Monday, October 20, 2014

How's that Religious Ed program working out?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

A while ago you published something about some hair-brained scheme to change the nature of religious education. How did that ever work out?

Cecilia “Cee Cee” Dee

Dear Cecilia,

I have asked the crackpot clergyman who hatched the scheme to write a report. Here it is:

When I came to this parish, I found a fairly standard religious education program. The records were well kept. The ceremonies for the sacraments were well organized, things ran like clockwork and very few of the children or their parents went to Mass. The religious education schedule followed the public school schedule exactly. The public schools had a three day weekend; we had a three day weekend, and so on. I could always tell when the public schools were not in session on Monday. There were no children in church on Sunday.

I tried to visit the children in the classroom. Everyone reminded me how important that was. “It’s very important for the pastor to visit the children.” They never said why it was so important. The children couldn’t distinguish me from the tooth fairy. They just knew I was some guy who wore black. In the first few months of my tenure here, I attended a meeting of the teachers to share my vision for religious ed. I said that I wanted to include a component that stressed biblical literacy.

All the teachers said, and I quote, “NO!”

One of the teachers, who fancied himself a moral theology professor, for fifth graders said that what he was teaching was just too important to modify.

 Religion classes went from 9 am to 10:30 or 11:00 am about half the Sundays of the year. I had Mass at 8 AM and 10 AM after which I raced from room to room when I had the energy and there weren’t other things I was supposed to be doing.  When I walked in to the classrooms, I found teachers at lecterns lecturing about commandments to be memorized, assignments to be studied and tests to be taken in order to qualify for the three C’s, Confession, Communion and Confirmation.  I found children with heads on desks, hollow sunken eyes and thinly veiled anger.  

It was clear that they had neither eaten nor slept well. They had been in a classroom in the government schools where for five unrelenting days they had been subject to preparation for government tests. In our times good performance on tests guarantees government money for government employees. Test preparation passes for education and government employees masquerade as teachers. Now, these captive children were being subjected to a sixth day of the same unrelenting droning on about facts. They hated all religion and Catholicism in particular.  Thus Religious Education!

The first thing I did was to move back the time that classes would start from 9 am to 10 am. The children were delighted. The adults were peeved and tried to convince me to reconsider. My suspicion was that they had better things to do with their Sundays than spend them in church. One parent was furious with me. I quote, “How dare you decide what’s best for my family.” Her Sunday’s were rigidly scheduled to include shopping and athletic events. It was important to get religion out of the way as early as possible. As she berated me for ruining her domestic life, all I could think was, “Please don’t hit me….”  She didn’t but she, her frightened husband and her unsmiling, well-disciplined brood promptly left the parish.

After this, I waited for at least a year and then announced that I wouldn’t put up with parents dropping their kids off for religious  ed and then leaving.  It was common to see minivans pull up at the school door and a parent, dressed in flip flops and pajamas waved as their children stumbled into class.  It was a great deal, a babysitting service that promised to watch your kids for three precious hours on a Sunday morning. That left time for Starbucks, K-mart and the dry cleaners.

The children were expected to go to an hour and a half class and an hour long Mass.  This often didn’t happen. The kids sat around in the parking lot playing computer games and texting one another while Mass went on inside and their parents went to the K-Mart.

Enough was finally enough. I announced that if kids didn’t go to Mass they wouldn’t be passed on for sacraments. A furious parent called me to say, “How dare you tell me I’m not a good Catholic. I attend Mass faithfully EVERY Christmas and Easter and pray at home. Who are you to tell me what I should do?”  Angry letters were sent to the bishop.

After this debacle and a cooling off period I announced my next move. We would expand the religious education program. It would start around 9: 45 with doughnuts and other sugary snacks. Next there would be a half an hour or more of chasing around like wild savages and some semi-organized games that involved yelling a lot and running. Then the children would go to their classes around 11, finally going together to the noon Mass. I firmly believe that before there is catechesis there has to be Biblical literacy and a personal prayer life. If you don’t know Jesus, if you haven’t met Him in prayer, why learn about Him? The Bible is a story of a family (c.f. Jeff Cavins Great Adventure Bible Study.) It’s the story of MY family into which I am adopted through sacraments.  Why join a family about which you know nothing?

I planned three levels of instruction:

  1. First comes Biblical literacy, knowing the essential story of the Bible. This gives our beleaguered Catholic kids a fighting chance when they go to high school or college and meet atheists who say the Bible and the faith are just a bunch of myths, or meet anti-Catholic sects that say the Catholic Church doesn’t teach the Bible. 
  2. After the kids know the basic story of salvation they can go on to learn the truths of the faith in a more catechetical style. 
  3. The study of the lives of the saints as a vehicle to Church history and Catholic spirituality is the third essential idea of the program. To be Catholic is to be part of something great and something to be proud of as witnessed to by the saints of our history.  

