The Vatican Stirs It Up

By , April 30, 2012 4:32 am

Sr. Ane Monica Nguyen CSC, Sister Joan Marie Steadman CSC and Sister Julie McGuire CSC

Last week, the Vatican issued its long awaited report on the status of religious women in the United States. The study was brought into existence by Vatican concerns about the inner life of religious communities, and what the Holy See considered to be “questionable positions” in a number of areas such as the role of women in the church, including the ordination of women. The study went on for three years, and while the report has been given to the major Superiors of women’s communities, it has not as yet been made public.
Along with the report came some administrative decisions: for example, three bishops have been appointed to oversee the activities of women’s communities, and these bishops have been given jurisdiction over many administrative details as to how they are to function.
The first known and not surprising reaction of the leadership was shock. However, they have displayed real calmness and want to internalize this new situation before taking a more public stance.
To me, this is amazing. Every human organization has problems in structures and in organization (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church). However, the Church leadership is running the risk of further alienating, discouraging and antagonizing one of its greatest assets in building the Church. It won’t take long for us to see how this will work out, but my own respect, awe, and love for the Vowed Religious women in our Church is such that I would like start a series of blog entries to highlight my wonderful experiences with them, and to share their extraordinary accomplishments- often without adequate support. Stay tuned!

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An Awesome Promise

By , April 28, 2012 5:42 am

April 29th, Fourth Sunday of Easter
Today’s Gospel excerpt is one of the shortest that we use in the entire liturgical year. It is only about four sentences. What a joyful message coming from the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth. They contain promises and those promises are made to you and to me.

Jesus says that when we hear his voice he knows us and expects us to follow him. In walking in his footsteps, we will be given eternal life and never perish. Our spiritual future is secure and no evil force can snatch us out of the hand of Jesus. This flows from the fact that the Father is greater than all and has given Jesus those who believe in him. He points out that he and the Father are one and we then remember that on the basis of our baptism we are one with Jesus and, therefore, we are one with the inner-life of the Trinity.

These words are so beautiful but you need to go and look at the whole text of the Gospel. These words were uttered by our Sacred Lord at a time when people are yelling at him and screaming at him and demanding that he explain who he is and what he is about. He does explain. They did not hear. But you and I have heard him. Thanks be to God.

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Closed Minds – Closed Doors

By , April 27, 2012 5:35 am

An outspoken Australian bishop is generating a lot of interest in the discussion of the need for changes in the Church’s administrative structure and how it operates, deals with conflict and handles dialogue. I am referring to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson who was removed from office by the Holy See over a year ago for publicly expressing his views that the Church needed to confront and resolve views on certain areas like the shortage of priests and conduct a thorough review on the Church’s overall positions on human sexuality. The Vatican then removed him from office! Nevertheless, Bishop Robinson continues to challenge the Church to face some really very difficult issues.

Bishop Robinson is now on a lecture tour. Speaking in Chicago to a very mixed audience, including about 150 priests, Bishop Robinson stated that the roots of the decades long clergy sex abuse scandal lie not in any set of rules or practices, but are found deep in the culture of the Church itself-

The “major fault” of the Church in the scandal, Robinson said, is that it “refuses to look at any teaching, law, practice or even attitude of the Church itself as in any way contributing to the crisis. In studying abuse, we must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads rather than impose in advance the limitations that our study must not demand change in any teaching or law.”

It is reported that his brother bishops were upset with his lecture tour and that Cardinal Roger Mahoney, then the Archbishop of Los Angeles, had denied Robinson permission to speak in the Archdiocese.

The Church certainly has many problems but one that always saddens me is an utter inability to enter into direct dialogue in areas or subjects that are either controversial or uncomplimentary to the Church. Today, the Church is badly battered and only an honest confrontation of its structural weaknesses will enable us to get out of this morass.

I side bar: In keeping with this, I noted that Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts withdrew an invitation to Mrs. Ted (Vicki) Kennedy as a commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree. In doing so, the local bishop stated that he was merely following the 2004 statement that, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.

Does dialogue in the Church always have to be a one-way street?

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A Quiet and Relaxing Weekend

By , April 26, 2012 5:45 am

Yesterday I mentioned the wonderful presence in the modern Church structure of retreat houses run both by dioceses and the religious communities. It is really a great spiritual gift. Their number is increasing and I am sure that it will continue to expand in the years ahead. These facilities are used not only for the traditional retreat but for weekends and special days of formation, such as the Cursillos, and the Christ Renews His Parish formation program. Most of these places run about 50 programs a year on weekends and those wanting to use them have to make reservations months and months in advance. That is really a wonderful problem to have!

