Monday, December 17, 2012

From Compliant to Complaint

A thought-provoking phenomenon is taking place among a growing number of Catholic clerics, religious, and laity. These men and women are no longer simply compliant but are publicly criticizing the way the hierarchy is running the Church today.

Calls for reform of the "Church" are as old as the Church itself. The New Testament gives witness to Paul's complaint to the authorities in Jerusalem that insistence on compliance to Mosaic practice  (for example, circumcision) was an unnecessary hindrance to conversions (cf. Acts 15, Galatians 2). When Peter, James and John saw the fruits of Paul's work, they agreed with his complaint.

Fifteen hundred years later there was the great upheaval and resulting schism known as the Protestant Reformation. And sandwiched in between there were other complaints about how the Church was carrying out the Father's business, led by men and women such as Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Catharine of Siena.

Complaints contemporary to our time have been leveled by theologians (for example, Hans Kung), cardinals (for example, Carlo Maria Martini), Benedictine abbots (for example, Martin Werlen and Peter von Sury), priests (such as Father Helmut Schuller and the Austrian Priests' Initiative), and religious (such as Sister Theresa Kane, RSM).

In 1979 Kane, as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, made an appeal to Pope John Paul II during his visit to the United States: "I urge you, Your Holiness, to be open to and respond to the voices coming from the women of this country who are desirous of serving in and through the Church as fully participating members." The pope refused her request.

Werlen and von Sury, Benedictine abbots in Switzerland, have publicly appealed for Church reforms, for example, the reinstatement of the practice  that would allow dioceses to elect the men who would be their ordinaries (their bishops). The people of the diocese of Chur in Switzerland remember when in 1990 Bishop Wolfgang Haas, newly appointed by Pope John Paul II, was forced to enter his cathedral by the backdoor because 200 protesters blocked the front entrance with their bodies.

The head of the priests council in the diocese of Chur assessed Haas as a "madman at the head of the diocese, and he's wrecking it." Later Haas was moved and appointed bishop for the newly-formed diocese of Vaduz in Lichtenstein, leading to division in the Church community in that tiny Alpine principality as well. Werlen and von Sury want to prevent such disruption and divisiveness in the future.

Cardinal Martini, the late archbishop of Milan, in an interview shortly before his death, criticized the Church for its financial wealth, comparing it to the rich young man who went away from Jesus sad but unwilling to give to the poor and follow the Master.

Martini advised the Church to recognize its errors and "travel a radical journey of change." He then underscored the importance of the Bible and the sacraments for developing persons of holiness. He questioned likewise the Church's way of dealing with members who have divorced and entered second marriages.

Kung's post-Vatican II theologizing has earned him severe criticism from the Curia, and he in turn remains defiant, refusing to meet with Vatican critics until they allow him access to the file they keep on him. Kung insists that theologians should be able to debate difficult questions (for him papal infallibility is one such issue) on "the basis of the declarations issued to date." Kung summarizes his stance and the Curia's rejection in this simple statement: "In short --conversations, yes; inquisition, no."

Even a cursory reading of the signs of the times recognizes that there is significant unrest in the Church. Huge numbers of European Catholics no longer celebrate Sunday Mass, and the drop-off in the United States is obvious too. The shortage of priests, the decline in religious communities, the loss of young people as Church members are all alarming signs of disorder and unrest.

Something is happening in the Catholic Church. Many Vatican II-priests believe that implementation of the pastoral as well as dogmatic directions given by the Second Vatican Council will stem the decline and enliven the Church body. Others among the clergy blame the Council and insist that only strict adherence to canon law and the magisterium is viable.

Complaint and compliance are struggling with each other, and the outcome of this match has far-reaching effects for the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Martini addressed the issue in these words: "Fr. Karl Rahner liked to use the image of embers under ashes. I see in the Church today so many ashes above the embers that I am often assailed by a sense of powerlessness. How can the embers be freed from the ashes to rekindle love?

"First of all we have to look for those embers. Where are the individuals full of generosity, like the Good Samaritan? who have the faith like that of the Roman centurion? who are as enthusiastic as John the Baptist? who dare new things as Paul did? who are faithful as Mary Magdalen was?

"I advise the pope and the bishops to look for twelve people outside the lines for administrative posts (posti direzionali) --people who are close to the poorest and who are surrounded by young people and are trying out new things. We need that comparison with people who are on fire so that the spirit can spread everywhere."


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

First Anniversary of New Translation

It has been a year since  U.S. Catholics began using the new translation of the Roman Missal, third edition.

In 2001 the Vatican bureau known as the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued what it described as an instruction "for the right implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council." It titled its Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam ("Authentic Liturgy").

The Congregation described its Instruction as the start of "a new era of liturgical renewal."

In practice this insistence on integral translation in a most exact manner has produced an English version of the Roman Missal that has been widely criticized for its confusing syntax and awkward expressions. Some have joked about our having a misguided missal. 

Having used the new Roman Missal, third edition, for the past year, I am inclined, with due regard for the sacredness of the text and with attention to the venerable language of  the Holy See, to affirm, in retrospect and under the urgency of compliance to the instruction of the sacred congregation, that the experience of employing the integral translation, inasmuch as presiding at liturgy implies the capacity for leading  a congregation of worshipers in prayer and ritual, and essaying to follow the directive of  Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium with its intent that the rites of the Mass be revised to achieve "a devout and active participation by the faithful," has been an exercise akin to a onerous and unnecessary challenge to prayer, piety, and patience. Non placet. :)

Is "active participation" furthered or a good grasp of the mystery of faith achieved by, "May your Sacraments, O Lord, we pray, perfect in us what lies within them, that what we now celebrate in signs we may one day possess in truth. Through Christ our Lord" (Prayer after communion, 30th Sunday)?

(The odd thing, for me, is that I can understand the meaning of the prayer when I read it in Latin, but this English version clouds the prayer's insight and intention.)

Professor Massimo Faggioli of St. Thomas University, St. Paul MN, has written True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical Press, 2012), a series of essays on the relationship between liturgy and ecclesiology as suggested in the first constitution released by the bishops at Vatican II.

He is convinced that the liturgical theology of SC had a profound impact on later conciliar discussions, especially in the Council's understanding of the Church. The issues of change in liturgy, of tradition, of ressourcement which surfaced first in SC became principles for promoting change in the Church and for preserving tradition in the early days of Christian practice and belief.

Faggioli points, for example, to SC's emphasis on the liturgical role of the local bishop and the unity of the local Church with its bishop and clergy (cf. SC 41) as principles for Lumen Gentium's acknowledgment that "individual bishops are the visible source and foundation in their own particular churches" (23).

SC's insistence on the active participation of the laity at Mass must spill over into lay involvement in the mission as well as ministry of the Church. "Pastors of souls must...ensure that the faithful take part (in the liturgy) fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it" (SC, 11). Lay participants are to be fully aware and fully engaged.

To support such active participation the bishops added, "Even in the liturgy the church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not affect the faith or well-being of the entire community...Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples...This should be kept in mind when drawing up the rites and rubrics."

