Saturday, November 30, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church LIV

1884 photograph of Lollards' Tower at Lambeth
Palace--London Residence of the Archbishops
of Canterbury
In our last entry we saw the story of William Tyndale, an English priest who translated the scriptures into English, fled to the Continent to avoid the anti-Lutheran heresy hunts that went on under Henry VIII, and was put to death in 1536 for his Protestant ideas in Antwerp, then under the dominion of the very Catholic Emperor, Charles V.  In order to understand how Henry VIII was able to separate England from Rome we need to understand the religious mood in England in the sixteenth century.  Beneath the surface of an officially Catholic England, was a lot of discontent with the Church especially among the urban merchant classes.  The rural peasantry and the nobility were comfortable in their Catholic faith, but trouble for the hierarchical Church had been brewing for some time in England—at least since the days of John Wycliffe and those who followed his ideas and were known as “Lollards.”  If you want a refresher on Wycliffe and the Lollards look at the entries for April 27th and 28th  2011, and June 7th and 8th 2013.  I also want to tell again the story of Richard Hunne, a London merchant, whose 1514 murder while under imprisonment by  the Bishop of London gave a focus to the anger of many in the merchant class against the bishops and “The Church,” i.e. the institutional hierarchical Church. 
Richard Hunne was a merchant-tailor in the City of London in the early sixteenth century. His infant son, Stephen, died in 1511 and his funeral was at the Church of Saint Mary Matfellon, Whitechapel, London. The priest, Thomas Dryffeld, demanded the infant’s christening gown in which the tiny corpse was dressed, for a fee. Now this sounds gruesome to the modern reader, but it was standard in the Middle Ages that the various trappings of a funeral—the pall that covered the body, any cloths or bunting with which the church was draped for the funeral, and even the shroud in which the corpse was dressed belonged to the priest by ways of fee. Also any candles or other decorations that were used went to the priest. They would be resold to the undertaker (or in the case of candles, to the chandler) who could then sell them to the next grieving family for re-use. The baby most likely, at least by custom, would not have been buried in the Christening gown in any case but have been simply wrapped in linen or wool before being interred. Nevertheless Richard Hunne begrudged the priest the gown. He was a tailor, a very wealthy tailor, and the gown was of some more than usual value. Hunne could have afforded it. He was a man of means. But on principle he would not give in. It is difficult to know psychological motives of a person long dead unless they have left us some strong indication, and Hunne probably did not even understand himself why he was so tenacious on this point. Perhaps he was angry over the death of his son; that is a normal reaction at the death of someone we love. And the anger over the death of a child often is directed towards God—or religious figures who “represent” God to us—because we simply don’t know where else to direct it. We just don’t know why, on Hunne’s part, this escalated as it did, but it did.
Dryffeld for his part would not give in either and had Hunne summoned before the Archbishop’s court at Lambeth for settlement. The auditor of the case, Cuthbert Tunstall, would later be Bishop of London under both Henry VIII and Queen Mary. Tunstall had no axe to grind and simply applied the law. Hunne was ordered to give over the Christening gown or its value—6s 8d (probably about $225.00 in today’s money). There was no further punishment and Tunsall ignored Dryffeld’s demands that Hunne be excommunicated. One would think that the end of the matter. It wasn’t.
Hunne went to St. Mary Matfellon for evensong on December 27th, the feast of Saint John the Evangelist. The priest conducting the service, this time Henry Marshall, Dryffeld’s vicar, recognized him and stopped the service, shouting that that Hunne was an excommunicate (he wasn’t, as I just wrote) and under the curse of the Church. The service, Marshall shrieked, could not continue until Hunne left. The scene was costly to Hunne’s business as devout Catholics would have nothing to do with an excommunicate. On the other hand, it seems Hunne was baiting the priest for this church, Saint Mary Matfellon, was not Hunne’s parish and was over two miles from Hunne’s home. Moreover, Hunne had brought a party of friends with him to the service and they all stomped out together. In the event, Hunne sued Marshall for slander in the Court of King’s Bench.
The case is very complex and we don’t need to go into all the details as we will only end up losing our point, but it involves the fact that in England at the time there were two judicial systems—the King’s and the Church’s. Certain offenses were to be tried in Church court—Hunne’s refusal to pay the mortuary fee to the priest, for example, was a matter for an ecclesiastical court, not the King’s Bench. Also, certain persons could only be tried in Church court, the clergy—from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to the lowliest parish clark—in point of fact. This privilege of exemption from the King’s Justice was a sore point for many going back to the time of Thomas Becket whose fights with Henry II were on this exact point of clerical exemption from civil law. At this very moment, Parliament was debating a bill to strip the lower clergy (those below the rank of subdeacon, such as acolytes, lectors, porters, etc.) of privilege in Church courts, demanding that they be tried for their crimes as everyone else in King’s Bench. Hunne by bringing the slander case against a priest into the King’s Bench was denying the right of the Church to try a case involving a member of the clergy. This implied that the Church was subject to the Crown. This was a dangerous compromise of clerical privilege. The Bishop of London thus went on to have Hunne arrested for “heresy.” The “heresy” substantially is denying the supremacy of the Church over the State.
Hunne was confined in Lollards’ tower—the prison reserved for heretics—in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence, Lambeth Palace. Two days later, December 4th, 1514 he was found hanging in his cell. The jailers said it was suicide. The coroner’s jury said it was murder. Witnesses came forward and testified that they had heard members of the Bishop of London’s household plan the murder. One witness said that a servant of the Bishop had told him, the witness, that Hunne would be dead by Christmas. It seems that agents of the Bishop of London had attempted to murder Hunne in his cell by inserting a red-hot wire through his nostril into his brain—leaving no trace of violence and making the death appear natural. However there was a struggle, and in the struggle Hunne’s neck was broken. The corpse was hung to make it appear that the broken neck was the result of him having committed suicide by hanging.
