If Deacons Can Do Everything a Lay Person Can Do, That’s News to Me

Fr Thomas Reese, SJ, someone I respect much, writes a column today on the Diaconate. As someone who has been a lay minister for the past 16 years and now is entering into a year of inquiry for the diaconate I really enjoyed reading this column and also would like to add my own comments to this:

Resse writes and I will annotate:

But the truth is that a layperson can do everything that a deacon can do.

I’ve heard this argument before and it’s not really the case and I know this first hand. The issue here is that a lay person MIGHT be able to do most things a deacon can do but they cannot do them regularly, rather they may only preach or baptize by necessity, as in when nobody else can do it.

A layperson can preside over a Scripture service or a funeral, things that deacons commonly do.

True. But this would not happen all that often in most places.

True, a layperson cannot give a homily after the Gospel at Mass. But that is simply a rule of canon law, which can be easily changed. There is no need to ordain people so they can give homilies. Just change the law.

Good luck getting that to be changed, but I agree with Fr Reese that what we really need is a ministry called “preacher” and that could in fact, come from the laity. It’s a big reason why I want to be a Deacon. I am unable to preach often and almost completely restricted from preaching on Sundays.

True, deacons can baptize, but so can laypeople. I was baptized by a Sister of St. Joseph in the hospital when they thought I would die shortly after birth. That is why my middle name is Joseph. Baptisms by laypeople have always been recognized by the church.

Again, necessity only. Not a regular preactice.

True, deacons can witness weddings, but in Catholic theology the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the two people getting married. The priest or deacon simply “assists” (Canon 1108). There is no reason a layperson could not perform this function, in fact Canon 1112 permits it under certain circumstances.

Yes, but if this were a regular practice, you’d get slapped by your Bishop for doing so. And if this was the case, gay people would have their marriages witnessed all the time by their fellow lay people, which ironically, they mostly do.

The truth is that we have deacons for the same reason we have auxiliary bishops, because they get more respect. Clericalism is so engrained in the Catholic soul that people will give greater deference to a deacon than a layperson; priests and people will give greater deference to an auxiliary bishop than to a priest, even if the priest is a vicar general. Ordination gives status beyond the actual competence of the person.

I take some umbrage at this comment. Albeit I would say that Fr. Reese is mostly right at times here. I think it depends on the minister and on the people he serves. As the director of Campus Ministry and a lay person, I have had to to work harder to get the respect of others in some cases, where it might be automatically granted to a priest and maybe to a deacon, who I often think don’t get the same respect as priests do. Many people think that one of the Jesuits here is my “boss” when in fact, I supervised him and another Jesuit last year.

I don’t think it is necessarily respect that is granted here—-but it’s a visible credential that we value. And while I have a credential with my Master’s Degree and my experience, I don’t have a Roman Collar or a diaconal stole to be a sign of visibility to others of why they should respect my credential.

In many ways I would say Fr Resse misses one indispensable part of the diaconate in his column, which is the call they have to service to the church in the world. Deacons have a regular job and witness to others by their ministry to those beyond the walls. Deacons are servants and tied to social justice initiatives and are in fact required to do service as part of their ministry by design. But they are also people who live in the world as other lay people do. They are not cloistered. They often have families and they almost all have non-ministerial jobs along with their diaconal assignments of preaching and service.

There is, however, one way to save the diaconate. Give it a ministry that serves a real need, one that laypeople cannot do — anointing of the sick.

I’d argue that we should allow them to hear confessions as well. And I agree with Fr Reese on the Anointing of the Sick point.

But the truth is as a layperson I am suspect. Many do not buy that I am a minister of the church and I often have to prove to others that I am so. I take advantage of every opportunity I have to do anything liturgical, where 99% of the people will have their only witness of a “minister of the church” be they priest, deacon or lay minister. It is exhilarating but also exhausting to be a lay minister some days and to try to explain what it is that we do as lay ministers. It is one of the many reasons that I feel called to the diaconate. My preaching gift is limited. I have been asked repeated times to preside at weddings. I read scripture well and make the Gospel come alive for others and was once told that “I should only do that and nothing else. If the scripture was read that way every Sunday, I would be there every week.” The truth is that I minister to smaller pockets of people as a lay person often, but the larger groups of people who come to the church for regular mass and the sacraments are seeking me out! And often I have to refuse those requests. And five years from now, when God willing, a Bishop will lay his hands on my head and ordain me to the diaconate, my ministry may not change all that much per se and yet, it will change immeasurably.

However, and this is important…

Ordination or lack of ordination should not limit the ministers of the church.