The recent changes in the English translation and the way they were imposed appear to me as contrary to that directive. I do not want to think that Mass prayers are being used by the Roman Congregation as a means of regaining control or reversing Vatican II reforms and directives. Reversal of the liturgical norms may well be translated as reversal of ecclesiological norms too.

If the old axiom that "how we pray affects how we believe" (lex orandi, lex credendi) is applicable here, then the translation of prayers has supreme importance.

The laity have been remarkably patient with the new translation and with presiders' stumbling through it. I fear, however, that many in the assembly have given up on trying to follow and understand parts of the canons and many of the priests' prayers. U.S. Catholics are an extraordinarily resilient lot.

It has been a year, but I am not sure I can muster "Happy Anniversary."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Burden of Freedom in the Church

On first hearing, I thought the parable of the grand inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov to be preposterous.

The story, as told by one of the brothers, is that Jesus makes an unexpected return to 16th century Spain only to be arrested by a powerful cardinal on the board of the Inquisition.

The cardinal charges Jesus with undermining the work of the Church. Jesus, he explains, had the opportunity to relieve humankind of the burden of freedom, but he chose instead to promote it. Free choice, the cardinal believes, is the heaviest burden human beings must bear. It is antithetical to establishing the Kingdom of God.

The cardinal spells out for Jesus the Church's thinking: "Instead of taking men's freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering."

He explains that human beings are impotent rebels and they can be held only by three powers, namely miracle, mystery and authority. "Thou has rejected all three and has set the example for doing so." In the mind of the cardinal Jesus had the opportunity to do it right by simply yielding to the tempter's requests in the wilderness in that encounter described in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus had refused to work a miracle and refused to accept the authority the devil would have given him.

Jesus' failure has now been addressed by the Church, the cardinal boasts. "We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering was, at last, lifted from their hearts."

The cardinal's justification for the  Church's thinking rests on its appraisal that human beings are pitiful children, and the Church's way will lead them to "become timid, and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen."

On first hearing, the parable sounds preposterous. We ask ourselves, "Who could think that way?"

However, something of that same mentality may be reflected in Pope Pius X's condemnation of France's law of separation of Church and State when he writes in 1906, "...the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors" (Vehementer Nos, 8).

In that same vein, many will recall that "simple faithful" was a name frequently applied to the laity before Vatican II resurrected the designation "people of God."

Still today few lay men and women are familiar with these two theological concepts:

1) sensus fidei described by the Catechism as "the supernatural appreciation of the faith on the part of the whole people, when, 'from the bishops to the last of the faithful,' they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals" (92).

2) sentire cum ecclesia militante formulated by St. Ignatius (who said in the original Spanish: el sentido verdadero en la Iglesia militante) which, as Yves Congar explains, means to "have a sense of the church bravely acting in the world." This concept, then, "does not easily fit into the formula of sheer material obedience (superficial fidelity)..." but rather "restores to the faithful of the church their part in the life of the body" (Congar, True and False Reform in the Church, p. 237).

Theology and Scripture recognize the role of the laity and the gifts given to them by the Spirit. The Second Vatican Council highlighted the working of the Spirit in the lives of all the faithful. The insights of Vatican II are still to be disseminated, accepted and applied.

Lumen Gentium, the document on the Church, recognized that all the faithful share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and play a part in the Church's mission (#31).

Gaudium et Spes, the document on the Church in the modern world, reminded the laity, "For guidance and spiritual strength let them turn to the clergy; but let them realize that their pastors will not always be so expert as to have ready answers to every problem, even every grave problem, that arises; this is not the role of the clergy" (#43).

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document on the liturgy, directed pastors to "insure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it" (#11). Catholics are no longer told they must attend Mass; they are to celebrate it!

Dostoyevsky's parable was motivated by his sense that the paternalism of the hierarchy was inconsistent with the message of Jesus. It was a call to recognize the gifts (the smarts) of God's people. It was so stark in its presentation that it seemed preposterous, but its application to the Church in various stages of its history leads to recognition and assent.

The hierarchy are essential components of the Church, but so are the laity. Paul's analogy of the one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12) confirms the early Church's recognition of the nature of the communio or fellowship that is ours in Christ. The Spirit is poured out upon all. And all have the burden of being free to respond to that inspiration. The work of Vatican II and of the Spirit goes on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Unrest in the Church as "communio"

There is unrest in the Church today.

One example is the formation of priests' associations in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Australia, the Philippines, and the United States. Members of the clergy are calling attention to what seems to them to be the abuse of power by the Vatican and a decided move away from the reforms and direction set by the Second Vatican Council.

The Austrian priests' group is calling for the development and publication of a kind of "bill of rights" for the people of God plus a structure for participation of the people in the decision-making authority of the Church. Sensus fidelium is still a valid theological dynamic.

Msgr. Helmut Schuller, former vicar general of the Archdiocese of Vienna, speaking on behalf of the 500 members of the Austrian priests' association, believes that the way many bishops and the pope have separated themselves from the views of the majority is a danger to the unity of the Church.

The Austrian association's initial call for "disobedience"  as a measure for reform alienated Vatican authorities, and prompted the pope to insist that the only way to renewal is through obedience and a focus on Jesus.

Schuller has asked the Vatican for a chance to talk about their position and explain what they mean by "disobedience" but the Vatican has not responded to their request.

If  Yves Congar were to address the stalemate between the priests' association and the Curia, he would most assuredly recommend that both sides focus on four things: 1)  the primacy of charity and pastoral concerns; 2) remaining in communion with the whole Church; 3) having patience with delays; and 4) seeking genuine renewal through a return to the principle of tradition.

Congar's advice can easily be gleaned from his 1950 masterpiece, True and False Reform in the Church. Each of his four conditions requires explanation and application if there is to be productive reform and the avoidance of schism.

Theologian and law professor Father Ladislaus Orsy, SJ,  suggests that one of the factors in the move toward the centralization of authority in the Vatican can be traced back to the eleventh century Pope Gregory VII. In an effort to purify the Church from secular influence, Gregory relied less on episcopal synods, and thereby changed the relationships between bishops and the Holy See.

This trend toward centralizing in Rome was exacerbated by the Protestant Reformation. A consequence of this centralizing of power in the papacy was the loss of the tradition of "communio," that is, the Church as a union of persons created by the Spirit of Christ.

"The Eastern churches," Orsy explains, "remained more faithful to the ancient doctrine of synodality, and the two branches of the same tree kept growing in different directions." At one point in the 11th century the tree split, and schism ensued.

{Synodality can be understood as councils, especially of bishops, sharing in the authority given the Church by Christ. The Eastern churches still operate in this fashion. The Roman Catholic Church, however, is less reliant on synods; the role and the authority of synods of bishops in the Roman branch are faint shadows of synods in the East.}

In Orsy's explanation, "The church was increasingly perceived, in places high and low, as a rigidly hierarchical institution where divine gifts (except those conferred by the sacraments) descended on the community through the mediation of the popes, bishops, and clergy."

