Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Learn,Pain, Suffering,

We  learn forever  Or we can. And whoever learns, suffers.  Because if we learn, we have to change. If we learn we change, if we change we suffer.   It is only through pain and suffering, it seems, that we can understand and get to know God as an incarnate being.  It is by working to avoid pain and suffering that we negate the incarnation’s power in our lives and in our world, and feed evil. At least that’s how I see it. That is not to say that we need to go looking for pain and suffering! Those two elements of human existence make their appearance on their own and without appointment.
If the Word of God did indeed become flesh to dwell among us, then it is in our flesh that God’s presence is found. “Look for God among the living”, the women who arrived first at the tomb on Easter Sunday were told. In other words, don’t look for a Supreme Being outside of the human condition.  The Supreme Being is the human condition, made perfect. So look there.  God is with us.
And what do we see when we look there? Good, and also evil. Good is the result of people living out the Supreme Being within. Evil is not just the denial of Gods presence within us.  It is also the denial that God—Love, the being or force or energy that creates, is begotten and proceeds– is present and alive and involved in every act of creation.
If I ignore the divine presence within anyone, I will disregard, humiliate, look down on, ignore, be unforgiving toward, hold a grudge against them and/or rush to judgment, use, and/or abuse them. In negating the divine presence, I give evil power and dominion. I limit God’s presence and action in the world, because I am not manifesting that presence. Nor am I acknowledging that presence in  others.
So, what to do? Live God, love God– it’s the same thing! That’s what faith is—living the God-life within us, trusting that God is present in all sets of creation’s circumstances. Quite a paradox: we suffer because there is evil; we destroy evil by suffering, even to the point of death, death on a cross We refuse to dehumanize our enemies.
If we repress, avoid, go outside of or around our suffering looking for relief, we fail. If we go through it, we find and participate in God’s own life, which is eternal.
The only way out is through. At least, that’s been my experience.  Yours too?

Church and Authority

A bishop and a religious nun were scheduled to have a discussion recently, billed as “Two Catholic views of Gay Marriage.” The bishop began by stating that there is only one Catholic view on gay marriage. Any other position, he said, is dissenting. He blamed the “gay lobby” for putting the Church in a defensive position on this topic, and said that dissenters should become Protestant.
Then he talked about how terrible it was that the murder of his former secretary by a gay man got little coverage in the press, compared to the murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay student murdered by homophobes in 1998. Was he saying that the entire gay population is as responsible for his former secretary’s death as homophobia was for Mr. Shepard’s?
This topic is an important one to both Church and State. It is impressive that it was scheduled. But that is not my topic. My topic is the importance of how people in authority practice that authority.  This bishop lost the audience before he said anything at all relevant to the topic. According to may people present, his approach was legalistic, and not at all pastoral or compassionate. He could have been talking about the importance of caring for the poor, and he still would have lost the audience’s sympathy.

There are numerous Church teachings that are not universally accepted, even by believing, practicing Catholics. Telling such people to go join another religion does not do much in the cause of truth seeking. Honest, open dialogue is the only way to truth. No one is convinced just because someone of rank makes definitive statements in an authoritarian manner. Truth speaks for itself.
This is not to say that there is no room for claiming teaching authority in such discussions. There well may be. But appeals to authority alone never impressed Jesus. He constantly criticized religious authorities for hiding behind their authority and avoiding compassionate interaction. Jesus’ style was to compassionately relate with everyone, even those whose actions He consider to be immoral. There is so much we can learn from Him about the relationship between compassion and authority.

Jesus stopped those who wanted, legally, to stone the woman caught in adultery. He spent time with the woman at the well who had five husbands. He forgave those who crucified him. When any of us exercise authority and responsibility, we need to do so in a manner consistent with who we are and what we believe as the body of Christ.


