Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Retiring Pope?

As the year comes to the end, columnists all over the world sit at their computers and do "thumb-suckers."  This is the pejorative term for a (usually) short piece of reflective writing, which doesn't need much research or shoe-leather reporting.

Recently I've seen two such notes on the internet about Pope Benedict XVI and his leadership.  One regards what seems to be the natural decline in his body's ability to keep up with the demands of the petrine office.  An AP story dated December 17 began, "Pope Benedict XVI seems worn out.  People who have spent time with him recently say they found him weaker than they'd ever seen him, seemingly too tired to engage with what they were saying.  He no longer meets individually with visiting bishops.  A few weeks ago he started using a moving platform to spare him the long walk down St. Peter's Basilica."

As the article goes on to say, the pope is 84, and this slowing down is natural.  I'll bet you that when he marks his 85th birthday next April, there will be many stories on "papabili," that is, Cardinals whose names are being whispered in clerical circles around the world as viable candidates to be the successor to Benedict upon his death.

Slowing down is one thing as a person ages.  By all accounts Pope Benedict is in good health for his age.  The AP piece moves it to another level.  "Decline raises questions about the future of the papacy given that Benedict himself has said popes should resign if they can't do the job."

Recently I was talking with someone who was with the Pennsylvania bishops last month when they made their "ad limina" visit to Rome.  This person confirmed the substance of the AP story.  In personal meetings and photo ops the pope's eyes were bright and focused.  Yet this person could also tell that Benedict had weakened in energy and spirit over the past three or four years.

A different perspective comes from John Allen's blog review of veteran Vaticanologist Marco Politi's new book, Joseph Ratzinger: Crisis of a Papacy.  Politi's core thesis is that Benedict XVI is "a part-time pope."  His passion is focused not on the governance of a world-wide church but on his private theological studies and his own writings.  In this regard, signs clearly point that he sees himself as a "teaching pope" not a "governing pope."

Allen says these are not "the grumblings of someone who just doesn't like what this pope stands for."  Rather the "teaching pope" image is confirmed even by his closest aides and most sympathetic supporters.

And, I might add, he is a teaching pope very much worth reading.  I am struck personally by the lack of cant, or pious boilerplate, in Benedict's sermons and writings which I have read.  He is deeply engaged, as would be a world-class theologian, and fully aware and in conversation with the major themes of contemporary academic, biblical and intellectual discourse.  In particular it's easy to see him as a learned, wise, and popular university lecturer in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est

But Politi's book raises issues about the pope's lack of willingness to use the "bully pulpit" of the papacy to affect or direct world events.  He unfavorably compares Papa Ratzinger to his predecessor, Papa Wojtyla, who was a world spokesman for human rights and forceful critic of war, violence, intollerance, and fundamentalism, and whose very presence changed history (see Poland, June 1979).

It is fair to allow that each pope, and each leader in any field, has to make difficult prudential decisions about what he/she chooses to emphasize in using time, power and authority, in light of one's personal talents and the circumstances of the moment.  It is that age-old question, what matters more to history, great men (oops, human beings) or great ideas?  Without a doubt Benedict is on the side of ideas.

And that brings me, at least, to make what may be an unfair comparison with pastoring at the level of the Vicar of Peter with pastoring at the level of diocesan bishop or parish priest.  During the waning years of Pope John Paul II's long papacy, the debilitation of his Parkinson's disease was so evident, despite the protests of the Vatican's spokesman.  I even saw this with my own eyes, fleetingly, as a spectator at a Wednesday audience in St. Peter's square in October 2004, seven months before his death.  There was pain in the pope's face as the popemobile went by our row.  The pope tried so hard to speak a few Latin words of prayer into the microphone.  98% of the spoken Angelus message from the dais was offered by visiting bishops.  John Paul was hunched uncomfortably in his wheel chair, with hovering aides ever ready to wipe his mouth.

I asked myself, how could he be pope?  Who was running the machinery of church governance behind the scenes?  Who was really picking bishops for dioceses?  How could he govern the world-wide Catholic Church?

One part of me saw the courage of a very sick man, doing his very best to carry out his important ministry in the church without complaint.  Yet another part of me judged that in his condition he may be pope, but he could not be the bishop of [name your diocese, large or small] or the pastor of St. Cunegunda Parish.  He could not celebrate the liturgy in his cathedral, administer Confirmation, lead staff meetings, visit other sick persons in the hospital, or attend the myriad of events any pastor is invited to.  With great charity and love such a bishop or priest in his condition would be given the medical care he deserved as a most distinguished cleric and servant of Christ.  He would be allowed the dignified rest and retirement befitting a man of his age and debilitation.  He would remain a bishop/priest to his dying day, but he could not pastor/lead/govern. 

John Paul II taught heroic, saintly perseverance in the face of illness.  But did he fail to teach the virtue of prudence, that to properly and rightly hold a church ministry one had to be capable of accomplishing its many responsibilities with reasonable skill and vigor?  If this is not so, why do bishops and pastors have to submit their resignation letter at age 75?

I don't know where, but I read that once John Paul II was asked about the possibility of resigning the office of the papacy.  His curt reply was that paternity cannot be resigned.  When I read this, I thought of my dad, who was then a lively resident at the Vincentian nursing home.  A massive stroke made dad incontinent and unable to walk.  He no longer was able to work in the steel mill, drive mom to bingo, cut the grass around the house, even write checks.  Yet he never stopped being my father, even though he was a wheel chair's prisoner.  He was a daily communicant, kind conversationalist, and smiling neighbor to all who met him.  I think the pope got it wrong.  Paternity cannot be resigned, but ministry can be, and in certain cases, should be, for the good of the faithful and the church.

I pray for continued good health for Pope Benedict XVI, and that his teaching and governing ministry continues for many years as a most fruitful contribution to the furtherance of the Gospel.  But I also pray that he, or perhaps a future successor, will have the great courage to know when he can no longer do the job, resign the papacy as permitted under canon law, and teach the world about another kind of paschal humility.

Sermon in a Bottle

The Nativity of the Lord.  "Behold!"

Sometimes my contemplation of the Sunday readings leads me to one word.  And so this Christmas:  Behold!  Beyond dictionary definitions of "look at, observe," I discern a deeper meaning.  "There is more here than meets the eye.  Look closer."  And so through a divine dream Joseph looks beyond his pregnant fiance (not me!) and sees the opportunity of being a just, faith-filled father figure.  The angel helps Mary to accept God's will that her planned world be turned upside down.  And us?  Are we beholding the humble presence of the Christ Child in our world?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

As Christmas 1990 approached, and I began to think about writing Christmas cards, I wanted to share with my family and friends some significant events that had happened during the year.  One was bad, two were good, one was news.  On my parents' 42nd wedding anniversary my dad had a massive stroke while trying to enter St. Mary of Mercy Church, in Downtown Pittsburgh.  I was going to celebrate the noon Mass for Mom and Dad.  It was not to be.  Paramedics rushed dad to Mercy Hospital, where surgeons performed emergency surgery to relieve a blood aneurism in his brain.