Pope John XXIII and the ecumenical council of 1962-65  challenged that dynamic. Blessed John's aggiornamento in this case turned out to be a return to the older tradition, namely the understanding that the Spirit is poured out on all the people of God. We see that understanding in Lumen Gentium, where the theology of the people of God comes before the theology of the hierarchy.

Orsy continues, "There is a growing belief among the people that the church is a communio of persons --of all persons. This communio cannot be identified with the pope, or the bishops, or the priests, or with any particular group."

The communio of the Church is the Holy Spirit in the many. "Briefly but substantially," says Orsy, "this is the theological reality of communio" (cf. Receiving the Council by Ladislaus Orsy (Liturgical Press, 2009).

It is this notion of communio that provokes the call for decentralization of power in Rome (the conferences of bishops have been emasculated) and leads priests' associations in various parts of the world to call for dialogue with Rome. Congar's advice remains applicable.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

True and False Reform

I've just finished reading Yves Congar's True and False Reform in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2011). Though first published in French in 1950, it remains a compelling invitation to look at the Church today and to embrace the notion of its ongoing reform.

One fascinating possibility connected with Congar's study is that it contributed to Pope John XXIII's decision to call for an ecumenical council.

It was at Vatican II that Congar learned that Archbishop Angelo Roncalli in 1952, when he was the Vatican's envoy to France, read the book, and mused, "A reform of the church: is such a thing really possible?"

Some who have read Congar's book and heard Pope John XXIII's opening address to the Council hear an echo of Congar's thesis in the Holy Father's understanding of the need for reform.

Blessed John XXIII's observation that "the substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another" sounds like Congar's observation, "...ideas of the 'outdated' or of  'change' do not bear upon Christianity in itself or upon its dogmas and its hierarchical structure. What is called into question, frankly, are certain forms, practices, or habits of historical Catholicism."

The Vatican's initial response to True and False Reform in the Church was negative, and the Holy Office ordered that the book not be translated or republished.

"As far as I myself am concerned, from the beginning of 1947 until the end of 1956," Congar later wrote, " I have never known anything from that quarter (that is, the Vatican's Holy Office) except an uninterrupted stream of denunciations, warnings, restrictive or discriminatory measures and distrustful interventions."

By 1962, however, Congar was serving as a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, and over the four sessions contributed many paragraphs to several Vatican II documents.

Congar, of course, was not alone in such rehabilitation. Prior to Vatican II Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, and John Courtney Murray had also experienced their share of investigation and disciplinary actions before becoming expert consultants for the Council Fathers. (And the investigations and discipline continue today for a newer slate of theologians as Bradford Hinze of Fordham University records in the first chapter of When The Magisterium Intervenes, edited by Richard R. Gaillardetz, Liturgical Press, 2012.)

One of Congar's main convictions about true and successful reform in the Catholic Church is that would-be reformers must remain in the Church. He faults Martin Luther for his violence and irritability, and suggests that had Luther advanced what was good and Christian in his thinking without breaking with the Church he would have better served the cause of reform.

There are, in Congar's analysis, four conditions for reform without schism: 1) The primacy of charity and of pastoral concerns. He quotes Pope Pius XI: "Every true and lasting reform in the last analysis had its point of departure in holiness, in persons who were inflamed and impelled by the love of God and neighbor."

2) Remaining in communion with the whole Church, and the reason for that communion with the whole body is  that "complete truth is to be found only in total communion."

3) Having patience with delays. Says Congar, "In any reform movement, impatience threatens to ruin everything...The innovator, whose reform turns to schism, lacks patience."

4) Genuine reform through a return to the principle of tradition (not through the forced introduction of some novelty). He writes, "A Catholic reform movement therefore will be obliged to begin with a return to the fundamental principles of Catholicism ...Tradition is essentially the continuity of development arising from the initial gift of the Church ...Resourcement consists in a re-centering on Christ and on the paschal mystery."

Congar is the first to acknowledge that reform is not easy to effect. He recognizes the role of the hierarchy is to be conservators. He acknowledges that institutions are by nature reluctant to change.

At the same time he recalls the insights of St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, Pope Nicholas I and St Gregory VII: "When you have custom without truth, all you have is antiquity of error" and "The Lord never said, 'I am the custom,' but rather 'I am the truth.'"

Pope Paul VI consulted with Congar on more than one occasion. Perhaps Congar's insight influenced Pope Paul as well as Pope John. In his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, August 6, 1964, Pope Paul wrote, "...when we speak about reform we are not concerned to change things, but to preserve all the more resolutely the characteristic features which Christ has impressed on his Church. Or rather we are concerned to restore to the Church that ideal of perfection and beauty that corresponds to its original image.." (47).

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Vatican II!

Catholic University of America (CUA)  in Washington, DC, sponsored a four-day symposium titled "Reform and Renewal: Vatican II After Fifty Years," September 26-29, 2012.

Keynote speakers included Cardinal William Levada, former prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father John O'Malley, SJ, historian and professor of theology at Georgetown University, and Monsignor Paul McPartlan, professor of systematic theology at CUA.

Their talks and subsequent workshops offered a positive interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and highlighted the many encouraging consequences resulting from the Council's teaching.

Cardinal Levada echoed Pope John Paul II's assessment that Vatican II was "the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century...a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning."

His Eminence noted the many developments in theology that preceded the Council and which became part of the Council's teaching, such as the liturgical movement, Patristic revival, and the biblical movement, "sparking a ressourcement in theological and historical disciplines."

The text of Levada's talk is online at

Father O'Malley's focus was on "The Hermeneutic of Reform: From Gregory VII to Benedict XVI," proposing that the reforms of Vatican II were motivated by and developed from a combination of resourcement (a return to the past to correct the present), aggiornamento (Pope John's term for renewal), and development (the theology proposed by John Henry Cardinal Newman in the 19th century).

O'Malley added, "When Pope Benedict XVI proposed a hermeneutic of reform for interpreting Vatican II, he stepped away from the sharp dichotomy of rupture/continuity that he had earlier insisted upon. Historians, surely, must welcome the new category. They know that the sharp dichotomy of rupture/continuity is never verified in historical events, which are always a mix of the old and the new. An event as radical as the French Revolution did not destroy the deep bond that contributed to define what it meant to be French."

The text of O'Malley's talk is online at

Monsignor McPartlan addressed the issue of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, insisting on the primacy of charity in ecumenism and observing that we need less arguing and more praying if we are to achieve a sense of unity.

Other CUA professors spoke to the apostolate of the laity, the liturgical and theological developments, religious freedom, Gaudium et spes, renewal of moral theology.

Over 500 participants attended one or more of the four day's sessions, many clergy and religious, seminarians and lay people, some students at CUA, and a few attendees from other parts of the country.

The tone of the symposium was positive, though some speakers (Cardinal Levada among them) acknowledged that some of the Council's initiatives have yet to be realized.

It is encouraging to see that other Catholic universities (e.g., Georgetown, October 11-12, 2012, as well as Saint Louis University, Saint Joseph's University) are not letting the Council's anniversary go unnoticed. Parishes across the country are also commemorating the golden anniversary, using the jubilee as an occasion for reviewing the letter and the spirit of the Council and recommitting to the direction set by this 21st ecumenical council of the Church.

