Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What Will The Church Of The Future Be Like?

The well-respected theologian and expert at Vatican II Karl Rahner, SJ, proposed in 1965 that the Christian of the future would have to be a mystic or he will not exist. And his reference to mysticism meant “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

He predicted that Christians would live in a diaspora situation, that is, as a “relatively small minority,” and nowhere would there be a Christian nation which would lead people to embrace the Christian faith.  A Christian of the future will be Christian because he has a personal experience of Jesus and makes the deliberate choice to follow him as Lord. Culture or society will not be sufficient to lead one to Christ.

“The Christians,” he said, “will be the little flock of the Gospel, perhaps esteemed, perhaps persecuted…The Church is the sacrament of the salvation of the world even where the latter is still nor and perhaps never will be the Church.”

Rahner did not spell out what I have written below, These possibilities are purely of my own imagining --hunches, if you will, about what the Church of the future may be like. I am not a sociologist, I have no crystal ball, I claim no gift of prognostication. And yet trying to read :the signs of the times,” I suggest that

By 2020 Pope Francis II will try to emulate Pope Francis I and carry on his work.
Smaller parishes will be administered by lay leaders.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.
Dorothy Day will be added to the Church’s Hall of Fame (canonized a saint).
The Roman Missal of 2011 will be under revision.

By 2025 women will be serving as deacons in many parishes, especially in the missions.
Religious orders of Sisters will experience renewal and growth.
The number of Catholic parochial schools will have declined significantly.
Most bishops will no longer wear miters.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.
Catholicism will identify more with social justice issues than previously..

By 2050 a majority of the Catholic priests in the United States will be of African origin.
The Third Vatican Council will be convoked to reaffirm the direction and reforms of Vatican II.
Priestly celibacy will become optional.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.

Even though it is said that the future is the hardest thing to predict, what do you imagine the Church of the future will be like?

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Challenge Of Implementing Amoris Laetitia

The start of a new year fuels speculation about what it will hold.

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States (some say he is the  44th since Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th) already challenges prediction.

The surprises in Pope Francis’ leadership of the Catholic Church are likely to continue as he promotes a less legalistic and more pastoral approach to the Church’s mission and ministry.

One of the certain challenges for episcopal conferences and individual dioceses will be how to implement Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, his exhortation on family life, especially chapter eight, commonly entitled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.”

Most of this apostolic exhortation focuses on the gift of married love and the blessings of family life. Pope Francis and the bishops of the two synods on family wanted to offer support and encouragement to husbands, wives and their children in light of God’s plan and the Church’s teaching. At the same time they also addressed the trials, troubles and failures which threaten this basic building block of Church and society.

Having affirmed that breaking the marriage bond “is against the will of God,” Pope Francis’ exhortation also acknowledged the weakness of many members of the Church. He confirmed that “the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children” by restoring in them both hope and confidence. The Church’s task, he said, “is often like that of a field hospital” (# 291).

He noted that the bishops who participated in the Synod on the Family (the  14th ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops, October 4-25, 2015) did not fail to acknowledge that even in civil marital situations which do not correspond to the Church’s teaching on marriage the grace of God can be found  in such constructive elements as the courage to do good, to be caring toward one another in love, to be of service to the community around them  (## 291-92).

The synod bishops and the pope’s exhortation recall Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the “law of gradualness,” which acknowledges that people grow at different rates in their understanding, appreciation and implementation of the objective demands of the law (# 295).

It is in awareness of this phenomenon and in the light of divine mercy that the Church chooses to take the path not of rejecting but reinstating people in situations of weakness and imperfection.

The synod and the pope agree that the Church has the responsibility to help people in marital or cohabiting situations outside its teaching to come to an understanding  about grace in their lives and offer them assistance toward the fullness of God’s plan for them (cf # 297).

Even more challenging for the Church and her ministers is to acknowledge situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the upbringing of the children, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate” (# 298).

There is in some cases, of course, the possibility of a Church-granted declaration of nullity.  Or, as the exhortation suggests, there can be situations calling for the application of “the discernment of pastors,” perhaps a reference to the unnamed but sometimes used “internal forum” (cf # 298).

The exhortation cautions against making those in such situations to feel that they are excommunicated.  Catholics who divorce are not excommunicated, nor are Catholics who divorce and remarry under excommunication.

Pope Francis explained, “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor the Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (# 300).

Bishop Robert McElroy met the challenge of implementing Amoris Laetitia for his San Diego, California diocese by calling for a local synod and responding to recommendations raised during the six months of meetings and discussions.

According to the report in the National Catholic Reporter (Nov18-Dec 1, 2016), the San Diego synod issued 15 recommendations, offering support for family life and a response to those who are divorced and remarried. Among the recommendations are creation of a diocesan office for family spirituality which would develop resources for ministering to families, including “the divorced, single-parent, widowed, deployed, deported, special needs, multi-generational households and LGBT.”

In his own pastoral letter “Embracing the Joy of Love” (which set the stage for the diocesan synod), Bishop McElroy challenged San Diego Catholics to develop a culture of  invitation, welcoming, and hospitality for families of all kinds, and to offer support to those who are divorced.

Other dioceses across the country and around the world will likewise read, study and embrace Amoris Laetitia and develop ways to help families, as Pope Francis put it,  “to grow and mature in the ability to love” (# 325).

