It’s All in the Stories We Tell

It’s the stories, plain and simple. No doubt about it!

Happy May Day!  As a very young kid in Hartington, NE we decorated small baskets with crape paper, pipe cleaners and ribbons. After filling them with candy we’d sneak to our friends’ porches, place them near the door as we rang the bell only to dash into hiding before being found-out! Such childhood memories delight me still.

At school during the 1950s we learned something much more sinister that made us feel unpatriotic celebrating May Day with such frivolities. We were taught the frightening lesson that May 1 is International Workers Day, an occasion for atheistic communism to brandish weapons of unimaginable destruction and the inevitable march of Soviet Marxism to world supremacy. So much for adults destroying the imaginations of innocent youth!

Yes, it’s about stories — the kind of stories we tell ourselves and the stories we choose to believe! At the same time teachers at St. Cecilia Grade School taught us about International Workers Day, we were reassured that Pope Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955 as a direct counter to atheistic communism. Of course, everyone knew that God and Joseph, foster-father of Jesus, are bigger and stronger than Karl Marx and Nikita Khrushchev combined!

Stories about May baskets, atheistic communism or even pronouncements of popes no longer charm or frighten me as they once did. But I still love our stories and get excited about what we choose to tell and believe. Stories about real people living real lives of incredible achievement, scaling unimagined heights, standing up to power, transforming the lives of others.  That’s a vital part of being Catholic I will never regret or relinquish — we have the best stories!

We take a lot of bashing about our devotion to the saints. Like the discipline we remember so well from Catholic school, such admonishment is probably deserved to keep us in line and on the straight and narrow. But kids need more than doctrine and discipline. We all need an abundance of inspiring stories with action heroes proving that good triumphs over evil and lives of exemplary valor are not only possible but more common than we think.

Here is just such a story… How many Americans do you think could name the current Cardinal Archbishop of New York? Too hard? Name any New York archbishop since the 1950s. Now, how many Americans do you think recognize the name Dorothy Day? Hmmm… Cardinal Archbishop or poor single mother, both from New York?

But hasn’t that always been the case? How many stories of heroic virtue and lives that truly changed the world are about the hierarchy or are about bishops? Isn’t it much more common that ordinary people living extraordinary lives is what inspires and transforms?  Beginning with a poor girl’s unplanned pregnancy in Nazareth, the great stories invariably teach that genuine reform more often comes from the bottom up than from the top down.

An indefatigable poor, single mother started the Catholic Worker Movement 82 years ago today. The many who love and cherish her story celebrate that Dorothy Day turned the Catholic Church — indeed, much of twentieth century America — on its head! She died 35 years ago. Ironically, Timothy Dolan, the current Cardinal Archbishop of New York is now spearheading her cause for canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church.

Imagine that!

Dare We Hope?

The biggest, boldest headline doesn’t always tell the most important story. That’s the case this week with Pope Francis’ much anticipated and highly publicized meeting with victims of clergy sex abuse. Though survivor advocate groups cited deficiencies and questioned the Church’s resolve, Francis gained generally high marks for personal empathy and promise to hold bishops accountable.

But as ordinary Catholics know and this blog has reiterated many times, the root cause of our sex abuse crisis is the culture of clericalism, hierarchical arrogance and preoccupation with protecting power in the Roman church. Though not as insidious as the sexual abuse of a child, recognition of the urgent need to reform the Vatican Curia is a subset of the same core malignancy.

A sliver of light shone through the long socked-in cloud cover yesterday.  It came in the form of a copyrighted [story] by Carol Glatz for the Catholic News Service — to their credit, this is an arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Though it seems not to have even registered on mainline media it portends the level of awareness that must be in place for any meaningful change.  It suggests a few in church leadership are beginning to “get it” and we may have reason for hope beyond what the Pope promised.

“To some it might seem less than prudent to think that the church would go out of its way to seek out even more victims and survivors,” opening up further possibilities for lawsuits, anguish and “trouble,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told representatives from bishops’ conferences from around the world.

