Don’t Go to Battle for Christ Before You Go to Spiritual Boot Camp

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Waiting for the Word

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Waiting for the Word

Make no mistake about it: The culture wars are going to get hot and hotter.

The recent revelations about Planned Parenthood dialed up the heat. The president’s response (which I’m going to write about next week) tossed dynamite onto the burner. This is going to get ugly.

Another shooting adds a new line to the column of proof that our society is deconstructing. Wishy washy responses about the gay marriage decision from some of our religious leaders leaves those of us in the pews wondering just how authentic they are, and agitation from the atheist-backed satanists lets us know that old scratch is getting less and less afraid of showing his face.

We are the soldiers in a war, my friends. We are the Lord’s army.

How does a Christian get ready for battle?

I took a few moments from my conventioneering this week to write a prescription for would-be pro life warriors for the National Catholic Register.  Here’s a taste of what I said. Go here to read the rest.

May the meditations of my heart
and the words of my mouth
be pleasing in Your sight,
oh Lord, my God and my Redeemer.
—King David 

I was all set to write a post that would get right down to the nitty and the gritty of hardball, pro-life politics. I’m still going to do that. But not today.

I try to pray the prayer above, which is an old, old prayer from the Psalms, before every speech I make, and before I put my fingers on the keyboard to begin writing. Sometimes, I get caught up in the moment and just start writing without praying. Those are the times when I have to go back and say, I’m sorry, I was wrong, I apologize.

Because, you see, without God putting a brake on my inner jerk, I give vent to that inner jerk. Me without the Holy Spirit, is a real mess.

Which leads me to today’s post. I prayed before I sat down to write this, and when I prayed, I was reminded that the real nitty and gritty of pro-life politics begins before the tactics and the ways to fight the fight in a technical sense.

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The Future of the Catholic Church is the Same as Its Past

Father Stanley Rother Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved

Ok, so I’m the daughter of a mechanic, the granddaughter of a laborer who at one time dug ditches and was glad for the work on one side of my family, and a real-life horse-breaking, cattle-branding cowboy on the other.

My great-grandfathers were farmers and blacksmiths. Cherokee blood flows in my veins from a time when being Cherokee wasn’t cool.

I am working class from the soles of my dusty bare feet to the top of my frizzy hair. My generation was the first in our family to darken the doorway of an institution of higher learning, and I think we all felt considerably out of place there. Our background, the pond that spawned us, did not fit us for the many pretenses and — to us — absurdities of indirection of the intellectual world. At the same time, our education unfitted us for the world from which we came.

We were, all of us, doomed to wander through life as strangers in a strange land of social dislocation.

Patheos’ symposium on the future of the Catholic Church has some mighty fine thinkers contributing to it. All of them approach the question from an intellectual viewpoint. We have people telling us about how their ministries have informed them of the lacks in the Church’s outreach, others discuss how the future of the Church should be for gay people, or from the viewpoint of clergy.

But I don’t see anything there that even acknowledges the existence of people like me. The working class is right out in discussions of much of anything these days. The people that fight the wars, build the buildings, unstop the plumbing, lay down the roads, grow the food and keep the wiring from frying us, are invisible in almost all discussion of anything in this country, whether that be the ubiquitous “rights talk” that Mary Anne Glendon references, or, sadly, the future of the Catholic Church.

I am going to posit that the major failure of both American government and American Christianity in these past decades is the abject failure to protect, nurture and dignify the working class. It seems that every single thing we’ve done, whether it is the revision of our tax codes, our constant war-making, the destruction of the family or the la-la-la attitude of so much of our clergy, has fallen on the heads of the working class.

Make no mistake about it, our tax code is now constructed so that government is supported by the workers of this country, even while that same government exports jobs, and degrades our public education into a method of transmitting social values that are anathema to the survival of working class social structure and values. At the same time, our religious leaders, both of the right and the left, have gone off chasing after the whiff of close contact with the powerful and abandoned the full Gospel calls for justice and mercy.