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Trees

Sometimes we’re just too close to something to see it well. It’s that adage about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

It’s when we step back that things come into better focus, or we see more than first we could imagine.

Aging does that. Seniors tend to become nostalgic about the people, places, and experiences they used to know. It’s often a pleasure to review old photos or videos, re-read old letters and cards, return to sites we used to haunt.

Many of us know the :”if only” experience. If only I had spent more time with so-and-so. If only I had appreciated the kindness, wisdom, or relationship I was offered. If only I could see a face, hear a voice, share an experience with someone now gone.

The wise say, “You can go back to the place, but you can never go back to the time.” And given the speed with which venues change, even going back to the place as remembered is often impossible.

Two important lessons emerge from our regret that the past is past and cannot be made present: 1) we should recognize and cherish the people and places around us now; and 2) we should be understanding  when those we cherish now do not see us often enough or share themselves with us as we wish.

For sometimes we’re just too close to something or someone to see the big picture. It reminds me of the response of that blind man in Mark 8:22-26. Jesus put spittle on the man’s eyes, touched him, and asked, “Do you see anything?” And the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” And Jesus had to lay hands on the man’s eyes a second time before he could see everything distinctly.”

The waiting and preparing of the Advent season, the theme of light and the coming of the Christ all conspire to invite us to step back and see life and church and relationships more distinctly.

Many of the people of Jesus’ day could not see him for the messiah he was. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. And Jesus replied, “A prophet is not accepted in his native place” (cf Lk 4:22-24).

If we can’t see the forest for the trees, it isn’t surprising we can’t see Christ because of the way we celebrate Christmas.

Monday, November 21, 2016

It's Happening Again (Still?)

One of the major obstacles Jesus had to confront in spreading the Good News was the legalism of the official religious leaders of his day.

On one occasion Jesus did not do the prescribed washing before eating (Lk 11:38). On another occasion, on a Sabbath, his disciples plucked heads of grain (Mt12:2). Also on a Sabbath Jesus cured a man’s withered hand (Mk 3:2). And on any given day of the week he could be found eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners (Lk 5:30) or a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7-9).

The Pharisees challenged Jesus and his disciples for their failure to observe the law. When Jesus responded by asking whether it was lawful to cure on the Sabbath (Lk 14:3), and then challenged their pride in seeking places of honor (Lk 14:8) and called them hypocrites and blind guides, they began to plot against him (Lk 6:11).

 They made “a formal act of correction of a serious error.” They said, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the Sabbath day” (Lk 13:14).

Not all of the Pharisees opposed Jesus. John says that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (3:1-2). Luke says that Joseph of Arimathea, who claimed Jesus’ dead body, was a member of the Sanhedrin (23:50). It takes, however, only a few opponents acting in bad faith to foment divisions.

We can surmise the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery and made her stand in  the middle only to have Jesus offer her compassion and understanding without condoning her failure (Jn 8:1-11). It must have been clear to them that Jesus was undermining Mosaic teaching and long-standing tradition.

They stood on the solid ground of irreformable moral principles. Under different circumstances they would have likely judged it their responsibility to request a clarification lest there be widespread confusion  leading people into error. Jesus was causing a tremendous confusion about what is an intrinsic evil, about the state of sin and about the correct notion of conscience.

The Pharisees believed they had a responsibility before the people for whom they were religious leaders. For them to remain silent about these fundamental doubts would be a grave lack of charity. No wonder, as Jesus continued his teaching, that his opponents picked up stones to throw at him” (Jn 8:59).

It is, of course, undeniable that Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Love’s Joy) has led to much discussion, debate, and differences of interpretation. Chapter eight quickly became the focus of attention. It addresses the issue of the permanence of marriage and the frailty of people. It urges pastoral care for those in marriages not sanctioned by the Church, most especially the divorced-and- remarried.

The teaching in Amoris Laetitia is Pope Francis’ response to the discussions on “the family” which took place during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October of 2014 and the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October of 2015.

These Episcopal synods do not seek unanimity of thought, do not legislate, do not necessarily present infallible teaching. A synod, as Pope Francis reminded the bishops at the opening gathering, is “a protected area where the Church is experimenting with the action of the Holy Spirit.”  It is an effort of the Church leadership to be open to the guidance of the Spirit so as to be faithful to the Gospel and to be Christ-like in applying the Gospel in the contemporary world.

Pope Francis wrote that he thought it appropriate to issue this exhortation in order to collect the contributions of the two synods on the family and to include “other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue, and pastoral practice.” This document on love in the family is presented “as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.”

Amoris Laetitia re-affirms the biblical and Church teaching on the permanence of marriage. It confirms traditional teaching on marriage as a sacrament, on the necessity and characteristics of genuine love, on the erotic element of marriage, on the challenges to family life.  The document does not reject former teaching nor introduce teaching that is new. It is, however, an application of the truth of the Gospel to the present age. It sometimes re-captures insights that may have been neglected.

In that critical and criticized chapter eight, Pope Francis said that when the synod bishops discussed how to deal with couples in so-called ‘irregular situations,” the synod fathers reached a general consensus which he said he supports, namely, “In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them.”