Hunne was posthumously judged guilty of heresy and his body burned. As a convicted heretic, the Church confiscated his estate—leaving his wife and children penniless. This caused a huge outcry among the merchants of the city. Hunne was one of them, a member of the Guild of the Merchant Tailors, one of the guilds that controlled the political establishment of the city. When the Reformation came to England, it was slow to spread among the nobility and among the working classes—but it spread like wildfire among the business classes. They were educated and they were self-made men (and women) and they were ready to move on from the world of clerical privilege and control.
This story is one of many stories—more dramatic than most, but still only one—that hows the loss of confidence in the hierarchy and the clergy on the part of the Middle Class.  Part of this was the remnants of the Lollard movement which had encouraged a strong evangelical fervor among  the laity that differentiated the Lollards from the religious establishment.  But it was more complex than that.  You had, in the Middle Class, an educated group of people who were interested in religion but also had sufficient education to think for themselves and think critically.  They were not inclined to accept ideas simply on “authority,” but wanted their questions answered and their opinions heard.   We need today to be careful in the Church for we too have an educated laity who think for themselves and no longer accept something  just because “Father says so.”  Moreover, many of the laity today are better educated than the average priest—something not true sixty years ago—and even more educated and urbane than our bishops.  Authority today is answerable to its constituents.  Certain people in the Church may not like that, but they have to wake up and smell the coffee: thing have changed whether they like it or not.  Very frankly, the abuses of authority in the American Church by prelates like Cardinals Burke or George or Law or the late Cardinal Hickey,  or Archbishops Cordileone, or Lori, or Bishops Morlino, or Finn, have put the Church on some perilously think ice.  Part of Pope Francis’ appeal to people is that he seems to be more dialogical, or at least more aware of their perspectives and questions than his predecessors.   This is not a time for authority to be exercised peremptorily.  Indeed we see here those who understand authority as power (abuse) and those who understand authority as service and we need leadership whose trigger-finger is not quite so itchy as others would have it.  The tooth-paste does not go back into the tube and an educated and critically-thinking laity need far more sophisticated response from Church leadership than they have been getting in some circles.  It is a new day and a new day requires new ways of doing things.      

Friday, November 29, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church LIII

Woodcut from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs
depicting the martyrdom of William Tyndale
In my last posting about the foundations of the Church of England I mentioned that one of the defenders of Queen Katherine’s marriage to Henry VIII was the English proto-Protestant, William Tyndale.  Perhaps we should do a short posting about Tyndale to better acquaint ourselves with him and to demonstrate the currents of thought that were prevalent in England at the time of Henry’s break with Rome.
Tyndale was born in a village in Gloucestershire in the west of England sometime around the year 1487.  As a young man he enrolled in Magdalene Hall Oxford (today Hertford College).  He was a gifted linguist and fluent in classical Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as contemporary Spanish, French, German and Italian.  From the beginning of his education he was very dissatisfied with the University program because there was no systematic study of the Scripture.  One had to learn dogmatic theology and then approach the Scripture with the principles of dogmatic theology already in place.  This would, of course, bias the reading of scripture and reduce it to mere apologetics.  Tyndale had a passion for the scriptures and when a fellow priest (Tyndale was ordained sometime around 1520) said to him that we could do without God’s Law but not the Pope’s, Tyndale replied “I defy the Pope and all his laws, and if God spares me many years, I will see that the common plowman knows more Scripture than you do.”  So we have an incipient Protestant long before Henry is ready for his break with Rome. 
Tyndale was chaplain to Sir John Walsh.  A chaplain’s duties were provide liturgical service in the family chapel but also to serve as tutor to the children of the household.  Tyndale’s opinions got him into trouble more than once and he was summoned to the court of the Bishop of Worcester in whose diocese he lived, but not formally charged.  He went to London to appeal for patronage from Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, an admirer of Erasmus, for his (Tyndale’s) translating the bible into English.  Tunstall wanted to see reform in the Church but he, like most bishops of the time, was a political creature and saw where the wind was blowing with Lutheran ideas drifting over from Germany, and he did not want to jeopardize his own career by sponsoring a project that could be seen to lean in the Lutheran direction.  Bishop Tunstall declined to lend his help in the project but Tyndale was taken in by some merchant families and supported while he worked on his translation. He lectured at a London parish, Saint Dunstan’s in the West, where his ideas about scripture appealed to the merchant class.   
Tyndale was quick to embrace the ideas of Luther and that was dangerous in Henry’s England.  Henry had written—or had published under his name a book written by John Fisher—In Defense of the Seven Sacraments, an attack on the German reformer.  Tyndale, seeing that his ideas put him in danger in England, set out for Germany to meet Luther.  It is unclear if the two ever met but it is likely given the presence of both in Wittenberg in 1525.  While in Wittenberg, Tyndale finished his English translation of the New Testament and had it printed.  It was smuggled back into England where Bishop Tunstall warned booksellers against making it available.  Nonetheless, it was a best-seller as many, especially in the merchant class, were anxious to deepen their own personal religious experience.   Sometime about 1528 Tyndale moved to Antwerp and worked on translating the Old Testament as well as revising his translation of the Old Testament.  Antwerp was in the domain of the Emperor Charles V, a staunch opponent of Protestantism and Tyndale was arrested and betrayed to the authorities in 1535.  The following year he was strangled at the stake before his body was burned.  He is counted as one of the first martyrs of the Protestant Reformation in England although he was executed on the continent by Imperial authorities. 
