He made the front page everywhere from New York to Los Angeles and everything in-between. He was not an elected official. He was not a bishop. He was simply an extraordinary Catholic priest. I am talking about Father Andrew Greeley, a priest who was ordained for and loved Chicago and the Archdiocese that served it. Andy Greeley was an extraordinarily productive writer most of his books falling either into novels or very meaningful social studies. He made lots of money but gave most of it away.
Along with being priest, author and sociologist, Andy Greeley was also an outstanding critic. With a blistering pen, he would deflate much of the political nonsense that surrounds us. But with both tongue and pen, he could do the same thing with ecclesiastical bureaucrats. Andy loved the Church with all his heart and served it generously until his death last week, but he knew that in this chapter the Church has a tremendous need for both honesty and integrity. Andy delivered on both!
He loved and admired Monsignor George Higgins, my boss in Washington, D.C., and we were all very good friends… until I became a bishop, at which point Andy was afraid I had “gone to the other side”.
The Church benefitted greatly from this man’s courage, but even more from his extraordinary faith!
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My guess is that nearly every newspaper in the United States ran a picture on the front page of its newspaper the other day. It was an amazing sight. Two men were walking side by side to an open area. Nobody else was in the photo. They looked rather ordinary while walking together with their open neck shirts but they symbolized an extraordinary reality. The two men were Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, the Presidents of the United States and China. No doubt about it. At this moment they are the two most powerful men on the planet.
The meeting was an excellent idea. They are both human beings and if they can get to know each other in a relaxed and trusting manner, the world will be a safer place.
Think about it. The two most powerful men in the world and neither one is WHITE! Does that say anything about the changes happening on this planet? For convenience sake, we erroneously describe the various clusters of human beings on this planet as white, brown, yellow and black. Not one of those adjectives is actually accurate but we are used to using them.
The whites have run the planet for a long time. They have done it with a modest amount of efficiency and, unfortunately, an enormous amount of cruelty.
Happily, the meeting mentioned above is a reflection that the human family is on the threshold of the opportunity for global unity. Paralleling that thought is that similarly, in our faith, we know and teach that we are all under one tent- humanity. God’s children. I also believe that Catholicism’s innate universality can make a major contribution to the world’s quest for unity. We pray for all the changes that are coming.
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My first appointment as a pastor was to All Saints Church in Houston in 1963. It was a wonderful parish with a thriving school, 56 years old and so it had been doing the work of the Lord for more than half a century. That should have been quite a story but when I went through everything in the office I was able to find nothing other than the check book and the sacramental records. At least those had been maintained. What about the decision to build the school in 1920? What about the struggle to pay off the new church built in 1928 just before the Depression began? What about old photos of the original church built in 1907? What about the interesting priests and sisters who had come and gone over the years? Nothing of any historical nature was maintained.
When I was a diocesan bishop I tried to get parishes to keep good track of what had occurred in the life of the parish and most especially to update that history periodically. I have to admit that I wasn’t overly successful in this area but one parish did stand out. It was the Church of the Visitation in Westphalia, Texas. Visitation Parish started back in 1883 so the message of Jesus has been proclaimed there for about 130 years and the people of Westphalia, good German stock that they are, have really kept the memory alive. They have a well organized historical society that ties both the parish and the larger community together and now they even have a museum. These parishioners want to remember the heroism and courage of their faithful predecessors who went through very difficult agricultural declines, endured the hostility so unfairly present in the First World War and sent their children off to battle time and time again. They know that and they don’t want to ever forget it.
Next year the whole community will gather to celebrate on Memorial Day, May 26th. Why don’t you ask your pastor if a proper history of your parish is being maintained? We should always appreciate and never forget those who have gone before us.
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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 16th
What a scene! All of us are used to reading through the four Gospels and while they in general have a rather steady flow, from time to time something really jumps out at us. I think that today’s excerpt from the 7th chapter of St. Luke is a good example of that.
The scene reflects that Jesus, who has been preaching throughout the countryside, has accepted an invitation to dinner from one of the Pharisees. That is one of the religious factions that was most opposed to him during his public life. That says a lot about our Lord, doesn’t it?
Sometimes the bishops reflect a very limited approach to communication. They don’t want to talk to anybody who is not in complete agreement with them. Today’s Gospel excerpt reflects that Jesus was more than willing to reach out to people of different views and values.
Sitting at the dining room table of his Pharisee host, a woman suddenly appears on her knees before him. Saying nothing, she begins to anoint his bare feet weeping, weeping, weeping as she did so. Being the Pharisee that he is, he goes straight to rash judgments. Doesn’t Jesus know that this woman is a prostitute? Why doesn’t he push her away? How can he be a holy man if he allows this sort of a woman to approach him?
The rest flows naturally. Jesus points out to the hypocritical Pharisee, and to you and to me, that we should never be frightened because of past sinfulness or moral mistakes. Those of us who have sinned gravely will be embraced all the more strongly by our Divine Lord when we come to him in sorrow. We also hear what the woman heard. When we are sorry our sins the voice of Jesus comes into our lives with this magnificent sentence. “Your sins are forgiven.”