He went on to say that “the Church acknowledges situations where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.” He was referring to statements made by Pope John Paul II (for example in his Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, September, 1981) and Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes, #51, where the council fathers acknowledged that “where the intimacy of married life is broken, it often happens that faithfulness is imperiled and the good of the children suffers…”

Pope Francis also points to situations where a husband or wife unjustly abandons the spouse, and the abandoned party enters into a second marriage for the sake of the children fully convinced that “the previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid.”  He immediately affirms that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes, but he notes too the statement of  the Synod Fathers which insists that “the discernment of pastors must always take place ‘by adequately distinguishing,’ with an approach which ‘carefully discerns situations’” (Amoris Laetitia, # 298).

Most Catholics are aware of the possibility of a Church-sanctioned declaration of nullity when the Marriage Tribunal judges consider the circumstances of the couple and the apparent marriage and find it fatally flawed. Some Catholics are aware of the application of  “internal forum” when sufficient evidence cannot be compiled to satisfy the judges and overturn the presumption that the marriage is valid. Amoris Laetitia (## 298-305) seems to be referring to this solution or one like it.

The exhortation specifically addresses the need to avoid “the notion that any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions,’ or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in  exchange for favors” (#300). At the same time the document warns pastors to avoid simply applying moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives” (#305).

Pope Francis acknowledged that “neither the Synod not this Exhortation can be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases….Priests have the duty to ‘accompany (the divorced and remarried) in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”( Ibid, #300).

But more directly Pope Francis insists that “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace….Therefore while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” (Ibid, ##301, 302).

There is, then, no template applicable to every couple or situation. Life is a lot messier than the application of law. Grey areas exist, and some critics of the pope and the exhortation cannot accept the ambiguities and discernments which must be factored into judging individual cases.

When a handful of critics among the hierarchy demands that Pope Francis answer their doubts, when they go public with their criticism, and when they threaten him with the possibility of making “a formal act of correction of a serious error,” it is possible to conclude that they are short in due discretion and humility and view the faith and moral standards through a legalistic prism . They see things simply in black and white and fail to acknowledge the grey areas and ambiguities of real life. Other hierarchs have welcomed the exhortation’s distinctions and direction. (The four prelates demanding that Pope Francis answer "yes" or "no" to their five questions concerning Amoris Laetitia are all cardinals: Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmiller, and Joachim Meiser.)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, as cardinal-designate, said that Amoris Laetitia cannot be reduced to a question of “yes” or “no.”  Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, described Amoris Lateitia as a call for a compassionate pastoral approach and one that is “in continuity with the teaching of recent popes.”

A tendency toward legalism among some church-people is understandable when we consider that the Church’s law code has 1752 entries. The final entry, however, includes an acknowledgment that “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”  It is reasonable to expect that there be critics of the document’s attempt to include both dogmatic, canonical and pastoral theology. Amoris Laetitia is Pope Francis’ effort to bring a sense of balance and apply them in real life situations with orthodoxy,  justice and  mercy.

This supreme law echoes what the Roman philosopher and lawyer Cicero said a hundred years before the coming of Christ: "Salus populi suprema lex esto” (De legibus 3.3.8). More recently, however, critics challenged another great teacher:  “…and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And he said love of God and love of neighbor summarize all the Law and the Prophets (Cf. Mt 22:35-40).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pope Francis Repairs The Church

 Pope Francis says what’s on his mind., especially when he is talking to Church leaders.

On September 16, 2016, he addressed  a meeting of ninety-four recently ordained bishops who were called to the Vatican, according to custom, for training in their new responsibilities.

As reported by the Vatican website  Pope Francis  offered them a warm welcome, explained that he was sharing  what was on  his mind as Peter’s successor, and urged them to  preach mercy as the summary of what God offers to the world.

He described their ministry as "an icon of mercy,”  adding that mercy is the only force able to permanently attract the human heart.

He then told the assembly (the translation here is mine not the Vatican’s) that “the world is tired of enchanting liars,” and he included in that category “stylish priests and fashionable bishops.”

He said that people run away from narcissists, manipulators and promoters of their own crusades. Bishops, he said, must seek to satisfy God, not themselves.

He warned them to be more concerned about the quality of their seminarians than the quantity, adding that they should be wary of any seminarian who takes  refuge in rigid attitudes.

Pope Francis offered the Good Samaritan as a model for the episcopal  ministry, noting that the one who was neighbor to the man who fell in  with robbers put mercy into action. “Verbs, not adjectives,” he said.

He further urged them, “Be close to your clergy,” and asked them to offer their priests a hug from the pope and  an assurance of his appreciation for their active generosity.

Two days earlier, in a General Audience,  Pope Francis had said, “It is bad for the Church when pastors become princes, separated from the people, far from the poorest -- that is not the spirit of Jesus. Jesus rebuked these pastors, and Jesus spoke about them to the people:, saying ‘Do as they say, not as they do.’”

Early on in his pontificate, in a June 21, 2013 address to papal representatives, Pope Francis was emphatic about  whom they might recommend for ordination as a bishop: “You know the famous expression that indicates a basic criterion in the choice of the person who must govern: si sanctus est oret pro nobis, si doctus est doceat nos, si prudens est regat nos — if he is holy let him pray for us, if he is learned, let him teach us, if he is prudent let him govern us.

