Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quote of the Day

. . . I happen to find the Latin mass beautiful, and at first I seemed to object less to the new changes than most Catholics I know. I attend Spanish language mass from time to time. In that liturgy, we already use phrasing similar to that the New Old Missal introduces. The Vatican is not nearly so interested, however, in the accuracy of the translation of the mass as it is in dragging today's vernacular mass back in time. They want the 1962 mass with all the trimmings. This new translation business is a tasty treat for the lockstep sheep and papist throwbacks.

Though I seem to be alone in it, I don't mind having to use (the new) "consubstantial" in the Nicene Creed. "Consubstantial" – it's so, so Latin, I almost like it. There is, however, good reason not to like this kind of change. Daunting Latinate terms like "consubstantial" are tools in the grift. When the boys in the Vatican want our money, they remind us that all are welcome – no theology knowledge needed. But when people in the pews challenge man-made doctrine, the men in miters are all too quick to remind us that our lack of advanced degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University might leave us less than qualified to challenge the Holy See on any Catholic matter.

The average Catholic is too busy living a life to familiarize him or herself with the specifics of each papal encyclical, each tenet of dogma and the many voluminous, seminal Roman Catholic theological texts – and the Magisterium likes it that way. Ecclesiastical jargon makes the bishops look like they have the inside line on God. Hence the current pope's fervor for evangelization in the developing world: Hungry, illiterate people make good converts.

The New Old Missal matter works well as a diversionary tactic. Its well-timed fanfare shifts attention away from a pontificate mired in perversion. It is easier to sit at the long table in a gown parsing the Filioque than it is to sit at that same table and discuss the ordination of women, the Vatican's culpability in spreading HIV and AIDS in the developing world, and its own spiritual cancer in the form of bishop-facilitated child rape. . . .

– Michele Somerville
"The Truth Behind the Godawful New (Old) Roman Catholic Missal"
The Huffington Post
November 29, 2011

Related Off-site Link:
The Best Priestly Review of the New Translation – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, November 29, 2011).

See also the previous PCV post:
Yesterday's Language: The New Words of the Catholic Mass

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yesterday's Language: The New Words of the Catholic Mass

By Gail Ramshaw

Editor's Note: This article was first published August 22, 2011 by The Christian Century.

Because I affirm the unity of the body of Christ, I consider that the health of one arm affects the entire body. Thus I am either strengthened or weakened by the worship style of other Christians. For decades I've worked as a lay Lutheran toward making the words of Christian worship communally approved, biblically inspired, theologically alive and masterfully crafted. Given these convictions, I say with sadness that the new English translation of the Roman Catholic Order of Mass, mandated by the Vatican to be inaugurated this Advent, wounds not only many of my Catholic friends but also me.

Let me apply these four goals not only to the forthcoming Roman Catholic rite but also to texts used by many Protestant churches.

Words communally approved: Communal approval, as I see it, is achieved by means of a decadelong process involving open questionnaires, diverse committees, scholarly input, theological scrutiny, trial rites, genuine review, prudent revision, a concluding convention vote and denominationally supported education. Yet the new Roman Order of Mass has been smashed down upon the heads of dozens of eminent and skilled wordsmiths who since 1966 have labored to translate the Latin rite into English. The promised communal process was replaced by hierarchical control. Nobody claims that the words of the newly authorized translation are communally approved.

In countless Protestant churches also one finds that the staff or a single minister will compose texts for Sunday. Worshipers are expected to speak with their whole heart words that they have never laid eyes on.

Any new worship text embodies some reform agenda. Was the agenda communally approved? The 2001 Vatican document "Liturgiam Authenticam" describes some of the Roman agenda—and far from being communally affirmed, the Vatican's literalist theory of translation has been criticized by many linguists. Furthermore, much of the Vatican agenda is an unspoken conservative rejection of some recent theological and liturgical developments, a counterreform that recalls the Council of Trent.

And then I wonder: have those ministers who construct their own liturgies clearly articulated their several agendas, and do at least their congregations approve these directions?

How wide is the envisioned Christian community? Much 20th-century liturgical renewal resulted from ecumenical cooperation in which different traditions learned from each other and collaborated on common projects. I am particularly saddened that the new Roman translation reflects a recent Vatican decision to heighten its denominational distinctiveness by rejecting use of ecumenical translations of shared texts such as the Lord's Prayer and the creeds.

Yet all Christians should be concerned when their narrow denominational identity or preferred personal piety outshouts an emerging ecumenical consensus. I think, for example, of those Protestants who, tediously repeating what the 16th-­century Reformers said about the medieval Roman canon, refuse to pray a biblically rich Great Thanksgiving at the eucharistic table, even though a century of ecumenical scholarship concurs that eucharistia, the "thanksgiving," is best served by a substantial prayer in which God is praised for the Earth, for centuries of the beloved stories of salvation, for the meal of Christ's body and for the continuous infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Words biblically inspired: That Christians assemble around the word of God as found in a perpetually retranslated Bible raises many issues. Which biblical terminology is necessary for the proclamation of the mystery of Christ? In each language, which words and images best express that biblical vocabulary? How much biblical literacy ought we expect of worshipers? When is a biblical reference inaccessible and thus merely mystifying?

The new Roman translation of the prayer before communion, "Lord, I am not worthy," now adds "that you should enter under my roof." The text assumes that worshipers know the story of the centurion in Luke 7. The intent is noble, the educational task enormous.

In the new Roman rite, the second option for the eucharistic prayer asks the Spirit to be sent down "like the dewfall." In the Hebrew scriptures, I count more than a dozen instances of dew as a metaphor for divine blessings (e.g., Hosea 14:5). Yet I doubt that most of the students I taught at a Catholic university know what "dewfall" is or, since their terrain does not rely on dew for fertility, would find it a powerful image of divine transformation.

And how do all of us cast, for example, the New Testament imagery of becoming slaves of Christ, beyond softening the noun to servants? And have we enriched our liturgy with the countless images for God and the sacraments that we can borrow from the Psalms?

Is the Bible rendered so as to support denominational preferences? Maintaining a traditional translation can inhibit responsibly attending to biblical meaning. That the Catholic Church continues to cast the words of institution in the future tense—"which will be given up for you," "which will be poured out for you"—exemplifies this tendency.

For a Protestant example of this resistance, consider that seminaries have long taught that the Lord's Prayer is a plea for the coming of God's kingdom, and thus the translation "lead us not into temptation" misrepresents the eschatological intention of Matthew's and Luke's reference to the "time of trial" (NRSV), the "final test" (NAB). So why have so few Protestants adopted the more biblically faithful 1988 English Language Liturgical Consultation translation of the Lord's Prayer, which pleads "save us from the time of trial"?

Words theologically alive: In the new Roman text, the theology expressed in the original Latin is the approved belief, and its hierarchical depiction of the church and the Earth is maintained. In a reactionary move, the rubric "the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds" is to become "if any are present who are to receive Holy Communion under both kinds. . . ." The response to "the Lord be with you" is now to be rendered "and with your spirit," a change that has been defended as appropriately referring to a higher "spirit" conferred on the clergy at ordination. But is it theologically helpful to be reminded of ecclesiastical status at the time when we greet one another in the Risen Christ?

