Friday, December 31, 2021

Thank You!

It is with a spirit of deep gratitude for the support and contributions of many of you reading this, that I announce the closure of The Progressive Catholic Voice blogsite.

The PCV began on October 4, 2007 as a grassroots initiative dedicated to reflection, dialogue, and the exchange of ideas aimed at facilitating renewal and reform within the Catholic community of Minnesota and beyond.

As progressive Catholics, those who launched and have maintained and supported the PCV over the past 14 years are drawn to participate in, and contribute to, the Church’s capacity to grow, change, and evolve in ways that ever increasingly reveal God’s transforming love in our midst. This calling and our voice will go on in other ways as many of us continue to develop and unify the progressive Catholic voice of the local church. Why" Because those involved in this work believe that their voices are an intrinsic and essential part of our Catholic tradition. Along with the moderate and conservative voices within the Church, the progressive voice needs also to be heard in the discussions and deliberations that are part of any living faith community. As Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) once noted: the laity has to be consulted in matters of doctrine, especially when teachings concern their lives so intimately.

From day one, The Progressive Catholic Voice had Francis of Assisi as its patron saint. In his time, our brother Francis heard and responded to God’s call to “repair my Church.” It’s a call that resounds today in a Catholic Church which, at its worst, is corroded and weakened by clericalism, hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty, a profound lack of imagination, and a monarchical mind set and structure totally contrary to Jesus’ egalitarian model of community. Yet as distressing as this is, there are many Catholics who are unwavering in their commitment to embody a healthy, life-giving, intellectually-honest, and authentically Gospel-based model of church – especially in terms of organizational structure, decision-making, and Vatican II’s call for “full, conscious, and active participation by all the baptized.”

For the past 14 years, the PCV has served as a safe forum for this embodiment. There are many other such places in the church, and here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis both the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) and the Council of the Baptized (CoB) are two of them. Be assured that the progressive Catholic voice continues to resound in these and other organizations and communities.

I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank those who served with me on the PCV’s founding editorial team: Mary Beckfeld, Steve Boyle, Susan Kramp, David McCaffrey, Brian McNeill, Mary Lynn Murphy, Rick Notch, Theresa O'Brien, and Paula Ruddy.

Thanks also to Bill Hunt, Paula Ruddy, and Bill Moseley, who have contributed many of the PCV’s most important and popular posts over the years.

Peace,

Michael J. Bayly
Editor, The Progressive Catholic Voice
2007-2021

Monday, September 20, 2021

Latest News from CCCR


Friends,

Synodality is a progressive Vatican II idea and our Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is giving the laity the unique opportunity to have discussions on what is important to us regarding the future of our Church.

Three areas have been targeted for small group discussions in six weekly sessions at your parishes:

1) Forming parishes that are in the service of evangelization.

2) Forming missionary disciples who know Jesus’ love and respond to his call.

3) Forming youth and young adults in and for a Church that is always young.


Even though these areas will be given the most attention, you may want to bring up other concerns that can lead to change that are not under the authority of the archdiocese but may be the impetus to get the attention of Pope Francis and the Vatican. This year the Catholic Church for Church Reform (CCCR) has focused on communion for all and women’s ordination and you may want them to be your focus as well. Your input is welcome and will be heard if you make your ideas clear. It is important to be succinct in wording your concerns and suggestions (20 words or less) when you summit them.

Keep the Synod and all who participate in the process in your prayers. We can have confidence that the Holy Spirit will stir things up and shake the Church into renewal.

CCCR Board


NOTE: There is one regular monthly effort of CCCR that can assist you in staying informed and involved in matters affecting Catholics in the Archdioceset of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. If interested, CCCR invites you to join the CCCR Lay Network – a growing community of Vatican II Catholics. The Lay Network came into being to facilitate communication and dialogue within this community and the archdiocese. Once you have registered, you will begin to receive the Lay Network Update, a monthly email newsletter containing brief and topical information for your consideration on matters of importance in our Church (the above "Latest News" was excerpted from the September Lay Network Update). You will also be informed about what CCCR is doing, thinking about and working on. In addition, CCCR, will keep you informed about special events that we have information about and events that CCCR is planning, sponsoring and/or collaborating on with others. Recieving the Lay Network Update monthly is a step toward connecting us within our parishes and deaneries to be better able to serve as a strong voice in matters of concern in our archdiocese. To join the Lay Network, complete the brief registration form that can be found here.