“ In the delicate task of carrying out the investigation required prior to making episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people: this is the first criterion. Pastors close to the people….May they be fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of  'princes'

“Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they are not in quest of the episcopate. It is said that at an early audience Blessed John Paul II was asked by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops about the criterion for the selection of candidates for the episcopate, and the Pope said with his special voice: 'the first criterion: volentes nulumus'. Those who seek the episcopate.... no, they won’t do.”

It is reasonable to suppose that Pope Francis’ life story has contributed to his mindset about the clergy needed for today’s Church. He openly acknowledges the mistakes he made when he was at age 36 appointed in 1973 the Provincial Superior over all the Jesuits in Argentina and Uruguay.

Biographer Paul Vallely concludes that “something happened to Jorge Mario Bergoglio which changed him dramatically” when he was removed from the office of Provincial in 1987 and in 1990 was sent into a kind of exile in Cordoba, Argentina. In his two years there Father Bergoglio underwent a conversion.

Vallely says, “Before Cordoba his leadership style was that of a strict, severe, dutiful disciplinarian, authoritarian who rarely smiled…afterwards he became gentler, more forgiving, more concerned to preach mercy, more listening –and more anxious to empower the poor…”

Pope Francis’ ministry in many ways reflects the conversion and ministry of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. The founder of the Franciscan order said that one day in the chapel of San Damiano he heard a voice telling him, “Repair my church.” It is said that at first he thought he was to fix the church (which he did), but later herealized he was called to repair the Church!

Pope Francis is clearly working to make repairs, an overhaul –from the top to the bottom.

{Sources: Vatican website; Religion News Service article by Josephine McKenna (9/16/16); National Catholic Reporter online article by Robert Mickens (9/26/16), Pope Francis: The Struggle For The Soul Of Catholicism by Paul Vallely (Bloomsbury, 2015).}

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mother Teresa Inducted Into Church's Hall Of Fame

Sunday, September 4, 2016, marks the induction of  Mother Teresa of Calcutta into the Catholic Church's Hall of Fame.

Known for her dedication to caring for "the poorest of the poor," Mother Teresa did not escape criticism. Journalist Christopher Hitchens insisted that she did not really believe in God and that her life was a charade.

At the time of her funeral Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta said that Mother Teresa was aware of the criticism against her, but she would simply reply, "While you go on discussing causes and explanations, I will kneel beside the poorest of the poor and attend to their needs."

Most people were surprised if not shocked to learn that Mother Teresa spent perhaps as many as thirty-five years struggling with the doubt that God loved her. In a letter to her spiritual director, she wrote, "Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?"

On another occasion, at the direction of her confessor, Mother wrote a letter which she was told she should address to Jesus.She acknowledged, "In my heart there is no faith --no love --no trust --there is so much pain --the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted...The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal...In the call you said that I would have to suffer much.--Ten years --my Jesus, You have done to me according to your will."

To Bishop Laurence Picachy she revealed both the darkness that she felt but also the consolation she was beginning to discover: "You must have prayed very fervently for me --because it is now about a month that there is in my heart a very deep union with the will of God. I accept not in my feelings --but with my will, the Will of God. --I accept His will --not only for time but for eternity. --In my soul --I can't tell you-- how dark it is, how painful, how terrible. --My feelings are so treacherous."

Christopher Hitchens wrote that Mother Teresa's secret acknowledgment that she felt abandoned by God was proof that she was a hypocrite. A cartoon in the magazine Christianity Today ridiculed those who were shocked at Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul; a news reporter is shown saying, "In other news, people of faith were shocked to learn that a woman who devoted her entire life to chastity, poverty, and caring for lepers had experienced some bad days..."

Those who know of Mother Teresa's ministry and respect her dedication applaud the Church's decision to declare her a saint. Such an honor was deemed inevitable long before she died. She herself had said, however, "If I ever become a saint --I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from heaven --to light the light of those in darkness on  earth."

To say that our world needs the example and encouragement of a Mother Teresa is stating the obvious. Perhaps her canonization by the Church will serve as a reminder, challenge, inspiration that in some measure we are all called to reach out to those in need.

{The sources for this article include Mother Teresa, Faith in Darkness by Greg Watts (Lion Hudson, 2009); Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, edited and commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC (Doubleday, 2007); Teresa of the Poor by Renzo Allegri (Servant Publications, 1998).}

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tensions In Our Church Today

In every era, the Church has had its problems, from resolving the question of  whether Jesus is divine (Council of Nicea,  325) to whether some of the naked figures in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel should be painted over because they were deemed by some bishops to be indecent (Council of Trent, 25th session, 1563).

Our day is obviously not an exception. Among the issues facing the Church in the post-Vatican II era are these (in no particular order of importance or priority):

Refugee crisis: It is reported that over the past five years more than 1.5 million war-weary Syrians have crossed into Lebanon. Some 300,000 Somalis are living in refugee camps in a tent city in Dadaab in Kenya. Every day Mexicans seeking jobs slip through the loose borders separating them from the United States. In his September 23, 2015,meeting with the US Bishops, Pope Francis urged them to welcome immigrants: “I am certain that, as so often in the past, thee people will enrich America and its Church.”

