Amoris Laetitia 203: Seminarians

amoris laetitia memeBetter formation of priests: this was a notion identified by the synod bishops. The quote at the end of this section comes from the bishops, but much of this has the ring of Pope Francis about it. One wonders if he himself experienced this in his formation as a Jesuit:

203. Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them to explore their own psychological and affective background and experiences. Some come from troubled families, with absent parents and a lack of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure that the formation process can enable them to attain the maturity and psychological balance needed for their future ministry. Family bonds are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem. It is important for families to be part of the seminary process and priestly life, since they help to reaffirm these and to keep them well grounded in reality. It is helpful for seminarians to combine time in the seminary with time spent in parishes. There they can have greater contact with the concrete realities of family life, since in their future ministry they will largely be dealing with families. “The presence of lay people, families and especially the presence of women in priestly formation, promotes an appreciation of the diversity and complementarity of the different vocations in the Church”.(Relatio Finalis, 2015, 61)

I know it’s beyond the scope of this document, but I think the Church would be better off for priesthood candidates to have ample ministry experience prior to seminary. Time spent in parishes during studies? Certainly, yes: this is necessary. In fact, I’d suggest that at least part-time ministry should be a constant for a seminarian in training. The old model of a monastery is tragically weak for diocesan clergy practically anywhere in the world.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | 1 Comment

Archbishop Chaput At Notre Dame, Part 2

Archbishop ChaputNCReg has a full text of Archbishop Chaput’s address at Notre Dame. The smaller Church, whether purer or lighter or whatever has been getting some blowback and cheers, depending on where one sits in the bleachers.

Are we concerned about numbers? The archbishop says yes, and I share it:

Catholics today — and I’m one of them — feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously, we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church.

I find the assumption here interesting. Many people, Archbishop Chaput included, seem to assign inactive Catholics to the category of “tepid.” But that’s not been the experience of many people I know. I heard from people in Kansas City that they felt under the leadership of a certain bishop that the Church had left them. One man whom I particularly admire abandoned his parish–it was a matter of integrity. I didn’t get the notion at all he was abandoning his faith. It seemed to me he was leaving to preserve it.

“Ne timeas”–don’t be afraid! I get it. But …

But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.  Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.

I think the concern–not a fear–many of us have had is that the smaller Church is purer only in terms of ideology. Not orthodoxy. Certainly not orthopraxy. We should be very concerned if a smaller Church is driven by cliques, in-crowds, what another Catholic friend once described as Country Club Catholicism: we accept people who think like us, and can afford the price we will extract. In other words, the cool kid table from high school. And an adolescent version of community (I hesitate to call it “church”) it is.

Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.

And yet, losing people of integrity, commitment, and enough honesty to question their pope, bishop, pastor, and certainly themselves–this is not good for us.

In his defense, Archbishop Chaput has been honest in other talks I’ve read about the importance of bishops being zealous and motivated, as well as able to motivate others for the cause of the Gospel. His blind spot includes some telling assumptions about the state of affairs among Catholics, especially lay people. Aside from the Lord’s lesson about the weeds and the wheat I also think of this brief example from Matthew 21:28-32:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

This is illustrative of human nature in a more broad sense of our ability or inability to make and keep commitments. But it also is a caution for any age in the Church. In the first century, tax collectors and prostitutes were on the minds of those who saw themselves wrapped in a mantle of religious virtue. Who are those people today? Quite likely a few folks labelled as “tepid.” Maybe some who have dipped their finger in very lukewarm water provided by our leaders and our Catholic neighbors and found it–and us–very much wanting.

Archbishop Chaput’s conclusion, in part:

If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.”

We may also need to unplug our hearts from aspects of Church culture that holds some familiarity, but no longer works: a sense of entitlement, a rejection of imagination or outside-the-box thinking, apologetics, and of so frequently saying “I go,” and deciding that it’s someone else’s job, after all.

Given today’s Gospel reading, also the notion of gratitude that we remnant are not tepid, pro-choice heretics who don’t vote a GOP ticket.

