Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The celibate male priesthood revisited

A very interesting article posted from today's Angelus News email. I encourage everyone to read it.
 

The nature of our priesthood being exclusively male and celibate is one of those hot-button issues in the Church with many people, Catholic or not, weighing in with opinions. Putting aside my own personal biases for the moment, this article, as the author states, presents some arguments that are underappreciated, and worth examining. One should never take on an issue without first examining all sides. Only then can one support their case. Far too many issues today are boiled down to ideological soundbites with neither side listening to the other. And as we all should know, especially as Church, context is everything. Even our Holy Father has been preaching this message of context as the avenue toward understanding and compassion.

That being said, the nature of our priesthood continues to be an issue calling for debate. I personally believe that its time for the Church to call for a Council to address both the nature of our priesthood and the governance of our Church.

First I must point out that Fr. Damian Ference makes some very important arguments for maintaining a male celibate priesthood, and his points are well reasoned. In fact, I find it refreshing that he manages to make his points without relying on the "because that's the way it's always been" cliche.

But... and this is me personally talking, not on behalf of the my ministry or the Church... I think our views on this need to evolve. I agree, yes, there is and always should be a place in the Church for a male, celibate priesthood. It is an honorable vocation that should remain, and the charism of their ministry is unique. But does that mean there isn't room for a married male priesthood, or a celibate female priesthood, or a married female priesthood? Or is there no room for the laity in the governance of the Church? I don't think we should abolish the celibate male priesthood, but I do think we should consider what roles might be better served by broadening our options.

Further, we need to look at these issues in the larger context of our world. There clearly are differences between male and female, and those differences should be celebrated, but the world is quickly learning that our "separate but equal" social contract needs to evolve, be it with restrooms, actors, or sports. Breaking down gender barriers doesn't mean eliminating gender. Instead it adds depth to the greater human experience without diminishing the biological nature of mother or father.  But our biological nature needn't be the only thing that defines us in society.  Nor should so-called "gender roles" be forced on people based solely on their biological condition... especially since nearly all those roles are social constructs not driven by biology.

On a related note, we as Church need to recognize the context that the number of priests continues to decline, forcing them to take on much responsibility than the should. We also need to give voice to the disparity of the distribution of our priestly assets, where in certain parts of the world a growing Catholic population isn't being served as well as it should while other parts of the world have a lower ratio of priest to parishioners. Another context that needs to be addressed is the decline in church attendance in some parts of the world because they don't see a place for themselves in the Church or perceive the need for God in their lives because her priestly ministers aren't able to reach out and be noticed in the community.

Now stepping back into my role as a catechist and minister in the Church, we all need to recognize that the Church is not static. It is constantly moving and evolving as the Spirit guides her. Just like our relationship with God is never static. Like all relationships things change and evolve as our world and the world around us continues to change and evolve. These conditions don't change or undermine the nature of God. Nor does this undermine or change the nature of the Church. But where is the Spirit moving us? That's the question. And that's where the debate on these and other issues is needed. Debate is healthy. Debate is necessary. Debate is part of who we are as Church historically and is a lively tradition that sometimes needs to spread outside of the halls of ecclesiastical power and out onto the streets. It worked for St Francis. It can still work for us today as we all try to see where the Spirit needs to guide us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the beauties of Ordinary Time is the opportunity to “play the long game” when it comes understanding Jesus and his teachings.  We literally journey with Jesus and the Apostles during his mission to spread the Word, and because many of our readings pick up where we left off the previous week, we have an opportunity to learn as we go, much like the Apostles themselves.


Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm: 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43 (OR Matthew 13:24-30)

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom.  This book, coming about 50 years before Christ (most likely from the Jewish Community of Alexandria) served, like most of the wisdom books, as a kind of “catechism” for the faithful.  Our passage this week reminds us that God is both mighty and benevolent.  In fact, the text goes to great lengths to say that this might comes from his benevolence.  Not only has God taught us what is good (through The Law), he gives us the opportunity to repent… to change our ways least we be judged by our sins.  The joy at this opportunity for forgiveness is heard in our Psalm as we sing, “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”