It is good to know that fifty years later, Mother Church is still rejoicing that the Second Vatican Council, "by the singular gift of Divine beside St. Peter's tomb" was solemnly opened by Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, September 14, 2012

We Have Our Work Cut Out For Us

We have our work cut out for us.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is sponsoring a two-day conference (October 1-2, 2012) called Summit 2012: Revitalizing the Domestic Church, to be held at the Dayton (OH) Convention Center.

It is described as "a two-day gathering for prayer, celebrating and envisioning of dynamic ways to effectively proclaim the Gospel message in our time. The goal is to explore the challenges that families face today and discover with one another viable tools and methods for evangelizing and ministering to the church of the home."

The program is for all parish leaders responsible for nurturing family faith, including pastors and all clergy plus catechetical leaders, school principals, youth ministers, high school religion department chairs, seminary teachers. Already over-worked staff are challenged to attend and implement.

We have our work cut out for us.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will launch a series of television commercials, airing December 14 to January 20, for the Catholics Come Home evangelization program.  It is an outreach to Catholics who are no longer attending Mass or otherwise practicing the Faith.

Reasons given for not practicing are many: upset with pastor, angry over pedophilia and disappointed by cover-ups, too busy schedules, divorce and remarriage --it is that last one which will be the biggest challenge to pastors and church communities welcoming returnees --how to say "Welcome home, but you can't receive communion..."

We have our work cut out for us.

The Archdiocese has announced significant changes for its CMA (Catholic Ministries Appeal), the annual diocesan-wide collection, in 2013, including raising the goal from four million to five million dollars. The promotion suggests that additional revenues will be applied to the ministry of New Evangelization, that is, initiatives that "'go and make disciples' as we are called to do." Pastors and parish ministers are likely to be challenged on that suggestion on the grounds that evangelization should already be the primary mission of every Church institution. Further, many parish communities will be unable to meet new goals.

We have our work cut out for us.

Over the past few months several parishes with large "summer festivals" (fund-raising ventures with games, rides, food and drink) were overwhelmed by groups (one is tempted to say "mobs") of adolescents moving roughly, rudely through the festival site, trying to buy beer, and even snatching money boxes from festival booths. In some cases pastors and parish leaders are debating whether to have a festival again. "If only the festival revenues were not a budget item," one pastor lamented, "I'd cancel it in a moment."

We have our work cut out for us.

Several parishes with multiple Masses on the weekend are reduced to one priest. One priest for four or five weekend Masses plus confessions, and perhaps a wedding or a funeral added to the schedule, seems a recipe for burn-out, ill health, loss of enthusiasm. Aging pastors lament their lack of energy for multiple celebrations, and the lack of time for homily preparation.

We have our work cut out for us.

The expectations placed on pastors and parishes by  diocesan initiatives, the priest shortage, and cultural challenges pose a threat to the healthy life of our church communities.

Rearranging priorities, reducing Mass schedules, requesting greater involvement by the lay members of the parish are potential plans of action.

The old order of things is changing, and will necessarily have to yield to new ways of thinking and acting --of being Church. The process of effecting change will be difficult and upsetting.

We have our work cut out for us. Let us begin with prayer.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Be Yourself

At the end of an especially trying day, when the people she was trying to serve were more obnoxious than usual, Dorothy Day turned to a crucifix, looked intently at the image of the Christ, and blurted out, "Jesus, do you know how hard it is to love you?"

Trying to be Christ-like is the hardest part of being a Christian.

We can far more easily believe that Jesus is divine, that the Eucharist is truly the Body of Christ, that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, than we can follow Jesus's instructions: "Love one another as I have loved you....What you do to others you do to me."

People like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Tom Dooley, Katharine Drexel have made heroic efforts to love their neighbors and imitate Jesus' patience and compassion. Their example leads us to call them prophets and saints.

On one occasion a fan and supporter of Day's Catholic Worker movement told her he thought she was a saint. Day turned on her admirer and replied, "Don't call me a saint; I'll not be put off so easily!"

Many of us doubt we can ever achieve sanctity because we know what goes on within our own minds and hearts. We struggle with pride, we become frustrated, we rebel. We tell ourselves that saints don't act like that, and we yield to disillusion.

Thomas Merton experienced this sense of defeat, but discovered this insight:

"Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves....

"They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else's experiences or write somebody else's poems or possess somebody else's sanctity....

"They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint. For many absurd reasons, they are convinced that they are obliged to become somebody else who died two hundred years ago and who lived in circumstances utterly alien to their own." (cf. Seeds of Contemplation)

Day may have thought that saints found it easy to be saints. Too many biographies of holy men and women fail to convey the humanness of their subjects. The decision to follow Christ is one thing, execution of that decision is another. Jesus clarified the cost: "If you would be my disciple, you must pick up your cross..."

Saints come in differing shapes, sizes and circumstances. There is no "one-size fits all" template.

It is as if God supplies the building materials, but the blueprint and construction are left up to the individual builder.

Saints are not slavish imitators; rather they are inspired by those they admire to keep up the effort.

Each manifestation of sanctity is unique. None of us can be Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, or Elizabeth Seton. We can only be ourselves --in Christ.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Criticism and Reform

This summer seven Catholic priests in Portsmouth, Hampshire, invited their fellow priests to form an association for Catholic priests in England to promote the ongoing reform of the Church. They urged their brother priests and in fact all the faithful to read the signs of the times.

In response to their bishops' call to foster "a culture of dialog and solidarity," the seven noted issues which they believe need attention and discussion, such as married priests, Church teaching on sexual matters, and the Curia's by-passing of Vatican II teaching by countermanding the local bishops' authority for vernacular translation of  liturgical texts.

One response to their invitation came from a seminarian in England who suggested that these priests should "look at the reaction of the young people to the current Holy Father. They appreciate his clarity and his uncompromising Christianity. I think people have become sick of a Church that has tried to be trendy; they want to be part of a Church that knows what it stands for. If these Priests want to go with the times, they might wish to consider moving to the Church of England!"

Clearly not all clergy agree with them or the other priest-associations in Austria, Ireland, Australia, and the United States who are also issuing calls to action.

Some Catholics see criticism of the Church, the pope, the Vatican or the bishops as equal to insubordination, disloyalty, even mutiny. History and theology, however, suggest that talk of reform and critical comment are needed to keep the Church on course, true to its Gospel mission. 

Reformans et reformanda is Church tradition.

Criticism and change was at the heart of Paul's encounter with Peter: "And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong" (Gal 2:11).

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was upset with Church leadership in his day, and in a homily opined that "they love their perquisites, and they love them more than they love Christ...Show me a bishop not more concerned with discharging his people's purses of their money than their souls of sins" (Homily 77 on Song of Songs).

And in the midst of the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI reminded the Roman Curia that "we have to accept criticism with humility and reflection and admit what is justly pointed out. Rome has no need to be defensive, turning a deaf ear to observations which come from respected sources, still less, when those sources are friends and brothers" (Acta Apostolica Sedis, 797).

