Photo: Megan Poloskey
Pope Benedict XVI recently stated, “Our present crises, whether economic, food related, environmental or social, are ultimately also moral crises. All of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path that we are traveling together. Specifically, they call for a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed.” [Emphasis added]
True – true – true! Now let’s look at the Church. In terms of inner joy, self confidence, optimism and numerical growth, the Church is floundering almost everywhere except Africa south of the Sahara. I think that the above statement needs to be taken very seriously. I pray that it will be.
With all these problems, maybe we should ask ourselves as to whether or not our beloved Church needs to examine its governing strategy. More on that tomorrow.
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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospels are nothing less than the Word of God. Given that reality, one should not be surprised that much of it makes extraordinary reading, and today’s gospel is an excellent example. It places before us a dramatic scene- one from the point of view of the Christian story that is simply amazing. Let’s take a look: Jesus has begun His missionary activity, is moving from village to village, drawing great crowds who are filled with awe at his power. Then, when things quiet down, He turns to the apostles and asks them a profound question.This question was important to the apostles, and it is important to you and me. Jesus asks these twelve men, “Who do the people say I am?” They begin to chatter among themselves, coming up with this name and that name, and then looking at the twelve face to face, He asks an even more important question- “Whom do YOU say that I am?” And then Peter, always forceful and fast, blurts out from his heart, “You are the MESSIAH”. This is the first proclamation of that reality. Jesus is the Savior for which God’s people have been waiting for centuries.
Peter had the right answer! The question is do we? I believe with all my heart that the voice of Jesus of Nazareth rings down through the centuries and each and every one of His followers is asked that question. Who do YOU say that Jesus of Nazareth is? A great deal hangs on your answer. Give the correct one.
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All of my adult life I have been impressed with the practicality of God’s word in the bible. Coming from a priest, that may not be a very surprising statement because after all it is GOD’S WORD. However, I mean something else. I have always found that the sacred texts have an unbelievably easy applicability in concrete situations around us. A good example of this will be seen in the next few weeks where we will see St. James speaking words that the whole world needs to hear. However, the citizens of the United States need to hear James’ words in a very special way as our nation struggles to choose a president for the next four years.
Yesterday’s text dramatically points out that we are all God’s children, everybody is important, but the poor are especially important because they have been especially loved by God. James blasts the hypocritical tendency of his age to consider wealthy people to be more important than the poor. Such discrimination flies in the face of the Church’s 2,000-year-old tradition.
The Church has made many mistakes through the centuries. All of us are sinful and some of our leaders have at times seemed to be at total variance with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, one thing the Church has never lost sight of and that is its concern for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable. They are a very special people. They do not need to be treated merely equally but to be treated evermore sensitively than those who have the resources to provide for themselves.
In the near future, our country will be struggling with a new national budget and there are two very different approaches on how to use the nation’s resources. I would suggest that we go back to St. James. The second chapter provides a marvelous guide of how our country is to allocate its resources. St. James tells us that 1% and 99% is not the proper formula.
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One of the most startling aspects of the Roman Catholic Church across the world is its ONENESS, its awesome unity that unites its members together in an extremely powerful bond of faith.
From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by an extraordinary diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. The Church enjoys a multiplicity of peoples and cultures. Its members have different gifts, offices, conditions and ways of life. Within the Universal Church, there are particular churches that retain their own traditions. This great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity but rather adds to the miraculous nature of that universal quality.
At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed that his followers would be one and true to his desires, the Church has always struggled mightily to maintain unity. It has not been an easy task and throughout the centuries, from the first generation until the 21st century, there have been massive problems that presented themselves to the Church and attempted to undercut or dismantle its unity. These movements have caused tremendous pain and suffering but they would never destroy the unity of the Church. They hurt it, they lessened its effectiveness but the unity has always been there.
There are many ways in which these rifts tearing away at the universal unity of the Church can occur, but among the principal ones are heresy, apostasy and schism. I will come back to that in a day or so.