Priest pedophilia crisis: Sex abuse by priests and bishops has rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world. Pope Francis’ June 4, 2016, motu proprio stipulates that any bishop who is negligent in response to sexual abuse by his clergy can be removed from office. The document says: “the diocesan bishop or the eparch or who has the responsibility for a particular church…can be legitimately removed from his position if he has, by negligence, placed or omitted acts which caused serious harms to others…”

Ordination of women as deacons: At a May, 2016, assembly in Rome of over 800 women religious (sisters and nuns),  Pope Francis was asked about the possibility of ordaining women as deacons, that is, admitting them to the status of clergy in the Church. He said he was open to establishing a commission to study the matter. Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants a greater role for women in the decision-making of the institutional Church.

Preaching the homily by lay people: Grass roots efforts are underway to encourage a change in the legal restriction of the homily at Mass to clergy alone. Some couch the matter in terms of women as preachers, but in fact the legislation applies to lay men as well. The US Association of Catholic Priests (AUSCP) addressed the issue at their June, 2016, assembly in Chicago, and overwhelming agreed to recommend that the United States Catholic Bishops ask for a change in the law, thus allowing lay persons to exercise the charism of preaching at Mass. The restriction against lay preaching of the homily rests on the idea that the homilist at Mass acts in persona Christi, which in some theologies is a designation restricted to the clergy. He who defines the terms wins the argument.

Other issues of discussion and contention:
Which comes first: catechesis or evangelization?
Women's roles in the Church
Shortage of priests
Closing or regionalizing parishes
Family Life Issues
Clergy: administrators or pastors?
Ordination of women as priests
LGBT rights
Poor celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy
English translation in the Roman Missal
Appropriate response to the poor, negelcted, abandoned
Gun control
John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”
Admission of divorced-and-remarried to Holy Communion
The environmental issues of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si
Married priests in the Roman Rite

From the start the Church has found it necessary to wrestle with conflicting opinions, theologies, and disciplines. The Church of our day is not an exception.. As it was in the beginning so now it is today – we need to pray for and listen to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

To acknowledge that the Church (at least in its members) is deeply flawed poses no threat to our accepting its divine core. I think often of Pope Benedict’s remark about the Church’s having a disfigured face. Our troubles as Church come both from without and from within. Frank acknowledgement of our brokenness keeps us humble, militates against our being self-referential, and promotes ongoing openness to the Spirit which Jesus promised to send.

 We do not have all the answers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Need More Priests

We need more priests.

Several studies have been published over the past four decades, and the statistics in one of those reports indicate that the number of Roman Catholic priests in the United States has declined from 58,534 in 1981 to 38,275 in 2012.

Recent stats for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati list 487 priests: 261 are diocesan priests, 226 are from religious orders. Most of the priests in religious orders are not assigned to parishes, but have other ministries. Of the diocesan priests 163 are active in the diocese, 5 are active outside the diocese, and 93 are retired/sick/absent.

The Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is 461,129 (out of a total population of 2,994,520).

The archdiocese is divided into 212 parishes, of which 149 have resident pastors and 63 are administered by non-resident priests.

Such a panoply of statistics can be mind-boggling, and somewhat impersonal. The “rubber meets the road,” however, when a parish is told, “You will now have to share a pastor with one or more of your neighboring parishes.”

As priests retire or are needed in other assignments, fewer priests are available to serve as full time pastors in one parish. As a consequence, many parishes share a pastor.

July 1 is the usual time in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for moving pastors and assigning new ones. For example, there is the Fort Recovery Cluster of Parishes (Mary Help of Christians Parish in Fort Recovery, St. Joseph Parish in St Joseph, St. Peter Parish in St Peter, and St. Paul Parish in Sharpsburg. They will need an associate pastor (aka parochial vicar).

Or there is a cluster made up of St. Joseph Parish, Wapakoneta, Immaculate Conception/St Lawrence in Botkins, and St John Evangelist Parish in Wapakoneta, with the pastor and an associate pastor covering seven weekend Masses. They will need an associate pastor.

And in the greater Cincinnati area is the pastoral region of St Anthony, St Cecilia and St Margaret/St John to be served by one pastor and one associate. St. Teresa, Covedale, and St. William, Price Hill, already share a pastor. St Vivian, Finneytown, and St Bartholomew, Cincinnati, share a pastor.  Years ago St. Peter and Paul, St Elizabeth, and St Matthew in Norwood combined to form Holy Trinity Parish.

Future plans call for St. Clare, College Hill, and Little Flower, Mt Airy, to share a pastor, and likewise for St Michael, Sharonville, and St Gabriel, Glendale.

These changes (forming pastoral regions or clustering under one pastor) are difficult for parishioners. The Mass schedules and other services to which they have become accustomed are likely to change.

Cincinnati Archbishop Karl J. Alter recognized back in the 1950s that his diocese was not ordaining enough priests to keep up with retirements and the increase in the Catholic population. And this forecast was made before the Second Vatican Council, which some Catholics have blamed for the growing priest shortage.

Happily the Archdiocese of Cincinnati celebrates this Spring the ordination of seven new priests. Their ministry is obviously needed.

The scarcity of  priests and the utmost importance of the Eucharist cry out for a change in the way we have been about the Father’s business. What are we to do?