That was the bad news.  The good news was that -- after 14 days in ICU, another 17 days in Mercy, and 100 days in a skilled care nursing facility -- Dad was doing ok in the Vincentian Nursing Home, McCandless.  The other good news was that after seven years I had successfully defended my dissertation and received a Ph.D. in theology from Duquesne University.  The news news was that after six years "at the Point" I was being transferred to St. Sebastian Parish, Ross.

Thus was born my annual Christmas letter.  I had received a few of these from families over the years.  But it was a vehicle for me to tell the bad news and good news that happened in our family over the past year. 

Ever year since I have written a Christmas letter.  Some were longer (and boy, did I hear about that!) and some were shorter.  Last year I even included color photos of my trips to Austria, Germany and Japan.  So without further ado, here is my annual Christmas letter.

My dear friends,

            Greetings from lovely New Castle, Pennsylvania.  As some of you know, on August 1 my bishop, David Zubik, transferred me from Saint Juan Diego Parish, Sharpsburg (Allegheny County) to administer two fine parishes here in Lawrence County, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Vitus.  This was my 13th move in 33 years of ministry.  But who’s counting?

            Over the years I’ve varied the format of my annual Christmas letter.  Let me try another one, focusing on feelings and dispositions during the past year. 

            Starting A.D. 2011 the Pittsburgh sporting scene experienced two losses.  The Steelers had a wild ride through the playoffs, only to lose to the hot Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl 45.  The Penguins were on a roll, hosting the outdoor Winter Classic in Heinz Field on an unseasonably toasty New Year’s Day.  Their all-world and classy captain, Sidney Crosby, was leading the scoring race by 20 points, and looked to lead the flightless birds to another Stanley Cup.  But concussions that day, and five days later, took Sid off the ice for the next ten months of difficult recuperation.  His return to playing (and his “glorious” 2 goal, 2 assist, first outing) on Nov. 21 was international news, and raised expectations of us Penguins fans for more Cup-raising.    

            In January thirty of us Pittsburgh priests (and our chief shepherd) were energized by beginning an 18 month program of workshops to improve our skills as pastors.  The “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program takes the best of business and leadership practices and translates them into Catholic parlance and culture.  The “learning leaders” have been great, the content rich.  We’ve had 15 days of interactive learning, which have also helped to build our presbyteral fraternal bonds.  I’m starting to put our mission-driven GLGS insights into pastoral practice with my new staffs and councils.

            At the end of February I bought a new car, my third Accord.  I figured after 11 years and 167,000 miles it was time.  This means little to those of you who hate driving.  But to a guy…heavenly!   An internet special in the dead of a slow sales winter allowed me to go all out, with V-6, heated leather seats, fog lights, Bluetooth hands-free, 270 hp, XM Sirius radio (a 24/7 channel devoted to Bruce Springsteen’s music!), white diamond pearl iridescence paint, and so much more.  Did I mention the fog lights?! 

            During lent I organized a seven week adult ed series on the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).  We are moving through a series of 50 year anniversaries of the most momentous Catholic event of the past 400 years.  My instinct on the importance of the half-century anniversaries was validated when later in the year Pope Benedict XVI called for a “Year of Faith” to mark the opening of Vatican II (October 11, 1962).    Anyone reading the council documents cannot miss their joyful, optimistic and hope-filled spirit, which we so need to make our own today.

            In the spring Saint Juan Diego Parish received word that we would host two seminarians for the summer.  Youngstown sem John Ettinger attended the C.P.E. program at three Veterans Administration hospitals.  John is a CMU-trained former engineer and thoughtful introvert.  Pittsburgh sem Levi Hartle worked with our parishioners to build an evangelization team, organize a talent show, and host a Festival of Praise (SRO faithful in Madonna Church, praying and singing with Bishop Zubik as special guest).  Levi’s love for the Lord Jesus, infectious smile and musical skills won the hearts of the parishioners.  Living with these two gentlemen made me feel like a mentor (a.k.a. an old priest L).   Both give me great hope for the future of effective and affective priestly ministry.

            Two years ago I was invited to join a priest support group.   Each month 13 of us sit as brothers, sharing our feelings, experiences, and pains in that difficult way of American men.  We have two insightful facilitators who challenge us to trust ourselves and each other.   I’m not sure what I have learned, but I most certainly have grown in respect for these unselfish and all-too-human servants of Christ and his church.

            My ministry and life turned upside down on June 28 when Bishop Zubik asked me to leave Saint Juan Diego to pastor two parishes in New Castle.   This change was especially tough.  I arrived in Sharpsburg in July 2007 not in the best of moods.  What I found did not improve my psyche.  But the devoted parishioners and I rolled up our sleeves, fixed buildings and re-built community.  The coming together of three historic parishes into the new Saint Juan Diego community on March 15, 2009, was a Eucharistic celebration of all that is right with the church.  And over the 48 months of my service I truly came to love each and every parishioner and our parish.  Lots of us had tears at the farewell organized by the pastoral council on July 31.

             So a new chapter in my life began on August 1.  This is my first assignment outside of Allegheny County.  My two parishes are quite different.  St. Vincent de Paul is a product of the 1990s diocesan reorganization, combining five small ethnic parishes into one, on a lovely New England-like campus (the scene on the card).  St. Vitus is in the top 15 in size of parishes in our diocese, with a parish school and full complement of ministries.  It has also been sheltered from change.  Since its founding in 1901 St. Vitus had only four pastors.  I am the fifth, the first non-Italian for this Italian personal parish.   I’m still learning the names, faces and culture of these two parishes.    With my parochial vicar, Father Sean Francis, living at St. Vitus, I chose to reside in the St. Vincent de Paul rectory.  I make the three-mile jaunt between parish offices daily.  The region is suffering and in decline, but there’s lots of vitality and potential in these two parishes.

             As it happened, it was my turn to host our 33rd priesthood ordination anniversary in October—one third of a century for the math-deprived.  Somehow this annual marking of the years hit me as an emotional downer.  As has been said, I have more yesterdays than tomorrows.  Yet joy is all around us.  This fall two couples whom I married have been blessed with sons.  U.S. Army Captain Mike Wiehagen and his wife EunHa are the proud parents of Joshua, born 11/11/11 in North Carolina.   John Wasiel and his wife Kayoko (for whose wedding I travelled to Tokyo, Japan, a year ago) are the proud parents of Chester, born in California.  I am so happy for my friends and their new gurgling babies, wrapped in Terrible Towels. 

Count me among the internet soldiers of the New Evangelization with my blog.  Enclosed with this letter are two business cards, one with typical info, one with my blog address.  Help me out, visit my site, become a friend!   May Christ’s church be warmed by the love of the Holy Family, and all of us brought to salvation by the newborn Savior.   A blessed Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Roman Missal Criticism, II

At the conclusion of Thanksgiving Day Mass, one of my parishioners, who identified himself as 86 years young, came up to me.  "I have a question, Father.  If it ain't broke, why fix it?  Why is our Mass changing?"

I was happy for the question, because it told me that our parish efforts over the past three months were successful.  One parishioner had heard that new Mass translations were going to begin!

But I replied, "Well, I'm not sure."  It was not the time nor place (with several folks behind him wanting to "grip and rip" out of church) for a long dissertation about the 2000 third typical edition in Latin, the 2001 document Liturgicam Authenticam, and more than a decade of behind the scenes pushing and pulling on the part of liturgists and Roman bureaucrats. 

