Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.

At 80, Jesuit Decides to Return to Lay State

An amazing decision by now former Jesuit Bert Thelen on why he decided to return to the lay state despite being nearly 80 and serving the church as a priest for a majority of his years.

“In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, ‘Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.’ As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples …”

I know many men who are priests from a variety of dioceses and religious orders who struggle with these same issues. Please continue to pray for them and for all of us who they serve.

Deacon Joe Marotta Drowns–So Sad

Deacon Joe Marotta, a good friend and blogger at The Journeyman Carpenter with whom I regularly corresponded with has left us way too early and much too unexpectedly. He drowned on a family vacation and leaves behind a wife, Katie and five children Caroline, Christopher, Jack, Michael, and William, along with dozens of mourners from his parish and from the University, Randlph College, where he was employed. He was only 39.

Deacon Joe would regularly comment on this blog on facebook and always was fair and often hysterically funny.

Only a few weeks ago, Deacon Joe sought my counsel because he was asked to fill in at the Baccalaureate ceremony at his beloved Randolph College.

In short his message was HELP!

I told him to take one simple piece of advice: “Don’t be boring. It’s one minute and you’re mostly holding up the ceremony for more than half the people in the audience–so get creative!” I told him I did my UB invocation in verse and he took to that idea nicely.

This is the day the LORD has made,
So let us rejoice and be glad!
After four years behind the red brick wall,
You are sent forth to engage – and to make change –
In this world as an RC grad.

But for a few moments, let us reflect here today,
And give thanks that you’re up to the task!
Through your time at the College,
You have grown in knowledge,
And this weekend, have every right to bask!

From dozens of countries and hundreds of towns,
Whether Jew or Greek, woman or man, young or old,
You gathered to drink in the Spirit of Wisdom.
It is with joy
That now we praise God –
And continue to build up the Kingdom.

Those parents with you today,
Are also deserving of thanks.
With prayers and encouragement they gave you support,
As well as funds from their banks!

Four years ago, they dropped you at Main,
and with a hug bid you “farewell”
Today, they can see,
And I also agree,
You are ready to Walk in the Dell
(weather permitting, of course!).

And so, yes, we must certainly rejoice,
And with one voice should all be glad!
For the LORD has made you, this Day
By God’s Grace, a Randolph Grad!

One particular moment I now ghastly remember with Joe. We were chatting late in the evening one night over facebook. He fell for a practical joke I delivered on facebook saying that I was going to be spending thousands of hours in my car writing a book on praying in the car because it was my favorite place to be.

Those who know me well, know I HATE driving.

He thought the project was actually a good idea. I was even considering doing it when he got done with me and was going to ask him to write a forward for it.

But one comment he made convinced me that there was something in this project worth doing.

He spoke of a near-miss car accident he had experienced and said:

By some miracle, no damage at all… I was able to pull back onto the road and drive…. slowly…. home.
First time I have ever told someone that story.
Not to be too morbid, but the odds are that for many young people, the last moments of their lives are spent in a car!

A man as sensitive as that is surely now with God. And I will pray to him often for me as I know he often prayed for me and my family and my students and even that old dog of mine.

His final moments I pray were not too painful and not too frightening–that God took him by the hand and allowed him to be at peace despite the circumstances of his death.

We pray today for Katie and his children and all those who he leaves behind, better for having known him.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And Let perpetual light shine upon him. May Joe’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Andrew Greeley, Rest in Peace

fb36b051175917060da1d07c31403e3816ee0ebcFr. Andrew Greeley, a longtime priest of the Chicago Archdiocese and a noted sociologist who has much influenced my work in young adult ministry, has passed away. PBS had a wonderful feature on Fr. Greeley some time ago which also features his good friend and my pal, Fr. John Cusick.

Watch Andrew Greeley on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

A beautiful life, filled with passion. As Fr. Cusick said when the history of the American Catholic Church is written, Greeley will undoubtedly remain as a prolific name. He spoke of the Sex Abuse scandal LONG before anyone else. He saw the dwindling in the pews, but noted the loose affiliation that many Catholics still held on to about their own personal Catholicism (at hospitals and otherwise people still would check off “Catholic” as their religion–sadly that seems to now be changing in many case because too many ignored Greeley’s call to tend to the “unaffiliated” and turn them into “full and active members” of the church.