The observation attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And likewise the wisdom of Alfred Lord Tennyson: The old order changeth yielding place to the new, and God fulfills himself in many ways.

We need more priests. I wonder what Paul would do. Prayer is obviously appropriate but maybe it is not enough. Perhaps God is waiting for us to do something. What shall we do?


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Can (May) Women Preach?

Articles in the March 1, 2016, issue of L’Osservatore Romano, generally regarded as a semi-official Vatican newspaper, raised again the question of whether women should be allowed to preach in the Catholic Church?

This issue differs from whether women should be ordained priests. In the Catholic tradition as opposed to many Protestant denominations “women as preachers” does not imply “women as ordained” ministers.

The question in the Catholic tradition is whether women can or may preach the Gospel, even in a church setting. Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People confirms that lay persons (men and women) have a role in the evangelizing mission of the Church.

Affirming the apostolate of the laity, the decree says, “the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen them, incite them to a more fervent life…” (Apostolicam actuositatem #6).

God gives a variety of gifts to the people, and each has “the right and the duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of human beings and the development of the Church…” (#3).

Experience amply demonstrates that some lay persons have the gift of preaching, and that some clergymen do not. Ordination does not necessarily confer the preaching charism on the one ordained.

If the question is “Can lay persons (men or women) preach?” the answer is that some have the manifest ability to do so and to do it well.

If the question is “May lay persons (men or women) preach?” the answer is that some have been authorized to do so and do so in accord with Church law.

Canon 766 acknowledges that “Lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstance or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to canon 767.1.”

Commentators on this law explain that the diocesan bishop can give permission for lay persons to preach. Lay persons, for example, do legitimately preach retreats, parish missions and days of reflection.

Canon 767, however, insists that preaching of the homily at Mass is reserved to a priest or deacon. Commentators on this law interpret the wording to imply that homilies in other liturgical contexts are not necessarily reserved to priests and deacons.

Although the articles in L’Osservatore Romano focused on women as preachers, legal restrictions about laity preaching a homily at Mass do not focus on “gender” or “the sex of the preacher,” but on whether the preacher is lay or clerical.

The question then is not whether women may preach, but rather whether  lay people may preach.

The issue of women as preachers, however, is of special concern to Dominican Sisters (two of the newspaper articles were by Dominican Sisters, Catherine Aubin and Madeleine Fredell) whose religious order is officially known as “the Order of Preachers.” The irony is palpable.

One argument against having women preach the homily is that lay preaching at that point in the liturgy violates the role of the priest-presider (or of the deacon) as one who preaches for the bishop. If women were ordained deacons then they could preach.

Another argument opposing women as preachers is that it would lead to ongoing and unwarranted feminization of the Church. Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that a radical feminist movement has strongly influenced the Church, leading to a complete collapse of the teaching of the faith and to rampant liturgical experimentation.

Some oppose the preaching of women in any church-setting basing themselves on 1 Corinthians: “As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate” (cf 14:33-34).

Arguments in favor of women as preachers of the homily include the realization that some women have the gift for preaching, that women can add a female perspective to Scripture and Church life that may escape the male perspective, that lay persons in general may be better suited to preach to women and/or children given their varying life experiences.

Enzo Bianchi, author of the primary article on women as preachers in L’Ossrervatore Romano, noted that there was time in the history of the church that  “preaching by the laity was also authorized in the liturgical setting and that in the Middle Ages even some women received this authorization from the Pope.” He added that the ban on lay preaching by the laity was raised by Pope Gregory IX in 1228.

That the Vatican just a few decades ago approved of lay persons preaching the homily is obvious from the Directory on Children’s Masses  (Pueros Baptizatos, November 1, 1973): “There is no reason why one of the adults should not preach a homily to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest has difficulty in adapting himself to the mentality of the children” (#24).

That the issue of women as preachers was raised again in a semi-official Vatican newspaper suggests that Pope Francis might be open to a change in Church discipline about lay preaching. He has said that he wants women to have a greater role in the Church, and this may be one of the ways in which to further this goal.

His concern for good preaching, for orthodoxy, and for recognizing charisms given to the faithful undermine the fear that unqualified, unorthodox, ill-prepared lay people would be authorized to preach the homily.

Perhaps the time has come for a more intimate inclusion of the laity (men and women) in evangelization and preaching.

Vatican II acknowledged, “It is a fact that many men cannot hear the Gospel and come to acknowledge Christ except through the laymen they associate with” (Apostolocam Actuositatem, #13).


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Church's Paradigm Shift In Our Time

We must be wary of mixing religion and science. On the one hand, the seventeenth century conflict between Pope Paul V/Pope Urban VIII and Galilei Galileo over whether ours was a sun-centered or earth-centered universe exemplified the danger. As Galileo put it, “Holy Writ was intended to teach men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

On the other hand, it is possible that students of religion and students of science can learn from one another.

Philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhns explained in his 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolution that scientific progress is “a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolution.”

He meant that there were eras when scientific theories gain acceptance and become the rule, but now and then there are times when new information challenges a strongly held theory and leads to a change in thinking. The paradigm shifts.