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Throughout human history, women, living in the various societies of the planet, have held second-rate status as best. That condition haled from the time we were huddled around fires in caves until the early part of the 20th century. There are a number of sociological reasons, one of which was the fact that women were primarily seen as the bearers and nurturers of children. While this fact is true, of course, virtually every society develops structures that would confine women to that area alone.
This situation continued until early modern times when greater resources and greater flexibility in family organizations began to gradually give women freedom to look at other options. Gradually the education of women increased and they began early on to enter into the world of literature and art, and then later into economics and politics. Today, throughout most of the Western world, women are close to being on a par with their male counterparts. I say close but we are a long way from actual equality.
In the nearly 250 years of our country, only one woman was ever a candidate for the presidency. That says a lot. There has been progress, wonderful progress, and it continues apace. While Asia, Africa and South America continue to lag behind Europe and North America, progress can be measured there too.
What about the Church? The subject of women in the Church is very much in the foreground, both in the Catholic world and the secular press. Let’s take a look at it over the next week or so.
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On March 26, 2000, Pope John Paul visited the West Wall in Jerusalem. He placed a signed letter in the crevice of that wall that act being an age old Jewish custom of communicating a special prayer to the Lord God of Abraham. That letter stated,
“God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendents to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of yours to suffer. In asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to general brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”
This statement of the Holy Father flows easily from Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship between the Church and the Jews. That document stated,
“The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accused to God. The Church mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved, not by political reasons, but by the gospel’s spirit of love decries hatred, persecution or displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre respond to this fact. They are endeavoring to achieve reconciliation with the Universal Church but, up until now, they have always been dead set against Nostra Aetate and the Declaration on Religious Liberty, another Vatican document written in support of religious freedom.
We are all for reconciliation and reunion but not at the price of condoning hatred of people because they are different.
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Yesterday I touched on the fact that the Catholic Church is suffering through a number of serious problems. So what’s new? The Church always has problems and always will, as long as most of its members tend to be human beings.
I thought that in the midst of these difficulties it might be a good time to talk about some of the wonderful attributes of Roman Catholicism and blessings that flow from membership within this enormous community of faith. Where to start?
For me personally, one of the joys that I draw from being Catholic is to be able to place myself in a fantastic, interesting and exciting spot in the human story. The Church is now 2000 years old, and it has lived through virtually every possible human experience. Those experiences range from faithfulness and heroism through hard work and struggle on to debauchery and decay, but the Church is here. And that “here-ness” is awesome.
I am a Roman Catholic Bishop. St. Augustine was a Roman Catholic Bishop in the 4th century. We both had the same job description- shepherding a community of faithful followers of Jesus within a certain geographic area. 150 years from now, there will be a Bishop in Austin, Texas, and that person will have the same job that I have just enjoyed. Now that’s unity in time. There is also the Church’s delightful aspect of unity extended across the planet. Naturally, I have known and worked with all the Bishops in the United States, but I have also worked with bishops, clergy and lay people in Mexico, Central America, Ethopia, Ireland, Poland, and other scattered parts of the planet. The miles were many, but the unity of faith was always intact.
As I step back from those realities, I see a gift that for me is wonderfully encouraging. 2000 years ago, a carpenter stood on a hill in Galilee and told eleven battered friends that He was sending them into the whole world to tell the good news of God’s love for the whole human family. All but one of those followers gave their lives in the process of spreading the message. The message is here. Those who believe it are united, and their unity will carry into the future until the end of time.
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I have been fortunate to have a natural love of history, all history, but I find especially interesting the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The saga of the Church could be described as twenty centuries on a roller coaster.