All of us must inquire which century governs our worship. Have the theological gains of the 20th century entered our Sunday speech? Why do preachers who in a postmodern time accept scholarly proposals about the origin of the New Testament preach as if the Gospels are audiotapes of Jesus' ministry?

Words masterfully crafted: Most worship includes various levels of language: elevated, colloquial and somewhere between. With my national church, I maintain that each of these levels of contemporary speech can be shaped to convey the gospel. But in the new Roman translation, the rhetorical style of complex Latinate sentences suggests that masterful English cannot carry the mystery. Perhaps those who craft liturgical texts are often tempted to resurrect the archaic: I recall that the translators of the King James Version of the Bible decided to continue use of thou-thine-thee, even though it was passing out of colloquial use, because they judged that words which sounded laden with piety would lull users into acceptance.

The new Roman Order of Mass is a compendium of the antiquated. Important nouns (e.g., Priest, Order of Bishops, Martyrs) are capitalized, while unimportant nouns (e.g., deacon, people) are not. Common titles (e.g., opening prayer, censer) are re­placed with traditional sacral terms (e.g., collect prayer, thurible). The church is a she. The word soul shows up repeatedly. (I enjoyed asking my students whether they had a soul—most said yes—and if they had one, what it was—big blank.) Does not the choice of archaisms suggest that God is essentially old-fashioned? In the 21st century, what do we mean when we speak about "souls"? The incarnation says to me that our daily speech can carry the presence of God, but perhaps we prefer hiding in our grandmother's attic chest.

For me, the linguistic nadir in the Roman rite is the wording at the cup: Jesus "took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands." Of this, I ask, what is the referent? Of precious, I think of Gollum, or worse yet, Precious Mo­ments. Of chalice, I say that although it is a possible translation of the Latin calix, even Indiana Jones could distinguish the cup from a chalice. Of venerable, the dictionary agrees with me that the English word connotes age. I cannot fathom how this phrasing could have been proposed, let alone approved and required.

This lamentable new rite does not represent liturgical language that is communally acceptable, biblically accurate, theologically helpful or linguistically masterful, and it has impelled some Catholic liturgical scholars to conclude that, well, actually, words don't really matter all that much. This strikes me as a counsel of despair, the sad cry of faithful worshipers who feel themselves helpless. I hope that this sense of resignation is not contagious but that all of us, in our varied Christian assemblies, will tirelessly address these issues, toward the continuously renewed vibrancy of our liturgical language.

Gail Ramshaw has written widely on liturgical language. Her book Treasures Old and New discusses images in the lectionary readings.

Related Off-site Links:
Catholics Facing Changes in Liturgy – Rose French (Star Tribune, November 22, 2011).
Making Do With a Faulty TranslationNational Catholic Reporter (November 23, 2011).
Latin Whiz, 16, Finds New Liturgy Language Lacking – Robert McClory (National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2011).
The New Translation Makes a Mess of the Trinity – Joseph S. O'Leary (June 16, 2011).
Those Horrible New Translations Proceed on Their Merry Way – Joseph S. O'Leary (June 12, 2011)
The Coming American Schism – Phyllis Zagano (National Catholic Reporter, July 20, 2011).
Why Let Bishops Drive Us From the Church We Love? – Brian Cahill (National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 2011).
Irish Priests Want New Missal Postponed – Sarah MacDonald (National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2011).
Liturgist Says He Has Had Enough – Thomas C. Fox (National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2011).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When Is Dissent Not Just Dissent?

By Robert McClory

Editor's Note: The following article was first published November 17, 2011 by the National Catholic Reporter.

The recent, very thorough survey of American Catholics, whose results were featured in the Oct. 28-Nov. 10 NCR, revealed no overwhelming shifts in belief and practice since the first such survey in 1987. The latest figures reinforce the fact that a substantial number of Catholics are convinced they can be in good standing with the church without adhering to church teachings on various issues, including weekly Mass attendance and remarriage after divorce. More than half the respondents in the survey consider "not very important" Catholic positions opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and requiring a celibate male clergy.

Bishops, priests and other church leaders have been viewing similar results for years now without throwing up their arms and declaring panic. Their easy and obvious response is that the surveys are polluted by the number of lax Catholics, half-Catholics, and pseudo-Catholics affected by the winds of secularism, relativism and individualism howling through American culture. Obviously, they say, this is dissent, this is disobedience.

There can be some truth there, but I would like to suggest that we may be dealing with something else -- something you are not likely to hear mentioned by your bishop or your parish priest. It is the "non-reception" of certain church teachings. And that is not just a less blunt term for dissent. Non-reception holds a respectable place in Catholic teaching among theologians (and very likely among many bishops if they were not so fearful of saying what they think).

According to Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, writing in the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, church law, like ordinary human law, has two stages. First, it is formulated by the lawgiver and promulgated or brought to the attention of the subjects. In the second stage, those who become aware of the law must try to understand it as they "encounter it in their concrete, particular and personal situations." They must then "form a critical judgment about the law either by affirming it through steady obedience or by bringing to the legislator's notice the difficulties the law may generate."

But what if the subjects, having presented their difficulties, are rebuffed by the legislator or are simply ignored? In that case, the second stage is incomplete and the law has no real effect. It's a little like the tree falling in the forest when there is no one around to see it or hear it fall.

Discussing Vatican II, Benedictine Bishop B.C. Butler acknowledged that if a teaching "failed in the end to enjoy reception on the part of the church, this would prove it had not met the requirements" for enforcement. And in 1969, the theologian Joseph Ratzinger (currently Pope Benedict VI) spoke about even infallibly proposed teachings: "Where there is neither consensus on the part of the universal church nor clear testimony in the sources, no binding decision is possible. If such a decision were formally made, it would lack the necessary conditions and the question of the decision's legitimacy would have to be examined." What Butler and Benedict are getting at is the very real possibility of legitimate non-reception.

Is that what these surveys are telling us over and over again? It would be out of the question, I think, to attribute all non-reception to the presence of irresponsible pseudo-Catholics in the survey responses. The latest American Catholic survey is helpful here, since it carefully distinguishes in some areas the responses of highly committed, moderately committed and low-committed Catholics. The highly committed are described as far more likely than other groups to affirm the importance of the sacraments, the core beliefs of the church, the church's apostolic tradition and its social justice teachings. They also tend to rely heavily on Vatican teaching authority and to emphasize church teaching regarding sexual behavior. Simply put, these are "cream-of-the crop" Catholics.

Yet according to the survey results this year, almost half of these loyal believers say you can be a good Catholic without adhering to church law on divorce and remarriage, on living together without a valid marriage, on attending Mass weekly. And 60 percent of this highly committed flock says you can be a good Catholic without following church teaching on contraception. It would seem then that many dedicated Catholics are trying to develop an informed conscience and have concluded they may disagree with official teaching in good faith in some cases. At least implicitly, they recognize that the two-stage characteristic of authentic teaching means a law not received by the greater church lacks the force of obligation. Call it dissent, if you will, or call it non-reception. It is what's quietly happening in today's American church.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Gerald Arbuckle on the "Critical Role of Dissent"
Dissent: Lessons from Slavery
Nicholas Lash on Dissent and Disagreement
Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to "Wrestle with the Tradition"
Civil Discourse. In Church?

