When Prayer is All That’s Left To Do

Deacon Greg reflects today on the hurricane after seeing his church in Queens filled to the rafters.

I’m reminded of what we went through after 9/11, when churches were suddenly packed. Eventually, like all floods, that one ebbed. I wonder if we will see the same thing after Sandy. It’s possible. But this particular event isn’t over yet, and won’t be for months. There is a lingering sense of something vaguely apocalyptic, something that will change how we live and where we live, and that will have an impact we can’t yet measure because, quite simply, we’ve never experienced something quite like this. We don’t have the tools to gauge what we’re going through. A fifth of the population has been impacted by something far beyond our control.

So what else is there to do, but hit your knees?

I also think this is a peculiarly Catholic impulse: when you can’t do anything else, you simply have to pray. And the Church has an arsenal of prayers at the ready for times like these: novenas, rosaries, holy hours, devotions. We are a praying people. And we are better because of it. Our conversations with the Almighty give us solace, and a sense of solidarity, too. We are in this together.

And when we rise from our knees and stretch our backs and shuffle back out, blinking, into the light of day, we feel somehow assured—and reassured— that we are not alone.

God is in this with us, too.

Amen. For all those still in harm’s way, I pray that you find warmth and safe keeping. Know that you remain in our prayers along with the prayers of all the Saints on this feast day.

Happy Birthday, Vatican II

On this 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, John O’Malley takes a critical look at one of the major, if not THE major religious event of the 20th Century in the New York Times.

The bishops at Vatican II felt that more than a century of centralization needed to be tempered. But in their euphoria, they failed to reckon sufficiently with the resistance of entrenched bureaucracies — jealous of their authority and fearful of disorder — to change. A more participatory mode of church life took hold for 15 years or so after the council, but from on high it began to be more and more restricted, to the point that central control is now tighter than ever.

This has led to widespread disillusionment and anger. Priests and parishioners feel that their voices are not heard. Some critics argue, not unreasonably, that a more collegial style of governance, or at least of consultation, would have addressed the clerical sex-abuse problem earlier and more effectively. The fact that collegiality now seems little more than an ideal resting quietly in the council’s documents — with little relevance for the real life of the church — stands as a major failure to carry out what the council intended.

I agree and I disagree here. Would we ever see the rise in lay ministry without Vatican II? Would a married layman like me be an official minister in the church without Vatican II. Haven’t we at least moved away from clerical culture in some way over the past 50 years?

Perhaps O’Malley’s criticism is well stocked in some regard though. He does mention the sex abuse crisis as one place where lay voices may have been more well-heeded if there was not this lack of collegiality. I think that’s partially true. In many cases though, the lack of all voices, clergy and laity, predominated and kept predators in ministry with the Bishops unfortunately not firing the final salvo in exercising their authority in order to protect children and rid the church of those who abused them.

Over the next few days or so I’m going to write a bit on the documents of Vatican II and talk about how they have been most realized in the hearts and minds of the Catholic laity and clergy together. I might even ask some others to weigh in on certain things here and there. I’ll be using Ed Hahnenberg’s A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II as my guide which should be required reading as a primer on the Council and it’s spirit.

But no matter where we go on this topic, it was a majestic time. As a 42 year old, I have known no other church than the post-Vatican II one. So I’m interested to know what folks both old and young think about the perspective of the council.

Ricky Manalo, CSP a younger Paulist priest made a good comment about Vatican II recently. He pointed out that “we forget that Vatican II was a response to modernism. And during the time of the council, post-modernism began to spring forth quickly in the midst of all of these changes.”

So while the church responded to the modern era, it was quickly eclipsed by the post-modern era. Perhaps that’s enough of a reason for us to look forward to a Vatican III? Or perhaps we should temper our thoughts (positive and negative) about Vatican II a bit in light of where we’ve been since then?

I believe the next Pope will call a new ecumenical council and then to say the least, it will be time to fasten the seat belts. But all in all, it’s an exciting time in the church today, much like the time of Vatican II itself. So today let’s celebrate that just a bit and be grateful for those who put in much work to the thought of the council. It is their spirit that we rejoice in today!

