Archive | May, 2013

Business as Usual

29 May

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Time out! Just what are you supposed to be doing?

It is entirely too easy, on a job or in a ministry, to fall into a routine, the kind of routine that dims us to the purpose of what we are about, the kind that becomes our “gospel” of how things are done.

The people we serve can become somewhat of a “bother” when their presence or attitude seems to violate our space or way of doing things.

Pope Francis calls this “making a sacrament of pastoral concerns” (cf. “Don’t Create Sacrament of ‘Pastoral Concerns,’” National Catholic Register blog, May 28, 2013).

I think this is a great take on a cumbersome, ineffective bureaucracy – a sin of which, justly or unjustly, some parishes and dioceses are sometimes accused.

But parish and diocesan leaders and staffs are made up of people. Whether they will form a vibrant and fruitful Christian ministry or a cumbersome bureaucracy depends entirely on them – on their mutual faith, common vision and purpose, reverent relationships and working conditions.

Since age 25, I have been in fulltime work in the Church – the last 14 years of which as an unsalaried retired Catholic journalist and a permanent deacon ordained in 1986.

So, I have seen vibrant ministries and convincing evidence of bureaucratic tendencies in parishes and dioceses.

Here are some factors which can depersonalize and cripple any ministry:

A spiritually bankrupt leadership and/or staff;

Cold and impersonal leadership or leaders who seek adulation rather than respect;

Unclear divisions of responsibility and authority;

Leadership’s unreal expectations of personnel; the inability to form and train personnel properly and to create  complementary job descriptions;

Employees and volunteers who don’t buy into the mission of the parish or diocese; employees who are only interested in their paychecks; abuse of sick leave;

Leadership shows no appreciation for the skills and work of employees;

Hiring the wrong people; leadership too weak to terminate when termination is the only answer, and;

A budget too small for the job – making good pay impossible.

I’ve seen them all and, at one time or another in my forty years of leadership, guilty of some of them.

When you have a bureaucracy instead of a ministry, it’s business as usual and people tend to be regarded as a nuisance rather than someone to love and serve.

Thanks, Pope Francis!

 

 

 

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Comfort the Afflicted … and Afflict the Comfortable

25 May

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Life can be so much fun — and we can become so comfortable where we are in our spiritual growth and maturity. Read on.

WE’VE ALL HEARD – many times, I’m sure – that old classic saying, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Pope Francis has proposed a similar sentiment to the entire Church. In a homily May 16, he spoke of the need to proclaim openly the salvation won by Jesus. In doing so, he said, “If we annoy people, blessed be the Lord” (cf. National Catholic Register Blog, 05-17-13).

He also pointed to a condition in the Church which has been a concern for some time:

“There are those who are well-mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal.”

He also said that apostolic zeal “implies an element of madness.”

St. Paul was a severe irritant to many people – some may have thought him mad. But we all know that St. Paul was an apostle so on fire with passion for the Lord that he preached effectively the salvation won through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In another Register blog (05-15-13), Matthew Warner states that if Catholics believe what they say they believe, why are they not different from the rest of society?

My own take is simply this: We are happy with who we are. We are active in our parishes, following diocesan and parish policies and priorities. We are content, and yes, too comfortable, with “where we are.” Sometimes we are tempted to think how lucky God is to have us on his side.

This comfort zone has to be challenged. As Catholics, we need to rediscover the zeal and fervor of the apostolic Church. In modern times, the challenges to faith, freedom of conscience and the social primacy of family are very real.

  • We have to stop coddling one another.
  • We have to take seriously what John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have urged upon us, namely, total conversion to Jesus Christ.
  • About 40 years ago, a well-known priest observed that Catholics have been “sacramentalized” but not evangelized.
  • Consider our attitude we have in receiving the sacraments: We are grateful for the grace and comfort of God’s mercy – but somehow we miss, or choose to ignore, the Lord’s urgent missionary and evangelistic call to be an effective antidote to the secular, atheistic and socialist trends finding root in our nation and world.

We must rediscover the meaning and power of the Eucharist and the Word of God. For us, God’s Word is always alive and totally relevant – and his grace is more than sufficient.

We can begin by making the Year of Faith more than business as usual. Bishops and priests, and all involved in spiritual formation, must help lay people gain a sense of responsibility for both living and sharing their faith. And more, leadership must help the laity develop the confidence to do it.

In other words, it must become normal for Catholics to live their faith with zeal and to proclaim it courageously and charitably.

Hope

20 May

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Even in the most troubled times, the believer has hope.

A devout and funny lady in our parish said that in such stressful times, faith is evident in the hope people have in God. They trust God that everything will eventually be all right.

And, indeed, there are many stressful things happening today, for example, just four observations:

  • Government leaders seem incapable of coming together for the sake of the common good, inappreciative of what the other person is offering;
  • The entertainment industry has gone wild – “Pregnant and Dating” and “Dancing with the Stars” or maybe better named “Modern Mating Rites”  – are a slap in the face of marriage, family and the dignity of motherhood;
  • Germany (and maybe the U.S.) are trying to deny the rights and duties of parents to educate their children according to Christian values;
  • Rampant sexism – no, not against women alone, but against men as well – note the sitcoms and commercials: Men are dumb oxen who need their noses wiped and can’t function without the “genius” of a woman;
  • The brash treatment of sex and contraception in radio and TV commercials and magazine advertisements; sexual pleasure seems to be considered the epitome of being alive; it is to be enjoyed by all – married or single, kids and adults, homosexual or heterosexual.