Recommended Off-site Links:
Robert McClory on a Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1) – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, June 10, 2008).
Robert McClory on a Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2) – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 8, 2008).

Image: Michael Bayly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Both Sides Expect Obama to Side with Bishops on Contraception Coverage

By Sarah Posner

Editor's Note: This article was first published November 22, 2011 by

Democrats for Life, which lost most of the members of its caucus in the Blue Dog wipeout of the 2010 midterms, is out with a statement about the Obama Administration's impending decision on whether to expand the exemption from birth control coverage for employer-sponsored insurance plans. If the Administration does the Bishops' bidding, employers could choose to exclude from insurance coverage the free contraception, mandated by HHS guidelines issued under the Affordable Care Act, based on "religious conscience," even if the employer isn't a church.

DFL executive director Kristen Day issued a statement predicting that the administration would indeed decide to expand the exemption, so that even nominally religious employers could refuse to cover contraceptives. Note the confidence, from her statement:

The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs. It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.

Remarkably, DFL offers not one sitting member of Congress for comment on this issue. Instead, it offers former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (who was defeated in 2010) and former Congressman Bart Stupak, author of the notorious Stupak amendment, who chose not to run again in 2010. Presumably these two are offered to testify to what they believed they were voting for in the ACA ("conscience" protections), but it certainly is telling that there isn't an actual sitting member of Congress offered to comment on DFL's behalf.

But pro-choice advocates worry that Day's confidence (however out of step her views are with rank-and-file Catholics) is well-placed. They say they expect imminent action from the Obama Administration to broaden the exemption beyond churches and other houses of worship. That action could come as early as tomorrow.

David Nolan, a spokesperson for Catholics for Choice, told me today, "Obama's definitely listening to the bishops. The bishops seem to have significant sway over the administration, which can be seen by the fact Archbishop Dolan met with [Obama] last week and came out alleging that he felt much more at ease with what was going on after the meeting. Which seems to suggest that Obama made lots of conciliatory noises to the archbishop." The archbishop, Nolan emphasized, does not represent American Catholics, but rather is "the leader of 271 active bishops, and that's who he represents."

Catholics for Choice has launched a campaign urging its supporters to call the White House and express that "Catholics overwhelmingly reject the bishops’ views on contraception" and that it "is discriminatory to deny these women and men access to this important provision simply because the institution where they work or the school they attend is religiously affiliated." The ACLU has launched a similar campaign, arguing that religious freedom "does not mean that we get to impose those beliefs on others."

"There is absolutely no reason to expand this exception," said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel for the ACLU. "There's certainly no legal reason for it to be changed. The current rule doesn’t infringe on anyone’s religious liberty as a matter of law."

As with the fight over the Stupak amendment, the Bishops' concerns took precedence over those of rank-and-file Catholics, and certainly over those of non-Catholics. Stupak insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the law was insufficient to prevent federal tax dollars from funding abortions. (The Hyde Amendment already does so.) As a result, he and the Bishops fought for an amendment that would result in restricting abortion coverage in the private insurance market, in their quest to restrict non-existent taxpayer funding of abortion coverage. After what they insisted was an inadequate restriction on abortion coverage eventually passed in the final bill, anti-choice groups vowed to redouble their efforts. The opposition to birth control coverage is just one of their targets.

The Bishops are attempting to box Obama into a corner by making this an issue of "religious conscience," a strategy in line with their new campaign to frame others' rights as an infringement of their religious liberty. If they don't prevail, it will be just one more reason, in their minds, that their religion is being "neutered" — the term Dolan used just last week.

But if Obama does allow them to declare victory, it will set a dangerous precedent for the "religious liberty" claims of certain religious figures to stand in the way of people who do not share their religion, and in this case, even their co-religionists who challenge the leadership's orthodoxy. Like Catholic women over the age of 18 who are just as likely to have used contraception as the general population. All 98% of them.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quote of the Day

John Allen is very good at squeezing some lemonade out of lemons. Unfortunately even he cannot hide the fact that the current Vatican regime as articulated by Pope Benedict is really asking us to meekly accept their total control while calling it liberation. The Vatican defines what it means by individual conversion, and has no problems exerting it's authority when Catholics don't convert in the exact Vatican way. This Vatican will also talk endlessly about clergy staying out of politics until it finds a clergyman who is willing to rule a country in the way the Vatican wants a country ruled. Then it's OK for a clergyman to be overtly political.

Benedict's Vatican will talk about a preferential option for the poor, but his hierarchy is perfectly willing to leave that preferential option up to the vagaries of individual conversion and conscience. This is one of the few places we Catholics are free to exercise individual conscience. Of course this kind of exercising does keep the Calvinistic wealthy Catholic fully in the fold and donating to a given Bishop's latest cathedral building project. Sometimes the preferential option for the poor means building a massive church in which the poor can vicariously feel the riches in heaven which await them in exchange for their temporal suffering. This kind of thing is precisely why Allen writes that Benedict insists the supernatural realm is the deepest and most 'real' level of existence. Not to mention it's also the one for which we have no 'real' evidence and is there for ripe for authority to define for us – and keep external to us, when Jesus repeatedly said that realm was inside us.

That 'inside us' thing sure does seem to be the one concept Jesus taught that our leadership likes to ignore. Of course if the kingdom is inside us, we don't have much use for the external kingdom that calls for Vatican elucidation or clerical mediation. Can't be havin' that. . . .

– Colleen Kochivar-Baker
"John Allen On Pope Benedict's Lonely Liberation Theology"
Enlightened Catholicism
November 20, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catholic Bishops Assault Health and Common Sense

By Scott Dibble

Editor's Note: This op-ed was first published November 15 in the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

A new, forceful campaign from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushing an extremist ideological agenda against literally every single form of birth control, family planning services and women's health care, has come to light in Congress.

During a hearing of the Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., made clear that he will push to overturn a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that ensures that health plans cover birth control.

At the behest of the bishops, Pitts ignores the fact that millions of women and families would greatly benefit from better access to affordable birth control, in keeping with the widely agreed need for crucial preventative services across the board -- key to better public health and to reining in costs.

This is just the latest in a broad campaign by the bishops to impose their narrow religious views onto the laws of our country (and to enrich themselves with taxpayer dollars for the programs and institutions they run at the same time).

They very nearly brought down health care reform in its entirety over a contrived abortion controversy. More recently, they were the prime movers behind a bill that permits hospitals to refuse emergency care to women in need of life-saving reproductive health services.

The Catholic bishops' efforts blatantly undermine religious freedom in our country. Official Catholic positions say that abortion is impermissible even in cases of rape and incest; that stem cell research to help cure and treat debilitating illnesses is unacceptable, and that all artificial contraception and sterilization methods, including birth-control pills, vasectomies and condoms, are a violation.

As a Catholic, I know that all of the recent attacks by the Catholic hierarchy on birth control and women's safety are completely out of step with most Americans' views on contraception, including Catholics'.