This idea of giving us time to repent is also reflected in our Gospel from Matthew.  Picking up where we left off last Sunday (with Jesus teaching us about parables), Jesus tells us the parable of the Weeds Among The Wheat.  In a story that is unique to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues with the themes presented in the parable of the sower and adds another dimension to the story.  Here an enemy has sown weeds among the freshly planted wheat.  When the master’s slaves see the weeds growing among the wheat, they ask if they should pull them out, but the master warns them that by doing so, they could uproot the wheat as well.  Instead, he instructs them to let the weeds grow, and come harvest they can separate the wheat from the weeds, gathering the wheat into his barn, and burning the weeds.  In the longer version of this week’s gospel, Jesus continues with the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast.  Then again like last week’s gospel, we are reminded why Jesus has chosen to teach using parables, and takes this opportunity to explain the parable of the weeds to his disciples (and us).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable is straight forward enough… even we can follow… the weeds are children of evil and are sent to be burned, while the wheat is gathered into God’s kingdom.  What Jesus doesn’t explain, however, is why they wait until the harvest to separate the good from the bad… or does he?  The other two parables give us the explanation.  The parable of the mustard seed shows us that the least among us can be the greatest, while the parable of the yeast shows us that the yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise.  In other words, when good flourishes, it can be an example to others.  As reflected in our passage from the Book of Wisdom, God is merciful, and gives us every opportunity for repentance… but only until the harvest. 

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Picking up near where we left off last week (that through the Spirit we are redeemed), this week’s passage, though short, gives us a lot to think about.  According to the text, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, but we don’t know how to pray as we ought?”  Then the text tells us “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones…”  In short, the Spirit knows our needs, even though we may not know them ourselves, and further, the Spirit knows our hearts.

Final thoughts:
One of the beauties of the parables is that it allows us to look at a situation from “outside the box” or from “beyond the fourth wall.”  We’re observers as the story unfolds before us.  From that position of being outside the narrative we can gain insight into the lessons of the narrative.  Jesus was a master storyteller, using his wit and wisdom to teach us the ways of the Father in a way that just about anyone can understand.  But as we see toward the end of this week’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are still confused, asking Jesus to explain the parable.  Why is that?  Whether or not the disciples were actually confused is unimportant.  Here Matthew is using a literary device so that his audience (us) won’t be confused.  The disciples in Matthew’s story (and all the Gospels) are meant to put us in the narrative… to give us a seat next to Jesus as he teaches.  But Matthew also knows that we must also be able to understand the stories so that we can pick them up and spread them to others.  We must spread the Gospel.

Artificial Inteligence: An Existential Risk?

Posted from today's Angelus News email.

Elon Musk Warns Governors: Artificial Intelligence Poses an Existential Risk

Wait... isn't this a page dedicated to the Catholic faith? So why all this talk of Elon Musk and Artificial Intelligence? Because it's relevant to our world!

In Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, we are taught that "we must now consider this same Church inasmuch as she exists in the world, living and acting with it." Our faith does not stand outside and separate from the world we live in, even though we have a tendency to separate our secular lives from our religious lives. Instead we need to recognize that the Church is in and of this world. This isn't anything new. The Church has struggled with what we call "modernity" since the Renaissance (no, this was not just a 20th century issue...).

So how does our Faith form us and inform us in relation to this new frontier of AI? Well, that's the question, isn't it? Great minds like those of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have given us warnings about how AI could mean the end of human civilization as we know it. Just because these people aren't religious doesn't mean we shouldn't listen. We Catholics, from our greatest theologians to you and me must consider how AI may affect our lives. We the people, the product of our creator, are now stepping out and becoming creators ourselves. What is our responsibility as parents to this new technology? How has our relationship with God taught us in this regard? All questions we should ponder...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

As Catholics we’re taught that we should read the Bible, but how many of us actually do?  The Bible, after all, is not what you would call an “easy read.”  The Bible, the collection of the Sacred Scriptures actually form an integral part of our faith tradition.  This importance was noted in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Word of God:  Dei Verbum.  Here we are taught that both the Scriptures and our Apostolic Tradition flow “from the same divine wellspring,” and that both are needed for Church teaching.  Our readings this week remind us of the importance of the Scriptures…


Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

Our first reading is from the master story teller of the Hebrew scriptures… Isaiah.  In a short poetic stanza from the time near the end of the Exile (from Deutero-Isaiah), the passage paints a picture of the rain and snow giving nourishment to the earth, which then produces nourishment for us.  It then equates that nourishment to God’s Word.  Just as the rain brings life, so does the Word of God, through his prophets and thus through the Scriptures (our Bible).  It depicts a God who’s very words can nourish our souls like the rain can nourish a parched earth.  This idea is echoed in our Psalm, but takes it one step further by equating us as the seeds.  Land in good soil with plenty of water, and we are a bountiful harvest.