First food, then fun, then instruction. At the end of the class period, they spend a few minutes preparing for Mass and then go up to the noon Mass as a group.  (The noon Mass is our more contemporary Mass. My liturgical tastes run to the Neolithic, but hey, you have to put the hay down where the goats can get it.)  My great hope was that someday a child would have a tantrum because they could NOT go to church this morning. This has actually happened.

I was told, “Father, this will never work where we are because of sports.”

To blazes with sports! Go for quality over quantity. If people prefer sporting events to their religious life and their Sunday obligation, they are committing idolatry and are probably going to hell anyway.
Start with a small fanatical group of Catholics and pretty soon, if what you’re doing is really fun, kids will prefer religion to living out the athletic fantasies of their ageing parents. If you prefer sports or shopping or anything else to the life of grace, you probably should just admit it and not try to get the three C’s (Confirmation, Confession, Communion) for your children. If you don’t believe this stuff why should they?  I suggest watching the movie “Chariots of Fire”, the only movie that has ever made me envy Presbyterians.  

Things are a bit smaller. We have about 120 kids in the program, but I see most of them in church. We just started our second confirmation class of the new system. We only have about 20 thirteen- and fourteen- year-olds in the group, but I actually know every one of the kids in the class from church on Sunday.

Our most radical move so far was to move to a home school model for First Communion preparation. We have classroom preparation for First Confession, so we are pretty much covering the material twice. Parents hated the idea until they did it.  It turned into a refresher course on the faith for the parents. It also gave them a way to share their own faith with their children. I was astonished that our First Communion Mass had almost no pictures taken. Parents were involved in the actual religious meaning of the Mass. I even caught a few parents softly crying because of the beauty of the faith they had shared with their own children.

In short it has almost worked out the way I hoped. There have had to be some concessions to practicality. There is oatmeal, not just sugary snacks for breakfast, things like that, and we still have a few parents dropping off kids and then leaving, but I think there is less of that. The church is packed with kids and the young adults and parents who teach them, so all in all I think it is working out.

I wish I could take the credit, but the real credit goes to the extremely enthused and motivated
teachers who have taken it on themselves to share their faith with the kids. It is a beautiful thing to see.

Fr. Simon

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 16 (and last)

the thrilling conclusion...
Letter to Ann T. Klerikuhl
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to close down Catholic schools. I just wish that a way could be found for Catholic schools to serve the children of people who are in fact Catholics. If I had my way, I would give enrollment preference to those who are members of the congregation, and I would offer Catholic education to actual members of the church at very inexpensive rates. Certainly others would be welcome to enroll their children, but they would have to pay what it costs, which hovers somewhere around $15,000 per student at the present time.  
"What? Restrict access, but that is how we are going to evangelize the world! That would ghettoize the church! We would lose our moral influence in the wider society."
Get a life! Can’t you see that it just isn’t working?  
In many places we waste our increasingly meager resources on people who have no interest in living the Catholic life and never will have any interest. Forty plus years of pandering to a world gone mad has not converted the world to Christ and the Catholic faith. We have lost our moral influence, in no small measure because of the immorality of some of the clergy, but more so by baptizing the insanity of the modern world. We dispense sacraments to people who never darken the door of the church, who do not know Christ, and do not understand what a sacrament is. They just know they want it.
 I have heard my fellow clergy say that the very desire for a sacrament indicates a desire for faith. No it doesn’t. There are lots of reasons to want a sacrament for yourself or your child other than a commitment to Christ and His Bride the Church. Sometimes it seems people just want the blessing by which they mean something akin to a rabbit’s foot or a good luck charm. Some people just want the photo op. To continue this way is just foolishness and will continue to shrivel the Church. The only way to evangelize the world is to present Christ, to raise up a people committed to living the Gospel life of sacrificial love that begins with the sacrifice of the Mass and ends with sacrificial generosity to a world in need.  
The early Church flourished because the first Christians presented an alternative to the decadence of the age. They honored marriage and were ready to die for their convictions. They loved one another and came together for worship. They healed the sick and cast out demons because of the holiness of their lives and their openness to the Holy Spirit. In short, they provided an alternative to the sickness of their age. They did not simply acquiesce to the spirit of the world. They didn’t need to pick a quarrel with the world because their very presence was an affront to the world in which they lived. They were killed by the thousands simply for being faithful to the Lord and the Church. In China, Africa, Cuba the Middle-East, and elsewhere people are still dying for the faith and there the faith is vital. But it’s not happening here. 
I started this harangue months ago with a discussion of the medieval Church. In 2014 the medieval church is as dead as King Tut. The only people who don’t understand that are the idiots of the press who salivate over every new Catholic controversy that they can find or invent. They are more clerical than the worst clergyman. They are endlessly fascinated by this controversial cardinal or that renegade theologian. They have a bad case of scarlet fever, constantly cooing about the shades of red that the hierarchy wears.  
We, too, the clergy from deacon on up, still long for the medieval Church, as do the bureaucrats of religion. In the Middle Ages society was contiguous with the Church. To be Irish was to be Catholic. To be Polish or German or Mexican or Spanish was to be Catholic. The Church was the society and the society was the Church. Bishops were quite often the rulers of the local political unit. We still think that way. In the major urban centers of America, north and south. The bishop is considered a major political figure as well as a religious one. He is, more often than not, a figure like Queen Elizabeth, trotted out for a grand event, someone who looks good in the photo right there next to the mayor, all smiles. 
The most medieval of theologies is liberation theology. It is the product of an era and understanding when “el pueblo” (the people) was no different than “el pueblo Catolico.” Now in an increasing number of traditionally Catholic countries, the “pueblo” is not Catholic. The pueblo, Protestant and pagan alike despises the Catholic Church. We pretend that we can influence the political direction of society when we cannot even convince four fifths of those who pretend to be Catholic to go to church on a Sunday.  
If we don’t redirect our resources to building up the Church and to deepening our own conversions, we will never be able to bring renewal to this dying world. If we, like the first Christians, offer something better to this weary world, they will turn to Christ. If we continue business as usual and pretend that the medieval Church is still alive and well and that Christian countries are still Christian, then soon there will be nothing left but the church of the catacombs, persecuted but faithful. 
That might not be the worst thing in the world after all. That persecuted Church managed to change the world.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, October 3, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 15

