Saturday, May 4

Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God's will, than for doing wrong. (1 Peter 3:16,17)

If you haven't noticed, the Scripture readings in recent weeks have been particularly apt for the times we're in, ecclesiologically speaking. There's a reason for that. The Scripture readings during the Easter Season have a single purpose: to help us see what the reality of the Risen Christ is all about. And what we hear, over and over again, particularly in the Gospels, is the assurance of presence. The promise of presence with His Church is made repeatedly and strongly by Christ. It's a good thing to remember in these days. More than good. Essential.

It's good to remember that our faith is in the enduring presence of Christ, not in weak and fallible human beings. It's a complicated thing, to be sure. But it's complicated in the same way that the Scriptures are complicated, and that the Incarnation itself is complicated: In both, God works within and through the world: through human experiences, memories and words, and through the limits of human flesh. We are regularly driven batty by the task we give ourselves of sorting out which is which - what's God's part, and what's the human part? The answer is always mysterious and most of the time, we are never quite certain of our answers. But that shouldn't surprise us. The fact that we're limited human beings with limited powers of understanding is one reason for our difficulty, but the other reason is simply the depths and intensity of the entwining of divine and human. It's sort of like trying to sort out our very own selves. Trying to figure out why you did something. Or didn't. Or, more fundamentally, when we reflect on who we are - body and spirit, it is not as easy as we think to tease the two apart. I didn't get much work done today. I am still fighting something - some little illness or allergy - and it has made me lethargic, especially mentally. So which is the problem - mind or body? But my mind is rooted in chemicals and nerves and electrons anyway, so...who am I, anyway?

It's our problem when trying to figure out the Church. Jesus promised to be with the Church. We call the Church the Body of Christ. But where is the Presence of Christ in the midst of a web of failure, sin and grave harm? Where is the Presence of Christ in a church on Sunday morning when the presiding priest or bishop has lied, and everyone knows he's lied? Where is the Presence of Christ in a church on Sunday morning when more members of the congregation that care to admit it have been subtlely complicit in harm done, by refusing to see potential harm in the innapropriate actions of a priest or religious educator or youth minister because that person was so charming or seemed so nice or built such a beautiful big church?

You probably know the answer already. Christ is present where He always has been: In Word and Sacrament. In Eucharist, there at the altar, inviting us to intimate friendship with him. Inviting us to be reconciled and to reconcile and to live in truth.

For too long now, we have succumbed to the lure of personality in our Church. Oh yes, there will always be the tempation, because people are people, and some people seem to speak more strongly to us of the presence of Christ than others. But the greatest saints - the real saints - will all tell you, as Paul does, that they are not the point. At all. The point is Christ within them. I daresay real saints would be appalled that they're canonized and would consider themselves the least worthy of all.

But we've succumbed, nonetheless. Part of it has been the changes in the liturgy which have given free reign to personalities - and I don't just mean presiders, I mean music ministers, lectors, greeters and eucharistic ministers. I remember being at one parish about ten years ago in which the practice was to introduce all these ministers at the beginning of Mass: "Our lectors today will be Sally Sanctimonious and Dan the Drama King..." As if it mattered.

It's also manifested itself in our emphasis on "community." On a false sense of community, I might add. Christian community is grounded in Christ, first, in our shared baptism, and secondly in our shared Eucharist. Communion. But of late, our sense of community has been, as you can tell from Catholic liturgical music, all about the big US. Our gifts, our talents, being special, being spectacular, being fabulous and phat. We've been obsessing about the externals, thinking that this was what Paul wanted us to do when he spoke of the gifts of the Spirit and the various tasks of the various parts of Christ's body. It's not. I'll go out on a big fat limb here and suggest that Paul could not imagine that his (literally) inspired metaphors of the Body would be used in way that would result in Catholics sitting around in parish meeting rooms with big sheets of newsprint posted to the walls, brainstorming about their gifts and talents, tearfully affirming the quality of each other's gifts and talents and then closing with a prayer in thanksgiving for their gifts and talents, followed by a song about their gifts and talents.

Somehow, I don't think that was the idea.

Oh, I'm wandering. Let's try to focus here. I could give other examples, and I'm sure you could to, but the point is that like it or not, over the past few decades, ordinary Catholics have been trapped, almost, into a spirituality which looks for God in other human beings in completely the wrong way. We're supposed to see Christ in others, as he said, in order to value, love and serve. We're not supposed to look for God in others as objects of veneration or inspiration. It's a subtle, but important difference. The latter stance does nothing but set us up for disappointment and worse. The former, however, opens us up to a profound and deeper experience because we are letting God be God, to work through us.

So when we wonder where Christ is present these days, it's good to remember that He's right where He's always been. In the Word. In Eucharist. In prayer. And in others, like Christ, broken and poor.

The reading I quoted above, today's second reading, is not on that theme. Oh well..but I thought it spoke to the times anyway. Pretty strongly, too. Peter calls Christians to defend ourselves, but in "gentleness and reverence" and to do so in a way in which our consciences will always be perfectly clear. Good words for bishops. Good words for all of us.

An AP article about donation-withholding movements in the Church. As I've said before, there's plenty of great Catholic causes out there worth your money besides your bishop's fund. Cover your parish, first, but don't feel any hesitancy about giving the bishop a pass this time around, especially if you're in a diocese that's particularly guilty in this regard. Chances are, hardly any one will miss the "services" provided by the chancery, anyway. And you can always give directly to the truly worthy ones - Catholic Charities (if you're not in Boston), the Respect Life office, the Migrant ministry. But other than that - I mean, how badly are we yearing for another Workshop on Parenting in Light of the Enneagram, anway?
Domenico Bettinelli answers my question below about the Boston settlement issue

Actually, if they go to court, it could mean a lot less money. There is
a Massachusetts state law that limits court-ordered damages for non-profits to $20,000. That's a lot less than the victims were going to get under the
previous settlement. That says something that they were willing to go with substantially more.

I guess I'll believe him, but I find it hard to fathom nonethless. Why would they have settled in the first place, then? Just to avoid the bad publicity of court time?

Well, that's nice. Got a mention in a new column by John Leo in US News and World Report on blogging:

The crisis over sex abuse by priests has brought a lot of Catholic bloggers into the field. Some of the commentary has been first-rate, particularly Sursum Corda and Amy Welborn's In Between Naps.

What a nice mention! Thank you!

I really don't understand the decision of the Boston Archdiocesan Financial Council. What I don't get is what they think the alternative is going to be. Yes, there are literally hundreds of claims pending, but what does the rejection of this settlement mean? Wouldn't it mean more time in court and the possiblity of greater claims? Wouldn't that mean more money?

Cardinal Law, get all those "for sale" signs ready - looks like you're going to be selling off some real estate.

By the way, Domenico Bettinelli has a good observation on this development: as in....uh...lay participation in decision making? The solution? Domenico also has some very interesting information on the whole farce called Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Boston.

A totally wrong, unintelligible NYTimes op-ed from someone named Bill Keller called Is the Pope Catholic?

He seems, at first, to get it:

The pope lamented last week that the child abuse scandal is eroding trust in the church. But that is rather backward. American Catholics have reacted so explosively to this sordid affair precisely because they felt so little trust to begin with

As I've been sayin'. But then he shows his real colors:

One paradox of the Polish pope is that while he is rightly revered for helping bring down the godless Communists, he has replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church. Karol Wojtyla has shaped a hierarchy that is intolerant of dissent, unaccountable to its members, secretive in the extreme and willfully clueless about how people live.

So once again, we get the explanation of "Bad Church Tolerated Child Molesters Because It's Orthodox." Which is, of course, the exact opposite of the truth. As I've said before, tolerance of sexual exploitation of minors knows no ideology - it's fundamentally about clericalism and the desperate need for priests to staff parishes. But the picture of the Church this guy presents is so totally off, one must conclude that he's not Catholic.

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