However, when Jesus tells pastors to leave behind their flock to seek out the one who is lost, that mandate “is itself unreasonable and imprudent but, like it or not, that is precisely what Jesus asks us to do.”

Helping perpetrators, victims, parishes, communities and people who are distanced from the church out of “disgust at what has happened to children” won’t happen with “slick public relations gestures or even from repeated words of apology,” Martin said.

“Healing cannot be delegated,” the Archbishop emphasized. It requires every church member be humble and Christ-like in lovingly embracing “wounded men and women, with all the brutality and unattractiveness of wounds.”

It will come when the church recognizes “how compromise and insensitivity and wrong decisions have damaged the witness of the church,” he said, and when its members have their own personal healing, becoming more humble and journeying close to those who are lost and hurting.

“We are not there to tell the survivors what they have to do, but together to find new ways of interacting with respect and care,” and not hoping the problems go away, but seeking them out for reconciliation, he said.

Archbishop Martin was one of a number of speakers at an annual meeting of Conference on the Safeguarding of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults. The 2014 conference is being held this week in Rome.

In his address, the Archbishop said, “The greatest harm that we could do to the progress that has been made right across the church is to slip back into a false assurance that the crisis is a thing of the past.”

“What has happened has wounded the entire church,” he said, and “the entire church is called to put right what has happened.”

“We are not that kind of church yet: and by far,” he said.

With this awareness finally being expressed by church leadership there might finally be a toe-hold for hope in this tragic saga of clergy sexual abuse and a few cracks showing in a perverse culture of clericalism.

It’s a refreshing story and a welcome week when the most significant report coming out of Rome originates from someone other than the Pope.
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I have no intention to violate copyright laws and respect the restriction posted on the CNS story that is my source: Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed. But with good news like this, how could I not share it? I enthusiastically refer you to the full copyrighted story with the link provided above.

The Difference a Change of Filter Makes

Time for a little honesty! Time for true confession…

The investigation of our archbishop, John Neinstedt, for alleged same-sex dalliances leaves me so disillusioned and angry that I really had no desire to go to church yesterday. I’m really pissed off by his self-righteous arrogance and homophobic pomposity. It’s not as if his reputation didn’t precede him to the Twin Cities — just like a long festering boil, the infection is finally being lanced!

Out of force of habit or blind stubbornness I walked to the 9:30 Mass despite myself. It’s only a short distance from our house to Christ the King, hardly more than two blocks. Sunday of Fourth of July weekend is always one of the lowest attended services. Minnesotans are notorious for being “up North.” Still, parking spaces en route were quickly filling with family SUVs and elders arrived in a procession of vehicles giving front-door service.

Viewing this gathering congregation from the sidewalk just as it begins a gradual decent to the 51st Street entrance, something washed over me. My crankiness receded. My fixation relaxed. My heart softened. Screw the Archbishop! With the hard-won determination all survivors of abuse need to reclaim – and all Minneapolis-St Paul Catholics are surely victims of hierarchical abuse regardless of whatever John Neinstedt has done in his past life – who is he to hold power or retain control over our emotional lives or the full, free and mature practice of our faith!

Approaching the entrance along with familiar neighbors, well-scrubbed families and friendly congregants I physically felt an angry, cynical “filter” being lifted from my eyes and heart. Going to church felt like coming home – here is the church! If the Eucharist we come to share means anything, we are Christ’s real presence. This is the People of God I know, love, wish to serve and in which I hold my birthright!

We garden-variety Catholics have a long history of disregarding pious platitudes from remote hierarchs.  Tending a fussing child or paying the mortgage insulates us from  pontificating so heavenly minded it’s no earthly good. With my fixation filter lifted, I recognized that I was not going to church out of habit or obligation. I was going to church because of simple, sophisticated, mature, faithful folks whose faith is not their profession but the incarnational mess of our ordinary lives.