Letter to Ann T. Klerikuhl, the thrilling conclusion in two parts!
Time to wrap this up. Have you ever been asked, “Are you saved?”  or “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” 
Perfectly good questions. When some evangelicals say they are saved, they mean that they have an absolute assurance of heaven (unless of course it is a false assurance about which you can never really be sure and you may be doomed to hell anyway, but they still say that you can have an absolute assurance of eternal salvation, though you may wrong about it. Go figure.)
A Catholic recognizes that we have free will for our whole life and are free to reject God at any time.  As St Paul says, we are “saved in hope,” (Romans 8:24) but we Catholics think it is legitimate to say we are saved because we know, love, trust and serve our Savior.  We also have no problem claiming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  
It is personal, not private. It is not just an “I-Thou,” but an “I-we-Thou” sort of thing. You can’t love Jesus without loving his wife, strange as she may be. (I am of course speaking of the Church.)  Another way to phrase the question is “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” This, to my lights, is the best way to ask the question. 
So what does a “saved” Catholic who has a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior look like? He goes to the Sacrifice of the Mass and lives a sacrificial life.  This business about Jesus being Lord and Savior is problematic. Everybody is good with the “Savior” part, especially when they see death and disaster looming on the horizon. The “Lord” part is a little less popular. Protestant and Catholic alike want Jesus as Savior. I know a couple dozen people who actually want Jesus to be the Lord of their life because that would mean that they have to do what Jesus tells them to do, like not sleep around, be generous to the poor, accept children lovingly as gifts from God and go to Mass every Sunday. Remember what Jesus said?  “Do THIS in memory of Me.”  (“This” being the sacrifice and communion in His Body and Blood)  (Luke 22:19 and 1Corinthians 11:24) and in the Letter to the Hebrews, (10:25) “Do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.”   
A good friend of mine says that he can pretty much tell where you are as Catholic by two things: first, what you think of Pope Paul the Sixth’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in which Paul VI laid out what the Church teaches about marriage, family and the destructive nature of artificial birth control, and second, what a person thinks about Sunday obligation.
Here is what the Church teaches:  Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2370: 
Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.  
And Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2192:  
Sunday is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. 
I am a pastor and as I have explained, am obliged to serve the faithful. So who are the faithful? They are the baptized who pray, obey the Ten Commandments and precepts of the Church, who do the works of mercy, go to Mass on Sunday and think that sex is about families. In short, a Catholic is someone who tries to live by the teachings of the Church. By these standards the Catholic Church in most places is a pretty small organization.   
Let us look at Argentina, a country of 42 million people. 70% or about 30 million of these are Catholic. However, 20% or 6 million of these go to Mass regularly on Sunday. So the case can be made that there are 6 million faithful Catholics in Argentina, and I bet that half of these are senior citizens on fixed incomes. Fixed incomes? I’ll get to that later. Let us look at Honduras, the home of his Eminence Cardinal Maradiaga, a great visionary of the progressive Church.  47% Catholic 41% Protestant 10% non-religious. If the same statistics apply, in a country of 8 million people, 4 million identify as Catholic, and of these perhaps one million go to Mass on Sunday.  How about Puerto Rico, a beautiful tropical island whose population has been in steady decline since the year 2000 in which year 38% of this Catholic Island identified itself as Catholic . One and a half million Catholics. Two million Protestants and a lot of pagans. Doing the same dreary math, which comes to perhaps 300,000 people at Mass on Sunday from a population of millions that everyone assumes is Catholic. Catholicism is dying in Latin America where unlike the dying European Church; it is being replaced by evangelical Protestantism.
