The Church Scandal; The Laity’s Role?

I am sure all Catholics are thinking about this crisis. McCarrick, the Pennsylvania AG report.  Silence from the USCCB and from Rome.  Several thoughts, starting with defensive ones.

First, the enemies of the church are having a good time. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Grand Jury project once again displays the sins of the church’s recent past, but says nothing about the present or future.  The report rehashes what has already come out in many (most? all?) dioceses’ victim settlements, including my own in Helena.  The PA AG made a big deal about the scandal he has uncovered; it should help his reelection.  The NPR commentator/expert today was asked “Are these abuses continuing today?”, and he answered “The Grand Jury would probably say yes.”  Without any evidence.  That is the anti-Catholic sentiment we are up against.

But the Church has created this problem, and we cannot complain too much when our enemies use it to attack us. 

Many of the faithful bemoan the “abuse crisis”.  But, as many have noted, we are dealing with a sexual crisis, not just an abuse crisis.  The absence of new cases charging current-day abuse of altar boys/girls or catechumens is noteworthy; in the present environment, they would be all over the news.

The current focus of the ongoing crisis appears to consist of two active scourges:  homosexual molestation of male seminarians by senior clergy, and continuing cover-up of such molestations (an echo of the past cover-ups).  This crisis is summed up in the scandal of Cardinal McCarrick, and of the higher clergy’s apparent ignoring of this detestable “open secret”.  While sexual abuse of minors is obviously criminal, sexual molestation of adults who employ them or are otherwise in authority is a grey area in criminal law (remember Clinton/Lewinsky). But it is clearly a mortal sin.

The Church will only suffer further degradation and loss of credibility until this scandal has been addressed and fixed. And it will not be fixed by new organizational policies or training programs or other public relations gimmicks.

As with any mortal sins, there can be no forgiveness without repentance and penance from those committing the scandalous molestations and those who failed in their responsibilty to stop it.  Unfortunately, the Church has failed to convince anyone that it has demanded either repentance or penance.

Crime, of course, must be dealt with in a different way. Criminal abusers must expect punishment; our legal system deals in justice, not mercy.  The higher clergy who engaged in covering up criminal abuse would appear to have committed obstruction of justice.  Statutes of limitation generally block prosecutions for these crimes of the past.  But the Church must not recognize any such limitation in dealing with institutional corruption and individual sin of such magnitude.

This brings us to the question: what is to be done.  Specifically, as lay members of Christ’s Church, what are we to do? 

First of all, we must pray for our clergy and our Church.  We must ask God to forgive our sins and to heal his Church. 

But we have a duty to do more.  It is not a matter of our presuming to direct Jesus in healing His Church.  As we know, the Church is a divine institution run by weak, fallible, confused human beings.  They can be in error, and they can and do sin.  We are not only children of God, but also citizens of the Church, the City of God.  We, too, have responsibilities.

It would be wonderful if we could look to our Pope to take the kind of dramatic action needed to stop this sexual scandal.  Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables, to take back God’s temple from those who were profaning it.  But the likelihood of our current pope doing this seems remote.

So here we stand, the laity watching helplessly as scandal succeeds scandal.  Most priests must feel similarly powerless. Bishops and Cardinals have the power to act, but seem unwilling to do so.

So what is the role of the laity in ending scandal?  What are we to do? Perhaps we must simply begin this conversation.

 

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More Stars in the Palm of God’s Hand

This is the Robin’s Egg Nebula. Actually a dying pair of stars surrounded by stardust.  While not a galaxy, still worth a look.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
the highest resolution version available.

Here we see one galaxy devouring another.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
the highest resolution version available.

This is the Red Rectangular Nebula.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
the highest resolution version available.

Here are a couple more. The one on the left is twice as big as our Milky Way.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
the highest resolution version available.

This handful  is only a few of the estimated 100 BILLION galaxies that exist, each with an average 100 BILLION stars.  But keep it in perspective:  This entire, unimaginably vast universe, this galaxy of galaxies, was in the beginning compact and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. We learn this not from theologians, but from astrophysicists,  scientists.  Though the Psalmist told us long ago, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments display his handiwork.”  And Genesis foretold the Big Bang.

“In the beginning…” it was all in God’s hand.

