Kingfishers, Dragonflies, and Stones
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; / As tumbled over rim in roundy wells / Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's / Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; / Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, / Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.// Í say móre: the just man justices/ [Gerard Manley Hopkins]
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
You can tell a priest
by watching his hands, the way his fingers curl a bit,
yet leave the hand open for us to grasp and hold onto,
tightly. The same hands bless and consecrate bread
and wine waiting for them on altar's table.
Sundays I like
to go back to church to watch those hands arrange
godparents around the font, hover over infants, pour
water, wipe oil, brush like a kiss a last caress on tiny
head. Care-filled hands smile that great, priestly smile
when he hands baby back as a Catholic forever and
ever. Amen. Grown-ups around the font beam back
their smiles as radiant as the monstrance when held
high in those same hands at Benediction.
The hands of a priest
are quiet, though, in the dim light of the confessional,
folded in his lap, patient, waiting for my sins to end,
so as to be raised in absolution's forgiveness with that
blessing of all blessings, "I absolve you. Go, in peace."
And all is well again by the Sacrament of the shriven.
My soul is clean, for a while.
Priest creates God
as Eucharist, his hands holding bread as Jesus did
the night before he died, "This is my body," then
lifting chalice, "This is my blood." We all remember
"Do this in memory of me." Imitators offer the presence
of a real absence. Priest's hands bring down a promise,
a real presence, "I shall be with you for all time." We
walk in reverence to that awe-filled moment when his
hands place the wafer in our hands, and he says,
"The Body of Christ."
when we married each other before him would not
have been so, without his hands, warm, open, loving,
wavering over rings to be blessed, waiting in silent
prayer for vows to be spoken, blessing a bond bonding
lovers, then reaching for the ceiling high over the altar
with great joy. "And now, you may kiss the bride."
Words those hands
will rarely hear spoken to him, for his hands are not
his alone. They are ours, to be held in trust until
we need them one last time to help us take that one
last step to God. Hands of priests are fewer now, as
parishes get quashed in clusters by desperate bishops.
The supply of hands dwindles down, celibate males
grow older and older and younger ones no longer
appear magically in numbers needed to be there for
us, a sacramental people.
We are frightened
that the hands we knew were always there will not
always be there to bless and caress and baptize
and absolve and marry and wave us on as we cross
over. They won't be there to consecrate our eucharist,
the still point of our souls. Not even to wave with love
as we drive on by.
We pray for vocations,
for Episcopalian ministers to convert, for Rome to
relent and invite back into ministry thousands and
thousands and thousands of priests who married,
incurring by that very sacrament unrelenting rancour
of a papal martinet. Popes had elevated celibacy of
priests far loftier than sacraments, more important
than salvation of souls, made priests inconsequential
for the Lord's exhortation given his disciples, "Go
forth and teach all nations."
lost in the panoply of wealth and art and medieval
stuff, riveted in lust for power, cliqued as curial
cardinals, now refuses to provide priestly services for
the people of God, pontificates empty reason after
empty reason, emptying church of sacrament and people,
that celibates might clutch power unto themselves until
power itself is transfigured into power of nothing over
nobody. And church is gone.
It was not always so,
not in the very beginning when there were no priests
or bishops, just elders with hands, who later became
presbyters. Married priests with families lived their
day-in day-out love of woman with man, their children
calling "Daddy" shared their hands with God's people
calling them "Father." Their hands rose in blessings at
their own tables and in the postures of rites dispensing
sacraments freely, lovingly, for one thousand years.
Until a pope
decreed that priests could no longer marry and had to
become eunuchs. Might as well have cut off their hands
which bless and caress, for such popes destroyed the
priesthood on which the church depends for its mission
in life. It took a while. The second one thousand years
reeled under the harsh and swelling absolute power of
papal primacy, inquisition on inquisition, decree on
decree, unending official teachings to smother the heart
of being Catholic right out of all of us.
We need priests with hands.
If Rome will not bring them to us, we shall find our own
and bring them to ourselves and ourselves to them, to be
church once again, held together, welcomed with love,
lifted up, gently steered, patted on the back, beckoned
onward, caressed, consoled, counseled, comforted,
consecrated, guided, blessed, baptized, absolved, married,
befriended, assisted in dying on our final way to God,
by the hands of a priest.