Chicago dealt with the sex abuse scandal long before other dioceses were paying attention to it. Cardinal Bernadin was smart enough to listen to Greeley who had a done a lot of research on this and together they hammered out a plan. That plan for the Chicago Archdiocese became the basis years later for the Dallas Charter. Chicago still had their problems despite Greeley and Bernadin’s early efforts as many more cases surfaced in forthcoming years–but you don’t exactly equate Chicago with Boston, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. One of the more infamous stories comes from Cardinal Bernandin’s plea for the Bishops to put something in place with regards to the sex abuse scandal and reportedly one Cardinal soundly rejected the idea saying, “We just don’t have this problem in Boston.” Famous last words from a now infamous Cardinal Law.

While I didn’t know Fr. Greeley, I did have the pleasure of meeting him once at a lecture he gave with Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal George. Fr. Barron was unknown then to the larger church and he kind of stole the show impressing his priestly companions. Everyone expected a smackdown between the elder statesmen and both were quite cordial to one another. Little known to others, the two men were great Opera companions and would frequently go together to many a performance. Their respect for one another, despite disagreements from time to time was a true sign of collegiality amongst brother priests. And still suspicion reigned: Greeley offered the Archdiocese of Chicago $1 million to create a foundation to help inner-city Catholic students. The archdiocese turned him down without explanation. Amazing how divisions can still take hold within the church.

Fr Greeley was kind enough to send me some of his research which I used in Googling God. He always reminded most of us practitioners that data is important and a careful look at Sociological surveys can tell us a whole lot. That’s a gift I will continue to treasure.

So blessings on his life and may God have mercy on his soul.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Andy’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Child Protection Right Under Abuser’s Noses

My erstwhile assistant, Christine Marino found this about an ad that displays two images, one for adults and another for children. Amazing.

Let’s pray today for all victims of abuse, so we might better offer protection for them and for forgiveness and healing so that all may live in peace. Amen.

The Silence of the Shepherds

They say silence is golden but today is more like tarnish.

John Thavis reported this about the U.S. Cardinals and their regular press conference briefings this morning via Jim Martin on Facebook.

U.S. cardinals abruptly canceled their planned briefing today, and no further briefings were scheduled.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who had coordinated the U.S. press encounters, said in an email: “Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reportedin Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”

In other words, because some anonymous cardinals fed Italian reporters a few details about their discussions, a gag order now applies to all the cardinals.

The U.S. briefings, which typically featured two American cardinals fielding questions in 30-minute sessions, had become a welcome daily ritual for journalists in Rome who are trying to cover the pre-conclave meetings that began this week.

It should be noted that the U.S. cardinals, like all the rest, have taken an oath to maintain secrecy regarding conclave matters. But they have given reporters at least an outline of the discussions, if not precise content, and have been willing to answer general questions on issues not directly related to the conclave.

When, oh when, will this guys realize that not saying anything doesn’t help, nor does it endear you to the general public. It makes you look like you’re hiding something, or in this case, like someone said something they shouldn’t have and now you’re asking them to stop talking.

Silence has led the church down many wrong roads. The sexual abuse crisis at its heart was tragic on its own because children were abused, but the cover up by Bishops and other church officials made it ten times worse and the church has been dragged down (and appropriately so) by it for more than a decade now.

Silence about financial impropriety and perhaps more has led to what we call now the VatiLeaks scandal, which came from an internal investigation that was covered up to the point where the Pope’s butler was used as a pawn to get secret files revealed to the public. Silence caused this scandal and it could have easily been avoided by telling the truth and taking appropriate disciplinary actions.

Silence is what keeps gay men in the priesthood from showing that they are appropriately integrated in their sexuality and instead covers up those who are sexually immature, who claim heterosexuality when in fact, they have a closeted gay sexual preference and end up becoming predators because of it. It’s an endless cycle of self abuse that leads to the abuse of others.

