August 28, 2011

Hot gospel...

This is a snippet from today's homily (sermon), by our pastor, Fr Xavier Lavagetto. This part grabbed me, because that's the way I've often tended to think of the phrase. And since it was my turn to do the podcast, I had the recording right here on my computer, ready to transcribe.

You can also, as they say, listen to the whole thing here. There's also a morsel of our excellent music, and the fine voice of Deacon Chuck reading the Gospel. Plus the intro is spoken by my daughter. (And, since these recordings only happened because I pushed long and persistently to get the podcast project going, if you like what you hear you can say, "Well done Mr Weidner!")

...We've tamed the wild Gospel. Now just consider how we use the phrase from today's Gospel about carrying ones cross. Most people use it as an exhortation to put up with life's difficulties or aches or pains. You know, "offer it up for the poor souls."

But hear that line gain, and you'll see that Jesus had a very different idea. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." The three phrases describe what it means to come after. Putting up with illness, or a grouchy neighbor, or even a job loss is not "carrying ones cross."

The three phrases, to deny oneself, to take up ones cross, and to follow Jesus, do not describe passivity or resignation. But energetic action.

Paul expressed a similar idea in today's second reading. "Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Both Jesus and Paul wanted a counter-cultural way of thinking, a radical way of acting. The cross was an instrument of most cruel capital punishment. Reserved for the worst of non-Roman criminals. For terrorists...

Jesus demands the unthinkable. "Be a criminal like me."....

(The Gospel reading for today...)

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
"God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
He turned and said to Peter,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life"
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct."(Mt 16:21-27)
Posted by John Weidner at August 28, 2011 4:21 PM

John, with all due respect, Fr. Xavier is full of crap, as are all priests who preach about being "counter-cultural." As a middle-aged man who was baptized as raised as a Catholic for the vast majority of my life, I have come to understand "counter-cultural" to mean "reflexively oppose any and all aspects of American society and reflexively support any and all aspects of Holy Mother Church." It's far more of a political request than a theological one.

If Fr. Xavier has any courage, he should go preach that sermon at and to the Vatican. They're the ones who need to be "counter-cultural," to strip off the veneer of medievalist authoritarianism, to repent of the institutional arrogance and sense of entitlement that isolates the hierarchy from the laity and lower clergy and essentially forms a class structure that has no place in Christianity.

But he won't. If Jesus somehow were to return to Earth and confront the Catholic Church the way He confronted the religious authorities of His own day, the Church hierarchs would be no less hesitant about bumping Him off.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at August 29, 2011 11:10 AM

Joseph, thanks for stopping by.

You miss the mark with Fr. X. If he ever used a phrase like "Holy Mother Church" I'd fall off my chair in astonishment. Actually we are a Dominican parish and I've yet to meet anyone at all like what you describe. The Dominicans are sort of outside of the hierarchy, and are in fact very democratic.

I sympathize with your frustration, but the problems that concern you are in the process of being solved. "Medievalist authoritarianism" is a very inefficient form of management that can't survive in the Information Age. It's dead already; it just hasn't toppled into the dust yet.

Authority will remain; the Church has been given authority by God. Bishops will remain; they are the successors of the apostles. But almost anything else "managerial" can and probably will be changed. The Church is the most flexible institution that has ever existed, and there is no question she will adapt. There are signs of this to be seen all around us. A fascinating development is the new Ordinariates, which are non-territorial "dioceses" with non-Catholics entering them in an odd and experimental way. They will certainly not be authoritarian.

It's a funny thing, an 83 year old guy surprising the youngsters by inventing an Information Age-style structure nobody had ever dreamed of before. And hmm. There's his comment in Seewald's book...

Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the church's history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world - that let God in.

Oops, bye bye hierarchy. That's not something I hope for, but it would not be a surprising development.

Posted by: John Weidner at August 29, 2011 9:49 PM

Actually, what we have had is Industrial Age authoritarianism. The Medieval Church was far too disorganized and decentralized to be authoritarian. Its management structure is best descried as "herding cats."

It is no accident that Papal Infallibility was defined in 1871. That was the moment in history when men were beginning to really grapple with the novel problem of how to manage really large organizations. The solutions were all hierarchical. Information had to move slowly up and down layers of management and bureaucracy. The was no other way to manage information.

Posted by: John Weidner at August 29, 2011 9:56 PM

Maybe you may want to put a twitter icon to your blog. I just marked down this url, however I had to make it manually. Just my $.02 :)

My blog:
rachat de credits

Posted by: Faith at August 30, 2011 5:48 AM

John, thanks for your replies. I do have to disagree, however, with your assertions about hierarchy being an "Industrial Age" introduction into the Church. The Church has had a hierarchical structure since at least the Third Century; the attitude of the faithful toward priests and prelates reflects that. For too long, the laity viewed itself at the bottom of the totem pole as opposed to being redeemed sons and daughters of the Most High and a priesthood in their own right (though not sacramentally).

