Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two New Saints, III

The whole world watched on Sunday, April 27, as Pope Francis canonized two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II.  Last week it was announced that Pope Francis will beatify another predecessor, Paul VI, in October.  Beatification is the final step before canonization as a saint.

In October also Pope Francis will preside at an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops.  The topic is "pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization."  Everyone knows that it is very difficult for one man and one woman to faithfully live the sacrament of marriage.  The synod will offer help and support to married people and families.

Just as the church needs saintly examples of popes, so the church needs saintly examples of married men and women.

So let me suggest to Pope Francis that one initiative he might suggest to the Synod of Bishops is that over the next ten years the Catholic Church make a worldwide effort to identify and tell the stories of married couples who have lived saintly lives.

The first step could be to repeat what the pope did last year.  He asked the diocesan bishops of the world to conduct inquiry among the faithful in their dioceses regarding knowledge of and adherence to the teachings of the church regarding the sacrament of marriage.  Unfortunately the time frame given to the bishops and dioceses was very short, and only about one third of the U.S. diocese actually did public surveys, and fewer dioceses overseas.

In this case, the pope could ask every bishop around the world to identify holy married couples from their diocese who lovingly lived out the teachings of the church on marriage.  Bishops could take suggestions from church historians, veteran pastors, the faithful at large, fraternal and ethnic organizations, and the leadership of organizations which support marriage and family life.

After a period of time, perhaps three to five years, any bishops who feel they have found one or several couples who lived in their diocese, whose holiness was truly public, exemplary, and extraordinary, and whose holiness can be documented, could forward the names of the couples and their investigation dossiers to their national conference of Catholic bishops.  Here from a more objective perspective, national conference staff (perhaps helped by teams of volunteer married couples) would review all candidates.  Then, after a period of several years, names of worthy and saintly couples would be given to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints for its lengthy and deliberate consideration.

Think of it--the entire worldwide church would be looking for married saints!

While the church is at it, why limit the search just to holy married couples?  Why not cast a wider net, and search for holy single men and women, and holy widows and widowers?

The upcoming extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will repeat and reecho the traditional church teachings on the sacrament of marriage.  We learn Christ's teachings not only from catechisms, textbooks and papal writings, but also from stories--stories of saintly figures from the past.

The Catholic Church needs more saints who never attended a seminary, or monastery or convent.  The Catholic Church needs more saints who worked in factories, offices and farms, schools, mines and the military.  The Catholic Church needs more saints from every culture and language who changed diapers, raised children and attended Sunday Mass in their parish, and who practiced the teachings of Christ with as much faith and fervor as the Twelve Apostles and early martyrs, with as much courage and dedication as St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.  I have no doubt that they are "out there."  We just have to find them and lift them up.

Let's tell the stories of holy married couples, single women and men and widowed women and men, to show the world the special power of love in the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Two New Saints, II

As the world knows, Pope Francis canonized his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II on "Mercy Sunday," April 27 in Rome.  Between one and two million pilgrims came to witness the Mass (although dire predictions had upwards to four million coming to Rome) in St. Peter's Square.  The Catholic world rejoiced in this pronouncement of two more members of the heavenly family.

But not all were happy.  On the one hand you had New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd weighing in on "A Saint, He Ain't." Link here .  Her argument:  "Sometimes leaders can be remarkable in certain ways and then make a mistake so spectacular, it overshadows other historical achievements....John Paul may be a revolutionary figure in the history of the church, but a man who looked away in a moral crisis cannot be described as a saint."  She brings up John Paul's role in the ongoing saga of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, including giving "sanctuary" to Cardinal Bernard Law, defending and praising Legionaires of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado, and failing to bring light an end to bishops covering up clergy who harmed children.

In a more restrained vein the National Catholic Reporter editorialized "New papal saints have flaws as well as greatness."  Link here.  Money quote:  "If we fully honor our saints, then we honor them in all of their humanity, which means in all of their flaws as well as their greatness.  Perhaps there is no better time than now to engage in a bit of sobriety about the record of John Paul II inside the church.  It evinced some significant flaws, the results of which were passed on to his successors."  These flaws include certain theologians called on the carpet, loyalty being the prime virtue for candidates for the office of bishop, financial scandals and the sad sad sexual scandals.  I have to agree when the editorial quotes the sober Vaticanologist, John Allen:  John Paul was "the apostle of unity ad extra and the bruiser ad intra."  He was a pope who "leaves behind the irony of a world more united because of his life and legacy, and a church more divided."  