We do what we do. We have heard confessions far too often without the ability to offer sacramental absolution. Our tears have baptized people that we have cried with when they’ve lost a child to suicide or just heard about the death of a grandparent. We’ve sat in hospital rooms visiting the dying when nobody else would. We’ve lived our marriage vows as sacraments together, especially in difficult times when stress gets the best of us. And most of all, we have been the body of and blood of Jesus….who stretches forth to us from the altar of grace each week, if not each day for us and that has allowed us to become Christ for all those who need us, pouring out our love for others at inconvenient times and in strange places where many priests, nuns, deacons and brothers would balk at finding themselves despite their rank in the church hierarchy.

Despite the lack of ordination, I, along with my colleagues changed the conversation on how to minister to young adults in the church and created a call to action to make that a priority. Many of us lay ministers to young adults have done more to change the church, especially here in the United States, than most will do in a lifetime. I’m pretty proud of that and I didn’t need ordination to do it. And the help of the ordained in this matter was crucial. Collaboration is a whole other article.

And yet, more work needs to be done. More need to be served. Babies need to be baptized, marriages need witnessing, Gospels need to come alive, the dead need to be buried and yes, the sick need to be anointed and forgiven. And the word needs to be preached well. Truth be told, the best homilies I often hear are from Deacons. One deacon I know once said that there were Sundays pre-ordination for him where he wanted to scream “SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING” when local pastors and priests could not reach the bar.

And therein is the call. Why not me? Why not you? Why not use your gifts as the church calls them into being in the way they presently are used. Not to say that they should be limited by these rules, but that they are right now. A Paulist father who is a good friend reminded me recently that if one doesn’t “get in the game” they simply leave those gifts on the sideline. And so he encouraged my vocation and I more eagerly applied for the diaconate.

So pray for me. As I discern whether the ministry of a deacon is right for me in this upcoming year. Pray for me as I discern whether I am reading the signs of the times well and hearing my students and others say that I am in many ways, already doing things that a deacon does, and that the credential is merely five years away to let others see who I already am.


Scalia’s Timeless Wisdom

Thinking a lot about Justice Scalia today…who at the very least was a great character and charmed the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was his best friend) and Elena Kagan (who really liked him in their short time together on the court). The world needs more “brilliant characters.”

His philosophy that we should always look at the constitution as the founders intended seems short-sighted to me but not without merit. There is many a Bishop who looks at Canon Law and the Catechism in much the same way, not a living documents, but ones frozen in time, to which allegiance must adhere. His honoring of the founders, in this way, to me, meant that he found all the wisdom necessary in those great men. Again, perhaps short-sighted but a philosophy nonetheless.

I respected his dedication to this philosophy and could predict his reactions often to the cases that would come before the court and there was some comfort in that and it brought it’s own sense of wisdom to balance out those who would bring damage to the constitution by amending without legislation.

His thoughts that we should not “amend” the constitution as the wind blows is also laudable. It should take a lot to overturn the “wisdom of the ages”, no less than an entire legislature considering this, a law changed or a constitutional amendment passed. He often found genius in our system, leaving certain matters to states, federal legislation and even local authority. Needless to say, Justice Scalia thought the Supreme Court should be a last resort for cases, not a political test case for ideas already offered by great thinkers whose thoughts are reflected in present laws and followed by our local courts all over the country.

For those of us who believe the constitution to be an evolving document, as I do, we would well to listen to Justice Scalia’s hesitant nature about paying attention to the limits of the federal constitution and interpret for the present where possible, but also require nothing less than amendment where needed today. We must not merely to change the law to suit our needs, but rather to also uphold the wisdom we have come to know with certainty, wisdom not yet, available to the founders in their day. This may have been Scalia’s one downfall in not honoring future wisdom, but staying trapped in the past of the founders’ wisdom alone.

The truth is that we need both, the wisdom of the past and the wisdom of the present age. Honoring wisdom and putting that into words and laws that we can direct others towards is not only a way to seek truth, but also a way to love wisdom, not merely the nostalgic past that Scalia loved a bit too much and that too often we love not quite enough.

Not merely our lawmakers in congress, nor just those on the present courts should heed this love of wisdom, but so should those in church governance. While God alone is the source of all wisdom, the writers of scripture, though inspired by God, are also limited by their time. So too, the writers of Canon Law. But we also need careful balance to these matters. Ones who seek both the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of the present and the wisdom to uphold, well…a merged wisdom, honoring both past and present. We too need to rely on the church, that is the people of God to raise the issues of the day, and not merely to say “who cares about the past” but to say what in our past still honors our present and what in our present is capable of adding to, not subtracting from, our ageless wisdom.