Let us look at that exotic land just south of the Cheddar Curtain.  In the City by the Lake, the City in a Garden, there are 2.2 million Catholics. The congregations are counted every October. In 2012 there were 446,000 people in church on an average Sunday. If the Church-On-Sunday definition of Catholic is accurate, then there are about 450,000 Catholics in Chicago. Perhaps.
It would be interesting to do a July count. In October schools and religious education programs are back in session. I suspect that a July count would be closer to 350,000, taking into account those who only come to church because it is a school requirement and pastoral exaggeration.   Two point two million Catholics are impressive.  Sounds good on paper. It’s really pretty thin on the ground.  The archdiocesan area has a total population of around 6 million which means that active Catholics comprise around 6% or 7% of the local community. We are a small Church by the Church-On- Sunday criterion. 
Those more high minded and inclusive than I will take umbrage at (that means not like) my narrow definition of “Catholic.” Personally I still believe that to miss Sunday Mass without a serious reason is gravely sinful. You can’t live the Catholic life unless you are fed at the table of the Lord. I don’t really see a great difference between a lapsed (fallen) Catholic and a non-Catholic, except that a non-Catholic is not morally to blame for disregarding the Lord’s command to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. 
But, let us assume, for the sake of argument that I am crazy and all you have to do be a Catholic is to have a pulse and a baptismal certificate.  This is where I talk about senior citizens on limited incomes. Of the 2.2 million imaginary Catholics in the above-mentioned archdiocese, only 446,000 (probably more like 350,000) have a collection basket pass in front of them on a weekly basis. Of these, 400,000 plus or minus, a large portion of them are children and those adults who are throwing in a wadded up one dollar bill.  A very large portion of them are very generous, deeply religious senior citizens who are truly giving sacrificially, but have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the kingdom of heaven.  Over the next ten years a large portion of these older people whose generosity sustains the Church will have both feet in heaven and probably not be able to send in their monthly contributions by mail.  In short we will be in debt up to our eyeballs at the current rate. 
There are collections, second collections pledge drives, second pledge drives, and emergency collections a diminishing number of faithful are expected to tolerate. The brilliant bureaucrats of religion will probably invent the fourth and fifth collection when we are down to 200,000.  We have never taught the young about Sunday obligation or the obligation to support the Church. We have believed that out of the goodness of their naturally Christian hearts they would shell out the shekels and things would roll merrily along. Instead we have raised a generation of people who are about as philanthropic as hermit crabs. 
I know a priest whose parish is a million dollars in debt. It is in constant need of maintenance just to keep the roof on the building. He has a school of a couple hundred kids that takes up much of the parish budget. He also has a thriving congregation of not very wealthy Hispanics. He has a successful religious education program and a church full of young adults, teenagers and children. Of this congregation of thousands, perhaps 50 people from the school, including the teachers go to Mass on Sunday.
It used to be that to close a school was the kiss of death. Now it’s the kiss of life. My friend told me that if he closed the school tomorrow it would have no effect on his congregation. This means that all the parents and children who are getting a private school education at reduced costs never once throw a nickel in the collection basket. They howl when there is a rise in tuition to partially cover the spiraling costs of the private school education provided by the parish in which they refuse to participate.  How long can this go on?   