The Ministry of Physician

The NY Times has an interesting piece on Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky who sees his work as ministry and tries to bridge the gap between science and faith.

Dr. Dutkowsky has made efforts to bridge the chasm between science and spirit. As president of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, he had the Rev. David Farrell, a Catholic priest who has worked among Peru’s poor since 1964, address the group’s convention last year on the topic of “Poverty and Disability.” That same year, on his third pilgrimage to Lourdes, Dr. Dutkowsky took part in a conference on faith and medicine, delivering a speech he titled “Dignity and Disability.”

He took the occasion to wrestle with the ontological question embodied by the unmerited suffering of patients like Mike and Christian.

“For years, when asked why I chose this profession, I had no good answer,” he said, “until I came upon the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Did this man or his parents sin that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered that the blindness was not the result of the man or his parents’ sin. The man was born blind ‘so the glory of God might be revealed.’ Every day in my work I find myself in the revealed glory of God.”

An interesting piece…read it all at this link.

Joliet Priest Removed …Again

Last week sometime we reported about Fr. F. Lee Ryan who had been removed from ministry for allegedly abusing a 16 year old (although some say 14) and then was restored to ministry again after the CDF said that Canon Law didn’t require his removal.

Bishop Conlon restored him to ministry, but exiled him to a remote area that was basically cornfields and a limited population.

That decision has been once again reversed by Bishop Conlon, the Bishop of Joliet.

From Deacon Greg and the Herald News:

In a written statement, Conlon said, “Last week I announced that Father F. Lee Ryan would be permitted to exercise a very narrow priestly ministry. Subsequent discussions that have occurred since that decision have highlighted that any action needs to fulfill the larger need of the Church to confront the scandal of child abuse in its midst and diligently restore trust.

“For the sake of the greater good of the Church, I have decided to revoke my earlier permission and once again place Fr. Ryan on full administrative leave.”

Conlon said he would “initiate further conversations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the panel in Rome that found Ryan not guilty based on a church law in place at the time of the alleged abuse. That law refers to discipline against priests who engage in adultery or improper touching with people under the age of 16.

The accuser has said he was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents.

I will applaud this decision to stand behind the Dallas Charter and to look into the case further.

Fordham Hosts Hilarious Colbert and Dolan and Martin Too

Proud as a peach of my alma mater today after hosting the illustrious Stephen Colbert of the acclaimed Colbert Report and the esteemed Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan for an evening on Catholic Humor, which at times turned serious.

The animation pictured above is awesome and was created by Fordham Senior, Tim Luecke. Awesome job!

First the humor from the NY Times:

Cardinal Dolan introduced Mr. Colbert’s wife, Evelyn, who was sitting in the audience, and brought her up to the stage. The cardinal put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and when Mr. Colbert feigned offense, the cardinal said, in a remark that brought down the house, “I can kiss your wife. You can’t kiss mine.”

Mr. Colbert used his time onstage with the cardinal to air his complaints about the new English translation of the Mass, which was just introduced in American parishes this year.

“Consubstantial!” Mr. Colbert exclaimed, using a particularly cumbersome word that is now recited in the Nicene Creed. “It’s the creed! It’s not the SAT prep.”

The audience sent in questions by Twitter and e-mail, which Father Martin pitched to the two men. Among them: “I am considering the priesthood. Would it be prudent to avoid dating?”

Cardinal Dolan responded that, on the contrary, “it’s good” to date, partly to discern whether the celibate life of a priest is what you want. Then he added, “By the way, let me give you the phone numbers of my nieces.”

Mr. Colbert said: “It’s actually a great pickup line: ‘I’m seriously considering the priesthood. You can change my mind.’ ”

Later the evening turned a bit more serious when a question came forward concerning ….

“So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?”

Cardinal Dolan’s response talked about his ongoing dialogue with Muslims and some thoughts on talking with picketers outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

But the Times noted:

But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. “If someone spreads hate,” he said, “then they’re not your religious leader.”

The constant live tweeting from Grant Gallicho of Commonweal Magazine gave people a blow by blow account. Some additional tweet highlights:

Q: What’s your favorite beer? (Relief applause.) Dolan: Why don’t u take me out and see? #Dolbert Colbert names Old Style WHICH IS AMAZING.