Our Gospel from Matthew picks up this theme with the Parable of the Sower, where Jesus is facing a large crowed on the shore, gets into a boat and explains how seeds that fall on rich soil can produce in great abundance.  This is actually the first parable in the Gospel of Matthew, and the disciples appear a little confused, so they ask Jesus, “why do you speak to them in Parables?”  Jesus then explains why he is teaching this way (whit a reference to fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah), and then goes on to explain the meaning of the parable.  Jesus, schooled by the master story tellers of the Hebrew Scriptures, is a master storyteller himself, using simple, relatable stories to explain sometimes difficult theological concepts.  Not only is this an important moment for the disciples, but we too, by putting ourselves into the story, gain an understanding of what Jesus is teaching.

Our second reading comes from our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Picking up a few passages from where we left off last week (living in the Spirit and not the flesh), Paul is acknowledging that there is suffering in our current state… not just because of Roman oppression, but also the suffering we face as part of our regular earthly existence.  But Paul teaches us that whatever suffering we may face now, that we can look forward to that much more glory as children of God.

Final thoughts:
Scripture is an integral part of our lives as Christians.  One of the best analogies I’ve heard for the Bible is that it is, “the story of our relationship with God.”  The story of God creating and getting to know us, and of us getting to know Him.  How is it that we can know so much about our family history?  Especially that history from the time before we were born?  It comes from the stories of our older family members.  My parents giving me their stories and the stories of their parents.  Those stories, through my connections with these people, become my stories, adding depth and context to who I am… my own story.  The same is true for scripture.. the Word of God… the water nourishing the earth… the seed falling on fertile soil.  We are a “people of the book.” meant not only to learn from these stories, but to make them our own and pass them on.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week’s readings focused on what kind of people God wants us to be, reminded us of the blessings he bestows on those of us who extend kindness and hospitality to everyone (regardless of their affiliation).  This week our readings focus on the kind of kingdom God envisions for his people.  Not one of military might or laborious worship, but something much different from what we’ve come to expect…


Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Zechariah.  It is helpful to remember that Zechariah’s prophecy comes from the early post-exile era, around 520 BCE, around the same time as Ezekiel and Ezra, and is attributed to two different authors (1st Zechariah forming Chapters 1-8, 2nd Zechariah forming chapters 9-14).  Our passage for this Sunday comes from 2nd Zechariah with a vision of a restored Jerusalem with a new king.  But Zechariah’s vision of a kingdom is far different than what the people expect.  What they expect is a king who is powerful, with attendants and an army  representative of his high stature.  Instead we see someone who is humble, riding an ass and banishing all weapons of war.  While this might sound familiar to our Christian ears, this is startling to Zechariah’s listeners.  They’ve just come a period of Exile and are rebuilding their lives back in Jerusalem.  Their desire is to never again be subject to another greater military power.  Yet Zechariah tells us that our strength as a people doesn’t come from weapons, but from putting those weapons aside.  While Jesus wouldn’t be coming for another 500 years, Zechariah’s vision for a restored Jerusalem is typical of the post-exilic era, during a time where the Jewish people see a future for themselves.  The joy Zechariah feels is the same joy we find in Christ… a joy and praise echoed in our Psalm when we sing “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.”

Jesus picks up this Psalm refrain in our Gospel from Matthew.  Here Jesus is stepping in as the new mediator between God and his people.  In the  past this was a job left to Moses, and later to the priests and religious leaders.  But over time Jesus sees that these leaders have lead them astray, and those leaders have grown deaf to what the Lord want’s of his people.  In fact, these religious leaders have made a relationship with God a burden on the people, requiring specific sacrifices and practices that are restricting their access to God.  Instead Jesus tells us, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  In other words, what you thought God wanted is not at all what he wants.  Not great power or wisdom, but great humility and generosity of heart instead.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul explains the differences between the body and the spirit… a common theme in Paul’s teaching derived from popular Hellenistic teaching.  Paul teaches us that we are not flesh, we are in the spirit… but only if we allow the spirit of God to dwell in us.  Instead of engaging in those activities that satisfy the flesh, Paul is teaching us that we should engage in those activities that satisfy the Spirit of Christ in order to attain salvation.  This is a particularly important teaching to his Roman/ Gentile audience, takes aim at their common hedonistic traditions in favor of a higher, spiritual purposes.

