Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What does it mean to be Catholic?

Ah, Bishops. “We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them”. Well, maybe. But they do often cause head scratching. It’s good to give conscientious thought to what they say and do, because they are leaders of a local Church. But sometimes it can be very difficult to discern if their message is based on faith or on politics.

Two years ago it was announced that President Obama had been invited to be the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremonies of the University of Notre Dame and, as is the custom, to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate. This upset the then local bishop, and he announced that he would not attend the ceremonies. His reasoning was that in one important aspect of Catholic teaching - that of abortion- the President has repeatedly stated that he does not support criminalization. The bishop’s position was that a Catholic University should neither invite as a speaker nor honor anyone who holds a position contrary to Catholic teaching.

Even though President Obama is not a Catholic, the bishop had every right to absent himself from the ceremonies for this and perhaps, any, reason. Notre Dame is located in the diocese he headed. He had a responsibility to give witness to the Gospel. He felt obligated to speak out, and was within his rights. He had no authority with regards to the University, but was responsible to uphold Catholic teaching within his diocese.

Soon,82 of the 450 US bishops made public statements criticizing the Notre Dame offer to the President. They based their authority on an earlier statement by the US Bishops’ Conference that Catholic institutions should not honor politicians who hold views contrary to church teaching, a provision that many bishops felt Notre Dame violated. None of those bishops had even the remotest authority in relationship to Notre Dame. The Vatican stayed silent on the matter, but the 83 bishops suggested that Notre Dame forgot what it means to be Catholic.

Advance two years—to the present. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, a Catholic, is invited to be commencement speaker and honored with a doctorate at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Catholic University was founded by the US Bishops and is the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States. Rep. Boehner is in full agreement with the Church’s teaching on abortion. He does not uphold any other Catholic teaching on Justice and Peace and, in fact, is committed to doing all he can to make sure those teachings do not become law or, if they already are law, they be rescinded. Not one Catholic bishop had anything to say against this selection.

A tale of two politicians, one Catholic, one not: The one not a Catholic, President Obama, has repeatedly said he is against abortion and committed to doing all that can be done to get rid of the reasons for it but is against changing the law and making it illegal. This is clearly not the position of the Catholic Church. The other, a Catholic and Speaker of the House John Boehner, agrees with the Church’s position on abortion but has one of the worse records in Congress when it comes to voting on Catholic social teachings and care of the poor. Eighty-three bishops protest the first case loudly, which is happening at a University over which they have no authority. They have nothing to say about the second, happening at a University that is their own. Who forgot what it means to be Catholic?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wonderful people whose lives intersect with ours are a tremendous blessing.
That is the best part of life as I have experienced it, and a gift that can
keep on giving. Facebook allows more contact with friends from the past than any other medium, but personal contact is the best, and this continues to be quite a year of that for me. Being back in Portland allows reconnection with friends and
associates from twenty-five years ago. And I am experiencing a lot more reconnecting
than that!
I was a Rector at the University of Notre Dame for eleven years. I left there for
Africa eleven years ago, but still officiate at the weddings of former students,
and every wedding is a mini-reunion. This year, I have been at 4 such weddings
and have four more such commitments before year’s end. A cousin is getting
married in the fall, so there will be a reunion on the grand scale, with an extended
family membership of several hundred!
It has been 50 years since eighth grade, and I have not one, but two reunions
this summer! St. Nicholas was my educational patron from kindergarten
through sixth grade; St. Edmund watched over my seventh and eighth grade
years. I remember most of my classmates from both schools, and look forward
to consecutive weekends with them.
This summer members of the Congregation of Holy Cross get together
at Notre Dame for a week -- another four hundred or so friends with whom to
reconnect. Basically, this year has the potential of allowing reconnection with
every person I have ever known who is still living! And, of course, I am still
meeting new people, some of whom will have as profound an affect on my life
as the many who came before.
Reunions are great. When we are able to relate the truths of our lives to those
who helped form those truths, we enter a level of communication free of pretense
and agenda. We let ourselves be known as we truly are, and we experience
others the same way. Whether it is at a peak life experience like a wedding
or funeral, or a routine one like a reunion, we get one more chance to discover the incarnate God in the other and to let others discover God’s presence in ourselves.
And we learn that a large part of God’s agenda, too, is that we all just be—

Friday, May 6, 2011

A friend from Africa wrote this week:
“I would like to propose that religious beliefs be placed in the DSM (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) as a category of mental illness for the following reasons:

(1) Hallucinations - the person has invisible friends who (s)he insists are real, and to whom (s)he speaks daily, even though nobody can actually see or hear these friends.
(2) Delusions - the patient believes that the invisible friends have magical powers to make them rich, cure cancer, bring about world peace, and will do so eventually if asked.
(3) Denial/Inability to learn - though the requests for world peace remain unanswered, even after hundreds of years, the patients persist with the praying behavior, each time expecting different results.
4) Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality - the beliefs are contingent upon ancient mythology being accepted as historical fact.
(5) Paranoia - the belief that anyone who does not share their supernatural concept of reality is "evil," "the devil," "an agent of Satan".
(6) Emotional abuse - ¬ religious concepts such as sin, hell, cause feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and other types of emotional "baggage" which can scar the
psyche for life.
(7) Violence - many patients insist that others should share in their delusions, even to the extent of using violence.