It is good for us to share. When the voices we hear are more often than not the same old, same old, the ring of familiarity to their tones muffles the clarity of their thoughts. I speak for myself, alone, whose name pops up with a certain regularity in such a way that it isn’t necessary to read the words to hear what is being said. So, too, for other “regulars”, the talking folk.
Back in the beginning, which I guess is 2002, after the Boston Globe exposed the sordid scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, the issues demanding room for outbursting were sexuality by celibates; authority out of Rome which invaded the bathroom as well as the bedrooms of all Catholics, celibate, lay, undecided, available; some dogmas that seemed as far out now as when first promulgated; doctrines spun out of half-cloth; decrees which sounded as if the decreer was fascinated by the sound of his voice; and other nonsensities. We who had not been tarnished by the scandal, whether as parents of minors so debauched, or as stern adults without desires to screw kids, thought we could walk the high road and demand that others pick themselves up out of the gutter, all by their onesies, to act with a dignity expected of a clergy fellow or sister.
We held our breaths, hoping that civilian authorities would continue to look the other way, after a bit of flustering to salve their consciences, and leave the investigations, uncoverings, and disposal of those who failed to act as if they were human beings with normal appetites and recreational pursuits. We weren’t so easy on bishops who covered up out of fear the church would lose some glitter from its reputation hard earned over two thousand years. Privately, a lot of us felt like throwing the bums out and starting all over with a new crew of men at the top for spectacular liturgies, commencement addresses, and regular appearances with pectoral cross chains in gold discreetly displayed between black lapels in a tasteful way to let others brushing by become aware that here stood a man of God, a Vir Ecclesiasticus.
To me, none of that. I fretted, of course, at the conspiracy to keep things quiet as the word was passed on from chancery to chancery throughout the world, with a Curia nodding assent, if not with a “Hurry up, get the word out. Look concerned. Cover up. Pretend you’re in control and are repairing the damage. Watch those bank balances carefully.” We saw through that, even as we had accepted similar conduct from the hierarchy at almost every scandalous outburst during two thousand years of slow growth from a mission church of Saints James, Thomas, Peter and Paul, spreading slowly around the Mediterranean.
We even felt a little glow of pride for the unbelievable powerful boys of Rome who sat above and talked with emperors and kings and their underlings, telling them precisely what they could and could not do, as Popes toppled the highest and the mightiest of the most powerful rulers of civilization, in the name of Jesus Christ the King. God help us, we even honored the name by which our church came to be known, not simply Catholic, but Roman Catholic Church, the one, true Church of God Himself.
No, none of that, but the tinges of those tassels out of history brushed by from time to time. Some of us, myself included, saw a startling, frightening, awesome issue that would obliterate humanity itself. We saw Religion as the issue. Religion itself. In whatever format, custom, language, church by any name. Lurking deadly beneath the whimpers of a boy being raped was not the degradation of the act of love into release of tension through orgasm with any living flesh of another. It was the emptiness of Religion itself, its colors and music and sacred literature and holy men and women notwithstanding. Would, no, could Religion survive, once the people saw that it and it alone was being challenged as the binding glue of civilization?
People who had gone beyond bishops in the extent and superiority of higher education beyond grammar school were beginning to think with their minds rather than their Baltimore Catechisms, 10 cents a copy in paperback, fits in the rear hip pocket. Trusting that such education could not possibly lead lay people to question themselves, bishops even allowed Catholics to buy and read and study and discuss the New Testament in the 1930s, for the very first time, even without a clergyman being present to define the funny words being used like incarnation, annunciation, assumption, virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, infallibility, papacy.
Now that enough clergymen were being laid bare as profligate sex machines, not merely with attractive, seductive women or equally attractive, seductive men, but with little boys and girls, terms like resurrection and ascension came to be expected of illiterate apostles and disciples who took upon themselves the inhuman and impossible task of carrying the message of the Lord, whom they hardly knew or understood. We ourselves, gifted as we are, expected as much of early Christians, who, in our glorification of our church’s early years and later history were nothing less than miraculous. We had heard of slaughters in the election of popes in the first few hundred years.
We even read about the crusades as if we were reading books on the NFL and its string of Super Bowls, and cheered our troops on for their bravery in going to war for Jesus, disregarding the obvious sad ending that they lost the wars. We thought, I guess, that Super Bowls and World Series were memorable only for the winners and their fans. So much so that we couldn’t even remember with much accuracy which teams were the losers, coming in second best overall.
And so, now, today, ten whole long years after the Boston Globe’s first story about priests and kids, we’re beginning to focus on the issue of our times, bar none.
· Does Religion have a place in our world?
· Do we need an organized church at all?
· Must we submit to hierarchs as leaders whom we must obey?
· Did Jesus himself found any church?
· Did Jesus himself found a religion?
· Were the founders of Catholicism just a couple of apostles?
· Could a Paul of Tarsus, who never saw, heard or met Jesus be his principal spokesperson?
· Has Religion, in any formal form, passed its time?
· Are we not spiritual beings, as well as human?
· Is spirituality, whatever it may be, the successor to organized religions?
· Is religion a discarded term of the early years with A.D. after the number?
· Are we growing up now as people, ready and able to become one world?
· Is the Paraclete close by, urging us on?
It’s hard to stop adding up the questions, isn’t it? Religion has been, perhaps, the most powerful and dominating force in the history of the human race, has it not? For those who love and live in the past with memories, can we shuck off a church and all its panoply and culture and kind and loving servants of the servants of God? So, let the questions roll:
· Can we go it alone?
· Must we have a great big bunch of communities to hold us together?
· What would we call them, if the term ‘church’ is no longer meaningful?
· Do we hunt for what might soon be called a synonym for Religion?
· Should we get bogged down in what we decide to call ourselves?
· Has anyone of us asked the Paraclete for help?
· Do we remember Dan’s question: “God, where in the world are you?”
· I have no answers
Monday, August 20, 2012
When asked for my comments on Rome’s continental law mentality and the CDF, they have to be knee-jerk. I know little about the CDF, less about continental law and almost nothing about mentality.
Aware of the CDF’s ruthless wipeout of the professional lives of so many outstanding scholars in various fields of theology, despite the international reputations crowning their work, I am leery of my own emotional reactions to the way then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, operated that Dicastery. In my opinion, he stands with Pope John Paul II as a cruel man. My emotional reactions tinge both men in the way they breathe and move and have their being.
There is that ugly picture of JPII in 1983 Mexico, wagging fingers of both hands at a kneeling Fr. Ernesto Cardinal, berating him for Liberation Theology. I still feel the anger that flushed then.
I still feel my impotent rage at his deadly cruelty to Fr. General Pedro Arrupe, SJ, at whose feet I once sat in our Scholastic’s rec room at Sophia University in Tokyo. I just don’t like Karol Jozef Wojtyla or Jozef Aloisius Ratzinger.
Therefore, I am too overwhelmingly biased to offer any worthwhile comment. They made those judgments. Only a few stood to object. Most of the rest didn’t rock the boat. Today, a few of us bemoan and know that all we can do is pray for change and toss off our own emotion-ridden obsessions with them as people I’m grateful not to have known on a personal basis. Same goes for a whole host of other politicians in national and international stages. These two are but peas in a pod among lots of pods.
A Jesuit friend of mine, objecting to my expressions of dismay with Church government, said of himself, “I am a professional churchman. That was echoed by Robert Imbelli in the Foreword to a book on Cardinal Avery Dulles: “One of the most heartfelt accolades the early Fathers could bestow on a theologian was to praise him as vir ecclesiasticus: an ecclesial man.”
I agree and maintain either expression as high regard, proper assessment, worthy title for that person’s devotion to Church. One mighty action we can do together to honor these people and the Church is to praise a good and worthy Professional Churchman by acknowledging him publicly as Vir Ecclesiasticus. While we are at it, we might just as well start choosing each Professional Churchwoman as worthy of Femina Ecclesiastica. When the two go together, side by side, we will have an authentic Church about which we may continue authentic dialogue.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Letter to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Diocese of Seattle from Fr. John D. Whitney, SJ, Pastor, about requests of parishioners for dialogue on Church issues..
Members of St. Joseph Parish:
It is also true, Archbishop, that your acceptance of the role of implementor of the verdict of the CDF has been both a cause of sorrow and hope among members of the Parish. You are seen as a man of prayer and one welcoming to the views of others. Even on the issue of Referendum 74, you have been seen as pastorally sensitive and personally kind. The people of St. Joseph care for you and, I believe, pray for you regularly (even outside the Eucharistic Prayer). Yet, at the same time many feel uncertain by your decision to accept this appointment, and have sought to understand your participation in this action against some of those who are best and holiest within our Church. As with Referendum 74, the result of the intervention has been to alienate many in the community from the larger Church, and, indeed, sometimes even from the Parish—all of which has had a significant effect on the Annual Catholic Appeal.
When I heard from many traditional donors and long-time members of the Parish that they would not be giving to ACA this year, because of the direction of the Archdiocese, I grew concerned and spoke repeatedly from the pulpit about the good work done by the ACA, referring, at times, to your commitment not to spend any ACA funds on the Referendum 74 campaign. Still, several weeks ago, we found ourselves with $55,000 still outstanding in our ACA assessment. Thus, I decided to try another tack: I came before the Parish, telling them of the shortage and the need to meet the assessment, since our budget could not afford a shortfall. I then asked them to pledge to the ACA or, if they could not in conscience do so, to give to the Parish in a special envelope, provided in the back of the Church, with which we would pay the assessment. I committed to them that I would pass on their concerns with the money we raised, though I also encouraged all who wished to write to you directly. This letter is the result of that commitment, since we raised, in a few weeks, almost $28,000, from 67 families, who chose to give to the Parish in lieu of pledging to the Archdiocese. Representing more than 20% of the total raised or pledged at St. Joseph for the ACA, I think this figure a significant enough amount to ask what it means to the Archdiocese and to the Church.
Archbishop Sartain, the members of St. Joseph who have held back or redirected their gifts are not uninvolved or "casual" Catholics—they love the Church and are, for the most part, faithful and hopeful people. They have listened to the gospel and learned the lessons of faith since Vatican II; many have deepened their faith lives through spiritual reading and prayer, and long for the gift of the Eucharist and the life of the sacraments. They grumbled at times but have embraced the revised liturgy. They worry about their children’s perseverance in the faith, and support Catholic education and the works of outreach and service. For the most part, they love and revere the Holy Father and their Archbishop; yet they are also concerned that the Spirit who moves not only in the hierarchy, but in the whole Church—the whole People of God—is not being heard or attended to. They want to understand and to engage in a communal dialogue that they see as foundational of our faith—not rebellious to hierarchy, but in communion with those who have received the mission of leadership in the Church. Though we have done a great deal of such dialogue at a local level—with gatherings on formation of conscience and the reading of Scripture, discernment and its application—there is a deep desire to do it with the primary Pastor of the Church in this region.
And so, Archbishop, I would like to invite you to come to St. Joseph, at a time convenient to you, to speak with the members of the Parish and to listen to them—to engage together with the people of St. Joseph in listening to the Spirit moving in the Church. I promise to do all I can to facilitate such a gathering, and to ensure that it is prayerfully centered and built on the hope and faith which are the signs of the Spirit.
At General Congregation 35, the Holy Father called the members of the Society of Jesus to recall our founders, and to build bridges between the heart of the Church and its frontiers. It is ironic, perhaps, that such bridge-building would occur even within the life of such a firmly Catholic parish as St. Joseph; yet, this is what I see these days to be: a time of bridges, when the heart reaches out to the frontier and the frontier renews the heart. May Christ Jesus, the head of the Church, in whom "the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord" (Ephesians 2:21), sustain us in this good work and lead us to become his temple.
Your servant in the Lord,
John D. Whitney, S.J. Pastor 206.300.6010
Thursday, August 16, 2012
That is why Rome does not allow discussion. The Magisterium is frozen still, like a lake in the high Alps or the tundra of Siberia, or the ice island continent of Antarctica. As frozen as a Roman Dicastery or the Chapel of the Little Flower downtown. Ever drop into a bishop’s chancery, unable to take your topcoat off because of the silent chill throughout the building?
A few weeks ago, daring, dauntless scientists discovered the boson nicknamed The God Particle. Yesterday, the discovery of a Galaxy Universe, creating 700 stars a day, billions and billions of light years from us, was made by another group of eager scientists, long, long gone beyond thesis, antithesis, synthesis as an educative tool. Man wants to know. Man needs to know.
How, in God’s Name, can the church’s leaders say any of the following? “This is the Magisterium. That’s it. It is infallible, because we are infallible when we do theology. There is nothing further to know. Kneel and we will give you our blessing. Oh! And by the way, shut up or get out. ” Bishops protest that they do not act this way.