Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sex Abuse & The Wages of Celibacy

As I tried to note yesterday, there are two ways of interpreting the resignation of Scotland's Roman Catholic cardinal: either a confirmation that clerical celibacy is directly related to instances of sex abuse or that clergy abuse - and all forms of sexual abuse - are more expressive of an exploitation of power than they are of sex.

To my mind, it's patently obvious that it is the latter issue. When one surveys the great swath of instances of abuse and exploitation, these acts are overwhelmingly expressions of power over one another. Our tendency has been, culturally, to define "sex abuse" so narrowly that we think of Catholic clergy or pervy old men. While I'm not saying Catholic clergy is bereft of pervy old men, I would argue that if we think of the various expressions that sexually exploitative actions can take - excesses of fraternity pledging, team membership rites, teachers seducing students, etc. - these are acts that demonstrate a corruption of power. One need look no further than Penn State to the depth and difficulty to this issue.

Nevertheless, Frank Bruni's piece in the New York Times, "The Wages of Celibacy," attempts to portray the requirement of clerical celibacy as leading to, or symptomatic of, psychological instability. Again, I've met more than my share of psychologically unstable clergy. That said, I think Bruni errs in his analysis.

Step back from the issue of clergy abuse and consider abuse in general: there is no lack of evidence that some married men have, and do, men abuse their own children, step-children, family members, and others. Some of these men are clergy from other denominations. Women molest children, too, and some of these women are married as well. If Bruni were correct in his analysis, we should see a direct correlation or some type of statistical evidence. Yet none exists: the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in its report, found no single cause or predictor of clergy abuse. What the report did find (3.2) is that personality problems were common to clergy abuses; that, I reckon, should shock no one.

The issue of sexual abuse and exploitation is an issue every bit as vital to our nation and to our world as economic reform. Yet since it's hard to define and difficult to understand the nuance and pathology, journalists shirk their responsibility and follow red herrings. Hundreds of years ago, we thought bloodletting a fine practice to release the humors and restore health. We know today that this was not a good idea. In the face of growing evidence tying sex abuse - of all types - to corrupt uses of power, Bruni's piece makes me wonder if we're stepping back in history or if we have the courage to confront these challenges in a head-on and responsible manner. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Scotland's Cardinal Out: Abuse and Power

With less than three days remaining in his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien after allegations of sexual abuse dating back to the 1980's were made public. Some of the cardinal's critics see these accusastions as delightfully ironic, as O'Brien has been an outspoken critic of gay marriage, labeling it a "grotesque subversion." Why ironic? The accusers include three priests and a former priest.

Cardinal O'Brien will not be attending the conclave that will choose Benedict XVI's sucessor. 

Given recent rumors about a "gay lobby" in the Vatican, these accusations cannot but feed these beliefs. That said, I think the problem resides deeper than the level of sexual orientation. As paraphrased in the New York Times, the accuser who left the priesthood did so because he was unable to reconcile himself to the idea of spending a lifetime under Cardinal O'Brien's authority. 

The issue rests less on sexual orientation than it does on power. We have become culturally conditioned to regard "sexual abuse" as something exclusive to children and perpetrated by men. Think, though, for a moment of how broad sexual abuse actually is:
  • Degrading fraternity rituals where "brothers" force pledges to engage in various behaviors, many in various states of undress
  • Sexually explicit pictures taken at Guantanamo Bay
  • Team hazing rituals. Girls made to run around the field in undergarments or humiliated by other players; boys assaulted in locker rooms by teammates
  • Teachers seducing students
We could look at various cases and multiply this out ad nauseam. I would be willing to argue - after countless seminars and programs on sex abuse and its prevention - that the family resemblance that unites almost every issue of sexual abuse is the abuse of power. Whether it be abuse by clergy or  teacher, Scout leader or coach, friends or teammates, the issue comes down to the exploitative misuse of power. 