See also the previous posts:
Our Next Archbishop: What Would You Ask a Candidate If You Knew Your Voice Would Be Heard?
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
Local Catholics Discuss the Need for a "Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality"
Twin Cities Catholics Respond to Pope Francis' Invitation and Speak Out on Sexual Issues
Lay Coalition Nominates Seven Clergy to Be New Twin Cities Archbishop
Save the Date: Synod of the Baptized, September 28, 2013
Countdown to Synod 2013 – Part 1: When, Where, Why, What!
Countdown to Synod 2013 – Part 2: Sister Gail Worcelo
Countdown to Synod 2013 – Part 3: Evolutionary Spirituality
Countdown to Synod 2013 – Part 4: Media Coverage of Synod 2013 and CCCR
Countdown to Synod 2013 – Part 5: Synod 2013 Break-Out Sessions
Countdown to Synod 2013 – Part 6: The "New Story" at the Heart of Evolutionary Spirituality
A Pre-Synod Get-Together
Actions to Take to Be the Church We Want to See

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Real Shepherd’s Good Shepherd
(or De-Romanizing Catholic Leadership)

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on Sunday, July 18, 2021.

My old shepherd friend Sadio relaxing at his home in 2014



First Reading – Jeremiah 23:1-6
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 23
Second Reading – Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel – Mark 6: 30-34


Good morning! My name is Bill Moseley and it is my pleasure to reflect with you on today’s readings which are all about shepherds and sheep. We learn about bad shepherds in the first reading, good shepherds in the psalm and the 2nd reading, and an exhausted shepherd in the gospel text. Shepherds and sheep are an oft used biblical metaphor employed to describe the relationship between the people of God and their religious leaders. This all seems pretty clear. But what if it is not? What if we have fundamentally misunderstood the shepherding metaphor.

Stories and metaphors, as any good teacher knows, are what people and students remember, so it makes sense that this is what was passed on through oral tradition, and eventually written down, in our religious texts. Many biblical metaphors are rooted in agricultural livelihoods, which is understandable as most people were farmers, herders and fisherfolk at the time the bible was composed. However, the challenge for contemporary people interpreting the bible is that many of us are not agriculturalists. As such, we may misunderstand the original intent of an agricultural metaphor, or be presented with a misguided interpretation.

Herewith a quick example of such misdirection or misinterpretation from my teaching There is a famous essay published in 1968 entitled “the Tragedy of the Commons” by an economist named Garrett Harden. This essay may or may not be familiar to you, but rest assured that anyone who works in the realm of environmental management knows it it and, luckily for my purposes today, it deals with sheep and pastures. Harden starts this essay with a parable of a common pasture in a small rural community. Here individual community members graze as many of their sheep as possible in order to maximize their own personal gain. In the process, however, the pasture degrades, and everyone losses as there is less and less pasture for the sheep. For Harden, the common pasture is the problem. If we want to solve the degradation issue, then we must subdivide and privatize different portions of the pasture. With your privately held plot, according to Harden, you will carefully manage your portion of the pasture, and only put on a few sheep so it does not degrade.

I find several aspects of this telling of the story problematic, but let me note just two here. First, Harden fundamentally misunderstands the idea of a commons, which have existed in rural communities all over the world for millenia, be they pastures, forests or fisheries. These commonly held natural resources are often tightly controlled and managed by a set of rules developed by the community for the community. It is not a free-for-all as Harden suggests, but carefully managed individual use so that everyone benefits. Second, Harden’s title for this story, the “Tragedy of the Commons,” is leading and frames the answer: the commons are the problem and therefore must be privatized. What if he had entitled the essay “The Tragedy of the Privately-Held Sheep?” This might lead us down an entirely different train of thought.

Now let us return to shepherds and sheep. How were you taught to interpret this metaphor? As a young person, I learned that the shepherd was to protect guileless sheep from danger and that their power may be used wisely or unwisely. In other words, the shepherd holds all of the ‘agency’ and the sheep, in this instance, blindly follow the directions of the shepherd.

But what would real shepherds, people who actually herd livestock for a living, think of the way we (a mostly urban people) interpret the good shepherd metaphor? I am not a farmer and I did not grow up in a rural area. What little understanding I have of shepherding comes from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Mali in the 1980s. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I had a number of friends from the Fulani ethnic group, a group of farmer-herders that are spread all across the drylands of West Africa. I did go out shepherding cows with these friends on a number of occasions and I can share at least three insights from those experiences.

First, shepherding was not a high status occupation, but rather an arduous, often uncomfortable and low status job. Within Fulani families, it was not the male head of household who typically herded the cattle, but younger men in the family who would spend days in the bush with the cows, eating poor food and being devoured by mosquitoes in the evening. I spent one night in the bush with my male friends and their cattle, soaked by rain, strafed by insects, and kept awake all night by boisterous cattle. I was ready to go home to my village house the next day, which felt like the Ritz Carleton after my time at the cattle post.