Birth-control use is nearly universal in the United States: Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women.

Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters and 72 percent of Republican women, support access to birth control without copays.

And as a lawmaker, I know the American people want their legislators to be focused on creating jobs and fixing our economy -- not on attacking women's access to basic health care.

In fact, ensuring that health plans will cover contraceptives with no copays is especially important in these economic times. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control found that more than half of women reported delaying or even forgoing health care entirely because of economic barriers.

Access to affordable birth control helps millions of women prevent unintended pregnancy every year. Numerous studies, including recommendations by the respected Institute of Medicine, demonstrate that birth-control use improves maternal health.

Our lawmakers should be focused on keeping people healthy, not on obstructing access to health care in service to powerful religious interests.

Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.


NOTE: Sen. Scott Dibble and his husband Richard feature in Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's recent video series in support of marriage equality.

To view all five "video vignettes" in the Catholics for Marriage Equality series, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2011


At the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' General Assembly today, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was elected chairman of the Committee on Doctrine in a 126-111 vote over Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts.

For more information, click here.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Just Say "Nien" to Nienstedt
"We, Together, Are the Church": A Response to Archbishop Nienstedt
"All Voices Must Be Heard": A Response to Archbishop Nienstedt
Talking About Disconnects: One Response to Archbishop Nienstedt’s Letter of July 18, 2011
The Consensus of the Faithful as the Voice of the Infallible Church

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the PCV shares the following homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

For an introduction to this series, click here. To avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes are not disclosed in this series.


This Sunday’s Gospel offers a familiar parable, often called the Parable of the Talents. In this story, a householder goes on a long journey and entrusts his wealth to three servants. To the first servant, he gives five bags of gold, to the second two bags, and to the third servant he gives one bag of gold. It is important to realize that each bag of gold was tremendously valuable; each was worth approximately seventeen years of labor. We are talking BIG values!

The first two servants invested and doubled their money. When the householder returned, he was very happy and rewarded them both. The third servant, however, had been afraid. He buried the bag of gold to keep it safe. When this servant returned the single bag of gold, the household became very angry at the servant’s failure to increase his wealth. The householder threw the third servant out into the darkness where there was wailing and grinding of teeth.

This Gospel is problematic. First of all, it does not reflect the forgiveness or compassion that we would expect of Jesus. Secondly, this parable certainly does not reflect a model of economic justice that we have come to associate with Jesus. In this story the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Scholars do address these problems if you want to learn more.

The problem that I would like to focus on today deals with how I usually hear this parable interpreted. We often hear that the bags of gold, or sometimes called talents, symbolize our giftedness. The admonition is to use our giftedness well. If we do, God will be pleased with us, and we will have joy in heaven. This sets up a dynamic of reward and punishment. With this dynamic, we can, through our actions, earn God’s favor, or we can lose it. This presents a major problem. It portrays God’s love as very conditional! That is not the God of the Gospel that so many of us have come to know and experience.

With all the problems in this Gospel, one wonders where is the Good News? What’s our take-away for today? As we listen carefully to the Gospel, we might notice a refrain which is repeated by the householder. When he is pleased with the first servant, he says, “Come and share in my joy.” Again with the second servant, he says, “Come and share in my joy.” Perhaps this invitation is not pointing out how we can get to heaven. Perhaps this invitation is in the present tense. Perhaps we are being invited to invest our “bags of gold” right here and now, and that’s how we will know joy.

The first question to consider then is: what is our “bag of gold”? More than simply our talents or giftedness, I believe this refers to the fullness of who we are. Each of us has a divine spark at our core, the glory of God living within each of us. This invitation is to live from that glory. That is how we will share in God’s joy, right here and now.

Unfortunately, that isn’t easy. Most of us have been taught to contain ourselves. We are boxed in by expectations all around us from our families, schools, jobs, Church, society, and even from ourselves. And we’re quite comfortable inside our boxes. We are good people; we do good things. Moving outside of our boxes causes discomfort, even fear. Living as a Christian, however, and answering the call to discipleship cannot leave us safe within our boxes. We cannot remain unchanged. Today’s Gospel, which I do see as a call to discipleship, calls us past our comfort zone and beyond our fears.

But fear is a big stumbling block. The words of Marianne Williamson can help us put our fear into perspective:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. (From A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson)

What does this mean for us, this living the glory of God within us? The first thing it means is we must let go of fear. We cannot hold onto our divine spark by hiding it, by burying it inside. This glory shines when we live fully, take risks, and put ourselves out there. We cannot play small; we cannot stay neutral. For example, we may be called to step up and name injustices, just as Jesus did. We may be called to reach out and touch the “untouchables,” just as Jesus did. We may be called to let go of our resentments and forgive, just as Jesus did.

This may not sound like joy. If fact, it is hard work, it’s painful, and often it’s risky. Yet, isn’t it true that when we have lived like this, lived from that divine spark, we have known on some level that we are participating on God’s glory? We are experiencing it? There is our joy! To serve the world with the absolute fullness of who we are – BIG, like bags of gold!

Just as this invitation to share joy applies to us as individuals, it also applies to our Church community – at all levels: our parish, the Archdiocese, and the worldwide Church. Our Church community cannot minimize the divine sparks found in ALL of us. Let me give an example where the Church has failed at this.

The first reading today is from Proverbs. It is a twenty-two verse poem describing the ideal woman. The Church has cut out fourteen verses. This is not unusual; cutting is done routinely to make readings more manageable. What is telling, however, is which verses were kept and which are on the cutting room floor. The verses that Catholics will hear today describe the ideal woman in terms of her domestic abilities and by what value she brings to her husband. What the Church has left out is that she also takes part in business ventures, invests in real estate, and goes out into the world where she is successful. The Church has cut out verses that acclaim her strength, her wisdom, and her dignity.

The official version, which Catholics are hearing today, puts women in a box. We are encouraged to limit ourselves to this ideal. Aspects of women that don’t fit this ideal should be buried. This is not right! This is not what the Gospel calls us to do.

What if the Church community really answered the invitation of this Gospel? What if the Church community nurtured women – and men and children – into the fullness of who they are? What if the Church community embraced LGBT persons in the fullness of their humanity, which includes their sexuality? What if the Church community encouraged theologians, clergy, and all the faithful to dare ask the hard questions, to discuss and debate, to listen and engage, and to seek the truth together?

Wouldn’t our Church then more fully manifest the glory of God? And wouldn’t our Church share more deeply in God’s joy?

Today’s Gospel invites us to share in God’s joy. We must ask ourselves, both individually and communally, “Where are we playing it safe, playing small?” and “What must we do to live fully from our bags of gold, from our divine spark?” To the extent that we can live from the glory of God that is within us, the glory that is powerful beyond measure, then we can participate in God’s life right here and right now, and we can share in God’s joy. And that is Good News.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Just Say "Nein" to Nienstedt

By Sean Michael Winters

Editor's Note: This article was first published November 11 by The National Catholic Reporter.