As a society, I think we need to examine the way we frame the aforementioned issues. Too often, I fear, we dismiss vast instances of sexual abuse by saying, "Well, boys will be boys" or "That's how you build team spirit" or "That's how I got into the fraternity/club/team." It's as though a group mentality excuses exploitation. 

As a culture, we're quick to demonize the Catholic Church for its failure to respond adequately to abuse of power by certain members of its clergy. The Church is called the "old boys club" and "corrupt." I will never deny that the Church faces enormous problems. Nevertheless, I should think our own society needs to consider how we think about sexual abuse and come to realize that the "protect your own" mentality that has ravaged the Catholic Church is one we participate in all too often. When we excuse atrocious acts of sexual violence by giving it sanction as "boys will be boys" or "it's just an initiation ritual" we only add to the abuse of power that destroys so many lives. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Grace, Love, and Freedom

"Grace," for William Lynch, "should be understood as the act by which an absolutely outside and free reality communicates an absolutely interior and free existence." When we speak of grace - God's, the beloved's, a friend's - we mean an act, a relationship, that makes us more of who we are. Grace doesn't interfere or take away from who one is; indeed, grace carves out the space for us to grow into the people we are capable of becoming.

Healthy relationships never dominate or demand; they free us to take risks, to be bold, because we are animated and excited by love. "Real love communicates a self-identity and autonomy that is no longer in basic conflict with real mutuality. It takes two real self-identities to make a relationship, and it takes such a relationship to make two real persons." Grace makes us free.

As we trek through Lent, it may be a good time to re-assess some of the relationships in our lives. Am I being an agent of grace, of love and freedom, or do I act to manipulate others to achieve my own selfish goals? Do I make others free or do I constrict them? Am I free? Is this friendship, this relationship, a graced relationship whereby I grow and flourish?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

INN - Gun Control - Episode 1

This is the first of a three-part series the Ignatian News Network filmed on Gun Control. I was interviewed for this series as I had blogged in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Divine Office

Regular readers of my blog know that I'm not big on hawking products: I think consumerism is, basically, the true religion of Americans and it's not one I'm keen on evangelizing.

That said, for those who are technologically inclined, I'd like to draw your attention to www.divineoffice.org. Saint Paul exhorts Christians to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). At various points of the day, the Church provides an opportunity to pray in common. Called the "liturgy of the hours" this is, quite literally, the work of prayer: just as you would clock-in at your job, so to can you clock-in for prayer (the 401k, though, is not this side of eternity).

The iPad app is just about $20.00 but it provides you with an entire day's worth of prayer. What I appreciate is that there's some music - a huge help in my own prayer life - and its audio is of rather good quality. For some reason, I find it so much more meditative to pray with someone, which this program enables. There's also a pretty sweet function that gives you a picture of the globe and all of the people who happen to be using the app at the moment: you get, in an instant, a sense of the world at prayer!

Very often, Lent turns into an endurance contest rather than a time for coming to the Lord more deeply. Rather than obsessing over chocolates or wine, why not commit an extra 20-30 minutes a day and join in the work of prayer? My suspicion is that the time you spend praying each day in a tried-and-true practice of the Church will be less than the time you'd spend thinking about what it is you gave up.

If you're looking for a very fine and spiritually nourishing Lenten practice, I wholeheartedly recommend going to www.divineoffice.org and downloading their app onto your ipad or iphone. If you have a 20-minute commute to work in the morning, would it not be better spent in prayer than in cursing the drivers around you? Instead of waisting ten minutes on Facebook or Twitter, you could spend that time doing a mid-day prayer session.

Why not make this Lent something other than a burdensome slog through 46 days? I think staying faithful to prayer is as difficult, if not more so, than staying faithful to exercise. This program gives you no excuse to take the time needed to come to know the Lord more profoundly and, in the process, come to know how much you are loved and how you are being called into deeper service of God's Kingdom. Skip a few skinny-iced-latte's-with-no-whip and buy the app: you're waistline - physical and spiritual - will thank you!