Men and Women in Ministries Together

warning_former_altar_boy_t_shirt-p235163770846829727trdy_152So the recent uproar over the comments made by Cardinal Burke here and a San Francisco parish’s banning of female altar servers has caused a great disturbance in the force from where I sit.  Over 50 people responded to my question asking them for their opinion on this matter.  It brings up a number of issues regarding gender and the church.  I’d like to restrict this discussion to current eligible roles for women and male laypeople in the church at this time, so as not to get this discussion clouded by the issue of  priestly ordination.

An initial story to begin:

Not long ago, I walked into a sacristy and there was a need for lector at the mass. One of the Deacons saw me walk in and said “Oh, Mike’s here, he can do it.”

Almost immediately, a female pastoral associate replied, “We don’t need any more men up there!”

Now, I wasn’t all that offended by her remark and normally I would generally agree but, on this particular Sunday the second lector was a younger woman and all 7 eucharistic ministers were not only all women, but were all white middle-aged women!

And this was the case for the next 5 Sundays as well.

So, who really was the minority?  People of color (In fairness, that usually is not the case at this parish), lay men and younger people of both sexes.

But I also wondered if I were a young man in my 20s and had walked in and had been (or wanted to be trained as) a lector, what would that response have been?  Would he have felt as welcomed?  Would he have been invited into something more?  Would I have been so turned off by her remark that I would have dismissed the parish as being un-welcoming?

Unknown-1So while we certainly do want to invite women into our ministries and while we also want to invite young girls into the ministry of being altar servers, we also don’t want to do this to the exclusion of lay men and young boys and we should continue to look at just how diverse we really are.

It sometimes amazes me that quite a number of people who claim to speak for diversity and gender equality are quick to exclude others who are not part of their group.  I call this militantism and it has no place in Catholic circles.  Militant people are different from passionate people.  There are advocates for all kinds of groups that need someone to stand up for their needs or otherwise they will be excluded.   Most often, those people are indeed passionate.  However, too often, there are some who are so militant about their special interest group that they become exclusionary of others.  They become the very thing they hope to fight against.

Cardinal Burke, in his griping about female altar servers, is dangerously close to someone who aims to exclude here. Burke astutely sees his male priesthood shrinking and this is certainly cause for alarm.  He sees male altar servers as a link to seminarian candidates.  In short, he is trying to keep his species alive and sees male altar servers as a way to do procreate the priesthood. At heart, his intention is a good one and he is passionate about his cause.  But the end result, is exclusionary, because he sees girls as a barrier to young boys seeking a vocation. In fact, he has said that the girls are so good at being altar servers that the boys often quit!  Frankly, that means that the girls are not the problem! Perhaps the boys might need to try harder?  Perhaps more training is needed for both groups? Perhaps there are exclusionary scheduling issues going on (where only the girls serve at one mass and the boys at another and they never serve together!)? Or might this even be pure nostalgia?  Often you hear older priests talk about the “good old days” when only boys were serving at the altar.  Our nostalgia is often not what we remember, but rather is simply an experience of the past that we liked, but didn’t result in anything deeper.

The larger question is that if some see a link between male altar servers and entry into the priesthood, what link might they see between female altar servers and their religious practices?

There’s probably not a case to be made of a link between female altar servers and entry into women’s religious communities (even more dwindling numbers exist there), but there may be a case to be made for women entering into lay ministry fields (youth ministry, campus ministers, directors of religious education, pastoral associates, etc).  What about active parishioners, who run a good deal of programming in parishes and are often willing volunteers?  We need these people too!

The goal here should be to integrate people of both genders into the life of the church!  Jesus did not exclude anyone from his company and so we should follow in turn.  So here are four points that I’d like us to consider when we are looking to be more inclusive in ministries in general.

1)  Direct, personal invitation:  Do we invite people to serve as lectors or extraordinary ministers of holy communion?  Do we seek people out who we have come to know to try to engage them into the ministries of the altar more intentionally?  Almost all of our lectors were female here at the Campus, so I’ve tried hard to get more men involved.  I’ve invited two men in the last two weeks and both readily accepted and even came to the training on time.

2)  Balance in all things:   We only have male priests, so we should minimally start with inviting a woman to serve in some role at the altar.  Perhaps as a lector, cantor or eucharistic minister.  Then, the next person we should invite is another male.  Can we be mindful of diversity here?  Is there a younger woman or man who we could tap to balance the generational divides that too frequently separate us from one another?  Can those who have been doing things for ages, move into an administrative role, doing less and training and advising more, while still modeling what to do now and again?  Can everyone look beyond themselves and invite new and interested people into ministries for more participation each week?  Do we only invite the educated few, leaving out those who often feel unworthy or alienated?

3)  Altar Serving:  Are they well-trained?  Do they all have particular roles each week?  I can remember four roles I was taught as an altar server:

Acolyte (Book):  This server holds the book and assists at the offertory.  They place the chalice on the altar and when there is no deacon, they “set the table” for the priest.

