GeE 175: Last Words On Discernment

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175. When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult.

Our whole lives, beginning to end, depth and width, are given for us to play our part in God’s overarching plan of sanctification. We do withhold–I don’t think any of us manage the full gift, even saints. Yet we are engaged in an extravagance of barter: we give all of ourselves, and God does likewise. Thing is, what we get is far more that what we can possible dredge up from our own life and breath.

We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives. God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us. He does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfilment. Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.

And again, discernment is not intended for personal growth as a separate thing from mission. We gain courage, hope, confidence, self-regard, and so forth so we can bask in the applause. The stage is far wider than the single exploits of any one of us.

You can check the full document Gaudete et Exsultate on the Vatican website.


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GeE 174: The Logic Of Gift And Of The Cross

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One final note on discernment, The logic of gift and of the cross.

First, a note to those who complain God works too slowly:

174. An essential condition for progress in discernment is a growing understanding of God’s patience and his timetable, which are never our own. God does not pour down fire upon those who are unfaithful (cf. Luke 9:54), or allow the zealous to uproot the tares growing among the wheat (cf. Matthew 13:29).

Second, a reminder of God’s boundless ability to give gifts, and surprise us with extravagance:

Generosity too is demanded, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Let’s not forget this enterprise is not about how “I can get the most out of life,” We are engaged in a higher mission involving the entire human race, if not the universe:

Discernment is not about discovering what more we can get out of this life, but about recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism.

A sainted doctor of the Church invites us to consider the cross:

This entails a readiness to make sacrifices, even to sacrificing everything. For happiness is a paradox. We experience it most when we accept the mysterious logic that is not of this world: “This is our logic”, says Saint Bonaventure, [Collationes in Hexaemeron, 1, 30] pointing to the cross. Once we enter into this dynamic, we will not let our consciences be numbed and we will open ourselves generously to discernment.

You can check the full document Gaudete et Exsultate on the Vatican website.


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A Bishop Withdraws

Image result for bishop robert morneauIt saddens me but doesn’t surprise me that a bishop like Robert Morneau would withdraw from public ministry for mishandling a case of child sexual abuse. I have a deep respect for the man as a spiritual guide–mainly through his books, a few of which sit on my office bookshelf.

The primary text of his letter to his ordinary:

I write to you today with a heavy heart and great sorrow. In light of the recent public revelations of past abuse in the church and the call for more accountability on the part of bishops, I feel that my own actions are no less subject to scrutiny than those of other bishops. I failed to report to local authorities an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979 and, as a result, this priest was able to abuse again several years later. Because of this, I voluntarily request a withdrawal from all public ministry. I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do.

Looking back, I should have handled this situation differently than I did at the time. At the time, I was asked by the family of the victim to arrange an apology from the offending priest, which I did. I felt at the time I had done what was asked of me by helping the parties to reconcile. The measures taken were ultimately insufficient to protect others from abuse from this same priest. I very much regret and apologize for this, especially to those victimized following my mistake in this regard.

I take full responsibility for my failures in this matter and ask for forgiveness and prayers for healing for all who were harmed. I apologize to all those who put their trust in me.

Bishop Morneau was of a cluster of bishops ordained early in John Paul II’s pontificate who were in their early forties, but who were never “promoted” like those forty-something Turks in previous or later decades.

I wonder how this will impact other bishops in the US. Some of the culturewarrior caste of the 90s and into this century seemed to think little of the pastoral prelates who emerged in the decade following Vatican II. These bishops–Law, Mahony, Wuerl, and some others–have been tainted by scandals far more grave than the release of one offending priest. And they did so in an era (1986-2002) before the Charter when they should have known better.

My respect for Bishop Morneau deepens, but I also feel sad for this situation. I still keep in touch with colleagues in ministry from around the country. One recently shared with me a sense that moves past powerlessness. The question she raised: why work so hard when it seems like so many things for which we’ve labored for so long are falling apart? She said she could envision doing the absolute minimum and it wouldn’t make any bit of difference than if she continued to work her butt off. I didn’t have an answer.

I was thinking back to twenty to thirty years ago when I had funeral choirs. They were made up of about one-third stay-at-home moms and two-thirds retirees. People died, but new singers replaced those who had moved on, either new parishioners or folks recently out of full-time work. I reconciled myself to leading a choir that likely wasn’t going to improve much artistically, and in fact, most of the members were in the decline of their musical abilities. Was I there just to tread water? As a younger minister, that was a struggle.

Today, my funeral choir is all retirees. And I’ve gone from ten to a dozen to as few as three. Time to hire a psalmist? Time to close shop on the effort? It seemed like an echo of my friend’s discouragement. I could simply coast in ministry for the next decade or two and the result would likely be the same: nobody would notice the difference and I’d preside over a gradual fade of the Church around me.

What an obscene mess we have. So few bishops aware, and so many who have led us down fruitless and antigospel paths these last decades.

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GeE 173: Attention To Gospel And Magisterium

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More on listening:

173: Naturally, this attitude of listening entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it, as we seek to find in the treasury of the Church whatever is most fruitful for the “today” of salvation.

Surprised that Pope Francis would cite the teaching authority of the Church? Shouldn’t be. He’s not advocating a slavish obedience to past decisions, but rather a healthy respect for the discernment of spirits.

It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past, since the same solutions are not valid in all circumstances and what was useful in one context may not prove so in another. The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord. The Spirit alone can penetrate what is obscure and hidden in every situation, and grasp its every nuance, so that the newness of the Gospel can emerge in another light.

You can check the full document Gaudete et Exsultate on the Vatican website.