How does this apply to the future of the Catholic Church?

It applies because of all the babbling voices of moral exhortation in our splintered and polarized society, the Catholic Church is the only one that speaks for the whole Gospel of Christ. Almost in spite of her clergy, the Catholic Church has refused to hew either to the right or the left, but has laid claim to the calls to human dignity that are inherent in the teachings of Christ for all people. This means that the same Catholic Church which speaks for the sanctity of human life also speaks for the dignity of the worker, the right of working people to earn a living wage and labor in an environment that treats them like people, not chattel.

Instead of following demonic influences that seek to deny the Beatitudes on the one hand or the Ten Commandments on the other, the Catholic Church recognizes that they are both the same and must be equally honored.

Right now, the Catholic Church in America is foundering like a horse that has gobbled down too much soft grass in the springtime. It has imbibed of the cultural riches and now many of its institutions, including its institutions of higher learning, flat-out refuse to honor Church teaching and be Catholic in a real-world way. When they are called to choose Christ or to choose Caesar, they choose Caesar.

Catholics as a whole have taken to heart the unspoken message of do-what-you-want that they frequently get from those in leadership positions in the Church who do what they want themselves. This feels like a kind of freedom to those who are doing well. But for those on the bottom side of the wheel, this moral dissolution leads to life destruction.

Working class people suffer from being disrespected by everyone from presidential candidates to the Church itself. While presidential candidates Obama and Romney both took a turn at dissing working people in private fund-raisers with rich folk, the Church disses them by ignoring them.

It is not enough to lobby for reversals in the legal shearing of working class lambs that has been taking place in government, although that is certainly salutary. It is also not enough to provide ministries of food, medical care, etc, to people who cannot afford them, although that is both necessary and wonderful.

The Church cannot simply “minister” to working class people in their physical needs and stop there. It must lead and convert the exploited and abused working class. I believe that is what Pope Francis has been saying when he tells bishops that they must get out among the people; that the church is not just another non-profit charity.

The future of the Catholic Church lies in the same place as its past. It lies in doing what Jesus directed Peter to do: Feed my lambs.

Too much of Catholic school education has become a rich kids’ privilege. It does not matter if the kids are Catholic or not. It does not matter if the teachers and officials in these schools follow Church teaching or not.

The Church needs to go back and provide Catholic education that is actually Catholic, and it needs to make sure that it is available to the people who need it most. People who are stuck holding down two or three McJobs simultaneously to support their families cannot nurture their children properly and often end up with failed marriages. Add the abominable inner city schools to this, and what you have is a recipe for one lost generation, going on to attempt to raise another generation which will be even more lost.

Meanwhile, the Church closes its parishes in the inner cities and builds both churches and schools in the rich suburbs “where the people are.” The fact is that the moving vans that trundle the vestments and hymnals from the slums to the wealthy neighborhoods are driving past tens of thousands of people who are in desperate need of the Church. They are being abandoned with the idiotic claim that they are not there.

Father Stanley Rother showed us the way, if we would but see it. We need priests who will go into the inner city and into working class neighborhoods with the same missionary fervor and loving heart that he took to Guatemala. We need a Church that ministers to working class people as if they were actual human beings. The bizarre otherness that has been imposed on them by those who are exploiting and using them has no place in a Church that follows Jesus the carpenter.

Father Rother, servant of God, is a true priest for our times. He embodies both the Church’s past and its future.

The Catholic Church is either a missionary Church, bent on conversion and mission, or it is a sacrament dispenser that has no part in the lives of its people.

I could go on and on about the plight of working people in America. I could, and I probably should, write a book about it one day.

The future of the Catholic Church in America could not possibly be brighter. This nation is imploding morally in both the social and the economic realms.  There is one answer to the anguish and misery this will create, and that answer is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Church is the full repository of the faith. It does not trim the Gospels to suit secular power politics. As such, it is the one institution that has the prophetic and moral voice to speak for everyone.