Acolyte (bell):  In parishes where bells are rung, this server does this and also serves at the offertory.

Crosier:  This server carries the processional cross and at high masses, assists with the incense boat. (also assists with holy water when there is a sprinkling rite).

Thurifer:  This server is at high masses only and processes in with the Thurible.

And again, balance…can we schedule a boy and a girl to be the acolytes?  And then rotate the third role with with a boy or a girl weekly?  Maybe a more Senior member serves as the Crosier to oversee the younger servers who learn by doing?  And maybe trainees start by being the crosier so they can observe more and then jump in once they know what the heck they are doing?

4)   Create Called Community:  And in community, we hang out together!  If there’s one lesson to be learned here it is that people long to be together, to engage in conversation, to recreate together and to love one another.  If there’s one thing my students have taught me is that they have the desire to be together.

Do we do more than just serve at the altar? Can we move people from the altar into other ministries–where we go beyond the parochial bounds into a place where others are in need.

Someone on my Facebook page posted the following note:

Meanwhile as the Church debates keeping girls out of altar serving, 4 million kids went hungry, 500,000 people froze with out a home, cancer has taken millions of lives, prisoners did not have the opportunity to see the way truth and the light, 8,000 parishioners died, and we missed helping 20,000 pregnancies NOT end in abortion.

So we certainly have a need to awaken this community into a “called community” that seeks diversity and inclusion for itself.  And we do this not merely so things look “fair and balanced.”  No we do it so that we might also be called to see others that too often we think of as different.  We fail to see others sometimes as having our human dignity and we fail to claim responsibility for them. We too often continue to become exclusionary people and push those who we see as different to the margins.

And that is why we come to church, to remind ourselves not to do this.

And so we need to start modeling what this looks like this around our altars, to let all in our community see that God has not made us for division, but rather, for communion.

Can we constantly be seeking communion?  And that means Males and Females TOGETHER, not one at the exclusion of another.

So altar servers, past and present, know that we have been blessed by your service.  You mean more than you know.  Today, invite someone who does not look like you into joining your ministry and if they tell you that you can’t, tell them that they must and be a reminder of all that is good about our church–a church that calls everyone to not exclude the other.

Most especially, from Jesus.

The Catholic Church Crazies Have Been Out All Week

A full moon was seen this week and there’s no doubt about it.  This week alone these stories emerged:

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League said that the Parisian Terrorists were provoked by Charlie Hebdo. And that the Muslims have a right to be angry.

Fr. George Rutler, long a champion of the Catholic right, said that Deacons shouldn’t preach.

And finally, the biggest cranky pants of all of them, Cardinal Raymond Burke, blamed the vocation shortage on altar girls–which is an old note, but he’s gotten the most attention for it.

Some thoughts on all three:

Bill Donahue’s comment is one of the most anti-Catholic comments I’ve ever witnessed. Our religion never allows violence to be an appropriate response to violence. He did point out that violence can never be appropriate, he at least leaned towards saying that retribution here was somewhat justified.  I can understand what he meant, in saying that cartoonists shouldn’t make fun of an entire religion based on a select few that do horrendous things and maybe even that profaning the Prophet Muhammad is disrespectful, at minimum . But saying that Charlie provoked people is just not compassionate in any way, as if anyone deserves death.

Fr. Rutler’s comments about diaconal preaching are some of the most clerical comments I have ever heard.

“While Church law permits deacons to preach by exception during the Liturgy, diaconal preaching is essentially non-liturgical and catechetical.  As a deacon, St. Francis would never preach in the presence of a priest.”

Glad to know that he knows the mind of Francis.  And Deacon Greg has pointed out many flaws in his misnomer of canon law.

And lastly, Cardinal Burke, blames the presence of altar girls, for the shortage of vocations, or at minimum the shortage of priests.

Here’s the pull quote to end all pull quotes:

“Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time.”

Um, as a former young boy, I had plenty of female friends and we played together often and it didn’t seem unnatural at all. Then there is the incredibly stupid comment where he blames the girls for being TOO GOOD at serving at the altar. I want to say, “Maybe if the boys upped there game at serving, the girls wouldn’t show them up.”

Now look, I was an altar boy and it was in fact, a formative experience for me.  It was more like a youth ministry for boys; a society where we didn’t just serve at the altar, but we had a Saturday recreational program, an annual trip to Six Flags’ Great Adventure, full days of reflection and retreat and a bunch of other activities.  Girls would not have damaged that experience. I could see where there might be times when we would want to separate the two sexes for a variety of activities outside of the altar serving and maybe offering something that the girls might have been interested in, that perhaps the boys were not.