Second, livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) are a form of wealth in many areas of the world and wealthy individuals have often hired herders to tend their livestock. This proletarianization of the herding workforce means that the status of this group is even more lowly. While this is not always the case, many peasant farmers at least control their own land, their means of production, whereas the majority of herders do not own the cattle they are tending. Herders are put there to ensure the wellbeing of the herd, but it is pretty clear that they do not own the herd.

Third, it is problematic to think that herders tell or direct their livestock what to do. The herd has a mind of its own and will often do what it wants. If there is good pasture, or water ahead, the herd will surge in that direction. Sometimes this is of no consequence, but sometimes the water might be contaminated or the tantalizing pasture ahead might actually be the field of a neighboring farmer, creating the possibility for conflict. It takes all the skills of a good herder to steer the herd clear of such hazards, something which is rarely recognized when done well and decried mightily when done poorly (as we hear in the first reading when God declares “Woe to the shepherds who let the flock of my pasture stray and scatter”). The herder is there to facilitate and keep the herd moving in the right direction. While it may not be cognizant of this, the herd, in this instance, really has more power than the herder.

I want to argue that these three observations shed a different light on, and give new meaning to, the shepherding metaphor. What might this say for those leaders seeking to derive meaning from this passage for today? While exhorting someone to govern wisely is always good advice, what is more clear here is that leadership informed by the good shepherd model means understanding at least three points.

First, leadership cum shepherding is hard, tiring work (the gospel reading was clear on this) and you take it on as a form of service to society, not for status. Second, people are the wealth of any society and our collective well-being may be facilitated by the work of good shepherds. Such shepherds understand that they do not own such wealth, but are there as stewards, stewards who may be removed if they are not performing their duties. And third, good shepherds facilitate, they do not dictate, They understand that the job is about encouraging the community to move in a smart direction but that, ultimately, this is a collective decision. Of course, the shepherd may also encourage the herd to move in the wrong direction or not stand in the way of a bad decision. This may be expedient in the short term, but ultimately it will create much bigger problems down the road, both for the errant shepherd and the herd.

So how do we apply this more grounded, good shepherd model to leadership today?

The scriptural authors recognized that herds can make bad decisions. Put yourself in a room with people voicing the same perspective and there is a tendency among many to want to go along. Sometimes that may be a wise decision, but sometimes that could be a poor decision. As such, in order to insure the common good, and longevity of society, we need two things to happen. First, we need thoughtful citizens who will raise different points of view. Second, we need leaders, cum good shepherds, who will facilitate a collective decision making process wherein all voices are heard so that the best decisions are made. The leader who feels self-important, entitled to the wealth of a society, and/or inclined to suppress critical thinking and dictate decisions, will fail in the long run.

Given the above, I suggest that we need an educated herd with critical thinking skills. We must have robust investments in public education for the good of society. We also need more shepherd-like leaders, real shepherds who are down-to-earth facilitators. The crozier, or the pastoral staff, symbolizes the role of a catholic bishop as a Good Shepherd. But many other trappings of a bishop’s garb, such as his ring, miter and fine robes suggest wealth and power. If we look at church history, the reality is that the lowly shepherd cum facilitator, along with the communal living preached by Jesus, was largely gobbled up by the Roman Empire whose norms live on in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s time we jettisoned the hierarchical and patriarchal model of leadership that Jesus found to be so problematic and returned to the idea of shepherds and shepherdesses toiling amidst the holy flock. Pope Francis has made encouraging nods in this direction by, for example, washing the feet of Muslim migrants or declining to be driven in chauffeured limousines. In contrast, recent pronouncements by the US Council of Catholic Bishops on President Biden and communion strike me as haughty, misguided and uncharitable. We need more of the former and less of the latter. Amen.


Acknowledgements: My thanks to the Word Team and my spouse for their thoughtful feedback on earlier iterations of this reflection. I may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

New Beginnings

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered during the virtual service of St Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, Minneapolis, MN, January 24, 2021.

First Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Gospel: Mark 1: 14-20


Good morning everyone. My name is Bill Moseley and it is my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings, a reflection I have entitled ‘New Beginnings.’

Two and a half weeks ago an angry mob, egged on by a deranged president, stormed our nation’scapital, intent on disrupting 230 years of multiparty elections and peaceful transitions of power. As I watched the scene unfold from my office computer screen, I could not focus on my work. That article I had been writing, that class I had been preparing, just didn’t seem to matter as I witnessed this unimaginable – yet perhaps not entirely unexpected – scene. Indeed, as Paul writes in today’s reading from 1st Corinthians, “the world in its present form [was] passing away.” That day Americans experienced the end of something. Perhaps it was an end to a belief in so-called American exceptionalism, or the dawning recognition that our society could easily slip into chaos. While our supposedly strong institutions held that day, it was clear that they might not have held had our luck gone the other way. Attempted coups d’├ętats, insurrections, police brutality, racial violence and tribalism are not the stuff of far off, distant places, but we arethe epicenter of such problems, we are the unruly edges of the world.