Next week, at the annual USCCB Plenary meeting, the bishops will select several new committee chairs. One of those committees, the Committee on Doctrine, is an especially delicate assignment. Even a man with as clear and careful a mind as Cardinal Donald Wuerl has found himself in the midst of controversy as chair of the Doctrine Committee. Sometimes controversy is unavoidable, to be sure, but it serves the best interests of the Church when such controversies are handled by bishops, like Wuerl, who are known for their thoughtfulness.

In the event, one of the two nominees, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota, has a long track record of indelicacy. Nienstedt first landed on my radar screen when, in 2006, while serving as the Bishop of New Ulm, he wrote a column in his diocesan newspaper urging his flock not to attend the movie Brokeback Mountain. Nienstedt wrote of the movie, “The story is about two lonely cowboys herding sheep up on a mountain range. One night after a drinking binge, one man makes a pass at the other and within seconds the latter mounts the former in an act of wanton anal sex.” I must say that I never in all my years expected to read the phrase “wanton anal sex” in my diocesan newspaper. In my experience, diocesan newspapers tend to be read by an older, largely female, demographic. Did they really need to read that phrase?

The episode was not Nienstedt’s first indelicate act as bishop of New Ulm. He denounced the writings of his predecessor who had recently died. Bishop Raymond Lucker had begun working on a book when illness overtook him and he entrusted the completion of the work to a friend. Lucker, who had served as the bishop of New Ulm for twenty-five years, died in 2001, the same year Nienstedt became bishop of New Ulm. When the book was published in 2003, Nienstedt urged Catholics not to read it, said it did not adequately reflect Church Teaching. Nienstedt wrote that the book “challenges the church’s own understanding of herself as being authoritatively charged under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach in the name of Jesus on matters of faith and morals.” Nienstedt referred the text to the USCCB Doctrine Committee. The Committee engaged a theologian to review the book, who concluded that while there were some passages that were “ambiguous” and “lacking nuance,” the book did not contain “grave errors.”

I did not read the book and have no intention of doing so. But, it seems odd to me to try to defend the teaching authority of the bishops by throwing one of them under the bus. And, it is simply bad form. When bishops take the helm of a new diocese and they re-arrange all the pastors, or fire the entire chancery staff, or condemn their predecessor as theologically suspect, these acts cause consternation among the faithful. They get whiplash. “It was a really unnecessary and deep insult to a man who had recently died, a man who had given his life to the church,” my colleague Tom Roberts commented at the time.

Since arriving in St. Paul, Neinstedt has certainly not avoided more controversy, most especially in his decision to manufacture and distribute 400,000 DVDs instructing Catholics on why they must oppose same-sex marriage. To be clear, I share the bishops’ concern that marriage is such a foundational institution of our society, we should treat it with great care. And, as a smart legal mind explained to me, marriage is, in legal terms, like throwing on an electric switch: the electricity runs everywhere. Marriage law touches many other legal (and social) issues. For example, the Church not only has the right, the Church is right to insist that it should not be coerced into extending same-sex partner benefits to those in unions which the Church can’t approve. But, in those instances, rather than mount an expensive DVD campaign, why not opt for the Levada Solution, adopted in the mid-1990s, to resolve the issue. Then-Archbishop, now Cardinal, Levada negotiated a solution with the San Francisco government allowing employees at Catholic social service agencies that contracted with the government to name anyone they wanted to receive their share of benefits, provided they were legally domiciled together. So, you could name a cousin who was out of work and staying at your place, or an invalid uncle who lived with you. They Church achieved a signature social policy objective, extending health care benefits, without compromising its principles.

That was the mid-1990s but, in fact, the defense of traditional marriage in this culture went out the door with the advent of no-fault divorce. The push for gay marriage is not as grave a threat to what the Church means by marriage as is the tsunami of divorces in the past several decades. The Church should not acquiesce in the assault on traditional marriage to be sure. But, I confess that I am disturbed that we mount these expensive campaigns against gay marriage but do not mount such campaigns to defend programs that aid the poor. In 2010, Archbishop Nienstedt announced a parish re-structuring that shuttered 21 parishes. Is it really more important to spend limited resources fighting gay marriage than it is to keep our parishes open? Our schools?

We might say of Archbishop Nienstedt what Winston Churchill once said of John Foster Dulles: He is the only bull I know who carries his own china closet with him.

I do not have a vote next Monday, which we can all agree is a good thing! But, if I did, I think I would be looking for someone with better judgment and more prudence than Archbishop Nienstedt to lead a committee charged with guarding the precious treasures which are the Church’s doctrines.

Related Off-site Links:
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism – Michael Bayly (
The Wild Reed, October 19, 2011).
Minnesota Pastor Challenges Nienstedt's DVD Campaign – Tom Roberts (
National Catholic Reporter, October 5, 2010).
Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt – Michael Bayly (
The Wild Reed, May 20, 2008).
Fate of the Faithful – Tim Gihring (Minnesota Monthy, May 2008).
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, December 2, 2007).
Future Archbishop's Compassion Stops Short When It Comes to Gays – Nick Coleman (Star Tribune, November 27, 2007).
Interesting Times Ahead – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 16, 2007).
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt's "Learning Curve" – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, May 4, 2007).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Seeming Parallels Abound in Penn State, Catholic Church Abuse Scandals

By Dan Gilgoff

Editor's Note: This article was first published November 10, 2011, on's Belief Blog.

Both are managed by male dominated-hierarchies. Both are revered by millions of people. And both allegedly dealt with accusations of sexual abuse of children internally, without going to law enforcement authorities.

To many victims’ advocates, commentators and others, the parallels between this week’s allegations about how Penn State dealt with reports of sex abuse and decade-old revelations about sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church are uncanny.

“It is really a striking and almost identical factual pattern that has emerged in the Catholic Church cases and at Penn State,” says Jeffrey Anderson [pictured at right], a lawyer who has represented hundreds of American abuse victims in lawsuits against the Catholic Church.

“The only difference is that two people have been fired at Penn State who were in revered positions,” says Anderson. “That’s in contrast to every diocese in the U.S where a cover-up has been revealed.

“Not one bishop, archbishop or cardinal has been fired or disciplined.”

Anderson is referring to Wednesday’s firing of Penn State President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, days after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with abusing eight boys, including in a Penn State locker room.

Two top Penn State university officials who were allegedly told about the abuse and declined to notify authorities have been charged with perjury and with failure to report suspected abuse.

Anderson says both the alleged abuse by a Penn State coach and the institution’s apparent response mirrors the abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

“In both cases, very trusted and revered male offenders used their positions and their care, cunning and trust they enjoy not only to access the victim but to keep those around him from speaking out,” says Anderson.

Prosecutors have alleged that Sandusky used a charity he founded for troubled youth to help lure victims, allegedly engaged in fondling, oral sex and anal sex with young boys over more than 10 years.

Many of those outraged by the allegations against Penn State, including that Paterno had reportedly been told about the abuse but declined to notify authorities, have pointed a finger at what they say was the school’s and its football program’s commitment to maintaining a sterling public image, drawing parallels to the church.

“Both institutions are big and powerful and hierarchical and have very carefully crafted public reputations that they value,” says David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “There’s an obsession with an institution’s image over children’s safety.”