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I continue to be in awe of the new reality that the Church is experiencing with the election of Pope Francis. There are so many interesting aspects of it and of course the most important is that the Church really needs to endeavor to implement the values of Francis of Assisi in a very realistic manner.
Let’s look at the time frame. When Francis was beginning his community of what would later bear his name, he was calling for a life in the Church of poverty, simplicity and humility.
Who was pope at that time? It was Innocent III. Innocent III was exercising the papacy at the point of its highest power in history. Church leadership symbolized wealth, prestige, honor and every other type of exaggerated adulation. There you have them – Francis of Assisi and Innocent III…what a contrast! To a great extent there are contrasts in the Church today that are somewhat similar to those occurring in the 13th century.
Prior to the time of Innocent III the dominant title for the pope was “Successor of Peter.” It was Innocent III who began to use the title “Vicar of Christ” and it is in use to this day.
Our new pope has gotten off to a great start showing by example that the strength of the Church is dependent upon faith in Jesus Christ and the exaggerated use of worldly symbols of wealth and power should be kept at a minimum. Churches and church vestments need to be dignified and fitting but ostentation should be kept at a minimum. Liturgical reformers have been pointing this out for decades but it has taken a new pope to get everyone’s attention and begin to be properly guided by it.
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As I have said before, things are beginning to quiet down about our new pope and I think people are being more thoughtful about what his election might mean. Currently, there is great optimism and joy because this man has demonstrated in a very concrete manner that, both in his personal work style and in his leadership in the Universal Church, we will most likely see a startlingly difference in the manner and mode of operation unveiled before us as this papacy moves forward.
Let’s go back to the time of St. Francis himself. The name of the pope was Innocent III and he was one of the most powerful popes in the history of the Church and sadly the papacy was extraordinarily wealthy and flaunted that wealth despite the agonizing poverty of the vast majority of the faithful.
It is in that category that God calls forth the great symbol that is Francis of Assisi. Born wealthy, catered to as a member of the upper class, he turned around, rejected all of it and embraced the life of the poor. Was he successful? The Church has declared countless men and women over the centuries to be in heaven, to be saints, but no one, no other saint has captured the imagination of the faithful as has this brown robed, sandal wearing man of poverty. He has captured the imagination of hundreds of millions across the world and has held it for lo these seven centuries. And now we have a pope who is making Francis his model. Pope Francis is a human being and the challenges before him are enormous, but if he can capture and deliver in the papacy the poverty, humility and simplicity of Francis of Assisi, the Church will begin a new era more effectively bringing the message of Jesus to the world.
If Pope Francis can be more like Francis of Assisi, that simply means that he will be extraordinarily Christ-like. Filled with optimism as we are, let us pray for that joyous outcome.
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St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (Image: Grimes)
There are approximately 20,000 Roman Catholic parishes in the United States. In my early assignments as a priest, I traveled so much for the Church that I sometimes think that I have seen about half of them. They reflect every possible variation in architecture and design, size, location and neighborhood but there is something wonderful and mysterious about each and every one of them. I regret that the tradition that was strong when I was a kid seems to have gradually been lost and that is as you drive or walk in front of a church you bow your head and bless yourself with the sign of the cross. Why? Because we believe that on the other side of those doors Jesus of Nazareth is truly present in a very special way.
The parish is not a set of buildings. It is rather a community of faith and we live out our faith in many ways but most especially by those awesome moments of spirituality where we are touched, in contact with, close to and aided by the real presence of Jesus of Nazareth. At baptism, we are made his adopted brothers and sisters. At the Eucharist, we receive him as the nourishment for our souls as we continue our journey towards salvation. At the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are lifted from our knees and told to go forward with confidence. When we marry the bond is not established merely by affection or by the law of the State of Texas but a bond is permanently made by our common faith in our Divine Lord. Finally, when the journey is over those who share our faith gather for the Last Anointing and they lift our lives, with all of its triumphs and defeats, towards God and present our life to him from whence we came and our salvation is at hand.
Yes, when we pass a church we should not be confused by the architecture. The building profoundly symbolizes the faith that brought it into existence – faith that is real, profound and calls for reverence.
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It is hard to be a Roman Catholic and not clearly understand that the priesthood is one of the key building blocks of the Church across the world. There is, of course, that famous story about the fact that the Church in Japan is able to keep itself alive for several generations without priests but that is the only exception in the last 2,000 years with which I am familiar. Priests are those among us whom the Church has called to serve as ministers. They are crucially important in the day-to-day life of the Church and, oddly enough, at the present time the priesthood itself is under attack in some quarters as being unnecessary. Gary Wills, a famous author who has made a good living off criticizing the Church, has just completed a new book, “Why Priests?”
Whether under attack or not from without, the issue of priests in the Church can be observed and measured in a very real sense with simply numbers. In 2013, 497 men are being ordained to the priesthood both in dioceses and in religious communities. On average, that is less than two priests per diocese for the country! I don’t have the figures on the number of priests who died that year but those who lived are all one year older! I pray constantly that the Church leadership will confront the train wreck that is getting closer and closer in the life of the Church of the 21st century.