Kerry Weber had some good thoughts on her own experience as an Altar server in America Magazine this week as well.

I did at times feel “important” while serving on the altar. But most days I simply felt grateful to be part of something more important than myself. I was humbled every time I held the book aloft to be read, carried the unconsecrated hosts to the altar so they could be transformed, poured out the water that washed the priest’s hands, rang the bells at the consecration. I grew in my faith as I learned about and participated in the many small, sacred actions that surrounded and celebrated this banquet.

Amen, Kerry.  Altar serving needs not be restricted because of gender.  We have four acolytes at Canisius, two men and two women and they equally are wonderful and prayerful students who provide a needed service at the altar. They make me proud and are amongst my favorite students and have taught me a thing to two as well.

So, here’s my word of advice to all three of these men.  Keep talking, folks.  It’s the best thing you can do for progressive Catholics because now they’ll know that you’re nuts!

NYS Bishops on Care for the Mentally Ill: “Our Duty Is to Welcome Them with Openness and Affection”

In 1980, New York State decided to take a look at how the mentally ill were being treated in society. They found some horrifying news as they looked at the state psychiatric hospitals. All it took for one to be “committed” to a state run psychiatric institution was the signatures of two psychiatrists. Obviously that system was abused and many people suffered because of it.

They decided to reform the law and they released many people from these institutions without much of a community-based plan to assist and care for them.

34 years later, the mentally ill still need attention. The stigma of mental illness still exists in society and we often deem people with mental illness as dangerous and unstable.

The truth is that “one in four adults, some 61.5 million people suffer from some form of mental illness.” For some, talk therapy with a psychologist is enough treatment needed to bring them back up to the borderline of good mental health. For others, medication is needed to correct a chemical imbalance. In either case, treatment works and is desperately needed. It is a serious community issue that needs community-based health care workers and much commitment to help people care for themselves and to seek whatever treatment might be necessary.

I am proud to say that our New York State Catholic Bishops have taken up this cause with a pastoral letter called “For I am Lonely and Afflicted” that I encourage you to all read in its entirety. They wrote a similar letter in 1980 and I am glad that they have re-affirmed this as a social justice issue for all Catholics to be aware.

Here’s a highlight that I found both touching and challenging for all of us:

“…with regard to developing “attitudes of acceptance and compassion” in our Catholic population. Let us be clear, it is our duty and the duty of every pastor, every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal, and all others in positions of Church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the Church to the fullest extent possible.

Furthermore, all Catholics are called to be welcoming of this population in their churches, schools and communities. We must ask ourselves, have we always been as charitable as can be when we encounter those with mental illness? Have we sought to include them and make them feel welcome? Have we avoided the temptation to shun those who are different? Have we been open to residential housing or community mental health centers in our neighborhoods? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then we must again look to the example of Jesus given to us in the Gospels, repent for when we have failed, and resolve going forward to mirror His love and mercy for all God’s children.”

This is a call to all of us to ask “What are we doing for those with mental health diagnoses in our parishes, campuses, hospitals and neighborhoods?” How might we lobby as Catholics for greater care for those with mental illness? How might Jesus be calling us to stretch our hearts just a bit farther to care for those who may desperately need help and for those who have sought treatment and find themselves still ostracized by society?

I know quite a few people who have faced these issues either personally, or because they know someone with mental illness. Mental illness is no different chemically, than having a cholesterol imbalance that needs medication to regulate it. Treated properly, most people live rather normal lives with few, if any, issues surfacing. Gone untreated, severe problems occur that often go beyond the individual and can effect whole communities.

We need to be open, more open, to people with mental illnesses. We need to work with our communities in order to help people get treatment that they need. At Canisius, we work closely with our counseling center and have set up several days where they use our conference room for screenings for depression and anxiety. We’ve walked students at risk over to the counseling center and have been met there by caring and wonderful people who do life-changing work for so many people. The pastoral letter points out that “About 20 percent of youth experience severe mental disorders in a given year.” I would suspect that number is higher on any college campus.

As a spiritual director, I often refer people when I notice the signs of mental illness, most often depression. I’m glad that younger people are a bit more open to professional counseling and the need for medication when it warrants it. I hope that trend continues because we need to Stop the Stigma of mental illness in our society.

Today let us be grateful to our Bishops, in this case, those in my home state. Bishop Malone is my own Bishop here in Buffalo and I’m proud to call him a friend and also proud that he is but one of the authors of this document along with his brother bishops and the staff of many at Catholic Charities who know all too well, the need for the stigma to end and for community-based mental health care.