Clohessy says news of the Penn State scandal has triggered a wave of calls and e-mails to him from victims who say the new revelations evoke their experiences with priest abuse.

He and others allege that an aura of righteousness surrounding Penn State football, an object of worship in State College, Pennsylvania, and the Catholic Church helped fortify them against accusations of abuse in their midst.

“When we idolize any institution or individual, it’s unhealthy,” says Clohessy. “We almost invite them to act like they're above the law.”

Anderson says a related parallel between the Penn State and Catholic Church scandals is the existence of hierarchies that apparently allowed personnel to report abuse allegations up a chain of command without higher-ups taking decisive action.

“It’s not because they’re bad men or want kids to be harmed,” said Anderson, speculating about the motives of top officials at Penn State and the church who allegedly kept quiet about abuse allegations, “but because they want to preserve the reputation of the institutions.”

Anderson is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania but would not say whether he is representing any of Sandusky's alleged victims, saying he would want to respect their confidentiality if he was.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents the American Roman Catholic hierarchy, declined to respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Many abuse victims applauded Penn State for firing top officials and criticized the Roman Catholic Church for not taking similarly dramatic action.

“What happened at Penn State tonight is a lesson to officials of the Catholic Church,” said Robert M. Hoatson, who leads a New Jersey group that assists abuse victims, in a statement after Wednesday night’s firings at Penn State. “The only just solution to the clergy abuse scandal of the Catholic Church is the wholesale removal of bishops.”

Church experts say Penn State’s decision to fire its president and its football coach reflect more of a top-down approach to personnel than in the Catholic Church, where issues are expected to be resolved locally, at the diocesan level.

“The American model of accountability drove the decision on Paterno, which is that ‘accountability’ means losing your job,” says John Allen, CNN’s chief Vatican analyst. “Whereas the Roman model tends to shape decisions on bishops, where ‘accountability’ means staying put and cleaning up your own mess.”

Still, some Vatican watchers say the church sex abuse crisis has helped shaped Penn State’s reaction to last weekend’s indictment.

“The Catholic Church's experience with this has raised public awareness, which probably helps to explain the swift reaction in this case,” says Francis X. Rocca, who covers the Vatican for the Religion News Service.

“It is a lot harder than it was 10 years ago,” he says, “for administrators to argue that they didn't understand the gravity of the problem or thought it could be dealt with internally.”

Dan Gilgoff is CNN's Belief Blog Co-Editor.

Related Off-site Links:
Local Attorney Helping in Penn State Sex Scandal – Esme Murphy (CBS, November 9, 2011).
Penn State Scandal: Putting Kids First – Jeffrey R. Anderson (November 9, 2011).
Abuse and Cover-Up: Penn State's Catholic-Like Scandal – Tom Roberts (National Catholic Reporter, November 10, 2011).
Penn State Rioters On the Wrong Side of Sexual Abuse – Editorial (Star Tribune, November 10, 2011).

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

East Side, West Side: Opposing Views of the Good

By Paula Ruddy

While some Catholics were gathered at the Soul Conference at St. Catherine University Saturday morning talking about the grandeur of God in the universe and the ethics of saving the planet, on the other side of town others were gathered at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina talking about the evils of same-sex marriage.

The bishops of Minnesota sponsored the talks in Edina. Angela Pfister, ethics professor from Notre Dane, and Jason Adkins, Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference spoke for the bishops.

The bishops framed their case as a right and a duty for them to speak about a societal decline in morals. Anthony Picarello Jr., general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is reported by MPR to have said: "You need to have bishops teaching the faithful and proclaiming to the world in order to transform the culture out of which these bad thing arise. I think it took about 40 years for us to end up in the predicament we're in. It's probably going to take that time or longer to get out of the predicament. But you got to start somewhere."

We have no quarrel with the bishops about their right and duty to oppose evil. We have different views on what is evil. The bishops are looking at the last 40 years and seeing a decline, a predicament we have got ourselves into. We are looking at the last 400+ years and seeing that growing predicament—one the Catholic Church has helped to create. The predicament is a culture of domination of nature, forced ideology, denial of the feminine. The Soul Conference, focusing on human zest for life, the evolutionary humanization of sex and the loving care of children, each other, and creation, inspired a trust in humans to listen to the God within, to live with rather than in domination of nature.

The evils the bishops see are real: increasing failures of marriage, break down of family, dysfunction, addiction. Are these caused by gays and lesbians wanting to get married? Are they caused by gays and lesbians wanting equal civil rights? Are these desires of gays and lesbians part of the evil scene at all?

We believe same-sex marriage equality is a good thing—long overdue for the flourishing of citizens with same gender sexual orientation and for the flourishing of our society. It is one of the ways out of our evil predicament—along with equality and inclusion of many other kinds.

The view from the East side of town is a vision about God immanent in creation and leading its evolution toward union with Spirit. The world is a good place. It is a very Catholic view.

Monday, November 7, 2011

At Home in the Universe: Reflections on the 2011 Soul Conference

Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality's annual Soul Conference took place at the Carondolet Center in St. Paul, MN, on Saturday, November 5. Following are three attendee's reflections on this year's gathering.


We humans, aware of ourselves as experiencing subjects, are the heart and mind of the universe. We are the universe becoming aware of its self. From the primal flaring forth of energy and matter (Brian Swimme’s term for the Big Bang) billions of years ago, the matter that makes up everything including our bodies exploded in space. And within all matter, in increasing degrees of interiority, the “within of things” drives evolution toward ever greater complexity and differentiation to the emergence of dreaming, thinking, communicating creatures on this exquisitely conditioned third rock from the sun, the planet Earth. The odds against it almost infinite. This interior principle of discernment pushing development forward produced a “communion of subjectivity,” a universe of connectedness.

The premier of the film Journey of the Universe played to a full house at Jeanne d”Arc auditorium at St. Catherine’s University on Friday evening, November 4. Filmed in the Greek island of Samos, the story of cosmogenesis was narrated by Brian Swimme, scripted by him and Mary Evelyn Tucker, and presented by Tucker and her husband John Grim, a graduate of St. John’s in Collegeville, 1968. Tucker and Grim have dual appointments in the schools of divinity and forestry and environmental studies at Yale University. It was co-sponsored by Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality and the Masters in Theology Program at St. Catherine University.

On Saturday morning, the 18th Annual Wisdom Ways Soul Conference continued with Tucker and Grim talking about the film’s genesis. Thomas Berry, (1914-2009) mentor to both Tucker and Grim and author of The New Story, was a cultural historian, student and friend of the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) whose work inspires the view of purpose-driven evolutionary processes. Berry identified himself as growing out of the farmland of North Carolina — the meadow across the stream. His vision was that ethics and politics should nurture that meadow.

This one-with-the-earth sensibility inspires Tucker and Grim to seek their own authenticity, and suggest that others do too, in relation to a “meadow”, a place where the person feels her/himself to be at home, empowered as an agent in the universe. Berry once reminded Grim what Virgil said to Dante: “I crown and mitre you Lord of yourself.” As an ethical and political agent, each of us has to grow in consciousness of our earth connectedness and make choices that nurture the “meadow.”

The filmmakers’ purpose is to share a vision of the human race as organically and spiritually one with the ecological systems of the earth so that we and future generations will work to reverse the devastation overcrowding and spiritual alienation have caused—polluted water, extinction of animal species, deforestation. The litany of ecological disasters is well known, but the vision to inspire cultural change is still weak. Therefore, the film focuses on inspiration and less on the devastation. The film, a book by the same authors, and a study curriculum based on both, are available on the website You can commit to the Earth Charter at Mary Evelyn Tucker was on the drafting committee and is on the Council for the Earth Charter Initiative.

The bit about ethics and politics having to nurture the meadow hit home with me. We need a cultural transformation – a realignment of minds and hearts—to bring us home in the universe so we can understand and heal the biosphere. There seems to be an ever increasing number of people who are conscious of the divine “within of things,” people whose zest for life, whose selfhood radiate freedom, equality, justice and loving-care. All the institutions (read economic systems, educational systems, justice systems) whose policies and practices do not nurture the meadow will have to undertake intentional transformation or be torn with conflict.

Can we look to our churches? Institutional churches are in the business of cultural transformation. When I told Mary Evelyn Tucker that I belong to a group called Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and that I believe the incarnational, global, Roman Catholic Church could restore the planet if it transformed itself, she hugged me and said, “It would help if the Pope wrote an encyclical.” And it would help if every bishop would turn to his people and ask, “What do we need to do to serve the expanding consciousness of the people for the preservation and restoration of the planet?” Since we are, along with the bishops, the Roman Catholic Church, I guess we have to “crown and mitre” ourselves, and set about the task of raising our own consciousness.

– Paula Ruddy

Two thoughts emerged from the conference for me. One is "the within"of living things and the other is "direction." We are living in a time of struggle. Our two major institutions, the church and the state, are experiencing division and the consequent tensions. The divisions are deep and wide accompanied with a lack of mutual understanding, tolerance, and cooperation. One word that best describes our struggle is direction. We seem to have lost a sense of direction.

Yet there is the fact that all living things have a within and a without. The within drives the life force (élan vital) towards an outcome (entelechy). For example, the caterpillar spins a cocoon for itself and emerges as a butterfly. This process applies to the union of the sperm and egg that evolves into a living body. In nature the within of a living thing has direction which does not end in the emergence of the without. That stage also has a within which is evolving. It now takes on the dimension of duration. The process of becoming a butterfly or a living body may have a limited duration; however, the within of that living thing continues to function so that this "living force" continues its direction to the next outcome.

We have empirical evidence for this seemingly slow process in the human species. We have fossils of very early life forms that demonstrate this slow duration, and we have remains of species that predate our own but are fundamental to our species. We have remains of homo erectus, homo faber, and Neanderthal hominids that are a part of our story. This is an example of our "within" that has evolved over thousands of years of duration. We have been led to believe that this process has reached its final outcome in our species, homo sapiens sapiens, because of our Newtonian, static view of our world. Our present stage in our species is what we have become, not what we are evolving into.

The cosmos is dynamic not static. It is in a continual state of expansion, and we have evidence for this today. The world in which we live and the species we enjoy are evolving and have an inner direction, a within.

The Buddha taught us 2500 years ago that all is "dukha," all is struggle. The struggle we experience is intense and seemingly without direction; however, when we take the long view of our story and the story of the universe we do see direction. What we do not see clearly is the outcome, and for us that is extremely uncomfortable.

– Donald Conroy

I came away from the Soul Conference, featuring the film Journey of the Universe and its co-producers Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, enthused and hopeful for our planet and for the reality of unfolding spiritual awakening on this expanding universe. Brian Swimme narrates with spectacular filming the unfolding universe from the beginning of time where the galaxies were sent in motion creating an expanding universe. He invites us to be “guided by wonder.” Guided by wonder, wow! To be touched by the magnificence of this universe as science points to its discoveries of patterns and processes that touch all of earth’s diverse inhabitants and draw us into amazement of the self organizing processes that impact our evolution. The film points to a pulsating, alive universe that we are intricately connected within our own evolution where our acts also affects its evolution.

Tucker and Grim reflected on their work and expressed gratitude to Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry for their profound influence on their work. They related the importance of: 1) Perspective – an awareness of the complexities and evolution of the earth and its inhabitants that has been discovered by science, 2) Purpose – questioning where do we get our grounding and what attracts or allures us in activating our self organizing processes, 3) Prayer – touched and in communion with the cosmic consciousness of Christ in all creation and the Logos of our reality and 4) Participation – our involvement in engaging in creating the Divine milieu.

A key point was how union requires differentiation in order to be known and how over time simple processes become complex. We also were reminded to “sit up straight,” to engage and be awake to this unfolding reality. We live in very complex and diverse times where we all are essential to this unfolding.

Science and theology provide portals to our human existence. Their inter-relationship is becoming more and more conscious. We are becoming increasingly aware of the ecological crisis that threatens life as we have known it. We also are in a period where the political realities are often locked in polarizations with potentially devastating consequences. Our churches have been one of the conduits where Wisdom and the hunger for Truth have been passed through the ages as well as guides to how we live our lives. They have also been containers of prejudice and fragmentation of truth creating distortions which foment war and human suffering. May we as a people of this amazing and diverse universe, gathered in our communities of church, be humble enough to listen to the teachings of the Cosmic Christ and listen to what are our self organizing processes and what they can be so that we emerge as a church at this stage of our evolution immersed in the union of Love.

– Karin Grosscup

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Church's Leadership Has Strayed from Gospel

By Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Following are excerpts from a recent homily given by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton at Lynn University Campus Ministry Chapel, Boca Raton, Forida.


. . . We're used to thinking of Jesus as being mild, gentle, compassionate, always reaching out to those who are the most vulnerable, welcoming sinners, publicans, but [in today's reading (Matthew 23:1-12)] we see the Prophet.

In fact, if you go on just a little bit further than this 23rd chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus begins to cry out, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites." That's not a word we usually think of as coming from Jesus, calling the religious leaders of his day hypocrites. He goes on in passage after passage, verse after verse, calling them hypocrites. It's very much like Malachi in our first lesson tonight who challenged those priests of Malachi's time.

They weren't serving the people. They were serving themselves, and so God, through Malachi, said, "You're cursed." Jesus is speaking along these lines tonight. One thing we have to be careful of, though, is when we hear this 23rd chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we have to be careful not to think it's a passage that is condemning the Jewish people. Over the centuries, this chapter has been used as a basis for anti-Semitism in our Christian community, but it really isn't. Matthew wrote around the year 80.

What he's writing, he's drawing from what is about one or two verses in the Gospel of Mark, and he expands on it. He's speaking now to a community that has been gathered around the word and the sacrament of the Eucharist for almost 50 years now. That community, a Christian community, these words are being addressed to them. It's because they have fallen away. Do you remember the first part of the Acts of the Apostles, how the early Christian community is described as brothers and sisters?

