeking God's love and mercy, and embracing the call to forgiveness and healing that is at the heart of the readings at Mass for today, is an important step in not allowing hatred and violence to have the final say in the life of our nation or our families and neighborhoods.

An old post related to September 11:  "Losing One's Life for Others--Priestly Examples," concerning NYFD chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Vatican Again Papers Over Real Priorities

A great (and brief) article by Eugene Kennedy, in the National Catholic Reporter, on Rome's mixed-up priorities and retreat into medieval ways.

Benedict's Vatican is again engaging in a legalistic approach to grace.  Sadly, that's pretty darn appropriate, since its approach to just about everything else also seems legalistic.

Someday, we may once again find ourselves with a pope who truly embraces Vatican II, rather than runs away from it.  Someday, we may have a pope who--like John XXIII--opens the windows of the church and allows the church to thrive with the fresh air, rather than recycling practices that were wisely put on the shelf.  There is much hope for the Church.  The Holy Spirit is not finished with it yet.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Religious Tests for the Presidency

Jimmy Akin is one of those self-appointed right-wing Catholics who has created a business out of telling other Catholics that they aren't true enough or pure enough in their Catholicism.  He's a blogger who has written books and gets on right-wing Catholic radio (including the Covenant network) to encourage Catholics to report their priest to the bishop if he says something during Mass that a right winger does not like--for instance, if the priest mentions that he thinks priests should be able to marry, or that women should not be banned from the priesthood.

That's Jimmy Akin's right.  He can make money however he wants, as long as it's legal, and he obviously has his first amendment rights.  No crime there.  But now Akin has gone on the warpath against Mitt Romney -- not because Romney's economic policies (the few that he's actually been willing to put his name to) are heartless, not at all protective of the poor Jesus asked his followers to help.  No, Akin does not think Romney should be taken seriously as a presidential candidate because....wait for it....he's not Christian.  Romney is a member of the LDS church (the Mormons), obviously, and Akin is quick to point out that the LDS church is not Christian.

Couple problems with that one.  First, Akin's own faith -- Catholicism -- is often bashed by evangelicals as "not being Christian."  That's a charge arising from ignorance; it typically comes from people who believe that Catholics worship Mary or that Catholics are not called by the church to have a "personal relationship" with Christ.  You would think Akin, as a member of a faith community that is itself often attacked by outsiders, would not want to tackle Romney on Romney supposedly not belonging to a Christian church.

The second problem is that Akin defines Christianity in strictly theological terms.  Personally, I find theology fascinating -- one of the most interesting parlor games around.  But theology is not synonymous with being a follower of Christ -- that is, a true, humble Christ-ian:  a person who attempts to love as Jesus loves.  Akin has missed the point of Christianity if he thinks it's chiefly about doctrine.

Not to mention that people who call themselves Christian should reject bigotry in all its forms--including religious bigotry.  There's no other word for what Akin has advocated:  rejecting a presidential candidate chiefly on his religious beliefs.

There's no way in heck that I will vote for Romney -- in part because he has now rejected the one clearly good thing he did as governor of Massachussetts:  helping to craft health care reform that increased the likelihood that sick people (of all income levels) will be able to get medical care without the system going bankrupt.  No, Romney is not getting my vote.  But it has nothing to do with the sort of bigotry that Jimmy Akin is busy promoting.

I truly believe that each of us is called by God to reject bigotry in all its forms.  If we work at that, we can help save the church.  (Call me naive if you must, but I do believe that.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway's Tragedy: Hatred of Muslims Turns into Violence

A day and a half ago (July 22), a young, photogenic citizen of Norway carried out two gruesome attacks against his fellow Norwegians.  Roughly ninety-three people were killed, a great many of them teenagers.  The suspect police arrested is Anders Behring Breivik.

It could turn out that Breivik's massacre is the product of untreated mental illness, not so different from the case of Jared Loughner, who went on the attack in Tuscon in January, killing several people and severely wounding Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.  At the moment, however, it appears that Breivik had very warped political motives--a terrorist more like Timothy McVeigh than Loughner.

What were Breivik's motives?  Evidently, he hates Muslims.  He lumps Muslims together as a danger.  All Muslims.  Breivik was hoping to start a cultural revolution and turn Norweignans against Muslims.  He wanted to call his fellow citizens to arms against Muslims.  The people he killed were not Muslims (not as far as I know), but he evidently fed himself a diet of anti-Muslim propaganda, and then he went out to murder lots and lots of folks.  Bigotry that is shared openly is an attempt, in effect, to teach one's listeners to hate those who are deemed the dangerous "other."  Hatred often boils over and leads to violence.  No big surprise there.

Those who try to gin up hatred of Muslims in various corners of the world -- including, of course, even the occasional Catholic bishop -- should join the rest of us in saying prayers for the victims of the violence in Norway.  And then they should pray some more and repent of the hatred they are helping to spread.  For hatred always has tragic consequences, and Anders Behring Breivik would seem to be one of those consequences.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Say an Ave for Amy Winehouse

Sad news from London:  Amy Winehouse has been found dead in her home.  Only twenty-seven years old.  Great talent, wonderful voice, soulful tunes.  A tortured soul, from most accounts.  This particular song is sad in its irony--and, I can't deny it, as catchy as all get out.

If you have a moment, say a Hail Mary for Amy Winehouse as well as those who are still struggling with addictions.  May she rest in peace; may she find her true home in God's loving arms.  May we all, each of us, find our true home in God's loving arms.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Praying for Heat Relief...and Finally, Doing Something About It

It's been unbearably hot (humid and hot, as in blast-oven hot) here in the Midwest.  One hundred degrees before they even look at the heat index.

In our prayers during these hot days and nights, my son and I sometimes remember to pray for those who do not have air conditioning.  We do have air conditioning.  We are comfortable.  It's all too easy, once we've been inside the house for a few hours, to forget what it must feel like in other people's homes.

Just decided we need to add action to our prayers this weekend.  Need to buy a couple fans and donate them.  Should have done that way back in June.  Should have been doing that for the last several summers, actually.  All those summers I could have done that and did not -- that's what you call a sin of omission.  I'm guilty of plenty of sins of omission.

