Category: Catholic Church

More On Lumen Gentium

By , April 4, 2014 4:46 am

I offered a few comments the other day on that extremely important document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and I talked about the fact that there are many aspects of the Church that qualify the Church itself as being a mystery. The document goes on to discuss the structural nature of the Church, namely that it is hierarchical and the great reality of the Church’s membership, namely that it is overwhelmingly, yes overwhelmingly, made up of lay people.

In the few paragraphs that I have here, I can’t do a dissertation of the fact that the Church we see in the New Testament enjoys various levels of responsibilities. Jesus called the apostles and he sent them forward to preach his message. Once they established a community of faith in a given area, the apostles provided leadership, coordination and direction. After establishing a church, Paul put men that he had ordained in charge of those churches since he had to keep moving to spread the Gospel. Therefore, I have no doubt that the Church is by its very nature hierarchical but I think that over the centuries, especially in the second millennium, the hierarchical aspects of the Church have been exaggerated, made too rigid and regretfully counterproductive.

Our blessed new Pope Francis has been working hard in his first year to awaken us to the need to strip down the exaggerated signs of hierarchy and prestige that at times have been abused in the Church. And he is making great progress.
Next in Lumen Gentium comes the section on the laity. The document makes a great step forward and that is about the best that could be done at that time. However, what we are seeing now is a wonderful, glorious change where the laity across the world are beginning to assert responsibilities, opportunities and challenges that flow from baptism and confirmation.
These two entities are currently interacting and we can be sure that we will see a certain amount of friction.

Onward through the fog.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Church is a Mystery

By , April 2, 2014 5:43 am

The Second Vatican Council is now a little more than fifty years behind us. What an awesome event it was, and how it challenged the Universal Church to endeavor to review its ministerial effectiveness and make needed adaptations so that its ministry to the human family could be more effective. For about half of those fifty years, there was real progress and then a reaction set in. While most of the work of the Council was still on the drawing boards, determined efforts to slow it down were strong and destructively effective.

Then comes Pope Francis! All over the world, there is renewed hope that we will begin to move forward forcefully, not only to revivify the work of the Council, but to move with faith and confidence into a yet unknown future.

I have often encouraged people to go back and restudy the more powerful documents that emanated from the Council between 1962 and 1965. While we are in this recovery period, I am going to make sure that I do the same thing myself. The first document that I have gone back to is the awesomely important one called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) . It was promulgated in November of 1964. It is a rather lengthy document and, given my always limited space here on this blog, I will have to practice verbal discipline, which is always difficult for an Irishman, especially since we are still quite close to St. Patrick’s Day.

The first important position point is the fact that the Council Fathers reminded Catholics across the world that the Church, begun by Jesus of Nazareth, guided by the Holy Spirit and inviting the whole human family into it, is in fact an awesome MYSTERY while at the same time, the Church, in terms of its membership, is all too human and there is nothing mysterious about that.

The Church is a mystery in that it originates in God’s plan. It is set up by Jesus of Nazareth. He begins it himself by teaching tens of thousands of people for three years and calling them, and all of us as well, to walk in his footsteps. The Church is a mystery because its prime director is not this bishop or that pope or the local pastor, but nothing other than the Holy Spirit who sanctifies it by its presence and guidance. The church is mysterious in that its inner life is formed, not by organizations, structures, leaders or plans, but by the saving grace of Jesus of Nazareth.
In our day by day life, going to Mass on Sunday, seeing our grandchildren baptized, receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, we need to be conscious that we are living and acting and being affected by this mysterious reality, the Church itself.

As we move forward towards Easter, let us try to concentrate more clearly on the awesomeness of this mystery.

  • Share/Bookmark

A Good Night a St. Edwards’s

By , April 1, 2014 4:22 am

Last Wednesday night, St. Edward’s University was honored to have Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, as the speaker in the McCarthy Lecture Series on the Catholic Church in the 21st Century: “Swords into Plowshares: Catholic Teaching and America’s Role in the World.”