Ash Wednesday Prayer

As part of a presentation I'm giving today for one of my courses I'm charged with leading the group in prayer. Here is my morning meditation:

Let us find stillness in our hearts as we take a few moments to pray this morning.

Today, the Church observes Ash Wednesday and begins its annual journey of Lent. The first reading yesterday came from the conclusion to the first story of creation found in Genesis. After calling all of creation into being and populating the earth with creatures, God said:

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
The birds of the air, and the cattle,
And over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.

God created humankind in his image;
In the divine image he created him;
Male and female he created them. 

Yesterday we heard a message of great consolation and hope: we are created in the “image and likeness” of God’s own self. Sometimes this seems impossible to believe: what is it about me, my neighbor, my enemy that bears God’s likeness? Is it freedom? Intelligence? Power? Perhaps our likeness goes above, beyond, and far deeper than these: in the depths of our heart, at the very core of our beings, there is something incomprehensible about each of us. Just as we will never get our minds around God, so too will we never plumb the deepest recesses of our existences.

How often have I tried to fill this silent space with various things – academic honors, social prestige, the esteem of others? How regularly do I treat others as means rather than their own incomprehensible ends? How frequently have I succumbed to the temptation to fill the silent void that invites me to rest within it, to grow strong within it, to fall more and more in love with it?

Yet for all my ploys and machinations, my foolproof schemes and plotting, my harried attempts to fill this void, I know it is futile.  All of my plans to engineer my own triumph, to be my own master, to set my own course eventually turn to naught. What seemed like a great plan, a sure-bet, disintegrates when I touch it. Unless God is at the center, everything is ash. 

Today, I shall bear upon my flesh an outward sign of this awareness: I am marked by ash, a sign of the finite, the ephemeral. May the quizzical looks I get from others today make me mindful of how God sees me when I try to be something I’m not, when I am other than myself rather than the person I’ve been created to be. For today we are called back by our Creator, deep calls upon deep, and we are summoned to return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Give me the strength to surrender my plans and agenda and to come to where you invite me. You have called me into existence and now you call me into your friendship. Have mercy on me and guide me home, dear God, that I may find myself buried eternally in the heart of the Trinity where I shall rejoice in your love and your light.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Papal Resignation & Psychology of Lent

In the immediate aftermath of this morning's historic announcement - the first time this has happened in six hundred years - there is precious little that I can contribute by way of commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. While I may lack in the ability to offer enlightening commentary, I can point readers to Paddy Power's betting pool on who will be elected to succeed Benedict XVI: if I were a betting man, I'd throw a buck down on Bono (500/1 odds) just for fun.


I just have a brief comment on William Lynch's chapter on "Hopelessness as Entrapment." Very many of us are entrapped by an absolute projected by our imaginations. That is, we have this idealized notion of what we "should" be but are not yet. Perfect body, perfect degree, perfect job. Yet the gap that separates us from the ideal frequently traps us, freezes us in place. The goal seems unattainable and we feel trapped where we stand. Unable to achieve the ideal, we feel trapped by our present reality.

Let's make this concrete. I have a friend who won't go to the gym because he is afraid that people will think he looks fat. So he resolves to "lose weight on this own" at home and then, at some point in the future, go to the gym. Do you detect the problem: the gulf between his "ideal" and his present condition separates him in the form of a long and arduous journey to physical health...unwilling to embark upon this journey, he's presently trapped in his current state of life.

Spiritually, this happens all of the time. People will say, "I really want to have a deep prayer life" and this is a great desire. But they expect to go from their current state to some condition of mystical ecstasy overnight. Again, the gulf between the "idea" and the present appears infinite and people give up trying to reach their goal. Little do they know that the path to spiritual depth is marked by huge leaps but rather by the small planks of daily prayer we lay down in faithful practice.