Principally, the retreat is a time of withdrawal from our usual hectic pace, a time to be present at Mass each day of the retreat, to do spiritual reading, listen to special spiritual presentation aimed at the particular group that is gathered on that weekend, being open to the Holy Spirit, open to God’s presence in our lives and to allow him to enter into our hearts. I am certainly happy that this apostolate is making great progress and getting stronger and stronger. Yet, in terms of being able to serve the whole Catholic population, there is much more that needs doing.

Austin is blessed to have two wonderful retreat centers. One is Cedarbrake Retreat Center, P. O. Box 58, Belton, Texas 76513 (254) 780-2436. The other is Eagle’s Wings, 2805 RR 2341, Burnet, Texas 78611 (512) 715-0017. This latter one specializes in programs for young people.

When your parish bulletin announces that there is a parish retreat coming up in two or three weeks ask yourself if you could use a weekend of rest, relaxation mixed with God’s grace and your own hunger for the Divine.

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“Go Out Into the Whole World…”

By , April 25, 2012 5:40 am

One of our Lord’s last commands to his apostles was that they should prepare to go out into the whole world to preach the Gospel, the good news of God’s love for the human family and to teach those who would listen that which Jesus himself had taught the apostles. For the last 2,000 years, the Church has been attempting to do that. Sometimes in some places it has been done with great success. Sometimes the going was tough and often violent and dangerous for the preachers.

The spoken word delivered by believers who arrived by foot is still today an important form of evangelization. The Church has reached out to every other possible media that is formed in the world. Records, books, TV serials, movies – all of these and more have been used as the Church endeavors to carry out that all important directive. In this country for the last 150 years, the greatest single effort was made in the area of Catholic schools. From kindergarten through the university, the Church developed an absolutely extraordinary system. While costs have certainly diminished the number of schools over the last 30 years, the system remains strong and continues to be a major component of the Church’s missionary efforts. While its education ministry is certainly an asset to the Church, it is a tremendous gift to those who are able to attend and to the larger society as well.

Let me mention one other important tool for evangelization and spiritual development. That is a rather recent development. I am referring to the retreat house. Every diocese in Texas now has a retreat house and several of them, like Dallas and Galveston-Houston, have several. I think that one of the reasons that the retreat movement has grown so strong in the last 40 or 50 years is because it has been going on at exactly the same time as our school system has been contracting somewhat. It is an excellent example of how the Church when blocked from advancing in one direction will find a way to move ahead in yet another.

I will mention more about the importance of retreat houses tomorrow.

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Remembering? The Titanic, Yes – Vatican II, No!

By , April 24, 2012 5:47 am

50th Anniversary

I was thrilled to see that in the last week of March all the dioceses of France sent leaders and representatives to a major session in Lourdes in order to prepare for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. That is now fifty years ago.

I was also fascinated by the way that this country has memorialized the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It was an agonizing story reflecting, as most human events do, both heroism and cowardice. It is natural for Americans to remember such a catastrophic event, but should American Catholics not also be memorializing the Second Vatican Council? Many young Catholics know nothing about the Council and even those of us who are older are affected by the effects of the passage of a half a century. I would hope that the American bishops would decide to use their energies and vast resources to properly communicate the most important religious event of the last 200 years. I am sure somebody is working on it but I have not heard about it yet. If we should not mark this awesomely important event, it would give many the impression that many leaders in the Church would just as soon forget that it ever happened. Oh, do I want to be wrong on this one.

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More About Why They Left

By , April 23, 2012 4:36 am

My heartfelt congratulations to Bishop David O’Connell, the Bishop of Trenton, NJ. He is endeavoring to resound to a pressing problem in the church in the United States. A number of times in my blog, I have referred to the fact that the second largest religious community in the United States is the group that can only be identified as former Roman Catholics. While every bishop is aware of this painful fact, I don’t see any meaningful response manifesting itself across the country until Bishop O’Connell decided to lift the rock and see what was going on.
He commissioned Fr. Bill Byron S.J., former president of the Catholic University of America, and presently professor of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University, to interview as many former Catholics as possible and report to the bishop as to the reasons for their departure.
The reasons were many and varied, and can’t all be reported here. The interesting thing is that without exception the respondents clearly welcomed the opportunity to express their opinions. Doesn’t this point to the fact that most Catholics don’t feel that there is an easy way to contribute their views to their religious leaders- whether they be pastors or bishops? Fr. Byron stresses that this shows the wisdom of finding ways for all Catholics to post their views, somehow on the record, with an assurance they will be heard.
Obviously the sexual scandal was a devastating blow to the Church, and the damage continues (to both the victims and the Church), but most respondents had more personal concerns. One of the most common complaints was the Church’s failure to fully accept divorced and remarried parishioners. They then went on to call out for better spiritual guidance, improved priest training (to respond to the poor preaching that seemed so common in parishes), and the return to the spirit of openness that generated so much hope following the second Vatican Council.
The list goes on and on, but I would like to add my own opinion here. I feel that for a large percent of Catholics in the United States, there is the absence of joy in their day to day church life. Sunday liturgies frequently lack beauty and meaning. Dealing with the Church is so often overly legalistic, and the fundamental Christian message of God’s infinite love for each and every one of us does not seem to get through adequately.
Onward through the fog.

