Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Unity Or Disunity Among Priests?

I think it an odd phenomenon but a most interesting one.

It used to be that liberal ideas were promoted by the younger clergy, and the older priests held fast to the conservative.

Today it seems that just the opposite is true.

An association of US Catholic priests is being formed to offer fraternal support to brother priests and to give a united voice to priests who share common concerns.

A recently formed group of 400 priests in Austria, the Austrian Priests' Initiative, has pledged itself to reforms in priestly ministry and Catholic practice which are likely to put them at odds with their bishops and the Vatican.

The Association of US Priests (AUSCP), on the other hand, says that protest and disagreement are not on their agenda.

The chairman of AUSCP, Father David Cooper of Milwaukee, says the association will focus over the next four years on celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and is planning a major convocation on the sacred liturgy.

There already exists the National Federation of Priests' Councils in the United States, and its president, Father Richard Vega, says he supports the objectives proposed by AUSCP and doubts any competition between the two groups.

An association of Catholic priests in Ireland has strongly criticized the New Roman Missal translation and endorses having married priests. A similar organization has been formed in Australia.

Prior to the AUSCP organization meeting in Mundelein in August, about 250 priests responded to a questionnaire about forming such an association. The most popular objective identified by the priests was implementation of the vision and teachings of Vatican II.

Other areas of interest included encouraging the laity to become fully involved in the life of the Church and promotion of the rights of all believers.

What catches my eye, especially in regard to AUSCP, is the age of the members. The median age is 71.

It is my impression that some of younger clergy are less than enthusiastic about AUSCP and about the various manifestations of priests associations in other parts of the world.

The Association of U. S. Catholic Priests is soliciting support and membership across the country, encouraging new members to propose their expectations for AUSCP and indicate how they might contribute to achieving these expectations.

Is there a divide between younger and older priests? If so, what will be the consequences for the Church and especially for parish congregations? We have reason to fear a house divided.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The New Translation Is Coming

I've heard and read a lot of discussions about the translation of the new Roman missal.

The primary criticism is that the effort to be "faithful to the Latin text" has led to complex sentence structures and a stilted form of English.

Gabe Huck, the former director of Liturgical Training Publications (LTP), the publishing house owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago (Cardinal Francis George fired Huck ten years ago) recently wrote an article complaining about the translation.

Huck offered an example, a prayer we will use in Advent: Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

I have to agree that this translation sounds like the work of a computer translator. Not being fluent in Spanish, I often resort to the computer to translate letters from my foster child in Nicaragua. I can usually get the gist of what she is saying but the English translation is awkward and unconventional.

Priests and laity alike are divided in their opinions about the implementation of the new missal and its translation this coming Advent.

Some are eager, saying they look forward to a translation that at last reflects the Latin, the language of the Roman Church. Others think the new prayers will be far more difficult to phrase, enunciate, and understand. Some priests are certain they will stumble over the wording and the congregation will be unable to hear the words as prayer --even if both presider and laity have rehearsed the texts before hand.

Many dioceses have presented a variety of educational programs to prepare clergy and laity alike. Many presenters spin the new missal as an opportunity to review what we do at Mass and renew our active participation.

When D-Day arrives on November 27 it will interesting to see how the new missal is implemented and received.

It is likely that the congregational responses will become second-nature within a few weeks. Changing from "And also with you" to "And also with your spirit" won't be a major challenge for the people in the pew.

But the presider at the chair and the altar will have a far greater challenge. He will have to review each day's Mass propers, assess how to phrase and enunciate the prayers, and try to execute the recitation in a prayerful manner despite the complicated and often poor English sentence constructions.

Huck remembered Monsignor Ronald Knox's observation in Englishing the Bible: "You can have a literal translation or you can have a literary translation; you cannot have both."

The trial for Catholics will be which kind of translation best supports and promotes a praying community.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Renewing Patriotism

I just returned from the holy land --not Israel, but Gettysburg, PA.

Nearly a century and a half ago General Robert E. Lee brought his Confederate army north from Virginia into Pennsylvania with the hope of engaging the Federals in a decisive victory and bringing the war to an end.

His effort there can rightly be called "the high water mark of the Confederacy" and his loss there can rightly be called "the turning point of the war."

Last week a different Lee invaded Pennsylvania. The remnants of the tropical storm caused flooding along creeks and rivers in several east coast states. People had to evacuate, property was destroyed, a few lost their lives.

By comparison the misery caused by Lee the invader was worse than the misery caused by Lee the storm. By comparison the misery suffered by the flood victims was worse than the misery suffered by us fool-hardy, drenched-to-the-skin visitors to the battlefield --but either scenario gives a whole new meaning to "Lee's Miserables" (apology to Victor Hugo).

