Beyond Comfort

Here’s a really insightful and poignant paragraph from Richard Rohr’s daily post from the Center for Action and Contemplation:

Those who rush to artificially concoct their identity often end up with hardened and overly defended edges. They are easily offended and may become racists, overly patriotic, or remain entirely tribal—afraid of the “other.” Often they become codependent and counter-dependent, living only in reaction to someone or something else. Being over and against is a lot easier than being in love. If your prayer is not enticing you outside your comfort zones, if your Christ is not an occasional “threat,” you probably need to do some growing in the ways of love.

Same Old, Same Old

Archbishop Bernard Hebda may be a really nice guy. He may even be a holy man. But, sorry, this (if true as reported) is the same old hierarchical, cover-your-priestly-ass, clerical bullshit:

“Hebda in the Q-and-A added that the Ramsey County investigation found insufficient evidence to bring forth criminal charges against any individuals and that questions to whether Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct compromised his leadership “became irrelevant in my mind” once he resigned last June.

“Moreover, canon law is sufficiently realistic and practical in that it doesn’t authorize bishops to judge their peers, and does not contemplate any further role in this matter for me or the archdiocese,” Hebda said.” (Excerpted from current National Catholic Reporter).

Need we remind the archbishop that he “or the archdiocese” does not constitute “the church”? This is a gross failure of pastoral leadership and ignorance of what the Church of St Paul and Minneapolis needs and deserves!

Sweep the investigation of Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct with 24 adult males under the rug and maybe people will forget! This “became irrelevant in [your] mind”?

Need we remind the current archbishop that Nienstedt remains on the payroll — for life — of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis?  In addition, he remains a member of governing boards at the Catholic University of America as well as the Gregorian in Rome. Should not the faculty and administration of these institutions care about the moral integrity and reputation of their board members?

What’s buried alive stays alive!  But, the truth always comes out. The truth will be told. The only question is by whom.

For far too long the arrogant attitude of the hierarchy has been, “We know what’s best for the ‘lay faithful’.”  To this the People of God say, “BULLSHIT!”

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Full NCR report [here].

Such is Our Duty

This time of year reminds me of a church discipline from childhood I’ve long discarded. It’s called the “Easter Duty,” the obligation each Catholic has to go to Confession sometime during Lent. In theory it’s a beautiful and sensible practice — preparing for a full-blown, no-holds-barred celebration of Easter.

Fact is, no one does it. I haven’t for years. But something is shifting this year, something feels different, something is quickening deep inside. The desire to again look at the directive, perhaps even to reincorporate it into my spiritual practice, is awakening. As with all new growth, it’s fragile and might be easily smothered.  But this year it seems I’m being urged to take a fresh look.

Numerous reasons might be cited. First, and most significantly, my experience as a “spiritual coach” for men in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction has a profound reciprocal effect on me. Everyone familiar with the 12 Steps knows the critical importance of the famed Fifth Step — that arduous encounter with another human being when we admit out loud the exact nature of our wrongs.  This is done after a fearless moral inventory.

One need not be a rocket scientist to see the close connection between the Fifth Step and the Easter Duty. Both traditions are inspired and come to the same conclusion. An honest, accurate and thorough admission — out loud and to another person — of our moral failures with acceptance of responsibility for the wrong we have done engenders the recovery, health, well-being and serenity we seek. Twelve-Steppers understand such acknowledgement is critical and  essential to their recovery.

So, yes, with restored resolve I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. But something more is stirring deep down within this quickening awareness. It’s as simple as the archaic aphorism that has also fallen out of vogue: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” In fact, I would amend that to say, “What’s good for the adult male goose is good for the gaggle of geese!”

Pope Francis prophetically leads the way in gestures like the one we saw yesterday. In a monumentally historic statement the Roman Pontiff and Russian Orthodox Patriarch jointly affirmed, “We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world.”

Like every courageous and prophetic acknowledgement of moral culpability and consequent responsibility to make amends, such acknowledgement is easily ignored, overlooked if not denied, and often subverted by powers-that-be.

Yes, I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. I propose the “gander” do as well — by this I mean Francis’ fellow bishops and all church hierarchs (not all of whom are ordained). Even more, “What’s good for us geese has got to be good for the gaggle.”

We will gather as one Body in Christ to celebrate the unmerited grace of God at Easter. What then might be our corporate, collective “Easter Duty”? …a collective, corporate, fearless confession of our wrong doing with “a firm purpose of amendment”?

Unquestionably, a good place to start would be for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch and fully fund a truly independent, unhampered and fearless “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” regarding clergy sex abuse. But this is only a first essential step, the litmus test by which we demonstrate our sincerity to enter into the “repentance leading to resurrection” offered us in the Easter Triduum.

In the absence of such resolve by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, there is nothing preventing leadership within local dioceses from embracing an authentic season of conversation, shepherding us through death to life. I can think of no better place than our own Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for this to begin.