By then I had had a month to skim the surface of the newly translated into English Roman Missal.  And in my heart I agreed, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

We've now had almost the entire Advent season to encounter the new texts and translations.  Some are hailing their "fidelity to the Latin."  The editor of Our Sunday Visitor called the new translation "more poetic and scriptural...loftier, more sacred, more self-consciously different from the ordinary." 

I learned a cute Latin phrase years ago, "De gustibus non est disputandum."  In matters of taste, all opinions are worthwhile and valued. 

So my opinion is just that, an opinion. 

But I have to disagree with "more poetic" and "loftier."  I have found the new translation difficult, pretentious, stuffy, and in a few cases unintelligible.  The translation is certainly "different" though, full of odd English words stuffed into Latin syntax.

Sentences of 70 or 80 or 90 words challenge my ability to proclaim them without losing my breath or my place.  (See the beginning of the Third Eucharistic Prayer, or the Preface for Christ the King of the Universe.)

Words such as "ineffably", "exultant", "replenished", "we pray", "prevenient", "beseech", "dewfall", and "oblation" are not in my vocabulary, nor in the vocabulary of the people with whom I pray.  Reading these words I feel like a mildly drunken Episcopalian priest, who had an excellent Oxford education, came to the U.S., and now wants to show off his Shakespearean thespian talents and learning in front of the faithful. 

Every day I am frustrated by the sentence fragments "Through Christ our Lord" and "Who lives and reigns...".  I have taught theology courses on undergraduate and graduate levels for two decades, as well as been on the faculty for our diocesan permanent deason program.  I insist that every paper submitted to me for a grade be written with sound English grammar.  Sentence fragments are not proper English.  Sentence fragments in submitted papers regularly receive my red ink mark-down.  Presiding at Mass, I find myself adding "We ask this...through Christ our Lord."  Sentences need a subject and a predicate.  The same goes for the unattached sentence fragments, where the "Who" in English translation is ambiguous as to whom it references.  (See the collects for the Second Sunday of Advent, Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent, and the Fourth Sunday of Advent.) 

I would have gotten a C- or worse from Fathers Colgan or Lanahan at the Bishop's Latin School for these translations. 

The word "chalice" in the words of consecration is irritating.  Jesus did not have a chalice in front of him at the Last Supper.  The Greek word in the gospels does not translate into "chalice."  It means a simple or common vessel for holding a liquid.   My people know a 21st century chalice from a 1st century cup, and wine from the Precious Blood.  That word alone is evidence to me of poor translation, and worse, a hidden agenda for what Bishop Trautman called "a sacred language" by those who approved the translation into English.

The other word in the consecration which is simply wrong in translation is "for many."  Yes, it is "pro multis" in the Latin.  But there are several scholarly studies, commissioned by the Vatican itself in the 1970s, which argue very persuasively that in the ancient world "multis" in Latin meant "all" in contemporary English.  Only with a convoluted and arcane long defense can one attempt to defend "for many" as the translation into English.  It may be literal, but it isn't a fair translation.

I have to admit that I can live with "consubstantial" in the new English version of the Creed.  This word has gotten lots of criticism too.  Maybe because I studied Latin and Greek a long time ago, I am fairly comfortable with transliterated words in the liturgy, such as "amen", "alleluia", "catholic", "baptism", and "Christ."   We Catholic Christians just have to learn some vocabulary as the price of knowing how to speak intelligently about our faith.

The people in my parishes are going along with the changes.  I've heard few comments from them, positive or negative.  (From priests it's a different story.  The guys I've talked with make most of the same criticisms.)   The folks in the pews and I are still four weeks into reading from the grey "cheat sheet" pew cards.  Those who regularly attend Sunday liturgy will eventually memorize the changes.  (Weddings and funerals are another story.  At the several funerals I've had, and one wedding this month, it's still "And also with you" as the given response.)

The faithful in the Diocese of Pittsburgh are an obedient bunch, priests and religious and people together.  We will eventually learn these new words.  Today I don't see them as more poetic, and certainly not more prayerful.  I am curious how I will feel about these words after going through the entire liturgical year once.  Will familiarity breed acceptance, or contempt, or...?

What seems to be clear to me is that I better make peace with these texts.  It took Rome thirty years after the Mass of 1970 to issue a revised Latin edition.  It took more than a decade after that for a new English translation to appear.  Unless I live to be 100, these will be these texts I will pray for the rest of my priestly ministry.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sermon in a Bottle

Fourth Sunday in Advent - B.  "The proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery."

Human beings love traditions--family, church, societal.  We are creatures who desire rituals.  Yet the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary broke with the tradition of the Jews, who knew God through power.   Formerly it was the power of God to form a people (Abraham and Sarah), to free a people from slavery (Moses), to lead a people (David).  Through the newborn Jesus, God comes to us vulnerable, weak, and powerless.  Now in Christ God comes through the powerlessness of love.    

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Roman Missal Criticism, I

We English speaking Catholics are now into the third week of praying the Roman Missal at Mass, with its new translation of the third typical Latin edition.  I cannot say I am praying the Mass when I preside.  My eyes are glued to the grey "cheat sheet" card I purchased for my churches, or fixed on the Missal itself.  I'm self-conscious as I stand in front of the congregation.   I made the decision to only pray the second Eucharistic prayer until I got it down pat.  I'm weeks away from using another one.

Humor is one way of responding to these awkward new texts.  One priest friend of mine (who shall go nameless) emailed this to a bunch of us on December 8: 

"Use the new words you learned in today's liturgy in a sentence.  My prevenient observations were consubstantially those of a host others who partoke in my perspective before they were oblated.  Inauthentic translation: The things I said ahead of time were the same as a large number of people who shared my point of view, before they were sacrificed."

I think my friend has too much time on his hands.

Another priest, in response said, "Practice, hard you must, as Yoda proclaims to young Luke Skywalker."

And spirit with his.

Instead of offering my own two cents of criticism, let me quote an authority.  Bishop Donald Trautman is the bishop of Erie, with earned degrees in theology and Sacred Scripture.  He was the chairman of the U.S. Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy for six years.  And for the past several years was probably the only American bishop to publicly criticize the proposed (and now implemented) translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition.  (See Ann Rodgers' story on him at  http://post-gazette.com/pg/11177/1156350-455-0.stm  .)

On October 22, 2009, Bishop Trautman gave a lecture at The Catholic University of America, in a series honoring Msgr. Frederick R. McManus, a noted liturgist, and, in the words of Bishop Trautman, "an apostle of the liturgical renewal."  The title of his lecture is "The Language of the New Missal in Light of the Translation Principles of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy."  At the time of this lecture, the final final English translation had not yet been distributed to the bishops worldwide by the Vatican.  A few words of the translation were changed by Rome from the text Trautman was using.  Nevertheless, his trenchant comments bear repeating.  I'm going to quote Bishop Trautman extensively.  You can read his entire lecture at   http://catholicview.typepad.com/files/trautman-mcmanus-lecture.pdf  . 

... I ask:  Are these new texts accessible?  Are they proclaimable and intelligible?  Do they reflect correct English syntax and sentence structure?  Are they pastorally sensitive to the liturgical assembly?  Do they lead to full, conscious and active participation?  Is the New Missal faithful to the translation principles of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [of the Second Vatican Council], in particular paragraphs 21 and 34?