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Come To Know Jesus…

By , April 21, 2012 5:35 am


April 22nd, Third Sunday of Easter
Today, the Church continues the thrilling celebration of the reality of the Resurrection. The Gospel narrative is from St. Luke’s and it rapidly joins the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the confusion and stumbling of his first followers. The story describes two of Jesus’ disciples, not the apostles, who were walking towards the small town of Emmaus just outside of Jerusalem. There is a mysterious stranger with them and he begins to ask questions about their concern and nervousness. They seem to be astounded that he has not heard about the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. The stranger then calms them down and explains what has happened and why and reveals that it is Jesus himself. I love the next sentence. “They were incredulous for sheer joy and wonder…” And then Jesus said, “Have you anything to eat?” Even in the immediate aftermath of the Resurrection, we see Jesus realistic and very earthly in a heavenly way.

After the meal (was it the first Mass?), they fully realized who was with them and Jesus disappears. The disciples then said to each other, “Did our hearts not burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us.” Do we not think this way after communion at Sunday Mass? Being conscious of Christ’s presence within us and within the whole community gathered around the altar our hearts should burn and we should share today in the joy of that day 2,000 years ago.

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Coming – A New American Saint!

By , April 20, 2012 5:59 am

It has been many years since I heard his name or thought about his life but in the Easter edition of America magazine an article reignited my interest and admiration of this extraordinary man.

I am talking about Father Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., an American Jesuit, born in Pennsylvania in 1904 and died in 1984. I share the Jesuits enthusiasm and happiness that the Vatican has now given formal permission for the canonization process to begin for this wonderful American priest.

Father Ciszek as a young man volunteered to go to serve as a missionary in Poland. When the German army rolled over Poland in 1939 Ciszek became a refugee moving into Russia. Following the war, the Russians falsely accused him of being a spy. After five years of brutal interrogation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Amazingly, he survived both of these experiences. In 1963, President Kennedy secured his release from Russia and he returned to the United States where he would later write two extraordinarily powerful and popular books, With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me.

This man’s life was truly amazing. His heroism, patience and, yes, let me mention here, forgiveness, for he carried no bitterness against those who caused his terrible experience, is really an example of a follower of Jesus. May God bless the Jesuits and may God bless Father Ciszek.

I think that canonization of men and women of this caliber will do much to bring the various factions of the Church in the United States closer together, and maybe once again we can be Catholics and not liberal Catholics or conservative Catholics.
Coming – A New American Saint!

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A New Age of Martyrs?

By , April 19, 2012 4:50 am

A few centuries back when the Catholic Church enjoyed (suffered?) tremendous power, that power was frequently misused and abused. Those desiring to push the anti-Catholic agenda are quick to draw historic images of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and even the obvious wealth of the Church today, a wealth that is most obvious in buildings and real estate, which frequently are far more of a liability than an asset.

Putting all that aside, however, it is necessary that Christians should become more sensitive to the fact that they are an oppressed people, not in the West, but across much of the globe. The Catholic relief agency (Aid to the Church in Need) estimates that 150,000 Christians die for their faith every year in locales ranging from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to sub-Sahara Africa and parts of Latin America. This means that every hour of every day roughly 17 Christians are killed somewhere in the world either out of hatred for the faith or hatred for works of charity and justice that their faith compels them to perform.

Look at Iraq for example. Prior to the first Gulf War, there were more than 2 million Christians in Iraq, the vast majority being Roman Catholic while today, there are between three and four hundred thousand. This is a tragic loss on the world scene and no one seems to be paying much attention to it.

Catholics should endeavor to ease up on their inner family conflicts between liberals and conservatives, and rekindle the missionary thrust that is so much a part of its essential nature. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Yes, that is true. But his coming greatly depends on the missionary element of his Church.

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