Is not this the repentance God seeks, “to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6). Would this not be a Jubilee Year of Mercy, truly of Biblical proportions?

It is long past time for each and all of us to perform our Easter Duty!

Lead As You Care to be Led

Jeffrey A. Krames is clearly a go-to sort of guy on the topic of leadership. As vice president and publisher of a McGraw-Hill’s business division, Krames edited and published more than 275 books. Perhaps he’s known best as the author of the 2005 leadership classic, Jack Welch and the 4 E’s of Leadership. He knows excellence when he sees it and the qualities that undergird a leader’s effectiveness.

Jeffrey Krames is Jewish — all the more significant that he would add to a very long list of books available about Jorge Mario Bergoglio by authoring Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis. In his Prologue he explains that “this is not just another leadership book. It is a deeply personal one.”

Krames makes it quite clear that his book is not confessional; his interest is other than Catholic faith or theology. Precisely as the descendant of Holocaust survivors, Krames celebrates Francis as a leader “who places enormous value on respect, dignity and humanity in every shape, color and form.”

Thankfully, the book is addressed to ordinary folks who may have no professional training in business, management or administration but still find ourselves called to a variety of leadership roles. Isn’t that all of us?

Here are the twelve lessons of leadership Karmes derives from observing Pope Francis:

  • Humility — “I’ll stay down here.” after being elected Pope and expected to mount a dias to receive the electing cardinals.
  • Immersion in the group your lead — “Smell like your flock.”
  • Honest assessment of people — “Who am I to judge?”
  • Reinvention — the church needs to “surge forth to the peripheries.”
  • Inclusivity — “Walk through the dark night” with your constituency.
  • Shunning insularity — “Self-sufficiency is evident in every false prophet.”
  • Pragmatism — “Live on the frontier.”
  • Care in decision-making — “I am always wary of the first decision.”
  • Decentralization — “I see the church as a field hospital.”
  • Being where you are needed, acting as it is needed — “Go there, live there, and understand the problem.”
  • Confronting adversity head-on — “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests have committed.”
  • Reaching beyond your constituency — “A Church the ‘goes forth’ is a Church whose doors are open.”

Whether a small business owner, a teacher, a manager, CEO, parent, spouse or neighbor the wisdom Krames distills from Francis’ compelling style is certainly something we all would do well to cultivate.
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I have not yet had the opportunity to read Krames’ book and am wholly indebted to an excellent review by Trappist Mark Scott, abbot of New Melleray Abbey published in Cistercian Studies Quarterly, Vol 50.3 (2015) pp. 383-385.

Taking Personal Inventory

“You can take only your own inventory, never anyone else’s!” remains a bedrock tenet  for any who seek the serenity promised by 12 Step programs. I pushed the limit yesterday in my assessment of Archbishop Neinstedt’s appearance in First Class.

Here’s the rest of the story… I had brought Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir for reading onboard long trans-Atlantic flights. Disclaimer: No, I have no plans to write my memoir! Discovery: Karr’s incisive instruction for writing about what really matters offers a brilliant view into how we might better access and express our spiritual lives in prayer or with others.

I had highlighted Karr’s reference to George Orwell’s masterful essay Shooting the Elephant, “You wear a mask, and your face grows to fit it.” Yes, I could accuse John Neinstedt of that. More importantly, I need to accept that truth as my own truth as well.

Speaking of her literary efforts Karr concludes, “No matter how much you’re gunning for truth, the human ego is also a stealthy, low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle … The best you can hope for is to rip off each mask as you find it blotting out your vision.”

How I wish we’d hear such earthy, blunt preaching from our pulpits! I now cringe when I recall how many of my homilies relied upon an array of disembodied platitudes and pious principles — Lord, have mercy!

Why? Why do we retreat to the impersonal and theoretical? Karr observes, “We each nurture a private terror that some core aspect(s) of either ourselves or our story must be hidden or disowned.”

Though speaking of the craft of memoir writing, her wisdom equally applies to our most intimate selves and spiritual lives:

With every manuscript I’ve ever edited — even grown-assed writers’ — the traits a writer often fights hardest to hide may serve as the undeniable facets both of self and story. You bumble onto scenes that blow up the fond notions of the past, or whole shifts in attitude practically rewrite you where you stand.

Karr’s cure for writer’s block — so familiar and feared by any who put pen to paper — applies equally well to boredom in prayer or spiritual desolation. When our faith seems to have withered, even evaporated; when our prayer feels dry, hollow and purposeless; we’d do well to follow her advice: “Ask yourself if you aren’t strapping your current self across the past to hide the real story.”

Now you know the rest of my Neinstedt story. I need to ask myself: What fires my visceral reaction to the Archbishop’s appearance? What might I be projecting onto him that I dare not admit about myself? What is so unacceptable about my own story or life that I so vehemently condemn or seek to control in others?

Yes, it’s time to focus on taking my own inventory! For sure, there are stories to more than fill a lifetime.

