Sunday, February 23, 2020

2-23-2020 On the Canonization of Cato the Elder

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all
 Essay Three: On the Canonization of Cato the Elder
I would like to suggest that we consider Cato the Elder, an ancient Roman from the times even before Christ, the times of the Roman Republic.  I think he might provide a valuable model for creating vital and viable parishes in our times.
Marcus Porcius Cato; 234–149 BC, also known as Cato the Elder,  was a Roman soldier, senator  and historian known for his practicality and  opposition to Hellenistic fripperies. He is the very image of Roman practicality. He was not a patrician but was a Senator. He was what the Romans called a new man, not from one of the old noble families so he had to try harder. He believed that he was superior to these so-called aristocrats who were men of business. He clung to the practical rural values that made Rome flourish. A noble Roman could make money only from farming. Oddly, the construction business was considered a form of farming because bricks, wood and stone came from the land, so but if a noble Roman wanted to make money he had to espouse the pious old Roman values but had to make his money through dummy manufacturing corporations, secret investments and land acquisitions  all run by agents who knew business and could be discrete. Cato did very well, thank you. He believed in the old Roman ways and that money; especially real estate mattered most. His quotes are most interesting.
“Sell worn-out oxen, blemished cattle, blemished sheep, wool, hides, an old wagon, old tools, an old slave, a sickly slave, and whatever else is superfluous. The master should have the selling habit, not the buying habit.”
This is most certainly the way to run a business. Maximize assets! Dump old stuff and old workers so you don’t have to care for them in old age. Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise. If some fool is willing to buy the stuff dump it like a bad habit, things, animals and people! Why should you have to feed and care for an old slave? That’s no way to run a business.
I hear these days that a parish should be run much more like a business than it is, best practices and all. It only makes sense. After all money is life’s report card is it not? A parish should be judged by a very few criteria: the size of the congregation, the size of its income and the condition of its real estate. We are kidding ourselves if we think the church is a family and not a vast international corporation. Truly an approach Catonian! Does it matter that some old employee or schoolteacher has served the Lord and the parish for thirty or forty years at sub-standard wages? Not in the least. Does it matter that a congregation may be poor and small but very holy and a place of great service to the poor? Not in the least. Such places are just not structurally or financially viable these days. I remember a parish whose congregation was about 300 and whose collections came to about $70,000 a year while its expenses were close to a million. Somehow the bills were always met. They educated poor immigrant children at almost no cost to their families. They fed and clothed thousands every month. The children of the wealthy came and waited on the poor there at the soup kitchen. Above all God was worshipped and Christ was preached. Scores of people were converted to the faith by the example of the volunteers and under paid staff. Some went on to the religious life and the ordained priesthood.
The place is closed now. It continues some operations for a while yet, but it no longer exists as a parish. Such a place was just not viable. Too small, too poor.  The only way we are going to make it is the way the mega churches do, big buildings, big congregations, big collections and big screens with the words to the hymns so they can be seen back in the cheap seats by the espresso bar. Another Cato quote. He uttered it at the end of every senate meeting:Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed.
Eventually it was!  St. Cato the Elder, Guide us!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

2-16-2020 On the Welcoming Spirit of the Early church

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all
Essay Two: “On the Welcoming Spirit of the Early church” 
Return with me to a simpler, grubbier, smellier time in History:  ancient Rome around 190 AD, a Sunday morning. We visit the Subura, a vermin-infested stinking district in the heart of old Rome. Around you are five, even ten story tenements wedged in so tight that sun rarely hit the narrow stinking streets. They are prone to burn to the ground or just collapse. Meet two residents of the Subura, Gaius Introspecticus and his friend Narcissus Maximus. They are up early, as most Romans were, and Gaius mentions to his friend that there is a relatively new religion in town, a sort of Jewish sect that isn’t mostly Jews. They have a meeting every Sunday morning in the spacious house of Senator Superbus Ebrius Pazzo on the very chic Palatine Hill quite near the palace and the Great Racetrack.  
One hears that all are welcome. A trip to the Palatine across town might be just the thing. At least it would get them out of the stinking rat hole they live in and there was bound to be a decent meal. So, they climb the Palatine, find the house and are welcomed by a rather burly sort of man, a slave, a sort of usher, called a porter or ostiarius. He’s clearly just a slave but is given great deference by those entering as if he were somehow important. it turns out they don’t just hire or buy a porter, they ordain them! On with our story. In comes an older fellow. They all defer to him call him “Papa, or Abba Victor.” They are all treating this Victor as if he were some famous gladiator. The amazing thing is that he doesn’t look very Roman. He is dark skinned! In fact, he comes from Africa and one of his parents was a black-skinned Berber!  
Anyway, the service commences with a short prayer, some readings follow from the Jewish holy book and then some newer stuff written by some missionaries from Judea and Galilee. Then this “Big Daddy" Victor gets up to speak and he is quite interesting. He claims that some Jewish rabbi was executed by the 12th legion in Jerusalem about a hundred and fifty years ago but rose from the dead. There was an old fellow in the congregation, must have been 90 if he were a day. He said that his grandfather had been in Jerusalem when it happened. As a boy, the man’s old grandad had seen the empty tomb and his aunt and uncle had run into this Jesus when they were travelling on the road to the coast! It was all getting very interesting and there were a few loaves of bread and I could smell wine and was getting hungry.
Just when things were getting interesting, this burly usher fellow, a slave, ordained or not, asked me and Narcissus ‒ Roman citizens mind you! ‒ to kindly leave. The rest of the service was private and only baptized believers in good standing were welcome… WELL, I NEVER…THE NERVE OF THESE PEOPLE!!! I know what was going on. There were more women there than men and I smelled wine. They were going to have an orgy. I just know it, and us, not welcome!!! There were a lot of people there who were slaves. They weren’t there because they were rich. I bet they were there for some other reason in that swank neighborhood at some Senator’s house with only a few people rich enough to foot the bill. Next time the city magistrates want to round these people up, I’m going to tell them everything I know. That should fix them! Cut us out of the orgy. Just try! Ha! 
The early church wasn’t as welcoming as you might think they didn’t want to expose the faithful to unnecessary risks. They didn’t need members. They wanted disciples. They weren’t there to entertain people who needed to feel welcome. They wanted to open heaven’s gates to those seeking salvation and those who were willing to be martyrs in the arena. Christianity was noted for its charity and kindness to all, not for its inclusive and welcoming spirit. It attracted followers because of its charity, moral example and bravery, not by good marketing and welcoming services. On the contrary, they were always telling the Romans that if they didn’t repent, they were all going to hell! That’s why they threw them to the lions. Now that’s entertainment!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Catholicism Isn’t as Complicated as You May Think!