We have, all of us, to give up the paralyzing idealized images of ourselves that prevent us from growing. To run a marathon one must first get past the first mile, to play an instrument you have the learn the musical scale. In an instant-gratification society, it's increasingly difficult to undergo the slow process of growth and transformation. Yet for real growth to take place, there is nothing that can replace patience, time, and the confidence that growth and conversion can take place.

Hence the psychology of Lent: each year, we are given the spiritual space to grow. Whether it be through a few minutes of quiet meditation, fasting, reading the scriptures, or some other practice we are invited into a space of journey with Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus just doesn't pop into Jerusalem and say, "Hey, Crucify me!" The crucifixion is the consequence for Jesus' living an authentic human life, a life of love and generosity in witness to the values of God's kingdom in a broken and sinful world.

As we prepare to begin our Lenten journey, let us put to the side our 'idealized selves' and take a long and loving look at who we are. If you have spiritual love handles, there's no reason to suck in your gut: let this be a time for hard work and discipline, not cheap tricks or gimmicks, that will help you grow in authentic strength. Think of Lent as a P90X for the spiritual life: it's a relatively short period of intense work and, although we won't see changes over night, we can trust that with patience, discipline, and grace we will experience a transformation of body and soul that will draw us ever more deeply into companionship with the Lord. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

On Hopelessness

William Lynch begins his second chapter entitled "On Hopelessness" with a quote from Chesterton: I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine. Hopelessness is not necessarily a bad thing; indeed, it can sometimes even be creative. Yet when hopelessness invades the pure wine of hope, well, the diluted result is less than appetizing.

What are the marks of being "hopeless"? For Lynch, it is a sense of the impossible, a feeling of too-muchness, a loss of goal and a feeling of futility. The hopeless individual believes that he or she is beyond help, isolated, and alone. One way of putting this would be to say, "there is no use" in doing anything at all. Why try? Why make a wish? There's no point at all. Hopelessness is paralyzing, it freezes the hopeless in place.

Without question, there are many areas of hopelessness in our lives. Not everyone can be trusted. Not ever investment brings a return. Not every choice in life is assured of success.

Just today, a wonderful young man and former student wrote to me about wanting to run for office within the school. He had a sense of who was running for which office and had calculated his odds of success. This bright, talented, young man demonstrates a fixation of hopelessness: he is paralyzed, afraid to take a risk, and only wants to run if it's a "sure thing" or a "safe shot." Rather that go big, he'd rather wait in the wings. Some may applaud this as strategy, but I see this as symptomatic of something endemic in our culture: an unwillingness to risk, to take a chance, to hope.

When I look at my niece and nephew, I'm struck with how powerful hope really is. As pedestrian as it may be, when my nephew 'hopes' for an action figure in his happy meal, he places his utmost confidence in "Bob" (my father) to make sure this comes to pass. When Emma needs a beautiful princess gown, she turns to none other than "Nan" to make it so. Children know, primordially, how to trust and to hope. It is years of experience that trains them not to expect too much, not to hope for too much, to settle for reality.

As I write, I can't help but think: maybe some of our youth today need a good dose of hopelessness. Instead of mom and dad doing the homework assignment for them, or calling them in sick, or defending them, perhaps our youth need to face up to limit situations where their failure to prepare leads them to experience the sting of defeat. It might not be a bad thing for a kid to feel the pinch from time to time, to experience the pain and hopelessness of getting cut from a team without parents threatening to sue. It pains me to say it, but at some point Emma and Quinn (my niece and nephew) need to learn that we don't always get what we want and that, sometimes, to get what we desire we have to sacrifice for it.

We are, all of us, creatures of hope and hopelessness. I hope to be a good priest, a servant to God's people. I hope to be a good scholar, one who thinks well and writes clearly. Yet I hold little hope that I'll ever have perfect abs or a full head of hair: even the blessed life I live is bereft of some pleasures, is etched with some hopelessness. I'll never have children, or an empire, or tremendous status in the world. These are constitutive of a hopelessness, a sense of my own finitude and limitations, which help to define who I am.