Posted in Commentary | Tagged | Leave a comment

Amoris Laetitia 202: Better Pastoral Formation For Ministers

amoris laetitia memeThe parish is the locus of most of the Church’s ministry to families:

202. “The main contribution to the pastoral care of families is offered by the parish, which is the family of families, where small communities, ecclesial movements and associations live in harmony”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 77)

In their final document, the synod bishops identified an important lack among pastoral ministers, even clergy:

Along with a pastoral outreach aimed specifically at families, this shows the need for “a more adequate formation… of priests, deacons, men and women religious, catechists and other pastoral workers”.(Ibid., 61) In the replies given to the worldwide consultation, it became clear that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families. The experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn upon.

Do Eastern Christians perceive a better and more understanding ministry? That’s a question I would like to pose. Experience as a married person doesn’t always translate into fruitful service to families. And many celibate clergy and religious I know utilize time-tested tools of psychology and spirituality to their people. But to the matter of better pastoral formation: I would say yes, certainly much needed.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

Archbishop Chaput At Notre Dame, Part 1

Archbishop ChaputNCReg has a full text of Archbishop Chaput’s address at Notre Dame. This has been getting some notice in Catholic media online, aggregators, facebook, bloggers and such. One or another bit has been singled out, depending on where one surfs. I’d like to tackle his talk in two posts. In each of these, I’ll use the quotes as a springboard into something a bit different here and there. Bear with me, please.

For the record, I find Archbishop Chaput various parts refreshingly candid, somewhat myopic, and always ready with an opinion on something he knows something about. Some people think he and his culturewar mindset are about as passé as anything emerging from the 60s. But I think the man is earnest and sincere. Few others would tackle an eastern scandal-ridden archdiocese with as much vigor as he does.

Interesting that he prefaced nearly two-thousand words about politics from JFK to Trump v Clinton with a brief statement, “My focus today isn’t politics.” I would have preferred a deeper exploration of C.S. Lewis, Cyril of Jerusalem, or Flannery O’Connor, like his preface explained:

(Mary) reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion” — not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: Beware, lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.” The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.

Courage, indeed. Discipline as well, I would think. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier in his first life, but he understood the real interior “fight” that takes place within the heart that aspires to God. Fighting other people strikes me as a large part distraction from the inner warfare that engaged so many saints.

On a friend’s fracebook feed, I was reading last week of the ill-feeling he and his friends got from the “scolding” frequently delivered to “faithful” Catholics by Pope Francis. Have these people not read Teresa of Avila, I thought: the notion that the deeper one goes into the mystical life and the closer one draws to Christ, the more aware we are of our sins, our failings, our unworthiness? Maybe feeling scolded is a good thing. At least is suggests a conscience that our culture would prefer be absent from our being.

I’m aware of the relentless attack on the so-called mainstream media from sources as varied as the radical Left (feel the Bern!) to Mr Trump, to Catholics online. And I always ask myself as a person who does not watch network news, nor reads American corporate print journalism, nor views the various cable outlets: If you are so opposed to this medium, why do you seem to spend so much time absorbing it? Just to discredit? From where do you get your real news?

I have no problem with an American archbishop waxing more or less eloquently on American politics. But I wonder if the messenger here has been a bit distracted from the storyteller. If I were at a Church symposium, I’d want to explore a bit more with Cyril of Jerusalem, a figure I haven’t journeyed with since my grad school thesis, or Ms O’Connor, a literary artist that embodies the Catholic imagination a good bit more than the man behind the face on the fifty-cent piece.

What interests me more coming from the archbishop’s mind is this:

Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need, instead, to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.

When I do a self-check on this, I’d consider myself more of an optimist. But I also recognize a cynical streak. Hope is a tricky and elusive virtue. Saint Paul suggests it is at least as important as faith. What does it mean to have hope? Is it something we take action on, like love? Do we have to practice hope? To live life expecting someone or something greater, more powerful, infinitely more good is taking hold of us and folds us into some better plan?

Any comments on hope?