The Sacred Second

We measure things.  It is one of the things humans do. Mostly because we plan to use them.  

Measurements are of two kinds: natural/intuitive and artificial/synthetic.  Natural ones came first.  Feet based on an average foot (mine, I say without bragging, are exactly one foot long – including the shoe. This makes for a useful way to walk off distances.)  Cubits based on an average forearm of about a foot and a half.  An inch is about the length of a thumb knuckle.

The metric system, on the other hand, is artificial/synthetic, based on…something. (I don’t know what.)  Built on our numbering system, it is more easily used in science and math.

The only area where a natural/intuitive system still prevails in its traditional un-metricized form is our measurement of time.  Natural constants still govern here. A year is one revolution in earth’s orbit around the sun: one cycle of seasons.  A day is one rotation on the earth’s axis: one cycle of light and darkness.  In between a year and a day we have more artificial measures: months and weeks.  And below the day, we have sub-divisions of hour, minute, and second.

Our awareness of the passage of time is a difficulty for us. In late afternoon we ask “where has the day gone?”  Our clocks tell us, but we are still surprised. 

Years are even more so.  On our birthdays and New Year’s Day, we celebrate or mourn the elusive passing of another year; we ponder, for a day, the mysterious year ahead, before moving on into uncharted daily existence.

Even at the much smaller scale, it is hard to track time without mechanical assistance.  Try to concentrate on a single subject or thought for a full minute, without looking at a clock. For me, distractions invariably arise, especially the distraction of wondering how much of the minute has elapsed.  To some extent, this is the problem of reverse concentration: try not to think of an elephant. 

But the crux of the problem is the difficulty of measuring time with our mind alone.  The only way I can make myself aware of the passage of a minute is to count to 60. In other words, to count seconds.

Why are seconds so much easier for us to embrace than any larger measure of time?  Check your pulse. If you are healthy and resting, your heartbeat should be right around 60 beats per minute: a natural standard.

Tiny, fragile, elusive, the second is nonetheless the most tangible form in which we can consciously confront time. It cannot be an accident that it is also the measure of our life blood nourishing our very existence.  The last second-long heartbeat is the end of our earthly life. And long before our birth, the second-long beats of our hearts mark what we are and will become.

The passage of time is thus the passage of life.  Prisoners are said to count the days of their sentences by chalk marks on the cell wall.  If they didn’t do so, they might lose track of the passage of time and their sentences would become infinite.  

Every second is a gift from God.  This can be said of day, week, month and year, of course.  But they slip past us.   Such gifts deserve thanks.  It is appropriate to try to insert a prayer of thanksgiving into every second.  But is it possible?

I am trying.  I find that simply thinking “Thank you, Lord” can be done in about a second.  I can’t do it every second, of course.  But I can do it often.

And I can try to live my life in such a way that I feel grateful for every second.  Some days this is easier than others.  But I can try.

I can try.

Another APOD stunner

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.The Ring Nebula declares the glory of God.

Courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.  NASA at apod.nasa.gov

Ah, Memories: “I Am That Man!”

I am fascinated by the way little children seem to want to have a past, some fond memories they can reflect on.  Four-year olds ruminate (speculate?) on their own brief life. “Remember when I was little and I used to sleep with my stuffed hedgehog?” says the boy who still does so.

This thought comes to me as I re-visit a pleasant memory of my own brief life as a Catholic.

In RCIA at the age of 69, after a spiritually wasted life, I was finally getting serious about many things, including the Bible readings.

 I was taken aback by one of the vineyard parables (Mat 20):  the one where the owner pays the same daily wage to late-arriving workers who only put in an hour’s work as he pays to the laborers who worked the full day.

As a former union representative, I rose to point out the unfairness of this.  It would violate wage and hour laws, not to mention any union contract.  The result would be a grievance, a federal charge, or a walkout.  The late worker would be singled out for derision as the owner’s stooge.  Salvation economics, I was told,  were different from labor economics.

But later, at my first communion, the daily reading was that very same parable.  And after re-hashing the same issues in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me – I was that man! I was that laborer who showed up near the end of the day and happily, if a little guiltily, collected my wages.  And, most amazingly, the other workers seemed happy about it; no grievances were filed.