Agreed on Old Style and I can’t seem to picture Dolan at The Jolly Tinker or The Lantern which have been famous Fordham haunts (I believe the Lantern still exists). I could picture him at Clarke’s, a great old bar which once was right on Fordham Road and then moved to Webster Avenue. But alas, it no longer exists.

Additional Banter:

@StephenAtHome If Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humor I’m in huge trouble.
@CardinalDolan He does. He chose me to be a priest.

@StephenatHome: Do you want to do this evening thing w/ @CardinalDolan? @StephenAtHome said “Hell yes.” Could be next pope. think of all the indulgences…

Fr. Jim Martin, SJ had some comments before the event with the Washington Post including that the event was only a bit less complicated than planning the Second Vatican Council and then when asked what Stephen Colbert is really like, a question Fr. Martin probably hears twice a day, he responded:

JM: He’s very devout, you can tell he knows his stuff. There are real questions he asks under the guise of humor, under the cloak of his character. People don’t realize they’re being invited into thoughtful questions about religion in a humorous way. He does great evangelizing. . . . We were discussing the recession, and whether or not people are more open to experiencing God in times of suffering, and he asked: Why is lack of money equated with an increase of faith? That’s a great question.

So congrats to Fordham, Fr. Jim and Charlie Camosy who was one of the two Fordham theology professors who came up with the idea to feature these two in this kind of forum.

And to Stephen and Cardinal Dolan…keep laughing.

Can We Forgive Fr. Groeschel? And Can He Reach to Reconcile?

So Fr. Groeschel and the CFR’s issued two statements of apology yesterday. They essentially both say the same thing and Fr. Groeschel’s seems like a shorter version of the CFR’s. Essentially, everyone was on message: We apologize, the abused are not victims, Fr. Groeschel’s mind is failing, Fr. Groeschel has a great record of helping people.

Here’s Fr. Groeschel’s apology:

I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.

While Fr. Benedict sadly may be suffering some effects from the accident it in no way exonerates him from the statement he made which was indeed hateful and horrible for any victim of abuse to hear. I fear, however, that this opinion may be widespread amongst many clergy and laity within our church. It shows a blatant ignorance for what sexual abuse has done and leads people into deeper darkness.

Those comments as Joe Zwilling of the New York Archdiocese said in his carefully written press release “do not represent us” as Catholics.

And for a self-professed “orthodox” Catholic to say these words is horrendous and for a Catholic paper to write them without further introspection on them or challenge is not just shoddy journalism, it’s shoddy Catholicism.

That said, what is Catholic is our capability to forgive and so while this doesn’t change what Fr. Benedict said I call for all of us to accept his apology and to offer him sincere forgiveness.

And that friends is hard for all of us.

While I am angered by Fr. Benedict’s statements and am sincerely wondering if those secretly are his true beliefs about sexual abuse, I also know that I cannot let that anger get in the way of forgiveness–where God calls each one of us to be.

Forgiveness however, does not turn a blind eye to justice. And I do think that despite the public embarrassment that Fr. Benedict is facing now, he should also be made to do some kind of restitution or penance for saying something so callous, old as he is, or not. He’s been speaking fairly lucidly and frequently publicly and offering tons of retreats and we haven’t heard any reports of missteps until now. And if that is the case then maybe he should spend some time listening (which as a psychologist he does very well) to those who have been abused by priests in some kind of formal retreat for them under supervision of another. The folks who run the Archdiocese’s Virtus training would be well-advised to take the lead in reaching out to him at this time and to set something up. I wonder if there’s a victim of abuse who is brave enough to take matters into their own hands and offer to speak with him?

Forgiveness on our part is always possible. We cannot let evil control and ultimately destroy us–something Fr. Benedict has also preached on and knows well. But reconciliation is sometimes harder to come by. And Fr. Benedict should take great pains to reconcile with the community here and we as laity should take great pains to welcome that and to forge understanding with those who have been abused with a man who seems to think that they bear some responsibility. Even if he’s saying that he misspoke now, I can’t help but believe that at least a small part of him feels this way.

I’ve said my share of stupid things in my life. Thankfully, most of them not in the public eye. But what I think I pride myself on most is my ability to try to heal the relationships that have been damaged by my own stupidity–even when my statements were unintentional.