The translated texts of the Third Edition of the Missale Romanum must be more than accurate and faithful to the Latin original; they must communicate -- they must be intelligible, proclaimable, reflective of a sentence structure, vocabulary and idiom of contemporary American English.  The primary purpose of the Missal is to provide spoken and sung prayer texts for the liturgical assembly.  If those texts employ lengthy sentences with clauses and dangling participial phrases, comprehension by the assembly will be nearly impossible.  If those texts use esoteric words, archaic expressions, technical theological vocabulary, incomplete sentences and Latin syntax in place of English syntax, then we have a translation that is not pastoral -- a text that does not promote full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy.  The New Missal is intended for public prayer, worship, lifting up the heart and mind to God.  People in the pews must own the prayer text, its vocabulary, its style, its idiom, its cadence.  The people in the assembly must be able to make the proclaimed prayer their own, and so raise their hearts and minds to God....

The English translation of the New Missal has intentionally employed a "sacred language" which tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable.  For example, the Preface of the Assumption reads:  "She brought forth ineffably your Incarnate Son."  There is repeated use of the word "ineffable" throughout the New Translation of the Missal.  In the Nicene Creed we will pray "consubstantial with the Father" which replaces the present wording "one in being with the Father".  Also in the Creed the new wording "by the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary" replaces "he was born of the Virgin Mary".  The vast majority of God's people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the New Missal like "ineffable", "consubstantial", incarnate", "inviolate", "oblation", "ignominy", "precursor",         "suffused", or "unvanquished".  This vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic....

When the Council Fathers of Vatican II made the historic decision that the liturgy of the Church should be in the vernacular, there was no emphasis on a sacred language.  The Council Fathers' intent was pastoral -- to have the liturgy of the Church prayed in vernacular or living languages.  There was no mention  of any sacred language or sacred vocabulary.  Such concepts flow from the 2001 Instruction on Vernacular Translations, a Roman Congregational document (Liturgicam Authenticam).  Certainly translated liturgical texts should be reverent, noble, inspiring, uplifting, but that does not mean archaic, remote, incomprehensible.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated vernacular language, not sacred language....

A major defect of the translated Missal is the number of lengthy, cumbersome sentences with complex syntax.  For example, the Collect after the Third Reading at the Paschal Vigil has one sentence of 65 words in ten lines....This is too long for a proclaimed text....Many of the Prefaces in the New Missal have lengthy sentences that hinder their proclaimability and comprehension.  For example, in the Preface of Christ the King there are 13 lines and 88 words in one sentence.  How will this promote intelligible and meaningful prayer?  How can the assembly remember what is being prayed for?  Eucharistic Prayer III begins with 70 words in one sentence.  In almost all instances the Collects or opening prayers, prayers over the gifts, and prayers after Communion follow a single sentence format with one or more clauses.  Again proclaimability and comprehension are sacrificed for the sake of maintaining the Latin single sentence structure.  Latin word order is not English word order.  The translators have adhered slavishly to the literal Latin syntax, so that the English translation results in a jumbled English syntax, a lengthy sentence with clauses or participial phrases with an unnatural rhythm of speaking in English.  In view of the examples already presented, I would contend that the translated Missal does not have a pastoral style....

The Council Fathers of Vatican II specify a pastoral approach in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  Paragraph 21 of that document states:  "Both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify.  The Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them easily."  This is the pastoral dimension lacking in the New Missal.  In paragraph 34 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, we have an even stronger statement that rites and texts:  "...should radiate a noble simplicity.  They should be short, clear, free from useless repetition.  They should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation."  These statements of the Council Fathers constitute a pastoral principle -- a pastoral perspective -- for judging the translation of the New Missal.  How do the words "ineffable", "consubstantial", "inviolate", "ignominy",       "precursor", "suffuse" fulfill the words of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that texts be "within the people's powers of comprehension" and "not require much explanation"?...

There are those who disagree with the way the liturgical reform of Vatican II was interpreted and implemented.  They blame a diminishing religiosity, declining Mass attendance and priestly and religious vocations on less transcendence, less awe, less mystery in the New Order of Mass.  In reaction to this perception they advocate a reform of the reform.  They believe ordinary language weakens the sense of the transcendent.  In 2001 the Congregation of Divine Worship and discipline of the Sacraments decreed a shift to a more sacred vocabulary in vernacular worship with a more literal translation of the Latin original texts.

The Latin text is not inspired.  It is a human text, reflecting a certain mind-set, theology, and world view.  There are good Latin texts -- balanced, carefully crafted -- and there are bad Latin texts -- convoluted, lengthy, complicated, abstract -- that become a translator's herculean task.  Because of literal translation in the New Missal, complicated Latin wording has become complicated English wording.

In the New Missal all prayers, originally composed in English, are banned.  This gives the impression that original vernacular prayers are less holy, less pleasing to God, than Latin.   We need to remember that the original liturgical language of the Church was not Latin, but the vernacular....

I could quote Bishop Trautman further, with specific examples of his principles, but I would tax your patience.  I think you hear what this 75 year old bishop is saying.  I do encourage you to read his lecture, with its detailed examples of poor translation, in its entirety.

In a future post I'll offer some comments from the pews and altars in my parishes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sermon in a Bottle

Third Sunday of Advent - B.  "Not worthy to untie his sandlestraps."

The Isaiah text today is a classic, used by Jesus himself (Luke 4), to describe what he understood was his mission from the Father.  But we can also see ourselves as anointed, as specially chosen by God, to do the Lord's work in a variety of ways.  We rejoice and are proud of the gift of faith alive in us.  The baptizer John, also an anointed one, shows us that humility is appropriate, even necessary, for those chosen to proclaim the coming of the Lord.  He is the Savior, we are only the humble slaves.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ways to Simplify Christmas

We've all complained that the stores, malls and on-line merchants have over-commercialized Christmas.  This includes presenting Christmas displays in August (yes, August!), opening stores on Thanksgiving Day or in the wee hours of "Black Friday" (I hope you boycotted those establishments), and generally beating up families if they don't spend a small fortune on gifts. 

Allow me to make some suggestions to simplify Christmas.

The Christian season of Advent helps us to focus on "the reason for the season," namely, the birth of Jesus the Christ.  Just as it takes 40 days of lent to prepare for Easter (and 50 days to celebrate the Paschal Mystery), the Christian way is to take four weeks to prepare for the Nativity of Our Lord, and then savor the meaning of his birth over several more. 

In this regard, try to incorporate Christian symbols in every Advent and Christmas custom.  Prepare for the feast with the saints of Advent (such as St. Nicholas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Juan Diego, and St. John the Baptist, as well as Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Micah).  Christmas cards are best with images of Bethlehem, or the Magi, or the Christ Child (not snowy villages, Santa Claus, skaters on frozen ponds, or red-nosed Rudolph).  Place a Navitity scene near or underneath the Christmas tree.  Incorporate prayer, biblical readings of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke, and religious songs into dinners and parties.