As far as "herding cats" goes, the Church seems to be doing the same thing now; just look at the lack of episcopal discipline, liturgical conflicts and the reactive (instead of assertive) response to crises.

Finally, if papal infallibility was all that essential, why did it take nearly 2,000 years for it to be proclaimed, Industrial Age or no? It's like "the Rapture" in evangelical circles, which has only been around since the 1840s. Mind you, I'm not equating the two doctrinally; I'm questioning their importance in light of their relatively recent appearances on the Christian scene.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at August 30, 2011 10:30 AM

I didn't say the hierarchy was Industrial Age. It was the authoritarian management that was new. That is, the very possibility that the Pope and the Vatican could send orders down the layers, and expect them to be obeyed. Previously Popes had just not had that power. (Because many sees and parishes were somebody's personal property, because no one had invented the bureaucratic apparatus, and because no one even thought like that. )

The Pope had always been considered "infallible," I believe, in the sense that he could not teach heresy. But the "Infallibilists," such as Card. Manning, or WG Ward, had something much more sweeping in mind. They wanted the Pope to "run" the Church in the same way that the new captains of industry were becoming able to run things like a trans-continental railroad. Or the way the new invention of the "General Staff" could run armies of millions of men.

Newman was opposed to this. And he was satisfied with the actual declaration, which was not what Ultramontanes had hoped for. Nonetheless, we got a good deal more authoritarian management than I think was healthy.

We are back to "herding cats," and I think that will be good in the long run.

Posted by: John Weidner at August 30, 2011 12:05 PM

The problem is that no internal mechanism to resolve legitimate grievances exists in the Church -- or, if it exists, it's routinely ignored. The early stages of the clerical sex-abuse crisis (before everything broke and the victims went to lawyers) demonstrated that. That problem reflects an ever bigger problem: the institutional arrogance and sense of entitlement that many bishops embody. That's part and parcel of Church leaders who have sacrificed their love of Christ for power, prestige, money and secular influence.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 2, 2011 11:01 AM

Sure, true, but "power, prestige, money and secular influence" are melting away like ice cream cones on a hot day.

We still have bishops caught in a time lag, who imagine they are the gold-plated VIP's of the 1950's. But they are OLD, and none of the younger priests, who will be tomorrow's bishops, think that way. Now, or when they are bishops, they will be wondering how long until they get sent to prison for refusing to marry homosexual couples, or for not providing abortion coverage in the staff medical plan.

Plus the demographics of the Church in America are shockingly bad. We are going to be shrinking grievously in the near future if we don't make some big changes. Future bishops are definitely going to be listening to any and all grievances. They will be on their knees begging people to tell them what to do to keep people from walking away.

Here's a link to a paper I wrote for my parish on our demographic crisis...

And just in case you are interested, a paper on men in the Church

Posted by: John Weidner at September 2, 2011 2:02 PM

Sure, true, but "power, prestige, money and secular influence" are melting away like ice cream cones on a hot day.

John, here's a link to an article in the New York Times that states otherwise (and it has absolutely nothing to do with clerical sex-abuse):

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 6, 2011 9:56 AM

Joseph, I fail to see how this is relevant. Times are tough, so management and labor find it hard to agree. Of course. That's what's happening everywhere. It's called real life in the Obama economy. It has nothing to do with some special authoritarianism of Bishops.

If those schools were secular, the problem would be the same, and the negotiations would go the same. You can't educate the poor on the tuitions that they can pay, unless you keep expenses drastically low. Maybe not even then.

(If the NYT and "liberals" actually cared about the poor, which they do not, they would be advocating that some of that public school money be given to private and Catholic schools, where it will do far more good.)

Posted by: John Weidner at September 6, 2011 2:02 PM

John, my point is this: The bishops talk a great game when it comes to "social justice," but when they're actually asked to practice it...well, that's a wholly different story. The NYT's editorial bias is a secondary issue. Of course, the archdiocese doesn't take in as much money as the public school system and nobody working in any Catholic school system should expect to get rich, let alone the cushy benefits that the public-employee unions have.

But just read this section of the story:

Teachers said that during negotiations a labor lawyer for the archdiocese called their proposal �unrealistic� and �silly.�

�To be told it�s silly,� said Mary Ann Driscoll, one of the teachers at the table, �when these are such tough economic times for everyone, is not right.�

Mr. Zwilling, the spokesman, said: �I spoke with the labor lawyer. He knows he said �unrealistic,� and does not believe he said �silly,� but can�t swear to it.�

Ms. Gabriel, the union president, said that at negotiating sessions, archdiocesan officials don�t seem to be listening. �I was speaking and they kept looking at the watches,� she said. �They kept rolling their eyes.�

Excuse me, but I expect people who consider themselves to be Christians and to hold authority in Christ's Name to behave along the lines of their claims. That doesn't mean selling out the store but it does mean giving people who work hard for God the respect that other people get.

I swear, John, given the state of the Church these days, the bishops and their bureaucratic minions would have more respect for a murder than a hard-working teacher dedicated to the faith. We know they have more respect for child molesters...