Every family, each person entering the doors of CTK on any given Sunday would balk at being called “exemplary” – but they are! Anyone who has been a parent has probably heard more confessions and ministered reconciliation more often than the typical pastor. Gathering here are those whose Baptism and Confirmation have become engrained — yes, becoming second nature, a matter of rote habit even.  If there is obligation, it is an obligation they have to themselves or one they pay their children.

It’s long past time for more than a little honesty in our church. We are in urgent need of changing the sieve that keeps secret the tragic truth poisoning our church family. Honest confessions are long overdue — and here in Minneapolis-St Paul we need more than just a change of filters!

The rank and file Catholic in the pews understands this far better than those for whom “church” has become a career and those blind guides who  presume they hold control by divine right.

How can we not gather to give thanks to a God who consistently seems to act and speak this truth!

How Long Must We Endure?

Today is a really, really, really hard day to be Catholic in Minnesota! If you care to read the details that leave me somewhere between exasperated on the way to enraged you can find them [here].

Let me simply summarize by saying that I called for the resignation of John Neinstedt as Archbishop of St Paul & Minneapolis [here] one month ago today. Now I am confident that it will only be a matter of time!  But how long, oh Lord?  How long?

Perhaps this is perfect context in which to reaffirm that our Christian faith is grounded — not in humans, not in a church or any authority, not even in any human interpretation of Scripture — but ultimately and solely in God alone.

So today is a day in which I feel the cost, challenge and pain of loving a church that is corrupt, sinful and in desperate need of a thorough house-cleaning! All the more need to keep my eyes focused on God alone! All the more reason to stay with the very same theme I had planned for today — living in the dark!

Yesterday, before the bomb shell news report, I could never have anticipated how I would come to value Barbara Brown Taylor’s quote from the 14th century classic, The Cloud of Unknowing: “… darkness and cloud is always between you and God, no matter what you do.”

Let me be clear, the anonymous author of this Christian classic was speaking of “darkness” as that intriguing, beguiling, frustrating mystery of God that is as impenetrable as its opposite, trying to look directly into the sun. This darkness — only metaphorically apprehended in what mystics express as a “dark night of the soul” — is the direct polar opposite of the sin and corruption we so vividly see in the Church of St Paul and Minneapolis.

Keeping our sights singularly fixed on God alone, we acknowledge that some things we will simply never be able to see by the light of human understanding. At times — thankfully not most of the time — faith feels like a forced exile, if not a long captivity, the spiritual life weighs like an imposing burden.

The anonymous text from the 14th century remains a classic because of its incomparable ability to express our universal and perennial experience. Ultimately, like the penultimate lawgiver, Moses, we are able to encounter or “see” the Holy One — if at all — only from within a cloud of luminous darkness.

Moses never made it to the Promised Land, being given only the gift of seeing it beckoning on the horizon. Others lead the People’s crossing over from slavery into freedom.

How long, oh Lord? How long!!! Our trust rests in you alone.

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Barbara Brown Taylor’s reference on p 48 of Learning to Walk in the Dark is from The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Emilie Griffin.  HarperSan-Francisco, 1981. p 15.

Warning: Strong Winds Possible

Remember that old, short, fat guy with big ears? His name was Angelo.

Who wouldn’t feel affection for a man who was so comfortable with himself that he constantly made jokes about his physical appearance? When he once met a little boy named Angelo, he exclaimed, “That was my name, too!” And then, conspiratorially, “But then they made me change it!”

Journalists once expressed concern about the many burdens of his office on such an old man — he was seventy-seven when elected!  They asked, “Do worries, stress or anxiety given all you have to face ever keep you awake at night?” He answered, “Not at all! At the end of the day I say, ‘God, this is your church. I’m going to sleep.’”

An experienced diplomat, a veteran of ecumenical dialogue, and a gifted pastor and bishop, John XXIII brought a wealth of experience to the office of pope. Blessed with a sense of humor and innate humility, he managed to escape the Achilles heel of all Catholics – conflating the hierarchy with the church.