He’s an old man. He’s been through a lot these years. But that’s no excuse. I’m glad he apologized and tried to set the record straight.

I forgive Fr. Benedict. And I hope he can forgive himself and can reach out to reconcile with those he has hurt by his words.

More on Fr. Groeschel’s Comments

The National Catholic Register backed off Fr. Groschel’s comments today:

Child sexual abuse is never excusable. The editors of the National Catholic Register apologize for publishing without clarification or challenge Father Benedict Groeschel’s comments that seem to suggest that the child is somehow responsible for abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our publication of that comment was an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize. Given Father Benedict’s stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight. We have removed the story. We have sought clarification from Father Benedict.
Jeanette R. De Melo
Editor in Chief

And the Archdiocese of New York REALLY slammed them and basically left Fr. Groschel to defend those comments on this own. And rightly so:

“The comments made by Father Benedict Groeschel that appeared on the website of the National Catholic Register are simply wrong. Although he is not a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, what Father Groeschel said cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. The sexual abuse of a minor is a crime, and whoever commits that crime deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The harm that was done by these remarks was compounded by the assertion that the victim of abuse is responsible for the abuse, or somehow caused the abuse to occur. This is not only terribly wrong, it is also extremely painful for victims. To all those who are hurting because of sexual abuse or because of these comments, please know that you have our profound sympathy and our prayers.
The Archdiocese of New York completely disassociates itself from these comments. They do not reflect our beliefs or our practice.”

A hat tip to Deacon Greg who’s keeping me up to date on a busy day at the office.

The Global Math

If there’s one article that we all should read it’s this one in Rolling Stone on Global Warming.

I’ll cut to the chase as I read it. Our little individual cutbacks in energy use isn’t exactly the issue. The problem is more about the big fossil-fuel companies that are producing at a rate that is causing carbon dioxide to poison the planet.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both.

What a surprise. The problem is greed. Oh and wait, it’s also because these companies get one big break that nobody else gets: they can dump as much CO2 as they want.

Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue.

If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a strong signal to use less fossil fuel – every time they stopped at the pump, they’d be reminded that you don’t need a semimilitary vehicle to go to the grocery store. The economic playing field would now be a level one for nonpolluting energy sources. And you could do it all without bankrupting citizens – a so-called “fee-and-dividend” scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon. By switching to cleaner energy sources, most people would actually come out ahead.

It’s time to lobby congress and take these matters into our hands as citizens. Our President continues to say we should drill and his opponent does as well. This should be the biggest issue of the campaign and yet, nobody’s on the opposite side of either of these guys. I intend to try to stop purchasing from any of the fossil fuel companies and move to more sustainable green energy in whatever way I can. I’m moving towards a more vegetarian diet as well–more for health reasons but also because we have to stop feeding the greed.

What does the Catholic Church say about this?

The tenet of prudence takes central stage here:

“Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” —Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, December 2007

The Coalition accepts overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. There is nearly unanimous agreement that human actions are creating a warming planet. As stewards of all Creation, we must identify wise, careful actions that will reverse this climate change and avoid its potentially dangerous impact on all life-especially human life.

State and local Catholic leaders can play a central role in bringing together scientists, theologians, business and labor leaders, government officials, human service providers and other stakeholders to shape a wise and careful approach consistent with our principles. With such leadership, the Catholic community will answer God’s call to be faithful stewards.

Check out some more from the Catholic Climate Covenant and then do what I did: Take the St. Francis Pledge.

We are one body in Christ, called to protect the earth from greed and toxicity. May we stand together and bring an end to all that could cause harm to the Earth.

Pro-Lifers Might Want to Try Being Nicer

Michael Sean Winters has a great article on Congressman Akin’s comments regarding rape and the pro-life movement.