These thoughts were triggered by a beautiful essay on Dappled Things (dappledthings.org) by Jonathan Macdonald, entitled “Fifteen Years a Catholic”.  I recommend it.

 

10 Galaxies in One Snapshot!

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

I have mentioned APOD below.  Here is a recent beautiful example of how the heavens declare the glory of God.  This is the Needle’s Eye galaxy.  In the lower left is a chain of four galaxies (Burbidge’s Chain), with the two on the left interacting.  I can count at least five others. 

Thoughts on Israel and Revelation

An Important Book:  Israel and History by Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin, philosopher and historian,is not considered a religious thinker; as a result he may receive less attention from religious students than he merits.

The basic argument of Eric Voegelin’s entire Order and History series, of which this volume was the first, is simply stated elsewhere by him:

““The life of people in a political community cannot be defined as a profane realm, in which we are concerned only with legal questions and the organization of power.  A community is also a realm of religious order.” (“The Political Religions)

He identifies Israel as the first civilization to develop a conscious sense of its existence in relation to both time and a God acting through time.   This was a breakthrough, a “leap in being” for a world with generally cosmological perspectives: eternal earth and sky, universe and kingdoms, all revolving around a central sun or king-god, with time moving (if at all) in great cycles.

EV has a reputation as a difficult read, and there is something in that.  He uses terms that I have to look up, and certain terms that he uses in a unique way.  Best known of these is “immanentizing the eschaton,” by which he means hurrying up the arrival of the Kingdom of God and the apocalyptic transformation of the world.  Most insightful for me is his use of “gnosticism” to describe modern political ideologies, especially Marxism.

His great summation of the modern/modernist crisis is contained in The New Science of Politics:

“The death of the spirit is the price of progress.  Nietzsche revealed this mystery of the Western apocalypse when he announced that God was dead and that He had been murdered.  This Gnostic [ideological] murder is constantly committed by the men who sacrifice God to civilization.  The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world-immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit.  And since the life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline…Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilization” Continue reading

When I Consider thy Heavens: APOD and the Psalms

ngc1398_eso_3416I want to alert everyone to an amazing website that should be visited every day.  I turn to it each morning before or after my morning prayer (from the monthly magazine Magnificat, which I heartily endorse).

It is “Astronomy Picture of the Day“, a NASA production featuring astonishing photos of stars, galaxies, planets, nebulas, and other celestial phenomena.  Find it at apod.nasa.gov.  Bookmark it in your Favorites or wherever. It has photos from telescopes around the world and in orbit, from Hubble and other satellites, and from simple earthbound cameras.  Not only distant galaxies but beautiful auroras and eclipses, and everything in between.  There is an archive arrow-button on the left side at the bottom, so you can click through a nearly endless gallery of their past pictures.

I cannot imagine how APOD would fail to trigger a spiritual sense of awe at some level; at least a tingle.

Arp243_Hubble_3978

This is two galaxies colliding and merging, 250 million light years away from us. The top photo shows a galaxy 65 million light years away.  When the light from these galaxies began the trip to us, dinosaurs walked the earth!

 

Some time ago I was corresponding with a friend and confided that I was beginning to think about God.  His response was that he thought the universe was too big, too grand to include something as small and local as a deity, especially a man-centered one.  I didn’t know how to respond.

I thought of Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

It cut no ice;  my friend thought the grandeur of the stars was wholly natural and self-explaining, and way too big for a tribal bronze-age god.

I wish I had thought to point out that the entire universe, unimaginably immense, was once so small that we could hold it in our hands; that the proto-Big Bang creation moment is completely inexplicable to science; that the universe is only comprehensible as part of an expansion process that stretches outward from the infinitesimal.

And I should have pointed out the mysterious human ability to appreciate the beauty of the skies; no evolutionary theory explains our sense of awe when we gaze at the night sky.

And I wish I had known about APOD back then.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

In saner times, Psalm 19:1 would be the motto of NASA.

 

My Sin of Snobbery

As you may know, I winter in Montana and summer in Florida.  (“To winter” and “to summer” are used as verbs among a certain set.)  Florida’s southwest gulf coast is beautiful, warm, and old.  Very old.  At 70, I am somewhere around the median age in my neighborhood, whereas in Montana I am the oldest man I know.