The first three hundred years entailed terrible persecutions and oppression. The next few centuries involved rapid expansion after the end of the period of suffering. In the 8th and 9th century, a period of decay sets in as the Church is a dominant force in Europe and susceptible to all of the temptations that come with money and power. Early modern times bring both good news and bad news. There is an extraordinary period of accomplishment with the missionary expansion of the Western Hemisphere, Asia and parts of Africa but this period also marks the tragic division of Western Christianity between Catholicism and the many Protestant faiths that would sprout up as a response to corruption within the Church. Finally, there are modern times with the Church’s heroic struggle against totalitarian governments and its greatly increased sensitivity about the need to protect the poor and the vulnerable in the modern economic systems which are in place today.
It is a collage. There is a mix of beauty, grandeur and pathetic corruption. You see extraordinary courage and indecisiveness. Those who look back at those twenty centuries see a whole range of human life, expectations, accomplishments and failures. Although there is much in the story that is sad and discouraging, the great majority of it is a tremendous story of faith, generosity, courage and heroism.
Today, at the beginning of June of 2012, the Church is getting some very bad publicity that is generated by incompetence and ineffective leadership. With all this bad news, why do the hundreds of millions of members of the community of faith stay within its confines and continue to live out their lives as Roman Catholics? This is always an important question but I think it is especially important at this particular time and I am going to take the next few days to talk about why people choose to remain in the Church. There are lots of reasons and I will be happy to talk about them.
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Don’t get excited. I am not talking about our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. I am talking about the first and only pope in 2,000 years who resigned having once been elected. In the grisly Middle Ages, a number did depart the office by having been assassinated but this case is quite different. I am referring to Pope Celestine V, who was born in 1209 and was elected at the age of 84 as a compromise candidate, when the College of Cardinals spent two frustrating years without agreeing on a new pope.
Pietro da Morrone, founded a religious community and was its superior at the time of the impasse and he really blasted the cardinals, threatening them with the wrath of God. They responded by electing him to the Chair of Peter!
A new book on this subject, The Pope Who Quit, by Jon Sweeney, tells us that the choice might even have seemed inspired raising the hope that a truly holy man would be the one who led the Medieval Church out of its corrupt ways. However, it turned out to be a disaster. He was too old, the problems too serious. He resigned after 15 disastrous weeks. His claim to fame is an interesting one. He is the only pope out of the 265 men who have held the office to have ever actually resigned.
Do you want to get your hands on interesting reading material? Start reading Church history. What a story!
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Everyone who is interested in the life of the Church is talking about it! We learned more than two years ago that the Vatican was taking a serious look at the inner-life of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization unifying the activities of 400 communities of religious women (nuns!) in the United States. A few weeks ago, the results came in.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has criticized LCWR for what it says and for what it does not say and accused it of a climate of “corporate dissent” on matters such as homosexuality and women’s ordination, and expressed regrets about the inroads of radical feminism into the religious communities. The Holy See has also appointed Archbishop James Peter Sartain of Seattle as its delegate with directions to review documents and speakers who might be scheduled for LCWR meetings. Needless to say, this has created a real uproar across the country and leading Catholic magazines, such as the London Tablet, America, Commonweal, and the National Catholic Reporter, are claiming that this is unnecessary and a destructive exaggeration of the fault lines in the American Church between men and women, between family values and women’s issues, and the expression “War on Women” is being bandied about.
I think everyone is pleased that the leadership of LCWR is handling the situation very calmly and the newly appointed supervisor, Archbishop Sartain, has a reputation for gentleness and has expressed a willingness to go slowly as the two sides try to find common ground. That may not be too easy.
In addition to the dramatic Vatican moves to more tightly regulate religious women in the United States, it has also tightened its control over Caritas Internationalis bringing it under the direct control of Cor Unum, the official Vatican office to foster social programs around the world. Cor Unum is to appoint an ecclesiastical “assistant” to Caritas and Cor Unum must approve any cooperative agreements between Caritas Internationalis and non-governmental organizations.
Most of us remember that last year the Vatican would not allow Secretary General of Caritas, Lesley-Anne Knight, to stand for a second term. Key issues are involved in these two situations, among them is a tragic lack of trust on both sides.
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