It is curious to know from where Tyndale got his ideas about scripture.  It was common methodology in the late medieval period that dogmatic theology (the teachings of the Church, or the “Tradition”) trumped scripture.  Scripture was seen as providing the “proof texts” to justify particular doctrines rather than seen as the foundations for what we believe.  Candidates for the priesthood—the only people allowed to study theology—spent their coursework on doctrine and canon law with very little attention to scripture.  There are those today who still put a primacy on doctrines—real or imagined—over Revelation, but the issue is not nearly as pernicious as (for the most part) what is being preached in the pulpit is in line with official Church teaching which, in turn, is more deeply rooted in scripture than it was in the late medieval period. 
In several entries in the not too distant past, I brought up the nouvelle theologie, the theological revival that began in the inter-war period of the twentieth century and which was a return to scripture and patristics over the neo-Thomism of the nineteenth century.  This nouvelle theologie, represented in the work of people like Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Josef Ratzinger, has anchored our faith much more closely to scripture than at any time since the end of “the Age of the Fathers”—usually marked as the death of Bernard of Clairvaux (1153).  As the patristic method went into decline with the rise of Scholasticism—often associated with Thomas Aquinas but generally embracing most theologians of the Late Middle Ages) theology found itself ever more independent of its scriptural foundation.  There was a strong movement among the Reformers to sweep away the Scholastic theology and do their theology from a scriptural base.  Luther himself was a Scripture scholar, not a dogmatic theologian.  While men like Luther—and to a lesser extent Calvin—were good scripture scholars and developed sound theologies, other, more radical, Reform groups often devolved into bizarre beliefs and practices unjustifiable by sound study of the Scriptures. As we study the evolution of the Church of England we will see some of these more curious groups that split from the Church of England in the seventeenth century such as the Tenth Monarchy Men, the Diggers, Levelers, Muggletonians, and Ranters.  The Quakers also have their roots in these movements as do many of the Anabaptist groups although their scriptural interpretations have over time stabilized in a quasi-orthodoxy.  In American culture, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would have its origins in this scriptural popularism where a lack of sound scholarship leads communities into curious doctrines inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy.  We see that same subjective approach to faith in various Pentecostal groups and even among some so-called evangelicals who—like Catholics in the late medieval period—start with their beliefs and work backwards into scripture to justify them.    
Tyndale was no such radical.  Much in the same vein as Luther, but not as gifted into drawing out theological doctrines from scriptural study, Tyndale simply wanted to bring the scriptures back to the center of Christian belief and practice.  Unlike Luther, Tyndale seems to have been in no hurry to change the Liturgy which I find very curious.  One of Luther’s first objectives in the Reform of the Church in Germany was to make a revision—a conservative revision, but a revision—of the Liturgy.  While he kept the basic structure of the Mass quite intact, and even did not object to the use of the traditional vestments, and while he kept altars and the common position of facing away from the congregation at the altar, he did remove every trace of the idea that the Mass was somehow or other in and of itself a sacrifice.  This was due to a faulty understanding—both on Luther’s part and the part of most Eucharist and sacrifice.  Again, because of the separation of dogma from scripture, many Catholic thinkers had come to think of the Mass as a sacrifice that in some way repeats or makes anew the one eternal Sacrifice of the Cross.  That is they thought of each Mass as Christ being sacrificed again instead of understanding that in the Eucharistic celebration, the one, single, and eternal sacrifice of Calvary is made mystically present to the believer; or perhaps better, that in the Eucharistic Celebration the believer is made mystically present to the one, unique, and eternal sacrifice of Christ at Calvary.  Luther was appalled—and rightfully so—at this idea that Christ was somehow slain day after day, time after time, but such ideas are precisely the fruit of what happens when doctrine is allowed to run ahead of scripture.  Tunstall, on the other hand, like Wycliff before him, seems to have had some sort of spiritual schizophrenia which left him able to live with a divergence between faith and practice.    
Again, the liturgical revisions of the 1970 Missal of Paul VI were an attempt to clarify our Catholic understanding of the Mass by removing some of the doctrinal ambiguities that  had crept in over the centuries and to express our Catholic faith in a way consistent with the work of scripture scholars and theologians who had—thanks to the nouvelle theologie, done much to recover the patristic heritage that had been lost in the Middle Ages with the rise of Scholasticism. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Was Sick and Imprisoned and You Ministered to Me



I recently switch insurance companies.  It had nothing to do with Obama Care.  I have had a change of employment and that means a change of coverage.  I had a great policy before.  I never had a deductible or a co-pay.  My new policy is good—but not that good.  And so last Saturday I went to the drugstore to pick up my medications.  I had a co-pay of 157.00.  It came as a shock after my years of just saying “thank-you” and moving on.  I have no idea what those same meds would have been had I not had insurance but this bring us the necessity—the absolute necessity—of having universal health care.  And it brings up my puzzlement at why our bishops are so opposed to universal health care.
Yes, I understand that from a Catholic perspective there are problems with the Affordable Care Act, but those problems are fixable—or would be fixable if our bishops had not lost their credibility over opposing universal health care per se. I can’t help but wonder if their opposition to the Affordable Care Act is not because of the moral murkiness of coverage for contraceptives and other procedures that are contrary to Church doctrine, or if their objection isn’t that as employers they don’t want to be saddled with having to provide good health coverage to all Church employees. 