This wild abandon of common sense and dignity are, in my opinion, clear signs of hopelessness.

Hope “is a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).

That speaks of faith, of a degree of certainty. It speaks of trust in something or Someone totally reliable.

The Hebrews of the Old Testament trusted God’s word that he would always be with them. Even when they sinned, they still trusted God because God is true to his promises. They expected God to rescue them from their folly – and he did. God can be trusted for God never lies (Nm 23:19).

For the Christian, St. Paul’s embrace of hope is exemplary. He also insists that God does not lie (Ti 1:2). God’s word is trustworthy and guarantees the future: If God says we can receive eternal life in Christ, then we can, in faith, believe it. “Faith,” says the Apostle, “is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1 – and read on).

So what’s the antidote to widespread hopelessness, to lack of faith, to this setting aside of God and the entire reality of right and wrong and the reality of objective truth?

On May 11, the online version of the National Catholic Register featured an excellent article, “Protestant South Becoming a New Catholic Stronghold.” Here are a few points made in the article:

  • Catholics in the South are growing in number.
  • Living among Protestants and Evangelicals, Catholics find a social atmosphere in which discussions about faith are commonplace and valued. Also, because of living closely with other Christians, Catholics are motivated to learn more about their faith – to share it and, if needed, to defend it.
  • Small dioceses in the South are producing, per capita, more vocations to the priesthood than larger dioceses in the North. This is attributed to the fervor of Catholics and their desire to share their faith, as well as the healthy impact of smaller secular communities.

Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, was featured in this article and also on Gus Lloyd’s program, “Seize the Day,” Sirius Radio 129. Deacon Smith spoke of the need for Catholics to rediscover the truths of our faith and to develop the ability to articulate what we believe and why we believe it. He pointed to the scriptural roots of our faith.

Hope does not disappoint the believer, insists St. Paul, “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us “(See Rom 5:1-5).

To bring hope back into the world, to increase our appreciation of human dignity and of God, the source of life and happiness, we need to bring faith back into the world.

Catholics, indeed all Christians, must rediscover the joy of faith, the solid truth in revelation and the courage to share that faith, in love, with zeal, confidence and competence.

 

Tick-Tock

7 May

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Insomnia can pay off — if you are really awake.

It was one of those nights when sleep seemed impossible. Tired, a bit under the weather, prayers all done, still I could not sleep. Finally, I got out of bed, went into the living room and settled onto the recliner and covered up with a blanket.

Reclining there, I tried again to relax, to breathe deeply and exhale slowly, to tell my subconscious to shut up. I tried to pray some more.

Irritation grows

But, then came the sound: “Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock” – that relentless ticking and tocking of that old grandfather clock.

It seemed to grow more insistent, even louder. I tried smothering the sound by praying in time with the clock: “Je-sus, “Je-sus.” But no, sleep would not come.

Reality creeps in

I became a bit uneasy as I realized that clock was “telling” me something: “Every tick-tock is a moment of your life, come and gone, irretrievable. You are moving incessantly toward the end of your life on earth.”

What have I done with my life? How could I have done better? These questions might work well for an examination of conscience, but they also can be a cop-out, a way to avoid the real questions I must face every moment of my life: “Who am I right now? How do I measure up to life right now?”

Much of  my life, and perhaps of yours, too, was spent as a “wanna-be:” I want to have this job, be this rich or popular, have this kind of family, have this relationship with God.” Then for a time, I could say with some sense of accomplishment, “I am who I wanted to be; I achieved most of my goals.”

But, gradually I became afraid I would become a “has-been.” In other words, “I will no longer be who and what I was; I’ll be irrelevant, unneeded, just someone existing alongside life.”

Tick-tock – wanna-be, am, has -been.

The danger point

But there is a subtle step between “am” and “has-been.” I had lived through that time without realizing its danger. It is that “used-to-be” step. That happened when I retired from active employment. I began to focus on the past, on what I used to be and do, afraid to look at myself in the here and now, refusing to give up what had been for fear of becoming a “has-been.”

Trying to relive the past, to find reason for living, is as useless as it is foolish.

You and I are valuable – not because of what we did or “who” we were but who we are right now – who we have really been every moment of our lives, from conception to the present tick-tock breath we inhale.

The awakening

I understand why I am alive! God has willed me into existence. This is the essence of who I am – someone God created out of love. He decided I should live. At the moment I was conceived in my mother’s womb, God breathed into me an immortal soul, made me in his image. I was created by God in love, to love and to be loved. He loves me so much he sent Jesus to die for me, to bridge the gap that sin had created between him and me. Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to me, to all of us, to form the Church in which faith and love are life – not just words.

As long as I can hear that old clock tick-tocking away, I am alive; I can love and be loved.

Because of God I can never, ever, ever, ever be a “has-been.” I will always be an “I am” – alive in him. Even after my last breath I will be forever alive in him.”

I am indeed alive and relevant.

And so are you.