Most towns or counties have food pantries -- sometimes multiple food pantries (the community one, plus multiple church-run pantries).  I would be interested to hear:  What, if anything, does your local faith community or civic organization do to help the poor, the aged, the vulnerable to cope with extreme weather, especially the type of heat that kills?  Is this a neglected ministry?  Or is help readily available for the folks who need it?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Six Months After Christmas: Still Praying That Bishop Paprocki Will Reject Prejudice Against Muslims

Today is the half-way mark on the calendar between Christmas 2010 and Christmas 2011.  We're six months out from Bishop Thomas John Paprocki's choice to promote prejudice against Muslims in his 2010 Midnight Mass celebration at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, Illinois.  We have six months until Bishop Paprocki gives his next Christmas Eve homily.

Since he is the bishop in charge of the diocese in which I live, I am praying each day that Bishop Paprocki will turn away from the serious sin of bigotry that he demonstrated in his Christmas Eve homily.  Here's a link to that homily.  The bishop began that homily by celebrating (not noting, not explaining, but celebrating) the execution of a Muslim general on Christmas Day in 1683.  He then went on to lament that Muslims today "wish to move in legally and peacefully" to the United States and Western Europe in order to  "impose Islamist values and sharia law with little or no resistance."  That's right, folks.  The way Bishop Paprocki sees it, you can't even trust Muslims who come in peace.  They all, evidently, have something awful up their sleeves.

When someone is in the habit of prejudging others--particularly a large group of individuals--we call that prejudice.   People who are proud of their prejudice are bigots.  People who encourage other people to become bigots are...well, do we have a word for that?  Some would call such folks hate-mongers.  I'm sure the bishop would not call himself that.  After all, he would point out, he never said anyone should hate Muslims.  Just reject them out of hand.  Including the ones who come "peacefully and legally."  And, oh yes, he also says--more out of rhetorical obligation than heartfelt belief, I suspect--that "not every Muslim is a terrorist."  But he only makes that point once, and very briefly, and it's the same sort of thing that every bigoted person says when he hopes that non-bigots will take him seriously.  It rarely works.

Catholic Christians are called by the church to go the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confess their sins in private, before only God and a priest.  We are not, under normal circumstances, obliged to repent of our sins in a public forum--although we are, most certainly, expected to repent with a sincere heart, if perhaps only in private.  It's entirely possible that Bishop Paprocki has already repented of the sin of bigotry privately, that is, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It's not my business, obviously, to know whether he has or not.

In this case, however, it sure seems that Bishop Paprocki should supplement any sacramental confession of the sin of bigotry with a public apology and repentance.  For he did not just engage in bigotry--which, sadly, most of us have struggled with in one form or another in our own hearts.  No, what Bishop Paprocki did was much worse.  He used the Holy Mass to encourage others to adopt his prejudice.  In other words, he encouraged every person who attended that Mass, and every person who read the homily thereafter, to engage in sin.  He encouraged others to prejudge individuals as having evil intent when he knows nothing of those individuals.  And, once again:  he used the Mass--Christmas Eve Mass--to do this.

We are all sinners; we are all in need of conversion and acceptance of God's mercy.  With regard to the bishop's very public sin last Christmas, let's hope that the bishop is able to come to terms with this sin and turn from it.  Let us hope he will encourage his flock to reject prejudice and bigotry in all its forms.  (Think about it.  The bishop's example of showing the faithful how one recognizes sin in his own life, turns from it, and seeks to make things right would be inspirational for every Catholic in the diocese.)  And let's also pray that the bishop will remember to celebrate Jesus' love at Midnight Mass six months from now.  (Is it not a shame for a savior to be born--a savior who leads us deeper into God's love--and for a bishop to miss the point of that event?  How sad for those people who went to Mass to celebrate God's love on Christmas Eve.)

The good news for Bishop Paprocki, on the off chance (the incredibly minuscule chance) he stumbles across this blog entry:  God can help you turn away from your sin--even one as drastic as the homily you gave last Christmas.  (Who knows?  You might even have a chance to sit down and get to know a few Muslims as friends, as people.  Don't be afraid, sir.  They might be praying for you as well, for all you know.  Open your heart to God's love, Bishop Paprocki.  You're better than the sin you committed last Christmas in front of all those people.)

(For what it's worth, here's a link to my original post on Bishop Paprocki's homily--from this January.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SNAP To It: Kansas City & Bishop Finn

SNAP is pushing for a grand jury investigation in Kansas City, so reports The National Catholic Reporter.  Thank goodness.  It's about time.  Good wishes for whoever filled their gas tanks.

I used to be skeptical about SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.  Used to think the group was crassly anti-Catholic in that they never bothered to broaden their focus to other populations of sexual abuse survivors and the people who victimized them.  After all, there are plenty of abusers who are Baptist, and Methodist, and United Church of Christ, and...well, you get the idea.  [Update and correction: A commenter who stopped by has set me straight.  There are indeed SNAP chapters that focus on groups other than the Catholic church.]

Not to mention that most priests (including every priest I've ever known personally, as far as I can tell) are not prone to victimizing children.  Most priests are decent men; some of them are very holy men, and not in a cardboard cut-out sense, but in a genuinely down-to-earth, caring way.

So then:  Why a group that focuses solely on the Catholic church?  That's the question I used to ask myself, and a question which many defenders of the church still ask.   (I'm thinking of people who argue, rather sadly, "We're no worse than the rest of society..."  Not much of a defense there, methinks. Nor much witness to the message of Christ.)

And then I got it.  The Catholic church, unlike so many other organizations and employers who have predators within their ranks, is highly centralized in its policies and decision making.  There is a company line here.  For decades and decades and decades -- with regard to the abuse of minors -- it was a lousy company line, but one that was followed by bishop after bishop in diocese after diocese.  Ignore.  Cover up.  Lie.  Lawyer up.  Stall.