In the passages that precede today’s gospel reading from Mark, Jesus’s spiritual mentor John the Baptist has been arrested, and Jesus had spent 40 trying days in the wilderness. The area where Jesus retreats to after John’s arrest, to the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, had been hit hard by the extractive practices of the Roman Empire. Farmers were losing their lands and becoming sharecroppers who were barely able to survive. People living in communities on the shores of the Sea of Galilee were losing their rights to fishing. This was a somber and deeply unjust situation, and a very inauspicious time for a new beginning.

To paraphrase the late Fred Rogers, in all endings there are new beginnings. But Lord, how do we move forward and make a new beginning at this particular moment? We cannot put things back together as they were before. Former president Trump, for all his evil acts, has laid bare the racist underpinnings of our country and the vulnerability of our system to demagogues and ignorant mobs. But the problems seem so deep and so intractable. I can live with differences of opinion. But how do you engage with the other side if they have an entirely different set of facts?A distant cousin of mine insists that undocumented immigrants regularly benefit from the largessof the government when I know this not to be true. Old high school friends of the right leaning variety rage at me on Facebook about the fraudulent election when we know it was fair, inclusiveand the most secure in our history. The memories of the words of a racist relative continue to echo in my head, words my parents quietly told me to ignore and forget as a young child.

Part of me just wants to cut them all off. I am different I insist. I have never held these beliefs. I am not responsible. I am like Jonah, a timid, hapless and temperamental prophet. I just want to run away, but the whale spits me up and I must go to Nineveh to work for the common good. These are my people, the white tribe of America. I really hate such labels, such groupings, but I cannot deny that I have benefited from the privilege of the color of my skin, my gender, my sexual orientation and my nationality. And therefore I am part of the problem and I have a responsibility to make it right. And making it right, while so seemingly impossible, will only happen if lots of us engage in the long slow work of healing the rift and building a multiracial, socially just and democratic society.

Last August, in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, former President Obama said “[O]ur Constitution… wasn’t a perfect document. It allowed for the inhumanity of slavery and failed to guarantee women — and even men who didn’t own property — the right to participate in the political process. But embedded in this document was a North Star that would guide futuregenerations; a system of representative government — a democracy — through which we could better realize our highest ideals. Through civil war and bitter struggles, we improved this Constitution to include the voices of those who’d once been left out. And gradually, we made this country more just, more equal, and more free.”

That day, as Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he set about recruiting his disciples. Against the backdrop of the demise of John the Baptist and the brutal exploitation of the Roman Empire, something new was beginning, a new way of thinking about the world, a new way of building community, a new way of interacting and caring for one another. And it started with one man, an illiterate Jewish carpenter, taking one step at a time along that beach, humbly calling people to join his nascent community. Against all odds, over the next 2000 years this new way of thinking would grow to become a major world religion. While a lot of harm has been perpetrated in the name of the church, the threads of social justice teaching that date back to Jesus have been forces for good in the world.

Despite my despair and consternation over our predicament and the deep divisions in this country, I am oddly optimistic. I do feel like we turned a page last Wednesday. Our new president, like us, is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He was not the preferred candidate for many on the political left. He has made mistakes in his life and he has experienced great personal tragedy. And while he does not wear his faith on his shirt sleeve, or march across the Washington Mall to pose with a bible in hand, I have been struck that he is a person steeped in the social justice teachings of the church. He’s an unlikely person to bring about reconciliationand help us more forward. He’s an old white man who really should be retired and at home with his grandchildren, but he might just be the right person. He’s someone who empathizes with others, had the wisdom to partner with a female vice president of color, and has the experience toknow how to make the machinery of government work for the common good.

And while leaders are important, and bad ones can do great damage, we the people are the ones who will make the difference in our own small, but myriad ways. That parallel universe, that fiction of a stolen election, alternate facts and racist ideology will not disappear if its believers are marginalized and cut off from mainstream society. We need to find a way to make our fractured society whole, approaching everyone with compassion. Of course those who committed crimes must be held accountable, but most did not in any direct way. So we must respectfully and lovingly engage across the divide.

As such, I will talk to that cousin the next time I see him, connecting with him as a human being and respectfully disagreeing when needed. I will not unfriend my right wing high school friends of yesteryear on social media, but do the hard work of sharing the facts I know to be true. I will confront racism and colonialism wherever I see it, be it from the mouths of relatives or in the scholarship in my discipline. And, in my own occupation as a college professor, I will continue to engage in the long, slow hard work of developing critical thinking skills among my students, skills that are the backbone of this democracy. Yes, I am but one person, but there are hundreds in this congregation, thousands in this community, millions in this country, and billions in this world. Together, slowly walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, calling people to join in the quest for a just world, we can make a difference.