As Jesus said, the fields are ripe for the harvest. What the Church needs is laborers who will bring in this harvest.

I don’t think it will find them in its various ivory towers and islands of privilege.


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“A Shepherd Cannot Run Away,” Father Stanley Rother, Martyr

This is my first blog post for the National Catholic Register. It’s about Father Stanley Rother, martyr, a priest who refused to flee his post to save himself.

American Martyr Fr. Stanley Rother: “A

Shepherd Cannot Leave His Flock”

“The reality is that we are in danger.
This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm.
The shepherd cannot run away at the first sign of danger. Pray for us…”
Father Stanley Rother, 18 months before his martyrdom

In Okarche Oklahoma, the sky goes on forever and the wind never stops blowing.

Father Stanley Rother lies in an unpretentious grave in a tiny church cemetery on a road that you’ll miss if you aren’t looking carefully. His grave, which is one of many with the name “Rother” on it, is marked by a simple black headstone. The only thing that sets it apart is the necklace of stones ringing its edges.

Father Rother began his life here, on this prairie, in this town. He was confirmed and baptized in Holy Trinity Catholic Church, which is the only Catholic Church in Okarche. He offered his first Mass as a priest here.

His life ended in an isolated village in Guatemala when he fell in a hail of bullets. Last week, the Congregation of the Causes of Saints recognized Father Rother as a martyr, which puts him on the long road to official recognition as a saint of the Church.

Stanley Rother was as Oklahoman as the red dirt he tilled on his family’s farm

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10 Things You can Do to Save Your Family and Change the World

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Lars Ploughman

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Lars Ploughman

I’m going to launch into the political ramifications of the Supreme Court Decision destroying marriage as a legal construct in a day or so.

But before I do, I want to make a simple point: Conversion of the culture does not begin at the ballot box or changes in the law. It ends there.

Conversion of the culture does not even begin with bringing your family and friends to Christ. That’s a mid-point.

Conversion of the culture begins with yielding your own self and your life to Christ in an absolute way. That is the beginning. Everything else – everything else — flows from that.

St Paul did not jump off his mule and start preaching. He was knocked off and into the dirt and left blind. He had to come face to face with Christ and his own sinfulness before he became the Apostle to the Gentiles.

We will not convert this culture by excoriating and condemning sinners, for the obvious reason that we are all sinners. Many of the people who are condemning gay marriage have trashed their own marriages and dumped their own children.

If they are divorced, they don’t spend time with their children, or they spitefully try to keep their children away from their former spouse. They don’t pay child support and they spend their days going over and over how they were wronged.

If they are married, they sleep around, or talk to their families like they were dirt under their feet. They harangue their children and spouses, or worse yet, they are physically violent with them. How many of the people who loudly proclaim the sanctity of marriage commit adultery? How many of them sit in front of the tv and ignore their families? How many of them ignore or even abuse their elderly parents? How many of them do not show up for school plays or be a trusted best friend when their spouse is in distress?

If we want to convert the culture, we have to begin with ourselves. It’s that simple.

Here are 10 things you can do to save your family in this family-despising, family-attacking culture of ours:

1. Go into marriage with the idea that this is your only spouse. If remarriage is off the table, divorce is not going to be such an easy option.

I know that there are times when divorce has to happen. If somebody’s beating up on somebody, if there is adultery or chemical abuse with a refusal to get help, then divorce may very well be the only door open. But divorce is a civil solution to a moral problem. What God has joined together, man can not put asunder.

Go into marriage with the knowledge that this person is your life’s partner, the only one who will walk with you through your days. That viewpoint will immediately raise your spouse’s value in your eyes. Keep that viewpoint in front of you, and remember: This person’s happiness and your happiness are bound with a life-long cord.

Hurting your spouse is hurting yourself. Never forget that.