I very much enjoyed my years of involvement with the Boy Scouts of America. Learning leadership, camping, evening meetings on school nights...I have very fond memories of it all.  From the age of 8 through 8th grade graduation, Scouting was a major part of my identity and I did well in it, achieving its highest rank and holding all of the offices open to someone my age.
That is why I have had a passing interest in following the issues of membership eligibility that have been so much in the press of late, culminating with the recent decision that boys who are gay can be members, but adults who are gay cannot serve as adult leaders.
I have no idea who might have been gay in my years with the organization.  In fact, the word had a very different meaning in those days, to the extent that  The Flintstones could sing “And we’ll have a gay old time…” and no one thought anything about it.  Ah, the innocence!
Now America’s largest Protestant denomination is voting this week on whether or not to leave the movement, en masse, because Scouting will no longer ban gay kids. The vote is expected to support the exodus.  As one Baptist leader commented, the belief is that the Bible is quite clear that one chooses to be gay, and choosing  to be gay is a sin.  This is not the Catholic position (nor is it the Bible’s).  For us, being homosexual is neither choice nor sin.  Acting on the orientation is a different matter, perhaps for a later one of my postings.  
In the confusing time of adolescence, when many youths are very unsure of their identity, including their sexual identity, excluding any child from any organization from an organization can only be hurtful.  The organization is hurt by its bigotry and the potential members by their exclusion and rejection.  How can a Church, established to make God’s reign operative on earth for all, exclude anyone?  It baffles me, but such behavior is not limited to Christians.  It is the story that makes up world history.

If the Baptists do not change their minds, wouldn’t it be great is some other church or religious group offered to sponsor rejected troops?  Without qualification?  Prudence is needed regarding adult leaders, but there are mechanisms for that.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why does God...

I  read this in an article, and decided to try to articulate a response:

As a person who suffers (and I mean that in a very real and active sense of suffering) from depression, I want to believe what you're saying here with every fiber of my being. But then what? Believing that God "allows" suffering to happen rather than actively causing it may be more theologically accurate, but it does nothing to relieve my actual suffering. None of the ideas you present, while they do appeal to me theologically and intellectually, do anything to actually relieve my or anyone else's actual, lived-in-the-flesh suffering. Somehow, knowing that God is just "present" with me in my suffering, as if God were a sort of mystical Teddy bear, isn't enough. Not after thirty years. - Cynthia

Hi, Cynthia.   Your comment is excellent and essential.  Thank you for it.  I am challenged by your reflection and question, which I read as asking for a bridge between the rational theology and practical application.  Here’s some of my thinking on those lines.  Please know that I, too, know suffering and am speaking of my personal experience and reflection, rather than telling you what yours should be.

The bridge, for me, is the incarnation.  God became human so that humans might become God, as St. Athanasius believed.  Thus, the incarnation is not only about God and God’s love for humanity.  It is not merely God showing love by becoming one with the beloved.  That alone would be nice, and reason to praise God’s humility but not  very meaningful if left there.  There is another, too often neglected side of the equation: humans might become God.  Wow!  Now that’s love.  For God to be so far beyond what we understand to be human and then show love by, not just coming to our level, but to bring us to God’s own level.  When we perceive this, that is when we experience awe, in both amazement and in ear and trembling.

So, what does it mean to become God?  Well, first, like Jesus, we do not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.  Rather, we empty ourselves.  We take the form of one who serves, rather than of one who is served.  For some of us, we think of our pain as either something directly or indirectly caused by God or at least as something God could and therefore, out of love, should take away.

If humans have been given the gift of becoming God, or becoming who God is, then human beings are invited to be God taking away the pain, sin, suffering, etc. of the world.  When I focus on doing that, I find, my suffering stops being the focus or even the identity of who I am.  By being God to another human, especially in their pain and suffering,  and allowing them to be God to me, the two of us become one, just like the Son in the Father and the Father in the Son.  And we become one with both, as well.  Jesus’ prayer, that all be one, is at least partially fulfilled.

In my own pain and suffering I must die to self and rise to be who I am made to be:  the presence and action of God in the world now, and in complete communion with God and all that is forever, in what we call heaven.  I summation, the important question is no longer why, but how.  How do I go beyond my suffering for the sake of others?  And the answer is the question:  by going beyond myself for the sake of others; by being God.

Might your own experience validate this in anyway?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Whose Church is it Anyway?

"I don't believe in those positions that propose supporting a kind of 'corporate' spirit in order to avoid damaging the image of the institution.” This is today‟s quote from Pope Francis, who seems to really get it!‟ He was talking about the abuse scandal when he said it, but I pray it prefigures his approach to 
leadership, and there is every indication it will.

Jesus tells us that we are to “die to self,” and to live for others, especially 
those on the margins of society. He did not exclude His Church from that in-struction, yet so often Church leadership has seemed more concerned about itself as institution over the needs of people working in communion to live the Good News. Or, as I have often said, the main mission of Church cannot be topreserve and protect itself! That‟s the corporate spirit Francis speaks about.

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Notre Dame professor Gary Gutting reflects on why he stays in the Catholic Church. He has a number of
reasons, including that the church is so much a part of his life that to leave it would be to leave himself, he doesn't want to leave it to the "preserve and protect‟ group and that he wants to show the world that faith and reason are not incompatible. 

It was his article that led me to a Trinitarian understanding of church:  The 
Church, meaning the institution headquartered in the Vatican, the Church, meaning religion, and the church, meaning the people of God.

Too often, these distinctions are ignored and only one or another becomes the working definition, to the detriment of the other two. The Church makes
proclamations to the Church that are impractical and insensitive to the churchThis leaves the people of God in a position to do one of three things: obey,
ignore or leave. The first and third choices are called enabling in the mental health field. The second, while perhaps often the most reasonable alternative, causes division. Is there another? I think there are many.

The long-term goal is dialogue—mutual respect and compassion leading to 
understanding and insight. If we trust in God‟s Spirit, which we call Holy, we
should not be afraid of dialogue. One cannot have the church without it, yet The Church can be too power-driven and the Church too timid and weak. So we work toward it with honest discussion. I suspect Francis can lead in that direction.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

He should not be Pope!

Well, it’s already begun. Barely two weeks into his papacy, persons calling themselves ‘real’ Catholics are already criticizing Francis for being who he is, rather than being a pope completely in line with their own thinking. It seems that they accept the involvement of the Holy Spirit in papal elections only when the outcome results in mirror images of their own thinking and their own ways of believing.

Calling themselves ‘traditionalists’, they are objecting to just about all of Francis’ actions since being elected—actions that differ from the way things are supposed to be, in their minds: washing the feet of woman; including Muslims in a Holy Thursday Mass; not wearing the fancy yet outdated clothing that sets the pope apart from every other believer; not being adamant about bringing back Latin as the sole language of Church worship. In other words, they object that he is validating Vatican II and its vision of Church.

To my ears, one of the most encouraging statements the new pope has made so far is about how the focus of the Church should not be on preserving itself as an institution but rather on serving the needs of the world, especially its world. The Church should not see itself as the world’s most important entity, with the prime responsibility of preserving and protecting itself, even if that means covering up the horrendous crimes of Church officials. The Church must be willing to sacrifice its own life!

If there is any institution that should be open to risk and misunderstanding and to being persecuted for the sake of what is right, it is the Church! When we put self-preservation ahead of dying to self, we are not the people of God. When rules and traditions are given priority over the teachings of Jesus, when obedience and discipline are considered to be the greatest virtues a person can have, to the neglect of placing love first, we are not the Church.

Comparisons to America’s political realities are very easy to make. Both the people whose candidate does not win a presidential election and those decrying Francis’ election are basically saying the same thing: the only valid truth is my perception of truth. Anyone who does not completely adhere to everything I consider important is wrong. There is no possibility that there are truths other than what I perceive. Unless my candidate or my pope is elected, whoever is elected is an usurper —a fraud—is wrong. Even if he or she is the Risen Christ!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Viva il Papa!!

At the start of our Mass at noon on March 13th, I knew we had a pope, but had no idea who he might be.  Then, along with the offertory gifts, was a post-it note.  Written on it was “Cardinal Bergoglio, Argentina” and “Francis I”.  I shared that with the congregation and went on with the Eucharist.  It felt good to have a name to say in the part of the Eucharistic prayer where we pray for N. our Pope and N. our Bishop.  Here in Oregon we will have two new names to get used to, as we’ll have a new Archbishop April 2nd —Alexander. In Chicago they’ll say: ”Francis our Pope and Francis our Archbishop”.  Keeps it simple.

After Communion, while we sat quietly, I had a few thoughts on the new Pope.  At that time I knew very little about him, but was glad it was someone from the southern hemisphere, where most Catholics live.  I was impressed that he took the name Francis and is the first pope with that name. I admire St. Francis and Cardinal Bergoglio’s choice of a name new to the papacy suggested the possibility that he would boldly go where no pope has gone before.

Too, it felt good to have a pope.  This surprised me.  I did not feel bad when the seat was vacant, but now having someone sitting in it brought a refreshing sense of newness and possibility.  Remember, at this point I had no idea even of what he looked like.

After Mass I got to a television and switched between MSNBC and CNN.  They were replaying all we’d missed during Mass—the announcement and his appearance on the balcony.  My first reaction was that he looked scared to death.  Then he smiled.  The pundits were saying he is very Orthodox and very committed to the poor and to Catholic teaching on social justice.  They also informed us that he had never been assigned to the Curia in Vatican City, rode public transportation, had sold the Archbishop’s palace and did his own cooking.  Something for everyone.  He has the potential of unifying the varying ecclesiologies (notions of the role and purpose of the Church) within the present Church.