Bishop McElroy has been a forceful spokesperson on behalf of peace over the last few years and has written a number of articles for America magazine. In his opening remarks, McElroy stated the obvious but frightening fact that the central foundation of America’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was the tragically misguided belief that America can ennoble the world through warfare. Coming from the other direction, the bishop reviewed the pacifist tradition within Roman Catholicism and then went on to develop in some detail the “just war” tradition. However, he pointed out that in the last century Catholic teaching has dramatically strengthened the presumption against war. In addition, he stated that today’s Catholic teachings condemn most of the major decision-making that has led to 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bishop McElroy urged his listeners to reject a threatening new isolationism present in the country today and to embrace and work for the Catholic theology of war, which is embedded in a vision of peace.

While describing the agony and suffering that comes from war, the bishop reversed it and told that by turning “swords into plowshares” the agonizing poverty of the world and the unjust and meaningless hunger could be eradicated with but a fraction of the resources now being used for killing human beings. Bishop McElroy used the example that was taking place under the crisis in Crimea giving his listeners an extra interest in his remarks.

I personally want to thank Bishop McElroy for journeying from the distant world of California to the heart of Texas. During his brief visit he was able to make many new friends. May God continue to bless him and his wonderful work.

  • Share/Bookmark

Real Ecumenism

By , March 26, 2014 5:09 am

Reverend Rick Warren

In 2013, the famous pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange, California, the Reverend Rick Warren, lost his 27 year old son from suicide. After that, he began to meet with Bishop Kevin Vann, recently appointed Bishop of the Orange Diocese having been the Bishop of Fort Worth the previous eight years. Out of this fraternal communication has grown an extraordinarily good development. The two churches have joined together with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and will convene a day-long conference. The subject is Mental Health and the Church. This is really a wonderful example to other dioceses. Mental and emotional illness racks modern American life and the Church has the potential to be a tremendous force for good.
The conference will explore how to increase the Church’s role in mental health and make available training for church management in integrating physical, mental and spiritual health.

The Diocese of Orange already operates a 24-hour counseling hotline called “New Hope Ministries” and it responds to about 40 calls a day! This ministry was part of the Crystal Cathedral when the Diocese of Orange purchased that church’s properties for its new cathedral. The diocese happily chose to continue that ministry and it is overseen by Catholic Charities.

God bless you Reverend Rick Warren and God bless you Bishop Kevin Vann. Texas misses you.

  • Share/Bookmark

Pope Francis Moves On

By , March 24, 2014 5:19 am

To say that I am thrilled with the direction that our Holy Father Pope Francis is providing to the Universal Church would be an understatement. Time after time during his first year, he has made moves and decisions that have thrilled and encouraged me.

First, he appointed eight cardinals from seven different countries, only one of them from the Vatican, to be a special committee to guide him in the restructuring of the Church. If you appoint a committee to restructure the Church, you are admitting that the Church needs restructuring and oh, how it does!

Next, Pope Francis sent out an extraordinary document to all the bishops of the world entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and he asked the bishops to consult with ALL the people in their dioceses about their views on many aspects of the best way to conduct evangelization today. Regretfully, most bishops have not followed up on that as yet.

The position of Secretary of State is crucially important and that is the area where Pope Benedict XVI was having the most difficulty before his resignation. The new man is Cardinal Pietro Parolin and he is viewed by everyone as an excellent appointment to be the number two bishop in Church leadership. Then he gave the new Secretary of State a much heavier responsibility by announcing the convening of a world-wide Synod of Bishops in the Vatican this coming October. This will be a unique gathering. It is not being called a Council and since the Second Vatican Council we have had Synods of Bishops every four or five years, but regretfully these have proven to be ineffective and were attended only by a few elected bishops from each country. This gathering is convening ALL the bishops of the world. It will certainly be historic.

