GeE 112: Perseverance, Patience, and Meekness

See the source imageWe delve deeper into Gaudete et Exsultate with an extended look into some qualities linked closely with holiness: Perseverance, Patience and Meekness.

On perseverance:

112. The first of these great signs is solid grounding in the God who loves and sustains us. This source of inner strength enables us to persevere amid life’s ups and downs, but also to endure hostility, betrayal and failings on the part of others. “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31): this is the source of the peace found in the saints.

Many saints thrived in community. Or at a minimum, drew on formative experiences there, and were able to find support of close companions even in the face of persecution from within the Church.

Such inner strength makes it possible for us, in our fast-paced, noisy and aggressive world, to give a witness of holiness through patience and constancy in doing good. It is a sign of the fidelity born of love, for those who put their faith in God (pístis) can also be faithful to others (pistós). They do not desert others in bad times; they accompany them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction.

For example, the ideals of Saint Benedict are rooted in the qualities of the monastic tradition. Hospitality comes to mind as an important one practiced by many lay people. The Catholic Worker movement describes their locations as “houses of hospitality,” and their witness of perseverance in the face of growing expressions of violence and warmongering in the modern world are a suitable and telling witness of holiness.

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


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What A Difference A Day Makes

In the old days, I’d be gone for a week or two–camping or on retreat–and some news item would explode. Events like the Nixon capitulation in ’74, Elvis in ’77, or Oklahoma City in 1995.

I took a pilgrimage day Monday this week in the city. As usual, it involved a lot of walking (I drive there only in case of dire necessity), a visit with my spiritual director, and various stops for praying, eating, writing, and reading. I get home and the president’s muffing of Helsinki is exploding in all communications media.

Today I wasn’t even out-of-town. Just a funeral and a typical summer day preparing for a weekend of five Masses and two weddings. So this item of horrific news whispered on a new 2002 moment for the Church in the US. What a closing comment from the sister of the abused person:

My brother has had such a horrible life. It just doesn’t make any sense, that his life would have been so different from his six siblings. Father Ted was supposed to fix this horrible boy, and he sure fixed him.

Rocco’s comment on the threefold “confluence” of child abuse, #metoo for Catholic priests, and institutional cover-up:

Even for the torrent of 2002, it’s a confluence that would’ve been unthinkable: a graphic return to the crisis’ major eruption at an unprecedented level of the US hierarchy… yet now beyond, a practically uncharted frontier of new processes and potential penalties for clerics of all stripes over claims of sexual harassment or exploitation of those under their authority: as Francis himself has re-framed the issue over recent weeks in personally aiming to repair the roiled church in Chile, “the abuse of sex, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience.”

Many Catholic commentators, including most apologists, have focused on matters of the same-sex element. That never held water for me. Most abuse takes place in families, and we can’t characterize parents as gays or lesbians for the episodes when people act out against their own children.

Others still view it as a moral matter. Liberals are less moral, I hear. And conservative Catholics, by definition, would never abuse. Though they might take steps to protect the institution. I find this equally unconvincing. Sin is pervasive across the whole human race. If we pay careful attention to the saints, they admit as much.

A variation on that theme is the presumption of virtue by ordination. It may be true that among Catholics, priests and bishops have the greatest access to the sacraments. But even clergy ordained in the John Paul II era have faltered in giving witness. Likewise most bishops taking the fall these days were not only appointed under the last two popes, but vetted by careful standards as well. Or perhaps not so careful in some cases.

Citing that rape is a crime of power much more than a sexual offense is worth considering. Some people take an evil glee at the control of the pleasure of others. That could be in bed. But it also means employment, friends, schooling, and recreational substances, to name a few. I’ve experienced people in parishes who styled themselves as powerful. Mainly gossips and the very occasional over-bearing boss. It’s about the minimum effort expended to cause the most damage, just because one can pull a tablecloth out from under a place-setting and watch the china burst into pieces on the floor.

Others, especially those who fund and provide insurance, zero in on the abuse itself. Mainly as a hedge against future events. And that’s not wrong. But it doesn’t get at the third point of confluence: the cover-up.

Rocco wrote of an “uncharted frontier of new processes,” but I can think of one familiar to just about everybody in the workaday world. Resignation.

Maybe Chile is the new Charter.

If the confluence of Pope Francis and the USCCB’s 2002 Charter had occurred, would we have seen a mass resignation of two-hundred-plus bishops? Is that likely to happen today? I can only imagine how St Blog’s of 2002 would have reacted to something like that. Today, the Catholic internet voice is far more diffused than the lock-step it used to be. A once-united front spawned by 9/11 and Cardinal Law spouts chinks all over. Torture was the first wedge. Others have followed.

From Rod Dreher, citing Rocco’s whisper:

Oh swell, another legalistic document stating “standards” that will be ignored by those who never have cared about standards, only the appearance of doing so.