A manual for a simpler season, Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli, suggests four basic themes:  relaxed and loving time with the family; realistic expectations on gifts; an evenly paced holiday with time for events and time for rest; and reliable family traditions.  They say that the key to all these is planning.  So that the "Christmas machine" doesn't steamroll you, it is important to plan. 

Planning includes setting limits on how much money and how many gifts you will give; deciding which parties to attend and which to decline with regrets; making a conscious decision to substitute homemade products (such as cards or baked cookies), or a gift of friendship time, instead of expensive or useless obligatory gifts.  Planning includes saying "no" once you've met your budgeted amount for gifts.

Another help to simplify Christmas is to lower expectations.  Repeat to yourself that there is no such thing as "a perfect family" or "a perfect Christmas party."  It's ok if your home doesn't look like Martha Stewart's mansion.  Realize that people will disappoint us and that most people don't change.  Accept that you cannot be everywhere, do everything, and please everyone.  Appreciate what you do have, who does love you--and don't worry about what you don't have.

A specific Christmas theme dear to me which I like to harp on is to give to those who cannot repay you.  One year instead of giving gifts to friends I made donations in their name to western Pennsylvania charities (Catholic Charities, Jubilee Soup Kitchen, Auberle Home, McGuire Memorial, Sisters Place).  Another year I "gave" them sheep, goats, llamas, water buffaloes and flocks of chicks through Heifer International, which tries to address poverty, hunger and access to water around the world.  ( www.heifer.org )  Purchase gifts or cards from not-for-profits which benefits poor artisans from around the world (such as UNICEF or Ten Thousand Villages).  I have received similar gifts, and felt  the warmth of friendship through these contributions to the needy.

A special gift is the gift of down time to yourself.  Allow yourself and your family circle moments to relax, pray, and celebrate the simple joy of friendship and love.  A lovely Catholic tradition is to go to one daily Mass each week during Advent.  One evening turn the tv off and read slowly the Christmas stories in Matthew or Luke (and see the big differences in each evangelist's presentation).  Plan to make this Advent and Christmas simpler and more joy-filled.

Sermon in a Bottle

Second Sunday in Advent - B.  "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

When we listen to scripture, it's not all about thinking.  It is good to hear the feelings as well.  This transitional Sunday brings John the Baptizer on stage, who calls the people to repent of their sins.  If we do not, says second Peter, we will experience the heavens passing away with a mighty roar and  elements dissolved by fire.  But God is more than power.  Isaiah says the Lord will give comfort to his chosen people, and (in an image which evokes mind Jesus) feed his flock like a good shepherd. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sermon in a Bottle

First Sunday of Advent - B.  "Be watchful.  Be alert."

With the introduction of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, I reflected on change/continuity.  A parish over its history may use several different church buildings, but it is still the same parish. In like manner over its 2,000 year history the Catholic Church has celebrated the Eucharist in many languages, using many forms or styles.  The new translations are in continuity with a history of change.  The season of Advent is familiar to us.  But have we changed since a year ago? Are we better disciples of Jesus, more charitable and forgiving because of the Eucharists we've attended?

Problems in Perspective

As a member of our diocese's clergy personnel board, each month a baker's dozen of us priests (and one deacon) meet to advise the bishop on clergy assignments.  Right now, because of strains in the number of priests who are capable of being pastors, thirty of us double up and serve two parishes.  Looming on the horizon is the reality that almost three dozen men are in active ministry who are over the age of 70, our retirement age.  These dedicated souls could retire today, and blow a huge hole in staffing our parishes.  As it is, projections indicate that in eight years, we will only have approximately 100 priests to serve more than 200 parishes, as well as the legion of hospitals, nursing homes, jails, and other institutions needing pastoral care.

It's enough to make you depressed.

But like the man lamenting he has only one shoe, until he meets someone who has only one foot, I had to put our troubles into perspective this week while reading two articles.

The first is the Christmas edition of "Extension," the magazine of the Catholic Extension Society.  This Chicago-based organization has for over 100 years raised money for the "home missions" in rural America.  In this edition they present a "wish list" of 25 projects Extension would love to fulfill, if only they had the money.  These include priests in the Archdiocese of Anchorage who are only able to visit their mission churches by flying; in the U.S. Army only 100 priests fill the available 400 Catholic chaplain slots (and the Archdiocese for Military Services has only 32 seminarians); rebuilding churches in New Mexico, Montana, Puerto Rico, and Oregon;  supporting outreach to Hispanic Catholics in the dioceses of Knoxville and Youngstown; and many others.  Each year for the past ten years the Catholic Extension  Society has paid to build 94 church buildings, over $129 million in donations.  Yet the needs are growing.

And we in the Diocese of Pittsburgh think we have troubles?

The second article is a recent blog post by John L. Allen Jr. ("All Things Catholic" on www.ncronline.org ) regarding the threats to Christians around the world.  He writes, "From Iraq and Egypt, to Indonesia and India, we're witnessing the rise of a whole new generation of Christian martyrs.... Americans, long accustomed to thinking of Christianity as a powerful majority, are often flabbergasted to learn that Christians are actually the most persecuted religious group on the planet."  For example, one year ago an assault on Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, a Chaldean Church where 53 people were killed and hundreds injured by al Qaeda-linked gunmen.  This is only one of many attacks.  Allen says over the past eight years, 43 of the 60 Christian churches in Baghdad have been bombed at least once.

When Christian demonstrators were attacked by the Egyptian army in Cairo on October 9, 27 people were left dead, over 300 injured.  In the past year an estimated 93,000 Coptic Christians have fled Egypt and persecution.  These situations rarely are given time in the mainstream American media. 

And we think we have problems?

Allen presents these facts of persecution in a wider context of attacks on religious liberty globally.  He takes to task the U.S. bishops for calling church/state battles over same-sex marriage, proposed mandates from the federal Department of Health and Human Services regarding coverage of contraception and sterilization in private insurance plans, and identity issues over who can be hired by Catholic charitable organizations, issues of religious freedom.  The global view is that Christians are dying because of lack of respect for religious liberty.  "If the church in the United States doesn't speak up on behalf of [the new martyrs], we risk being complicit in constructing a 21st century edition of a 'church of silence.' ... If we [in the U.S.] won't come to the defense of fellow Christians in jeopardy, what hope is there for anyone else."

I've sometimes wondered, what would it be like if at the next Pittsburgh clergy personnel board meeting the vicar for clergy told us the sobering news that in the past month one pastor had been killed by anti-Catholic attacks, and two more seriously wounded.  It certainly would put into perspective our own local troubles in declining clerical numbers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sports Heaven?

Pittsburghers of a certain age look back to the 1970s as a heavenly time for local sports teams.

Most folks think about the Super Steelers for that decade.  But it was the Pirates who were really first in the minds of Pittsburghers.  They won two world championships, in 1971 and 1979, with Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, and a supporting cast of very colorful characters.  The "Lumber and Lightning" and "We are Fam-i-lee!" teams were in the hunt for a trip to the World Series just about every year that decade.