Now comes yet another message from our Holy Father. It was directed to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office responsible for the selection of bishops from around the world. In this 3,000 word text, Francis told the cardinals that they should not look for bishops based on any “preferences, likes or trends” and likewise should not seek prelates who are mainly concerned with doctrinal matters. The Church, Francis said, needs,

“Guardians of doctrine not so as to measure how far the world is from the doctrinal truth but to appeal to the world, to charm it with beauty of love and to seduce it with a freedom bestow by the Gospel.”

“The Church does not need apologetics for its causes nor crusaders for its battles, but sowers, humble and confident of the truth…trust its power.”

Wow! Thanks be to God. The main thrust of the document is that our Holy Father is calling for only priests who are real shepherds, totally committed to the sheep and not bureaucrats who will run chancery offices neatly. God bless you Francis. We are all praying for you.

  • Share/Bookmark

Can Sadness and Joy Co-exist?

By , March 20, 2014 5:11 am

Well, we are nearly halfway through the Holy Season of Lent and this is a good time to ask ourselves how are we doing? Lent is not just a name for part of the liturgical calendar. Lent is a program, a spiritual program. In Lent, we are asked to set aside a very small portion of the Church year, roughly six weeks, and to use that time to systematically endeavor to improve and strengthen the quality of our spiritual lives.

This is a serious undertaking and it does not happen automatically. One must set goals and in daily prayer ask ourselves, did we do better yesterday? Am I really trying to improve at least a little bit today?

Lent should be a time of joy because we can become more conscious of our closeness to God. We can see more clearly that this awesome historical figure, the carpenter from Nazareth, did not just live 2,000 years ago, but is alive today within us and around us. Lent is a time when we can grasp more clearly that the Holy Spirit is a reality, is within us and around us, strengthening us. With our minds and hearts clearly focused on God’s love for us, everything else falls into place. Has sometime in the family developed cancer? Is your brother-in-law still out of work after 14 months? Does that distant aunt still seem to reject the rest of the family? And is the crisis in Crimea threatening world peace? All of these things are problems and all of them give us concern but if we are steadfast in our relationship to our Divine Lord, each of them will ultimately be resolved as we continue towards eternal life.

Lent is a time of joy not of sadness.

  • Share/Bookmark

A Wee Bit of Irish

By , March 16, 2014 9:09 pm

Can you visualize 5th Century Ireland? It was a land that was cold and almost constantly covered by fog. A large percentage of the territory was composed of bogs, which means the land was soft, sloppy, and difficult for walking. All in all, from 1400 years away, it seems to me to have been a very dreary place! Then…

Into the life and story of the Emerald Isle appears a man that while shrouded in mystery, nevertheless had an extraordinary impact on Ireland, future generations of Ireland, and all across the planet. St. Patrick lived from the year 387 to 461, and had a striking influence not because of political or military leadership, but because he was a man of amazing faith, centering that faith on Jesus Christ in a manner that was so impressive that the people of Ireland were formed in that same faith and would remain steadfast in it until today. We associate St. Patrick with the green shamrock, because he used this simple symbol to teach about the complex relationship of our Holy Trinity.

The people of Ireland turned from the paganism that had marked their lives from time immemorial and committed themselves to the continued presence of Jesus, which vivifies the Catholic Church. Saint Patrick may have been the most influential missionary since St. Paul. I believe that that is true, but yet we still know very little about him.

Onward through the bog!

  • Share/Bookmark

Creeping Symbols

By , March 5, 2014 5:51 am

Ash Wednesday, March 5th
Everyone knows that the Roman Catholic Church loves to use symbols. Symbols are external signs, and they put in the mind and the heart ideas concepts, context and responses that are much more forceful than mere words. Today is Ash Wednesday and I used to enjoy saying to people, “You can really spot the Catholic in the crowd today!” Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but sometimes there are more people at Mass on this day than regular Sunday. There they are with white shirts, their good ties, attractive blouse. People look clean and proper with a big black smudge on their forehead. What’s wrong? Oh yes, they’re Catholics.