So today, let us pray for those with mental illness, that they may be able to receive the treatment that they need. Let us pray for those who care for those who have mental health diagnoses that they might be good advocates and be patient during the tough times. And let’s pray for each one of us, that we might have the courage to stand with those who are most often ostracized in society, to call for greater care and a greater need for quality intervention, when others cannot speak for themselves and need care. Let us greet these people with love and with dignity. As the Bishops point out, this is what Jesus did. And so let me close with the words of the psalmist:

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart;
and free me from my anguish.
(PS 25: 16-17)

Nun: I Had No Idea I was Pregnant

Fans of Discovery Health’s “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” will love this: a Salvadoran nun gave birth in Italy this week, claiming she had absolutely no idea she was pregnant.

She said she was in her convent in Campomoro when she felt stomach cramps and was rushed to a hospital in the nearby city of Rieti, AFP reports. She ended up giving birth to a boy.

Italian news agency ANSA reported that the 31-year-old nun named her son Francesco, which also happens to be the name of the current Pope.

I’m not buying this. The Nun in question is 31.

Her superior said “It seems she was not able to resist temptation.”

Apparently. I’m glad they are caring for mother and child. Hoping that we don’t find out that the nun was assaulted.

Breaking: Msgr Lynn in Philly: Decision Reversed

Just in: Via Deacon Greg:

The unanimous decision released Thursday by the state Superior Court also dismisses the criminal case against Monsignor William Lynn, a Philadelphia area priest. Lynn has been serving three to six years in prison after his child-endangerment conviction last year. Prosecutors had argued that Lynn reassigned predators to new parishes in Philadelphia when he was secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Lynn’s conviction stems from the case of one priest, Edward Avery, found to have abused a child after such a transfer. Lynn’s attorneys contended the state’s child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn.

Read More at: http://www.wjactv.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/pa-court-reverses-conviction-priest-sex-abuse-case-1179.shtml#.UryB9aWBLj0

The only question I have is: Did he know? If so, then he deserves to do time. However, I think there’s a good chance that Msgr. Lynn did all he could and was overruled by the now late Cardinal Bevilacqua.

We’ll see how this shakes out.

And People Are Crazy…

When I was a talk radio producer I had a hierarchy of “callers”, people who would call into a talk show trying to get on the air to voice their opinion. My hierarchy was as follows in reverse order:

3) You had a very intelligent point, succinctly made and you could go toe to toe with the host intelligently and passionately.

2) You were angry and you would make the host go ballistic. Or you made me laugh and I thought the host would either laugh or get mad at you.

And #1) You were just lame enough to be funny. Not in a sad or pathetic way, but in a way that was just lame enough that we could get one good laugh out of you.

It also convinced me that there are a lot of loonies in the general public–and I mean that in the best way possible.

So today I read a beautiful article by Fr. James Martin, S.J. on the Pope’s recent embrace and kiss of a disfigured man with a horrible skin condition. His main point is succinct:

Even more broadly, for believers, the Pope’s kiss reminds us of God. This is the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity.
Few of us suffer from such a terrible disease as does the man in the photo; not many of us are physically disfigured. But many of us feel internally disfigured – unworthy of unconditional love. Yet God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope’s embrace.

But then I read the comments below and just felt like the democracy of internet is creating way too many “minor league radio callers” with the folks who write into the com boxes. One person even suggested that Fr. Jim kill himself–which if it happened in my day was enough to get you banned for life. Another suggested that God doesn’t exist and that Fr. Jim’s article was akin to buffoonery. Of course, they made the same old arguments that we’re all sick and tired of hearing. Nothing new. Not even anything creative.

They are not getting close to being just lame enough to be funny.

A colleague of mine recently invited me to plan some events and to invite some “friendly atheists” to the conversation. I asked him what I should do about “unfriendly atheists”? His response was great. He said that we have to stay in conversation with people who are willing to have an intelligent conversation and dismiss those who simply cannot maintain a conversation or who simply don’t want to be part of one.

So tonight I will begin my prayers by asking God to bless those who are unable to have a conversation and who more importantly, find it necessary to be mean. I pray that we can find ways to talk with one another. And I pray that we don’t get discouraged in this work, this vital work that can indeed bring about peace in the world.

And I pray that everyone can see that ugliness comes in many forms. There are many in the world who would call the man who the Pope embraced “ugly”. But the truth is that I find attitudes to be far uglier than any physical attribute.

And here is the Pope who, like God, is unafraid of touching the ugly parts of who we are.

What about us? Who are we all too eager to dismiss? Who do we cast off and cast out? Who are we so uncharitable to, to the point of denigrating?

We are called to touch these people with our own willingness to stay in conversation with those we can talk to despite the difficulty in doing so. And that can get ugly. It can get painful and vengeful and just simply put, sinful.

May God inspire us to stay in conversation with each other and in doing so may we be healed and renewed.