Of course, the Steelers won four Super Bowls in a period of six seasons, a record never to be bested.  After four decades of futility, the path to greatness started in 1969, when Dan Rooney, having just taking over control of the club from his famous father, Art, hired unknown Chuck Noll to be the head coach.  Noll and the scouting staff had a fantastic run in picking players through the draft.  In 1969, Mean Joe Greene (first overall), Terry Hanratty, and L.C. Greenwood.  In 1970, Terry Bradshaw (first overall) and Mel Blount.  In 1971, Jack Ham and Dwight White.  In 1972, Franco Harris and Joe Gilliam.  And the historic 1974 draft class, when in the first five rounds the Steelers drafted four future Hall of Famers, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster.  The "Immaculate Reception" by Franco Harris from Terry Bradshaw, via Jack Tatum (see the detailed description at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immaculate_Reception )  on December 23, 1972, is the most famous single play in NFL history, and was the start of playoff winning for the Steelers.

You can't forget that the Pitt Panthers football team was having great success under coach Johnny Majors.  In 1976 Pitt went undefeated with all-world running back Tony Dorsett and won the mythical national championship.  A couple of years later local boy and Central Catholic grad Dan Marino led the Panthers to bowl wins.  Across town Duquesne was king of local college mens basketball (not Pitt).  Under coach Red Manning the Dukes were consistent winners in the 1970s.

But that was then.  I think that Pittsburgh is experiencing another sports heaven.  Maybe it was the glorious return to the lineup last night of Sidney Crosby for the Pittsburgh Penguins which made me think that.  He spent over ten months recovering from concussions suffered in early January.  For a while there were reports that his entire career was in danger of ending.  His return to the ice was nothing less than spectacular, with two goals and two assists, and his usual aggressive and creative presence.  Ever since "Sid the Kid" arrived in Pittsburgh as a callow yet hearalded 18 year old six years ago, the Pens have shown spurts of greatness.  Of course the highlight was the Penguins wining the Stanley Cup in June 2009 (after losing in the finals the previous year).  Sid's return last night was international news, as his media-friendly persona has become the very face of the NHL.  (Scoring the gold medal winning goal for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver didn't hurt either.)  With fellow star players Marc Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and unflappable coach Danny Bylsma, the Penguins promise us much more excitement at the new Consol Energy Center (and maybe another Cup?).

Our Steelers are again super, and have been to the Super Bowl three times in six years, winning two.  (What a royal bummer the loss to the Packers was last February.)  We witnessed a future Hall of Famer in Jerome "the Bus" Bettis for ten years.  Now we're enjoying the defense of HOF coach Dick LeBeau, and greats Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, James Harrison, and the corps of young receivers.  Head coach Mike Tomlin is certainly one of the top three in the NFL.  Pitt mens basketball keeps knocking on the Final Four door under excellent teacher and coach Jamie Dixon.  The Dukes are rising.  College womens basketball is exciting.  Scholastic sports for football, basketball and hockey rank among the best in the country.

And then there are our Pirates.  Oh well, maybe there has to be a little purgatory (in gorgeous PNC Park) before we truly reach heaven.

Theology on Tap

Last Thursday I spoke to the Theology on Tap group here in Lawrence County, at the Four Brothers Urban Bistro in beautiful downtown New Castle.

New Castle sparkled that evening with its annual pre-Thanksgiving parade.  Our St. Vitus school children led one of the 50 floats in the parade.

The parade was a problem for me, however.  I visited two parishioners in Jameson Hospital, just north of the city, around 5:00 pm.  At 6 I drove back into the city.  I found I couldn't get through the smallish business district to where the bistro was located.  Just about every street was blocked by police to direct the parade.  I tried going around the city--and found I couldn't.  I drove for miles outside the city (halfway to the Grove City shops).  My GPS was useless, as its route was blocked by the parade.  There are no bridges over the Shenango River--who knew?  As 7:00 pm approached and the scheduled start I had the panicky thought that I'll miss the talk in my own city.  Finally I decided to dump my car illegally next to a bank, and just walk the six or so blocks to the pub--and through the parade route.

Theology on Tap was started by two Chicago priests thirty years ago, as an attempt to reach out to young adults (ages 20-39).  The thinking was, if the young adults don't come onto church campuses for meetings and adult formation, the church will go to where the young people are--bars!  If that sounds heretical, well, it works.  Theology on Tap has spread to cities all across the country.  In our diocese we have several groups associated with parishes.  This was the third time I spoke to a Theology on Tap group in western Pennsylvania.

Eleven not-so-young adults were gathered to listen to me.  They knew each other, and gave me a warm welcome.  I am on a kick to present the U.S. Bishops' document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.  (See my blog post of October 10.)  This document was first issued in November 2007, prior to the 2008 presidential election.  A month ago it was reapproved as the bishops' effort to educate Catholics and others about our values and principles going into another presidential campaign.

I talked for 20 minutes or so, and then took questions.  We jumped around a wide range of issues:  the loss of "community" in our country; who can/can't tell you whom to vote for; gun control; abortion and abortion politics; taxes; the environmental issues around Marcellus Shale drilling.  If there was a down-side to our lively discussion, it was that almost everyone spoke from their experience, but couldn't use the church's principles and social concern messages to challenge their experience. 

I don't think we resolved anything.  But when we departed at 9:30, it was clear, as one participant said, that Catholics have to do a lot more to learn about their faith after receiving the sacrament of Confirmation at age 14.  These folks, and Theology on Tap, were doing just that--learning about the church's social teachings, to be better and faithful Catholics.    I hope they invite me back.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sermon in a Bottle

Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe - A.   "Shepherding them rightly."

Four times in Jesus' powerful vision of the sheep and goats we meet people with needs.  How easy it is for us to overlook the hungry, thirsty, sojourner, sick, imprisoned, even the naked!  The prophet Ezekiel's shepherd sees the lost, stray and injured.  Do we see -- and listen attentively to -- the person in front of us, with all her/his needs?  Do we acknowledge this person's humanity?  Judgment awaits us if we do not open our eyes.

Sermon in a Bottle

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A.  "Out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground."

For a long time I thought this odd parable of judgment was praise of the first two servants and condemnation of the guy who sat on his talent.  But is this thinking like a 21st century capitalist, not a 1st century Palestinian?  In this contextual view, the master is a thief whose immoral activity the first two servants learned too well.  Hence the servant who buried his talent is admirable, not willing to engage in wrongful behavior.  Clearly the master's greedy way is so far from the king's concern for the poor in next Sunday's gospel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

More Sad Connections

In an earlier post I mentioned the comparison between the scandal happening in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, after the sex abuse charges against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and the thirty years of clerical sex abuse revealed in the Catholic Church worldwide. 

One way the two scandals are not similar is how accountability was exercised.  In the Catholic Church there was a steep, way too steep, learning curve, first at the level of national bodies of bishops, then later at the Vatican.  Few bishops (save Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston) lost their positions because of their cover-up and criminal negligence.  Most culpable bishops, in the Holy See's typical process ("we think in terms of centuries, not years"), resigned after reaching the age of 75, and were replaced in the ordinary manner.  To my knowledge, only one bishop has gone to jail, a Canadian, and that was because he personally possessed child pornography, not because he was hiding priest pedophiles.  At Penn State the Board of Trustees acted within a week to fire university president Graham Spanier and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno.  Good for the trustees.