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 6, 2011 4:42 PM

The three paragraphs that follow the italicized paragraph also were part of the story. Sorry, the HTML didn't work the way I thought it would.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 6, 2011 4:44 PM

I fixed the italics. I don't know why they didn't work, but I just italicized each paragraph separately.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 6, 2011 8:53 PM

Nah, I don't buy it. Maybe the labor negotiators are reflecting episcopal arrogance, but so what? That's yesterday; a holdover from another age.

I'd say Catholic schools are also holdovers from another age. And they have not figured out how to exist in the new age we are in. In a sense they are just as "arrogant" as the bishops, by assuming that they have the right to exist, even though they are institutions originally formed on the basis of low-cost labor by religious sisters.

The whole thing is a kind of sham. A whole new crowd of people have moved in, taken over the machinery of Catholic schools, and are saying "We are the Catholic schools. You OWE US! You must keep us in existence!" It's BS.

Sorry to be in a cranky mood. But I've sent two of my own kids to Catholic high schools. and it's left a very bad taste in my mouth. I remember my daughter's graduation, a MASS, where two little girls gave the homily, and two read the Gospel! And I'm supposed to respect these people, when they say, "Weeee are Caaaaaatholic Educaaaation, and giiiive usss yourrr moneyyyy."?

Posted by: John Weidner at September 6, 2011 11:16 PM

Anyway, labor negotiators always act that way. It's part of the kabuki.

The animals of the NYT didn't tell you, but I'd bet money the teacher's representatives rolled their eyes in exactly the same dismissive way at the positions of the Diocese.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 6, 2011 11:42 PM

John, I can well understand your frustration with Catholic education. I think that's why Voris, Fr. Corapi, the lay apologists, EWTN, etc. are so popular. The masses are hungry for spiritual food that they should be getting from their priests and bishops, but aren't. Whether those priests and bishops can do their jobs will determine whether the Church survives with any sort of credibility.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 7, 2011 10:22 AM

John, your belief that episcopal arrogance is a holdover from another time contradicts human nature. People in power -- regardless of what they believe, especially in a bureaucratic hierarchy that actively discourages accountability -- will try to maintain that power as long as they can. If the "little people" get in their way, then the "little people" be damned. We just saw that in Libya and we're seeing that in Syria. Besides, look at the prelates' collective response to the clerical sex-abuse crisis. That reactive (as opposed to assertive) response reflects more of a willingness to protect material assets, secular prestige and, yes, ecclesiastical power than to conform to Christ.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 8, 2011 11:35 AM

It's kinda pointless to keep repeating the same points, if you won't "see" them. But I've never suggested that human nature has changed, or that Bishops won't try to keep their power.

If I had power I'd probably be as arrogant as Satan, or even as bishop. And I could send everybody who disagrees with me off to the re-education camps. But I don't have power or success or prestige, so here I am exchanging ideas, listening, and trying to use persuasion.

My point is that the bishops' power is draining away. So their arrogance will perforce diminish. That's the flip-side of the tendency of human nature to become arrogant.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 9, 2011 11:01 AM

Actually, I don't think power is just draining away. I think the whole contraption is collapsing. And that we will soon be sitting in the rubble blinking in bewilderment... Like the famous "One Hoss Shay."

...What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,--
All at once, and nothing first,--
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss-shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say...

And that will be, paradoxically, good... because then we (including bishops) can start to be Christians again, freed from "Christendom." Catastrophic, but also good.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 10, 2011 12:04 AM

John, I absolutely agree with you about "Christendom" corrupting Christianity! I'm so glad I'm not the only person who thinks that way. The problem is that a lot of Catholics disagree, especially those who operate the more conservative blogs and publications, it seems. The liberals don't really care.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 11, 2011 3:17 PM

Thank you, Joseph!

There are a few other people who dig it. You might like this quote:

"...At the same time, it may well be that "the massive failure of Christendom itself", as Percy puts it, is already creating the only conditions, in the West at least, within which a genuine renewal of faith can take place. During a conversation I had with Walker Percy a few months before his death, he commented that, in his judgement, the Church is in a better position today than she has been in centuries. He thought the identification of culture and faith was disastrous for the Church in many ways.
He cited Kierkegaard's observation that it is almost impossible to become a Christian in Christendom. That is, people within a Christian culture are inclined to believe they automatically become Christians simply by virtue of having been born into that culture. Today people can see that no such identification exists and that a choice must therefore be made. He believed a new consciousness is emerging; and thus, the realization that the Church and the culture are at odds is a key, perhaps even the key, element of this new consciousness. As a result, the Church is on the firing line and that, as Percy saw it, is exactly where she properly belongs..."
-- From The Church and the Culture War, by Joyce A. Little, 1995

I blogged a bit more of that here, and more Joyce Little here, here, and here. Her book is one of the best I've ever read.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 11, 2011 4:45 PM

John, many thanks for the links and the citation. They're obviously worth pursuing. Take care.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at September 12, 2011 2:34 PM
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