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all

Essay One: “Catholicism Isn’t as Complicated as You May Think!”

Things are in bit of a pickle in the Catholic Church in our times. To make sense of the crisis, one must understand the structure of the Catholic church. The Catholic church is arguably the largest and among the oldest institutions in the world.  It has an unbroken governance of almost two thousand years. Around 170 AD St Irenaeus of Lyon wrote:
“For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.”(Adversus Haereses III,3.) 
This is authority rests on the belief that Peter was the leader of the apostolic church. Peter was thought to have founded three churches, one in Antioch, one in Alexandria through his assistant St. Mark, and one in Rome, where he was martyred and where he was buried. This counted for a lot in the minds of the first Christians and whether you agree with the concept of Petrine authority or not, it seems certainly to have existed in some sense by the end of the first century. The Church of Rome is a very old institution. And it has become a very large institution. As of this writing it has 1,300,000,000 (one billion three hundred million) members. We constitute more than half of the Christians (2,400,000,000) in the world. Those 1.3 billion Catholics are governed by a rather small bureaucracy of just over 200 cardinals, around 6,000 bishops and perhaps 3,500 Vatican bureaucrats. This is just under 10,000 people. That comes to around one official for one million plus Catholics. The federal government of the U.S. employs around 4 million people in a country of 300 million. That’s more like one out every hundred.  Each diocese has its own chancery office or pastoral center some small, some large, but these are not part of the universal governance of the church, just as state governments are not part of the federal system. 
This church government is a hierarchy.  Most people think of hierarchy as chain of command similar to a military structure. This is not the actual situation. The word “hierarchy“ means sacred leadership. Each diocese has more autonomy than you would think. In fact, the pope has selected local bishops only since 1871. Before that the process was much more complicated and involved much local control both civil and religious. The church does not have a chain of command. A bishop of one diocese may not go to another and order the clergy or faithful around. They have authority only over their immediate diocese unless, like the cardinals, they are otherwise designated by the pope as able to minister without the express permission of the local bishop. The essential unit of the church is the diocese, a bishop assisted in serving the faithful with his presbyters (priests) and deacons. It is really a very simple structure. The pope is simply a bishop ‒ the bishop of Rome. He has no special papal ordination, but he does exercise a universal ministry because of Peter’s mandate to “strengthen the brethren,”  (Luke 22:32) The pope is the protector of the tradition and of doctrine and must assure that good and faithful men are chosen for leadership in the church.
So, where do the cardinals fit in? A cardinal is a pastor or deacon of one of the ancient churches in the city of Rome. These are called “cardinal” in the sense of “primary” or “important.”  Since the middle ages, bishops, priests and even non-ordained laymen have been given the title of “cardinal’ of a church in the diocese of Rome. Because the cardinals are the pastors of Rome, they elect the bishop of Rome, who is, by his office, the pope of the universal church. At home a cardinal may be a bishop, in Rome he is a ranking pastor of an ancient church of the diocese of Rome. In sorting it out it is absolutely essential to remember that the Bishop of Rome is the Pope. The Pope is not the Bishop of Rome.  A man is elected as the pastor of this ancient diocese. That is job one. His task is to maintain the sanctity and fidelity of this ancient heritage to the Gospel and to Christ so that all the other churches of the world can behold its beauty, truth and charity, and so be reassured in their work for the salvation of souls.
During the middle ages, these cardinal pastorates of the diocese of Rome were conferred on men, usually bishops, who were not always Romans, but were important bishops in their own countries. In this way popes could have representation with the crowned heads of Europe and those crowned heads could have their representatives in Rome. Thus, the Roman church became very centrally involved in the politics of Europe and the Roman (Byzantine) empire centered in Constantinople, The papacy struggled to rein in the ambitions of the monarchs of the Christian world, and in the process became a political force themselves.  Dr. Rodney Stark, sociologist of religion at Baylor University speaks of the church of piety and the church of (political) power. If I read him correctly, he contends that from the time of the emperor Constantine until some point in the middle ages, the church of piety and the church of power were at odds They reconciled through the development of the monasteries. I’m not so sure. There is evidence of the church of power earlier than Constantine. Just look up the heretic Bishop Paul of Samosata and his political collaboration with the rebel queen Zenobia of Palmyra (270AD) There have been ambitious sect leaders since the first days of the faith and the church is still inseparably enmeshed in civil politics, e.g. liberation theology and the church tax of Germany. The church of power and the church of piety have always been and will always be at loggerheads, often struggling within the soul of individual Christians.  Despite Jesus having said that his kingdom was not of this world, His more ambitious followers have always differed with Him on this point.