Or likely not. I think another document is not forthcoming from the USCCB. I suspect that Pope Francis is going to want to see concrete action here in the US and elsewhere. It might seem that bishops are locked in for life. But they can still walk away.

The standards are already given. Outlined in the first verses of Luke 17, the Lord had a saying:

Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!

The occasion of hounding people out of the Church by clerical scandal, of preaching antigospel, is surely an agency of this.

And a warning:

It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard!

And an instruction for those observing:

If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender …

As for the companion saying …

… and if there is repentance, you must forgive.

… I’d say forgiveness is not only a process of interior opening up. Co-conspirators are not in a place to forgive. Victims and survivors are, but at the urging of their own communities. The institutional Church is not well-placed to offer convenient mewlings that bestow forgiveness on its members. It would seem that the repentance project begun in 2002 has not progressed to completion.

Let’s bring it back to the Chile solution. What do you think? Cardinal McCarrick has many disciples in the episcopacy and in places of authority from rectors to pastors. Should they all offer resignations? More from Mr Dreher:

Let’s be clear: being associated with McCarrick does not make these men guilty of anything. But it does mean that their own clerical careers are intimately tied with an archbishop who is now known to have been a sexual abuser of seminarians and priests, and even a rapist of minors. Were these men sexually compromised by McCarrick when they were subject to his authority? What did they know? What, if anything, did they do with that knowledge?

The situation in South America was the same. Association with the prelates under investigation didn’t make them guilty. But there was taint.

Luke 17:3 mentions forgiveness in the face of repentance. Repentance is worth exploring seriously, and not as a gesture.

Think of the person who commits a small single offense in isolation, like forgetting a promised phone call, or having an uncharacteristic but small blow-up. A virtuous person recognizes the fault soon, if not immediately. They likely don’t blame their busy day or headache. They just communicate a serious and heartfelt apology. Offense forgiven.

Venial sins are one thing. Unfaithfulness, in the form of gossip or perjury or adultery is another. This is trust beyond what a piece of tape or a dab of glue can repair. The sinner has committed a crime that has significantly fractured a few bones. It’s the equivalent of being in traction or being in a wheelchair. Visits from victims or survivors may take place. But the offender is left alone to heal and to reflect seriously on the harm, and the loss of familiar activities and social groups.

My sense is that some elements of the Church are in a hospital ward, whether they know it or not. If they know it, they can acknowledge their surroundings and cooperate with God’s offer of healing grace. If not, they may well have consigned themselves to that millstone. In the meantime, that compound leg fracture is grinding away at the muscles of their limbs, ripping into flesh, impairing movement, creating crippling conditions that will merit a far more intensive recovery.

As for the Church’s laity, we’ve already suffered through the embarrassment in the presence of non-Catholics, of the dismay of watching once-loved leaders fall from grace, of seeing our co-workers, neighbors, and even our children abandon the Mass. Maybe a few remaining will see the McCarrick revelations as their come-to-Jesus moment. I look at Cardinal Tobin’s intention to “discuss this tragedy with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to articulate standards that will assure high standards of respect by bishops, priests and deacons for all adults.” Rocco seems to think this means another document. But perhaps not. It is possible for discerning adults to get together, apply Luke 17:3, and move ahead.

Time will tell, but it will be much, much longer than a day to recover from this grievous injury.

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Aparecida 487-488: The Internet

487. Viewed from within the entire range of media, the Internet should be understood to be, as expressed earlier at Vatican II, one of the “wonderful technological discoveries.”(Inter Mirifica 1).

The first word, from some years before it was invented, is positive. The first pope of the internet age might be in agreement:

For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message. This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium to follow the Lord’s command to “put out into the deep”: Duc in altum! (Lk 5:4).(John Paul II, Message of the Holy Father for the 36th World Communications Day, Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel. n. 2, January 12, 2002)

488. The Church approaches this new medium with realism and confidence. Like other communications media, it is a means, not an end in itself. The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses.(Ibid. 3)

A reminder that like any media–not only communications, but art, musical genre, anything peripheral to the Gospel message–these are all means to disperse the Gospel and nurture it among people.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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GeE 110-111: Signs of Holiness in Today’s World

See the source imageChapter Four beckons. Over the next several weeks, let’s explore for Signs of Holiness in Today’s World. Pope Francis acknowledges he isn’t turning our attention to aspects well-acknowledged that lead us deeper into the spiritual life: liturgy and devotions. We will be looking at qualities that define us as human.

110. Within the framework of holiness offered by the Beatitudes and Matthew 25:31-46, I would like to mention a few signs or spiritual attitudes that, in my opinion, are necessary if we are to understand the way of life to which the Lord calls us. I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well. Here I will speak only of certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful.