And it starts because of silence and fear.

Silence prevents dialogue between Catholics who speak up for ending abortion because that translates to others as being “against women” instead of “against murder.” Same is true for those who hope to care for women beyond the birth of their child instead of settling for winning the moral high ground because they simply changed a law with no back up plan.

Sr. Walsh smartly realized that for the American Bishops to be relevant in the minds and hearts of the general public it was time for them to come clean and actually tell people what they were thinking about the next Pope. They’re not trying to tell us who they are specifically voting for, nor about anything inside the walls of the conclave. Rather they are opening the doors to what is all-too-often held in secret for no good reason.

The American public is no longer buying what the Cardinals and the Bishops are selling. At least the latest poll in the field says so:

From the NY Times:

With cardinals now in Rome preparing to elect Benedict’s successor, the poll indicated that the church’s hierarchy had lost the confidence and allegiance of many American Catholics, an intensification of a long-term trend. They like their priests and nuns, but many feel that the bishops and cardinals do not understand their lives.

Telling the press the truth often gets the public back on your side. It gives you legitimacy in their eyes and brings the public to a better understanding of your mindset even when they may disagree with your premise. Telling the truth and laying it all on the table gets these men back the one thing they have lost: respect.

But instead, now we sit and wait in silence. Which is an appropriate venue for our prayer, but for nothing else. Eventually, we come out of our prayer postures and need to proclaim the truth of our convictions to let people know who we are and what goes into the rhythms of our church’s decisions and hear what our leaders think about the church’s present, never mind the future and what kind of leader they think will be most helpful to the people of God. Those early words from our American Bishops were outstanding stories that helped people understand things.

The time is now for breaking silence, not maintaining it. Agreeing on the gag order is a wrong-headed move. And someone needs to convince the Cardinals of that. Perhaps they should start with the retired Cardinals who won’t be in the conclave and effectively have nothing to lose! (Cmon Cardinal McCarrick!)

Cardinals, you were almost there. Props to Sr. Mary Ann Walsh for the effort! Somehow it was a smart woman who was leading us down the right road and who the Cardinals should be listening to and working with her who has given them the opportunity to very simply tell the world our story.

Young Adults and the Weary Church

The 40th Chapter of Isaiah talks about depending on a God despite weariness and that God never grows weary.

That would include growing weary of us.

What do we grow weary of? For me I grow weary of the constant infighting in the church. Here’s one good example:

There were two stories written of late about young adults in the church, young adults being defined as people in their 20s and 30s.

The first was called The Church Young Adults Want, by Annie Selak which makes several good points and takes many issues that divide young adults who have been distanced from the church. Issues like interfaith dialogue, the ordination of women and homosexuality. She cites the need for the church to be relevant. Calling the reason that many fall outside of the church the fault of a church that is out of touch with the concerns of younger Catholics for inclusion. But I fear that there’s still many more young adults who don’t fit into her categories for many reasons.

The second one is The Church Young People Really Want by Bad Catholic, a patheos blogger, an often funny, too often mean-spirited and most often one that tried way too hard to be what he thinks is clever.

Much like Ms. Selak, Bad Catholic uncovers some truth (emphasis on some). He describes a group of young adults who want a different kind of Church. Bad Catholic makes the case that young people want what he terms the transcendentals, the mystery that life is not about us, but rather about the mystery beyond us. He goes on to say that the young are actually attracted by “the good and the beautiful” a centerpiece of Balthazarian (Hans Ur Van Balthazar) theology.

Ms. Selak would tend toward Rahnerian (Karl Rahner) theology which responds to the “signs of the times” and engages science in dialogue and admits that they have something to contribute as opposed to being diametrically opposed to their school of thought.

And I don’t doubt that in the circles that each of these authors run in, that these are the types of young adults that they find. But I believe that young adults are far more varied than either of these articles make them out to be, especially when you look outside the usual Catholic enclaves of Catholic Universities and Catholic parishes. Bad Catholic describes young adults who show up at mass each week and have grown up in Catholic enclaves or have had serious conversion experiences. Selak describes Catholics who find value in the church and probably have grown up in the church, but find it hard to square their youthful religious formation with adult critical thinking.

