Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Old Guys in the AUSCP

The average age of the members of the Association of U. S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) is about 70, and one of its aims is to promote the direction and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

I recently read a blog critical of the AUSCP, a blog which took special note of the average age of the members and commented, "Are you getting the picture here? This is not a youth movement."

The blogger continued, "I'm saying this movement is fading....For a growing number of Catholics, Vatican II is simply another part of  Catholic history...What's coming, not too far in the future now, is a re-appraisal...a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses, a rediscovery of what Vatican II really says...When that happens, I think the old, V2 pro or con dialectic will be as gone as the dinosaurs."

This assessment may be true. Twenty years from now most of the current members of the AUSCP will be dead. Twenty years from now there may be a reappraisal of the Council. Twenty years from now there may be a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses.

But part of the dynamic for that reappraisal and more sober assessment will be the energy expended by the old guys in the AUSCP who cherished and promoted what Vatican II did.

Some of the strongest critics of the AUSCP and their Vatican II-orientation were youngsters or not even born when the Council took place.

Some of the strongest critics of Vatican II create a "straw list" of items which they say  Vatican II said, and then use their list to ridicule AUSCP's efforts to promote the Council's directions and spirit.

Perhaps the major reason that most of the AUSCP members are 70 or older is that these men remember the days before the Council.

Vatican II Changes

Without denying that there were abuses and misdirection in the immediate wake of the Council, the majority of the AUSCP members cherish the many good results produced by Vatican II's aggiornamento, resourcement, and rapprochment.

A partial list of the happy results of Vatican II includes:

1) greater participation of the people in the liturgy

2) restored awareness that the Holy Spirit works in all the people of God

3) biblical literacy among the laity

4) restoration of permanent diaconate

5) return of the Rite of Christian Initiation

6) renewed emphasis on Church as communio/koinonia (eucharistic ecclesiology)

7) retrieval of the theology of the common priesthood

8) hospitable recognition of other Christians

9) reaching out to the world as friend rather than enemy

10) re-evaluation of marriage as partnership of life and love rather than simply legal contract

11) re-examination of collegiality of episcopacy

12) recognition of the right to religious freedom

The list could go on.

Members of the AUSCP remember what it was like before. They are eager (perhaps anxious) to see maintenance of these changes and the promotion of the directions set by the Council.

They have reason to be concerned.

Vatican II called for an updating of the liturgy, a simplification of the rites, the elimination of accretions, the restoration of elements that were lost. Papal permission to use the pre-Vatican II Mass (Tridentine Rite) which the bishops voted to change is counter to the Council's directives.

Vatican II acknowledged the role of the bishop in his diocese and the role of bishops' conferences when it comes to liturgy and the vernacular. Curial rejection of the US Bishops' translation and their insistence on a new Roman Missal translation that is more than awkward counters the Council's direction.

Vatican II returned to the concept of episcopal collegiality. The idea of a Bishops' Synod with an agenda prepared by the Curia runs counter to the collegial spirit envisioned by the Council.

Vatican II urged ongoing dialogue with members of Christian denominations and with other religions. The current official dialogue barely exists and falls far short of the direction set by the Council.


Most members of the AUSCP lived in the pre-Vatican II church. They experienced both the excitement and the confusion that came as the Council's aftermath. They struggled with the changes, sometimes changes they did not at first want or understand. But they lived it.

For most of the ASUSCP members Vatican II was a gift and they are eager to hand it on to future generations. They do not want the Church to go back to the way it was.  They know what it was like. They see the value in what we have in the Vatican II tradition.

It takes a long time for the deliberations of a Council to be reviewed, a long time for its decisions to be accepted.

The AUSCP simply wants to keep the vision alive.

The blogger critical of the AUSCP, of its aged members and their agenda, noted that more and more of the faithful are not buying the concern about Vatican II as proposed by the Association.

That may be true. But the AUSCP believes that Vatican II, as Pope John put it, "rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of a most splendid light. It is now only dawn."

The AUSCP believes that there must be among all of us (clergy and laity) what Pope John asked of the bishops in council: "serenity of mind, brotherly concord, moderation in proposals, dignity in discussion, and wisdom of deliberation."

The AUSCP believes that the Council's documents "have lost nothing of their brilliance," as Pope John Paul II said in 2001. "They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative tests of the magisterium, within the Church's tradition."

The Holy Spirit, fifty years ago, gave the Church a sense of direction in an ecumenical council, in which the college of bishops has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 883).

The membership of the AUSCP may be a fading one, but the importance of Vatican II is not.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Association of Priests To Meet in June

The Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP) will hold its second annual national assembly, June 24-27, 2013, in Seattle, WA.

The association began in August of 2011, and held its first national conference in Florida in June of 2012. About 240 priests from around the country attended that meeting. A similar number is expected to gather in Seattle. Total membership is around 900; some 45 Cincinnati priests are members.

Eager to support the direction and reforms of the Second Vatican Council the AUSCP has chosen "Lumen Gentium: God's Pilgrim People" as the theme for the 2013 assembly. (Last year's theme focused on Vatican II's document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium.)

The format for this year's meetings is similar to last year's: keynote talks, discussions, consideration of resolutions and voting for or against certain proposals.

