Monday, November 30, 2009

Past Thoughts on the Laity from Father Andrew Greeley

Father Andrew Greeley is a famous sociologist, fiction writer, journalist, and above all, a priest. I have enjoyed reading some of his mystery novels and his reports on past papal elections. I recently read his autobiography, “Furthermore! Memories of a Parish Priest,” published in 1999. While reading this book, I came across the following:

“The Catholic Church has yet to make its peace with the inevitability of the freedom of its laity. It does not like one bit the laity’s assumption of the right to make its own decisions, and of its demand that it be persuaded instead of being ordered. Indeed, the Church usually works on the implicit assumption that it is still dealing with peasants of a century ago who did what they were told (usually) without question, without argument, without the demand to be heard, consulted, persuaded. May pastors still assume that they have the same influence and power that their role models from a generation or two ago had. Catholics, they believe, still do what they’re told.

It ought to be patent by now that this is not so. When Church leaders pretend to deny that the souls of the laity are now shaped by a constant exercise of freedom or lament the passing of the good old days when there was a lot less freedom, they have turned their faces against history. Moreover, they miss the point of their own tradition which has believed the virtue is formed by the frequent repetition of free human acts. In any event the days of the docile peasant and the not so docile immigrant parish are gone and they will never return. The Church must adjust to the fact that in the European and North Atlantic world at any rate, the day of the free laity whom makes their own decisions after reflecting in the issues, who want to be heard, consulted, persuaded, in the world in which we live and work. In the present milieu, the laity reserve to themselves the right to say on what terms they will be Catholic. Nothing will change the fact, neither orders from Rome or hysterical ranting from the tiny fundamentalist Catholic minority.”

Although Father Greeley comes across strong, I agree with his sentiments. I firmly believe that one of things that came out of the Second Vatican Council is the realization that the laity is a part of the People of God. That as members of the Body of Christ, the laity has a share; along with the clergy and religious; “in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” (Para. 897, Catechism of the Catholic Church).

As I think I may have written in an earlier post, I believe in the tradition of the bishops as shepherds of the Catholic community. However, I do believe that the laity has a right to give input on how decisions are made in this community. We have a right to share our experiences and knowledge; our hopes and fears. We have a right to be listened to by our bishops; and this means established consultative bodies, freely elected by the laity.

On a closing note on Father Greeley; in November 2008, he suffered severe head trauma from a serious fall and has been recuperating ever since. May the Lord Jesus be with him and heal him.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Strive to Bring Joy and Hope!"

“Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then each of us shall give and account of himself to God. Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to and approved by others.” (Romans 14: 10-13, 16-17)

“Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.

Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.” (Article 19a-b, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

Roman Catholic bishops have been in the news a lot this past month. Unfortunately, the general media has not portrayed them in the best of light. There have been stories of bishops trying to prevent politicians from receiving Holy Communion; of standing on a principal so firmly that services to the poor maybe adversely affected. There has been reports of the bishops trying to determine how “Catholic” are universities, news media, and service organizations. And then there is the Visitation of American sisters by the Roman Curia.

Now granted, the general media is not very sympathetic, or neutral, when is comes to the Catholic hierarchy. And the stories are usually about a few very public, very conservative bishops. But it gives some the impression that the American bishops are becoming what some are saying the Republican Party is becoming; the Party, or rather, the Church of “No!”

There are hidden stories out there of bishops, priests, deacons and laity doing great work of bringing healing and peace to people; but this makes for boring copy as far as the media is concerned.

I am not saying that the bishops should give up their prophetic role in society. But I wish someone would remind them that Jesus commissioned the Church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are called to bring joy to the sorrowing; to heal physical and spiritual wounds, and to work for peace. We are not called to judge; condemn, calling down fire and brimstone. We are called to be a light to the world, which will draw people towards our community, not away. We are called to be a community of love.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Thorns of Anxiety and Worry

“The sower sows the word….Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, it bears no fruit.” (Mark 4: 14, 18-19)

I came across this passage while I was reading the Gospel of Mark on the Blue Line subway train. It has stuck with me. If anything, this year has been full of anxiety for myself and for many people in this country. Many individuals are struggling to hold their lives together after losing their jobs. Those of us, who are still employed, have to deal with frozen wages, and the insecurity of our employment. Dwelling on this day after day can wear a person down. The anxiety, the worry, can distract us from God. we can lose touch with the Source of all Love and Hope. Prayer can sometimes seem worthless; God can feel very far away.

I am remembering now a story I heard on the public radio program, “Speaking of Faith.” It was told by a female rabbi and it was set in a World War II concentration camp. The Jewish prisoners were being worked to death, on meager rations, and violently abused. One day, one of the prisoners noticed a camp guard eating a sandwich that was wrapped in paper with Hebrew words on it. The prisoners bribed the guard with their rations to give them the paper. It turned out to be a page from the Torah, the Hebrew scripture. So after a day of hard labor and suffering, the Jewish prisoners would gather together in their barracks, and take turns reciting the Torah from that one page. Just hearing the Word of God, just reflecting daily on just a few words of Sacred Scripture, lifted their hearts amongst all their suffering; and gave them the strength to survive.