Ash Wednesday is a very physical, excellent example of symbol, that is extraordinarily simple and yet it conveys an awesome reality. We are all going to die. We are going to deal with and account for the lives we lived in this planet. We are all going to reach a point in time during our journey when it comes to an end. It’s over and from here we move on to eternity. Because we are so easily pulled in various directions, we find ourselves easily distracted. It’s excellent that we are reminded of this reality from time to time and Ash Wednesday does it.

I’m happy to see that a number of mainline Protestant faith communities are also beginning to return to the ancient idea of marking the beginning of Lent with a smudge of ash, a reminder of reality, a reminder that we really need to use this life effectively, generously, lovingly, and faithfully. In my opinion, this is a small but meaningful symbol of what I call “creeping ecumenism.” The greatest in this move in this direction was when a number of the larger faith communities embraced the Lectionary that the Catholic Church produced following the Second Vatican Council. It’s a wonderful thing now that Catholics, Episcopalians, and some Lutherans are reading the same texts in all of our churches on the same Sunday morning.

Jesus Christ wanted his followers to be united in faith. Our Lord wanted us to always seek unity with each other. It is attached to our unity with Him. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we should not be discouraged. Even these small signs of progress are important and encouraging.
Onward towards Christian Unity.

  • Share/Bookmark

Challenges in the Trenches

By , February 28, 2014 5:02 am

Image: M. Poloskey

Pope Francis has sent a questionnaire to every bishop in the world asking them to involve themselves in an in-depth study and analysis of Catholic thinking and practice in regards to marriage and family life. This is a major component of preparation for a special Synod which will be held in Rome in October. Some reports are coming in early and what they reveal should not surprise very many of us.

The Swiss bishops published a report based on 25,000 responses. It was very similar to expressions coming from the German bishops.

“Most of the baptized have an image of the Church that on, the one hand, is family friendly in attitude while at the same time, considers her sexual morality to be unrealistic.”

Both the German and Swiss reports said that Catholics in their country accept the Church’s vision that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman, open to having children, and they hope to realize that vision in their own family. However, they consider the Church’s public position to be unrealistic in terms of premarital sex, remarriage after divorce, and contraception.

The Freiburg Diocese encouraged divorced and remarried Catholics to speak to a local priest about their situation suggesting that their status could be resolved as a matter of personal conscience. The bishops said that most remarried people do not regard their original unions as null and void but rather as having failed, and they consider the existing annulment process “to be dishonest.”

The Swiss bishops said that about 60% of the participants in the consultation support the recognition and church blessing of homosexual couples. However, the traditional teaching has strong support and this issue generated a sharp division among the people.

  • Share/Bookmark

Loving Criticism

By , February 27, 2014 5:24 am

Father Thomas Reese, S.J. has long been one of my heroes. He did a magnificent job while he was editor of America magazine, the lead publication of the Jesuits in the United States. Reese was forced out of that office because he had the misguided idea that both sides should be presented in theological disputes. It was a loss for America and a disappointment to its readers.

Father Reese is now writing a weekly column in the National Catholic Reporter and last week he made some very interesting observations. His comments were serious and critical but as they are coming from a man who has tremendous appreciation for Pope Francis, I think they need to be taken very seriously by our Holy Father.

Father Reese is an expert on Vatican structures and modes of operation, and he has written several books on the subject.
Reese points out that the men heading various posts in the Vatican bureaucracy should be seen essentially as staff persons. In point of fact, however, for centuries these roles have been given to cardinals and archbishops. The staff ought to be working for all the bishops of the world but if a bishop from Paraguay or a religious superior from Romania wants to deal with them, it is a little more intimidating if he is facing a cardinal on a problem of miscommunications. It is a fairly well-established fact that cardinals do throw their weight around as they see themselves in very close proximity to the Holy Father and not just bureaucratic staff.

The Holy Father is in the process of setting up a wonderful communication system with the archbishops and bishops of the world. It would be more effective and more efficient for the papal staff to see themselves as servants of the bishops of the world and not their masters on issues dealing with the Vatican

  • Share/Bookmark

Panorama Theme by Themocracy