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Church Authority

See the source imageA few years after I was baptized, I was enrolled in Catholic high school. It was an experience in “real world” church authority. My school was run by two orders, one for each half of the school, for girls and boys. Many lay employees, too. I had many fine teachers who encouraged and challenged me. I think back to Chemistry, Physics, AP English, all my Math instructors, Latin, and German.

On the other hand, there was one lay brother who “absolved” us of our sins in a class prayer service. That seemed to be the last straw in a series of weird happenings. A few days later, another lay brother came in to finish off the semester. One lay teacher liked to gossip about other students with the in-crowd. A few brothers we were warned off to avoid. One we weren’t warned about was said to have eloped with a graduated senior from the girls’ side of the school.

Elsewhere in my life, a scoutmaster ejected for adultery, and various neighbor and extended family misbehaviors. So I recognized that adult authority is not an automatic pass for respect. I took the same attitude with me to college and into employment. I would watch professors and employers carefully and when respect was earned, I was willing to give it.

I don’t know that I was anti-authority as much as I was the equivalent of an agnostic on it. Doubt before proof.

Fast-forward to what I would call the cover-up scandal of 2002. I was certainly aware of sexual misdeeds among clergy, religious orders, and lay employees. The difference for me was that I became aware of bishops blundering their management responsibilities on a scale that far surpassed the relatively lower percentage of priest-abusers.

Before 1986, there may have been excuses of ignorance. But between that year and 2002, the bishops collectively ignored evidence presented by fellow priests. A few bishops did take action. My priest friends in my current diocese report that Archbishop Hunthausen took credible action once he heard Fr Tom Doyle’s report to the USCCB. The bigger problem from the institution’s eyes in that decade was the promotion of peace. So, for the pope of the day, doubt.

So today, I look upon church leaders with a broad swash of doubt. I’ve noted Catholics lapse into bad behavior repeatedly. It seems to make no difference if they are liberal or conservative. The notion that a Catholic can self-will herself or himself to virtue based on either a bleeding heart for the poor, a wish for artful liturgy, or an indulgence for things pre-conciliar is laughable–or it would be if it weren’t the matter of grave sin. I’m not surprised that Pope Benedict XVI inched forward on some issues, especially when the institution was embarrassed. Pope Francis has acted a little more quickly. But like his two predecessors, he seems ill-served by those whom he trusts in the hierarchy. He’d do better to add Marie Collins to his gang-of-nine.

I’ll wait and see how things turn out. I suspect Pope Francis is the best we could have hoped for in terms of a pope willing to move forward on issues of abuse and cover-up. If people begin speaking out against him, I doubt they will be marginalized as squeaky wheels were in the 1978-2013 era.

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GeE 172: Speak, Lord

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When we are silent in conversation, it inspires a friend or loved one to speak. Pope Francis knows that our discipline of silence invites God, and we need not even utter, “Speak, Lord.” When another human being talks to us, we listen, as a matter of courtesy and communication. If we aspire to discernment, the same politeness is extended to God:

172. Nonetheless, it is possible that, even in prayer itself, we could refuse to let ourselves be confronted by the freedom of the Spirit, who acts as he wills. We must remember that prayerful discernment must be born of a readiness to listen: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways. Only if we are prepared to listen, do we have the freedom to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual habits and ways of seeing things. In this way, we become truly open to accepting a call that can shatter our security, but lead us to a better life. It is not enough that everything be calm and peaceful. God may be offering us something more, but in our comfortable inadvertence, we do not recognize it.

You can check the full document Gaudete et Exsultate on the Vatican website.


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Aparecida 553-554: Mary and Jesus

At the end, a plea for intercession to Mary, recognizing our common ground. She, as a pilgrim to Elizabeth. And we, joining with her in that most human of experiences, the journey from shadows to light, drawing closer to God with every step, every breath:

553. We are aided with the company, ever close at hand, full of understanding and tenderness, of Mary Most Holy. May she show us the blessed fruit of her womb and teach us to respond as she did in the mystery of the annunciation and incarnation. She teaches us to go out of ourselves on a journey of sacrifice, love, and service, as she did in the visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, so that as pilgrims on the road, we may sing the wonders that God has done in us as he promised.

The Aparecida bishops leave the last word to Pope Benedict XVI:

554. Guided by Mary, we fix our gaze on Jesus Christ, author and perfecter of faith, and we tell him with the Successor of Peter:

“Stay with us, for it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent” (Lk 24:29).

Stay with us, Lord, keep us company, even though we have not always recognized you. Stay with us, because all around us the shadows are deepening, and you are the Light; discouragement is eating its way into our hearts: make them burn with the certainty of Easter. We are tired of the journey, but you comfort us in the breaking of bread, so that we are able to proclaim to our brothers and sisters that you have truly risen and have entrusted us with the mission of being witnesses of your resurrection.

Stay with us, Lord, when mists of doubt, weariness or difficulty rise up around our Catholic faith; you are Truth itself, you are the one who reveals the Father to us: enlighten our minds with your word, and help us to experience the beauty of believing in you.

Remain in our families, enlighten them in their doubts, sustain them in their difficulties, console them in their sufferings and in their daily labors, when around them shadows build up which threaten their unity and their natural identity. You are Life itself: remain in our homes, so that they may continue to be nests where human life is generously born, where life is welcomed, loved and respected from conception to natural death.

Remain, Lord, with those in our societies who are most vulnerable; remain with the poor and the lowly, with indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, who have not always found space and support to express the richness of their culture and the wisdom of their identity. Remain, Lord, with our children and with our young people, who are the hope and the treasure of our Continent, protect them from so many snares that attack their innocence and their legitimate hopes. O Good Shepherd, remain with our elderly and with our sick. Strengthen them all in faith, so that they may be your disciples and missionaries!(Benedict XVI, Introductory Address 3)

It’s been a long journey. Any final thoughts? Remember that an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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