But few young adults fall into these groups directly.

Sociologically speaking, many young adults are at best nominal Catholics. Some not only find the church irrelevant, they find it ridiculous. Many are frustrated with what they find to be the hypocrisy of religion, or better stated, religious people, who claim to follow the gospel and yet most often, disregard the needs of others. People they perceive who represent religious entities in general are often looked upon as mean-spirited, awkward, or just plain goofy.

Most of them are not concerned about the relevance of Catholicism, most are unconcerned about religion in general and don’t plan on seeking out a religious path anytime soon. I’m finding more and more Catholics within this circle and my colleagues are finding that this is true as well. The truth they seek comes more from Richard Dawkins than Rahner or Balthazar.

But they are not necessarily hostile towards religion, they just don’t want to be part of an institution that lends itself to so much hypocrisy.
The sex abuse scandal didn’t help and the fact that often we seem less likely to dialogue with others who are in their world (in science, politics) only seems to exile religion farther away from the mainstream.

Simply put, most young adults simply don’t want a church that makes them weary. The endless arguing internally in the church divides young people further from us. The constant focus on one issue, abortion, isn’t beyond their respect for our tenacity, but also falls short of their holistic expectations of caring for mothers beyond birth, pregnancy prevention, the danger of AIDS and STDs and the need to openly talk with teens and young adults about the power of sex and how it may hurt them if they take this too lightly.

The Catholic focus on freedom is something that widely attracts them once they find out about it …the freedom needed to become the person God hopes we cooperate with–that frees us from our prejudices, biases, bad experiences and most of all, our fear. Our fear that God may not really love us because of our failures. Our fear that God may not exist at all and that the neo-darwinists may be right. Our fear that God isn’t enough for us and so we turn to sex, consumerism and anything else that we think might fill that hole in our lives. But instead, what is most often found is the minutia of political infighting.

And that friends is the stuff of weary young adults. And it makes the church they want an impossibility. A church where they can overcome fear through dialogue and searching for answers to age-old questions. They seek a church where all are welcome and gifts are honored. They seek a church that spends more time outside the four walls caring for those most disenfranchised in society than inside caring for themselves. And yet they want the freedom to talk with spiritual mentors about their journey, fears and questions and they hope they’ll have patience and time for each one of them.

But right now, those we’re not reaching that we are called to inspire are not finding us. Because most of the time we’re too busy with maintenance of a church that doesn’t speak to their experience or inspire them greatly and a church that doesn’t listen to all of them, but only those in the club who tend to make the most noise.

I’m most weary of that. And soon we won’t have to worry. Because young Catholics aren’t choosing between Rahner and Balthazar…they are choosing between religious practice in a community and chucking a spiritual search altogether in frustration. We spend too much time talking about those on the extreme ends of the Catholic Young Adult Spectrum. In doing so, we miss the vast middle, who long to be inspired.

And that, friends, makes the church a weary one.

Will Married Anglican Priests Pave the Way for a Married Priesthood?

In my diocese this weekend our Bishop will be ordaining a former Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism. He’ll lead a church where a bunch of former Anglican Catholics worship together in the far reaches of the diocese.

You have to ask the question though…

If the priesthood works for this married guy then, why wouldn’t it work for other married men?

Many are begging the question why exactly do we have a celibate priesthood? And to be honest, it does make some sense to go that route. Marriage and family are a primary call for those of us who are married. For those of us also in ministry we have to remember that our marriages and our children are whom we are called to first and I know I often have to remind myself of that, mostly because I love my work so much. My wife understands that and she does what she can to involve herself in my ministry where that is appropriate. (For instance, we do some marriage prep work together). For those unlike myself, who have children, the time commitment to ministry and family is difficult indeed. So the wisdom of this particular tradition is that one can’t really divide themselves, or better said, that it might be difficult to do so.

But would we say that the same is true for other professions that are often “on call” all the time? Doctors, dentists, plumbers, nurses and many other careers. Even with people staying later in the office, it seems that many more people need and are expected to spend more time in the office these days. And perhaps that’s not exactly healthy for a family dynamic and so people are beginning to get creative with things like flex time or the ability to telecommute from home and the many businesses that now offer the opportunity to work from home.

So how is the priesthood or even the lives that religious women lead any different? In fact, you don’t often hear of the concept of married women being part of a religious community of sorts. We tend to place all our focus on the ones who offer mass and provide most of the sacramental rituals.

Maybe we need to look at things just from another angle? How are we forming people for service to the church? How do each of us, married and single contribute to the church’s livelihood? Would we even need a priesthood if just some of us dedicated ourselves to working for the church? Might more people consider that if the church could pay all of their employees a just wage? How did the early church work with all those married disciples? All good questions with no easy answers.

However, while some may be angry at the notion of Anglicans being offered the opportunity to join the ranks of the Catholic priesthood (and even retain the right to use their book of common prayer while the rest of us use the Roman Missal), I’m not among them. Why? Because I believe that this may in fact, lead to the church realizing that a married priesthood is possible.

A classmate of mine was a Bishop in one of the Eastern Churches and he often cited how hard it was for his priests to maintain their family life with the demands of their ministry. “But it is possible!” he would remind us. “I order them to take Saturday off to be with their family and Monday as well. I even give them a half day on most Fridays so they can be home with their families. The worst case scenario here would be for me to have a bunch of priests with marriages that are in a shambles and priests who are seeking divorces!”

And perhaps that’s a legitimate fear. Would marriages between priests and their wives succeed as well as people in the general public. Which by the way is about 50%. Catholic Deacons who are married buck the trend as only 1% of Catholic Deacons are divorced (I’m not sure how that would work) and as an example, less than 40 remarries without a dispensation as cited in a 2005-2009 poll by CARA. So we have good reason to believe that married clergy are likely to stay together in marriage. (Now who knows about the quality of some of those marriages? A bigger question!)

We also assume that these married priests will be accepted by their brother priests and not be treated as “less than” or a “semi-priest”. Some might be resentful because they took a vow of celibacy and they might look on that as unnecessary once they see their married counterparts. I could envision a jealous priesthood as well, which may not bode well for anybody.

Regardless, I wish our new priest of the diocese well, Deacon (and soon to be Fr. John Cornielus) and hope that this is the start of opening a dialogue on married priesthood—or even just on the role of both priesthood and laity today. We’re at a very creative time in church history. Maybe our opportunity is to see what lies ahead not merely for the priesthood, but for our giftedness as people of God. Might we look at expanded roles for lay people as preachers, ministers of the word, funeral leaders, marriage ministers and more? This new option for some clergy to be married will give us the opportunity to look more carefully at the celibate priesthood and also give us the opportunity to look at the laity amongst us. The result may be a stronger and more inclusive church.

If only we bother to look deeply at this.

Beyond Bread and Wine

So the past few days, I’ve been talking a bit about communion with friends. I posted the following on Facebook:

Ok folks…here’s one for the germaphobes. The blood of Christ should not be suspended. #1 there’s enough alcohol in there to kill any germs and second of all people should police themselves if they are sick or prone to illness. #2 I find it odd that the liturgical police NUTS are so concerned about people who receive from the cup but are unconcerned about everyone dipping their fingers into the same bowl of holy water. Get a life folks and stop trying to politicize the Eucharist under the guise of health.

At least two people told me that receiving from the cup was gross…to which I replied.

“Um no, it’s Christ.”

One of the grossed outs informed me that:

Jesus is in my heart NOT in my cup!! Drinking wine is symbolic of the blood of Christ..c’mon Mike! We ALL learned that in Catholic school!!

Well, we obviously did NOT go to the same Catholic School because that’s what we call consubstantiation…meaning “with the substance”. So the wine is merely a symbol which is what the Protestants believe. They believe it’s a type of re-creation, but the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. Catholics on the other hand believe in TRANS-substantiation. Meaning that the bread and wine look and taste the same but the substance is now changed. The bread and wine are merely “accidents” while the substance becomes the body and blood of Christ. Now no longer bread, the essence of the Eucharistic feast has changed into something “BEYOND the substance” we see.

How I love doing Catechesis on Facebook, but am also amazed at how people spout off their theological beliefs as if what they believe is Catholic dogma and they even have the audacity to try to tell me that I’m wrong, even with my Master’s Degree in my back pocket!

But beyond those who are grossed out, I’m also astounded that as a eucharistic minister many people don’t say “Amen” when they come up to receive, especially when they receive from the cup. I think people get nervous, especially those who may be returning to the church. They simply forget it. I often prompt them and while I’m not in favor of priests or Eucharistic Ministers refusing people communion for their political beliefs, I am in favor of prompting folks to answer the minister when they say “The Body of Christ”. I remember once I stood there host aloft waiting for someone to say “Amen” and they just looked blankly at me. I replied:

“This is the part where you say ‘Amen.””

And indeed they had become flustered and just forgot. They even apologized and then I did as well. I’m really not trying to embarrass anyone, or even be a snot. But I do believe that Christ is present in the sacrament and that we should be giving assent to that.

Now that said, I also believe that some of us get way too bent out of shape about the Eucharist. We should be reverent with the Eucharist for sure, but not so pious that we forget about people and the fact that the Eucharist ties us all together in unity.

I think we too often forget that Jesus went to the cross and beyond death and therefore I think Jesus is able to take care of himself. So all the mistakes people make when they come up is not the end of the world. Jesus understands our human frailty and forgetfulness at times. Grace abounds regardless.

This evening I stumbled upon a column by my dear friend, Deacon Greg Kandra. He’s calling for a return to the altar rail, which in my opinion is a vast over-reaction. But read for yourself why he feels that way.

But now, after several years of standing on the other side of the ciborium—first as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, now as a deacon—and watching what goes on, I’ve had about enough.

I’ve watched a mother receive communion, her toddler in tow, then take it back to the pew and share it with him like a cookie.

At least four or five times a year, I have to stop someone who just takes the host and wanders away with it and ask them to consume it on the spot.

Once or twice a month I encounter the droppers. Many are well-intentioned folks who somewhere, somehow drop the host or it slides out of their hands and Jesus tumbles to the floor.

A couple times a year I get the take-out crowd. They receive the host properly, and then pull out a hanky and ask if they can take another one home to a sick relative.

Beyond that, I’m reminded week after week that people have no uniform way to receive in the hand. There’s the reverent “hands-as-throne” approach; there’s the “Gimme five,” one-hand-extended style; there are the notorious “body snatchers” who reach up and seize the host to pop into their mouths like an after-dinner mint; and there are the vacillating undecideds who approach with hands slightly cupped and lips parted. Where do you want it and how??

After experiencing this too often, in too many places, under a variety of circumstances, I’ve decided: it’s got to stop. Catechesis is fruitless. We’ve tried. You can show people how it’s done; you can instruct them; you can post reminders in the bulletin and give talks from the pulpit. It does no good. Again and again, there is a sizable minority of the faithful who are just clueless—or, worse, indifferent.

I think that’s a bit much. I think people can be instructed and I think we can make that time more solemn in many other ways. I love the parishes who stand together after communion until all have received or those that do a nice post-communion hymn standing together as one body in Christ. See, we don’t stand together often, there’s always some divisiveness that bleeds over into our cluttered and opinionated lives. But here we stand together as one, one body of believers drawn forth by Christ to become who it is that we receive. We challenge one another to stand humbly before God as unworthy people and receive all of God into our bloodstreams.

And now back to the germophobes.

I suspect that all this talk of altar rails and not making the blood of Christ available at mass, comes from an attempt to co-opt the sacrament to a time from before the Second Vatican Council. So I’d like to call for more levity in making those kinds of sweeping judgements and to look for what might be good in receiving communion together in the present form.