When making a pastoral visit to a Roman medical center named the Hospital of the Holy Spirit he was introduced to the nun who was the administrator of the hospital. “Holy Father,” she said, “I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.” “You’re very lucky,” said the pope, delighted. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”

Three months after assuming his office, Pope John caught Vatican bureaucrats off guard by casually announcing his intention to convene an ecumenical council. Curial officers, long accustomed to running things, prepared documents simply reiterating tired old “truths” in the moribund language of ecclesial texts. Entrenched bishops were poised to condemn a whole new syllabus of modern errors.

John gave voice to a different agenda. “The church has always opposed … errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.” He also hoped the church might reclaim its true identity and vocation as a “church of the poor.”

The pope hardly spoke during the opening sessions of the Council. He made one crucial intervention. After the first previously prepared document was rejected by a narrow majority, but not enough to table it definitively, John directed that it be returned for complete revision. That empowered the assembled bishops to set aside the entire set of draft documents and start from scratch.

His role was simply to “open the widows” for the spirit of Vatican II. Terminal cancer would cut short his participation but not his humor: “My bags are packed and I am ready to go.”

Four and a half years after becoming pope, John dictated a final message from his deathbed:

Now, more than ever, certainly more than in the past centuries, our intention is to serve people as such and not only Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere the rights of the human person and not only those of the Catholic Church; it is not the Gospel that changes; it is we who begin to understand it better…. The moment has arrived when we must recognize the signs of the times, seize the opportunity, and look far beyond. 

Sound vaguely familiar? As we approach Pentecost this Sunday we do well to remember that this isn’t the pope’s church, it is God’s! For all who would conflate hierarchy with church, the best we could do would be to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit.  We should all be starting more fires!

Saint John XXIII died on this day in 1963.

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I am indebted once again to Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Times. Crossroads, 1999. p 243-4.

Humor is from James Martin, SJ and more may be enjoyed [here].

Beyond Denial to Genuine Hope

A week ago at church we heard that terrific passage from 1 Peter 3:15 suggesting we should always be ready to give reason for our hope. Yesterday at church I experienced reason for great hope in the most unimaginable way – Father Dale matter-of-factly referred to rape in his homily. It felt like fresh Spring air reviving the church.

Regulars here will remember that I am beyond exasperation with clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church. As with the vast majority of rank and file Catholics my outrage transcends those who committed acts of sexual exploitation. Collective outrage correctly rests with a culture of clericalism – like fish, the ordained are typically unaware of the water in which they swim!

For the record, I believe Archbishop John Nienstedt should resign. My reasons are not based in anger or revenge, though I freely admit my anger and belief he must bear the consequences of his malfeasance. He should resign because he has squandered authority and lost the trust of the people. No one can provide moral leadership from such a position of deficit.

He is not likely to resign. Such is the culture of clericalism – ordination is often misconstrued as divine right, direct delegation from God Almighty! He appears to me as one who remains blithely unaware of the water in which he swims. Clerics are too often preoccupied with fulfilling “their” vocations, their individual “call” from God. It’s tied up in power!

If Archbishop Nienstedt were a Good Shepherd he would recognize that it’s not about him! Neither is it about public anger, revenge, power or even legitimate authority. It’s about the church, the People of God. The eight years to Nienstedt’s mandatory retirement age of 75 is simply too long for this Archdiocese to wait for the leadership it deserves and desires.

But neither is my point ultimately about an Archbishop. It’s about hope, fresh air, speaking the truth, proclaiming a Word recognized as the Truth! It’s about what’s happening in parishes in this Archdiocese and across this country. It’s about priests like Father Dale who know the water in which they swim, who love the communities they shepherd, and about mature Christians who recognize and require truth be spoken.

Yesterday Dale introduced his homily, masterfully focused on the Ascension of the Lord, with a passing reference to the death of Maya Angelou and her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In that context he mentioned that she had been raped at age seven and lived for the next ten years not speaking. Rape. Seven-years old. In church, out loud!

This never would have happened in the church of my childhood. Such topics were verboten, unspeakable, mentioned only in the privacy of Confession. That too was an ocean in which we swam unaware of the toxicity of our waters.

Today churches, schools and civic organizations have “safe child” trainings, policies guiding the actions of supervising adults, and a heightened sensitivity to good-touch/bad-touch. This is as it must be. This all is necessary to transform our culture and heal our communities.

But something more was in the air yesterday at church – freedom, truth, openness. It feels like a genuinely safe and transparent community when rape of a child can be factually admitted and publicly grieved. It went far beyond training, policies or supervision!

This was not the point of Dale’s Ascension homily – and that is my point. No more cover-ups. No more denial. No more lies. Truth vivified the air. What a healthy community in which to raise a child. What a truly safe church we really are becoming.

At the Ascension Jesus promised to send us the Spirit. We have good reason for deep and abiding hope!

Forgiveness

I can’t pray the Our Father anymore – at least as I have in the past. Honesty requires that I admit my paralysis. Most of my prayer remains sincere but I now get hung up on “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Integrity demands that I admit deep resistance and objection.

It’s easy in conversation to accept that Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves is pretty radical. In every day practice we might be able to transcend our urge to extract “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. But love my enemies, pray for those who persecute? Offer forgiveness, not just once but seven times seventy? Do not resist an evil doer but offer the other cheek as well to the one who strikes you?

Last weekend we went to see The Railway Man, a searing account of a former prisoner of war who is unable to overcome the emotional trauma of his past. Based on a true story, Eric Lomax was one of thousands forced into slave labor to build the notorious Burma Railway, known as the “Death Railway” because of the thousands who perished during its construction.

“The Railway Man” begins three decades after the war. It’s long shadow of looms over his marriage. Lomax has terrifying nightmares, and his behavior is erratic, at times violent. His wife sees he is shell-shocked and desperately wants to help. But Lomax refuses to discuss what happened in the internment camp. Intending revenge, Lomax instead travels to Asia to confront his tormentor.

How are such victims to forgive? Are they to be forgiven as they forgive those who have trespassed against them? Locally, two men “sucker punched” and kicked in the head of a young dad who now lies in critical condition struggling for his life. What should “forgiveness” look like for this wife and mother?

Perhaps the ultimate test for our generation is clerical sexual abuse. We all know too well that such a victim never does fully recover from such a profound violation of trust. Unspeakable pain lingers. Emotional landmines lie hidden while spawning a veritable tsunami of collateral damage. Relationships are forever poisoned.

Our generation has been collectively victimized, violated, traumatized. One need not have experienced explicit physical exploitation to know the deep pain. What angers us, what hurts most, is not simply the reprehensible behavior of initial perpetrators. We have come face to face with the fact that the Church itself has failed us all. Unconscionable behavior by the hierarchy seems relentless — like [this] out of Seattle yesterday.  We are all victims of their abuse.

How do we pray with integrity “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”? One thing I have recognized is my tendency to link my need to be forgiven with my willingness to forgive – quid pro quo, we are forgiven as we are capable of forgiving. I’m doomed if my forgiveness is contingent upon or in proportion to my capacity to forgive.

Where is the hope? And, yes, there is always hope! Whether a prisoner of war like Eric Lomax, an anguished wife and mother in Mankato or a “cradle Catholic” in the pew on Sundays, forgiveness sometimes requires a superhuman act. In reality only God can forgive.

“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” remains as pressing in our day as for the Pharisees grilling Jesus. (Luke 5:21). Despite the normative teaching of Jesus in the Our Father, forgiveness is really only possible through God’s saving action in Christ (Rom 3:25f).

Ultimately, God has reconciled us to Himself and to one another while we were still sinners (Rom 5). That gives me hope despite my paralysis in prayer. That is the sole grounds on which we may have hope for the Church as well.

God save us!
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Again, I am indebted to Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Walter Kasper, Paulist Press, 2013 for prompting much of these reflections; esp., pp 138-142.