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Quotes are from The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr, HarperCollins Publishers, 2015, #2276 and 2278 of Kindle edition.

Flying First Class

Who could have concocted a more ironic or bizarre scenario — flying home First Class from our honeymoon with John Neinstedt!

Yesterday we returned from Amsterdam to Minneapolis after a 16-day European extravaganza. Much to our surprise and fleeting consternation, the disgraced Archbishop rose from his seat at Gate D-57 as “Priority Status” boarding was called. Equally shocking but with a  promise of comfort, a friend had surprised us with an up-grade to First Class for our return flight.

My first response upon seeing the man rise and turn toward us from his seat two rows ahead was pity. Impeccably attired in tailored black suit and Roman collar, the swag of a silver chain hinted at the pectoral cross neatly tucked away in his pocket. A gold ring symbolizing episcopal status still adorned his right hand.

I have flown First Class only twice in my life, the other time being more than thirty years ago! My assumption is that Archbishop Neinstedt typically flies first class — perhaps I’m wrong. How could I not pity him — alone, disgraced, a shepherd who scattered his flock, deemed to be no better than a hired-hand.

Amid this eight-hour flight of continuous pampering, I could not help but wonder when legitimate privacy and need for rest bleeds over into self-indulgence, status-seeking or sense of entitlement. When does it all become routine?

We were two of only 33 passengers in First Class among a roster that likely surpassed 300 passengers. Only five of the thirty-three were women — one was an elderly lady whose daughter regularly came from “coach” to check on her, two twenty-something women were accompanied by men I presumed to be their husbands. (Might they also be returning from their honeymoons?) There was only one person of color — a man whose tone would have been of great advantage during Jim Crow days.

The overwhelming demographic was middle-aged white males who appeared to be accomplished, savvy and influential business types. By contrast with the Archbishop, their attire or appearance exhibited nothing to distinguish role, function or status. They were conspicuous in polo shirts, khakis and dress-for-comfort.  By comparison, their sense of self and personal bearing appeared to emanate from somewhere within.

We savored our First Class treatment and indulged every comfort as honeymoon luxury. We fully recognized this to be a singular gift and not our social norm. Ruminating over sixteen marvelous days in Europe and the incredible kindness and hospitality shown to us, we hope never to take any of these days for granted — even the bizarre twist of flying home with John Neinstedt!

In the end I cannot help but wonder what it might have been like if the man had only gotten out from behind his clerical attire and shed his episcopal trappings more often. Would he have been a better bishop — a shepherd who truly knew his sheep and allowed us to know him?

What if he had donned khakis, polo shirt and flew coach back to Minneapolis yesterday? It’s a pity he did not!  Perhaps the thought never even occurred to him.  That, if true, is a pity!

Until Death Do Us Part

Too many are tormented. Too often our churches and moral leaders instill lingering shame instead of comfort and support. They just don’t get it!

Once again I sat across from a long-suffering faith-filled Catholic who was in a second marriage without an annulment of a first marriage. As a gay man, I get it! I know what it is like to be deemed “inherently disordered” if not demonized by a church in which I had eagerly professed vows as a religious and served as a priest.

As a family member, I get it! First marriages of two siblings culminated in divorce. Both married again. Neither sought the “benefit” of an annulment from the church. Neither have I sought official “laicization” (that is “return to the lay state”) from ordination as priest. Annulment and laicization legalities simply feel condescending and shaming. With my sibs I choose to have no part of it.

As a friend, I get it! The same sad story is all too common. Too many live with lingering doubts and troubling conflicts inflicted by a church they want to call home. Many tears have been shed, many doors slammed, many hearts broken. As one friend recently shared:

“Till death do us part” has been narrowly assumed to be physical death. In my experience, there is also mental, emotional, and spiritual death that can occur. I hung on to a 21 year marriage until I was so close to mental, emotional, and spiritual death that it has taken 21 years to get resuscitated.

As Scripture attests, those in high places are wont to impose heavy burdens on others they themselves would never carry. (Matt 23:4) In this — and so much regarding sexuality and marriage — the church leadership is simply wrong!

Married people know this! Your average Catholic knows this! The Synod of Catholic Bishops gathering for a second session in October have a rare opportunity to show they are beginning to get it. Perhaps as preparation they can meditate on the verse: “It is mercy that I seek, not sacrifice!” (Hosea 6:6; Matt 9:13 and 12:17)

But married people and average Catholics have our work cut out too. We “get it” but too many of us are still shackled by shame and doubt. Perhaps all who have been baptized would do well to reflect on the words Jesus heard at his own baptism in the Jordan and his disciples heard spoken at Jesus’ Transfiguration: “You are my beloved son. In you I am well pleased!” (Matt 3:17 and 17:5)

God does not say to those he loves, “Get an annulment, jump through these legalities to become acceptable.” To all who are baptized into Christ — and I would include all who have been created in God’s own image — God says, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

With that as bedrock, we are prepared and commissioned to love as best we are able — until death do us part. In this God is more than well pleased.