SNAP is needed.  SNAP brings both attention and heat to the cases it highlights.  If its rhetoric is occasionally  inflammatory, its raison d'etre is clear.  The group wants to bring about real change in the church, which includes an end to abuse and cover-ups, and justice for survivors of abuse.  Believe it or not, the church owes SNAP a big round of thanks.  (I'm guessing, though, that members don't expect to hear any clapping until  they get to heaven.  The church on earth is too busy calling the lawyers.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nest of Cardinals...and Gratitude

My wife pointed out to me last night that a mother and father cardinal established their nest in an elevated nook of our back porch (on the branch of a huge shrub) while we weren't looking.  Evidently several chicks hatched while we were away on vacation, and we can now see mom and dad bringing food home on a regular basis.  Occasionally, my wife sees little beaks straining upward.  (She has better eyes than me.)  At this moment, sitting here with the door open before the day's heat takes over, I hear clusters of their chirping, the sound of joy or hunger, I'm not sure which.  Would love to snap a picture, but I don't want to trespass on their space.

In any case, the green leaves and the chirps and the summer breeze all leave me feeling very grateful for the five senses God blessed me with.  And I am reminded, as well, of a short video that fits rather nicely with any moment of gratitude.  (Sometimes I watch this piece after a long day, and I always sleep more peacefully that night.)

The speaker here is Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tim Russert: A Catholic and a Good Man

Greg Kandra, at the Deacon's Bench blog on Patheos, has a couple nice tributes to Tim Russert, who died three years ago this week.  Every Sunday morning when my son was a baby, I would hold him and he and I would watch MTP together--bottle for him, coffee for me, dogs at our feet.  Then the child discovered cartoons.

May Tim Russert rest in the eternal peace and loving embrace of God, merciful creator and lover of all souls.  May God have mercy on each of us at the hour of our death.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Nugget from William J. O'Malley

This morning one book's spine seemed to jump out at me from the stacks of books at bedside.  The book, God: The Oldest Question, by William J. O'Malley, S.J., is one I haven't touched in three or four years.  (This inference is based on the convenience store receipt with which it was bookmarked.  I wonder if I really needed that York Peppermint Pattie...or if I managed to give the second one to my wife, as I hope I did.  Anyway.)

As I skimmed O'Malley's wonderful book this morning, I came across this line, which for some reason I neglected to place an X next to the last time I encountered it.  I'll make up for that here on the Net.
"If the gospel doesn't unnerve you, it's quite likely that you've never really heard it."
Never really heard it.  Heard it, yes, but without hearing it.  Heard the words of the gospel read aloud, yes; read the words with my own eyes, yes.

But have I taken it to heart?  Lived it out in a pervasive, transformative, rubber-meets-the-road way?  Allowed myself to see how far I am from the mark of God's generosity?

Hmmm.  Well now.  Not so much.  Which leaves me thinking:  I have plenty of road still to cover.  And no footsteps to waste.  I need to start listening to the gospel for real and living it like I mean it.  All along the walk. More kindness.  More benefit of the doubt.  A quieter voice except when loudness is truly needed.  Less attention to things, more attention to people.  More humility, less pride.  A greater awareness that the present moment matters, even as I realize that this will all pass away--especially the individual moments in which I might, somehow, learn how to be a Christian..  And, along with that, I need to give myself permission to be unnerved by all that God calls each of us to, and unnerved by the sweep and depth of God's love as well.

Yes, I truly do need to hear the gospel.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Andre Dubus: "A sacrament is..."

One thing that I love in Catholicism (and in progressive strains of spirituality more generally) is attention to the small stuff.  In small things, one sometimes discovers hints of God's love and crumbs of God's grace.

Here's the wonderful short story writer Andre Dubus (1936-1999), a bit of an ambivalent Catholic himself.  This is from his piece "Sacraments" in his second essay collection, Mediations from a Movable Chair:
"A sacrament is physical, and within it is God's love; as a sandwich is physical, and nutritious and pleasurable, and within it is love, if someone makes it for you and gives it to you with love; even harried or tired or impatient love, but with love's direction and concern, love's again and again wavering and distorted focus on goodness; then God's love too is in the sandwich."
I am reminded to savor and be grateful for the small joys of life.  Within those small things, small moments, there is a rich experience that could have passed me by but did not.  There is food for the soul, grace aplenty, crumb by crumb.

Warren Zevon, too, had a similar (sandwich-themed) observation when he appeared on David Letterman's show in the fall of 2002, when he was facing what his doctors told him was a deadly case of lung cancer:  "Enjoy every sandwich."

Excuse me while I get lunch ready for my son, allowing in the possibility that maybe a sacrament is waiting to happen, notwithstanding all the flaws in the sandwich maker.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Unintentionally Honest Bishop

The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church (meaning abuse + cover-up by bishops) is not over.  We all wish it were, but it's not.  In Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali recently removed twenty-one priests from active ministry--only after a grand jury investigation led to charges against several of the priests, including the cardinal's right-hand man, who is accused of helping to cover-up suspected criminal misconduct by priests.

Half-way across the country, another bishop, Robert Finn, has covered up another case of a priest who is alleged to have engaged in crimes against children.  If you want to believe that what the bishops' conference did in 2002 in Dallas fixed the problem, you owe it to yourself to read about the case of Bishop Finn.

Robert Finn should resign as bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph (Missouri) diocese.  Finn has admitted in the last few weeks that he shielded a priest who was behaving inappropriately towards elementary-aged children.  The priest is in jail at the moment on child-pornography charges.  Bishop Finn has claimed he did not bother to read a four-page letter which a Catholic school principal delivered to the diocese one year ago; Finn did not read the letter, that is, until about five days ago, after the priest was arrested.

Think about the best case here:  Finn was indifferent to allegations of inappropriate conduct toward children; he was not interested in learning more after his vicar general summarized the letter for him.  Worst case: The bishop is lying about not knowing the letter's contents until last week.  One hopes the bishop is not lying--indifference would be bad enough, of course.  However, previous abuse cases elsewhere have shown some bishops are not above ignoring allegations of misconduct and then lying about their knowledge of those allegations.