And so while the germophobes almost immediately side with those who wish to eliminate the reception of Christ’s precious blood, these same people may receive Christ’s body on their tongue, a practice that is far more unsanitary (fingers touch tongue, touches next host). And secondly, we don’t seem to have any problem dipping our fingers in the same holy water font week in and week out. By the way the CDC agrees with me, TWICE, so I now have medicine and theology on my side. Next up: The World.

My point is that the problems with receiving communion properly is not really as much about those coming forth to receive, but instead it is with us who are ministers of the sacrament. How much care do we take with our roles? Do we stand and receive reverently ourselves, do we try to create a time like no other for Christ? Do we give people ample opportunities for quiet after communion to pray a bit more privately in gratitude for Christ’s love for us?

Or do we come forth, like we’re carrying any old thing and then expect others to act differently? Do we even seem excited about being a Eucharistic Minister? There’s a guy in my parish who is a big time lawyer, but when he goes to the altar to be a Eucharistic Minister, he seems so filled with enthusiasm that it becomes holy. Are we as excited to receive Christ?

Lastly, I’m not sure the altar rail will work. I think people will be more confused. Kneel or stand? Hands out –or tongue? Where do I go again? What’s worse is that it seems to emphasize the separation between priest and laity over the unity of the sacrament. We are all joined together in the Eucharist, not just to each other, but to all who have received the eucharist before us, including the disciples! Ritualizing that moment might be worth doing, placing our minds and hearts before God during and after the sacrament. In doing so, we bring ourselves and others to Christ. Be we priests or pot smokers, bishops or bankers, mothers or managers, custodians or CEOs. We are all one body in Christ.

For it is:

“Through him with him and in him, O God Almighty Father,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit, all power and glory are yours
Both now and forever. Amen.

A brief addendum…A faithful reader points out that for those unable to receive because of illness, this shouldn’t be read as a judgement against them. Rather, people should be given the choice to receive or not receive the blood of Christ. My own wife doesn’t receive normally. So I understand that, but my point is that we need not overreact and eliminate it altogether. Bishop Malone here in Buffalo has asked people to police themselves if they are sick, which I would say is the right idea.

Conversations with My Molester…a New Play

Michael Mack, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest has written a play based on his visit to the priest who molested him after finding out that he lived a mere hour away. Mack showed up on his doorstep. The NY Times has more.

The result is “Conversations With My Molester: A Journey of Faith,” which had its debut last year at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University to mark the 10th anniversary of the Globe series. Now, Mr. Mack, 56, is reviving the nonfiction drama at the Paulist Center, a Catholic community center in downtown Boston that is dedicated to social justice.

On Friday night, about 50 people attended the opening, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with Mr. Mack and the Rev. Rick Walsh of the Paulist Center. The play and subsequent discussion showed how the priest scandal, stemming from events that took place decades ago, continues to haunt the lives of the victims and reverberate throughout the church.

The Archdiocese of Boston is still reeling from the many discoveries of sexual abuse by priests in their diocese. More church closings are happening because of now poor attendance and financial ruin, caused mostly by the scandal. We wonder if the church will ever recover here.

But the Paulist Center seems to be taking a good first step. Just steps from the Boston Common on Park Street, the play resonated with many in the audience. The realism in this non-fiction drama cuts to the core and covers even the most reviling situations that the abused encounter…the fact that the abused often abuse themselves:

One of the most unsettling moments of the performance was when Mr. Mack revealed that as a camp counselor when he was in high school, he had come close to seducing a vulnerable, 8-year-old in whom he recognized himself.

“You lean closer, his hair a drift of baby shampoo,” Mr. Mack said as he acted out the scene. “Your face so close to the heat of his cheek you smell his breath, like apples.” At that point, the images of his own molesting came rushing back, and he stopped himself before anything happened.

That admission — that he had almost re-enacted the very crime perpetrated against him — drew particular praise from the audience. And it led to a general discussion of one of the little-acknowledged effects of molesting, that some victims become perpetrators.

Yikes! That is a very real and horrifying admission. Blessings on Mr Mack’s new work and on the Paulist Center for having a lot of guts to show this in the Catholic Church building.