Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

But I still love the church

November 29, 2010

Several years ago, our monthly discussion group had a Mass around a coffee table in the lounge of a residence for religious. The celebrant poured wine into the chalice and set the bottle on the table. A few moments later he said, “We better move this bottle back to the counter otherwise we’ll consecrate the whole batch.” I remember wondering if he was joking, or if there  actually was some “rule” requiring that the bottle be moved.

Sometime after that, I read an article on invalid baptisms. Apparently some were baptizing using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier.”  These baptisms would be invalid, the article said, since the words were not according to the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

During the past week, there was an article on the mutual recognition of baptisms between the Roman Catholic Church and several Christian denominations. It was agreed that one need not be re-baptized if the proper formula was used and if documentation proclaiming the validity would be kept in the church records.

This last bit of information was a complete surprise to me. People are “received” into the Catholic church all the time without being re-baptized. Do we really do a validity background check? Does it matter?

I guess I take Saint Paul too seriously, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all”

Then I think back to the wine-on-the-table incident. Maybe the celebrant wasn’t joking after all. Perhaps the Holy Spirit really doesn’t know what she’s doing. Maybe it is the correct words for baptism  and the correct placement of wine bottles  that make the Sacraments work rather than the intent of those present. That the Holy Spirit comes forth only when the formula is correct to the last syllable and the ritual is followed to the tiniest movement.

So, one can only conclude that we worship a complete moron … in the eyes of the hierarchy. Can’t you picture the Holy Spirit descending toward the little infant surrounded by beaming parents and reverent godparents only to retreat with alarm and horror when she hears the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of …. ” Is there a cosmic alarm that goes off: ABORT BAPTISM! GRACE DENIED! ABORT BAPTISM! Is that poor kid going to go through life with the stain of Original Sin just because the recipe was botched?

But I still love the church and our local faith community no matter how silly things get in the front office.

How long it will take?

May 10, 2010

So, if Kagan is confirmed, who will feel unrepresented among the sitting justices on the U.S. Supreme Court?

Let’s see how long it takes for the undercurrent to surface among the opposition. Somebody’s nose is going to get bent. And the coded language will be interesting to watch.

Yes, it is easy to become distracted

May 2, 2010

In this morning’s New York Times is an article by Nicholas Kristof which is one of the more thoughtful reflections on the Catholic Church today I have ever read. He speaks so well about the true church, the people, and the relentless efforts by many day after day to fulfill our baptismal obligations, to care for the poor and others in need, to love one another.

Yes, it is easy to become distracted by the betrayal we have been (and continue to be?) subjected to by the clerical hierarchy of the church. But the people I minister to, men in maximum security prisons, aren’t concerned with what goes on in diocesan offices or in the Vatican. If the pope and all the bishops were to drop dead, their lives wouldn’t change; their hunger and need for encouragement, support, and spiritual sustenance wouldn’t be diminished.

When I am standing at a cell door, the temporal presence of the Roman Catholic Church exists in only two people: me and the man on the other side of the door. Building the kingdom, proclaiming the good news, is  a “now” phenomenon taking place at the micro level in millions of instances every second of the day all over the world. What the pope or bishops think or declare about anything isn’t really part of the picture. It seems that the work of the church goes on in spite of them rather than because of them.

That’s an unfair statement. The deposit of faith has been developed, clarified, and passed down throughout the centuries by the same type of people who seem so out of touch today. But what they do and what they teach are two separate things. Once the sheep learned to read, things began to unravel.

The gospel message began to be seen more clearly as getting lost in all the pomp, rituals, as well continued bogus claims about the origins of some of our sacraments. Elaborate schemes to maintain any and all vestiges of power while suppressing  prophetic voices questioning the mythology, are becoming more and more visible and, naturally, more repulsive.

Going through the Vatican museum a couple of weeks ago, I noticed my pace quickening as the reality of that whole farce sank in further and further. How did such a  self-serving charade ever get started? Certainly not from the gospels, the teachings and practices of Jesus.

We humans seem to be unimaginative when it comes to conferring importance on things or people we hold dear. Sacred objects need to be gold. Monuments to saints – even those dedicated to living with and for the poor – are soaring, domed, cavernous structures filled with marble masterpieces, vast frescoes and mosaics, and paintings by the masters. All priceless stuff.

Leadership of our faith tradition are given a hierarchical structure, titles, positions of power, fine places to live. Then, of course, they develop their own laws, norms of behavior, rules of obedience and secrecy, and declarations of infallibility  to keep those under their spiritual care out of the sanctuaries and where they belong.

Read the Kristof article if you can find the time.

Which is more laughable?

February 6, 2010

Talk about a pendulum swing during this snowy Saturday!

The morning began with an opportunity for me to speak to a church group about the death penalty. This particular group meets once per month for an 8:00 pro-life Mass followed by a meeting. They had not covered the topic of capital punishment, at least not recently.