Finn acknowledges he knew the priest had at least one nude photo of a child on his computer as long ago as December 2010, along with numerous other photos of kids from the school.  At that time (he has recently claimed), he had someone in the diocese (who?) describe the photo to a police officer who was a friend of diocesan officials--instead of furnishing the suspect photo to the cops--and was supposedly told the picture did not constitute a criminal offense.  Notice that no one told the diocese that the priest's behavior was normal or harmless.

Did Bishop Finn notify anyone on the diocesan child-protection board, the group that is charged with looking into allegations and calling the police?  He did not.  The head of that board was "flabbergasted" when he heard about these allegations in the last few weeks.

There's no way to get around it:  Finn has proven himself to be a bad bishop, an irresponsible shepherd who let the wolf hang around the sheep even though he heard the wolf howling.  Finn is a bishop who needs to resign immediately.

Ironically, however, Bishop Finn unintentionally spoke a small shard of truth in explaining why he did not turn the priest into the police in December.  He told parishioners, by way of apology, that "We have a priest shortage and we needed a pastor there."  The bishop did not want to heighten the vocation crisis in the church--so, he kept a priest in action who he had every reason to suspect might pose a danger to children.  "We have a priest shortage here..."

In the early 1990s, when Wilton Gregory was bishop of Belleville, Illinois (prior to his service as president of the USCCB and his elevation to his current post as archbishop of Atlanta), he made the brave decision to remove thirteen  of his priests from active ministry because credible evidence existed that each of those men had abused children.  Thirteen priests out of about eighty priests total in the diocese who were then below retirement age.  Such a cut--while absolutely necessary--took courage.  The Belleville diocese had a priest shortage prior to the firing of those thirteen men; obviously, the shortage was worse after they left.  Of course, all in all, the diocese was much better off once abuser priests were removed.  

Every diocese obviously needs to follow its stated policy of calling the police when a suspected abuser is discovered among its workforce.  Yet Bishop Robert Finn is, perhaps, ultimately more in keeping with the times than his colleague, Wilton Gregory.  Finn, a staunch conservative, knows that whatever else happens, we simply, absolutely cannot have women priests--so say Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia (as they attempt to raise to the level of infallibility John Paul II's teaching from 1994 that everyone should please just shut up and stop mentioning women's ordination).  We cannot have married priests--unless, of course, you count those married Anglican priests whom the Catholic church is glad to poach; those married priests who are, by coincidence, afraid enough of women clergy and women bishops to want to split with the Anglican faith.

Joseph Girzone, retired priest and author, has written about the cost that the church incurs as a result of its ban on married priests and women priests.  Bishop Finn's failure to act is reflective of both his negligence as a shepherd and his belief that a priest who is dangerous to children is at least better than a woman priest or a married priest.  He's following the company line on that one.  Which is, sadly, one reason why he likely will not do the right thing and quit.

Catholics in the pews who want to see irresponsible bishops such as Finn go need to speak loudly:  both with their voices and their wallets.  If you have a bad bishop, why not put a note in the collection basket that you are praying for the bishop's conversion.  A prayer of that sort is indeed a meaningful contribution to the church's welfare.  Then give your money to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, your local food pantry, or a crisis pregnancy center.

And if you should happen to discover you are not alone in this effort--if you find, for instance, that dozens or hundreds of your fellow Catholics locally are behaving similarly--why not contact your local newspaper or TV station so they can report on this phenomenon?

NB:  Thom, at Faith in the 21st Century, has a good discussion of the Kansas City case, with some attention to what Finn really wants to spend his energy on:  bringing back Latin, liturgical lace, and everything that might undermine the reforms of Vatican II.  On the other side of the coin, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, at the arch-conservative What Does The Prayer Really Say, has a pro-Finn commentary; in Fr. Z's comment box, one finds folks claiming that Finn's approach to this case was just dandy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

With or Without You?

I'm of the generation that experienced the release of the 1987 U2 album, The Joshua Tree, as a cultural and spiritual moment.  (There were also plenty of catchy hooks; have to admit that.)  I remember a couple of friends standing in line at midnight outside the record store on Grand River in East Lansing, waiting for the LP to go on sale.  (Perhaps one or two of my friends bought it on CD, though  most of us did not own CD players at that point.  For many people my age, that seems to have been one of the first albums they made a point of buying once they ponied up for a CD player a few years later.)  Plenty of wonderful songs on that album.  The first one to hit the radio was "With or Without You," a song you can listen to on any number of levels--romantic, existential, spiritual.  Both desire and ambivalence pound through that song, and the dilemma is no closer to being resolved at the end of the song than it was at the beginning.

Fast forward two and a half decades.  I'm not that angst-ridden undergraduate.  Now I'm a somewhat angst-ridden middle-aged fellow, and I still love that song.  Today, though, when I hear it, I think largely of my identity as a Catholic:  This church into which I was born (baptized at two weeks old, thank you very much), this church which I thought was something nearly flawless during my nine years (K-8) of Catholic school.  (That school closed forever last year.  My year of graduation was smack dab in the middle of its sixty-year history, whatever that signifies.)  I spent most of eighth grade thinking about whether I had a vocation to the priesthood even as I recovered--ever so slowly!--from a crush on a girl the previous year who ended up going with another guy to the school carnival.  I wished them well (sort of) and thought that Jesus was with me every step of the way.  (There must have been some girl that a fourteen-year-old Jesus thought was cute, right?)

It was not until my junior or senior year of high school that I first questioned why women couldn't become priests.  It wasn't until college that I first began to question--during a late night conversation with a friend who had been brought up Methodist--the shaky logic and disturbing implications of the church's ban on artificial contraception.  Not until my late twenties or early thirties did I question the church's teaching that the only way a gay or lesbian person could live a holy life was to remain completely celibate for his or her entire life--even if that individual had found an opportunity for love and commitment that, from all appearances, was both real and life-giving.  (No, I'm really not interested in any debates about procreative potential.  Life-long romantic relationships can indeed be "life-giving" in many senses that do not involve the combining of a sperm and an egg.  I write this as somebody who is one-half of an infertile heterosexual couple that has experienced any number of "life-giving" moments over the years.)  