Even in the rain I enjoyed the opportunity (as General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain put it) to join generations of reverent men and women who will come "to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for ponder and dream."

Each visit (I have been there maybe 20 times) renews respect for the sacrifices made by the men and women of both sides. Each visit re-inspires patriotism, a love of country based not on some naive assumption that we are perfect but upon the realism that despite our nation's faults we share a land, a constitution and a heritage unparalleled in human history.

And this blessing requires work and sacrifice and occasional battles to preserve.

The attacks on our country on 9/11/01 at least momentarily woke the sleeping giant, and most citizens rallied and responded with demonstrations of sympathy for the victims, of respect for the police, firefighters and military, of our dependence on divine providence.

On a visit to Gettysburg, General Chamberlain recalled his experience of the battle and his perception of the field. He said, "In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls."

On his visit to Gettysburg President Abraham Lincoln denied that we could dedicate, consecrate or hallow this ground. Rather, said Lincoln, "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract."

And immediately Lincoln made an appeal to patriotic fervor, "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly advanced."

I suppose it is in the light of the observations of Chamberlain and Lincoln that I think of the battlefield at Gettysburg as "the holy land."

But neither do I discount my personal experiences on that field. I have not seen ghosts. I have no relatives who fought there. But Chamberlain is right, something abides, spirits linger.

And if one is quiet long enough what he predicted for visitors proves true: "The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."

He continued, "This is the great reward of service. To live, far out and on, in the life of others; this is the mystery of Christ, --to give life's best for such high sake that it shall be found again unto life eternal."

Patriotism is listed among Christian virtues. Pro Deo et patria --for God and country. It's why we go to Church, and why I go to Gettysburg.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Patience Of God

Of all the qualities we see in God, patience is the one I find most amazing.

I have heard of artists, musicians and intellectuals who are unusually talented and creative, but woefully lacking in self-control and forbearance.

A concert pianist rages because the piano bench is too low. A diva on the stage goes into a tantrum about her co-star's poor performance. A professional lecturer fumes over the audio feedback.

Those intent upon perfection inevitably find flaws, faults, and failure in the settings and personnel with whom they work. And sometimes the demanding perfectionists lose their tempers; they rant, rail and rave at the offending party and even the innocent around them.

God, on the other hand, shows remarkable patience. The Perfect One tolerates the imperfect. The Sinless One endures sinners. The Creative One bears with the clumsy.

If anthropologists are right, that homo sapiens has been around for some 200,000 years, then those of us who believe that "thinking man" is the deliberate creation by God have much to explain.

If human beings are made in God's image, if God has a plan for humanity, if the Creator is really concerned about and involved with creation, how are we to interpret human history before Christ, or before Abraham, or before the first signs of religion, law, and morality appear?

If the universe began 13 billion years ago with a "big bang" (a clashing of cymbals) by the Great Orchestrator, we have to conclude that God was in no hurry to create human beings.

Not only are we late-comers to the universe, but Jesus comes on stage very, very long after the curtain first rises, long after human beings made their appearance.

One of the traditions recorded in Genesis wrestled with these mysteries. More than 3000 years ago some of our ancestors told the story of God's creating human beings, of placing them in an ideal setting, of man's rebellion, of the consequences of sin, and, perhaps most importantly, of the conviction that human beings would be able to over come the evil they had unleashed against themselves.

"The Lord God formed the man out of the dust...the Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden...and God asked, 'Have you eaten from the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?'...and God said to the serpent, 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; and they will strike at your head while you strike at their heel.'"

The Genesis tradition provides insight. Human history is a strange mixture of divine and human action, a patchwork of rebellion and second-chance.

And through the whole patch-work story runs the thread of unbelievable patience on the part of God.

The Gospel accounts suggest that Jesus had his moments of frustration: "Will you also go away?...have I been with you so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?...Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand..."

But in the final moments Jesus could still muster divine patience, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."

God's patience, the divine ability to wait, is amazing.

And recognition of that divine attribute has a soothing effect on us. If God can be patient with us, perhaps we should be patient with others and ourselves as well.

Jesus' initial invitation to his disciples is "Come, follow me." That proposal implies movement. Accepting Jesus as Lord is simply the first step. We're going somewhere.

Our Christian lives are an evolution, a process of ongoing development.

God waits patiently for the seed to fall to the earth and die so that it can sprout and bring new life. And God waits patiently for us to do the same.

God is wondrously patient!