Next week the thrilling conclusion... Finally!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 14

The following is a convoluted explanation of the reasons for my hesitation to baptize, confirm and give first communion. You may find it interesting. I will discuss the curses associated with First Holy Communion and the curses associated with Baptism.

I knew an old preacher who used to say, “You build the church and preach the Kingdom. Most people do it the other way around. They preach the church and build little kingdoms for themselves.  Where the Kingdom is preached, the church is built. Where the Church is built, the kingdom is preached.”  Most of the time, we preach the church. Some people talk incessantly about the church, fascinated by the latest gossip from Rome. Others preach the church by insisting that you can only be saved by their church no matter how tiny or recently founded, and that your church is wrong and you will go to hell for belonging to it. Protestants, Catholics and even the non-denominational denominations preach the superiority of the churches.  

The phrase “build the kingdom” just doesn’t appear in the New Testament. It appears possibly once in the Old Testament. “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10) Jeremiah is over kingdoms and nation to build and plant. In the text, these seem to be already existing kingdoms and nations.  The phrase “to build the kingdom” just doesn’t appear in the Bible, no matter how often you have heard from enthusiastic preachers or bureaucrats of religion. 

When someone talks about “build the kingdom” they are usually hoping for a corner office at the chancery and a nice budget.  We preach the kingdom. I say it to the point of being tedious, but kingdom in Greek and Hebrew is a very inclusive word. It means royalness, royal house area or persons ruled by a king. It is primarily the quality of royal dignity. For 21st centurists a kingdom is an archaic sort of governmental system or a specific geographic territory, like the kingdom of Great Britain. For those who lived at the time of Christ, kingdom was a quality of royalty that conferred authority over people and places.  Jesus came, not building, but “preaching the kingdom.”   “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt 4:17) 
Preach the Kingdom build the Church. 

My job as a pastor is thus church-building and kingdom-preaching.  The sacraments exist to sanctify the faithful, that is, to make them holier. Teaching, praying for the faithful, and the administration of the sacraments in an appropriate way are my job as pastor. I am also charged with the oversight of the physical goods of the parish — that is the finances and buildings.   

I am a pastor who is to house and feed the sheep. I am not an evangelist. You who are reading this have that task, which is to invite people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You can do that by learning how to pray for people by visiting the sick and feeding the hungry as well as all the other works of mercy. You are Christ’s face on the street. I am Christ’s face in the parish.  

So many clergy never say no because they believe that this will “evangelize” those who are alienated from the church. Quite the opposite, it isn’t evangelism. It is enabling behavior and is dishonest.  A sacrament is a commitment to the Lord and the Church. To confer sacraments on people who have no intention of fulfilling the covenantal responsibilities to which the sacrament binds them is harmful to those individuals and to the wider Church.

Haven’t you read what St. Paul says about the Holy Eucharist?  “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on them. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1Cor 11:29, 30)  St. Paul says that receiving communion unworthily is poisonous, certainly spiritually and even physically.  A Sacrament is an oath to the death.  That’s what the Latin word sacrament means.  

If you want your child to be confirmed or to receive First Holy communion without intending to teach them to practice the faith, you are causing them to commit perjury. You are making them oath-breakers. You are encouraging them to lie, to break their marriage vows, to live as people without any moral backbone. Is that what you want for your children?  By forcing them to Confirmation and Communion when you yourself don’t go to weekly Mass you will make them disrespect you as an unfaithful person, a lying oath-breaker. You want them to take a solemn oath that you yourself disregard. Is this what you want for your children? 

The same is true of Baptism. If you have a child baptized and have no intention to bring them up in the practice of the faith, you are committing them to a responsibility that they cannot fulfill. One day they will stand before the throne of God with their souls stained by the waters of baptism which they and you made foul by neglect. You and the sponsors you choose make the most solemn promises at Baptism to raise this child in the faith. You will stand before God someday, responsible not only with your own damnation, but also for the damnation of these children whom you promised to raise as Christian, but taught to live dishonest lives. 

By baptizing children whom you will never teach the faith and to whom you will never give honest and good examples, you are perjuring yourselves to them and to God, and this comes with a frightful curse. You are a curse to yourselves and to these children.  

To my fellow clergy who think this harsh, remember what good and gentle Jesus says to the beloved disciple, the one who taught that God is Love in Revelation 3:16 “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  

We think we are being pastoral. We are not. We are enabling and infecting the whole body of Christ with a bland passionless Christianity when the world is longing for the real thing. The world is desperate for people who give their lives for the wellbeing of humanity and we pander to people who want to have a nice party and photo op.  

