In Formation

Friday, August 9


A Silent Salmagundi

Fr. Bryce Sibley has been asked to refrain from speaking "in the public forum" for the next six months. He reports that he will follow this directive, and looks forward to returning to blogdom when his period of silence is complete. His voice will be missed (as the comments on his post reveal).

His announcement leaves me with a host of questions:

Why did this happen? Was the problem his bishop's unwillingness to have him to speak out using his blog? Was blogging taking away from time ministering to those in his parish and diocese? Were there concerns among the presbyterate, chancery, or diocesan staff about the positions he took? About the fact that he was stating his opinions publicly? Was it envy (or concern for other reasons) about the notoriety he was receiving?

His announcement also makes me wonder if his bishop or others in his diocese might have had concerns about the tone of some of Fr. Sibley's posts. Please don't hear me condemning his clever, satirical style. Still, I can't help wondering if there weren't some times when he crossed some "pastoral" boundaries on his blog. (By the way, I ask the same question about my own blog.) In short, Fr. Bryce's announcement has me asking questions about motivation and style.

I am not saying that priests in the pulpit or blogdom should ignore difficult issues or that they should refrain from speaking the truth for "pastoral reasons." On the contrary. Because true love presumes the truth, priests cannot love without proclaiming the truth. But, as we all know, there are many ways to speak the truth.

Sometimes, we preach (or blog) to inform. At other times, we do so to start a conversation. Or to challenge. Or to encourage the fainthearted. Or to entertain. Or (perhaps always) to gain readers. Or to criticize bad ideas. Or to prove (to this or that subset of persons) that we are "orthodox" or "liberal" or "conservative." Sometimes we even preach (or blog) to convert.

All of this makes me wonder how the love of God should ideally shape and guide preaching and other public discourses like blogging. Admittedly, there are boundaries for all Christians, but my question is whether there might be some particular limits concerning public discourse (as there are limits in other domains) for those who are (or would be) priests.

This is obviously of more than academic interest to me. (Indeed, some of you--or others--might argue that I have gone too far myself in some comments I have made about VOTF, dissenting Catholics, schismatic women and their "ordaining bishop," errant priests, and problematic bishops.) So please let me know what you think.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/09/2002 |

Wednesday, August 7


Moral ambiguity in Michigan

Yesterday, Mark Shea quoted from a letter from an associate pastor in Detroit that defends Michigan Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Jennifer Granholm's "pro choice" stance.

Many people have come to me in the two weeks just past to ask about television ads which point out that Ms Granholm, our sister, is pro choice. The concern has come from a mistaken notion that being pro choice is equal to being pro abortion. However, choice is part of the very foundation of our Catholic Christian Community. There are some who would gloss over theological reflection for the sake of emotion; these people often end up persecuting other brothers and sisters through their ignorance. As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are required to pray for their good, and for their enlightenment.

The Lord God has created all people in absolute freedom. Every action we take, each word we utter, is a matter of choice. As Catholic Christians we understand that this Awesome freedom carries with it a grave responsibility. In light of the teaching of Jesus we make choices according to a well formed conscience--a conscience which is founded in the gospel which proclaims the blessedness of all people in any circumstances.

Scripture tells us that when God was finished creating, everything was good. The correct response to that good is a life which reverences and cares for all that God has made. This is our faith, and I know well that this is also Ms. Granholm�s faith as a Roman Catholic Christian person.

To say that one is pro choice is, for the Christian Community, an admission that we are created in freedom. This is a freedom that no state or government can grant or take away; it is a gift from the creator. By the same understanding it is a grave error to assume that the ability to freely choose actions and words is sinful.

Let's not bother talking about the evils of abortion when we can trumpet the glories of choice. Hmmm. There's an idea! Perhaps the pro-abortion crowd might consider saying they are "pro choice," not "pro-abortion." But wait. That's been their spin since '73.

Clearly, there was a failure in this priest's formation somewhere. Whether it was in his philosophy or his theology or his ongoing formation as a priest, it is difficult to tell. In any case, his letter supporting Ms. Granholm as the poster-child of Catholic teaching about freedom is surely a stretch.

Because Catholics, no doubt, spurred her victory in the Democratic Primary, it appears we all have a bit more work to do. Evidently, we need to begin by evangelizing some of our priests.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/07/2002 |

What could it hurt?