Among the proposals offered by some members of the association for this year is a  resolution to urge the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to use their power and authority to resolve the pastoral and sacramental challenges rising from an increase in the number of Catholics and a decline in the number of priests.

The assembly will also consider whether to ask the Holy Father for permission to use the old (1974) Sacramentary prayers at Mass in light of the awkwardness that many priests find with the translation in today's Roman Missal.

One resolution for consideration and vote supports a comprehensive plan for improved, more effective evangelization.

Some issues will be more controversial, such as the ordination of women to the diaconate, a request for permission to use general absolution more frequently, ordination of women and married men to the priesthood, and wider lay/clergy consultation in the selection of bishops.

A slate of 15 proposals will likely take place at the meeting, but if last year's discussions are indicative not all proposals will pass.

The publication of the association's agenda has elicited criticism from some priests and laity across the country. One priest made a special point of noting that most of the AUSCP priests are 70 and older, implying that their gatherings to specially promote Vatican II initiatives would be short lived, and after their demise a more reasoned approach to Vatican II can be pursued.

Keynote speakers scheduled for the Seattle meeting are Father Patrick Brennan (a pastor), Catherine Clifford (a theologian), Robert Kaiser (a journalist who was an observer at Vatican II), Robert Mickens (a Vatican journalist), and James Coriden (a canon lawyer).

Additional information about the AUSCP is available at

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

God's Preference: For or With?

It is my conviction that God does not like to do things for us, but much prefers to do things with us.

This observation colors my understanding of prayer, of ministry, of spiritual life, of Church.

The Bible supports my conviction. God created human beings in his image and then commissioned them, "Be fertile and multiply...fill the earth and subdue it...have dominion..." (cf. Gen 1:28).

As biblical history unfolds we see God calling people like Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and sending them out in his name. He accompanies them on their mission but he expects them to act, to be the instruments of his saving grace. Jesus' calling of disciples and sending them out verifies the divine preference; he could do it all on his own but he prefers to work with and through fallible human beings. The incarnation proves the rule; God became a human being and in that humanness worked out the Father's plan of salvation.

My conviction about God's preference to work with rather than for may seem to challenge the insight that "it's all grace." In fact, it complements it. God gives us the ability to choose, the inspiration to make good choices, and the confidence that when we do his will we are helping to make his kingdom come!

Dorothy Day saw it perfectly. In an article she wrote in May of 1954 she said, "Our life of grace and our life of the body go on beautifully intermingled and harmonious. 'All is grace,' as the dying priest whispered to his friend in The Diary of a Country Priest (by George Bernanos). The Little Flower also said, 'All is grace.'"

Grace provides the direction and energy for us to do the things of God. Grace builds on nature.

Many a grandmother invites her grandchild into the kitchen to help her bake cookies. She could do it by herself more efficiently, more cleanly, but she wants to share the experience with a beloved child and create a bonding moment. The messiness of allowing the child to add ingredients, stir the mixture, and press out the cookie dough is a deeper form of love than simply handing the child a cookie and saying, "Run along now, and don't get crumbs all over the floor!"

God's patience trumps his efficiency. God allows his beloved to get crumbs all over the floor, much preferring to do things with us than for us.

This divine attitude explains the practice of prayer, especially prayers of petition. When we ask God for something we are neither informing the Father of something he does not already know nor are we trying to cajole him into doing us a favor. God already wants what is best for his children. Our prayer of petition is our participation in the divine will. We pray with the conviction that God's will should be done even if it is contrary to our own.

I wonder if sometimes things don't turn out the way we want simply because we didn't participate, we didn't add anything to the mixture. Our failure to become involved, to do our share, does not nullify the divine plan (Judas Iscariot's failure to "get with the program" did not stop Jesus' great act of love) but it may in fact create an obstacle that must later be overcome. Prayer sensitizes us to God's will, not the other way round.

This divine attitude helps explain why God has routinely called people to ministry. We have to believe that God could do things far more efficiently without our help, but his preference for our involvement and cooperation demonstrate a genuine "hands-on" kind of love and patience.

"Calling people" is a prime characteristic of salvation history. Hilaire Belloc once famously noted our puzzlement in God's calling the sons of Jacob to be the foundation of his chosen people: "How odd of God to choose the Jews."

Still more puzzling is why God has chosen us to be heralds of the Gospel and participants in the saving work of the Church.

Our awareness of the divine attitude of relying on people helps us assess our spiritual lives. There is meaning to our existence, even if we are not likely to bend the course of history or always be faithful participants in the program. One's spiritual life is to be a concerted effort to be open to God's call, to focus upon the divine will, to hold ourselves in readiness for whatever God may ask next.

Thomas Merton once summarized that consequence in a prayer:
            My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead my by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. 
The Second Vatican Council restored our awareness that the Church is a communio, a community of people, a community of local churches. It is this insight that urges the active participation of all the people in liturgy and in the mission and ministry of the Church. By virtue of our baptism we enter into the priesthood of Jesus Christ and all the baptized are to exercise that priesthood "by the reception of the sacraments, by prayer and thanksgiving, by the witness of a holy life, self-denial and active charity" (Lumen Gentium, #10).

It's my conviction that God does not like to do things for us, but much prefers to do things with us. And that observation makes a lot of difference.