Rev. Richard T. Simon

Friday, September 19, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 13

Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued. Still.
Can.528-2. The pastor is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished……
You may notice that the word faithful is much repeated in the sections of canon law which I have cited. The pastor is to care for the faithful. The unwashed infidel and the lapsed apostate are nowhere mentioned. This is explained by some strange passages of scripture.  
“A complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. ‘Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.…”  (Acts 6:1-3)
Well, just who did the Twelve think they were?  They should have been anxious as humble followers of Jesus to serve the poor and they should have been glad to wash their feet! That’s what real Christians do!  Au contraire!  
I have another story that might help explain. When I was a student at Bathsheba Bible College I worked summers at Frostbite Falls Amalgamated Widget Company in the widget warehouse. My job was to fill widget orders and put the heavy boxes of widgets on wooden pallets. The fully loaded pallets would weigh close to a ton. A fork lift driver would pick up the pallet of widgets and move it to the loading dock. The fork lift drivers were a surly lot and prone to taking breaks. 
The whole warehouse funneled through the main aisle and the one-ton widget pallets would pile up and the whole warehouse would grind to a halt. The foreman would then jump on a forklift and personally move widget pallets. I remember pointing out to my rich uncle, Gottlieb Gottbucks, what a great guy the foreman was, not afraid to get down in the trenches and do some real work.
Uncle Gottbucks just shook his head and said, “That foreman is the best paid fork lift driver in Minnesota.”  He meant that if the foreman had been doing his job, there would never be a pile of widget pallets and the business would not have ever ground to a halt.
In the body of Christ we all have our jobs to do, and the people we are to serve. If I do your job and you do mine — or worse if you assume  that I am the pastor and therefore it’s all my job — the church, like the widget warehouse will grind to a halt, as we see it happening in Europe and America.
God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?…” (1Cor. 12:28, 29)
My job is to nourish the faithful. Does this mean I should baptize it if it’s breathing and bury it if it’s not, no questions asked? Perhaps a recent article by the irascible and unpleasant Fr. Simon might be of some help at this point: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”  (John 10:14)
There is a map on the front page of the bulletin today. It shows the parish boundaries. The times are a-changing. I am now the only priest at St. Lambert’s.  Deacon O’Leary and I are responsible for the care of souls in this parish, not those of other parishes.  Our solemn duty is to build up the church. So, for whom are we responsible?  As you may read in the Rev. Know it All’s rambling articles, we are responsible to serve the faithful of St. Lambert’s Parish.  A reasonable definition of a faithful parishioner includes three categories:  
  •       Baptized Catholics who live within the area bounded by Jarvis on the south Greenwood on the north, McCormick on the east and Kenton on the west. (This would include any gnomes or trolls living under trees on the southeast side of the golf course, but so far none have asked for Baptism or First Holy Communion.)

  •       Anyone who has registered in the parish and FAITHFULLY attends Sunday Mass here at St. Lambert’s.

  •       Anyone who has a genuine pastoral relationship with Deacon O’Leary or me.

Therefore, I will not admit anyone to the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation or Matrimony who is not a parishioner. The one exception I will make is for grandchildren of faithful parishioners whose parents are also active Catholics in another parish, as demonstrated by the required letter of permission form that child’s pastor. Confession and the Anointing of the sick are open to all, because they are sacraments of repentance that can be repeated.  
I will accept anyone for burial who has fulfilled the conditions of membership in the past or active membership in the recent past. Residence in the parish boundaries at the time of death will also be respected. This is meant to include members who have moved away in retirement, but still legitimately regard St. Lambert as their spiritual home.

Next week: an explanation of the curses involved in Baptism and First Holy Communion.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 12

Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued.  

On to another thrilling episode in an ongoing disquisition on what’s wrong with the Catholic priesthood, but first; a grammar lesson. 

Verbs can have a number of moods. Some verbs are in a good mood, others are in a really lousy mood. I’m joking of course.  No, the moods, or modes, of the verb are as follows: The declarative mood states a fact: “I blather on endlessly.”  The subjunctive mood states a  possibility or contingency: “I may blather on endlessly if no one shuts me up;” or “I may choose to blather on endlessly.” The optative mood express a wish (or a hope) “May spiders nest in your bouffant hairdo and finally cause you to change it.” 
In English, a strange and convoluted language that was once spoken in the United States, one uses the word “may” to denote the subjunctive or optative mood. The word “can” always expresses a fact. It is always in the demonstrative mood. All this is a prelude to a discussion of the minister of the sacrament.
  1. Any Christian CAN validly baptize. Only a priest or deacon MAY licitly baptize except in the case of real emergency. 
  2. Only a bishop CAN hear confessions or an ordained priest who is delegated by his bishop. 
  3. Only a bishop or priest CAN confer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
  4. Only a bishop, or a priest specifically delegated by a bishop CAN confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.
  5. Only a bishop MAY validly ordain a priest or another bishop. Even if a bishop is not the ordinary bishop of the diocese, he CAN ordain, but MAY not without the permission of the ordinary diocesan bishop. A bishop CAN, but MAY not ordain a bishop without the express delegation of the Pope.
  6. Only a bishop or priest CAN validly offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist. A priest MAY be the principal celebrant of the sacrifice in the absence of the bishop, though he MAY NOT, or at least should not, be the principal celebrant if a bishop is also celebrating the Mass with him.
  7. A Bishop, priest or deacon CAN NOT confer the sacrament of marriage. The ministers of the sacrament of Matrimony are the bride and groom. The bishop, priest or deacon stands as witness for the Church. If there is no possibility of a bishop, priest or deacon being present, a delegated layperson MAY be the Church witness to a marriage. This is very exceptional. It only happens during plagues, persecutions or on deserted islands. Though the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament, they MAY NOT and usually CAN NOT marry expect in the presence of an ecclesial (Church) witness. 