 

Party-Pooper

Okay, so the Catholic world is gathering this weekend in Rome to celebrate the saintliness of two popes. Probably harmless enough. Perhaps even helpful for those of a certain cultural religiosity. Me? I will read/watch the news reports but would rather spend my time enjoying a really beautiful Spring weekend in Minneapolis with family and friends.

Count me among those party-poopers like the highly regarded Vatican-expert Thomas Reese, SJ who believes that “canonizing popes is a dumb idea.” [link] It’s all too politicized from my perspective. Too many want their favorite “made a saint so he can be presented as the ideal pope that future popes should imitate. It is more about church politics than sanctity” according to Reese.

Thank God for Pope Francis! Traditionalist Catholics and Polish nationals adored JPII and began an intense push for immediate sainthood. Although the cardinals and bishops of Vatican II expressed a similar spontaneous call for John XXIII upon the conclusion of the council, his cause languished for fifty years.

Francis has tempered the “political/ideological” fervor with the ingenious pairing of the two. Reese insightfully notes that Pope Francis is fighting the same divisions that Paul faced in Corinth, where some would say, “I belong to Paul,” and others, “I belong to Apollos” or “Cephas.” We are bigger and better than all of that!

That having been said, we must not gloss over genuine concerns and just “make happy”. Count me as well among those who think we have moved way too fast with John Paul II. In no way do I question the man’s global influence, considerable brilliance, obvious holiness and long-suffering virtue. But should we rush to canonize his “saintliness”? More time should have been taken for his full legacy to become known. That sort of patience and forbearance is the wise practice and time-proven tradition of the Church.

Specifically, I am curious about his culpability in the global sex abuse scandal. Sufficient evidence indicates he was apprised of the burgeoning crisis as early as 1984. He consistently defended a model of clericalism, hierarchy, power and prestige of the priesthood that rank and file Catholics recognize as the real source of  the sex abuse crisis.  Thomas P. Doyle has written a blistering critique based on his first hand experience of transmitting information to the Vatican as a staff assistant to U.S. papal nuncio Cardinal Pio Laghi. [link]. 

Ultimately, millions of people coming together to celebrate the holiness of others cannot be a bad thing. What’s going on in Rome will be a memorable moment of grace and religious zeal for those who participate. That’s good! It’s a true blessing.

Then after those of us who actually remember John XXIII and John Paul II pass on to our own heavenly reward, their memories will fade along with that of St. Pius X (1903-14) who ferociously fought the “heresy of Modernism” and went kicking and screaming trying to keep the Catholic church from embracing the 20th century!

Eyes that Refuse to See

Yesterday I was in my doctor’s office for a routine lab test to confirm that the 10 mg of generic Lipitor is keeping cholesterol within my doctor’s prescribed limits. An issue of WebMD was the best choice among really lame publications in the waiting area. Passing over articles on reducing belly fat, seven ways to prepare chicken and secrets for a good night’s sleep I was attracted to a report out of Australia that older people who have an active social life – that is, friends – live 22% longer! Do we really need WebMD to tell us that?

Many bemoan the apparent disintegration of our families and communities. Millennials are disaffiliating from their parents’ religion at unprecedented rates. Schools, Scouts and service centers are finding it virtually impossible to recruit sufficient volunteers for essential programming. Sociologists chart the disintegration of urban neighborhoods as the rural areas continue to empty of population. Some frantically bewail an attack on the very definition of marriage and family. The result is a broad-based anxiety, heightened sense of isolation and fear for personal safety all the while we become more isolated. No wonder we don’t need a magazine in our doctor’s office to tell us that people with a rich assortment of friends are happier and live longer.

Our social reality is an ideal “place” from which to hear the Gospel for this Fourth Sunday in Lent – the story of the man born blind. Deborah J. Kapp, professor of Urban Ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago brilliantly debunks the simplistic claim that families and communities of the past were more connected, attentive and supportive – that people took better care of each other! Kapp invites us to more carefully look at the story of the man born blind through this “lens of anxiety about collapsing social capital.”