Lynch wisely underscores that our lives are marked by the 'both-and' of hope and hopelessness. It may repay many of us to reflect on both for a few moments, to consider where our hope reaches and where hope has been foreclosed. Part of leading a healthy, holy, life is to gain a sense of where we encounter this hopelessness and, rather than allowing it to govern our lives, to situate it against the horizon of hope that gives us meaning. I may never have flowing locks, but I can be a good priest to the people of God. It is in this that I, personally, place my hope. I'm defined more on what I aspire to, what I hope for, than by that which I cannot ever have. 

Saturday, February 09, 2013

On Twitter and Hope

I suspect many parents of teenagers who have a Twitter account have, at some point or another, read a Tweet and said, "What, in the world, would possess my child to make such a public statement?" Even as a mere teacher, I'd have occasion to see things my students would commend to the internet and I'd wonder, "What the hell was this kid thinking to put this online?"

As I read William Lynch, I am coming to realize that Twitter is actually a theater of hope. Lynch contends that, in the most general sense, hope involves three basic things:

  1. What I hope for I do not yet have or see.
  2. It may be difficult.
  3. I can have it - it is possible. 
Re-read some of the Tweets sent by your kids or students. Go read some of the Facebook status updates. Heck, go look at some of your own postings. Are you shocked by what you see? What do these public statements say about you?

Quite a bit, I suspect. 

We live in a culture where we have a "deep repression of the need for help" (42). Americans, as I learned when I sold riding lawn mowers at Wal-Mart, do not need anything. They deserve everything. Indeed, many times students would come to me and I'd have to offer/suggest/cajole them into accepting a bit of extra help. How much time would have been saved if they'd just admitted that they needed help!

When adolescents Tweet or post things to the internet, it might be helpful to consider why they are doing this. Some would say, "Oh, they're teens and they're just testing their limits." That may be true, but I suspect there's something deeper. I would like to suggest that each line-crossing Tweet or post is an expression of hope, an outward demonstration of the "interior sense that there is help on the outside of us" (40). 

In a nutshell: intelligent people don't post ignorant things to the internet because they are ignorant. They do so because they are desperate to know that they are not alone, that they are relevant, that their thought/idea/quip/insult matters. The more viral one becomes, the more "likes" one receives, the more one matters. Every one wants to matter. 

By no means am I insinuating that every text, tweet, or post is a mark of some insatiable urge to belong. I would say, however, that many of the more risque things posted are not a reflection of the moral fiber of our young so much as a desperate desire to be relevant, a hope to be noticed by others. 

To speak of Twitter in particular, I know a young woman who Tweets upwards of 200 times a day. Why? Because once, two years ago, something she Tweeted went viral and was passed along to thousands of others. Since then, she Tweets so frequently in the hope that she'll be noticed again, that she'll be relevant one more. Her life, Tweeted at every turn, has become a virtual existence where her value as a human is measured not in the lives she touches but in the number of 'favorites' and 're-tweets' she receives. 

Twitter, in this way, is the parody of true hope. For William Lynch, authentic hope (1) leads us to the real and (2) demands mutuality, a relationship that brings the best out of those involved. My young friend spends more time in the 'virtual' realm than in the real, more time attempting to be relevant than in relationship. Her Tweets sound to me less an "innocent pastime" that a cry of quiet desperation. 

Each of us needs to consider, daily, how we use social media as a tool for expression. For those graced with children, it is a duty to monitor how they express themselves. There's an old philosophical adage - agere sequitor esse or to act follows on to be - and it's vital that we take note of how our young behave because their behaviors indicate a great deal of how they are as young persons. My growing suspicion is that we are raising a generation marked with great desperation, a group desperate to be relevant but increasingly alienated from others and unable to form healthy relationships. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Introduction to the Two Cities

I've been so amazed by messages I've received in response to Tuesday's post that I thought I might continue the theme. In fact, I'm going to make an effort to couple blogging with my own spiritual reading of William Lynch's Images of Hope: Imagination as the Healer of the Hopeless. If my writings encourage readers to pick up a copy of this profound text, then I've done my job in sharing with others a true gem of literature.