Posted in Commentary | Tagged | 1 Comment

Amoris Laetitia 201: Conversion, Values, Critique, and Dialogue

amoris laetitia memeIn their preliminary document, the synod bishops identified some important areas for work. First, continuing conversion:

201. “This effort calls for missionary conversion by everyone in the Church, that is, one that is not content to proclaim a merely theoretical message without connection to people’s real problems”.(Relatio Synodi 2014, 32)

The cultivation of values, not (necessarily) rules:

Pastoral care for families “needs to make it clear that the Gospel of the family responds to the deepest expectations of the human person: a response to each one’s dignity and fulfilment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This consists not merely in presenting a set of rules, but in proposing values that are clearly needed today, even in the most secularized of countries”.(Ibid., 33)

A critique of the environment in which families operate and are, at times, pressured away from values:

The Synod Fathers also “highlighted the fact that evangelization needs unambiguously to denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors – such as the excessive importance given to market logic – that prevent authentic family life and lead to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence.

And not just criticism, but dialogue:

Consequently, dialogue and cooperation need to be fostered with societal structures and encouragement given to lay people who are involved, as Christians, in the cultural and socio-political fields”.(Ibid., 38)

Thoughts? For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

Amoris Laetitia 200: Proclaiming The Gospel Of The Family Today

amoris laetitia memeSections 200 through 204 deal with the first of the Holy Father’s five pastoral topics. Another instance of that lovely and positive term, domestic church:

200. The Synod Fathers emphasized that Christian families, by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, are the principal agents of the family apostolate, above all through “their joy-filled witness as domestic churches”.(Relatio Synodi 2014, 30)

It can be difficult to discern joy or the cause for joy in many family situations today. The emphasis isn’t misplaced. Pope Francis preaches it, and he means it:

Consequently, “it is important that people experience the Gospel of the family as a joy that ‘fills hearts and lives’, because in Christ we have been ‘set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 1).

For families in trouble, there’s the 12 Step motto, “Fake it till you make it.” At the risk of glossing over the serious problems of many families, I think the loss of joy erodes into a loss of hope and an expectation that bad things will continue to plague us.

As in the parable of the sower (cf. Mt 13:3-9), we are called to help sow seeds; the rest is God’s work. Nor must we forget that, in her teaching on the family, the Church is a sign of contradiction”.(Ibid., 31)

The synod bishops are also cited:

Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face. The Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to families and “to help each family to discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 56) It is not enough to show generic concern for the family in pastoral planning. Enabling families to take up their role as active agents of the family apostolate calls for “an effort at evangelization and catechesis inside the family”.(Ibid., 89)

It is vital that pastors and ministers come to the service of specific families they serve with ready assistance. Such assistance is not always sought or even expected. But we have a tradition of prayer, reliance on God, and effective charity when we draw from it. Why wouldn’t the Church take the lead on resources that assist in various human disciplines like communication, sex, finances, employment, children, and above all, spiritual formation as disciples–not just occasional believers.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

Saturn in Music

saturn_eclipseMany classical music folks and astronomers know the Saturn movement from The Planets.

Here’s a very obscure astronomy-related piece of music: Saturn by Alan Hovhaness. An abbreviated version is on YouTube here in concert. I see the old Crystal recording is on cd and available–where else?–on Amazon, too.

The concerto’s listed movements:

  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Titan, Moon of Saturn
  • 3. Orb Mysterious
  • 4. Saturn, Celestial Globe
  • 5. O Lost Note
  • 6. My Hymn
  • 7. Giant Globe
  • 8. Vision of Saturn
  • 9. On Wings of a Soundless Note
  • 10. What is Universe?
  • 11. Intermezzo
  • 12. Harp of Saturn

Hovhaness composed this in 1971. A different feel from Gustav Holst’s astrology-inspired big-forces orchestral version. But the singer, piano, and clarinet give it a feel I think resonates with the sixth planet: cold, lonely, distant, and I think in the future, a place of mystical encounter with God.

If I were composing for an ensemble of musicians, siongers, or both, I think I’d want to explore a bit more than Holst’s “old age” or Hovhaness’s globes. Something like …

Image credit.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment