Monday, September 30, 2013

Reform and Humility

I am still thinking about the topic-- 'reform'
Like most people who read these meanderings--I have a love for Jesus.
And, like the majority of people who glance at my thoughts--I have a love for the Roman Catholic Church. ( I also have an appreciation for the Anglican Church--but that is another topic for another day)

My love for Jesus is not the same as my love for the Roman Catholic Church.
I love Holy Eucharist because it IS JESUS.
I love Confession because through it JESUS forgives.
I love all the sacraments (why not? I've experienced all of them!)
It is through the Church that I encounter my Savior
Sadly, I also encounter that which is not my Savior.
It often masks itself as 'good' and may even come across as dignified.  But the spiritual reality is--where there is good there is evil.  Prayer and fasting helps to combat such darkness.

I've been keeping tabs on a 'reform' website and there was one sentence in particular that stood out;
"These people don't need healing" (writer was referring to the reform group he/she represents)
So, let me get this straight---no, forget it. I can't even believe such a comment was made.
Sounds like they want a messiah who is going to overthrow Rome and the oppressive government.

See how they love one another?
See our Church?
Its a community of disconnected worlds--clergy and laity, bishops and priests, diocesan administration and clergy, bishops and laity.
And it is getting worse.

I wonder more and more when I hear the petitions at Holy Mass.   We've heard it for years-- "We pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life."  Sometimes the vocation of married and single life are also mentioned (like sitting at the kid's table).
Concerning the priesthood and religious life--what are we inviting the discerning soul to consider? Really?  More and more religious communities require the prospective novitiates to arrive debt free.
And what about diocesan priesthood?  What are we inviting the discerning man to consider?  Parish debts, mergers, closures, angry parishioners and some of their brother priests with personal agendas and anger?  What are we inviting them into?  It is obvious that there is a chaos--obvious to any discerning soul.

I often wonder where the church would be if it hadn't been challenged to become more 'transparent'  Would it have dealt with it's own immorality if it wasn't pressed or threatened?  Or would it have been business as usual?  Pride is elusive.

Often the argument is made that the shortage of priestly vocations is due to the Church's teaching and adherence to celibacy. I may give that a few points---but the issue isn't celibacy.

 The issue is pride--the opposing force to humility.

Christ did not found a prideful Church.  He founded a Church that was to be lead by humble holy priests and people.

If we truly want reform then humility must prevail FOR ALL--from laity to clergy to administration. 
fast with humility (no one need to know you're fasting)
pray with humility
humbly seek reconciliation
on your knees receive Eucharist
in the quiet of your heart read Holy Scripture

and...humbly walk with your God.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reform? Really?

For the past few months I have watched a website evolve and have refrained from commenting here on its' content--until now.
I comment because it is loaded with layers upon layers of spiritual stuff...

It appears to have been born out of a person's (or people') desire to question decisions that a diocese was making concerning parish/school closures, relationships with a religious community, and clergy decisions/lifestyles/communications.
"Great." I thought (no really, I was pretty cool with it).  "The pot is getting stirred, questions asked, and feelings and thoughts are being shared."  Usually when decisions are made from any administration they are abrupt and the person/people affected are left alone to pack their belongs in the box and be ushered out.  I recall one time when the CEO of the company shared the pink slips at our staff Christmas lunch!

Right--there is never an easy way to usher in the hard decisions and pending change--never.  But there are ways that can allow for healing (more on that later).

Christ brought about change--the conquering of eternal death--- through the cross and resurrection--IT IS NEVER EASY.

Back to the website--It was tackling a lot of stuff, and, on occasion I would take a glimpse, reading the letters from disaffected and hurt parishioners, teachers, and other laity.  I found myself hoping that some sort of 'healing' would be initiated by some party--but it never came.  It was a mess and it reflected a very dark time.

Now, anyone who knows me (or this little blog) is aware that I am obviously in favor of reform and renewal.  Of course I didn't expect the diocese or anyone working in the administration of the diocese to respond to the reform website's call for action and dialogue--but I would bet that a few were giving it a glance (perhaps a 'search' could be performed on all diocesan personnel's computers!)

I wanted 'reform'.  I always did and I always will.
After all, I once left the Church.  Not only because I was a priest who fell in love and left--but also because the reform I wanted wasn't happening.  And, when my wife and I began our new life together we chose not to be part of a Faith and Church that we felt had no room for us.

I left and soon incurred an excommunication.
Then, for years, I preached against the Roman Catholic Church--especially its polity.  When I was given the opportunity I shared my thoughts freely.  From bishops, to ex-brother priests, to clerical lifestyles and abuses. I calumniated.

I stood and threw stones.  It felt good.
Guess what?
Nothing changed.
My pointing out faults did nothing to bring about anything.  

As a therapist I would, on occasion, move away from a 'strength based approach' to pointing out a fault--usually out of frustration or thinking that the person just needed a dose of truth.
Whether it is true or not doesn't matter--their response usually was either defensive or denial. 

This website is pointing out the faults--probably because they have no other way to share their pain.
They have coined the term catholic watchdog.
I recall a celebrity priest a few years ago--he started a site called black sheep dog.
Sadly this website seems to be going down a path that makes me now question its credibility.

The cloak of anonymity, while it worked during pre-revolutionary America, does nothing for the credibility of the website and even diminishes those good people who offer their insights and opinions.
Recently a priest responded to the website, raising some valid points, and stirring the pot.
I've read what the website shares as information about and from him and what the priest himself shares on his website and there are discrepancies.

How unfortunate, because I really had hoped that the website would offer an unbiased approach.  I would love to see reform in the lives and lifestyles of the clergy AS WELL as the laity.  I would love for egos to diminish and selfless loving to take over.  We've all experienced the ego-centered priest tyrant AS WELL as the stubborn lay person who thwarts every effort of true faith and worship.  We've all experienced distrust in the clergy who promote their own personality cult AS WELL as gossip and rumors from the laity (by the way I use strong words for priest and laity because I, at different times behaved that way).

So, back to my standing and throwing stones--I eventually dropped the stone AFTER I was knocked down off my horse.  The Blessed Mother then picked me up and put my hand in her Son's.  It was a long road back home to the Roman Catholic Faith.  And when I returned--guess what--nothing changed!  The same stuff was still happening and satan was still attacking.

But there is a way...

 Attention reform website, laity, priests and bishops---Do you really want reform???Then do what Our Mother told us to do.

Go to CONFESSION (ALOT), RECEIVE HOLY EUCHARIST, REALLY READ HOLY SCRIPTURE, PRAY (MORE THAN YOU TEXT OR USE THE INTERNET), and FAST (don't give me this 'fasting from something'--nope true fasting--bread, water)

There is your reform.  There is your way out of the darkness and chaos....and oh, be nice.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Mission of a Parish Mission?

I have sat in almost every seat in the church.
As a child, a teen, a musician, a priest, a husband, and a dad.
I've listened to many terrible homilies
and I've given worse.
I've fallen asleep and I've been moved.
Yesterday I looked around and noticed the empty pews.

My next thought was--what does a parish usually do in order to 'jump start' attendance?
You got it.....
A Parish Mission.
A time to refocus and recommit and reconcile.  Yep same approach for---ever.

I recall when I was in high school of attending a parish mission at my home church.
They put all the high school kids in one room.
I don't remember what we talked about.
I do remember that there were a lot of kids. (Then again, that was when the church still commanded a presence in the community and life in the scandals had yet become public knowledge.)
I wondered if we were on the verge of some kind of 'renewal'
Months later nothing really seemed to change other than we had a phone chain to call and remind kids of a meeting.

Years later I attended another mission at the same church.
I still don't remember what the topic was.
I do remember holding hands to say the Our Father.
Lots of people--then months later the same.