It must be acknowledged that some criticism can be devoid of respect for authority, divisive, and destructive. Karl Rahner addressed this matter, insisting that "attachment to the Church must also be part of the spirituality of the future. Otherwise it (criticism) is elitist arrogance and a form of unbelief"  (K. Rahner, Concern for the Church, Crossroad, 1981, p. 153). Criticism without reason, respect, and love is counter-productive, but those who love the Church, who bring intelligent observation, and couch their critiques in reverence for others and for the magisterium deserve a hearing.

Former Archbishop of San Francisco John R. Quinn applauded Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter Ut unum sint, calling it "a revolution." He wrote, "For the first time it is the Pope himself who raises and legitimizes the question of reform and change in the papal office of the Church" (J R Quinn, The Reform of the Papacy, Crossroad, 1999, p.14).

Quinn quotes the encyclical frequently, noting John Paul's openness to exercising his primacy in a new situation, and highlighting the pope's request for prayer for the ongoing conversion of the Bishop of Rome. The Holy Father wrote, "I earnestly invite the faithful of the Catholic Church and all Christians to share this prayer. May all join me in praying for this conversion" (UUS, 4).

Yves Congar's book True and False Reform in the Church was met with censure by the Curia in the 1950s, but there is evidence that Archbishop Angelo Roncalli's reading of that study influenced his decision to summon the Second Vatican Council when he became pope.

Congar began with the plea that those who read his book would understand that "this is not a book of negative criticism but of love and trust --above all, of total love for and absolute trust in the truth."

He recalled the words of Pope Pius XII: "The free expression of one's opinion is the prerogative of every human society...In the eyes of Christians, repressing the expression of opinion or forcing it into silence is an attack upon the natural rights of persons, a violation of the world order that God has established...The church is a living body, and it would lack an element of its life if the free expression of opinion was lacking  --a lack for which both pastors and faithful would be blamed" (cf. Osservatore Romano, 2/18/1950, as quoted in Congar's book, p. 35).

A group of 35 Cincinnati-area priests (including one from the diocese of Columbus OH, and four from the diocese of Covington KY) met July 30 at Good Shepherd Church, Cincinnati, to review the agenda, policies, and plans of the recently formed Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP) which held its inaugural convention at St. Leo University in Florida in June.

The Cincinnati-meeting surfaced laments about the state of the Church today which were very similar to those aired at the Florida meeting (e.g., the rift between younger and older clergy, lack of dialog, sense that Church authorities are backtracking on Vatican II, creeping infallibility).

Those who participated at the Cincinnati meeting also expressed their hopes and dreams (e.g., holding to the vision of Vatican II, promotion of lay involvement, overcoming a climate of fear, keeping Christ as the center of priestly ministry, observing the 50th anniversary of the Council, finding a voice through the AUSCP).

The great majority of AUSCP members, locally and nationally, are loyal to the Church, concerned about deviations from the Gospel and from the directions set by Vatican II, and dedicated to their parish members.

Their criticism proceeds not from a desire to impose their personal opinions upon the Church, but from a sincere commitment to keeping the Church true to its mission.

Bishop Quinn's observation is worthy of consideration: "The failures of the Church in the second millennium --the loss of whole peoples to Catholic unity in the sixteenth century, the loss of the workers in the nineteenth, the alienation of the intellectuals in the twentieth-- have been due not so much to reform within the Church as to the lack of timely reform, the failure to weigh carefully enough the signs of the times, and the failure to act in time" (Reform of the Papacy, p. 44).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Congar at the Council

I just finished reading Yves Congar's My Journal of the Council. I suspect it is the closest we can come to "being there" --in the aula of St Peter's, in committee meetings all over Rome, in the mind of an eyewitness who contributed to the results of that great council!

We read Congar's summaries of hundreds of interventions on the council floor. We attend meetings in which bishops argued about and experts contributed to the formulation of doctrinal and pastoral statements on faith and the future of the Church.

We sense the politics, the back-room machinations, the suspense and surprise of the bishops' votes.

Congar is insightful: "When one persists in one's objection or criticism, one always ends up gaining something" (p. 55). "The further I go, the more I find that the preparation of the Council has been totally haphazard, not to say hopelessly inadequate.." (p. 203). "Without any doubt, Mgr Philips is the architect No.1 of the theological work of the council" (p. 510).

Congar is blunt: "(Cardinal Giuseppe) Pizzardo, who is an idiot and known to be such by all..." (p. 42). "Rahner, once again, monopolized the conversation" (p. 393). "Intervention by Fulton Sheen...He commanded attention, despite a somewhat theatrical and artificial manner. He was applauded (not by me)" (p. 663).

Congar records gossip: "News about the pope (John XXIII) is very bad: two or three transfusions every week" (p. 292)..."Paul VI is constantly besieged by petitions and pressures of all kinds...On the conservative side, attempts are being made to instil fear into him" (p. 426)..."about bishops at the Council having been found in brothels" (p. 720)

Congar was in pain: "I was barely able to walk...I wonder will I be able to keep going until the end of the Council" (p. 95). "At 5:15 pm appointment with a doctor...He examined me for an hour, very carefully. Difficult case, he said: several things are possible. He adopted the hypothesis of myelasthenia, and gave me some strong medication" (p. 397). "Health: VERY bad. During the Mass, unable to make all the gestures, unable to walk. NO strength" (p. 411).

Congar recognized his influence: "I was involved in a great deal of work, over and above a general influence of presence and spoken contributions. I contributed: Lumen Gentium, the first draft of several numbers of Chapter 1 and numbers 9, 13, 16, 17 of Chapter II, plus some particular passages" (p. 871) and to several other of the 16 documents as well.

Congar prayed: "O my God, who have shown me since 1929-30 that if the Church were to change her face, if she were simply to show her TRUE face, if she were quite simply the Church, everything would become possible on the road to unity; raise up effective workers, pure and courageous, for this work which you have undertaken and which I beg you not to abandon!" (p. 204).

Congar's journal records many (but not all) of the major moments in the Council's four sessions. He was there when Bishop Bandeira of Brazil publicly made the preposterous assertion that the council must not touch the Roman rite which, he explained, was instituted by St. Peter himself! (p. 147).

He wasn't there when Cardinal Ottaviani went over his allotted time to speak and the moderator Cardinal Alfrink turned off his microphone, much to the pleasure and applause of many in the assembly (p. 163).

I know I shall consult this journal again and again as I try to understand the workings of the Council and of the Spirit. I shall always be grateful to Congar for taking me there.

While it is our faith conviction that the Holy Spirit breathes where she will, and works in ways that steal past our perception and elude our comprehension, Congar's journal in some measure records the working of that Spirit.

Though I have read the journal from beginning to end, I cannot estimate its full value, even though I consider it a treasure and a legacy to be cherished.

The best I can do for now is repeat what Congar himself wrote: "I am keeping this little journal as a witness. I do not mix in the expression of my personal feelings...My own health problems, the total exhaustion that I have been experiencing these two months, is not this also something in the invisible and mystical history of the Council? I believe so strongly in the Gospel's 'the one who loses, gains.' I believe so strongly in 'Cum infirmor, tunc potens sum' ['When I am weak, then I am strong,' II Cor 12:10)]..."