The church has proclaimed Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla saints.  I add my "alleluia" to this decision, and my prayers for their intercession for us who still struggle on earth.

But at the same time it is worthwhile to remember that canonization, a pronouncement of holiness, is not an announcement of perfection.  Roncalli drank (but not to excess), smoked, and looked like a heart attack waiting to happen.  Wojtyla made a decision at the beginning of his pontificate, that he would make the world his parish, and proclaim as loudly as he could, "Be not afraid!" in his globe-trotting evangelical travels.  That decision, however, meant he gave short shrift and little attention to the internal administration of the church.  He was as blind to the clergy who were pedophiles as 99% of the bishops of his era.  Because of his Polish background, which served him so well as pope in many areas, he just could not imagine hundreds and hundreds of priests (2 to 4% of the total number) who had immoral, sinful desires for harming children and teens.  

Neither man was perfect, or even close.  Both prayed and prayed and prayed, and tried to do the will of God as revealed in their lives.

We the church, and the world (sorry, Maureen Dowd, you're wrong) would do well to remember this distinction.  Neither man was our savior.  We already have one, fully human yet fully divine and without sin.  Separating the two helps us to embrace all the saints, flaws and all, and to profess Christ our Savior as son of Mary and son of God.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Housing the Clergy

These are interesting times for bishops.  So many folks -- or at least reporters who have listened to Pope Francis -- are watching to see where they live.  Pope Francis has decried careerism among the bishops, and called for them to be authentic pastors.  They should avoid "the psychology of princes" and live in humble settings.  He himself did that, by turning down the traditional suite of nine rooms on the fourth floor of the Apostolic Palace, in favor of a small three room suite in the Santa Martha guesthouse.

Some bishops are not getting the message of Pope Francis.  To wit...

  • The infamous "Bishop Bling," Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany, spent around $43 million on an office complex and episcopal residence.  In April, the pope accepted his resignation.  He's now praying somewhere without a job.
  • In New Jersey, Newark Archbishop John Myers didn't think the Cathedral Rectory of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was enough for a residence.  He didn't think a $300,000 retirement home, 4,500-square-feet, in a rural area of New Jersey outside the archdiocese was enough.  So he embarked on a $500,000 addition, a three-story, 3,000-square-foot addition to the retirement home.  The new wing will include an indoor exercise pool, a hot tub, three fireplaces, a library, a "wellness room," and an elevator to a third-floor "observation room."

  • Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory found that no good deed goes unpunished.  He has lived in the cathedral rectory for ten years.  He agreed to move out, and allow the priests serving the growing cathedral parish to move in.  The parish then will tear down the parish rectory and build needed office space and gathering space for ministry needs.  The archbishop consulted with appropriate bodies, and set about to build a $2.2 million episcopal residence in a tony neighborhood of Atlanta.  But when word of this spread to the secular press, and the faithful of Atlanta, he received such a storm of criticism he backed down.  At least he had the humility to publicly apologize to his flock. 
Such criticisms of clerical housing are not limited to the Catholic hierarchy.
  • Trinity Church in Boston, an Episcopal parish, recently bought a $3.6 million condo in Beacon Hill for its rector, the Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III.  Many have criticized the parish for this.
  • Last fall, the 33-year old pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, Steven Furtick, revealed plans to build a 16,000-square-foot estate with 7.5 bathrooms and an electrified gate.  Furtick is a Southern Baptist, who heads a fast growing congregation.  Criticism of his decision has not stopped construction, however.
Two Pittsburghers do get the message.  When Bishop David Zubik returned to the Diocese of Pittsburgh in September 2007 after serving as head of the Green Bay local church, he announced that he would live at St. Paul Seminary.  He put the bishop's residence on Warwick Terrace, near the Carnegie Mellon University campus, up for sale. The mansion had been gifted to the Diocese of Pittsburgh by the Maytag family in the 1950s.  Bishops Dearden, Wright, Leonard, Bevilaqua, and Wuerl had lived in it. It subsequently was sold for $2.1 million, and some of the proceeds went to carving a suite of rooms for the bishop on the first floor of O'Connor Hall.  The suite has a tiny chapel, a dining room which seats ten, a small kitchen, living room, study, bedroom and bath, as well as storage space in the basement.

(In the 1960s Mass was said in the tiny chapel over the arched portico at the bishop's house on Warwick Terrace and broadcast over WTAE radio at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings.  Usually Father Jack O'Toole, the vocations director and longtime aide to Bishop Leonard, who lived with the bishop said the Mass.  The lector for the Mass was one of the students at the Bishop's Latin School.  I remember several times being the lector, and along with my mom joining the bishop for breakfast afterwards.  In those days there were three or four Sisters of Divine Providence who also lived in the bishop's house, serving the needs of the bishop.  Needless to say, they departed at some point, and laity were hired to take care of laundry, cleaning, and food preparation.)