Then as an assistant priest I recall hosting a mission at the parish.
I vaguely remember one talk on the Prodigal Son and the response of the Father.
I recall having some hope that something really cool with the Holy Spirit would happen in the parish.
I think there were some good confessions.
Months later the numbers remained the same and the liturgical routine continued.

We had a few attempts at evening 'mission-type' approaches to parish ministry in the Episcopal Church.
Same story--excitement then eventual status quo.

I remember attending a parish mission just a few years back--I watched these two guys offer prayers of healing and then rub vaseline intensive care into the palms of the people.
The church had people in it every evening--which goes to show you that people really don't care even if you spread hand cream on them.
But then the eventual norm took over--same routine.

A wealth of parish programs and missions are available and even marketed.
Even speakers and retreat masters are marketed today. 

So...there must still be a desire.
But for what?
for who?

And the ultimate question...What good is it?

Sure the argument could be made for that 'one' soul that comes to Christ.  But I am not asking for a reason, I'm just wondering why there doesn't seem to be a staying power with parish missions and faith programs.  

I like the approach St James parish (Medjugorje) uses which is basically to get out of the way and allow the Blessed Mother to take your hand and put it in her Son's.
Their approach?
Fasting, Rosary, Eucharist, Scripture, Confession.  Nothing new.
What if a parish simply did that?

Michael Ripple is author of A Lost Shepherd, An Ex-Priest's Journey from Sin to Salvation
New Hope Press 2013.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cello Jokes and the Spiritual Life

Yes, I have heard a bunch of cello jokes since my last entry.
By far the shortest and best one was---"There is always room for cello"

True humor is intrinsic and the truth it shares needs to peek through just a little.
For me, the fewer the words--the better.

My father is in his 90's and is an old violinist.
After scratching and getting hand, neck, arm, and finger cramps--I will usually bring the cello over to his room, set it down, and go about some other business.  Eventually I will hear a beautiful sound.
It's Dad--using his old horsehair bow.  
Perhaps I won't ever be able to sound like him--but it isn't about that is it?
It's about memories.
All because of a cello.
All because of a gift from my wife and my desire to learn something new.

So I began to think...Often we go through the spiritual life (or not go through it) doing and saying and performing the same disciplines and it can become mundane.  
The fact is--there are many spiritual 'gifts' out there.  We need only to have the desire to accept and try it.
Try a 'new' spiritual practice, shake it up a bit.
Maybe begin to journal.
Or say a different prayer.
Maybe change the spiritual routine--throw in a true bread and water fast, or read a different book, or do a consecration.  

Often times the fruits aren't what we expect.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Cello

My lovely wife bought me a cello.
I received a cello, a bow, some rosin, and a beginner's book (plus a cool t-shirt and a notepad)
Yesterday I played 'crunching cookies' on the open strings of A D G & C.

I am learning something new--well into middle age--and it sounds awful (no really, it does sound awful)

I love it.

Of course my cello event reminds me of the spiritual journey.
Receiving the cello was very exciting--just like receiving any gift.  Alone and untouched the cello propped in the middle of my little room held promise and possibility.  Beautiful pieces of music lay in the wood and strings.
I had some chores and duties to take care of before I could devote the time to my first official practice and I couldn't finish them quick enough.  During those hours I imagined myself picking up the instrument with ease and it would only be six months or so before I could play some nice pieces and audition as a chamber musician.
I closed my door, rosined the bow, opened the book (adjusted the angle of the book several times due to bifocals), positioned the instrument and.......

I know what I want to hear, but my hand cramped before I could even get each string to play by itself.

A force in the spiritual life is one's will.  The goal being a total uniting of one's will to God's will--spiritual union, a marriage of the soul to Christ.  Such a journey involves moments when the soul is initially attracted to its final purpose as well as times when the soul feels abandoned by the very Love it seeks.

I clearly desire to learn how to play the cello.  It enticed me for years with the beauty of its music and the promise that I could learn how to play.

The difference between the journey of the cello and the journey of the spirit?  There is more hope for the soul's union.

I have my first official lesson this Saturday