Here are two more articles which make the comparision, from USA Today (November 6, 2011)  http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2011/11/penn-state-paterno-sex-abuse-catholic-priest-scandal/1  and The New York Times (November 13, 2011)  www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-devil-and-joe-paerno.html?_r=1&ref=rossdouthat

Columnist Ross Douthat, in the second referenced article, goes further than just making the comparision.  He calls to mind Dario Castrillon Hoyos, a bishop from Columbia, who stood up to drug dealers in his native Medellin, fed the poor, and was highly regarded by his countrymen.  Then he was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, who appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.  When stories of the priest pedophile cases reached Castrillon's desk, he dismissed these as nothing more than an American problem.  He even praised a French bishop for refusing to denounce an abusive priest to civil authorities.

Douthat asks, "How did the man who displayed so much moral courage in Columbia become the cardinal who was so morally culpable in Rome?"  Rather than summarize his points, I urge you to read his brief but challenging argument.  

The practice of virtue and good is ever a challenge, especially for those who are good.


"The New Roman Missal Is Coming!"

Those of you who are Catholics are probably aware that on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, English-speaking Catholics will begin praying the Mass with newly translated prayers and an up-to-date listing of recently canonized saints. 

The roots of this adjustment in translation go back to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which ordered that the Mass, the sacraments, and other public ritual prayers of the church be translated from Latin into "vernacular" languages, that is, the languages of the people praying around the world.  In 1970 we English-speaking Catholics began using "the new Missal," when the priest began facing the people.  This Missal was promulgated by Pope Paul VI, and replaced the 1570 Missal issued by Saint Pope Pius V.  In 1975 there was a second edition of the Missal with a few minor changes.

In the Great Jubilee Year of 2000 Blesed Pope John Paul II promulgaged the third edition of the Roman Missal.  He directed that the various conferences of bishops around the world translate the Latin text of the prayers into the languages of the people.  Many other language-groups have already translated this third edition.  Because of the extensive consultation (and no little controversy and disagreement between "dynamic equivalence" and "literal" theories of translation), it took eleven years for the English language translations to be approved.

One other change:  For the 1970 "new Missal" each English-language conference of bishops issued its own translation of the Roman Missal.  So the Canadian translation and Missal was slightly different from the English/Wales, from the U.S.A., from the Australian, etc.  For the third edition, Pope John Paul II dictated that there could be only one translation for all English-speaking countries, whether India, New Zealand, Oceania, U.S.A., Ireland, South Africa, etc. 

There have been voices to resist this translation, or to delay it, or...what?  We obedient pastors have few options.  I am not a liturgist, but what I had read about the upcoming Roman Missal translations had not been good.  What to do?

The following article sums up very well my feelings, and my actions.  It is entitled, "Missal Defense: Learning to Live with Change," and appeared in the November 4, 2011, edition of Commonweal magazine (a magazine which I highly recommend).  The author is "Father Nonomen," a pseudonym for a U.S. Catholic priest and pastor. 

This year, thanks to the adoption of the new translation of the Roman Missal, the First Sunday of Advent is looming like a date with a root canal. As I mentioned in my recent lament on this topic (Commonweal, “Up against the Wall,” July 15, 2011), the new missal is intended to steer us back toward a more traditional liturgy. Those who welcome such a move look forward, as one commentator put it, to “a new sense of dignity and decorum,” promoted through “reforms such as an altar orientation toward the East, kneeling for Communion, and better and more dignified vestments and furnishings.”

As a priest who does not welcome these changes, I’m under pressure. No, I’m not having trouble choosing which laminated in-pew response card to install. The problems are a lot bigger than that. I am wondering, for instance, how to reconcile a parish staff grumpy about the changes with a largely unsuspecting parish populace. Or what to do when attempting to explain this Trojan horse of a translation and the pointed agenda it may be hosting. In short, how does one make a sale when it’s tough to believe in the product?

As for parishioner reaction, I expect it to be mixed. Some—those who have been following this issue, faithfully reading their subscriptions to independent publications—will understand what worries priests like me about the new missal. On the other hand, some who have been teetering on the rail since the sexual-abuse scandals, alienated from the church to the point of leaving it, will see these changes as so many deck chairs being rearranged on a vessel that is sinking fast, and might well jump ship. But mostly what I fear is that the majority won’t care. They will dutifully learn all the new responses and musical settings and generally remain unaware of the powerful changes this liturgical language is likely to work on the church their grandchildren will inherit.

So, how to proceed? Do I and other likeminded priests simply refuse to comply? While I admire those who can pull off dramatic Berrigan-esque tactics, I’m not one of them. I love my parish too much to risk losing it; and besides, that’s not the way things work in the church I signed up for. I’d rather look for ways to work within the system. And there is always a way. Finding it is a matter of keeping a sharp eye out for those moments of grace when inspiration comes from a most unlikely source—like the one I stumbled into about a month ago.

I had been asked to bring Communion to someone’s aunt, newly moved into a nursing home after a massive stroke. To be honest, I dread visits like this, especially when the person is unknown to me. The conversation is one-sided and awkward, and I am also alarmed by the fragile nature of the human body, including my own—realizing that in the blink of an eye I could change from visitor to resident.

The family had warned me that their aunt could no longer speak or walk, so when I walked into her room I was prepared for those limitations. What I was not prepared for were her eyes—bright and shining, filled with the kindness and warmth that come from a deeply settled sense of peace. I introduced myself and explained why I had come. When she smiled, fifty years melted from her face. I asked questions and, with a slight movement of her index finger, she would indicate a picture or a letter on a board in her lap. For over an hour we “talked” about her family, her grandchildren, her own childhood. She laughed easily at the familiar stories, and sighed in frustration at her present condition. Toward the end of our visit, this lovely and amazing woman articulated something I doubt I will ever forget. “I keep wondering,” she said, “what the Lord wants me to do next.”

Next? Most people living her life would probably have trouble getting through the morning, let alone thinking about their next mission from God. Such determination inspired me, reminding me yet again how God perpetually offers some new word, some new lesson, even through a person crippled in speech and movement. With Spirit, there is hope. What is required is that we show up, even with dread, and remain faithful to the task.

Perhaps my new friend and the courageous question she posed may help suggest a strategy for implementing the coming liturgical changes. We certainly need to present these changes in context, encouraging such likely and important questions as “What next?”—that is, encouraging everyone to consider and discuss the long-term effects the changes might have on the church. We also must provide a new “word board” for the people in our parishes—a discourse that supplies the language necessary to articulate any number of personal responses, from individual noncompliance to letter-writing to informed acceptance.

Most of all, as that amazing woman reminded me, we cannot forget to laugh; we must never forget the joy that brings us together to worship in the first place. Such joy remains the most important consequence of trusting that the Spirit is at work—even in our silences, and even in our errors.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sad Connections

As soon as I heard the horrible news that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been arrested on 40 counts of child abuse over the weekend, I thought of our own church's recent sad history.  And I wondered, how long would it take for others to make the same connection I was making in my mind.

Not long.

Here's an opinion piece from the Orlando Sentinel  http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-11-08/sports/os-bianchi-joe-paterno-penn-state-scandal-20111106_1_penn-state-jackie-sherrils-state-coach-joe-paterno  and one from the New York Times  http://nytimes.com/2011/11/09/sports/ncaafootball/joe-paternos-grand-experiment-meets-an-inglorious-end.html  .  Google "Joe Paterno" and "Catholic Church" together and see how many are making the connection.