In her poem to the country last Wednesday, National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman beautifully said:

The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.


Note: Thanks to the Cabrini Word Team for helping me think through the issues in this text. Any mistakes or errors are my own.


The author may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas 2020: A Time of Loss and Grief, Gratitude and Hope

By Michael J. Bayly

At Christmastide in years past I’ve shared at my blog The Wild Reed extensive posts of “reflections and celebrations” – compilations of words and images that celebrate all that the Winter Solstice/Christmas season signifies at the deepest level of the human experience.

This year, however, as 2020 ebbs, I’m very much aware of the upheaval and stress, the grief and loss of the past twelve months. We’re all familiar with the litany of challenges we’ve faced: a devastating global pandemic and the “social distancing” from family and friends it’s required; economic woes for many; a historic uprising for racial justice in response to police brutality that targets people of color; the rising tide of right-wing extremism and fascism, and a stressful election here in the U.S.

Many of us have also endured personal tragedies – some related to the pandemic, others not. In my work as a palliative care chaplain, I’m there for and with COVID (and non-COVID) patients and their families as they confront illness and death. And in the quiet of my own heart, I continue to live with the loss of my friend Mahad.

I must admit that the culminating force of all these things has left me feeling exhausted. I can cultivate and maintain the energy to do my chaplaincy work, but that’s really about it.

I realize that this exhaustion won’t last forever, and I’m definitely aware that I am choosing on a daily basis to remain both grateful and hopeful.


I am grateful for the beauty of creation, for the many life-giving relationships in my life, for the meaningful work I engage in, for Trump’s defeat, and for the coronavirus vaccines that are being developed and distributed. And I’m hopeful that the shift in consciousness that I believe the Divine Presence within and beyond all things is calling humanity to embody, is indeed happening.

You know, for quite some time now I’ve felt that humanity is on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in consciousness. Accordingly, I’ve been praying that each one of us may find the courage to respond, in the context of our own lives, to what I trust is the Divine’s call to move forward into a new way of being in relationship with one another and with the planet. I see this movement, this shift in consciousness, as an intentional decision on our part, individually and collectively, to move away from allowing greed, fear, violence, and mindless consumption to dictate our attitudes and actions, and to instead open ourselves to letting justice, compassion, trust, and sustainability inspire and guide us. Though it can often be hard to trust that such a shift is indeed underway, I trust and hope that it is – for both myself and the world.

That all being said, I also recognize that I must honor where I’m at and how I’m feeling here and now.

So this year, unlike others, I'm not going to exhaust myself further by pushing myself to spend time and energy on a lengthy Solstice/Christmas post.

Rather, I simply share a few photographs I took on the winter solstice (December 21) when I visited the Prayer Tree to pray for Mahad. These images are accompanied by some beautiful and timely words by Brigit Anna McNeill. May these images and words bring insight, rest, and replenishment to each and every soul visiting this page.

______________________

Be gentle with that tender heart of yours.

It may be holding a year’s worth of grief inside it.

Be caring with all those parts of you that feel life’s tender moments, childhood pains and unmet emotions.

Take yourself out into the gathering light and breathe a bright ember into the very centre of you, into your heart’s red soft middle, holding yourself in love and warmth.

Wake your heart slowly, allowing it all to be felt, allowing yourself to create space in which to rest and to breathe.

Let the coming light light up your bones and remind you of the gold that is held deep within you.


Related Off-site Links:
This Isn't a Very Joyful Christmas. But in Mourning There Is Strength – Rev. William J. Barber, II (The Guardian, December 25, 2020).
This Christmas, Let’s Rekindle Our Hope for a Better World – Rev. John Rogers (Jacobin, December 25, 2020).
Christmas for Mystics – Marianne Williamson (The Huffington Post, December 14, 2012).
What Christmas Means – Chris Hedges (TruthDig, December 24, 2017).
Why Is the World So Beautiful? An Indigenous Botanist on the Spirit of Life in EverythingTapestry (November 27, 2020).
The Sacred Space of Silence – Paul Bane (Mindful Christianity Today, July 7, 2020).

And at The Wild Reed, see:
The Joy of Christmas (2019)
Christmas 2018 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2017 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2016 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2015 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2014 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmastide Approaches (2013)
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
The Christmas Tree as Icon, Inviting Us to Contemplate the “One Holy Circle” of Both Dark and Light
Something to Cherish (2012)
Christmas in Australia (2010)
John Dear on Celebrating the Birth of the Nonviolent Jesus
A Bush Christmas (2009)
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection (2007)

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Road Not Taken: Rediscovering Jesus’ Humanity and the Communal Life as Church

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on Sunday, August 23, 2020.

First Reading – Isaiah 22:19-23
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 138
Second Reading – Romans 11:33-36
Gospel – Matthew 16:13-20


Good morning everyone. My name is Bill Moseley and it is my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

One of my favorite poems is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. It starts as follows:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Many of us encounter different choices in life, and we may wonder about the road not taken. Sometimes these choices are clear, you have a decision to make, and at other times political forces and structures guide us in a way that make us less conscious of our decisions.

Dogma is an example of one such force that guides our thinking. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, dogma is defined as “a doctrine […] concerning faith formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.” I would suggest that today’s Gospel reading is one of the building blocks that has been used to establish church dogma. It purports to answer two important questions. First, what is the nature of Jesus, is he God or a human prophet? And second, how will the legacy of Jesus be carried on after his passing? I want to interrogate both of these two questions and ponder some other interpretations than the established ones. You might call this a heretic’s view. But maybe it’s just another view, a view of a fork in the road we did not take long ago.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 16, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Humanity is?” They answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or another of the prophets.” Jesus asks: “But you, who do you that I am?” Simon answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then replies, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John!”… “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God, my Father and Mother, in heaven. I tell you, you are the Rock, and upon this Rock I will build my church.”

Biblical scholars debate different aspects of this gospel text, but they largely agree that some parts were added at a later date, namely the question “who do people say that I am” as well as Jesus’ praise for Simon’s response and even the famous line “you are the Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church.” After you subtract the later additions, what remains are these different takes on the character of Jesus.

What does this text say about the nature of Jesus? Does it matter that a question was added at a later date? It might because the way you ask a question frames the information before us. There is a famous Peter Seller’s line in a Pink Panther film in which, upon seeing a man and a dog, he asks “does your dog bite?” The man answers no, so Peter Sellers reaches out to pet the dog and he is promptly bitten. Sellers then says “I thought you said your dog does not bite” and the man responds “that’s not my dog.” Many questions are loaded with assumptions.

I think it is significant that the question, “who do you say that I am,” was added later. This question sets up a dichotomy or a binary, Jesus is either human or divine, full stop. Furthermore, we are led to believe from Jesus’ appraisal of Simon’s response (also added later to the text), that divine is the right answer. But maybe this was never the question asked? Maybe this was a decidedly 4th century question reflecting a 4th century way of thinking about the world (the 4th century being the time when the Council of Nicaea codified the nature of Jesus). We know from contemporary queer theorists, and LGBTQ activists, that much of the world doesn’t fit into neat binaries. Sometimes things manifest on a continuum, simultaneously co-exist, or even just defy categorization.

Perhaps it’s my Vatican II sensibilities, but it makes sense to me that Jesus was simultaneously human and divine, as I believe the divine runs through all living things. Jesus’ task, as I understand it, was to show us how to let that divine more fully emerge in our daily lives, by being kind to others and ourselves, and by recognizing the common humanity and divinity in all of us, be they friend or foe. This was the path he charted for us to build heaven on earth, or the ‘way’ to contentment. Perhaps we are tempted to label Jesus as only divine, but I think that actually minimizes the true miracle of the transcendence he achieved. Rather than demonize or shun our humanity, we must embrace it.

As some of you may know, I recently lost my father to cancer just a month ago. He wasn’t a young man, but he was a very youthful 81, and I was taken aback by how quickly he declined at the end. While I have buried grandparents, aunts and uncles, the death of someone very close to you, be it sibling, spouse or parent, is equally devastating and deeply grounding. To help him bath one week, and then to touch his dead body in another was one of the realest things I have ever experienced. To see his ashes literally poured into the soil made vividly visceral the Ash Wednesday refrain, from dust you come and to dust we shall refrain. His death, perhaps the most human of human actions, made me feel oddly more connected to the world. I think the challenge of modern society is that we are so removed from aspects of our humanness (birth, illness, death) that we rarely connect to deeper energies.

The other common interpretation of this gospel reading is that it is a rationale for the institution known as the church and for papal succession. “You are the Rock and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” As noted previously, this phrasing was also a later addition. Interestingly, Matthew is the only Gospel that uses the term church or ekklesia in Greek.

The way one lived was clearly very central to Jesus’ message. His was not a cerebral, abstract message as a different approach to living was part of his project. We were to care for one another, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to share our wealth. Living in community was not uncommon for early Christian collectives and it worked, as I have heard fellow parishioner Harrison Nelson argue, because it enabled poor and marginalized communities to live a better life. The Christian message is a guide to better living more than anything else, a roadmap for building heaven on earth.

But Christians were also persecuted within the Roman Empire and they suffered greatly during the first centuries following Jesus’ death. This changed when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This shift was important because it not only ended the persecution, but because it fundamentally changed the lived, communal aspect of Christianity. Instead of small communes led by elders who acted more as facilitators than rulers, we see the emergence of a Church organization patterned on the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of the Roman Empire with a male leader at the top.

I cannot blame our forbearers for the decisions they made. Persecution and death were no fun and I am sure they were thrilled when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Debates about the nature of Jesus ended after Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea and the Roman Catholic Church became the strongest political force in Europe, outlasting the Roman Empire. That original way of Christian living, in a commune patterned on the life of Jesus with his disciples, would also become a distant, strange and alien form of social organization, marginalized to convents, monasteries, and kibbutzs. Just like the debate about Jesus’ humanity, this debate about how to live together and how to organize the faithful was seemingly shut down in the 4th century. As such, today’s gospel reading, with all its additions, shows us how they tried to close the door on future debate.

We currently live in a very unsettled time when institutions and authority are being questioned, and when sexism, racism and homophobia are increasingly recognized as systemic problems. The contemporary Catholic Church, an institution built by humans, is not immune from these important social debates.

But it is discouraging. I have been waiting since Vatican II for major church reform and it just never seems to come. I remember having a college professor in the 1980s, in a course on Catholicism, tell me that change was just around the corner. But the Church remains as hierarchical as ever, single men are in charge, and the younger ranks of the priesthood appear to be stacked with unimaginative, ecclesiastical conservatives. Part of me just wants to move on, to give up, to leave the church.

But, as much as some may have wanted to have buried it, the door was never completely closed on alternative ways of organizing the church. Jesus was a rabble-rouser who had his own issues with abuses of power within the Jewish community, turning over tables at the temple and showing his very human anger. Today’s Old Testament Reading from Isiah also speaks to the need for institutional change. As President Obama shared in a speech a few nights ago: they win if we stay home, “those who benefit from keeping things the way they are -- they are counting on your cynicism.” “We can't let that happen. Do not let them take away your power.”

Jesus, fully human and divine, had sound ideas for better living. We need to rediscover that road not taken and keep working to make it a reality, no matter the obstacles in our path. We are the Church, we have the power to make change. Thank you.


Note: Thanks to the Cabrini Word Team for helping me think through the issues in this text. Any mistakes or errors are my own.


The author may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley

Sunday, August 16, 2020

We Need to Talk About David Hass

By Jamie Manson

NOTE: This article was first published June 30, 2020 by the National Catholic Reporter.

I first heard about sexual abuse allegations against composer David Hass [right] from a Facebook friend in a post last week. "I haven't heard much talk about this among progressive Catholics," she wrote. "Maybe our hearts are too broken."

Since the story first came to light, three of Haas' victims have come forward, telling NCR's Soli Salgado about the ways they were groomed, forcibly kissed and relentlessly pursued by the composer of well-known post-Vatican II hymns.

The news stunned the progressive Catholic world, whose liturgical soundtrack is filled with Haas' songs. His lyrics, so imbued with calls for love, justice and inclusion, earned him a place in the canon of luminaries of the Catholic reform movement.

Not surprisingly, the kneejerk reaction has been to "cancel" Haas: remove his music from hymnals and stop playing his compositions at worship services. While those actions may be justifiable, my hope is that we don't just rush to eradicate him and quickly move past yet another sad and ugly episode of "fallen Catholic hero." We must also take the opportunity to have a crucial conversation about what his alleged abuse reveals.

Since Pope Francis started to get serious about clergy sexual abuse about two years ago, many well-intentioned theologians, commentators and even some church leaders (including the pope himself) have pointed to clericalism as the root of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. But the Haas story demonstrates that there is something even more systemic and more destructive at work in the patterns of abuse in the church.

The Haas revelations are reminiscent of reports in February of this year that Jean Vanier, the venerated founder of the L'Arche community, had his own sordid history of abusing adult women. In my response to that story, I wrote:

In nearly every case of sexual abuse we have heard about in the church over the years — whether the situation is priests abusing children, or bishops raping nuns, or ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually coercing seminarians, or … Vanier sexually assaulting adult women — there is one common denominator: the patriarchal belief that a special class of spiritual men are entitled to use women, children and other vulnerable men for their sexual gratification.

Though Vanier's patterns of abuse were more cultic and ritualistic than what Haas' victims have described so far, they were both members of that elite class of spiritual men, and, therefore, benefitted from the Catholic patriarchal mindset. The fact that neither of them was ordained shows the church's problem with sexual abuse is not rooted in clericalism, it's rooted in a theology of male superiority.