111. The signs I wish to highlight are not the sum total of a model of holiness, but they are five great expressions of love for God and neighbor that I consider of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture. There we see a sense of anxiety, sometimes violent, that distracts and debilitates; negativity and sullenness; the self-content bred by consumerism; individualism; and all those forms of ersatz spirituality – having nothing to do with God – that dominate the current religious marketplace.

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


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Aparecida 486: Initiatives In Social Communications

Today, nine initiatives to get things going in the realm of social communications, starting with some self-imposed homework in number one:

486. In order to form disciples and missionaries in this field, we bishops gathered in the Fifth General Conference, pledge ourselves to accompany those devoted to communications, striving to:

a) Be familiar with and appreciate this new culture of communications.

Training for clergy, missionaries, lay ministers, catechists, and others:

b) Promote professional training in the culture of communications in all pastoral agents and believers.

A bit of cross-training, reaching into the professions to gather support for the Church’s mission:

c) Train competent professionals in communications who are committed to human and Christian values in the evangelical transformation of society, with particular attention to media owners, producers, program directors, journalists, and announcers.

Church-operated outlets online and elsewhere, but also in traditional media outlets of the past few centuries:

d) Support and optimize the creation by the Church of its own communications media in both television and radio, on Internet sites, and in print media.

Ensure that the existing media, both modern and from previous centuries, knows of the church’s activities and mission, and permits us to spread the Good News:

e) Be present in the mass media: press, radio and TV, digital film, Internet sites, forums, and many other systems in order to introduce into them the mystery of Christ.

Can we assess the use of media by traditional standards of the virtues? Start with children, the bishops urge:

f) Educate with critical training in the use of the media from an early age.

If not yet started, now is the time:

g) Encourage existing initiatives or those to be created in this field, with a spirit of communion.

Advocacy to government to protect the more vulnerable persons exposed to various communications media and its possible dangers:

h) Bring about laws to promote a new culture that will protect children, young people, and the more vulnerable, so that communications will not trample values, but rather create valid criteria of discernment.(Cf. Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art. 5f, October 22, 1983)

Something a bit more fuzzy:

i) Develop a communications policy that can help both pastoral ministries of communications and Catholic-inspired media to find their place in the Church’s evangelizing mission.

While I can’t disagree with this last one, it largely depends on the success of some of the previous pledged positions. Once experts–laity and clergy both–have assessed particular situations in the media mentioned (and more) they will be in a better position to assist in policy-making. But given the rapid changes in media forms, any Church will need to be quick on its feet to address these matters as they arise.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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GeE 109: Wrapping Up Beatitudes And Mercy

See the source imageReading the words of the fifth and twenty-fifth chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we’ve been given the impetus to realign our thinking and acting. For Christians, faith in God is a given. The matter before us is how we present to a world of unbelievers, skeptics, as well as those in need who are looking for something more meaningful than the experience of being downtrodden by the 1%.

We won’t find modern celebrities leading the way, but, as we’ve read, authentic saints like John Paul II, Thomas Aquinas, and Teresa of Kolkata.

109. The powerful witness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beatitudes and the criterion of the final judgement. Jesus’ words are few and straightforward, yet practical and valid for everyone, for Christianity is meant above all to be put into practice. It can also be an object of study and reflection, but only to help us better live the Gospel in our daily lives.

Praying with Scripture is prescribed:

I recommend rereading these great biblical texts frequently, referring back to them, praying with them, trying to embody them. They will benefit us; they will make us genuinely happy.

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


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Aparecida 484-485: The Pastoral Ministry of Social Communications

Sections 484 through 490 will address the issues involved with the Pastoral Ministry Of Social Communications.” Let’s begin with two brief paragraphs which include the insight of a recent pope:

484. The technology revolution and globalization processes shape the contemporary world as a vast media culture. This entails an ability to recognize the new languages which can be helpful for a greater global humanization. These new languages constitute a connection point to the changes in society.

This is the positive side of modern communications, of which some Catholics have taken full advantage. We need to do this, according to Pope John Paul II:

485. “Our century is characterized by the mass media or means of social communication, and the first proclamation, catechesis or the further deepening of faith cannot do without these means.”

When they are put at the service of the Gospel, they are capable of increasing almost indefinitely the area in which the Word of God is heard; they enable the Good News to reach millions of people. The Church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means that human skill is daily rendering more perfect. It is through them that she proclaims “from the housetops” (cf. Matthew 10:27; Luke 12:3) the message of which she is the depositary. In them she finds a modern and effective version of the pulpit. Thanks to them she succeeds in speaking to the multitudes.(Evangelium Vitae 45)

Fulton Sheen was the first–some would say patron saint–of modern communications media. I wonder what reaction he would have to the internet. And to his successors.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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