My point, however, is that I've learned to question.  I've learned that I cannot be a good Catholic (or a good Christian of any variety, or even a half-way decent human being period) without asking tough questions.  Questions about the sexism in the church; questions about the continuing difficulty the church has in honestly coming to terms with the history of sexual abuse and cover-up and excuse-making that has pervaded the church for far, far too long.  (Think the issue is completely resolved?  Read this recent piece by Catholic apologist George Weigel and think again.  One silver lining, though, if you click on the article:  Even the readers of the very-conservative National Review call Weigel to task on the issue of abuse victims' ages.)

I'm left to wonder whether I can live with the Catholic church.  Can I stay Catholic?  Should I?  (My spouse and son are Catholic.  I don't want to go across town to worship at the Episcopal church, even if I suspect my conscience and soul would feel more at home there.)  I believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist in the Catholic mass--I truly do.  However, I also believe that Christ is truly present (if in a different sense perhaps) in the people who gather in all sincerity to worship and serve God in other faith communities...and, not infrequently, I have brief glimpses of Christ's definite presence in people and groups that do not bother at all with the label of "Christian" or devout church-goer.  God is present--can work through, can be seen in--all sorts of folks, no matter what they call themselves.  This I believe.

And yet I do get something out of the Catholic route to God.  I dig many aspects of Catholic spirituality.  I get a lot out of the stations of the cross (when I take the time to do them).  I love St. Francis and Julian of Norwich and Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton and Mychal Judge, the Catholic fire chaplain who died while ministering to his firefighters during the 2001 attack on the WTC.  Those folks were not the "property" of the Catholic church, but their lives were rooted in the best parts of Catholic teaching and spirituality.  Too often, though, the Catholic road I see myself traveling is cluttered with vestiges of sexism, self-righteousness, legalism, and outright corruption.

With or without the Catholic church?  (Bono's voice: "A slight of hand and a twist of fate...")  I can't live with or without you.  But maybe--who knows?--maybe one of these days I'll find out for certain if I can.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Really: Which Bishops Deserve to Be Fired?

Good editorial in The National Catholic Reporter on a very bad event:  that is, Pope Benedict's decision to fire a bishop in Australia who was guilty of the terrible offense of pondering (in a newspaper column) whether the church should consider ordaining women and married men to the priesthood.  As the editorial points out, we can't manage to fire bishops for covering up sexual abuse and enabling abusers, but we sure can go after the ones who think creatively about the church's crisis in priestly vocations.

No surprise.  This is the same Vatican that claimed, only a year ago, that an attempt to ordain a woman as a priest is as morally repugnant as a priest sexually abusing a child.  They are both considered major offenses against the faith.  Seriously.  And the Vatican was happy (not embarrassed) to share that point of view with the world.  Never mind that one is a crime in every modern society, and the other is a debatable issue at worst and a good solution to the vocations crisis at best.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Fessing Up: My bin Laden Problem

I am not a very good Christian.  This is not the first time I've realized this, but it's hit home in a deeper way in the last couple days.

When I heard the news late Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I was glad.  Not jumping up and down with joy, not calling my five favorite people to celebrate -- not that.  But more than mildly satisfied. 

Last night, lying in bed, I got around to processing a fact I had learned a couple hours earlier.  bin Laden saw the bullet coming:  He realized he was about to be shot.  It occurred to me then that bin Laden must have experienced genuine fear in the nanosecond before his death.  Regardless of how much bullshit bravado and wannabe-matyr's self-glorification an individual has engaged in up to that point, when there's a gun pointing at him and he realizes the odds are greater than not that he will be killed, there has to be a quick stab of fear.  And for some reason, I liked the idea that bin Laden experienced such fear.  Maybe because he caused so many innocent people to experience a fear that was as least as deep -- on September 11, of course; also on October 12, 2000, when the USS Cole was bombed; and in other instances that I know too little of to catalog here.

It's not the Christian thing to be happy about anyone dying violently.  It's not the Christian thing to hope that anyone -- even someone who embraced evil as willingly and frequently as bin Laden -- suffered at the moment of death.  That was not what Christ taught -- not at all.

I know what I should be doing is praying for God's mercy on his soul.  And I am doing that, a few seconds today, a few seconds yesterday.  Along with asking God's mercy and healing for all those whom bin Laden and his followers killed or psychologically maimed. 

I'm fighting the part of me that wants to be glad about the way this man died.  Maybe the best reason to wage that fight inside me is so my own soul does not become cold and prone to dehumanizing anyone...even bin Laden.  Because I'm guessing having a cold soul prone to turning others into objects -- targets -- is how bin Laden became bin Laden.

May God have mercy on all of us sinners.  Osama bin Laden included.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: Nails, Death, Love That Survives

The nails are not just pointed, as one would expect, but jagged along the edges.  There's still bark on the beam they're nailing him to.  You want to picture that wood still in the tree, not the form it takes here, as a method of torture.  You cannot bear to watch him nailed to that beam, and then the lifting up.  The blood streaming from his hands, the thorned crown still on his head.  But you're there, even though others have fled.  His mother is next to you; you wish she was not here to see this.  Mary Magdalene as well.  But they, too, look like they're staying.  They will not flee.

This afternoon is full of nails, the soldiers hoisting him up; you hear him groan as they pull the beam into place.  Bitter wine on a cloth put to his lips.  Words exchanged with thieves.  Lungs that cannot find enough air.  A crying out.  Death.  This man who is not only a man has died a human's death.  Not a death that is antiseptic, free of all pain and anxiety, with the support of loved ones all around, but the most gruesome type of human death, a death characterized by skillful torture, derision, abandonment.  And yet he says -- you can hear it from where you stand, twenty feet away -- "Father, forgive them."

Here's what I get out of good Friday:  The God I worship loves me, and all people, enough that even when we do our worst to him, he does not reject us but continues to love us and seeks to transform us through mercy, forgiveness, and hope.  I've killed Christ a thousand times through my sinfulness, and yet he still loves me enough to want a serious relationship with me.  Unearned grace.  Amazing grace indeed.