Commenting on Kuhns’ observation, science writer Simon Singh wrote in his book Big Bang that the shift in paradigms is often contentious, unfolding in several stages from one paradigm to another:

     1)     the shift requires that the new paradigm must be “properly fleshed out” in order to discredit the old paradigm;   2) the speed in the shift depends on “the weight of the evidence in favor of the new paradigm and the extent to which the old guard resists change”; 3)    the “older scientists, having invested so much time and effort in the old paradigm, are generally the last to accept the change, whereas younger scientists are generally more adventurous and open-minded" (p. 368).

Singh concluded, “The old paradigm might have prevailed for centuries, so a transition period that lasts a couple decades is still comparatively short.”

Perhaps that analysis of paradigm shift in the world of science is applicable to the world of religion, especially to the changes and potential paradigm shifts in the Catholic Church.

Pope John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council may be considered the start of a major paradigm shift in the Church. Vatican II was the first ecumenical council that was primarily pastoral in style, truly representative of a “world Church” (to use Karl Rahner’s term), and affirmative of the role and dignity of the laity in the modern world.

Although the Council’s meetings took place more than 50 years ago, the outcome, the vision, the direction and the dynamism are still fresh, still inviting reflection and still urging implementation.

Those who have been analyzing the papacy of Pope Francis recognize that a clear-cut shift in paradigm is taking place right now, in our time.

Austen Ivereigh titles his biography of Pope Francis: The Great Reformer. David Willey‘s book is The Promise of Francis, subtitled “The Man, The Pope, and the Challenge of Change.” Massimo Faggioli’s latest is Pope Francis – Tradition in Transition. Richard Gaillardetz has published An Unfinished Council, with the sub-title “Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the Renewal of Catholicism.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper provides theological and pastoral perspectives in Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love. Kasper maintains that “the challenge of this pontificate is far more radical than most suspect. It is a challenge for conservatives, who don’t want to let themselves be surprised any more by God and who resist reforms, just as it is for progressives, who expect feasible, concrete solutions right here and now” (p.92). He describes Pope Francis’ revolution in one word: “It is a revolution of mercy” (p. 93).

Although it is Gaillardetz’s thesis that Vatican II is as yet “an unfinished council,” he acknowledges, “I do not wish to diminish the extent to which Pope Francis’ postconciliar predecessors were ‘popes of the council’…However, no postconciliar pope, in my view, can match Pope Francis’s comprehensive and integrated retrieval of not just one teaching or another but of the council’s deeper reformist impulse” (p. 135).

Faggioli describes Pope Francis’ election as “an unprecedented step toward the fulfillment of what the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner called “the world Church,” that is, a third macro-period of its history (after the Judeo-Christianity of its origins and the church of Hellenism and of Greek-Latin culture) with the self-realization of the Church as a church in the global dimension through the incarnation of Catholicism in different cultures” (p. 61).

Willey notes, “The Pope’s vivid language is unlike anything heard coming out of the Vatican during recent papacies. It may not please some Catholics, and it is certainly causing a degree of consternation among the Vatican administration accustomed to running things their way” (p. 11).

Ivereigh recalls remarks Pope Francis made to retreatants when he was Cardinal Bergoglio, criticizing the Church for failing to evangelize, saying that the problem is “we have Jesus tied up in the sacristy.” Ivereigh writes, “Citing a verse from the Book of Revelation about Jesus standing at the gate, calling, Bergoglio said he had come to see that it wasn’t about Jesus knocking to be let in, but about Jesus being trapped on the inside, asking to be let out” (p.347-48).

We in these first decades of the 21st century are experiencing a paradigm shift in religion and most especially in the Catholic Church. It is likely that the stages of scientific paradigm shifts as described by Singh will be reproduced in the paradigm shift of religion and Church. Recent history suggests it is so.

It took a long time (and great conflict) to overcome science's earth-centered paradigm replacing it with a sun-centered one. Pope Urban was sure that  he was right and that Galileo was wrong, but in the end the truth won out.

Despite the conflicts in the present age of the Church, we have confidence that the true direction and balance for the Church will emerge, perhaps without violent revolution, resulting in a new paradigm not of dogma but of pastoral care, in being less European and more world-inclusive, in employing lay ministry as well as the hierarchical.

It is reported that after re-canting (at the pope’s insistence) his conviction that the earth revolves around the sun, Galileo murmured, “Eppur si muove!” –“and yet it moves!”

Despite the conviction of some that the Church must not, cannot change, there remains the God of surprises, the movement of the Holy Spirit, the direction set by Vatican II, and the evidence that “Eppur si muove!”

Friday, March 4, 2016

Praying For Priestly Vocations

I believe in praying for vocations to the priesthood.

After all, according to the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Though the laborers in this saying are missionaries, not specifically identified as priests, Church usage often applies Jesus’ request to the priestly vocation.

Some have charged that the Second Vatican Council and its after-math are the reasons for the decline in vocations to the Roman Catholic priesthood, but others offer some evidence that the decline really began because of the societal and cultural changes which followed World War II.

One anecdotal piece of evidence to support a pre-Vatican II shortage is Cincinnati Archbishop Karl J. Alter’s pointing out in 1959 (well before Vatican II) that there was a “threatening shortage of priests for the immediate future” (cf Faith and Action: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati 1821-1996 by Roger Fortin, Ohio State University Press, 2002, p. 283).