Last summer Bishop Bernie Hebda of Gaylord, Michigan was named by Pope Francis to be coadjutor archbishop of Newark.  When he moved to New Jersey, he chose to live in a small three-room suite in Xavier Hall, a dormitory on the campus of Seton Hall University.  He will succeed Archbishop Myers upon his resignation or retirement.  It's quite a distance from "Your Grace" to "Bishop Bernie."

As these dust-ups appeared in the newspapers and in the blogosphere, I mentally reviewed the rectories in which I've lived.  I'm sure that some of these buildings would be "mansion-like" to most parishioners.  But unlike bishops, the parish priest (at least in this part of the United States) is usually stuck with a residence which is decades and decades old, next to or attached to the church.  These buildings were built when the priest WAS a prince, and when there were several priests serving the parish.

For the first six of my assignments, I lived with several priests.  Each of us had "the usual digs"--a sitting room, bedroom and private bathroom.   The buildings were large, but our interior living quarters were modest.

When I was a deacon at St. Michael Parish, on Pius Street in South Side, I had a wooden spiral staircase to myself.  That was unique!  Ten years ago that rectory, and the church, were sold to a developer and became "Angel's Arms" custom condominiums, with a great view of Downtown Pittsburgh and the Monongahela River.

In my first priestly assignment, at St. Therese in Munhall, the retired pastor, Father Joe Nee, used parish funds to have a suite of rooms built in the unfinished attic of the rectory, for his retirement.  $25,000 got him a bedroom, sitting area and bathroom.  In today's funds that would be $100,000 in improvements, and without any pesky consultation with the parish finance council.  I remember how irritated I was that Father Nee had this space built for himself.  To my knowledge, he was the only priest to ever live there.   After he died, I used to go up to the third floor if I wanted peace and quiet for prayer or study.

Only when I became pastor of Incarnation Parish on the North Side, did I live alone in a big house.  That was because there were two rectories, and two priests.  I lived in the old Annunciation rectory.  It had single pane windows, drafty high ceilings, and desperately needed repairs and a paint job--which I couldn't do because the parish was in debt.  There was a hole in the kitchen floor through which I could look down into the basement.

Later I lived in Bethany House, the oldest (1927) building on the campus of the Sisters of Divine Providence's motherhouse.  This former farm house was quaint, cute and small.  On the first floor, a tiny kitchen, a dining room, a living room and porch.  On the second floor, two small bedrooms and the only bathroom.  I thoroughly enjoyed that little house.

Today three of us priests live in what can honestly be termed a mansion, built about 1905.  Each of us has five spacious rooms.  We live under one roof as a sign of our sharing in the priestly ministry and fraternity.  I enjoy the company of my brother priests.  The faithful like our arrangement also.  On the Sunday after our first Christmas in St. Mary's rectory, we hosted an open house.  Over 200 parishioners went through the building to see our living quarters, and everyone approved.  

Two of our rectories here in New Castle have no permanent residents, although St. Vitus rectory housed two seminarians last summer.  (I hope there are no thieves reading this blog.  Well, no worry about that.)  We just this week welcomed retired diocesan priest Father Joe Pudichery into St. Vincent de Paul rectory, and into our brotherhood.   

One of the challenges of such rectories is "living over the store."  The unstated expectation of living in a rectory next to the church was that the priest(s) were 24-hour-a-day watchmen, on call to prevent break-ins.  The distance from the bed linens to the altar linens could be measured in feet.  This caused a certain internal tension, as you never really left work.  

When I was named administrator of Nativity Parish, for the first time I did not live where I worked.  The parish offices were underneath the church, in what had been school classrooms.  Our rectory (which housed myself and three priests from other countries who were students at Duquesne University) was across Franklin Road.  Even though it was a short distance to walk, the separation between office/church and residence was psychologically great, and very healthy.  Since then I have never lived "over the store," and hope I never do.

For us parish priests, the challenge to live humbly and simply as Pope Francis teaches is less about where we live than it is how do we spend our discretionary income and time.  Flashy clothes, several overseas trips a year, the best restaurants each week, a new leased car every two years, befriending only wealthy parishioners--these are the things that rightly irk parishioners.  We diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, as do women and men religious (and as Jorge Mario Bergoglio did as a Jesuit).  But we would do well to live as if we did.