In the end, I find I must embrace a God who loves me (and everyone) that much.  God wins me over by loving the human race in the midst of our killing him.  Love that survives death; love that heals sinners.  On Good Friday, on Calvary hill.

Holy Thursday: Bread, Wine, the Garden

Holy Thursday -- the night of the Last Supper, the night when Jesus expressed his deep love for his apostles by telling them he intended to die for them.  Very soon.  And yet he wanted to celebrate this meal, this passover, with them, so close were they to his heart.

If you're a Christian (or, like me, a very flawed "attempted Christian"), you have to put yourself in that upper room.  You have to picture yourself there, reclined at table, fifteen feet or five feet or two feet from Jesus.  With all your sinfulness, your lack of humility, your moments of unkindness and petty hostility, your selfishness and materialism, the parts of yourself you wish you could replace with The Better Version of yourself.  Even with all that within you, you owe it to yourself to picture yourself in that room.  Especially, in fact, with all of that within you.  We are taught that Christ died to save sinners, not the righteous.  Sinner means me.  I bet maybe it means you as well.

Not so sure there's room for sinners?  Think about the apostles who were in that room:  Judas, who would betray Jesus; Peter, who would in a few hours deny his friend -- the one he called "messiah" -- not once but three times.  Surely there's space in that room for you and me.

The Last Supper is -- at its core -- about God's deep, unconditional love for human beings: collectively and individually.  The Last Supper is not a theological concept, regardless of how much theology one can derive from it.  The Last Supper is an event, a bittersweet celebration in God's courtship of the human soul.  It's an intimate gathering.  We are called to attend.  We have the invitation.  There's room at the table.  Someone is offering bread, now wine.  But it is something more than food that is handed around, something more than drink that is in the cup.  The person who is calling is not just anyone, but the God who would be both creator and friend.  ("I no longer call you servants, but friends."  Of course, if you wish to grow in the friendship, you eventually realize you must learn to recognize and serve the Christ who is in your neighbor, and everyone is your neighbor.  Tough to live it out, yes.  But the selfless, unconditional love found in the Last Supper, and the next day on Calvary hill, is nourishment for the journey.)

A few hours later, you are in the garden.  Jesus is praying.  You think you might have heard him weeping.  That was a few minutes ago.  You are so very drowsy.  Maybe you just imagined he was in distress.  Yes, that's probably it.  There's some wind in the trees.  It could have been that.

When you wake up, he's saying something to you -- you and the rest.  "Can you not stay awake for just a little while longer?"  Not angry, more disappointed.  You've disappointed him, but there was love in his face (just as surely as you saw sweat on his temples), as well as distress.  He has retreated to the back of the garden again, and you are once more feeling drowsy.  If you could just take a short nap.  Jerusalem is a bustling place.  Your limbs are aching from the distances you've walked in the crowds, edging your way through. Your head hurts from the noise of the city.  It isn't so unreasonable for you to want to sleep a while, is it?

No, it's not Easter yet.  No one fully understands the concept of Easter at this point.  No one has any reason to believe in it yet.  There's no glorious resurrection yet, no matter what Jesus seemed to say about rebuilding the temple.  He said something extraordinary during the passover meal, too, and now he is weeping, and it's getting ominous; you can feel something is about to change in this city.  But you are so very sleepy.  A few minutes, that's all you're hoping for.

It's Thursday night.  You have to live through Holy Thursday.  You wonder how this whole thing is going to turn out.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Healing on the Sabbath, Oh No, Oh No! (Stop That Fellow, Someone!)

Today's gospel reading is John 5: 1-16.  We have Jesus encountering a man with serious mobility problems; Jesus cures him.  The man has been ill for thirty-eight years (have to love the preciseness of that number, yes?).  All those years, the man has not been able to make it into the healing waters in a timely manner.  (Sucks to be him, say those who pass by him each day.)  And then -- suddenly, almost impulsively, you might say -- Jesus heals the man.  Completely.  Fully.  With great unrestrained love.

But alas, Jesus has made a mistake, say the religious authorities.  He has healed on the sabbath!  Clearly that is not permitted.  See?  We have it right here in our holy book of codes and regulations, nicely cross-referenced and indexed.  Excellent table of contents.  Cool blurbs and everything on the back cover.  (Watch out!  It's a heavy object!  At least that's the case with a full-sized Catechism of the Catholic Church in the modern age.  If you have it on your Kindle instead, well, not so bad -- but it will still kill your Kindle if you throw it at someone, so please refrain from doing so.)

Mighty fine explanation in today's gospel for why faith in God is not chiefly about rule books.  Not about canon law.  Not about canon lawyers.  Not about quoting chapter and verse as though we can put God to use defending our human notions, particularly the most convoluted ones.  (Those are the ones that the radio hosts go to town with on programs such as Catholic Answers Live on your local reactionary, Republican-loving Catholic right wing station.  Here's a fast ball, folks!  Let's see how hard our apologist can hit it!)

For lent (and maybe for the other forty-six weeks of the year as well), go ahead and forget the legalistic version of Christianity.  Christ came to earth to love, heal, complete, save, embrace, and call each of us into true relationship with God.  Indeed, he was not one to carry around a rule book.  Let us resist with all our might the urge to put one in his hands, lest we miss the real reasons he came to earth and chose to live among women and men -- and yes, chose to die for us too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Church is Not Principally About Exclusion & Judgment: Good News from Mexico

Bishop Raul Vera Lopez, of the diocese of Saltillo in Mexico, preached a homily on March 27 in which he told gays and lesbians (as well as the rest of the world), "The church is your home....[because] Jesus founded the church to bring in those on the outside, for those suffering exclusion and that they find the love of God."

Right there, the good bishop pinpointed the church's core mission, a mission that often gets lost when canon lawyers and those in the hierarchy campaign (in effect) for a spot in the Roman Curia:  the church's chief job is to celebrate and embrace the love that God has for every human being, and to open the door for individuals to come into relationship more and more deeply with God's love.  That's what Christianity is supposed to be about.  Too often, sadly, that's not what happens.