Final thoughts:

“Why do I have to go to church?”  It’s a common cry not only from children, but from many adults who claim to be faithful Christians.  Going to church is considered a burden.  Even we Catholics consider attendance at Mass to be an “obligation” rather than a gift.  Why is that?  To quote Moses, “we are a stiff necked people.”  We want what we want, even though it might not be good for us, and we spend plenty of effort justifying our positions instead of justifying ourselves before God.  In many ways we are a lot like those “little ones” Jesus talks about in the Gospel… not the little ones full of joy and wonder, but more like the errant toddler who, as any parent will attest, is willful, narcissistic, and ignorant of the many dangers around them.  As adults we grow to realize that we have certain responsibilities, as workers, as parents, as people living in a community.  These adult responsibilities also extend to our spiritual needs. 

Religious practice is on the decline world wide.  Perhaps it’s because many people don’t feel the need for God, or at least a formalized way of recognizing his presence and grace and giving thanks for this.  Yet so many people today say they feel a longing or a “whole” in their lives.  Yet studies done by the Pew Research Center have shown that those who attend religious services regularly not only are happier than those who don’t, but they also live longer.  This tells me that we need God as much as God needs us.  And our readings tell us how to do this… praise God, be humble, and focus on our spiritual selves.

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

God takes care of his own.  What does that mean?  Put another way, those who love God and show love to others will not be denied their eternal reward.  Our readings this week show us not only what God expects of us as followers, but what rewards could come our way by showing our love to him and one another…


2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

Our first reading comes from the 2nd Book of Kings.  The prophet Elisha (student of the great prophet Elijah) has been traveling, so when he enters the town of Shunem, a woman of influence urges him to dine with her.  This eventually became a regular thing, so the woman askes her husband to arrange a small room for him in which he can stay when he comes to town.  Elisha is so moved by this gesture that he feels he must do something for the woman.  Seeing that she had no children, he promises that this time next year she will have a baby son.  Now on the surface this seems like a grand gift for such a small gesture, but what we need to remember is that this is a time of great turmoil in Israel, and Elisha is not exactly welcome in the court of Israel.  The town of Shunem is some 60 miles north of Jerusalem, well enough away from trouble, but not so far as to realize that the entire region has been struggling with war and drought.  The woman’s offer to accommodate him is significant and shows a certain love that the prophet feels needs to be rewarded in kind.  That love is also expressed in our Psalm when we sing, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

Our Gospel from Matthew takes this idea of reward even further.  Picking up shortly where we left off last week, Jesus is teaching  the Apostles about what it takes to follow him and gain eternal life.  On the surface, what Jesus says seems rather harsh… that we must love him more than our own parents, our own children.  But we need to realize that Jesus is trying to redirect our attention to those things that are more important… not that family isn’t important, but that our love of God and our kindness and love to others much be our primary calling… for it is from this love that all other love flow, ensuring our eternal reward.

Our Second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul gives us the deeper meaning of Baptism by reminding us that when we are baptized, we are following Christ through death, resurrection, and redemption.  We die to our old selves, and are reborn free from sin.  To some the act of Baptism my seem symbolic, especially to the Roman community to which he is teaching, so Paul wants them to know that it is much more… that through our baptism we follow Jesus from death to new life.

Final thoughts:
What does God want of us?  It’s a fairly common question, particularly when we are faced with troubled times.  Our readings for this week remind us.  God wants us to love him and love one another.  Above all else.  Above our parents.  Above our on children.  Above all our worldly possessions and position.  What we forget, however, is that if we put God first, if we put love of others first, everything else falls into place.  There is nothing new here in our readings this week… God has been trying to teach us this from the beginning.  Thankfully, however, we have Jesus as our advocate, to forgive us when we falter, and to constantly remind us least we stray.  It is so easy to get distracted, which is why reminders like what we have this week are so important.