Let's see, in this despicable allegory, Sandusky is the avuncular and smiling parish priest who loves and cares for kids at all hours of the day and night, Paterno is Cardinal Bernard Law who hears but does nothing, and Penn State University president Graham Spanier is the Vatican dicastery which has nothing to say about the victims but embraces the (implied falsely) accused Tim Curley, university athletic director, and Gary Schultz, university vice president for fiance and business (insert here nameless diocesan bureaucrats).  Paterno, like Cardinal Law, will have his resignation gladly received and get pushed upstairs and out of sight.  College athletics, at least big-time football and basketball, remain caught in their own form of clericalism, an undeserved entitlement because of media fame and fortune.

The comparisons are deserved, and the bad taste in my mouth doesn't go away.  Penn State's JoPa and university officers did not learn anything, anything, from what the Catholic Church went through over the past decade or more.

Yet I also can't help thinking, as this parallelism of moral miss-the-boat inaction is made, where are the "mea culpas" from media commentators and columnists, who said in 2002 that this kind of thing only happens in the Catholic Church.  Even several Vatican Cardinals were known to whisper knowingly that "this sort of thing is a peculiar American problem.  It never happens to us in Italy (or insert any other country)."  Boy has that proven to be wrong.  Sexual abuse of children, and subsequent cover ups, have occured in Canada, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, and on and on.   And sexual abuse of children, and subsequent cover ups because of an institutional sense of entitlement, appear among political leaders, public school teachers, youth football coaches, ministers and rabbis and imams and lay leaders in all the religions, branches of the military, and on and on.  What area of institutional life is immune? 

Abuse of children is a human problem and sin, not merely a problem of the Catholic Church or religious leaders.  When will our society learn this?

I believe that the Catholic Church's leadership in the United States does "get it."  Our institutional church has made huge strides to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults.  Our vigilance has also highlighted the occasional (and terrible) lapses, such as in Kansas City and Philadelphia.  I believe that Pope Benedict XVI gets it too.  His meetings with victims in recent overseas trips are serious and sincere.

Clearly the NCAA and football-university complex doesn't get it.  A fine institution of higher learning learned nothing from the past sins of the Catholic Church.

Sermon in a Bottle

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A.  "Resplendent and unfading is wisdom."

A seminary professor long ago urged us seminarians to preach on the Old Testament readings once in a while.  "They too are the Word of God."  Gladly.  We believers are called to learn continually, having no fear of any human science.  Knowledge moves toward wisdom when we exercise the virtue of prudence.  Wesdom is found when our hearts and minds seek her, yet wisdom is ultimately of divine origin.  Like the wise women in Jesus's parable, we should be ever ready to put wisdom into practice in daily living.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Protecting God's Children Today

Sitting on my desk, awaiting my action, is a list of 24 parishioners to call.  These are the ones who are currently serving in various liturgical ministries, but have either failed to begin or not yet completed all the requirements of the Diocese of Pittsburgh's Safe Environment Program.

In August, right after I arrived in my two parishes, I met with the safe environment coordinators of both parishes.  They shared with me the good news that hundreds of our wonderful volunteers were compliant with diocesan policy.  They also told me that a very small percentage of ministers had not completed the requirements, and what was necessary to help them complete the program.  I wrote a letter to all of them, urging them to complete the requirements.  Our coordinators and I were ready to offer our assistance (e.g., paying all costs of state and FBI checks and the three hour workshop; helping those who did not have a computer to complete the online data base survey).

In that same letter, I stated that I would follow diocesan policy.  If any volunteer failed to complete the requirements and be in compliance with the safe environment program within a reasonable period of time, he or she would not be permitted to serve the parish as a volunteer minister.

In response, some told me what we needed was to have the diocese hold the Protecting God's Children workshop in Lawrence County, so that parishioners didn't have to drive one hour to a Pittsburgh location.  The diocese cooperated, and scheduled one.  On October 16 there was a workshop at a neighboring parish, and 60 ministers from my parishes and others in Lawrence County attended.  This was very good. 

But I am still left with two dozen folks who, for their own reasons, have not completed the requirements.

A few have made excuses for their failure saying that being part of the diocesan data base and petitioning the state for a statement that they have never been convicted of child abuse or any felony is invading their privacy.  Others say, I've been an (usher/lector/whatever) for umpteen years, and I've never harmed anyone.  Why do I have to do all this rigamarole now?

My response is clear.  The sins of the Catholic Church in this country and elsewhere are many and all too public over the past 60 years in failing to protect children, young people, and vulnerable adults from abuse.  They have made headlines for decades.  A few of my brother priests have gone to jail for their crimes.  More have been permanently barred from ministry. 

Nine years ago the Catholic Church's hierarchy in this country said we need to do better.  They said, we will establish certain norms for all in ministry--bishops, priests, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers, paid staff, and all volunteers.  And we will hold ourselves accountable with external, objective audits.  In the Diocese of Pittsburgh over 32,000 are registered in our data base, and have completed the simple requirements.  Our diocese has received accolades from the outside auditors for our written diocesan regulations and policy guidelines.  But all 207 parishes and every institution have to implement them.  We must be vigilant in continuing to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults.

Some of my parishioners might think that the crisis has passed, and that we can relax our vigilance. 

Maybe in January they never read the second Grand Jury report issued within the past six years on the failures by the two former archbishops of Philadelphia to enforce the safe environment norms.  Two priests, a former priest and a former school teacher are now indicted and on trial for various charges of abusing young people. 

Maybe they don’t read the newspapers, and see that hardly a week goes by without a story about a teacher or youth minister (in other-than-Catholic churches) or coach who is arrested for child abuse.

Or maybe they missed the news just three weeks ago that the bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert W. Finn, was charged with a misdemeanor charge of failure to report child abuse.  In December a Catholic school principal reported what she saw as “grooming behavior” by her pastor as he interacted with the parish’s children.  When the diocese investigated, the priest’s laptop was found with (according to an AP wire service report) “disturbing photos on the hard drive.  The photos included pictures of female children at parish events, including one of a naked female child who was not identifiable.  In May a search of his family’s home turned up a disk and hard drive with 18 different images of child pornography.”  The priest, Shawn Ratigan, was arrested on state charge of possessing child pornography and on federal charges of producing child pornography.  The diocese and the bishop held onto this information for six months before they reported what they knew to the local county prosecutor.  During these six months the priest remained in good standing and was often seen at school and parish events with children.

The charges against the bishop and the diocese come not only nine years after the U.S. bishops’s conference overwhelmingly ratified the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, but also three years after Bishop Finn himself made promises to report suspected abusers to law enforcement authorities as part of a $10 million legal settlement with 47 sexual abuse victims in Kansas City.

My parishioners are not going to be happy when I talk with them about the safe environment program, and their failure to comply.  I will tell them that if it is their decision not to work with us to protect God’s children, I respect that, but following diocesan policy and national church norms, I also must not allow them to volunteer and serve in the name of the church.  They will remain Catholics in good standing, and in my esteem.    I doubt I will be held in much esteem by them.  But such is the price to pay in trying to protect the children entrusted to the church’s care.