In my lifetime I have seen the Church grow weaker all over Europe and in a very special and tragic way in Ireland. In Guatemala and Brazil and most other South American countries we are seeing once Roman Catholic cultures experiencing a dramatic drop off in Church membership with a corresponding explosive growth of Pentecostal churches. The biggest single problem in this part of the world is a tragic scandalous absence of adequate number of Catholic priests.
I salute and congratulate those bishops, vocation directors, seminary professors and all those who have worked so hard over the last 30 or 40 years to change this constant and dangerous decline but I honestly believe that none of them are capable of resolving the issue that is before us.
Vocations grow out of faith-filled families. Vocations grow out of domestic environments where Jesus Christ is the center of life. Vocations flower when young men and women see that their parents understand the true meaning of life and live by a set of values that is in keeping with God’s message. We really need families and individual Catholics as well who are comfortable, or more accurately joyful, in living their faith in a very outward way, living their faith in a way that reflects the effects of loving Jesus Christ – joy, generosity, courage and a multitude of other virtues that really make life not just bearable but an exuberant experience.
Vocation programs and better vocation materials will not make the difference. Only faith, deep faith, will do it.
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Texas and Mexico are important neighbors. We share a border for many hundreds of miles and Mexico is a frequent destination for American citizens in general but especially Texans. The land is beautiful, resorts abound, and the costs are lower than those to be found in the United States.
Over the last 50 years, Mexico has been making steady economic progress. For the last 20 years, there has been measurable movement towards a balanced and more fair political system. Tourism, which is one of Mexico’s main sources of income, has taken a tremendous dip because of the violence to be found especially in the northern part of the country just below its border with the United States but the new president is committed to making much more progress in that area.
Those tourists that I mentioned earlier almost always think that Mexico is a Catholic country. Look at all those churches. Watch the cab driver bless himself as he turns out into the fast moving traffic. You never see a home or apartment down there that doesn’t have a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe mounted on the wall. But Mexico is not a Catholic country or if it is a Catholic country, only to a very limited extent.
The Church is Mexico had made steady progress as long as that portion of North America was ruled by the Spanish Empire. When a series of revolutions succeeded in freeing Mexico from Spain’s control and establishing the Republic, mistakes that the Church had made earlier had to be atoned for. Spain was blessed by an enormous number of vocations, both priests and religious women, so the Church in Mexico did not do enough to develop leaders from the Mexican people. After the Revolution of 1821, the Spanish priests were expelled and only a few native priests were available. During the next one hundred years, most political leaders in all of Mexico’s systems – political, economic and social – consistently blamed this poor country’s problems on its Catholic past. Most Church property – farmlands, ranch lands, monasteries, convents, churches themselves – were gradually confiscated and not allowed to use them. The worst period would be the 1920′s when the Mexican government confiscated ALL Church property, boarded up every church in the country and made it a capital crime to be a priest. Catholics fought back and this was the heroic time of the Cristero movement. This period was artfully described by Graham Green in his novel, The Power and the Glory. It is an excellent read but I must say that the priest in the novel who had sinned seriously had a very limited understanding of God’s infinite forgiveness. For a more modern picture of the scene there is a movie out called For Greater Glory and it can be secured from the Maximus Group at 1-877-263-1263 or by e-mail at email@example.com. It has a great cast starring Peter O’Toole.
My editor won’t allow me to run very much further on this so I will bring up Mexico again in the next couple of days. It is a fascinating story.
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Hurray! Once again we are in that long, long time in the liturgical year that simply measures the time in-between Pentecost and the Feast of Christ the King. Remember that the Church coves the entire story of salvation in only 52 weeks so we really have to hurry.
I really think that this is a wonderful aspect of life in the Catholic Church. Most of us are so easily distracted, we find it so difficult to keep our minds on the essential truths of God’s revelation, and so I think that the idea of rolling it by each and every year is a good one.
The readings today are special and we are back to that old balancing act where the editors of the lectionary balance an event in the life of Jesus of Nazareth with a comparable event from the Old Testament. In the first reading, the great prophet Elijah calls back into life the son of a very poor woman who had been offering him hospitality. The story is the same in St. Luke’s Gospel but there are aspects of it that make it stand out. For the first time Luke refers to Jesus as “the Lord” and the Gospel narrative has Jesus in direct confrontation with the symbol of evil, namely death. A beautiful part of this story is that the mother having just lost a son doesn’t even have to ask for anything. Jesus looks, has pity and calls the boy back to life. Then comes this beautiful sentence. “Jesus gave him back to his mother.”
Can you get a more beautiful thought? How many mothers over the centuries have lost one of their children in tragic and agonizing ways? They do not all hear that joyful sentence from Jesus but we all know that he is with us and that he will reunite all of us in eternal life because of what he did in his life among us. At the time of the story onlookers were shocked and amazed. We can only be joyful. He has redeemed us and ultimately he will reunite us.
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