We can never stop turning to God. We cannot let our hearts be closed to the Word, but keep them open to its power. We must trust that Jesus Christ will be with us in our trials; “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28: 20). If, despite all our anxieties, and worries; we listen to the words of the Gospel and live them; we will indeed produce much fruit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Fostering an Open and Trusting Dialogue"

“Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.” (Article 6b, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

David Gibson, in Politics Daily, wrote a column on the U.S. bishops desire to restore unity in the American Catholic Church. Mr. Gibson makes the observation that this could be difficult, when even the bishops themselves are divided over some issues, or on how to address them. There are differences among some of them on how to best promote, some would say, enforce, Catholic teaching among a growing fractured, disaffected faithful. Some bishops seem to tilt towards a more authoritarian approach, reminding Catholics that it is the bishops that call the shots. They seem to have little respect for the laity, at least where the life of the Church is concerned. Gibson writes that these bishops appear to want a return to old days, when the laity “pray, pay and obey.” .

But those days are long gone, at least in this country. The changes began when the bishops of the Second Vatican Council declared that the laity has an active role to perform in the life of the Church. And that they have a duty to let their priests and bishops know about their spiritual needs. This means sometimes standing up to their local priest or bishop, letting their feelings be known. And with the way many of the U.S. bishops mishandled the clergy sexual abuse scandal, there are laypersons calling on their bishops to be more accountable for their actions. And if the bishops do not listen or respond, people get angry, whether they are on the left or right of the spectrum.

Mr. Gibson had an interview with Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, AZ. Bishop Kicanas is advocating a spirit of dialogue between the bishops and laity, that while the bishops do govern, it will help if they did so in a spirit of collaboration with the faithful. To me, this seems to be an approach that has the potential to reinvigorate the Church in America. Yes, the bishops have the final say in decisions, but I think a majority of Catholics accept that. What I think Catholics want is input in the decision making process. They want their voices heard and respected. Now this does not always make for an orderly process, but if the bishops make a real effort to dialogue, to really listen and respect the opinons of all American Catholics, maybe the laity in return will really listen to what the bishops have to say.

Copyrighting "Catholic?"

The recent meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops created it fair share of religion news. One item that was reported by both the National Catholic Reporter and David Gibson of Politics Daily, was a speech by the president of the NCCB, Cardinal Francis E. George, Archbishop of Chicago. In that speech, he called for more accountability to Catholic bishops, by Catholic universities, independent Catholic media, and other organizations that serve the community under Catholic auspices.

Especially where it applies to the media, I am very uncomfortable with this. I have always believed strongly in a free, independent press, whether in civil society or in the Church. An independent media provides a check by bringing to light abuses of power by either civil or religious authorities. It can be a prophetic voice in the Church, challenging the status quo, challenging us to discern if we, as a community, are living the Gospel. It gives us a different point of view on issues that we not get from diocesan newspapers.

Now, is it an orderly, civil process? Not always. The media, whether newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, or weblogs, can sometimes push the envelope too far. Some writers, commentators, and just plain pundits can very cruel in their comments. It is then that the bishops can call them to task, just as their readers and viewers call them to task. But I do not see any way that bishops can rein in independent newspapers. And trying to control the Web, even governments are not successful at that. The best the bishops could do is to issue guidelines for Catholic media.

The word “Catholic,” means universal. It means that we should strive to have a big tent that welcomes all, show compassion to all in the name of Christ.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Ministry of Service

"On various levels, each fraternity is animated and guided by a council and minister (or president) who are elected by the professed according to the constitutions.

Their service, which lasts for a definite period of time, is marked by a ready willing spirit and is a duty of responsibility to each member and to the community." (Article 21a-b, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

Yesterday, November 14th, fifty members of Saint Anthony Fraternity, Boston, MA, braved torrential downpours; and gathered for a Chapter of Elections. It has been the largest attendance we have had all year. Among the results, I was elected for a third consecutive term as Minister, something that has not happened ever since I joined the fraternity in 1988. I needed a 2/3rds majority of the vote to be elected (truth be told, I was the only one who accepted the nomination).

Now I and my fellow Council members have the responsibility of animating and guiding the fraternity. This is going to be done as much by example as by developing ongoing formation programs. And still after 21 years as a professed member, 6 years as Minister, I still feel unworthy of this office, because I know there have times I have not lived up to the Franciscan ideals. There is much I have to ask the Father for, in way of grace, in order to be of true service to my Franciscan brothers and sisters.

Father Francis, pray for me!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farewell to the Beloved Creator of "Brother Juniper"

The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province (OFM) have an e-newsletter that I receive on a regular basis. I opened the current one this morning and sadly learned of the death of one of my favorite cartoonist, Fred McCarthy, the creator of Brother Juniper.

