Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Reflections

Well the kids are in bed & the in-laws have gone home. I'm sitting on my porch enjoying a quiet Florida spring night by candlelight with a nice glass of wine. I guess it's a good time to reflect on Easter 2008.

This was our first Easter since coming back to the Catholic Church. Every year I would always miss being Catholic at this time of the year. There's just something about celebrating the Triduum that ministers to my soul. I would try to recreate as much of it as possible with our home church. In fact, it was just last year when our community was featured on the front page of our newspaper (and in a related story on our local cable news channel) for their Easter Sunday edition. However, nothing I put together could compare with the beauty of the Triduum liturgy.

It's really one liturgy in three acts celebrated from Holy Thursday night to the Easter Vigil. I love how the different liturgical acts--including the appearance of the church itself--invite us to re-live Jesus' final moments and his resurrection. While speaking with my dad today he said. "If you don't attend the Vigil, it's like you haven't really experienced Easter." I couldn't agree more.

Of course last night was made all the more special because I was the sponsor for Jacob, a single guy from our former community, as he was baptized and confirmed. Our two oldest daughters also made their First Communion last night as well. It's like we've finally truly completed our journey back to Catholicism.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

While I'm at it...

Upon further reflection of my last post I realized I forgot to mention another little issue I'd like to see the Catholic Church change...requiring spiritual discipline under penalty of sin. I think that setting aside special days of observance (holy days) or designating days for fasting (Friday's in Lent), but I really just don't get the obligation part of this. This just seems to have much more in common with the Pharisees than with Jesus. The message of the OT prophets consistently pointed out that God was more concerned with mercy & justice than with obligatory worship. I just really don't get this at all. I didn't understand it before I left the Church. I didn't understand it during my time away from the Church, and I still don't get it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Faithful Dissent?

Can there be such a thing as faithful dissent, or is that simply an oxymoron? I'd like to think it's possible to be a faithful Catholic while respectfully disagreeing with certain practices and policies. Typically those embrassing dissent come primarily from the extremes of the Church--both conservative and liberal. I tend to see myself pretty much in the middle (ok, maybe slightly right leaning) but here are some of my pet peeves:

Celibacy Requirement for Priesthood. The first thing to keep in mind here is that this is a discipline not a doctrine of the Church. It is primarily the Latin Rite that maintains this requirement and even in the Latin Rite there are married priests. Pope Benny can wake up tomorrow morning in his Vatican apartment and decide to end this discipline. Perhaps that's what is so frustrating. A man who is raised Anglican (or even Lutheran in some cases) and married & ordained in his denomination can convert to Catholicism and be ordained as a priest. The church will allow this for a convert, but if you're unfortunate enough to have been born Catholic this is not a possibility for you. I'd be at the seminary door tomorrow if this rule were changed. This is one of the primary reasons I left the Church to begin with, because I felt called to marriage and pastoral ministry (priesthood). I'm holding out hope for change. It needs to change; not because of a shortage of priests, nor because of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, but becuase I firmly believe God is calling men to both vocations and the Church is acting as a barrier. It is ironic that men who left the priesthood to get married have been treated more harshly by the Church than those guilty of abusing children. Don't tell me that God won't call you to both because they are not mutually exclusive.

Public Recitation of the Rosary. Ok, this may seem a bit odd, but bear with me. I am all for the Rosary and I'm all for public or group prayer. The problem is that the Rosary is best used as a means of mediative prayer--you're supposed to meditate on the mysteries. This is best done in private. I'd like to see devote Catholics learn and use the Liturgy of the Hours in public prayer as this is the public prayer of the Church. In fact, the Council Fathers emphasized the importance of the Hours in Chapter IV of Sacrosanctum Councilium even stating that laity "are encouraged to recite the divine office." Of course, this leads me to my next pet peeve...

Overemphasis on Mary & the Saints (boardinging on idolatry). This is one of those areas where the Church's formal teaching is correct, but there are a wide range of abuses that need clearer correction from the Magisterium. I believe in the communion of the saints. I have no problems with seeking their intercession. Mary as Mother of God is due a special honor by the children of the Church. Unfortunately, in reality there is a good amount of practical idolatry; and I'm not just talking about the weird crap that goes on in Latin America. It's been my expereince that many Catholics have an image of God as a taskmaster Judge keeping score of our rights & wrongs and generally disappointed with us. There's an unhealthy fear of God that causes many to feel that they must go to Mary & the Saints because they don't feel worthy of going to God directly. This causes people to worship Mary rather honor her. I've even heard of people developing a personal relationship with Mary while never thinking the same relationship is possible with Jesus. Too often the Church is too quiet or too slow to correct abuses and superstitions. Only when you have a healthy understanding of God can you have a healthy understanding of the communion of saints.

Technophobia. I know, this one isn't exactly a theological problem, but it's still a problem. Have you actually seen what passes as websites for some dioceses and parishes? OMG! It's the 21st century people, get with it. People do not rely on the Yellow Pages and phone calls to get information about your organization whether its a church, school or business. They rely on the internet and your online presence is often your first impression. I don't even think this is on the radar for most churches. My own parish's website (when it's up) is still advertising events for the fall of 2006! The Vatican's site actually isn't bad, and there are some dioceses and parishes that do a good job, but they're the exception to the rule.

Spectator Mentality. This is my last one (for now). There's an institutionalized segregation between the clergy & the laity, between the saints & the rest of us, that leads to a spectator mentality for most pew warmers. Now, this isn't necessarily confined to Catholicism. There is the old 80-20 rule--20% of the people do all the work while 80% consume it. However, by emphasizing the role of the clergy most lay people feel that doing ministry is not for them. By emphasizing stories of the Saints it's implied that only super-holy people have access to God for their prayers to work miracles. The Church needs to open up areas of non-sacramental ministry to the laity and actively train them & encourage them.