My thanks to Yves (Cardinal) Congar!

Monday, June 18, 2012

AUSCP Inaugural Convention

Two hundred and forty priests from 55 dioceses across the country gathered June 11-14, 2012, at St. Leo University, northeast of Tampa, Florida, for the first national meeting of the newly formed Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP).

The focus of the meeting was "Vatican II Lives," a call to keep alive the vision and passion of the Council.

Key-note speakers were Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, teacher of liturgy and Gregorian Chant at St. John's University School of Theology.

The AUSCP was founded in August of 2011 when an organizing committee of 27 priests met and agreed that US Catholic priests need a common voice in their efforts to "celebrate and keep alive the visionary concepts of Vatican II."

Father David Cooper, one of the founding fathers and chairman of the AUSCP board, explained that the association is not positioning itself to be a controversial voice, but a collaborative one.

AUSCP is one of several associations of priests around the world, including Ireland, Austria, Australia, and the Philippines.

The convention began with  a session in which priests were invited to verbalize their "laments" about their ministry, their perception of the Church, their struggles with living the priestly vocation.

The intent was to spell out what a priest can control, what he can influence, and what are the facts of life he cannot change.

Their lamentations included recognition of a climate of fear, a distortion of Vatican II, the return of legalism and clericalism, the manner in which women are treated in the Church, stretching priests to the breaking point, struggles with the hierarchy, and loneliness.

The exercise served as a kind of release valve, a letting go of negative energy, recognizing that "mourning can move into kairos" as Psalm 42 implies.

Gaillardetz's key-note presentation described Vatican II as the construction of a new set of walls around the old Church. The old remains (continuity with the past is maintained) but the new construction enables the old to relate to the world of today.

He urged the AUSCP to insist on the "facticity" of the Council (Vatican II happened, and it was an ecumenical council), and at the same time to engage in "holy conversation" (avoid demonizing those who disagree).

In his key-note Ruff addressed the issue of the translation of the Roman Missal, noting that the responsibility of episcopal conferences for translating into the vernacular, as spelled out in Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium, has been reclaimed by the Curia.

He believes that Liturgicam authenticam, the 2001 instruction from the Holy See calling for exact, word-for-word translation of the Latin, should be withdrawn. In effect an office in the Vatican is translating the Mass prayers in a language foreign to the people who are to pray them.

Three sessions of the conference were devoted to business: 1) approval of by-laws/constitution, 2) acceptance of the board of officers, and 3) consideration of several proposals.

Among the proposals passed by the assembly were a letter of support to the LCWR (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious), and the acceptance of all US bishops (retired and active) who apply for membership in the AUSCP.

The median age of the priests in attendance was about 70. Most consider themselves "Vatican II priests." One celebrated his 86th birthday during the convention. Among the younger clergy was a priest who had been ordained for one year; he assessed the association as a threat to the Church.

Retired Bishop Rembert Weakland, who led a workshop on liturgy, and  retired Bishop Tom Gumbleton were present.

Father Hans Bensdorf, a representative of the Austrian Priests Initiative, and Father Luis Alfonso Contono, from El Salvador and a representative of the COOPESA for priests, spoke briefly to the assembly and audited the sessions.

Other presenters were Cleveland diocesan priest Father Don Cozzens (author of several books, including The Changing Face of the Priesthood) and Father Peter Fink, SJ (author of Worship: Praying the Sacraments).

In a general assessment of the conference, a number of priests were vocal: this is an intelligent, pastoral and fun group... this has nourished my hope... I realize I am not alone... "thank you" to the leadership team... this was good "holy conversation"... we must go forward, not back to the 50s, not back to the 70s, but forward... Vatican II was a gift and it is our job to be faithful to the gift God has given us.

The next AUSCP national convention will be held June 17-20, 2013; location to be announced. 

Membership inquiries can be made at AUSCP, PO Box 263, Calumet City IL 60649, or online at As of June, 2012, there were 650 members.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Priests Convocation

Every five years, by custom, the Archbishop of Cincinnati "convokes" his diocesan priests for a three-day gathering of talks, discussions, prayer, and fellowship. The most recent convocation was held June 4-7, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.

The theme for the conference was "Claiming Our Common Sense of Purpose as Priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati."

The underlying motive for the theme was concern over the gap or rift between older and younger clergy.

It is common to refer to these two "cohorts" as Vatican Two Priests and John Paul the Second Priests.

The divide seems to be centered on how the priests in each group view their ministry and vision of Church.

One analysis of the differences notes that the older clergy think of themselves as servant leaders and the younger clergy think of themselves as spiritual fathers.

Perhaps a further distinction can be drawn between the older clergy's perception that the Church must enter into and learn from the world, while the younger clergy tend to find the world an environment that threatens the Gospel and the life of the Church.

Not all of the older or younger clergy fit nicely into those categorizations, and some would disavow such distinctions.

The talks or presentations focused on the history, charism and spirituality of the Cincinnati presbyterate (Bishop Joseph Binzer), on the history of the Cincinnati presbyterate (Father Robert Obermeyer), a review of the Cincinnati presbyterate as one of the older clergy sees it (Father Gerald Haemmerle), a look at the Cincinnati presbyterate as a younger priest hopes to see it (Father Daniel Hess), and a layman's view (Miss Emily Bissonnette and Mr. Joseph Ollier).

Reception of the various presentations varied.

Questions and comments were surfaced about clerical dress (some younger clergy wear collars or cassocks whenever in public while some older clergy seldom or never do).

It was reported that in one of the small group discussions a younger priest said he considered the ministry of the "senior priests" to be a failure.

It was said by some older priests that clerical clothing does not make a man a priest, that a priest is known by his character and ministry not by his clothing.

Such differences or observations, however, did not disrupt the overall civility and patient listening of the priests as a body. A truly Christian spirit prevailed.

Final presentations focused on upcoming diocesan initiatives and programs, plus a brief summation of the diocese's financial well-being.

The final presentation was a "question and answer" session with the Most Reverend Dennis Schnurr, the Archbishop of Cincinnati.

Once compiled, the evaluation forms filled out by those in attendance will provide a more encompassing picture of the efforts and effects of these three days.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"I" or "We"

I've found it difficult to remember at Mass that the new translation of the Creed begins with "I" rather than "we."

Of course, the "consubstantial with the Father" has caused its share of questions.

"What does that word mean?"

"It means, one in being with."

"Well, we were already saying that."

"I know, but I guess someone thought 'consubstantial' was more exact. But in that case we really should be saying homoousion --that's the word the bishops used at the Council of Nicea."

Wikepedia explains: Ancient Greek: ὁμοούσιος, from the Ancient Greek: ὁμός, homós, "same" and Ancient Greek: οὐσία, ousía, "essence, being."

But back to my "I" versus "We" problem.

The Latin version of the Nicean (Constantinople) Creed begins with "credo," which is rendered "I believe."

But the Catechism of the Catholic Church, took a different approach. It says:

"'I believe' (Apostles Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism.

"'We believe' (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers.