Lynch begins by noting something of an irony: "for many people hope really means despair....when we say that a man has hope, we mean that he is in serious trouble...when we say that someone has hope, we usually imply that he has nothing else, and that he is close to despair."

Hope, as we tend to use the word, reflects a sort of bankruptcy. Having exhausted one's talents or abilities or social capital one runs on the last "fumes" of hope. Hope becomes a last-ditch psychological effort, a flight of fancy, a way of trying to evade or dodge reality.

When we hear the word "hope" how do we respond? When a college student says, "I hope to work in the film industry" how quickly do we rush to say, "NO! There's no hope of that. You need to be realistic - you need to get yourself a real job, a proper major." When we see a friend who has been struggling, who is something of a bungle in life, how often do we say, "That one's hopeless."

In response to this, Lynch mentions three central ideas related to hope he wishes to use to dispel the former understanding:

  1. The life of hope is equated with the life of imagination, a realistic imagination. When a scientist confronts a new problem, it is hope that sustains her efforts in probing various solutions. When a dancer confronts a new routine, or a musician a new and demanding piece of music, it is hope that keeps them engaged with the task at hand. When parents are ripped from their sleep by a puking child or a colicky baby, it is hope for the child's eventual departure for college that keeps them sane. Hope, in other words, drives us deeper into the real. 
  2. Imagination imagines with others. When a young man comes to my office and risks telling me his hopes for the future, I can either shoot them down or I can imagine with him what the future might hold. A young couple sitting down and sketching out a plan for their future, parents sacrificing for their children, friends planning a new venture: hope is not solitary but social, drawing us into conversation and finding strength in others. 
  3. Hope is the action of desire; where there is no wishing, there is no hope. Each of us has desires, yet how often do we risk naming our desires, expressing our wishes? It's easy to chastise ourselves for 'wishing' because it seems childish. Yet how many corporations were built, or great novels written, or moving symphonies composed, or adventures undertaken simply by being conventional, by not daring the wish? 
At the conclusion of the introduction, Lynch offers two alternatives: our lives can be given to the construction of the City of Man or the Inhuman City. Let me explain.
  • City of Man - a city where all men have citizenship. It will take a great exercise of the social imagination to envision a city where persons of all stripes - men and women, young and old, Jew and Greek and Gentile, the mentally well and the mentally ill - find welcome. 
  • Inhuman City - a city where we billed high and absolute walls meant to keep some people in and very many others out. This is the ideal city of our own making, made in our own image and likeness, where "we" is gathered around "me" and everyone who dissents is cast out. Lynch writes that, in this city, "citizens spend their time reassuring each other and hating everyone else." 
One is the city of Hope, the other the city of the Hopeless. It is the "absolutizing instinct" that marks the second city, an instinct that erects barriers and walls where there should be gates and entrances. The "absolutizing instinct" bars the door where there should otherwise be a welcome mat. 

Each of us should wonder: where do I dwell? Where do I help others to dwell? Is my stance in life one of hope or is it infected with a deep hopelessness and fear? Are we raising our children in an environment of hope or hopelessness? 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Desire as a Sign of Spiritual Life

The late Jesuit author William Lynch (1931-2003) suggests in his lovely Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless that it is an inability to wish, or to hope, that is the true mark of anxiety. Frequently, I reckon, we think 'anxiety' means the state of having too many choice, too many options, too many things out of one's reach. Contrary to this, Lynch argues that it is precisely an inability to wish that causes us anxiety. We are at our worst when we can't even articulate what we desire.