We see that our prized and protected presumptions about some prior idyllic age are what collapse. Each of the social supports that were supposed to be in place for the blind man fails to deliver. The man’s communities, the religious authorities, even his family want to see a certain “reality” and fail to “see” him for who he is or appropriately “deliver” for the man. Religious leadership doesn’t want to believe the man’s story because it opposes the story they want to tell and the power they want to retain – authority to define sin and dispense grace is a blinding narcotic! Even the man’s parents put their own social standing before their son’s welfare. Perhaps we too are so blind to this overly-familiar text that we fail to see its compelling relevance for our lives.

Yesterday, something else I was reading jumped off the page. This time I was at home in my recliner, not the doctor’s office. Although it is not an ancient text nor reverenced as Scripture, it delivered a corroborating indictment of blindness in…

those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. … In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. 

What do we see when we look upon our families, neighborhoods, work places, faith communities?  How do we view and exercise authority? How are we called to receive, to heal, to serve? Are our eyes opened when we read the Scriptures? Do we truly recognize the Christ before our eyes?
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The contemporary text is from Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, #94-95. You may link to the original [here] which opens to the entire document.

Professor Deborah J. Kapp’s insightful analysis of John 9:1-41 may be found in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vol. 2 edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. pp.116-120.

A Sign of Hope

We have ground for hope, genuine signs of vitality and reason to risk optimism! Regular readers will recall that I recently expressed blunt criticism and serious disappointment in Pope Francis [link] accusing him of being insensitive and out of touch regarding clergy sex abuse.  I bemoaned the fact that he seemed to defend a perverted “clericalism” that underlies a corrupt power-structure in the Catholic church.  I had largely concurred with canon lawyer and priest Thomas P. Doyle: The survivors of abuse and countless others from the church and from society in general have been waiting for three decades for evidence that the institutional church “gets it.” There not only is no real evidence that it has, but from all appearances the hierarchy will remain on the defensive, hoping the problem will go away.  Fair is fair so I am here today to suggest — to express genuine hope — that I was premature in my harsh criticism and profoundly wrong.

Over the past 24 hours media have favorably reported on the new Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors.  It has to be significant that the first to break this story [link] in the U.S. was John L. Allen, Jr. for the Boston Globe.  You may recall it was the Globe who tenaciously pursued and really broke open the American clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002.  In a journalistic coup and demonstration of its resolve to provide ongoing and incisive coverage, the Globe recently recruited Allen from the equally tenacious, progressive and independent National Catholic Reporter. My purpose is not to repeat what is already well reported but to express welcome surprise and highlight reasons to be hopeful.

Of the eight commission members, four are women.  I have long argued that had women held meaningful leadership in the Catholic church – or the male hierarchy of college sports a la Penn State — the scandal of sex-abuse would have been addressed and resolved much more swiftly and with immediate reforms.  Five of the eight commission members are laypersons.  That in itself is a refreshing change.  Significantly, one member is an outspoken survivor of rape by a priest when she was 13 years old. Corroborating this non-clerical, non-hierarchical composition is that Pope Francis explicitly left it to the eight commission members to choose their own leadership and selection of additional members.

It also has to be sobering for bishops and national conferences of bishops to recognize that their only representation comes with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM — of Boston! Having only one bishop on a pontifical commission of such import sends a pointed message.  Equally significant, and something I have not seen adequately appreciated, is that the other two ordained members are Jesuits.  The fact that all three “clerics” are members of religious orders is a message that cannot be lost on church hierarchs!  As religious, these three have had very different formation than their diocesan brothers and are much more insulated – and one would hope inoculated – from the careerism that is endemic to ecclesial bureaucracies.

The commission is bound to face strong head-winds of resistance, centuries of entrenched power interests and decades of denial – such is the nature of all abuse of power as with this distinctively “Catholic” manifestation. We owe them gratitude and uncompromising support

Commonweal magazine provides a little known reason to inspire additional hope [link].  In the current issue editors cite sources suggesting Jorge Bergoglio possesses the finest-honed political instincts of any Argentine since Juan and Eva Perón.  Let’s all pray the editors are right — we need such gifts right now!