And while we are on the subject of objection to providing coverage for contraception, I am amazed at the hypocrisy of employers in the private sector who are arguing that it is against their conscience to provide health care that includes contraceptives.   How many of these men practiced contraception in their own marriages?  Not all, I am sure, but more than didn’t if the national polls are any indication.  Moreover, I really don’t see it as the moral high-ground that an employer determines the conscience-choices for his employees.   I may be cynical but this isn’t about conscience—it is about indifference to the needs of the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.  Minimize expense, maximize profits—regardless of the human cost 
No, I have good insurance.  I can see my doctor when I need to.  He has me doing many preventative therapies to forestall serious health issues from which I could suffer.  I think the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters deserve good health coverage too.  If we had been honest from the beginning and embraced the idea of universal health coverage we would have had the political leverage to come to honest resolve on this issue of contraceptive coverage.  But having sold out to forces political and medical establishment—the bishops’ credibility is in huge disarray.  And to try to peddle this off as a crisis in “religious liberty” is about the most cynical move one could make. 
Several years ago I found myself sitting across a lunch table from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary of Detroit.  Gumbleton was named a bishop in 1968 and was one of the great Paul VI bishops—an outspoken advocate for the poor and the disadvantaged.  I asked Bishop Gumbleton what had happened that so many bishops today lacked this social conscience.  His response was interesting.  “The bishops at the time came from families where the father was a bricklayer, an electrician, a garbage-collector.  They understood the centrality of the Church’s social teaching because it gave their families hope.  Today most of the bishops—their fathers were doctors or lawyers.  They come from the rising middle class and they see the world through the lenses of privilege.” 
Last week Pope Francis sent a message to the American bishops about the type of man he was recommended for the episcopacy.  Let’s hope this will make the difference that we as a Church need.   

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fifty Years--And More than Camelot Has Disappeared

The Funeral of President Kennedy leaves the
Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
  This weekend we have been flooded with memories of the November 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy in Dallas.  Those of us who are old enough to remember the event, can tell you exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.  But this might be an opportunity also to reflect on just how much our Catholic life has changed over these fifty years. 
Fifty years ago Mass was still in Latin, though plans were being made for lent the following year to introduce the vernacular languages on a very limited basis for the penitential prayers, the readings, and the Lord’s Prayer. We were assured that the consecration and other key prayers would always remain in Latin. Hymns in the language of the people could now be sung at Mass—though very few parishes had any tradition of congregational singing.  A few churches—very few—had begun positioning the priest to face the people at Mass.
We were at the tail end—though we didn’t know it yet—of a vocation boom that had started with the return of GI’s at the end of World War II.  Seminaries and novitiates were filled and ordinations were at an all-time high.    Religious women were still in their traditional habits and priests were rarely seen without their collars—and wearing hats: straw in the summer, homburgs in the winter.  Women too wore hats to Church—or, the style set by First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, the mantilla. 
We Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays and only once a day in lent.  Moreover in Lent as well as the Vigil of Christmas, Ember Days, and certain other days we ate only one full meal, supplemented by two light “collations” that together could not add up to a meal.  May Crownings, Forty Hours, novenas, Holy Hours, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament all were part of the regular rhythm of parish life.  The priest wore black vestments for funerals and most daily masses which were offered for the dead.  At funerals a wonderful sequence was sung called the Dies Irae, heralding the final judgment in bone-chilling verse.  As it was in Latin it lacked the impact however and was just a pretty piece of music.    
We had no lay ministers of the Eucharist, permanent deacons, Religious Education coordinators, Directors of Liturgy, pastoral associates, parish councils, finance boards, cantors, or youth ministers.  We did have Altar and Rosary Societies, Holy Name Societies, Saint Vincent de Paul, Mothers’ Club, Sodality, and Knights of the Altar.  Only boys could serve Mass—and, in fact, a girl got inside the gates of the altar rail twice in her life—first communion and her wedding day (but only if she married Catholic).  Of course if she became a nun she would go in to vacuum, change the altar linens, and fix the flowers.  Where there were no nuns to do this work, a mature matron might be allowed.  O yes—I forgot, we still had altar rails because we still knelt for Holy Communion.  Communion was never received in the hand—we could not have imagined it—nor did we every receive from the chalice.
Religion class was mostly memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, though if you went to Catholic School there was time to tell you stories of the saints or of the apparitions of the Blessed Mother.  In Catholic School you also learned Gregorian Chant—especially Mass 8 (Missa de Angelis).  Some parishes had decent—even good—choirs and lovely pipe organs.  We never heard an instrument other than the organ played in Church.  Most of the time, however, the quality of the music reflected the blue-collar working class makeup of American Catholicism.  It would only be in the sixties and seventies, and mostly as a result of the GI Bill, that significant numbers of Catholics moved up into the professional and managerial classes.  The slow rise of Catholics in the professions and business was due in part to lingering bias against them from the Protestant establishment.    
It wasn’t a bad way to grow up.  There was a distinct Catholic culture that left your Protestant friends a bit bewildered but maybe a little bit jealous too.  Little Methodist girls sometimes wanted to be nuns when they grew up because they (the nuns) looked so cool with those long dresses and heavy veils.  Catholics were different—there was something a bit exotic about us.
Of course, underneath the surface all was not well.  Mody of the abuse cases that have caused such a crisis for the Church date back to the ’50’s and’60’s.  Alcoholism was rampant among the clergy—though it was certainly epidemic in the larger society as well.  Convent life was not always a calm and peaceful as it appeared in The Nuns’ Story or The Sound of Music.   