Lynch uses the following image to help draw our attention to how the ability to express our desires is to being a living being:
If we find a traveler prostrate in the desert and ask him what he wants, he will say: water. The is the sign of life, that he has such a wish and can name it. (135)
There is something very risky about having the courage to desire, the audacity to wish. How many of us prefer to submit to the will of another, to just go along with others' expectations, rather than naming our deep desires and working to attain them?

How many of us have, as Lynch remarks, a little blackmailing voice within us that threatens: if you are independent and have your own hopes, if you do not fall lockstep into the boss's expectations, the superior's demands, the hierarchy's culture and be a good company man, then you will not be loved. I suspect, with Lynch, that not a few of us have been given the message throughout our lives that independence and love cannot go together, that it is "evil or dangerous to have thoughts or feelings" of one's own (132).

When I was teaching, or even now when I meet with young people, I am appalled when I hear them say things like, "Well, I guess I'll end up majoring in business so that I can get a job." Garbage, thrown into a river, ends up on the shore. Humans ought not to "end up" anywhere.

When pushed about what they are passionate about, it's seldom business. I've heard heard philosophy, English, art history, film, languages, but the number of students who are passionate about business are not so numerous. Yet they have bought into the belief that their desires need to be conventional, practical, and pertain to matters of consequence. Their choices are governed more by fear and a desire for security than their own desire for the adventure of following one's passions.

In a nutshell: I think we have a whole generation of young people who are like the traveler we come upon in the desert. Yet, when we ask, "What do you want?" the answer we get is "A business degree and job security" or "A healthy 401k" rather than what is really desired. If I were to place a bet, I'd say that the staggering instances of depression can be correlated with a decrease in the ability to articulate authentic desire. Even cutting, perhaps a physical manifestation of simply wanting to feel something, betrays the deep longing that doesn't know how to express itself. Better to feel pain than nothing at all. With Lynch, however, I must say:  Know hope, know desire, know life's joys. No hope, no desire, no joy.

You can dismiss me as impractical - I am - but I can tell you this much: I'm a happy man. I may be poor (no 401k), chaste (my bed's cold at night; I'm not the center of any other person's life), and obedient (my life is not under my sole control) and I couldn't think of any other life that would bring me the joy I know. My desire to bring the Good News to a hungry world brings to me unfathomable joy and laughter. Of course, not everyone needs to join the Jesuits (although we could use some more men possessed of great desires and joy). Nevertheless, imagine that, instead of telling our students what they should want, we asked them what they desired. We may have have less young adults with degrees they don't want but who will have embarked upon a life they can call their own. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic

In his book entitled God's Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church, theologian Charles van Engen suggests that the four marks of the church - one, holy, catholic, and apostolic - be considered less as adjectives and more as adverbs. That is, they should describe how the church is functioning in a way that is unifying, sanctifying, reconciling, and proclaiming.

By considering the marks of the church as adverbs, it calls attention to something we all too easily ignore: we have to live the church. The church is not, has never been, nor ever can be simply a static institution. Instead, it is the community gathered together by God to proclaim the Good News to the world. These adverbs tell us not what we must do - for proclaiming the Gospel must adapt always to new cultures - but how we must do it.

It's easy to kvetch about the institutional church, so let's think about ourselves for a moment. Are we women and men of reconciliation? Do we draw others in or do we exclude them? Do we wield the Gospel as an instrument to divide people or do sing out the song of salvation and invite people to sing along?  Do we have the courage to raise our voices in song, inviting others to join in the chorus in a unified voice? Do our actions speak to God's sanctifying presence int the world or does my behavior bespeak callousness or brutishness? Do I proclaim the values of the Kingdom or do I witness to values that demean others or infringe upon human dignity?

