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.