Daddy, The Scary Priest Made Me Cry

images-2So be forewarned, I’m about to be cranky today. And this is so because I have bent over backwards trying to remind people that welcoming is one of the central aspects of church that people look for in a parish. Quite often, this is forgotten by pastors and pastoral associates, who granted, are far too overworked and who we depend on far too much.

But this one takes the cake.

My best friend took his six year old daughter to mass about a week ago. He takes her up with him to communion because she hasn’t yet received her first communion and doesn’t want to sit in her pew alone. (I did the same thing as a kid–when my father and sister went up and left me alone, I cried uncontrollably once when I was four. Amazingly, I have a strong memory and have sent them the therapy bill.)

He reached the head of the line and the priest offered him communion and as he received the Body of Christ in his hands, his daughter tried to grab the ciborium from the priest because after all, she wanted Jesus too.

Now my friend’s daughter is six. She’s a precious child and she’s a lot of work. We often can’t have a phone conversation without at least 5 interruptions from said precious daughter.

But the priest’s reaction was to pull the ciborium away and say angrily “DON’T YOU DO THAT!” I’m sure he tried to slap her hands away too, but my friend is too kind to mention it.

So my friend said nicely and quietly to his daughter as the rest the church snapped their necks to see what Fr. Meanie was reacting to, “No-no honey, don’t do that. Come on, let’s go back to our seats.”

He thought she was fine but when he got to his pew, he heard a strange noise…a low whimper. Here was his daughter, crying a low cry. So he turned to her and asked her what was wrong.


But he couldn’t take her home, one, mass was not finished and two, is that she had Sunday school right afterwards. Which she was then fighting with my friend about because she sure as heck didn’t want to go there today.

Now let’s think about this in any number of ways.

There are now future implications to this. The first being, good luck getting her to be excited about her first communion. She’s going to be terrified to head up to that same priest who frightened her. And who knows, he’ll probably yell at her again because she didn’t put her hands out properly.

The second thing is good luck getting her to want to go to church at ALL.

The third thing is obvious to me, but many others might disagree:

Jesus doesn’t NEED us to protect Him.

What if the worst thing happened and she knocked a few hosts out of the ciborium and they fell to the floor?

Well, someone would pick them up and wipe up the particles with a damp purificator and then have that purified. We should be respectful of the sacrament, undoubtedly, because it is Christ himself in the appearance of bread. But what about the living and breathing Christ that is a little girl that stands before us?

I train eucharistic ministers and this is always a question that they have…What happens if I mess up and drop my ciborium or my plate? And I always tell them the same thing:

“We should respect the sacrament, but accidents happen. But you want to know something? Here’s something that was no accident. Look to the cross.”

And when they look up at the cross I say: “Jesus went to the cross for us. That’s the worst thing that could have happened to Jesus. And now look! Here He is again with us anyway. Jesus defeated death and remains with us now despite going to the cross and physically dying! I don’t think you dropping a ciborium is going to hurt him all that much. But that said, respectfully pick up the hosts and then place a corporal over the spot until we can wipe up any particles.”

They often smile at me and relax into their ministry and I think maybe twice in 15 years have we ever had to deal with someone dropping a host. They become more comfortable in the presence of the Eucharist as well.

And a six year old should also be comfortable in Jesus’ presence and now she is not.

My friend had a great line. “Didn’t Jesus say let the little children come to me?” I concurred and said “He also said a great millstone should be thrown around the neck of someone who distances a child from Jesus!”

We laughed a bit and I asked him if he spoke to the priest afterwards. He replied, “I waited for him after he came back to the sacristy and when he came out, I went to apologize to him and he said “Hi” and then ran past me and out the door.”

Upon further reflection I asked how did he get into the sacristy so fast? Wasn’t he shaking hands with his parishioners afterwards? He said, “There was a small crowd it was an early morning mass, so it didn’t take him long to greet people and I was busy calming down my daughter then and he got back into the sacristy before I could get her calmed down.”

Of course he didn’t spend a lot of time with parishioners. Instead he got back to that sacristy as fast as he could. It takes me a good half hour after a student mass to get back to the sacristy some days.

Here’s what should have happened in my humble opinion and I’m a eucharistic minister and I’ve had children do this to me. One, is that we should remain calm. Again, Jesus can take care of himself pretty well, so nothing that we do is really going to matter too much. Two is you can calmly tell the child, “Oh honey, I know. But soon you’ll get to receive your first communion. Sorry you can’t receive yet, but God loves you. Hey dad, thanks for bringing her to mass with you today!” I’ve even given kids a little pat on the head or on the cheek afterwards and they’ve often become kids who have sought me out later. One need not snatch the ciborium back angrily. Even if the kid got a host, well…then you could just ask for it back. Even if she consumed it and received her first communion that day…is that REALLY so bad? It would be an opportunity to explain things to her at the very least.

