Trinity Sunday, Thoughts on Current Situation

May 31, 2012 at 09:30 Leave a comment


In the Gospel for Trinity Sunday (Matthew 28:16-20) Jesus says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them  in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (It is not easy to prepare a homily on this Story. There is the strong temptation to really say what is on my mind before prayer, but the folks deserve better. Then there is the constant struggle between taking matters into my own hands, and trusting fully in the Holy Spirit and going wherever this takes me — I’m not sure I like where it seems to be taking me. Oh, well . . .)

At last evening’s rally in support of our sisters facing the LCWR “investigation”, it was clear the Holy Spirit is alive, well, and fully involved. The evening was a powerful testimony to that. There is hope for our Church and for our Diocese. It is still hard to speak about church “leadership” in anything but pejorative terms. But, the Spirit is moving, and we can learn from the sisters now as we always have since we were kids: pray and go where our prayer takes us. As one of the sisters said, it is dangerous to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit who doesn’t share our values or our schedule, and doesn’t divide or separate. I wish She would listen to my plans, but She seems to have her own plans and timetable.

The Church says it continues Jesus’ mission. Did Jesus teach us to abuse and disrespect folks, to threaten folks who didn’t agree with him, to demand total control over every facet of folks’ lives, public and private? Did he teach that his rights trump the rights of all who disagree with him, or impose his views on others with impunity? I don’t think so. I do think the structure, both central and local, has gotten in the way of the Gospel. The institution seems to replace the Gospel with itself. The power of the Gospel is replaced with the gospel of power.  As we love our folks and try to serve them, leadership seems to show us what NOT to do. Just sayin .  .  .

Lots going on in our diocese these days since NCR published the story about us priests not having confidence in our Bishop and some of us writing to highers. Recently there was a letter from the Bishop stating he has become aware that his relationship with the priests is in bad shape, and inviting us all to attend one of a series of meetings with him to try to work things out. He has suspended one of our priests for taking part in a community (of a closed parish) that is “not in communion the Catholic Church”, arguably adding impetus to the perception that the folks in the pews exist to serve the law, and not, as we learned (many of us from “Downtown Frank”), the other way around. While he might be justified in issuing the suspension, why now when things seemed to be improving and folks’ attitudes mellowing? No doubt a matter of style and personality, but guaranteed to fan the flames. (After this was posted I received a letter sent to priests by Bishop Lennon in which he stated he has not suspended the priest, but has begun a canonical investigation. NCR has published a well-done story on this issue. The plot thickens. What is going on here? There really needs to be some ongoing dialogue.)

Then there was a letter from the Vicar for Priests urging us to give the matter of responding to the Bishop’s request for meetings an open mind. This is probably a good idea, since talk on the street is not completely favorable to the whole thing. Then there is next week’s luncheon for (retired) priests with the bishop said to be an opportunity to discuss financial matters. The response to this luncheon does not appear to be all that great. Things are not good around the diocese. One wonders where all this is going, and if it is too late to do anything about it. Maybe it can be fixed with the existing personalities and structure, and maybe it can’t. We don’t know. The Spirit knows, and is unfolding gradually but powerfully, with complete disregard for our feelings, our goals, and our schedules — the same Spirit who teaches us to observe what Jesus commanded us. We’re all in this together.

There seems to be a growing consensus that Rome will back its man against all comers, as it witnessed by similar situations in other dioceses. It might be that “leaders” in the home office have forgotten what it is like to serve folks in parishes, if they ever had the experience in the first place. It is one thing to pontificate on abstract principles in a sterile intellectual atmosphere, and quite another to live in a pastoral relationship with folks amid the messiness of the human condition. Locally many priests feel alone, abused, taken for granted, and unsupported, and it is easily understandable why they would feel this way. Some, however, feel things are just fine the way they are. There is a lot of anger and division. Things cannot go on this way. This is not good for anybody – our Bishop or ourselves. The divisive vitriol is disturbing and leaves no room for the Spirit.

A question might be if our situation here has any connection to the perceived “implosion” (to use an increasingly popular word) of the top-heavy church structure as demonstrated by the Vatican’s investigation of the LCWR, the Vatileaks/Papal Butler mess, the US Bishops’ investigation of the Girl Scouts, the abuse trials in Philadelphia and Kansas City, or is it just our own mess? The jury is still out on this.

We want to be loyal to the church, but more and more it seems like loyalty to the church is disloyalty to the Gospel, and loyalty to the Gospel is perceived by the institutional structure as disloyalty to itself.  This is not good or bad, it just is, a condition of the battlefield, so to speak. So, we have to deal with it somehow. We have to prep the battlefield. Pointing fingers is not the way to do it. Openness to the Spirit is, wherever this may take us. Personal integrity is important, while fitting in with the demands and expectations of others is not. Each of us must be true to what we believe the Spirit is calling us to, whatever the cost. This we learn in prayer.

While it is good that we consider prayerfully our Bishop’s invitation to these meetings, a healthy skepticism is also appropriate, but we have to filter it through our prayer life. Grace builds on nature. When Jesus said he is with us till the end of time, he meant it, and he is here with us now. We need prayerfully to be open to him as he reveals himself to us (and he will, but probably not on our timetable) and not tell him how we expect him to behave. It might be that we all have something to learn here, our Bishop as well as ourselves. All of us, including our Bishop, are crying out, “Abba, Father”. If we program ourselves that nothing is going to change and nothing good will happen, then we stand a good chance of not being responsive to Jesus and the Spirit and we will be right – nothing good will happen and nothing will change. Pretty much our call. In trying to be open to the Spirit, everything has to be on the table. We can’t hold anything back. The Spirit doesn’t share our fears and limitations, but makes good of them.

When Jesus said “I am with you until the end of time” he didn’t say he would be easy to spot. In our own life, each of us, including our Bishop, is walking point – a dangerous place. We don’t know where the tripwires are. A guy can get hurt. Jesus really is with us, as are the Father and the Spirit.

Just sayin  .  .  .

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Entry filed under: Catholic, Church Leadership, Current Church, Forbidden topics, Local issues, Priest. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Pentecost, Thoughts on Current Situation Current Situation – 3

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