Alter’s concern was based on the age of the clergy and the increase of the Catholic population; he estimated that the archdiocese would need to ordain 100 priests over the next ten years just to replace the current number of priests, “but to meet expanding growth, the number should be nearer 150 priests, or a rate of 15 ordained each year” (ibid).

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati expects to ordain seven men to the priesthood in May of 2016. Given the number of pastors who currently are pastoring more than one parish, the newly ordained class is welcome but far less than adequate in numbers to meet current need.

I’ve been wondering what St Paul would do if he were to make a missionary visit to an area of a diocese and find that two or more parishes were sharing a pastor. It is pure conjecture on my part, but my hunch is that Paul would seek out in one of the parishes a man of suitable quality and appoint him as pastor.

When I stand at the altar as presider at Sunday liturgy I often see one or more men in the congregation who could easily be doing what I am doing.

In the rite for ordination of a man to the priesthood, the ordaining bishop reviews the qualities and responsibilities expected of the candidate, namely that he be resolved to discharge the office of priesthood in the presbyteral order as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishops, that he faithfully and religiously celebrate the mysteries of Christ, that he exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, that he consecrate his life to God for the salvation of his people.

I think I see in the Sunday morning assembly men who meet those criteria.

Vatican II described the priest as one taken from among men and appointed for them in the things that appertain to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, to live with the rest of men as with brothers (Presbyterorum Ordinis, #3). And the qualities expected in priests “are goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, careful attention to justice, courtesy and others which the apostle Paul recommends” in Philippians 4:8 (ibid).

A number of lay married men in the congregation exemplify those virtues, and could be chosen for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, especially in those parishes where the people of God are deprived of the celebration of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation.

Is it the rule of celibacy that prevents such ordination? Back in 1987 a non-Catholic professor at Vanderbilt University asked me point blank, “When will your Church decide which is more important: celibacy or Eucharist?”  

I believe in praying for vocations to the priesthood, but I must admit that sometimes I think I hear the Lord say in response, “I have called men to such service, but they have not yet been chosen.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Communal Absolution and the Mercy of God

The Year of Mercy is underway, and among Pope Francis’ hopes for this Jubilee Year is “placing the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent it will be a source of true interior peace” (Misericordiae Vultus, #17).

He also proposed that “The initiative of  '24 Hours for the Lord'  (an opportunity for celebrating the Sacrament of Penance) to be celebrated on the Friday and Saturday preceding the Fourth Week of  Lent, should be implemented in every diocese” (17).

“Bishops,” he continued, “are asked to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation with their people so that the time of grace offered by the Jubilee Year will make it possible for many of God’s sons and daughters to take up once again the journey to the Father’s house” (18).

I had hoped that the Holy Father’s invitation to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation would include permission to use the third form of the sacrament more freely, that is, “The Rite For Reconciliation of Penitents With General Confession and Absolution,” or more popularly known as “Communal Absolution.”

The Second Vatican Council called for a revision of the rite and formulas of Penance “so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #72).

The final revision offered three sacramental possibilities: 1) private confession and absolution; 2) communal service with private confession and absolution, and 3) the communal service with general absolution.

In his book The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Liturgical Press, 2001) Father David Coffey, STD, refers to a commentary by Father Franco Sottocornola, secretary of the second commission charged with revising the sacrament, which indicates that the committee expected the third form of the rite (communal celebration/general absolution) would be the one used most often.

Coffey provides his translation of Sottocornola's assessment of the three forms: ""The first better favors personal conversion...The second permits the development of a critical conscience in the community as such, a communal engagement...The third permits a more frequent reception of the sacrament than would otherwise be possible..." Sottocornola's article appeared in 1974, "Les nouveaux rites de la penitence commentaire," Questiones liturgiques 55.

Coffey notes, “The frequency which Sottocornola anticipated for the celebration of the third rite in the average parish was once a month" (p. 168).

However, the  new Rite of Penance was promulgated with rubrics which  insisted that individual, complete confession and reception of absolution was the sole, ordinary means for reconciliation with God and the Church. The only exceptions to this rule were if there existed some moral or physical impossibility to use the sole, ordinary means.

The Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in protocol number 800/73 decreed that, “Unless there is a good reason preventing it, those who receive pardon for serious sins through general absolution are to go to individual confession as soon as they have the opportunity before any further reception of general absolution” (Rite of Penance, #34). Thus if conditions of moral or physical impossibility should exist, the penitent must have the resolution to confess in due time any serious sins according to the sole, ordinary means.

Coffey writes, “At a time when the number of clergy was already dwindling, and when, as a result of the reform, personal confession had become more demanding than it had been before, it was envisaged that the majority of people would settle for the third rite as their normal way of receiving the sacrament, with the first (private confession) received occasionally according to spiritual desire or need and preceded by a more intense period of preparation” (p. 167).

I had hope that Pope Francis would allow the use of the third form during this Year of Mercy. In the very least the third form, I believe, would be appropriate for youngsters who are expected to go to confession before First Communion.

If we wish to give expression to Christ’s mercy in this Jubilee Year, the third form of the rite would joyfully demonstrate the prodigality of  God’s forgiveness, mercy and love.