Some days those of us who distribute communion need to relax a bit. And in particular, those who are clergy, priests and deacons, have an extra responsibility when it comes to children. Especially these days, when our record with children is not all that stellar. That means that they have to take an extra moment for a six year old and give them a good experience and not a scary one. Welcoming is the NUMBER ONE thing that we need to do and the POPE is screaming at us to make sure we do it.

And even he’s screaming softly and politely and dies it all while hugging little kids and kissing them on the tops of their heads.

Can kids be rambunctious, sure? Could a kid really mess things up by knocking a ciborium out of a eucharistic minister’s hands? Of course that could happen. But guess what?
Things of a lesser concern happen to their parents every single day. Dinner plates get broken, milk gets spilled, walls get written on and things get messy.

And we love our children anyway and more importantly we try to be patient with them and explain what they should and shouldn’t do calmly and politely and maybe we need to do this with each other as well more often so that children see that adults can deal with things calmly and therefore they can too.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for this priest who I won’t reveal, nor will I reveal the parish or even the town this took place in. Suffice it to say that I pray this day that one little girl will be able to find Jesus waiting for her when she seeks him and I pray that a welcoming pastor and parish might be around for them to seek out and feel comfortable in.

As for you, Fr. Meanie. I pray for you too. May you be able to relax just a bit more and maybe take a vacation to calm those nerves. And while you respect the Eucharist greatly, perhaps you might show the same respect for all the members of the Body of Christ who present themselves before you.

And to my friend’s little girl: I hope your first communion day is so special. Jesus loves you.

Canonizing the Council

A few years ago I had a discussion with a colleague about the spirit of Vatican II. He noted:

“Perhaps they should admit that this wasn’t an ecumenical council. It was just a local council and therefore the changes that the council prescribed do not have to be followed?”

Now this person stated it as a question, but he was technically giving ascent to the idea.

The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is clearly an attempt to not merely canonize these two men but also to get beyond the different factions that resulted after the council and to promote the need for us to continue to live in dynamic tension with each other.

The NY Times said:

Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Center in Bologna, Italy, said Francis was holding to the pattern of promoting John, popular among liberals, by pairing him with a pope more popular among conservatives. Mr. Melloni said soon after John’s death in 1963, a campaign to have him acclaimed a saint during the Vatican Council was countered by the conservative wing of the church, which soon after opened the canonization process for Pius XII, a staunch anti-Communist who led the church during World War II.

“John XXIII is the father of Vatican II, and to canonize him is to canonize the council as such and its intention of renewal and unity,” Mr. Melloni said. “But the Vatican is also taking into consideration the tension and sometimes harsh debate that arose around the council, and so they have remained faithful to the idea of linking John XXIII with someone else.” Pairing the popes “also balances a very long canonization process with an incredibly accelerated procedure,” he added. John Paul II will become a saint only nine years after his death.

Pope Francis is indeed trying to provide “a little something for everyone” or in this case perhaps a big something. But I think he’s also trying to remind those who might disagree that Vatican II is legitimate.

And that it’s not going away. And that many reforms of Vatican II have not yet been realized.

And that the two most prominent Popes of the Second Vatican Council are now saints–that seems to speak volumes about the council.

I’m just a bit too young to understand the widespread change that formed in the church as a result of Vatican II. But I have seen the divisive factions that form as a result of this. It reminds me a lot of Isaac and Ishmael.

“They came together to bury their father.”

And now we must come together to honor the saints, to honor those people who built our history. And for better or for worse, we honor those who we sometimes disagree with, who didn’t always get things right but who were determined to stay the course and to work through differences in love for the church, the people of God.

The canonization of both Popes is just one more call to mercy from Pope Francis. It is a call to factions to release resentments that they hold against each other and to come together to celebrate the church’s rich history since the council. It was started by a liberalizing reformer and it was led post council for a long time by a doctrinal conservative.

And yet, the church lives! It may be a bit battered and bruised at times, but it doesn’t quite ever sleep. It celebrates it’s dedication to justice as it critiques itself from time to time and calls on others to inform the church of where she’s got it wrong and more importantly, where it is doing things right.

The Pope hopes to call all of us into a new way of being church, one that is not liberal or conservative, but rather merciful. Mercy calls each one of us to remember that we indeed need to love those whom we don’t always care for because they are just as likely to be saints as we are. Most people’s hearts are in the right place. No matter where we stand on any number of issues. Highlighting that mercy, brings us into the peace that God offers to us.

So let’s pray for peace and compromise and for love of one another. So that we in our desire to love can too become servants of God and ultimately be called into the beauty of God’s kingdom. Amen