I'm amazed at how reluctant I can be about using the name "Jesus" even in theology courses. I'll speak of God, of "the Spirit," of Christology, yet I'm pretty reluctant to say "Jesus Christ." Theologians are expected to say things like, "I'm writing a paper articulating the bi-valent understanding of the eschaton in the thought of some forgotten thinker" but seem more than reluctant to say, "I'm writing an article aimed at helping others to come to know the Lord more intimately so that they can find joy there."

How do I do theology? How do I live out my faith? I type this and think, "Ryan, you're doing a pretty crappy job?" The question is: how does one do it better? One can always pray more - I know I can - and being more conscientious about how I present a "Catholic face" to the world is something that bears reflection. That said, I can't help but to feel that if I made a part of my daily life a short reflection each evening on these four traits that maybe, just maybe, I'd start to be a small brick contributing to the church worthy of being called Christian.

So here's my one-minute daily meditation one might use this week:

  • As I look upon the day, how was I a reconciling force in the world? Did I bridge divides or exacerbate them? Did I bring healing or greater animosity?
  • How were my actions sanctifying? Is there something today that points toward God's creativity or have my actions been counter-productive, thwarting God's creation?
  • How was I at proclaiming today? Did my words and deeds dispense the "Gospel of I" or did they share the Good News of the "Most High"? 
  • Have I been a unifying agent? Did I reach out to others and invite them to know something of my joy or did I push people away? 
I remember hearing the quip "Be the change you want to see." There's no point in complaining about the church if I'm not willing to take the steps that I'd criticize it for not taking. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Fall From Grace

Both secular and religious news outlets are abuzz today with the that retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry have been relieved of public duty as a result of their involvement in the sexual abuse cover up in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Released, too, on a website operated by the Archdiocese are the clergy files of those priests involved in the $660 million dollar settlement reached in 2007.

I have read through many of the documents and I can say, simply, that they serve as a monument to a clerical culture that would put the institutional church over the best interest of the individuals it exists to serve. The documents serve, in short, as a testimony to how far we fall from grace when we devise tactics to evade the truth of our misdeeds rather than seeking transparency.

There is no silver lining to this latest chapter in the Church's story. Reading the personal accounts of men and women who suffered abuse at the hands of priests defies response. When I read that those involved were"naive at the time about the effectiveness of treatment for abusers and the impact on victims" I feel a knot in my stomach: reading the harrowing personal accounts of abuse, I simply cannot believe that church officials failed to grasp how dire the situation was. I am, sadly, confident that they did understand the seriousness and chose to do nothing, hoping that it would blow over eventually. Instead, the maelstrom has only grown in strength and, in the wake of the storm, few lives remain untouched.

I have respected Cardinal Mahony for his prophetic witness on immigration reform. While his "sin of omission" does not erase the good that he has done, it has left a permanent blight upon his and his record as the shepherd of his flock. No longer able to work as a public minister, our Church and our nation has lost a powerful voice for those who have no voice in this country. He, however, provides a tragic reminder of the cost of grasping, too late, the severity of the issue of the abuse of minors and the inevitable consequences of deceit and evasion: broken lives and hearts and a compromised ability to share the Good News. That said, his final words on his blog say the only words that remain for him to say: "I am sorry." These words will not erase the past or take away the scars but, perhaps with grace and time, be the site where those who have been victimized and who continue to suffer will one day be able to say, "I forgive you."

Karl Rahner, almost sixty years ago, described the history of theology as "no means just the history of the progress of doctrine, but also a history of forgetting...". Today, the Church must modify this and say, instead, a history of asking forgiveness. There is much to celebrate in the Church, of this there is no question. Yet where we have failed to live up to our witness as women and men enlivened by the Good News of Jesus Christ and in, under the cover of his name, used or abused others...we must ask forgiveness. Pope John Paul II began this in 2000 with an apology for the Church's sins. Let us be grateful, Church, for all that we have done and for all that we have failed to do, for all the ways we have not lived up to our calling as the People of God, let us say, "We are sorry" and pray for the grace and healing that can only come from forgiveness. 

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame