Monday, November 24, 2008

One giant step backwards.

In the 1960's I was enrolled in a parochial school in the mid-west. In the town in which I grew up there was a German Parish, an Italian Parish, a Polish parish, and an Irish parish. I belonged to the Irish parish. In our little Catholic world, it was considered a "mixed marriage" if a Polish Catholic married an Irish Catholic. I exaggerate but only slightly. All of this serves as a backdrop to what happened in the fifth grade. Sister introduced two new students to our little Irish school; they were two black girls. Everyone in the class was shocked, not because they were black but, because they were Baptists.

To us, the idea of a Baptist or, for that matter any protestant seemed exotic at best. Why would anyone chose to not be Catholic?!? I recall Sister telling our class that we had to respect other people and their beliefs especially when they differed from our own. She also pointed out that this was an opportunity for us to better understand our own faith as well. I think back to my Irish parish in that blue collar neighborhood and the good sisters who taught us some 45 years ago.

I ask myself: What happened to those values? When I arrived at my new parish this last Spring, the choir sang a beautiful hymn, "All are welcome here" as the choir sang, I thought to myself: are all truly welcome here? The hymn expressed the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council and the values imparted to us by the wonderful teaching order of Dominican Sisters. Values that respect those with different opinions, belief systems, backgrounds. That saw a differing idea not as a threat but, as an opportunity for charity, deeper understanding and personal growth. Sadly, the idea of openness which the Holy Spirit invited us to embrace through the Blessed John XXIII has been shelved in favor of control. For example, professors at the university level are not allowed to discuss the issue of ordination of women with their students.

The faithful are left with Church documents which present lofty ideals and Church governance which pays lip service to those ideals but, crushes anyone who dares to invoke them. In this, the contemporary Church resembles the eastern European satellite nations of the former Soviet Union. They had enlightened constitutions which were ignored by those in positions of power, or worse, quoted as a justification for their unchallengeable rule. The late Pope John Paul II said of the old Soviet empire, it was a rotted tree. I simply shook it and it fell. Naked power and fear can only impose control/order for so long. In the case of the hierarchy, they have cut themselves off from the body of the Church, the people of God. Most bishops opt to govern by fiat rather than engaging in meaningful dialogue with the faithful. The net result is an increasing number of Catholics who ignore the bishops on the questions such as artificial birth control. They question the wisdom, if not the motives, of the bishops in the wake of the Pedophilia Scandals. Catholics who question an endless appeal for funds while, given no voice in the application of those funds, and often, little or questionable accountability, are continually being asked for more and more money. Why, where is it going?

Like King Louis XVI who remained insulated at Versailles while the people rioted in Paris, our bishops remain insulated in a sort of private boys club, where they believe that if they say it then, it must be true. Like Louis, they are bewildered that the people don't simply obey.


Fran said...

I am wondering if you read Richard McBrien's current column at NCR. It touched on the bishops and what they say and what they do not say.

Your post is well put. I think we are of a similar age. I grew up in an Italian parish in my town, but shock and gasp - my mother was Irish-American and my father was half Jewish and half Italian. I learned a lot at an early age.

And the whole "who would not want to be Catholic" piece, how true!

Oh those windows flung open by Bl. John XXIII... they are sealed shut double paned insulated glass now in many ways, aren't they?

And now I can't get "All are welcome" out of my head. Which is in general, a good thing.

We are at some moment in time here - your presence in that moment is a gift. Many prayers for you always.

James said...

This is a very powerful post, Father. It's tragic that we have not progressed, but regressed.

KJ said...

I had to chuckle at the introduction of Baptists to your school. I grew up in a conservative Protestant school, and when Catholics showed up, it was quite the event. Sadly, I don't think there was much opportunity for them to share how they experienced their faith through the Catholic Church, but if nothing else, the Protestant boys and girls had an opportunity to deal with all of their stereotypes.

Regarding the theme of the thread, I think that all of us can take respite in the traditions of those who came before us for a while, but at some point, the breath of the Spirit fills the sails to move the church in new ways to reveal the Gospel to a new generation. Why some see this as abandoning the radical faith preached and lived by Christ, I do not understand.