Of course Viet Nam had not yet bloomed into a full scale war and the subsequent anti-war movement had not yet emerged.  Catholics were rabid anti-communists and the Fatima devotion was used to strengthen our resolve against communism.  We were a bit bewildered however as Pope John’s 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra attracted much positive attention from the Communist world.  The April 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris won even more recognition from the Communist world.  John XXIII in the last months of his life received the daughter and son-in-law of Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev in audience and gave them symbolic gifts for Khrushchev as well as for their own family.   John’s openness to the Soviet Union was a cause of anxiety for American Churchmen, particularly Cardinal Spellman of New York, who were anxious to keep Vatican in line with American foreign policy.  In 1963 we were still saying the Leonine Prayers after low mass which originally had been for the restoration of the Papal States but had come to be directed towards the “conversion of Russia.”  And of course that reminds me that at this time we still distinguished between “High Mass” (which was sung) and “Low Mass” (which was read sotto voce).  Despite all sort of claims how beautiful the pre-conciliar rites were, most Masses were these recited Masses at which the priest prayed privately and the congregation silently followed along in their missal or occupied themselves with other devotions such as the rosary.  Such rites were bland at best. 
Our churches were filled with statues—usually of mediocre artistic quality done in plaster on a mass-production line.  Votive candles in red and green and blue stood grouped before the various altars.  There often was, at least in the better built churches, some lovely stained glass.  Similarly vestments and paraments were often beautifully embroidered and hopefully (but not always) kept clean and in good repair.  People bobbed in and out of Church to make “visits” to Jesus present in the Sacrament of the Altar. 
All in all, I think it was a wonderful way to grow up.  I doubt it could have lasted.  In part due to the excellent educational system the Church built, Catholics were raising themselves up by the bootstraps—but rising into the Middle Class and leaving immigrant ways behind meant integration into the larger society as well.  The Catholic Ghetto, constructed so carefully by men like Archbishop Corrigan and Bishop McQuaid was doomed to come down at Catholic hands.  I for one would not want to go back even if I could—but it was a wonderful way to grow up. 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Of Vacuous Homilies, Rogue Methodists, and Manipulated Evangelicalism

Trappist Nuns at Our Lady of the
Mississippi Abbey in Iowa
I heard a particularly bad homily this morning.  I had gone to Mass for the feast (well, optional memorial) of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I hadn’t seen this particular priest before—he is one of those “Spirit of Vatican II” leftovers Weigel calls—somewhat contemptuously—“a progressive.”   Note, I don‘t say “Vatican II” leftover but “Spirit of Vatican II” leftovers—a “make it up as you go along” type who draws on an imagined latitude far beyond the imagination of the Council Fathers.  His homily wasn’t outrageous; it was just theologically sloppy.  In his homily he said, referring to the scriptural text where the Mother and brothers of Jesus are waiting outside to see him: “I’m not going to tell you what the Church says about this Gospel, I’m going to tell you what Joe (himself) says about this Gospel.  It sets up an ‘us/them’ dichotomy.  As of 6:30 this morning the population of the world was 7 billion, nine hundred thirty nine million, four hundred and fifty-seven thousand, one hundred and twenty-nine people.  I’m sure that God loves every one of those as his own children.  God does not distinguish in his love between those who “know Jesus” and those who don’t know him by that name.”  Opportunity wasted. Point missed.  Nobody but a Calvinist—or the strictest of Lutheran orthodox—would argue the point that God does not love each and every one of the billions of persons he has created. We Catholics aren’t into this idea that until we are baptized we are enemies of God—or if we are in some sense his enemies, that God himself doesn’t follow the injunction he revealed in Jesus to love our enemies.  God loves us.  All of us.  Ok, we got it.  But Jesus, in declaring “my mother and my sisters and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and put it into practice,” isn’t dividing the human race into the beloved and the hated, he is constituting the family on a new basis.  He is saying that most sacred of institutions—the family—isn’t a matter of blood but of discipleship.  What makes us family is not marriage or consanguity, but discipleship.  Boy, isn’t that an attack on “family values”—and isn’t that relevant to today.  The bonds of discipleship trump even those of natural family. 
I think this ties to yesterday’s posting.  Maybe Pastor Schaefer should have considered this text before agreeing to perform his son’s wedding in violation of Methodist discipline.  Maybe he did; I am not judging.  But he should not have agreed without wrestling with this text long and hard.  And maybe Jon Boger should have wrestled with this text long and hard before avenging his mother’s wounded pride in being fired by Pastor Schaefer by going out and resurrecting a six-year old wedding certificate to indict the Pastor with a breach of Church discipline.  And maybe the ecclesiastical jury of his peers should consider this text over and above the Book of Discipline—or whatever Methodist Canon Law is called—before suspending Pastor Schaefer in a trial that is not really about a crime but about jealousies and fears and self-righteousness in a congregation that has gone rogue.  And maybe Zion Methodist should consider this text when they argue about just how inclusive and mission- oriented their congregation should be.  Jesus isn’t into comfort zones—even when his Mother and brothers are waiting outside in the cold.  You want warm pat-on-the-back religion, you’re looking at the wrong Messiah.  The Church—like Jesus’ family—is not constituted by natural bonds of “aren’t we all alike” but it has open doors that welcome anyone and everyone to come and hear the Word—and having once heard it, may find their hearts changed and their steps walking in a new direction.  And those changed hearts and new directions aren’t just for the strangers who wander in from the fruitless paths of this passing world, but for us who have been sitting in the pews from our own childhood as well.  I need conversion as much as anyone else—more than most.  Like the Pope says: “I am a sinner.”  And that claim—not that I was a sinner but that I am a sinner—is precisely what gives me a place at the table with Christ.