"'I believe' is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both 'I believe' and 'We believe'" (#167).

Pope Benedict quoted article 167 of the Catholic Catechism in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, announcing a Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013). He seems to agree that we should be saying "we believe" at Mass.

The "We" reflects the assembly of believers.

I wish the translators of the Mass had been influenced by the Catechism.

My sense of the liturgy, as I stand with the congregation to recall the tenets of our belief, naturally calls for "We believe."

Friday, May 11, 2012

The World --Friend or Foe?

Are those who oppose the reforms of Vatican II conservative or liberal?

In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council the label "conservative" has been applied to those who want to go back to the Church as it was in the 1950s: Tridentine Mass, decisively clerical leadership, and papal (curial) control of Church doctrine and discipline.

Those who want to see a more vigorous application of the reforms proposed by the Council are labeled "liberals."

Even during the Council's sessions the majority of the bishops were described as "progressives" and the minority were called "traditionalists."

One can argue whether those labels are accurate. A true conservative could be one who wants to go back to the practices of the Church as they were at the beginning: liturgy in the vernacular, popular election of bishops, married priests, biblically based theology and catechesis.

A liberal, then, would be one who wants to hold fast to the changes in the Church, especially those of the Middle Ages: Latin (papal) liturgy, centralization in Rome, European cultural accretions, emphasis on the separation of clergy and laity.

In that light today's conservatives are really liberals, and the liberals are really the conservatives.

More recently discussions (disagreements) about Vatican II have been couched in terms of continuity versus event (aka discontinuity).

 Some commentators prefer to emphasize Vatican II as an event, as a moment of major change, a rupture; in opposition are those who emphasize the continuity of Vatican II teachings with the teachings of past councils.

Very few proponents of Vatican II have suggested that the Council broke with the previous magisterium. Those who hail the pastoral orientation of Vatican II and mark significant change in the practices and orientation of the Council do not think it caused a rupture.

The pivotal question revolves around the idea of development of doctrine. Pope John XXIII reminded the Council fathers that doctrine does not change but the way in which the truth is expressed may have to change in order to express the truth accurately.

Today's theologians, however, tend to avoid both liberal/conservative and continuity/discontinuity. They see a difference that goes beyond change or no change, beyond preference for the past versus possibilities for the future, beyond clerical vs. lay,  married priests vs. celibacy, curia vs. synod of bishops, event vs. continuity.

The division between those who promote Vatican II and those who shy away from it is perhaps based more on attitude toward the world.

Is the world fundamentally good, or fundamentally evil?

The Council Fathers between 1962 and 1965 gave the Church a review and revision of Catholic theology and practice. In the past 50 years the Church has had the opportunity to reflect upon that gift and decide whether to receive it, reject it, or take some parts and leave others.

Many of the current tensions in the Church stem from how the Council has been received. It is possible to analyze the Council's reception based on the attitudes of those receiving it. Those who think of the world in friendly terms tend to affirm and promote Vatican II, while those who think of the world as a hostile environment tend to be critical and hesitant.

Massimo Faggioli,  professor of theology at the University of St Thomas (St Paul MN) describes the relationship between Church and world as "a core issue of the council."

He says, "It is not an overstatement to affirm that this issue was the origin of a major rift in the interpretation of the council, a rift much more visible after the council than during it."

And the two sides of this rift are labeled "neo-Augustinian" and "neo-Thomistic."

Scholar Ormand Rush explains, "The Augustinian school is wanting to set church and world in a situation of rivals; it sees the world in a negative light; evil and sin so abound in the world that the church should always be suspicious and distrustful of it."

Rush describes the Thomistic view as reflecting openness to the world. It is not the Thomism of neo-Scholasticism, but it emphasizes responding to the "signs of the times" and living out faith in a very real world. It is a neo-Thomism inasmuch as it is using Aquinas's attentiveness to the world.

Perhaps the litmus test of whether one is neo-Thomistic or neo-Augustianian is how one receives Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World): "The joy and hope, the sorrows and anxieties of people today...are also the joy and hope, the sorrows and anxieties of the disciples of Christ..."(1). And "Christians can have nothing more at heart than to be of ever more generous and effective service to humanity in the modern world" (93).

The majority of bishops at Vatican II would be labeled "neo-Thomistic."

Massimo Faggioli's new book Vatican II The Battle For Meaning (Paulist Press, 2012) is a worthy read.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

People Change

One of the priests who served as a theology expert at the Second Vatican Council wrote in the 1960s a retrospect on the opening days of the council's first session in October of 1962.

He remembered a "certain feeling of exhilaration in the opening of the Council in Rome, the mysterious sense of new beginnings that has a way of stirring man and propelling him forward."

He sensed "the imminence of an event of historic significance."

He experienced the "diversity of tongues...the prospect of rich new encounters, the promise of what was coming."

Father also acknowledged a "strange ambivalence of feelings" in experiencing the opening ceremonies.

"The mighty basilica, the grandeur of the ancient liturgy, the colorful diversity of the visitors from all over the world --all this was magnificently impressive," he wrote. "Yet there was, on the other hand, an undeniable uneasiness, whose most obvious symptom was annoyance with the endlessly long ceremonies."

He realized that the liturgy did not involve all who were present. "Did it make any sense," he asked, "for 2,500 bishops, not to mention the other faithful there, to be relegated to the role of mere spectators at a ceremony in which only the celebrants and the Sistine Choir had a voice?"

His criticism continued, "Was not the fact that the active participation of those present was not required symptomatic of a wrong that needed remedy?"

Happily, he noted further, things were different only a couple months later, when at the ceremonies on the last day of the first session, "the responses and other fixed parts were sung in unison by the bishops and all those present. This was the result of the bishops' own initiative."

He also celebrated the day when the bishops were to elect members to the council's various commissions. The assembly objected to the curia's schedule and postponed the election until the bishops had time to think over their choices and consult with one another about the best candidates. Clearly the 2500 members of this meeting did not know one another. This proposal met with what Father called "a lively ovation, despite the official prohibition against applause."

This decision, he explained, allowed for a broader representation, what he described as "horizontal Catholicity," something which he said had been lost in the Church's practical life.

And further, in this decision "the curia found a force to reckon with and a real partner in discussion...Now it became clear that, besides the official curia organs (subordinated to the pope), the body of bishops was a reality in its own right, infusing into the dialogue and the very life of the Church its own spiritual experience."

"Without saying much," Father wrote, "Pope John, by the influence of his personality, encouraged the Council to openness and candor...Here there emerged a new awarewness of how the Church could conduct a dialogue in fraternal frankness without violating the obedience that belongs to faith."

Catholics across the board, especially any who tend to criticize or reject Vatican II, would do well to experience even these fifty years later a first-hand account of the excitement, freedom, spirit and magisterium of Vatican II.

Reading the written experiences and analyses of a Council peritus (a person accepted and designated by the Council as an expert in a given field) is eye-opening and mind-expanding, allowing later generations access to the formulation of the Church's path for the future.