Bishop Lopez (who also supports the legalization of civil unions for same-sex couples in Mexico) provides hope not just for people who are GLBTQ, but also for all Catholic Christians who are waiting for signs of progress in the church.  I'm convinced that--no matter the short-term conservatism of Benedict XVI and the men he appoints--Bishop Lopez respresents the direction we'll see the church moving in over the next fifty years or so.  There is cause for hope.  

[Hat tip to Deacon Greg Kandra for linking to the article from U.S. Catholic.]

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust -- and That's Just Fine

Due to my work schedule today, I wasn't able to make it to an Ash Wednesday service.  That's fine, though, for I was able to find a couple pockets of time today for some good reflection and prayer, and I feel like my Lent is off to a good start.  (Most years, I end up not really getting started on Lent -- ashes on the forehead on Wednesday or not -- until a week or so has gone by, and by half way through Lent, I've usually written it off as another failed part of my so-called Christian walk.  Just have to be honest about that.)

This year, however, I made a brief detour so as to drive through a cemetery near where I work.  It was, roughly speaking, the equivalent of having ashes imposed and hearing someone tell me, "From ashes you have come and to ashes you shall return; repent of your sins and live the Gospel."  (If it had not been so cold and damp, I might have climbed out and walked amongst the graves for five or ten minutes.  I may be a strange fellow, but I've always found cemeteries to be exceedingly peaceful places.  Nothing like the common human fate to lend one perspective on the foibles of daily life.)

I remember reading once that Jim Carrey, early in his career, at a time when he wasn't successful at all and could barely pay his bills, wrote a check to himself (undated) for a million dollars.  He believed in his future success; he promised himself he would be able to cash that check some day.  It's good to believe in yourself that way, I suppose; it's healthy to give yourself goals.  Yet my occasional trip through a cemetery has a somewhat analogous purpose in my life -- and I do not mean this in any morose way, not at all.  But the truth of the matter is, I am sure I will die some day, and I will be completely dependent at that moment (and for all of eternity, yes indeed!) on the grace and great mercy and love of God.  So when I trip through the graveyard, that is sort of my own simple way of saying, "I'm one of you; here too lies my fate; and yet there's a resurrection awaiting me some day as well, even if these stones seem incredibly solemn."  I'll be worm food or ashes in a blink of an eye.  And yet God's love ever surrounds me; I am, through Christ's loving substitution of himself for me, God's darling one.  (Yeah, honest, me.  And you too!)  Proud indeed to be in this club, this group of souls who are not forever confined to this world, even though it's a great place to be for right now.  In a bit (a few decades? a few years?) I'm out of here and on to more of God's love.  Amen.

Happy Ash Wednesday and a good Lent to all.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Catholic Bishops: Right on Workers' Rights

Here's a link to a Huffington Post piece on the Catholic bishops of Wisconsin coming together in defense of workers' rights to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.  On paper, the church has a pretty good record of supporting workers' rights -- witness, for instance, John Paul II's support for Solidarity in the 1980s.  (Sure, some of his enthusiasm was likely due to Lech Walesa's anti-communist streak, but there are other examples of JPII's record on this issue.)  I vaguely recall reading somewhere (not sure where) that even the arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke once championed the rights of migrant farm workers.  (There, I finally said something nice about Burke.)

Of course, there's also a history of some members of the hierarchy thwarting workers' efforts to unionize:  for instance, Justin Rigali opposing the right of elementary school teachers in Catholic schools to unionize within the Archdiocese of St. Louis in the 1990s.  (Those elementary school folks were, for one thing, more poorly paid than their already poorly paid counterparts in Catholic high schools.  Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the elementary school teachers were female, while the high schools employed a sigificant number of male teachers.)

In any case, I'm glad to see the bishops in Wisconsin come down on the good side in this dispute with Scott Walker.  Social justice is still one of the winning cards in modern Catholicism; may this card be played with greater frequency, that's all I ask.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Transendental God, Ecology, and Vietnam's Future

Thomas C. Fox has an intriguing piece in the National Catholic Reporter.  He explores the interplay between women's religious communities (Catholic sisters, for instance) in Vietnam and the signposts that point to the forces that may help determine Vietnam's future.  Thanks to the insights of the women he is interviewing, he sees ecology as playing an essential role, along with a respect for God's gift of creation.

A brief excerpt from the article:
I asked the women sitting with her what they felt is the single greatest social challenge facing Vietnam today. Without coaxing and almost in unison the women said ecology. Unless the people attend to ecological needs, they explained, all other social issues will only get worse and the fabric of Vietnamese society will weaken.
Studies have indicated, for example, that one third to one half of the Mekong Delta, the nation’s primary food source, is in peril and could be under water in 50 years if expected sea levels continues to rise.
That ecology would be viewed by these women as Vietnam’s number one social challenge took me by surprise. But it was followed by another because they were coming to ecological issues through what was for them a relatively new spiritual framework: the presence of God in creation.
My spouse and I spent some time in Vietnam a decade ago, and we hope to make a return trip as a family in another year or two.  While I'll never claim a full understanding of a culture as rich and nuanced as Vietnam's, I can attest to both the beauty and the economic importance of the Mekong region, having made an all-too-brief day trip there during the three weeks we spent in the country.

I also have at least a simple appreciation for the co-mingling of Buddhism and Catholicism in Vietnam.  It is, of course, chiefly a Buddhist culture, though many Vietnamese self-identify as Catholic, and still others (a significant number, from what I've heard) identify themselves as both Buddhist and Catholic.  That may seem like a jarringly "hyphenated" identity to very conservative Catholics, for whom Buddhism probably sounds as strange as some just-discovered Martian faith.  In truth, however, Buddhism and Catholicism have--at least on a good day--much in common, including the call to compassion and a respect for all of God's creation, both that which is sentient as well as that which is inanimate.  (In other words, don't drill, baby, don't drill, at least not in ANWAR.)  