Davis said...

They are to be pitied in their isolation which can only bring about tragic consequences like those Louis XVI encountered.

Kevin said...

Hi Father:

I am currently reading a book right now about the Saints and it amazes me how many came into opposition to the church leaders who tried to silence them and now these same leaders have made them Saints! These power trips will NEVER hold forever.

SFbruiser said...

You struck the nail right on the head. In my parish, we continually have to remind each other that the hierarchy is NOT the church - WE ARE.
So we keep trying to engage the hierarchy in a respectful, fruitful dialogue in the hope that change will occur from within the church. I urge all parishioners to do the same.

AnneDroid said...

Good post. I'm a protestant ~ exotic, you say, woo hoo! ~ and a minister. Since coming into my present job in prison chaplaincy I've found myself in a two person team with a Roman Catholic colleague. It has been a wonderful experience, to be working side by side, respecting each other's denominational differences but also realising that so much more unites us than divides us. It' very sad to me that my country (Scotland) still has a big tribal protestant vs catholic division, which in fact is largely amongst those on both "sides" who never go to church at all...

Michael Dodd said...

I grew up in a fundamentalist Protestant tradition, in which we could not imagine anyone freely choosing to be Catholic. When I came into contact with the Catholic Church while in college (1968-1972), I was fascinated to discover a church in which people thought about questions rather than just quoting texts at one another. I joyfully joined up, entered a religious order and became a priest.

Thirty mostly happy years later, I looked around and wondered where that lively. thoughtful and life-giving church had gone. Suddenly I was being challenged on five "non-negotiables" that had nothing to do with what were historically at the core of the faith. I was being instructed to tell parishioners that they were not welcome to read the scriptures at Mass unless they agreed with the official stance of the bishops on birth control and gay rights. They weren't to be allowed to provide music if they did not accept a specific position on stem cell research.

Today we read of pastors telling Catholics that they should not go to communion if they voted for the man who is soon to be our president, although I don't recall a single bishop's voice being raised in 2004 to suggest that voting to re-elect the man who had led us into Iraq might have been even venially sinful or a voluntary imperfection.

I was told once that a prophet is one who stays in and speaks out. I chose to step out instead, but I admire the few like you who risk being prophetic.

Mychals Prayer said...

Dear Father Geoff,

Your comments about the Church hierarchy are timely. Yesterday’s first Reading was from Ezekiel 34 which is well worth reading in its entirety.

In it, God rails against the ancient religious leaders, the “shepherds of Israel.” God voids their authority, and announces that He Himself will directly shepherd His people. Ezekiel reminds us that theocratic arrogance and abuse are not unique to modern bishops.

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! ... You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally…

“Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: because you did not look after my sheep, I am coming against you. I will claim my sheep from you and put a stop to your shepherding. I will save my sheep so that they may no longer be food for your mouths.

“Thus says the LORD: I Myself will look after and tend my sheep! I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I will bring them back to their own country. In good pastures I will pasture them … I Myself will give them rest. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, shepherding them rightly.”

God’s promise to shepherd us directly and to free us from officious religious authorities was modeled by Christ, the Good Shepherd. God’s promise is fulfilled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all of us.

Not only popes, bishops, and priests, but all of us are called to be “sharers in the Divine Nature”; each of us was anointed at Baptism as “a priest, prophet, and king.” This is all solid Catholic theology which the bishops seem to have forgotten.

God shepherds us directly through the Holy Spirit among us, including you, Fr. Geoff, who choose to obey a Higher Authority over a much lesser, often fallible authority.

“Just trust in God, He’ll let you know what to do next.” + Fr. Mychal Judge

Mareczku said...

That was a very intresting post. I have read several of your post and I admire your courage. I also can't get "All are welcome" out of my head. I always thought that there was tolerance towards gays in the Church and that they were accepted. Now it seems that many Catholics don't accept them and want them out. This is so sad to me. Our Church is a diverse Church and to me this is a beautiful thing. We should all be welcome.

Peace to all - Mareczku