If you would like to read more of this first-hand account, find a copy of Theological Highlights of Vatican II by the peritus and eye-witness Joseph Ratzinger.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Golden Rule

I used to think that the Golden Rule was peculiar to the Bible. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt. 7:12).

I came across a form of that rule in the Old Testament too: "Do to no one what you yourself hate" (Tobit 4:2).

There is also the story in Jewish literature about a man who came to Hillel, who lived about a century before Jesus, and challenged the holy man to teach him the whole of Torah while standing on one foot.

Hillel responded, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of Torah and the rest is but commentary. Go and learn it."

Even earlier (about 500 years before Jesus) the Chinese social philosopher known as Confucius had taught, "Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself."

And earlier still forms of the Golden Rule can be found among the ancient Greeks. Pittacus of Myteline, born about 640 BC, is credited with the saying: "Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him."

And Thales of Miletus (born about 624 BC, and thought by some to be the first philosopher of Greek wisdom) said, "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing."

There were versions of this so-called rule of reciprocity in ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt as well. The truth of the Golden Rule is apparent to thoughtful human nature.

Closer to our time a strange little man named Peter Maurin formulated still another version.

It was Maurin who taught and encouraged Dorothy Day to found the Catholic Worker newspaper to be an advocate for social justice and to establish Catholic Worker Houses to care for the homeless and broken members of society.

Day and Maurin met in 1932. In her biography of him, Day wrote, "Peter never tired of teaching, and many were the meetings held in the store, which was the first office of the Catholic Worker. Night after night, those first years, the meetings went on, from eight to ten, often far later."

In one of his lessons, Maurin insisted that he wished to be "what he wanted the other fellow to be."

That simple thought has profound ramifications.

That I should be what I want others to be would prompt more patience when I am driving, more kindness when meeting new people, more generosity to those in need.

Jesus' teaching that I should do to others as I want them to do to me is further clarified when I take on the persona of people around me.

Atticus Finch taught his daughter in To Kill A Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view --until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Maurin's advice is another way of expressing that law of reciprocity, that so-called Golden Rule.

It struck me hard when I read his version. I have a lot of work to do.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Age of the Laity

At the beginning of the twentieth century Pope Pius X wrote an encyclical letter deploring the decision of the French government to withdraw from agreements made with the Vatican. In the course of that letter (Vehmenter nos) the pope further lamented the civil government's interfering in Church matters, and went on to explain that only the pastors of the Church have the right and authority to direct its members.

In emphasizing the role of the Church's pastors, he said, "The one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the pastors" (#8).

This last statement reflects the long-standing paternalistic attitude of clergy toward the laity.

This paternalism gave rise to the observation that "it seems that the duty of the faithful is to pray, pay and obey."

This mentality about the role of the laity was challenged at the Second Vatican Council. The magisterium of the Church now formally confirms that the laity share in the salvific mission of the Church (Lumen Gentium, 33) and that they must be aware of what their faith demands and not hesitate to take the initiative at the opportune moment (Gaudium et Spes, 43).

It is clear that the laity are to turn to the clergy for guidance and spiritual strength, but it is equally clear that the laity are "to shoulder their responsibilities...participate actively in the whole life of the Church" (ibid.)

Vatican II no longer looked at the laity as simple, docile sheep.

The Council continued, "Let them (the laity) realize that their pastors will not always be so expert as to have a ready answer to every problem (even every grave problem) that arises; this is not the role of the clergy: it is rather up to the laymen to shoulder their responsibilities under the guidance of Christian wisdom and with eager attention to the teaching authority of the Church" (ibid.)

And, "the Church can never be without the lay apostolate; it is something that derives from the layman's very vocation as a Christian. Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful was this activity in the Church's early days (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom 16: 1-6; Phil 4:3)" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 1).

Theologian Richard Gaillardetz addresses the teachings of the Council about the role of the laity: "Although the council was unable to offer a fully developed and completely consistent theology of the laity, its contributions nevertheless lay the foundation for a new age of the church.

"No more were the laity to be relegated to servile obedience to clerical mandates. Now the laity were to engage the world with initiative, courage, and conviction. In the postconciliar era we have witnessed a renewed emphasis on the priority of Christian baptism and the demands of Christian mission calling every baptized follower of Jesus to be a servant of God's reign" (Keys to the Council, p. 101, Liturgical Press, 2012).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Belief or Faith?

We ought to  ask ourselves whether the focus of our religion is belief or faith. The two differ.

Belief could be described as acceptance of doctrines. At the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the council fathers published a creed. They were responding to a controversy in the Church about whether Jesus was equal to the Father. A priest named Arius argued that Jesus was subordinate to the Father, that Jesus received his being from the Father at the beginning of time.

Others insisted that Jesus was not subordinate, that Jesus was truly God like the Father.

As the intensity of the conflict increased, the Emperor Constantine called the bishops of the Church together to settle the matter: What do Christians believe about Jesus' relationship to the Father?

The major result of this council was the creed which formally defined that Jesus is "from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father."

Although this proclamation settled the matter about what the council bishops believed to be the truth, the controversy continued for many decades. A second council was called in 380 AD to respond once more to the Arian heresy.

It is clear that spelling out one's beliefs has an enormous effect upon one's faith. If faith is a lived response to God, then it makes a difference to a believer whether Jesus is God or not. How much more awesome (and filled with mystery) is God's love for the world if indeed it was God who "became man and dwelt among us" and not simply some emissary.

Belief, then, is important, but acceptance of a creed is only the first step; the second is faith.

It is conceivable that a person could believe what the Bible and the Church teach and still not be a Christian in the full sense of that designation.

Believing a set of doctrines does not a Christian make. To be a Christian one must be a disciple of Jesus, must pick up his cross, must walk in his footsteps, strive to live out the Gospel, and have a personal relationship (deep and intimate) with Jesus.

It is much easier to be a believing Catholic than to be a practicing one.

Catholics who are intense about doctrine are also called to be intense about compassion, kindness, forgiveness, service, and many other Christ-like virtues.

When Church members become "liturgical police" or "heretic hunters," they may distort both their religion and the faith. Attitude is a vital element of true discipleship. Jesus' concern was people over law. He did not denigrate the law, but neither did he condemn the law-breakers.

Belief, then, is a matter of creed, of doctrines and magisterium. Faith, then, is a matter of living one's beliefs, of loving one's neighbor, of intimacy with Jesus.

It is noteworthy that in the middle of Mass the congregation pauses to profess its faith in the words of the creed.

It is especially noteworthy that, as scholar Karen Armstrong explains, "The word 'belief' itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear...In the 17th century, it narrowed its mean an intellectual assent to a set of propositions, a credo."

She continues, "I believe did not mean, 'I accept certain creedal articles of faith.' It meant 'I commit myself. I engage myself.'"

With that insight in mind, note that the creed becomes an excellent transition piece between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Think of that next Sunday.

The so-called "profession of faith" is no longer a mere recitation of beliefs; it is rather a committing to faith, an accepting of the Father as Creator, a welcoming of Jesus as Lord, a being open to the Holy Spirit, a rededicating of oneself to full partnership in the community of Christ.

Belief and faith are not opposed to each other; they need each other. Belief without faith is dead.