They come together and go to the temple to pray together. They live in a community where everybody shares whatever he or she has so that no one is in need among them. It's a beautiful community of disciples of Jesus, all of whom are equal. Brothers and sisters sharing together, following Jesus deeply and carefully. Now they've begun to bring about separations, a kind of a clericalism has come into the Church. Those who are the religious leaders want to have special places, want to have special titles, want to wear special kinds of garments, and Matthew is saying that's all wrong.

That's not the way Jesus wanted it. You're brothers and sisters. You're equal to one another. So Matthew is trying to draw them back to the way of Jesus and the way they first were. Now it isn't just Matthew's community that God is speaking to through this word. It's our community, too, our community today because God's word is a living word. It still speaks, even now. When we look about our Church -- I say this with sadness, but it's true, I think – we have a lack of really good leadership in our Church.

I think once more, there's a little bit too much clericalism where we try to separate the clergy and laity. Only the clergy can come up on this side of the altar, not lay people and especially not women. I notice you don't pay much attention to that, so thank God, but it's happening in our Church. We're trying to set up those divisions again. There is a lack of leadership, I think, when you realize that in our country, 30 million people have walked away from the Catholic community. That's 10 percent of the U.S. population, 30 million people who were Catholic say, "I don't bother anymore."

What do our leaders do about it? They hardly avert it. They pay no attention. We ought to be reaching out, calling them back. But even more, our leadership in the Church has been terribly flawed, and I think we all know what the main reason is. It's that whole sex abuse crisis: that it happened in the first place and continues to happen, sadly enough. Our leaders covered it up, protected the perpetrators and continued to move them around from parish to parish where it would happen again.

That's a terrible loss to our Church, and the credibility of the bishops is very much diminished because we have this terrible failure. So when Jesus is speaking in the Gospel today to those leaders of the community of Matthew, he's also speaking to our leaders and to all of us, because first of all, of course, the leadership of our Church we pray will change and become more alert to what's really happening in our Church, asking why people are leaving and trying to open the Church up so they'll feel welcome again, rather than protect a perpetrator of abuse.

. . . Jesus says to them very powerfully, "Look, among the Gentiles," that is, the Roman occupiers of the Holy Land at the time, "Those who are in positions of authority lord it over the others. It's a very hierarchical structured authority system where those at the top lord it over or dominate the others, but among you it cannot be that way. The one who is to be the greatest must be the servant," or the word is even "slave," of all the rest. If we're really going to follow Jesus, if we're going to really make our community come alive once more, and if we're going to be like Paul said to the Church at Thessalonica, "A Church that makes other people realize that God is living in our midst," then we have to become servants of each other within our community, but also servants in the world around us.

We're living in a world where there is extraordinary, extreme economic disparity. Archbishop Romero used to say in El Salvador, "So few have so much. So many have so little." That's not right. We have to look at what's going on around us, and recognize that there is so much that is not right. It's your job and my job as disciples of Jesus to become the servants of one another, to make sure no one is lacking as it was in the first Christian community. It's a very strong and powerful challenge that God's word gives to us today.

If we listen deeply, let that word enter into our minds first of all, but then down into our hearts to change us, then we can once more truly become a community of disciples of Jesus who will hear the word of God as the word that it is, the divine word of God, penetrating deeply into our minds and our hearts, and as we prayed at the beginning, that we'll have the strength to live that word, to carry it out, and we will become once more a community of disciples of Jesus that will bring amazement to others when they see how we love one another and carry out the words that God has proclaimed in our midst.

To read Bishop Gumbleton's homily in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Vatican Moved Quickly to Punish Gumbleton – Zoe Ryan (National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 2011).
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of JesusThe Wild Reed (September 28, 2009).
Bishop Gumbleton: It Isn’t the Church You’re Being Asked to Say Yes To . . . It’s JesusThe Wild Reed (August 31, 2009).

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Religious Fundamentalism Can’t Last

By Christian Piatt

Editor’s Note: Author Christian Piatt recently responded to two questions regarding postmodernism and its effects on theology and the church. These responses were first published October 29, 2011 on The Huffington Post.


What do you think about the emerging church movement?

First, I think [it is] rightly identifie[d] . . . as a movement [as it is] more viral in nature than any particular institution would tend to propagate a set of ideals. . . .[E]merging church, as an idea, is a natural byproduct of postmodern culture. In short, postmodernism challenges the more dichotomous, black-and-white, either-or thinking of modernism. Postmodernism suggests that the dualistic attitudes of modernism, which began as early as the Enlightenment, paint an overly simplistic picture of reality. In the United States in particular, postmodernism has found voice as our culture becomes increasingly pluralistic and those lines we believed were clear before begin to blur.

As for the emerging church movement, I see this as a natural response to postmodern thought. Though our understanding of what exactly emerging church is varies by individual (typically postmodern, isn't it?), there are a handful of general attributes that I see as defining what emerging church is:

A value of community over institutional membership.

An emphasis on service-based ministry over traditional evangelism for the sake of conversion.

A call to live out ministry in the cultural context where you find yourself, rather than expecting the community to come to you through the institutional church.

A focus on trying to live as Christ lived and taught, rather than propping up church dogma, doctrine or any one particular statement of faith.

As for defining emerging church beyond this, I find it hard to do. Some claim it's a predominantly liberal movement, and in so much as one defines "liberal" as downplaying the importance of institutional and doctrinal authority, I suppose that's accurate. But I know social conservatives and progressives who identify as part of the emerging church movement, along with agnostics and evangelicals.

Emerging church does not promote a specific Christology or set of theological ideals, as this would be contrary to the very concept from which it came. This doesn't mean that, on occasion, some folks won't try to co-opt the emerging church label on behalf of their own particular agenda, but such labels end up falling away.

Isn't postmodernism giving way to a kind of hyper-modernism?

I think this is an astute observation, especially with the growing visibility of such people as John Piper and Mark Driscoll. However, my short answer to his question would be "no."

I think that any time a new worldview begins to take hold, there will be some degree of push-back from those entrenched in the prior way of seeing things. This is especially true for individuals and institutions that stand to benefit from things staying the way they are. In this case, religious fundamentalism – whether from the right or left – depends on a more dichotomous, either-or way of thinking. So any alternative to this understanding of the world is considered a threat.

Although more fundamentalist, doctrinal and/or dogmatic approaches to religion may be more vocal in their reaction to postmodernism and the emerging church, this does not necessarily mean that they are gaining popular momentum. On the contrary, as a more people understand the world in pluralistic, fluid (some might argue relativistic) terms, such vocal opposition seems increasingly out of step with reality. As technology allows us to exchange ideas and experiences more easily and rapidly, and as our communities reflect an increasingly heterogeneous face, efforts to draw clear lines and define life with absolute, monolithic clarity simply begin to lose credibility.

So in short, though there are "hyper-modern" advocates who would have us believe that postmodernism and the emerging church are merely the passing fad of the moment, a longer-term, broader perspective reinforces the idea that we cannot simply go back to old ways of thinking when the world around us is so much more integrated, fluid and diverse than ever before in history.

Such changes simply can't be undone, despite the vocal cries for a return to the ways of the past. You can't un-open the box.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. For more information about Christian, visit