The Catholic Church teaches a theology of "gender complementarity," which means that though men and women are equal in dignity, they have complementary roles in the church and the family. In this scheme, God designed men to lead and take initiative, and God created women to receive and serve. The doctrine is the basis for the church's hierarchical theology, which essentially teaches that it is part of God's plan that women and children should be completely under the control of men.

When religious power is totally in the hands of men, it creates a culture of devaluation and distrust of women. Men support one another and cover for one another, and they treat women as disposable and their stories unworthy of belief. Rather than listen to abused women, men silence them or blame them for leading men into temptation.

This is why, even though the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis knew of at least one serious claim of sexual assault against David Hass from 1987, they still allowed Haas to create a music camp for teenagers.

This is also why right now, the women who are coming forward to tell their stories of sexual misconduct by Haas are being questioned or distrusted on social media, or simply ignored by leaders, colleagues and fans who just don't want to deal with it.

Part of the doubt cast on Haas' victims is rooted in our theological tradition that trains us to not believe women. But complementarity feeds another source of doubt about women victims, namely the Catholic penchant for male hero worship.

Haas seemed particularly adept at cultivating a sense of stature. As NCR reported, he gave his Music Ministry Alive program "the aura of prestige" and groomed students to desire his attention. One victim told NCR that her classmates hoped he would look at them when he sang his famous hymn "You Are Mine."

All of our lives, Catholics have been fed the notion only men are worthy to be priests because God only wants men to be leaders. Regardless of how progressive some Catholics try to be, time and again, we find ourselves falling into and feeding the belief that men are singular and exceptional. Haas, it seems, not only knew this, he exploited it.

If there is any benefit to the revelations about Haas and Vanier, perhaps it will open up a conversation about the abuse of adult women by men in spiritual power. Though some church leaders, including Pope Francis, regularly denounce violence against women, the reality is that a theology of gender complementarity entrenches and sanctifies gender inequality — and gender inequality is the root of all violence against women worldwide.

The stories of Vanier and Haas show us that "clericalism" cannot be the rallying cry for what needs to change for our church to stop sexual abuse and its cover up. What needs to change is the institutional church's consecration and elevation of male power. The hierarchy can create as many training programs, policies and procedures as they like, but until they address male dominance as the underlying cause of sexual abuse, the crisis will never be resolved.

Jamie L. Manson is an award-winning columnist at the National Catholic Reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @jamielmanson.

Note: NCR can send you an email alert every time Jamie Manson's Grace on the Margins is posted to NCRonline.org. Sign up here.



See also the previous posts:
Complementarity of the Sexes: A Trap
Pope Francis' Woman Problem

Image: David Haas performing at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, February 2017. (Edited screenshot from YouTube/RECongress)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Quote of the Day

The President said today that he will “override the governors” and force states to allow churches to open. Churches should not be opened (or closed) by order of a president, but because it is safe to do so. To open churches before it is safe would needlessly put more lives at risk. And that would be the opposite of pro-life. Governors and religious leaders should follow the advice of public health experts and epidemiologists to help prevent the spread of infection and preserve life. Everyone wants to go back to church, including me, but not at the risk of increased infection and death, especially among the most vulnerable.

Churches are indeed essential for Christians, and the desire to worship together is a holy desire. But holy though your desire may be, it's not just about you and your desire. It's about protecting the other person, especially if you are, like many people, asymptomatic. Wearing masks, maintaining social distance and even not gathering in churches protects the other person.

There have already been confirmed cases in Texas and Minnesota where Catholic churches have opened and the priests were found to have been unknowingly infected. Coming into contact with their parishioners, and exposing them to infection, may end up causing deaths, especially among the most vulnerable – the elderly, who often make up the majority of churchgoers.

I'm not sure why this is so hard to understand. If you have the measles and a doctor says, “Don't go to church because you might infect a woman who is pregnant, ” you don't rail at your doctor for “impinging on your freedom.” You listen to the doctor, make the sacrifice, and stay home, as a way of protecting the other person.

All these preventive actions are ways of caring of the other person – that is, ways of loving.



Related Off-site Links:
Minnesota Church Groups Divided on Govenor Tim Walz's Orders – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune May 22, 2020).
Minnesota's Catholic Bishops Say They'll Defy Walz's Limits on Church AttendanceMPR News (May 20, 2020).
Not Attending Church Won't Kill Anyone, But Rushing to Reopen Might – Jennifer Brooks (Star Tribune, May 22, 2020).
Pro-Trump Doctors to Promote Reopening States Despite CDC WarningsDemocracy Now! (May 22, 2020).
Churches Obsessed With Their Right to Reopen Are Missing the Point – Peter W. Marty (The Christian Century, May 18, 2020).