More news about the proposed Plenary Council, including the eight bishops who signed the letter proposing that it be held.

The proposal calls for the plenary council to have the aims of:

-- "Solemnly receiving the authentic teaching" of the Second Vatican Council and postconciliar teachings on the identity, life and ministry of priests and bishops, on sexual morality in general and on celibate chastity as an authentic form of human sexuality.

-- "Giving unequivocal endorsement and normative force to the means" set out in church teaching "to foster the acts of virtue required of pastors and the means needed to achieve those virtues, especially celibate chastity."

-- "Confirming the bishops in the authoritative exercise of our ministry" and strengthening priests in teaching the Gospel "especially in regard to sexual morality, so that we can give support to the lay faithful in responding to their call to holiness."

It asks the bishops to bring the question of a plenary council to a debate and vote when they gather in Washington this November for the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops . . .

In a five-page background paper two of the signers, Auxiliary Bishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit and Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Helena, Mont., outlined what the proposed plenary council would do and some of the pros and cons of convening such a council.

The others who signed the letter were Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford, Conn.; Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City, Kan.; Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala.; Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore.; Bishop Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse, Wis.; and Bishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Sioux City, Iowa.

It would be very interesting to know what sorts of conversations our bishops are having about the proposal, including arguments they are making to themselves and their advisors about the merits and risks of such a Council.

Also, for those who aren't aware, Bishop Allen Vigneron is Rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/07/2002 |

Tuesday, August 6


Rants that go wrong

John McGuinness took the recent spate of posts about the case of the mangled miracle as occasion for a rant of his own. John responds to what he considers orthodox over-reactions by over-reacting himself.

I've got news for you -- I think it's a pretty safe bet that we're going to realize that the Church is significantly wrong about something within the next 50 years, if history is a guide. I have no idea what that will be. Maybe it's homosexual marriage; maybe it's Mass in the vernacular. I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that something we're doing today is going to look foolish to our grandchildren.

What will we do then? Will we bury our heads and deny this Truth that has been revealed to us, because it's not what we've committed ourselves to? Will we conclude that because the Church was wrong about this, then the Church cannot be trusted about anything? Or will we embrace what we've learned, and accept it as a gift of the Holy Spirit that remains with us, as Jesus had promised.

Under the mantle of "common sense," John wants to open up the world of homiletic possibilities. But he seems unaware that there are risks along that path.

In John's Gospel, for example, the Bread of Life discourse follows the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. What would John McGuinness say if a Catholic priest or deacon taught that Jesus in John 6 had spoken merely metaphorically?

I sure hope he would agree that such a reading would not be just another way to read the text.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/06/2002 |

A book worth buying

Michael Novak provides a compelling review of George Weigel's forthcoming book, The Courage to be Catholic.

It is a sad, yet hopeful, tale. Sad because it reports that American bishops made regrettable choices in the 70s and 80s, choices that led to several lost generations of American Catholics. Men and women, priests and laity alike, were poorly formed as Catholics in the Post Vatican II American Church. And the failure of so many Catholics (priests included) to fully embrace Catholic teaching created fertile ground for infidelity.

Weigel does an especially helpful job in setting forth what theology expects from a Catholic bishop, and measuring the American bishops against this standard. Especially in their role as teachers, the growing ignorance of the American Catholic people under the regime of "catechetics" since about 1968 condemn the bishops of the 1970s-1980s severely. Their carelessness in supervising seminaries condemn them even more.

The sermons Catholics suffer through weekly are so empty of theological content, Weigel surmises, because priests educated in the 1970s and 1980s learned very little theology, and a lot of that was bad theology. They talk about movies and musical comedies and television shows because their minds are empty. Their lack of spiritual discipline and ascetical knowledge is palpable. A deep life of prayer? Communion with God? Few hints of those in their words.

Weigel is unusually hopeful about the new breed of priests -- the John Paul II breed, he calls them -- serious, orthodox, and able to explain their faith, in love with their vocations and with the Catholic people.

The scandals of the last decades were not caused by priests faithful to Catholic sexual teaching and to their priestly vows, but by infidelity -- infidelity in thought, word, and deed. Catholic sexual teaching had not been taught in most American churches since Vatican II, especially after 1968. The theology of the priesthood had been scandalously neglected, despite John Paul II's enormous efforts to bring it into daily reflection.

