Uncovering a Sense of the Cross

It was intentional that I did not offer a commentary on Cardinals Egan and Mahony other than that they were having a bad week. I’m not too familiar with New York’s archbishop, other than his emphasis on fiscal responsibility. And St Bloggers have struggled for years with my dislike of LA’s archbishop. It just doesn’t compute for them. One person once suggested I was lying and that I really liked Mahony. Nope. I think both his critics and supporters should learn how to spell his name–it’s not really that hard. And I think he’s something of a refugee from a pre-conciliar era of prestige and clerical privilege. Egan doesn’t sound too different in that respect.

Liam weighs in sensibly (which is why he has an open invitation to join the blogging team here–anytime he desires it) on the “bad week” post. I grumble about finding an authentic way to express ourselves (meaning bishops and laity, supporters and detractors alike) as a Church. Liam has a level-headed approach that I’ve found to be very useful during this past decade of the liturgy tussles. (I don’t like the term “wars” and I find it to be a bit overused and overblown in context of being sisters and brothers in Christ.)


It involves understanding that where one finds a cross, one finds a well of grace. It involves understanding that cross is an invitation to solidarity with people who have crosses they cannot choose to forego. That’s the Catholic way.

I do think many Catholics get this. It’s far more subtle than sighing, throwing one’s hands in the air and moaning, “Poor me!” Though to the untutored observer, it might look the same.

Unlike the conservatives, I’ve known I’ve had poor liturgical translations to work with since I was in grad school over twenty years ago. Most bishops and many pastors don’t care enough about liturgy–my opinion, there. It’s certainly frustrating to draw a measly 35% of able-bodied parishioners to Mass on any given weekend. And the current discussion on how many 1962 Latin Masses we’re getting from the pope seems to me to be a distraction from the important issue of making all the Sunday Masses exceptional. But … there are still graces to be found, and God is still working in the Church despite our collective failings.

Let me offer a personal example. I think I’m on safe ground in doing so. My wife found my two years (2000-02) in rural ministry to be exceedingly tedious. To put it politely. With the exception of five new friends and adopting our daughter, she found little grace amongst the farmlands of Iowa: her health deteriorated; her schooling was put on hold; the people mistreated her badly. We discussed it often.

After our adoption was final, she asked if we could relocate to a large city, preferably back East, and preferably near family. I asked for a third year where we were. We prayed about it for weeks and she consented. But then I found myself at a social justice workshop a few days later. The speaker said one thing that smacked me like an NFL linebacker. It was wrong for us to see ourselves as “owning” our ministry. Who were we to put others on hold so that “our” gifts, “our” talents could shine forth? This is supposed to be about Christ, about sacrifice, about the people we serve, and about the cross that perhaps others have no choice in carrying, as Liam suggests.

Immediately, I realized that I had unjustly put my career, my desire for three years and a finished agenda, ahead of my wife’s appropriate and important needs. So we scrapped the three-year plan. And God was good, providing for us from his well of grace.


It’s something I’ve seen many progressive Catholics fight because it soooooo counter-cultural. As you know, I’ve witnessed the withering of formerly vigorous apostolates of service in favor of politicized agitation, eventually sundering communities. It is not the way of Christ. People have extended and distorted Dr. King’s model of activism, I suspect because it is narcissitically gratifying to imagine the active struggling is more obviously righteous than the quiet, suffering service.

I think all Catholics–human beings fall down on this one occasionally, not just the progressives. My long contention is that much of the Catholic pro-life movement has been worn down by despair and agitation and has adopted a corrupted version of 60’s activism.

Oscar Romero described it well: sowing seed for a crop we will not harvest, recognizing out limitation as workers, not master builders. There is a tremendous freedom in laying down one’s dear possessions, and taking up that cross to follow the Lord. It doesn’t all depend on us.

Which brings us back to Cardinal Egan’s mutiny. Regardless of how the Boston priests may have been treated for wanting Cardinal Law out, they were brave and appropriate to put their names in the pot. The New York priests were cowardly for not affixing their names to their letter. Cardinal Egan’s supporters could not have done a better job if they fabricated an anonymous letter themselves.

And that’s not to say that the archbishop of New York is not responsible to the people he serves. Church teaching, not to mention the gospel, is very clear on the shepherd’s responsibility. If this mutiny is authentic, it is a mark of failure for Egan. Even if it was unjustly handled by his critics.

As is usual in many such situations, just because one side or another may be wrong, that does not mean that the other is right. (In part, that’s one reason why St Blog’s cannot digest my dislike for Cardinal Mahony) But Catholic leaders from all walks of life would offer a great service to more publicly and accurately model Christ as a servant of all, as a servant of the Cross. If we can’t count on leaders to set the bar high and demonstrate the high road, we’re suffering a greater poverty than a lack of food, clothing, or shelter.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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