By the time you are reading this, perhaps we will have a clearer picture of how he will be as Pope.  But did you notice how he never used that word?  He said he is the Bishop of Rome and was elected to be bishop for the people of Rome.  Is that a hint of some impending collaborative arrangement with his fellow bishops?

The deputy press official in the Vatican made this comment, perhaps unwittingly:  We've just elected a pastor, a good shepherd. We're going to have to get used to this!"  Viva il papa.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Pope

I did not write this, but I find it worth sharing.  A Fr. Daly wrote it, I believe:

Like everybody else, I was surprised to hear that Pope Benedict was resigning. But I was also relieved for him. It has been painfully obvious that he is declining. At Christmas, we saw him wheeled around on that rolling platform. He looked tired. It was time to resign.
Perhaps the most important legacy of Benedict XVI's papacy will be his resignation. It has set a very healthy precedent. In an age when medical science can keep us living well into our 90s and maybe even past 100, it is important that popes should feel free to resign when they are no longer up to the task of their ministry. Pope Benedict showed true pastoral concern for the church when he recognized he could not carry on.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he lived through the final years of John Paul II's papacy. He saw his friend decline, and he knew the church was drifting for the last few years of that long reign. Yet John Paul II felt bound by tradition to carry on until the end. Benedict XVI has freed future popes of that burden and perhaps freed the church from a major problem of having a senile or incapacitated pope. He deserves our thanks for this precedent.
The Benedictines have a saying about the selection of a new abbot: The abbot should be ne numis sapiens, ne nimis sanctus, et ne nimis sanus -- not too healthy, not too wise and not too holy. In other words, they should select a regular guy. That's what I hope for: a regular guy.
What does that mean in the context of the College of Cardinals? They are 120 guys, all pretty much cut from the same clerical cloth. They are all older men and accomplished church politicians who have been serving in church offices, where everyone is Catholic and everyone deferential.
But I hope we get somebody who has at least some experience as a parish priest. I hope we get someone who has heard confessions and done marriage counseling, been on youth retreats and done marriage prep. It would be nice if he had the experience of being alone in a parish where he had to do all the liturgies, week after week, and struggled to inspire the same people with his preaching. I hope he has had to explain the teaching of the faith to skeptical youth and angry adults. I hope he has to deal with divorced people.
I hope we get somebody who had not lived exclusively in the world of chancery offices where people give him deference and obedience all the time. I hope we get someone who has dialogued with evangelicals, Muslims and atheists as equals. It would be nice if he has a few friends who are Protestant clergy and he has come to respect them as intelligent and sincere Christians, every bit as saved as he is.
I hope we get someone from a big family, with many brothers and sisters.
I hope he has a lot of nieces and nephews who have challenged him around the dinner table and in family gatherings. Maybe some of them have married outside the church or have left the church to join other religions. He has attended their weddings only as a family member. Perhaps one of those nieces and nephews has come out to him as gay and he has had to love them still.
I hope he has several strong-willed and outspoken biological sisters who have more than a streak of feminism. Maybe they have told their brother that they use birth control. Maybe they have responsible and substantial careers outside the home where women are the boss.
I hope he is a man who has many old friends. That he has kept his friends since childhood and that some of the people on his Christmas card list still call him by his first name. Maybe some of them can still remind him of the stupid things he did or impetuous statements he made in his youth. There is nothing like an old friend to bring you down to earth.
I hope we get somebody who is in touch with his own humanity. It would be nice if he was a man who admits that he, too, is a sexual being who has struggled with human desires and impulses like everybody else.
I hope we get a man with a sense of humor. It would be nice if he was not too much of ninny. He might even be able to tell a joke once in a while and laugh at himself.
I hope we get somebody who puts on his pants one leg at a time. In fact, it would be nice if he would wear pants. Clerics should leave behind the silly affectation of dressing like they are still living in some Renaissance villa or a Baroque painting.
I hope we get a man who knows what it is like to be poor. It would be nice if he has dealt with the homeless and drug addicts and the sick for a few years of his life. It would be good if he has had to struggle like the rest of humanity for his daily bread. It would be nice if he has held a job and had to pay his own bills.
Maybe the cardinals could look around the room and perhaps even look outside the room for the new pope. There is nothing in canon law that says they have to elect a cardinal.
One thing is for sure: We need to try something new if the church is to be revived. What Yogi Berra said about baseball managers is also true about the cardinals' choice: "If you do what you have always done, you are going to get what you have always got."