I don't know what seminaries were like before I arrived, but I must agree with the hopeful signs evident in seminaries today. The men in formation are, in fact, faithful. They are not agitating for changes in the faith, morals, and disciplines that define the Church or the priestly office they hope to fill. They seek to serve and desire to be formed to the image and priesthood of Jesus Christ.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/06/2002 |

Monday, August 5


More on Miracles

Mark Shea weighs-in with some good observations about various interpretations of the parable of the multiplication of the loaves.

Problem with some Blogger links

If you've tried to link to a blogspot site (like Mark Shea's in the post above) and get the rather unfriendly message "not found," just try going to the blogger's site and scrolling down until you find the relevant post.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/05/2002 |

Messing with miracles

In a blog yesterday, Amy Welborn offered her first impressions of her newly assigned parish priest. Among other things, she said she was relieved that the priest didn't discount the miraculous in yesterday's Gospel during his homily.

In stark contrast to her experience, she includes a troubling report by Rod Dreher of the dismal demythologized sermon he heard in a Louisianna parish.

When I was in Iowa, my friends told me about a homily given a while back by a deacon in a Northern Iowa parish. With similar arguments to those reported by Rod Dreher, this deacon discounted the miraculous deeds recounted in that Sunday's Gospel.

But then, quite surprisingly, after the deacon was finished, the priest moved to the ambo. He said he wanted to correct some errors in the deacon's homily. The deacon was wrong, he said. Catholics really believe that the miracles reported in the scriptures were accomplished by God's supernatural power.

That was surely a one-two combination homily that those parishioners will not soon forget.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/05/2002 |

And the bloggers blogged on

Though I was on holiday, there was plenty of bloggin' goin' on. Here are just a few posts you may want to check out, if you haven't read them already.

A nice post by Fr. Rob Johansen on celibacy.

Several ongoing discussions of the Voice of the Faithful at In Between Naps (see the comments too).

Interesting news about a Plenary Council from Deal Hudson on Mark Shea's blog. And you can now read the complete "secret letter" to bishops about the Plenary Council at HMS Blog.

Speaking of HMS Blog, Emily Stimpson begins blogging there today. But, in case you missed it, go check out one of her latest and greatest posts at her personal blog, Fool's Folly.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/05/2002 |

The Heart(land) of Catholicism

Well, I'm now back home (and blogging) in Michigan. I had a wonderful trip to Iowa. The couple I visited love their Catholic faith, and, when they moved to Des Moines from the Diocese of Lansing, they brought their faith with them. As it happened, they found plenty of Catholics living three states away. They showed me great hospitality, and I was grateful for the chance to see how they are raising their three young sons to love God and the Catholic Faith.

The day I arrived, the diocese was hosting what has become an annual Evening Prayer for Vocations in the context of adoration and benediction at St. Ambrose Cathedral, and my friend asked if I would like to go. So that evening, he, his oldest (4-years-old), and I drove into the heart of the city to pray with many others from around the diocese for God to raise up workers for the harvest, to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The bishop said that the annual evening of prayer was begun in response to several years without any ordinations to the priesthood. But now, several years later, the gathering had become one of thanks to God as much as an evening of supplication. It was a wonderful time of prayer.

While I was there, I went to their parish for daily Mass, where nearly a hundred faithful men and women came together to pray. One morning, the community welcomed a group of Denver pilgrims on their way back from World Youth Day. At the end of Mass each day, the priest invited the faithful to pray a prayer for vocations. And they prayed, from memory, a lengthy prayer asking God to give them the grace to be good witnesses, to respond to God's call in their lives, and to support those who feel called by God to a life of service to the Church.

It was refreshing to see that the faithful men and women of Des Moines are "doing something" by coming together to pray, committing themselves to heed the voice of God in their own lives, and supporting the work of the Spirit in those who are being called to the priesthood and religious life.

My report from Iowa is that things are well in the Heartland. From that brief visit, I came away encouraged because I experienced the power of the common faith that unites us. Wherever we go, we can find a Catholic Church in which we can worship the one God and recite together the Nicene Creed, confessing our one faith and sharing the Eucharist together in thanksgiving for all God has done (and is doing) for us.

In the face of all the current troubles and the controversy swirling around the Voice of the Faithful, I was grateful to be able to look through that Iowa window to catch a glimpse of what our mighty God is doing in and through the lives of the faithful.

posted by Fr. Steve | 8/05/2002 |