I think this issue also ties to my reading Evangelical Catholicism by George Weigel. In this morning’s homily “Father Joe” went the populist road of how God loves everybody.  And I believe that God loves everybody—and those in need of his mercy even more than those whose lives have already been put into some degree of moral order.  He loves the sinner more than the saint because the sinner’s need for his love is greater.  No problem.  But that is not the end of the story.  If we want to be mother and brother and sister to Jesus we need to hear the Word of God and put it into practice.  We need to be disciples.  We don’t need to be disciples for God to love us, but we do need to be disciples to constitute this new family Christ builds—the Church.   And sorry, Father Joe, but being disciples does set us apart.  Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel that he has come to set us apart.  We are in the world with the rest of humankind, but we don’t belong. We are stranger and aliens in this culture-or we should be. I know that is not politically correct to say that we need to stand apart from the culture around us.  I know that doesn’t fit the modern fashion. But it doesn’t mean we are “exclusive”—to the contrary, we are “inclusive” because we are a community that welcomes all to come and hear and we offer to accompany all on the path of discipleship. Everybody is welcome to come along on the hike.  But if you decide not to hike the path of discipleship, you’re not part of the family by your own choice.  It is not that everybody belongs; it is that everybody is welcome to belong.  Some will hike faster than others and some will go further than others.  Some will step smartly and some will limp along.  No problem.  But if you picnic by the side the road and wave us on—we love you but you aren’t on the path and you’re not on the team.  Lots of people choose to picnic.  They might sing hymns to encourage the marchers on.  They might even break some bread and guzzle some wine. They might feel like they are part of the hike, but there are those who sign up for the team and those who sit on their butt.  There are hikers on the path and picnickers in the fields.  God may give a prize to everyone—team and picnickers alike—and I hope that he does, but that isn’t the point.  Weigel says—and I agree with him—that the Christian today, in order to be a Christian, can’t just soak in the ambience of the Christian culture around us because that Christian culture is gone. The Christian today must make a conscious choice to embrace a life rooted in the Word of God and in the Sacramental Life of the Church.  You don’t get to be a Christian by sitting by the side of the road. 
What is beginning to make me nervous about George’s thesis, however, is how this works out in the concrete.  I am not sure what he means by a life rooted in the Scriptures.  So far—and I am only about a third of the way through the book—he hasn’t said anything about how one embraces the Word of God except a pious exhortation that we should read the scriptures every day.  I agree with that, but when he describes what this will result in, it is merely one who supports the right to life of the unborn and the essential nature of marriage as being between one man and one woman.  Now, I am with the Church entirely on the issue of protecting the unborn.  And my understanding of The Sacrament of Matrimony (note, I said Sacrament of Matrimony (theological), not marriage (civil law)) is that it essentially commits a man and a woman to a union open to and desirous of the generation of new life.  But, you know, I have read the scriptures for fifty plus years now.  The Gospel is Good News for the Poor (Luke 4:18).  I am not seeing that in George’s book.  Maybe it will come later.  I read Amos and Isaiah and I am not hearing in George how the social structures that create poverty have to change.  I am not reading how the immigrant among us needs to be protected.  I am not reading about how swords need to be beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  I am not reading about how the poor are fed and the rich sent away empty.  I am not reading about how the evil shepherds will be replaced by wise and loving shepherds.  Maybe it comes a little later in the book—I will let you know—but right now a superficial and empty fervorino about living the scriptures seems little more than handing out baseball bats to bash anyone who challenges the established agenda of the Tea-Party at prayer. 
And as for rooting ourselves in the sacramental life of the Church—George holds up the monks at the Tridentine Abbey in Clear Creek Oklahoma as a paragon of prayer.  Now, I am sure that the good monks are men of prayer but while Weigel claims that the old what he calls “Counter-Reformation Catholicism” isn’t able to engage the modern world, he turns and shines the spotlight on a bastion of “Counter-Reformation Catholicism.”  In a similar vein he points to the Nashville Dominican Sisters and the Alma Sisters of Mercy as examples of his “Evangelical Catholicism,” while as relatively successful as they may be with vocations my experience of them is that they are anything but “evangelical.” The type of religious life they of offer is the old Reverend-Mother-says top down authoritarianism in which the individuals are not given the freedom of the Gospel to develop their diverse and particular gifts but cookie-cuttered into “good nuns.”  And the ministry they offer would bind others in the same lack of evangelical freedom in favor of a blind and unquestioning acceptance of prelatical authority.    I am not saying that you need to turn to Wicca practicing lesbian priestesses, but if you want good examples of religious communities who are in the process of embracing an evangelical renewal, I suggest you might look to the Trappistines at Wrentham or Dubuque particularly; to the Benedictines at Regina Laudis and to several of the men’s abbeys and some of the women’s congregations; to the Society of Jesus, to the California/Arizona province of the Discalced Carmelites, and to the Friars Minor.  And there are other communities, I am sure, that are trying not to re-create the environment of the sixteenth or eighteenth or nineteenth centuries in which they were founded and return to a “Colonial Williamsburg approach” to religious life, but engage the charism of their founder(s) with our contemporary age.  Personally I admire greatly the Sisters of Mercy whom I have known and the School Sisters of Notre Dame with whom I have often worked.  I find these women—and I am sure women of many other congregations as well—as very much shaping their lives according to the Word of God.  It seems that the difficulties many of the women’s congregations were having with Rome have blown over, in great part because they have found a kindred spirit in Pope Francis.  And that brings me to this final observation about Weigel’s book.  It was obviously prepared in the days when no one dreamed that Pope Benedict’s course for the barque of Peter would be altered, but altered it has been.  We have a Pope now whose evangelical vision has refined the meaning of “evangelical Catholic” beyond what Weigel seems to have had in mind.  And I, for one, am excited about that vision.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Devil Enters the Church Through the Choir

Pastor Schaefer and son, Tim. And just what
would Jesus do?
The Reverend Frank Schaefer was suspended this past Tuesday from his duties as a Methodist minister for thirty days for performing the same-sex marriage of his son, Tim, in 2007. 