I don’t know if it was meant to be a spoof or a serious statement of where he is with religion, but here is how I respond: “I would agree that each of those seven points is evidence of religious pathology, but also know that there is such a thing as healthy religion. Mine, Catholicism, could also have its seven points:
1. We know that we do not know all there is to know and that there is a Reality beyond us that became one of us in order to show us Itself and invite us beyond ourselves to Himself.
2. We believe that all the powers of the universe can act in ways beyond their knowledge, because we have experienced that, whether directly or indirectly, so we express our hopes, wants and needs, open to the Truth of the Ultimate.
3. We understand that we are responsible to make efforts to change evil and injustice in the world, and that the results are not in our control.
4. We respect the wisdom of those who came before us, searching for meaning and passing it on to those who follow.
5. We understand that the Holy can be approached in diverse ways, and that there is something to learn from other religious traditions.
6. We know ourselves to be imperfect, but also that we can constantly grow in union with all that is good, and we know the power of forgiveness.
7. We consider the use of violence to be the complete opposite of everything we hold true, and try to become as non-violent as is possible.
There are, of course, many other things we hold true:

8. We believe in the eternal sacredness of all life.
9. We believe ourselves to be invited to unity with the ultimate Reality, which we call God.
10. We believe that all humanity is in the image of God, which makes us all brothers and sisters.
11. We know that the way to live is to others, not merely ourselves.
12. We have an obligation to be onwe with all, especially the most vulnerable.
13. We need to be good stewards of the earth.
There are even more, but I t I’ll stop there to prove I have no fear of the number 13!

Even if these 13 statements of faith are seen as pathological, they remain among all that we believe.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I shared recently that I have difficulty remembering where I have left my keys, even though I have a set place to put them when I’m not using them. The problem is so bad that when I find them on the hook I installed for them, I feel that I have won a major victory.

First runner up in the saga of “where did I put it” is my wallet. I do not misplace it as often as I do the keys, but when I do, it is for a period of days, rather than just a few minutes. And that causes a lot of inconvenience—to me and to the parish community. In addition to my driver’s license and whatever cash I might have in the wallet, it also contains cards that are my access to parish and community funds. No wallet, no driving, no eating beyond what might already be in the house, no buying needed parish supplies.

I am not trying to elicit your sympathy here. I do know that there are people who would love to have a wallet, full or empty, and that there are even greater and sadder problems within ten feet of me at any time. Rather, I want to share my process of forgetting who I am when such a small thing happens in my life. It has the tendency to define my life. My self-definition during a recent episode of the lost wallet was “the man who can’t find his wallet”.

I lost all focus. Too many waking and sleeping hours were spent trying to find the wallet. I went through all my clothes, especially those I wore the last time I remembered having it. I called all the places I had been since I last used it. I tore the car apart and looked in places I hadn’t even been. And I obsessed. I was depressed. I forgot about all other things.

The issue grew larger. It wasn’t just about my lost wallet. I wondered how far along I was with Alzheimers. I wondered if I were loosing all competencies, that I couldn’t even find something I usually just took for granted. In brief, I let the missing wallet define my world and me. Then I worried about worrying too much about the lost wallet.

What a piece of work we are! How easily distracted and thrown by the smallest things, so much so at times that we can completely loose awareness of what really matters in life: “I can’t feed the hungry, I’m looking for my wallet. I cannot visit the sick; it’s my wallet, you see. Sure I’m praying. I’m praying to find my wallet”.

Then I found it. And I reflected: “ I just spent two days being defined by something that I would have found in time, whether I obsessed over it or not. And in the process, I stopped being faithful to what really matters in my life. I left my relationship with God and God’s people and withdrew into my own petty concern.” Those two days would have been much better spent if instead of self-defining by my lost wallet, I had been faithful to the definition given me by God: the beloved of God in whom God is well pleased. One called to enter into community with all God’s people, especially those entrusted to our care right here. I failed. I repent. I rise again.

And the wallet? It was in the slacks I had worn the last time I knew I had it and where I had already looked three times. I found it as I was putting the slacks on to go to the chapel, going to celebrate with others our true definition.