A few parents, who have sons on death row, were there on behalf of the Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP). The general discussion went very well with thoughtful questions and a sincere interest to learn more. Literature with information and website URLs was made available. One site they were encouraged to visit is the Death Penalty Information Center.

So, later in the day I received an email notice of a posting in NCRonline referring to former President George W. Bush’s receiving a pro-life award from a group of Catholic business men. I don’t know which is more laughable, Bush being seen as pro-life, or Catholic business men believing Bush’s behavior to be pro-life.

The Catholic Church sure has gotten into a rut. Seldom is there a public face put on anything other than abortion or stem cell research. There is, or course,  an occasional article on Catholic social teachings and social justice issues in archdiocesan papers, but that is not what I would call public dissemination. I don’t even know many Catholics who read them.

More needs to be done. Voices need to be raised. Besides pedophilia and abortion, I wonder what the public image is for the Catholic Church of the 21st century. Thank goodness for the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). They can single-handedly give the Church a good name.

I can’t help but believe that if a symphony orchestra played one note all evening, people would be walking out throughout the entire performance … and some rather early too. It is of little surprise, then, that people are drifting away from the Catholic Church.

What a treat!

February 1, 2010

On Thursday, January 21, we headed for a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, presided over by Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation. I had heard Fr. Richard  speak in 2006 at a Catholic Coalition on Preaching convocation in Fort Lauderdale.  This seemed like a good opportunity to see and hear him once again. This time, however, it would not be seeing him as a guest speaker, but at a weekend event of his own design with content of great interest to me.

This conference was entitled, Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gates. A note on the website says, “Seeing God in all things and all things in God, we experience the peace that surpasses understanding”. My bookshelf is filled with attempts to tune into the general message the mystics attempt to convey. I have books on, or by, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.  But my main intention was to gain a greater insight for my prison ministry.

The men I see each week, those in solitary confinement, are very aware of a divine presence in their spare lives. Attempts to be free from the distractions and temptations of everyday life are not of much concern for them. Everything has been taken away. Their rooms are devoid of any and all uplifting content, things to occupy their minds. There is plenty of time for reflection, and plenty of time for despair.

So I was anxious to go and didn’t know what to expect. Shortly after having registered in November, I did notice on their website that the conference was sold out. This was good news to me since there would be much interaction and discussion among the 150 to 200 in attendance. Upon arrival, I learned there were 1200 in attendance! Unexpected and exciting.

The schedule indicated sessions/presentations would be alternating between Richard Rohr and James Finley, about whom I knew absolutely nothing. What a treat! Anytime one can feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth in the first few minutes of a three-day conference, it is a real bonanza. I also came home feeling very uplifted in our faith tradition.

Once the post-conference materials are available, I’ll try to distill the whole works into smaller portions I can share.

Back into the darkness

December 22, 2009

The following is a rant short on logic, but long on annoyance and concern.

Recall the saying, Life isn’t a series of problems to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. With that in mind, read this article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Wasn’t that fun? Anyone doubt the mystery part of life?

One thing I will say, the man who is the subject of the article doesn’t want to think about nor seek solutions to life’s inequities. Black and white? Fine! Gray? Not so good.

For him, reason is the solution to all problems. Whose reason? His. Certitude is a scary thing to hold. Some would call it a loss of faith. Or, we can at least say, being smart does not mean one is wise. And he does, after all,  appeal to a small group of bishops. I could name at least four  more who would also think he’s great.

On another, but related, subject, I was listening to the discussion called “Tensions in Iran” on today’s (12/22) Diane Rehm Show during my morning exercises. As I listened, it seems the goal of most conservative religious extremists is to keep people in their place. Women, in particular, take it on the chin. The laity, in general, come in a close second.

Once the sheep learned to read, things began to unravel, and  those in charge circled the wagons and dragged out and dusted off any and all old dogmas, doctrines, and traditions.”Get back! Get back! Do as you’re told!”

This whole “created in God’s image” thing seems to be hanging on the fig tree which isn’t bearing any fruit. At least not in their orchard. I would love to find somewhere, anywhere, in the Gospels a reference to an insular hierarchy in lavish vestments shuffling about on polished marble floors. I picture Jesus walking into any chancellery office and saying, “Oops! I’m sorry. I was looking for some of my followers.”

Were the Pharisees in Jesus’ encounters that much of an abstraction? Simply a  reference to some folks way back when? If the Gospel lives, Jesus must have been referring to someone, some group, in today’s world too? Perhaps those who still think adherence to a handful of rituals, rules, and medieval thinking will always trump the needs of God’s children. Vatican II fades further and further back into the darkness.

There is an organized suppressing and diminishing of those who are outside of some “natural law norm.” Leaders on the right seem to sense a hierarchy of values in lives to be led and those worthy to lead them.

A clump of cells is worth going to the mat for. Collateral damage in an unjust war? Who cares? And homosexuals? Surely disqualified from being able to express one’s love for another. So, am I supposed to say, “I have my life-long love, but you can’t have yours.”? I wonder what our divine creator thinks of all that? How could She/He have been such a screw up in the divine planning?