Fox closes his article with a lovely, and poignant, quote from Sr. Dang Thi Ngoc Bich:
God is a transcendent Creator, giving life to all creation. The task is clear. We need to preserve this creation.
 Amen to that.  Love God, love and care for what God has created.  And consider, on occasion, the consequences inherent in not preserving God's great gift of nature.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Isaiah's Words -- the Essential Calling

Here's the first reading from mass yesterday, which was the fifth Sunday in ordinary time.  It's from the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah.
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
Some days, the church seems to wander from the central, core mission that Isaiah sets out in this passage.  More specifically, at times the Roman Catholic church seems to view its core mission as keeping women out of positions of authority within the church; fighting the right of same-sex couples to enter into long-term, legally recognized, committed marriages; getting lawsuits tossed rather than recognizing the rights of the oppressed.

But there are times--lots of moments: small, quiet moments which don't receive much publicity and which are often best kept private--when people within the church (people within every faith tradition, really) do what Isaiah describes.  Thank God for those moments.  May there be more of them.  May each of us remember why God put us on this earth.  May we be open to serving God's will by serving the needs of those around us.  That calling--a calling given to each woman, man, and child in the church--is so much more important than the latest arcane decision from the Roman Curia, so much more essential to what it means to be a good Christian (or Jew, or Muslim--or, for that matter, a good Buddhist).

What is described in this reading is what I need to keep my eyes on this day, this week.  Through the grace of God, may I rise to the occasion.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sermon on the Mount -- Live! In a Diner! In the Bronx!

Great story from NPR that a friend shared on Facebook.

Julio Diaz has managed to live out the values inherent in the Sermon on the Mount in a simple but profound way.  May God bless him.  For that matter, may God bless his mugger as well.  No telling how Julio's response may affect that kid for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Observe the Quiet, Observe the Birds

This morning, in the last few minutes before we were to leave for school, I found my nine-year-old son stationed in front of the glass door that overlooks the bird feeders on our back porch.  He was sitting there, cross-legged, and he whispered, "Quiet" as I entered the room.

We sat there for ten minutes, watching the birds.  Mostly finches, brown finches.  The dogs entered the room, and my son again whispered, "Quiet."  The dogs were uncharacteristically cooperative.  My wife came in.  "Quiet," my son said again.  My wife, too, cooperated.  We left the house with quiet good wishes to each other, a quiet closing of the door.

How frequently I forget that there's a sacrament to be had in watching birds eat their breakfast.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to Engage in Muslim-Bashing -- An Example From a Bishop

I've heard some wonderful Christmas homilies over the years.  Homilies that drew me again, in a fresh way, to the mystery and the beauty of the incarnation.  Homilies that have shown me how to look for Christ, how to find Christ, in all sorts of people and situations where I might otherwise (left to my own devices) miss God's presence.  Homilies that made me want to work harder at carrying Christ's love within me, as Mary carried her child, God-as-babe, in her womb.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that a homily at midnight mass can also be used to bash those of God's children who happen to be Muslim.

Here's a link to the homily that Bishop Thomas John Paprocki--who was installed as shepherd of the Springfield Diocese in Illinois (my diocese) last summer--delivered on December 24, 2010, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.

The bishop opened his homily by mentioning the execution of a Muslim general three centuries ago, an execution that occurred on Christmas day, and then the bishop proclaimed, "Merry Christmas!"  Here's an excerpt from a later section of the homily:
It doesn't help when our country plays politically correct games such as the security operations at our nation's airports.  You can't fight a war if you can't identify the enemy, and if 83-year-old great-grandmothers have to be treated the same way as Muslim Arabs from the Middle East with body scans and "enhanced pat-downs," then we're wasting a lot of time and money for nothing.  True, not every Muslim is a terrorist, but most terrorists these days are Muslims, and we ignore that fact at our peril.  

Yes, I know, the TSA's newest routine in airports is problematic at best.  And yes, Bishop Paprocki has stated in his homily that "not every Muslim is a terrorist."  Nonetheless, the bishop's primary  goal in this homily seems to be to instill in his listeners a fear of Muslims, a resentment of Muslims, a view of Muslims as an unpalatable "other."  As if there is not already enough of that in the air.  I'm reminded of my aged relative who used to tell me, frequently, "Now, I'm not saying that all black people are bad . . ." immediately before he charged full-speed ahead with his prejudice.

As much as I would hope for a higher standard from a bishop, I guess I'm hoping for too much.  Oh well, I know I'm a sinner, in need of God's mercy and love; I should not be too surprised to see this evidence of the bishop's sinfulness, too.

Spread the love that Christ came to earth to share, Bishop.  Please do not play to the worst prejudices out there.  Don't turn Lincoln's admonition to listen to "the better angels of our nature" on its ear by giving the Catholic faithful permission to view Muslims as a monolithic, less-than-human group.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Will Illinois Abolish the Death Penalty? Will The Bishops Fight Hard to Do So?

Both the state senate and house in Illinois are debating an official end to the death penalty.  (No executions have taken place since then Gov. George Ryan put a moratorium in place in 2000; two years later, just before leaving office, Ryan commuted the sentence of every prisoner who was then on death row in Illinois.  Nonetheless, the death penalty statutes remain on the book, and numerous individuals have been sentenced to death in Illinois during the last decade.)

The Catholic Conference of Illinois--the bishops' group--advocated last fall for an end to the death penalty, much to their credit.  That position is in keeping with the consistent ethic of life (sometimes also called "the seamless garment" approach to life issues).  Let's hope the bishops put at least as much energy into the fight to abolish the death penalty as they did when they were trying (just last month) to prevent Illinois citizens from enjoying marriage-equality rights.

A church that calls itself pro-life needs to fight--fight hard--when an opportunity arises to legislate the death penalty into oblivion.  The death penalty is part of the culture of death that John Paul II condemned; there's no way around that.

I wonder, though, how many supposedly "pro-life" politicians (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) will come out in support of the death penalty.  Too many, alas.  They need not worry about communion, however.  Even bishops who play politics with the Eucharist (unwisely and recklessly, I'd say) rarely if ever use it  when a legislator votes to support state-sponsored executions.  That's fine, I guess; I wish we could see an end to communion politics altogether.  But it's an interesting inconsistency, isn't it?