I am pleased to see that the churches here in Florida, at least the Catholic ones, are full on Sundays.  During the season (“the season” refers to only one of the four seasons), there are four Sunday masses, packed full.  With old people.  A general absence of crying babies.

Something else is noticeably absent: crucifixes.  I have been to four of this diocese’s churches, and the only ones I have seen are the small ones carried atop a pole in the entry procession.  I went snooping around the cathedral one day after mass, and found a beautiful crucifix sculpture, hidden in a small alcove between chapels, invisible to the congregation.  The ciborium of the host was also not visible, being kept “off-stage” in the wings.

The entire feeling of the services in these churches could only be described as, well… protestant.  Mainline protestant.  The Methodist church of my youth.   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But when I compare my Florida experience with that of my Helena home, I cannot help but focus on what is missing.

Helena is blessed with one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, let alone prayed in.  Its beauty may have spoiled me for other, more modern church architecture.  But that is not the main thing

And it isn’t the crucifix.  One of St. Helena’s few flaws is that the gold crucifix is subsumed (consumed?) by the dazzling gold grillwork reredos behind it.

When I come to church, I am seeking an encounter with holiness, sanctity.  I find it every time I enter St. Helena Cathedral.  But I have not found it once, at least not to any similar extent, in the churches of Florida.

I know how precious the mass has been throughout history and around the world.  I have read of masses celebrated secretly in miserable prisons, in hidden closets and secret forest clearings.  I know that holiness can be found anywhere it is earnestly sought.

In perspective, my quibbles and complaints sound very much like first-world problems, indeed pure snobbery. I come to church with the mind-set of a theater critic. I want every church to meet the standards of my magnificent home cathedral.  I want every priest to have a good voice (or at least a good sound system).  I want a good cantor and good music selections.   (And I wish the bible readings were in better translation.)

Some of this is, as I realize, pure snobbery.  I need to get over it, and to recognize the blessing of having churches to attend and eucharists to receive. 

But some of it may matter a great deal.  In the present war for the soul of the church (and thereby the world), many things must matter.  Crucifixes are not simply a decorator’s choice.

I’m back…

I must apologize to you, faithful reader, for my long absence.  I have been busy with a big change in my life.

I have joined the Catholic Church.   Finally.

You, faithful reader, are probably not surprised.  If you have followed my “spiritual progress reports” on this site, you must have seen it coming.  Strangely, I did not.

My reasons are easily summarized.  The gratitude problem: having no proper way to say “Thank You” for so many inexplicable blessings.  My need for moral guidance and support in battling my pride, my selfishness, my sloth, and my many other sins.

My need to make sense of existence.  My need for awareness of sanctity.  My need to learn to love better.

And, perhaps above all, my need for Hope in the face of despair.  Seeing this beautiful western world falling apart, seeing evil triumph on every side, seeing madness replace sanity.  If we are not in God’s hands, then all is lost.

“But what about the Pope?””, I hear you ask.  This bizarre modernist clown of a pope?  Join him?

For decades I have been growing closer to the Church precisely because of its popes.  Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI were the world’s clearest voices for reason, reality, and love.  JPII on communism, BXVI on Islam, and both on Western modernism, were lighthouses in a darkening world.  They showed the way.

I have written elsewhere on the shabby, secular, relativist, liberation-theologist, enemy of all that his predecessors built.  His presence was the final hurdle I had to get over before I could seal the deal.

But I was reassured by several thoughts.

First, I was asked by a counselor: “Who is the Head of the Church?”  I am old enough to spot a trick question when I hear one, so I caught the point.  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.  Not the Pope.

Second, I was reminded that the Catholic Church has survived intact, with doctrine essentially unchanged, for twenty centuries of  turmoil, often led by bad, weak or foolish popes and filled with cynical, power-hungry, licentious agnostic priests.  The only word for such vigorous survival is “miraculous”. No other human institution even comes close.

Third, I see daily demonstration that my concerns about the present pope are shared by many, many others in the Church.  I want to join and support them in their brave, often lonely defense of truth.

So, on September 21, I became a Catholic.  A dissident Catholic, but Catholic nonetheless.