Well, that should clean things up! Let me summarize the whole thing. There are 7 sacraments. A bishop CAN confer six of them, all but marriage. A presbyter is a sort of stand in bishop for Confirmation, Holy Eucharist and Confession
Now pay attention.This part will get really confusing. 

A deacon is a sort of stand in bishop for Baptism and as a witness for Marriage.  The priesthood and the diaconate are the two arms of the bishop. The priest is the icon of Christ the shepherd, and the deacon is the icon of Christ the servant. The bishop is both the head deacon and the head priest of a diocese.

I believe that in well run parishes where people are really desirous of the sacraments, a deacon should baptize new Christians young and old, and should be the witness to marriage, leaving the priest free to say Mass, hear confession and anoint the sick. Things like visiting the sick, feeding the poor, conducting wake services and such, CAN and MAY be conducted buy any baptized believer. Bishops, priests and deacons CAN and should feed the poor and console the bereaved, not because they are clergy, but because they are baptized Christians. These works of mercy are the job of the believer, not the clergy.  I hope you understand me. I’m not saying that the clergy are off the hook, but they are not the only ones responsible for the works of mercy and the life of the Church.

Here is an example: I offer Mass. I stand in the vestibule. People come and want to arrange a marriage in 30 seconds while small children are tugging at my chasuble and people are trying to greet me and a sobbing penitent wants his confession heard right there in the vestibule. Meanwhile, the St. Dymphna Guild is having their annual baked groundhog dinner in the basement. Someone comes upstairs to tell me that both the St. Dymphna Guild and the baked groundhog casserole are getting cold and are waiting for you, Father, to come down and offer the traditional baked groundhog blessing. You finally dismiss the last suppliant who was telling you in real time about his Bible Cruise to Alaska, you run to the sacristy, rip off your vestments, charge down to the basement to be greeted by a hungry mob saying, “Where have you been????”   

I tell them, “You should have started without me!”  

“Oh no, Father! That would have been impolite, and besides, only a priest can say the annual groundhog prayer of blessing, or it will not come with the traditional indulgences.”

Again, I can feel my coronary arteries tightening in preparation for the ingestion of groundhog gravy. 

The point I am trying to make is that it’s over. Done. Finito. Kaput. If the laity don’t understand that they CAN, MAY and SHOULD exercise their legitimate ministries in the Church, things like the joyous celebration of St. Dymphna and the groundhog casserole will soon go the way of the dodo and the wooly mammoth.

Here’s an example of something that’s going well. In my parish I say Mass every morning.  Mass is followed by the Prayer to St. Michael, the Rosary, the Litany and the Divine Mercy chaplet. I lead none of them, though I sometime stay for them, schedule permitting.  Were I to lead any of them, those devotions would stop when I was not present and when I am done with this vale of toil and tears and they send some new fellow, those devotions would stop entirely. 

You see, my job is to say Mass and preach a sermon. None of the rest is my job. It is yours.  
“But Father, it’s so much nicer when the priest is there.” 

No it’s not. The clericalism of the past has caused Catholicism to become a sort of spectator sport for most people who call themselves Catholic.That era is ending. And it’s ending fast. My job is to pray and preach and to make sure the sacraments are validly and licitly administered. It is not necessarily to bless groundhog gravy. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 11

Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued.  (This section is remarkably confusing and much of it is fine print that can be glossed over.)
When I was first a pastor, the principal of the school, a formidable woman strode up the side aisle of the church where she found me reading my breviary. She glared at me saying. “There is no heat in the school!” 
To which I responded, “In all my years of seminar, I took not one course in boiler maintenance.”  I then put down my breviary, got up, went to the basement, started randomly pushing buttons, and, voila! The heat kicked on. 
What is the job of the priest? In brief, whatever you want it to be at the moment.  One of the questions most frequently asked of me, “Where is the bathroom?” The next statement is usually, “there is no toilet paper in the bathroom.”  I remember a call at 10:30 PM one night, the caller asking if perhaps her purse had been found in the parish hall after bingo. The answer was “No, not to my knowledge.” 
“Father could you down to the hall and look?” 
Again, good priest guilt kicks in. You may think, “How hard was that?” You have 2.3 children who are always losing things. It makes you crazy. I have a thousand children. I could sit by the phone all night waiting for interesting phone calls.
When I first came to this parish, the drunken stalker of a long dead pastor called a few times a night demanding to know his current telephone number. The good priest sleeps next to his phone, so that he can rush to the hospital in the middle of the night. I must admit that by this standard I am not a very good priest.
We have this image of the radically available priest waiting by the phone and coming to the death bed for the last minute conversion. This happens. I have actually done this a number of times. The number of drunks calling the rectory in the middle of the night is far greater than the repentant sinner at death’s door and after a while Father gets pretty tired. The life of the priest, as portrayed by popular culture and imagined by those who don’t actually know priests, is not a life that can be lived for a very long time.  So what are the duties of the priest?  They are very well spelled out in canon law beginning with canon 273. You can skip the fine print if you want to, but I thought it might be interesting. (You can find them in their entirety in the Code of Canon Law available on the web, and a real page turner.) 
Can. 275-2. Clerics are to acknowledge and promote the mission which the laity, each for his or her part, exercise in the Church and in the world.
Can. 276-1. In leading their lives, clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since, having been consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders, they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people…..they are to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of sacred scripture and the Eucharist; therefore, priests are earnestly invited to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice daily and deacons to participate in its offering daily;  (they) are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours daily. They are equally bound to make time for spiritual retreats. They are urged to engage in mental prayer regularly, to approach the sacrament of penance frequently, to honor the Virgin Mother of God with particular veneration, and to use other common and particular means of sanctification.
 Can. 277-1. Clerics… are bound to celibacy.
Can. 279-1. Clerics are to pursue sacred studies and to attend pastoral lectures, theological meetings, and conferences.
Can. 281-1. Since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration… by which they can provide for the necessities of their life. 
And here are some the duties of pastors:
Can. 528-1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
Can.528-2. The pastor is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy which, under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the pastor must direct in his own parish and is bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in.
Can. 529-1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care.
Can. 530 The following functions are especially entrusted to a pastor: 1/ the administration of baptism; 2/ the administration of the sacrament of confirmation to those who are in danger of death 3/ the administration of Viaticum and of the anointing of the sick; 4/ the assistance at marriages and the nuptial blessing; 5/ the performance of funeral rites;6/ the blessing of the baptismal font at Easter time, the leading of processions and solemn blessings7/ the more solemn Eucharistic celebration on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
Can. 532 He is to take care that the goods of the parish are administered according to the norm of canons. 1281-1288. (these canons talk about the duties of the good householder and his employment of people to maintain the facility)
Can. 533-1. A pastor is obliged to reside in a rectory near the church. §2. Unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, a pastor is permitted to be absent from the parish each year for vacation for at most one continuous or interrupted month.
Let’s sum it up:  I have to pray the breviary daily, to share the word of God, offer Sunday and Holyday Masses, make sure the sacraments are administered, to get to know the faithful of ONE parish, to continue to study and pray. I am invited to say daily Mass, though not required. I am required to say the breviary. And oh, I get one month’s vacation every year.
There is a word that weaves its way in and out of the text. That word is FAITHFUL!!!!  I am not an evangelist. That’s the job of the laity. I am not supposed to administer sacraments to the UNFAITHFUL, no matter what you’ve seen in a made for TV movie. One of my major jobs is to get you to do your job. What’s your job? It’s to live a holy life, praying, participating in the Eucharist, studying, performing the works of mercy and above all being Christ in the world. I am not a vending machine of sacraments for the marginally religious. I am supposed to bring the lapsed back to the practice of the faith, not to gloss over the fact that they haven’t darkened the church door since the Nixon administration. 
And here is one of my absolute favorites:
Can. 515-1. A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor.
 Hmmm…..A community of the Christian FAITHFUL. Did you read that?  FAITHFUL??? Again let me say “FAITHFUL.” You catch my drift. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” (Ephesians 4:11). The sooner we know the difference between pastors and evangelists, the better off we’ll be. The faithful need shepherds. The faithless need Christ. Parishes need to be restructured to admit the current reality instead of living in a black and white Bing Crosby movie about the “Bells of St. Delilah’s.”
Next week: more of this stuff, but aimed at deacons