Pastor Schaefer was not always an advocate of same-sex marriage.  Schaefer was born and raised in Germany and came to the United States about twenty-five years ago.  He studied for the ministry here in the United States and originally was far more conservative in his views, particularly on homosexuality, than he is today.  Part of that change was learning that his son Tim, then 17, was gay and was contemplating suicide because of his sexual orientation.  Tim’s experience made his father re-think his ideas about same-sex love.  When Tim asked his father to preside at his 2007 wedding, Schaefer agreed—not, he said, to flaunt Methodist discipline but out of love for his son.
I am not disagreeing with the action of the local jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church—certainly any Catholic priest who performed a same-sex wedding would be held to an even stricter punishment and I think justly so.  When we deal with matters of faith, it is not a matter of I think or I believe, but what is the faith we hold in common. Faith—at least in our Christian Tradition—is not a personal opinion but a personal commitment to common belief.  Moreover, not being a Methodist I am not going to give an opinion on Methodist Church polity on this matter.  But what I find sad is that the real issue is not the gay wedding.  Pastor Schaefer is in hot water because he has tried to shake his parish out of their very un-Methodist complacency.  Like John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, Pastor Schaefer has been burning with zeal to bring the Gospel into the lives of those who have been pushed to the margins of the established Church or who have found the staid churchiness of the establishment to be too pallid for their spiritual hungers and are waiting for a preacher who can make the Word of God to be something alive and vibrant.  Pastor Schaefer has tried to evangelize—to bring the Gospel—and some of his congregation prefer religion to Gospel.  That is to say they want that old time religion in which they grew up rather than a living faith in a Lord who came to shake things up in his world—and in ours.  That happens in Catholic churches too—a lot. Pastor Schaefer added a contemporary worship service to the Church schedule and this angered a traditionalist faction within the congregation. Especially angered was the choir director, Deb Boger. The popularity of the 11:00 am contemporary service pushed her out of the spotlight.  Anyone who thinks that the focus of worship is “All Glory to God” has never dealt with a Church musician, especially a home-grown volunteer for whom being an organist or soloist or—height of heights—director is the opportunity to be someone important, a big fish in a really small pond.  Like the saying goes, “the devil enters the Church through the choir.”  And somebody in that choir held the door wide open for him.    
Pastor Schaefer never challenged the United Methodist Church on its position about same-sex marriage from the pulpit, but he did try to make the Church a more welcoming place for all and frequently spoke of “inclusiveness” in the Church.  Given that three of his four children are gay, Church members could read between the lines and some did not like the implications.  Like the people who challenged the Apostles that “your master welcomes sinners and eats with them” they weren’t quite in agreement with “healthy people do not need the physician, the sick do…for I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” The righteous always feel a little left out when Jesus sits down—or they should if they knew their New Testament.  Not everyone at Zion Methodist wanted a pastor who was going to welcome sinners into their Church. Pastor Schaefer was shaking things up just a bit too much for them.  He had said in one of his sermons: 

The truth is that God, while being our comfort, always seems to push us to grow more, to do better, and to change the world. Neither of these things can be achieved by sitting on our butt in the comfort of the spiritual lazy-boy chair.  

That message is more than some people want to hear. 
Deb Boger found herself more and more at odds with the Pastor.  She was not the only one, of course, but this was her church and her choir and she didn’t like where things were going.  Pastor Schaefer found that he could not work with a choir director who was leading an incipient rebellion.  He was the Pastor and as such the person responsible for preaching the Gospel.  To be fair, no Pastor can afford to be undermined by a member of his staff.  You ultimately have to work together or you have to part and go separate ways.  It is not usually the pastor who goes. 
Now the real failure was the Bishop.  Methodists—like Catholics—are an episcopal Church.  That is to say, they are governed by bishops.  And in the Methodist Church, like the Catholic Church, the Bishop has the power to remove a pastor from a congregation for cause.  In this case, however, the Bishop told Pastor Schaefer and the choir director to “work things out.”  That was like seeing a trash-can on fire and just closing the door and walking away, hoping that the Church wouldn’t burn down.    
Faced with no other way “to rid (themselves) of this meddlesome priest” the Boger faction played the wedding-card. Deb Boger’s son, Jon, travelled up to Massachusetts and obtained a copy of the marriage license that showed that six years ago Pastor Schaefer had presided over the marriage ceremony of his son, Tim, to another man.  Now the wedding wasn’t at Zion Methodist.  It wasn’t in Pennsylvania.  It wasn’t in a church.  It didn’t happen last week.  It didn’t happen last month.  It didn’t happen last year.  The wedding was a small family affair.  Pastor Schaefer didn’t flaunt this in his congregation’s face.  He performed a wedding for his son—he didn’t lead a rebellion against the Church. He has not made Zion Methodist a wedding chapel for same-sex couples.  He hasn’t made a career out of same-sex marriages. He disobeyed but it can’t be said he defied.  Should he have done it?  I don’t know.  I can’t say.  I don’t have a gay child.  Was it disobedience?  Yes.  Should it have led to jeopardizing his ministry?  Should it have led to driving a wedge in a congregation?  I don’t know.  I have no idea how Jesus would handle this.  He never said a single thing about same-sex marriage—or even about same-sex love.  I would think from my reading of the Gospel he would be disheartened by the anger and the spiritual violence that has pitted congregant against congregant, both invoking his name and his authority to justify their position.  But who am I to judge?  I am sure of this, though, from reading Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: You don't tear the Body of Christ apart.  The Church--the Church of Christ--has to deal with its discipline issues but it does so in a way that reconciles and not divides.  Paul would be disgusted with the sort of spectacle that this situation was turned into and I don't think Jesus is too happy either.  At the end of the day we have to be able to break the one bread of his body and drink the one cup of his blood together as brothers and sisters and that is a lesson somebody at Zion seems to have forgotten.  "I would rather be right that president" is fine, but "I would rather be right than Christian" leaves you neither right nor Christian.  Shame on those who brought this disgrace on the Church! 
As I said in the beginning of this post, I am sure that a Catholic priest who presided over a same-sex marriage would be disciplined even more severely, and given our theology of the Sacrament of Matrimony—which is considerably more complex than the understanding of marriage in most Protestant traditions—I think such punishment would be justified.  At the same time, the strategy of undermining a priest or deacon by bringing frivolous accusations against him is not unknown in Catholic circles.  Some years back an organization calling itself “Roman Catholic Faithful” led by a southern Illinois lawyer, Stephen Brady, advertised seeking personal information on various Catholic bishops that could be used to discredit them and leave no choice but that they be removed from office.  Mr. Brady ultimately lapsed into the anti-Vatican II schism and closed down his operation. But there are others in the Church who travel from parish to parish, recording what they see to be illicit practices or heretical homilies and forwarding their observations to the Holy See.  A pastor refuses to include an Extraordinary Form Mass (the pre-conciliar Tridentine Rite) in the parish schedule, and they write to Rome.  A church renovation takes out the sanctuary railing and they demonstrate.  A gay man is permitted to give the eulogy at his partner’s funeral, and they want the bishop to remove the priest.  A Protestant congregation is permitted to use the parish hall while their church is being renovated, and they call the nunciature.  It is this same mean-spirited Phariseeism that went after Pastor Schaefer—not for doing the wedding of his gay son but for offering a vision of a Church where all are welcome to the Table where the Lord sits with sinners.  And you know—I don’t think Jesus had a choir director at that supper.  Maybe for a reason.       

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

By George 2

Leo XIII, the Pope who introduced the
Catholic Church to modernity
Weigel lays the foundation for his book by claiming—and rightly—that Leo XIII breaks the continuity of what Weigel calls “Counter-Reformation Catholicism” which he characterizes as the marriage of catechetical instruction with devotional piety.  I think this is another genius insight—both Leo’s radical turn towards modernity from the defensive-mode Catholicism that preceded him and the description of pre-Leonine Catholicism as a combination of catechism and devotions.  However, what raises my suspicions of Weigel and I seeing things very differentlyis the term “Counter –Reformation.”  Historians are very divided on the precise nature of the program of Church Reform in the sixteenth-century.  There are those Catholic historians who see Ignatius and the Society of Jesus, Philip Neri and the Oratory, the Theatines, Mary Ward, Charles Borromeo and the Council of Trent all as a reaction to Luther and Calvin—thus “Counter-Reformation.”  I belong to the other school of thought that looks through a wider lens and sees the above in the context of Ferdinand and Isabella’s Spanish Reformation, the Fifth Lateran Council, Desiderius Erasmus, Dean Colet, Teresa of Avila, the Capuchins, the Ursulines, and call it “The Catholic Reformation.”  The issue is whether sixteenth-century Reform of the Church came about only because of Luther and the Protestant Reformers or was there a genuine movement towards Reform in the Church that happened independently of—and had even begun previously to—Luther and his contemporaries?  Indeed, there is even the question whether Luther and others were even part of that same impetus for Reform and their break with the Catholic Church due to the Catholic Reform proceeding too slowly for their little patience?  This question of “Catholic Reformation” or “Counter-Reformation” has serious implications for ecclesiology and for ecumenism and while it can never be resolved one way or the other, it needs to be discussed, argued, and understood.  Weigel and I obviously see the issue of Catholic Reformation/Counter Reformation from very different perspectives and that will undoubtedly play itself out as I delve further into his book. 
That being said—and remember I think his identification of Leo XIII as the Pope who breaks the train of this Counter Reformation (or Catholic Reformation) Catholicism with its emphasis on catechism and piety, is sheer genius—I also think he is right on with the unsuitability of this catechism and rosary Catholicism for the modern age.  (Which is not to say that the catechism, much less the rosary, doesn’t have a place in contemporary Catholicism—only that we have to have a much more deeply rooted and more intellectually sophisticated faith if we are to be anything more than religious idiosyncratists.) 
Weigel makes the argument that both the “traditional Catholics” (whom I usually refer to as “neo-trads” because the traditions by which they identify themselves are not part of the Tradition/Deposit of Faith but later customs and pieties) and the “progressives” by which term he means the Catholic-Lite variety we so often find today reading the NCR or going to dour Voice of the Faithful covens held in the borrowed Presbyterian basements, cannot move beyond the “rule-based catechetical devotional Catholicism.”  Weigel claims that the one group wants to “tighten up and ratchet down the rules;” the other wants to “loosen the bolts in the name of openness or compassion.” For Weigel—and I agree—both groups are wrong because the rules-catechism-piety type religion is waiting to catch a train that left the station more than a century ago when Leo began serious engagement with the social complexities of the modern world. For the neo-trads: you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.  And for the happy-clappies—why remodel a house that no one is interested in living in any more?  Whichever end of the spectrum from which you are coming: we need something new.  That something new Weigel calls “Evangelical Catholicism”—a faith rooted in taking the Word of God to heart in our daily lives and nourishing ourselves with a full sacramental life in the Church.  So far I am with him.  However—as I look ahead, I see some stormy seas and realize that we have some very different ideas of how the barque of Peter should set these sails of Word and Sacrament. I also can’t help but wonder if George is doing a bait and switch—talking the new game but offering his reader the same old same old.  I am seeing hints that beneath the “Evangelical”
 language there is little more than catechism and rosary beads.