In Formation

Wednesday, July 3


Happy long weekend!

And Independence Day, of course. I'll be back bloggin' next week. May you all have a restful and safe weekend!

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/03/2002 |

Profiting from prophets and reform

Interesting reflections on prophecy and reform. Check 'em out.

John at Disputations and Karl at Summa Contra Mundum are basically arguing that prophesy and reform should never take us away from the Church's teachings, but always back to them. Though we often need to figure out how Church teaching applies to new challenges, all developments must be in continuity with the Tradition. Making changes to "keep up with the times" or to reverse Tradition has never been the Catholic way. Prophecy and Reform are not ordered to "progress" but to perfection in Christ.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/03/2002 |

Wrong conclusions from bad news

This story is very sad. But it's not simply sad for this family, but for the many healthy couples who discern that they are able, by God's grace, to have large families.

The Manassas father of 13 who left his 21-month-old daughter in the family's van in May told police that his eldest son was supposed to be watching the toddler and acknowledged that he didn't once ask about her as she overheated and died . . .

The documents portray a family in which the oldest children were taking increasing responsibility for the care of their siblings. Early last year, that led the family's eldest daughter to a mental breakdown and hospitalization, during which she told doctors that she "thought she had too much responsibility and complained about it," the documents say.

The documents, filed late yesterday afternoon, provide a contrast with the stable image of the family of Kevin and Mary Kelly that fellow parishioners at All Saints Catholic Church and friends have put forward. Instead, there's evidence that Kevin Kelly had trouble controlling the household.

Mary Kelly told doctors shortly after the birth of her 13th child that she was "stressed about family size" and that her husband was "not as concerned," the court papers say. Less than a year later, she said that she wanted to use natural family planning to space her children and that her "husband refuses to consider it."

As if couples who have more than three kids weren't already suspect! Now this window into the world of a (very) large family gives opponents "data" that justifies their prejudice. It allows them to say, often in pity or digust, "Just what I thought. It's just plain irresponsible to have that many kids."

And, to be honest, in this case the critics have a point. Having that many children revealed a major problem. But the problem was not the number of children. Instead, the problem was the parents' failure to protect their older children from too much responsibility and their failure to recognize and respond wisely to serious warning signs. Furthermore, the father, in particular, sounds like he was imbalanced in his understanding of Church teaching about family planning. He failed to discern the dangerous waters he was in, and (I suspect) he also failed to talk with a spiritual director about what he should do.

His immaturity and rigidity should not be used to color all parents of large Catholic families. We can't conclude that all parents of large families reject NFP, still less that they're bad parents.

I suspect we all know couples who have chosen to be open to having large families. And, in fact, many of these families are marked by love and joy. Of course, they also experience their share of challenges. These couples (obviously enough) do not primarily purpose to keep their family size "manageable." In prayer and faith, they believe that God's grace (and the Church) will help them raise their children well.

Especially when news like this casts a pall on large families and their parents, it's important for us to rally behind them in prayer and works of mercy.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/03/2002 |

Tuesday, July 2


A fitting follow-up

I, like millions of other Catholics who pray the Office of Readings, read powerful words from Augustine this morning. As usual, Augustine gets it right. My poor words about priests leading the faithful well are but a faint echo of this Doctor of the Church:

My brothers, we do not seek, nor should we seek, our own glory even among those whose approval we desire. What we should seek is their salvation, so that if we walk as we should they will not go astray in following us. They should imitate us if we are imitators of Christ; and if we are not, they should still imitate him. He cares for his flock, and he alone is to be found with those who care for their flocks, because they are all in him . . . .

And so, my brothers, our concern should be not only to live as we ought, but to do so in the sight of men; not only to have a good conscience but also, so far as we can in our weakness, so far as we can govern our frailty, to do nothing which might lead our weak brother into thinking evil of us. Otherwise, as we feed on the good pasture and drink the pure water, we may trample on God's meadow, and weaker sheep will have to feed on trampled grass and drink from troubled waters.

This applies to all Christians, who are called to be priests, prophets, and kings in Christ. Doubly so, though, for those who are grafted into Christ in a special way at ordination--the priests and bishops Jesus called to shepherd His Flock on earth.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/02/2002 |

Priest, Prophet, and King

A good friend from seminary sent me this note.

I recently had dinner with a faithful Catholic family. They are neither conservative or liberal, they are Catholics who love their faith, and make it an important part of their lives. While at dinner, I asked them what they wanted in a priest.

They were generally disappointed in the priests in their area because they were not leaders in the real sense of the word. They wanted priests with great integrity. They wanted priests who were not afraid of preaching the faith. They commented that most homilies were so watered-down that they were not challenging and certainly not effective in moving people to live the message of the gospel. They wanted priests who were not afraid to live, preach, teach, and show that they were Catholic. They wanted priests who were involved and they wanted priests who were available.

I was particularly struck by their comments about leadership. They are right. The faithful want leaders, not just "presiders" or "celebrants." Leaders make decisions and take action. Of course, the best leaders also listen. But not, like some ecclesiastical weathervane, to find out what the people want. No, they listen to learn what the people need. Truly Catholic leaders don't make up their own solutions to the faithful's needs. Instead, they prayerfully look to the scriptures and Tradition. Then they preach faithfully and well what the Church says about life, happiness, and peace.

Though Vatican II called for a more active role for the laity, it never meant that priests had to vacate their roles as prophets and kings. As this couple said, Catholics need priests who are real leaders, who lead with confidence, are unafraid to preach the truth, and have the integrity to live the faith they profess and preach.

I suppose all of that is just another way of saying we need priests like Jesus Christ, who led with love and preached the truth, who was, in perfect form, our Priest, Prophet, and King.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/02/2002 |

Monday, July 1


A broadened application of Zero-tolerance

Fr. John Trigilio, of the Cruxnews Blogspot, offers his version of Zero-tolerance. I somehow suspect this version of "zero-tolerance" would be less popular with the press (and with the bishops):

Zero tolerance should mean that EVERYONE is accountable, from top to bottom, from bishop to priest to deacon; from moral behavior to doctrinal teaching to liturgical worship. If it ain't Catholic and it is supposed to be Catholic, then stop it, get rid of it or at least reform and convert it.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/01/2002 |

More on invalid "ordinations"

Including this choice line:

"The women who will take part in the 'illicit' ordination understand their action as a clear sign of protest - a protest against doctrine and Church law which discriminates against women."

Defiance is not, of course, the best way to emulate Christ's priesthood. Instead of emulating Christ, who submitted to the Will of the Father, these women are desperately striving to bring about a different Kingdom--one they've designed. Regrettably (and predictably), they're doing so by way of violence--the violence of schism. May God have mercy on them!

(Thanks to Gerard Serafin for the link).

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/01/2002 |

Sunday, June 30


A provocative thesis borne of pain

In a recent Commonweal piece, Richard Nugent Hasselbach, a former priest, describes horrible experiences in formation and offers his analysis of the Situation. In the end, he blames the Church.

The Catholic Church has failed to help its priests become fully integrated sexual people . . . . Because they can't deal with [sex] openly, many priests are unable to develop a healthy adult sexuality. Whatever the incidence of child abuse, sexual dysfunction and frustration among the Catholic clergy are rampant.

Strangely, he absolves priest-perpetrators, seeming to hold them as innocent as those they abused:

As I look back on these experiences that occurred almost twenty-five years ago, I realize that the real trauma was not that a spiritual director violated trust or that a friend broke faith with a friendship. These men were themselves victims of a system that simultaneously condemned homosexuality and tacitly condoned clandestine homosexual sex. Living in a society that was also intolerant of homosexual behavior, they were forced to work out their intimacy needs in unhealthy ways. Sometimes people got hurt in the process.

The author offers an interesting solution. Because these problems surfaced because the Church said no to sex (including talk about sex), the answer may be as simple as saying yes to sex. He then offers some "evidence" that this will work. He claims gay priests often have successful ministries, and one reason is that they have gay lovers.

Gay priests find it much easier to develop intimate relationships--often with other gay priests. They ease their loneliness, travel with their "friends," and resolve their sexual issues in a way that seems to work for their own conscience and for the people they serve. Many gay priests are good ministers precisely because they find it easier to live a humanely intimate personal life. No eyebrows are raised when Father goes off on a vacation with another man, at least not in the days before the recent scandals. The ministerial success of many talented gay priests suggests the importance of integrating sexuality into the lives of priests, and of finding ways to reconcile the deepest human needs of priests with the pastoral needs of the church. But the church cannot afford to have an exclusively or even predominantly homosexualized clergy--it is too narrow, divisive, and inbred.

On his view, homosexual priests are ministering effectively in part because their "deepest human needs" are being met by other gay men. But--and this seems to be the moral of the story--because we "cannot afford" to have "a predominantly homosexualized clergy," we need married priests.

He does not state this thesis plainly, but it is evident when his essay is taken as a whole. He is right to condemn the Church for tolerating homosexual acting out in seminaries and among priests, and he is correct to criticize the "clubby, secretive, clerical culture." But his implicit solution (allowing married priests) is not the answer to the current crisis.

If married priests were the answer, we would not find cases of abuse among married men (clergy or otherwise). But, of course, we do. Furthermore, plenty of married men and women struggle to meet "their intimacy needs," so the problem cannot be reduced to sex and relationships. The problems in all failed relationships arise from a failure to love and be loved appropriately. And, when we want to see what love looks like, Jesus, not Freud, should be our guide. Agape, not eros, is the answer.

Getting rid of mandatory celibacy might open up the pool to more candidates, but it is naive to believe that the candidates would be more mature, more loving, more effective priests of Jesus Christ simply because they are "in relationships."

And that's because the relationship of record, the one that matters most--for all of us--is the one we have with Jesus Christ. So, for the time being, the answer is for our priests and bishops to preach and live their celibate lives with love. In that way, they will be (as they always should have been) witnesses of Christ's love for His Bride, the Church. If bishops and priests were living witnesses of Christ's love, we wouldn't be talking about the "clubby, secretive clerical culture," and we certainly wouldn't be talking about abuse and sexual acting out among our spiritual leaders.

Part of the problem may be, as Hassalbach states, that the bishops have not listened to the people. But surely the larger problem is that some of them have not been listening to their Lord.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/30/2002 |

Vatican III?

Calls for another Ecumenical Council have begun. (Here's another article on reform from the Union Leader.) Before anyone gets too excited about Vatican III, though, it would be best to refresh our memories about the reality (and not just the "spirit") of Vatican II. I'd say we have plenty of work left over from that Council.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/30/2002 |

The schismatic, heretical deed has been done

"It has happened, you can't disinvent it and we are going to enrich this church," said Angela White from the United States, one of the women.

She said that she knew of six other women who would undergo similar ceremonies at an "opportune time."

Another of the women, Gisela Forster, a German, said: "For 40 years we have put forward our arguments, and all that has happened is that the 'no' from the Catholic church has become more and more definite.

"We will now fight to have this ordination confirmed."

She added: "Just one word separates us from the church, the use of 'man' instead of 'person' in church law."

Regrettably, these women were focusing on the wrong word. They should have been meditating on obedience instead of person.

I suppose in one respect, they're right. There is no undoing what happened yesterday. However, they're wrong about the effects of what transpired. Their desire was to help the Church, but they've created a different Church, wounding the Body of Christ by schism in the process.

They can undo the damage they've done, but that will require their repentance. Right now, that seems unlikely. But that's my prayer. And I'm sure it's also the prayer of the Holy Father and the entire Company in Heaven: Ut unum sint!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/30/2002 |