A snip:

Those of us who wish to claim the pro-life mantle must first don the garment of empathetic humanity if our witness is to be effective, and not just effective, but true to our own vocation as baptized Christians and, therefore, evangelizing. We must acknowledge the horror of rape, not minimize it. We must try to understand what would prompt a woman to think her only viable option is to end her pregnancy, even while we disagree with the decision to do so. We must seek out women who face such circumstances and show them all the love we can, and not just in a happenstance way, but the way we Catholics do ministry, with organization and fundraising and attention to public policy. We can never, never create a culture of life until we first create a culture of love. The reason the pro-life movement so often seems stuck is, in part, because so many of its champions are mean-spirited and judgmental, so devoid of empathy, so willing to swallow foolish nonsense in order to make a point as Cong. Akin did, we miss the essentially human aspect of the problem and, just so, we get the morality and the politics wrong.

Honestly, I’ve been talking about this the last week or so and it bears repeating here. If we were all just a bit nicer to others as Catholics it would go a long way. But many times we seem angry and bitter about the opposition and never win any converts over to see our point of view. We often don’t seem concerned about women who think their only choice is abortion and the few that do don’t get the accolades that they should receive. Like my friend Michael O’Rourke at Malta House in Connecticut who I tout every chance I get.

The vision for Malta House began in 1995 when Michael O’Rourke learned that there was “no room at the inn” for many homeless pregnant women and their newborns. These vulnerable young families often found themselves on the street or living in sub-standard conditions. Malta House was conceived not only to offer food and shelter, but also to give hope for the future.

After two years, a great deal of hard work and many miracles, Malta House opened its doors as a work of the Order of Malta in Connecticut. The Order of Malta is a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that has served the sick and the poor for almost 1,000 years. Many members of the Order in Connecticut devote substantial time, treasure and talent in serving homeless families in our community through Malta House.

If you’ve ever met Michael, he’s a sweetheart of a guy. Not a mean bone in that guy’s body. He keeps a running prayer list over email and always talks about praying for people. We need more folks like him and his donors come from all over the political spectrum. He just has this way of winning over all people to his cause because he’s so enthusiastic and makes this seem like a desperate cry for help without the meanness often associated with the pro-life movement.

So a very measured view from Sean this morning prompted more of the same from me. In short, stop being mean. It will go a long way.

And Congressmen Akin, I don’t think anyone could just will a pregnancy away. I will pray for you today and hope that you really were just misinformed and might choose better words next time.

Buzz Aldrin Received the Eucharist on the Moon?

Editor’s note: Buzz Aldrin was Presbyterian…a snip from an old post in Guideposts from 1989:

Before the lift-off, Aldrin was looking for a way to honor God’s presence in the Apollo 11 space mission. He talked with his minister, Dean Woodruff of Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston. When in their discussions the Christian sacrament of communion was mentioned, a plan emerged.

Two Sundays before the moon shot, Aldrin participated in a small, private communion service at his congregation, after which his minister broke off a corner of the communion bread and gave it to Aldrin along with a tiny chalice with some wine. Aldrin sealed these in plastic packets and safely stowed them in his personal preference kit (each astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items with him).

The rest follows:

From the Atlantic, an interesting article on the experience of religion in space. How does a Jewish astronaut celebrate the sabbath? NASA was sued for the Apollo 11 Astronauts reading from Genesis. And Buzz Aldrin apparently in his memoirs reported that he brought a small vial of wine and a communion wafer. It was interesting when he chose to do this:

This is in part the sentiment Buzz Aldrin relays in his 2009 memoir as he recounts how he took communion in the minutes between when he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans on the moon’s surface, and when Armstrong set his foot down on the dust. Aldrin says he had planned the ceremony as “an expression of gratitude and hope.” The ceremony was kept quiet (un-aired) because NASA was proceeding cautiously following a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 Genesis reading, but it proceeded with a tiny vial of wine and a wafer Aldrin had transported to the moon in anticipation of the moment (personal items were strictly restricted by weight, so everything had to be small). He writes:

During those first hours on the moon, before the planned eating and rest periods, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements along with a three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” I poured a thimblefull of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. My comments to the world were inclusive: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.” I silently read the Bible passages as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.

Neil watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time.

He continued, reflecting:

Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God. It was my hope that people would keep the whole event in their minds and see, beyond minor details and technical achievements, a deeper meaning — a challenge, and the human need to explore whatever is above us, below us, or out there.

Read the whole thing. Quite interesting. A h/t to my buddy Shannon Shark over at the Mets police for finding this.