He was a Massachusetts man, born in Boston. He attended Boston College, where he began to exhibit a talent for cartooning. He entered the Franciscan Order, and was ordained a priest in 1944. He was known then as Father Justin McCarthy. It is mentioned in his biography, that Brother Juniper came to birth in 1957, with the publication of the first collection of cartoons. I have in front of me a copy of that book, which I found in a used book store. It is a little worn and frayed, but I treasure it.

Brother Juniper came into being in the time pre Vatican II Church. I think it was a time when the clergy, especially bishops, might have taken themselves a little too seriously; and Church life was a little too formal. Then along comes this little friar, a little irreverent, a little silly, who liked to tweak the cowls of his fellow friars. Brother Juniper brought a smile to the lips of close to 15 million readers, in 100 newspapers, from 1968 to 1989.

Fred McCarthy would eventually leave the priesthood and the Order. He married and he continued his career as a cartoonist and artist. He returned the Secular Franciscan Order, which he had joined in his youth. He would periodically contribute a Brother Juniper cartoon to the national SFO newsletter.

His sense of holy humor is going to be missed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Final Resting Place

The homeless are all around us. They struggle with their inner demons; they struggle with the elements; they struggle with each other. They range in age from the very old to the very young. Many are abandoned by their families; many have abandoned their families. They live on the streets with only the clothes on their backs and what possessions they can carry. And they die alone and abandoned.

Realizing this, the Franciscan Friars (OFM) of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, MA, developed the Lazarus Program. Working some local funeral directors, and the medical examiner’s office; the Shrine provides a dignified funeral and burial for the deceased homeless.

Tuesday, November 10th, the Shrine celebrated a memorial Mass for all those who had been buried though the Lazarus Program, which I attended. It was a lovely liturgy, with inspiring music, homily and prayers. What touched me the most was when one of the friars read the names of the deceased. It was a long list, and unfortunately had way too many names of babies who had died abandoned. But in that moment, in that holy place, they, along with the other homeless deceased, where remembered and prayed for,

Eternal rest grant onto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 17: 10-16
Hebrews 9: 24-28
Mark 12: 38-44

In 1904, a Franciscan Capuchin by the name of Solanus Casey was ordained as a priest. His journey to that moment had been difficult. He found the studies at the seminary difficult; and because his superiors judged his knowledge of theology as being weak, he was not given permission to preach or to hear confessions. After several assignments, he was assigned to a monastery in Detroit, where he was sacristan and porter. As porter, he greeted everyone who came to visit the monastery, ready to listen to their worries and concerns. He was able to offer a comforting word and a blessing. He was able to touch the hearts of hundreds of people. When Father Solanus died in 1957, about 20,000 people passed his coffin during his wake.

Father Solanus Casey was a man judged to have few talents, but he gave those talents to God and God’s children. Through grace, the Father took those talents, multiplied them and enabled Father Solanus to reach out and comfort, heal and inspire thousands of people. Each one of us has skills that we are good at, some of us are blessed with many talents, and some of us are blessed with a few. Jesus is asking us to offer them all for the glory of God, our Creator; and for the service of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This can require courage, because it can be difficult to open ourselves and share all that we are with others. But all things are possible with God, so let us turn to him for that courage; ask that he send his Spirit to inspire us; his Son to strengthen us; so that we can contribute all that we have for the mission of the Church.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Don't Make Me A Saint"

Dorothy Day has been quoted saying: "Don't make me a saint; I do not want want to be dismissed so easily." Many people do consider Dorothy Day as a saint, and there has been those in the Catholic Church who have been pushing her cause to be officially declared one by the Church. I have always been an admirer of Dorothy and the Catholic Worker movement. I really admired their service to the poor. I really wish I had their courage, their commitment.

Just a few days after All Saints Day, I came across this America magazine podcast about Day. It is an interview with Robert Ellsberg, who used to work at the Catholic Worker, and now at Orbis Publishing. He edited the diaries of Dorothy Day and published them; he is currently editing her letters for publication. I found it very inspiring.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Civility in the Catholic Blogosphere

American Catholic.Org is carrying a story from the Catholic News Service about a meeting held at the Vatican on Catholic communications, which included what was happening on the World Wide Web. The attending cardinals and media experts were all commenting on the number of so-called "Catholic" websites and blogs that contain a lot of hatred, name calling, fire and brimstone directed not only at the world, but also to fellow Catholics.

I have commented before about the lack of civility in today's society, especially among Christians, Catholics in particular. Is it any surprise that our young people are turned off about the Church, when they see the lack of love, and courtesy in some Catholic blogs, as they surf the Web. What they are looking for is authenticity; they want to see the Gospel being lived.

At this Vatican meeting, there was suggestions about establishing a code of ethics for Catholic bloggers. Some of the participants doubt the effectiveness of such a code. One thing is clear to me, that we need to encourage a more respectful tone, not only in the blogosphere, but also in discussions taking place the living Catholic community. We need live and love as the early Christians did, so that the whole world will recognize us as followers of Christ.