2. Put Jesus Christ on the throne of your life and your marriage. Do not do this lightly. Prayerfully consider the option of a formal enthronement of Christ as the Head of your home. I have not done this, but my husband and I are talking about it. I have friends who have done it, and I’ve seen the fruits of it in their lives. For more information, go here.

3. Get on your knees and pray together every night before bed. My wonderful Aunt Tid and Uncle Ozzie did this every day of their married lives. They had a list of people and problems that they lifted up to the Lord together before they went to bed each night. This is true communion of spirits between a man and a wife. It is a powerful uniting of life and soul. Everyone I know who does this has a marriage that is filled with mutual devotion, love and happiness.

4. Do not harangue your family members who have fallen short of your Christian ideal, even those who have fallen far short of it. Love them, continue to be family to them, and pray, pray, pray.

Remember also the things you’ve done. I worry about my kids — a lot. But I know that they are much more together than I was at the same age.

My parents never stopped loving me and they never pushed me away. Love them. Love them. And pray. And remember St Monica. And pray some more. Then, trust Jesus.

If the Holy Spirit wants you to speak up, He will open the door. I’ve had this happen, and when I speak in His time and with the words He gives me, it never fails to be the right thing. Just … trust Him.

5. Go to mass. If you can, go to daily mass. But at least go to mass every Sunday. Every time you take communion, Christ heals you. I feel it, and so will you. I need it, and so do you.

6. Be loyal to the pope. Don’t follow internet popes who attack the Holy Father. Do not be so foolish as to make a little pope out of yourself.

I hate to say this, but the bishops are all over the map on a lot of things. The same politician will be told during election years (It always seems to be during election years.) that he or she may not take communion, in, say, Sioux City, but can take communion in, say, Dodge City. It’s the same politician; the same sin. But a different bishop.

What are those of us in the pews to make of this? Does it confuse you? It certainly confuses me.

We need the pope. The pope is the only world leader of his type. He alone speaks for over a billion people who live under every government, in every clime. His voice reaches from pole to pole; dateline to dateline.

That is why the press goes ga-ga over his every utterance. It is why politicians of every persuasion alternately revile and pander to him.

But it is not why we should be loyal to him. His temporal reach has nothing to do with our call to loyalty to the pope. We must be loyal to the pope because he stands in the shoes of the fisherman. He is Peter. And Jesus Christ said that on Peter He would build His Church.

Be loyal to the pope.

7. Pray the Rosary. Pray the Rosary in a meditative way, thinking about the Scriptures the decades represent and what they mean to you. Take your fears and problems, rejoicings and griefs to Our Lady and pray with her to Jesus. If praying with your spouse binds you to one another, think how praying with Jesus’ own mother will bind you to Him.

8. Ask God to show you your sins. We are all blind to our own faults. Everyone of us is capable of the intellectual sophistry which allows us to proclaim our sins a virtue and condemn those of the person next to us. That is the nature of our nature. It is a manifestation of our fallen state. It is us, listening to the devil without the slightest awareness that this is what we are doing.

The Holy Spirit is a loving guide to our own hearts. He will reveal your self to you to the extent that you are capable of comprehending and reacting with grace to this painful truth. Trust Him. He will not dump all your sins on you like an acid bath that destroys you. He will show you what you can take at the time. And then He will be with you as you face it and convert away from it.

The Holy Spirit is a great teacher of willing souls. But you must be willing. Ask God to show you your sins, then accept and repent of the sins He shows you. Realize that this is a life-long process. Be grateful for it. He is fitting you for heaven.

9. Forgive others. This is often the toughest one of all. It’s easy enough to forgive those you love and who love you. It’s not too tough to forgive anyone who sincerely admits they hurt you and asks for forgiveness.

It gets more difficult when you are dealing with a person who has hurt you and who continues to hurt you and who claims that you deserve the hurt. It is impossible under your own power to forgive certain violations of your humanity such as violent rape or torture.

In these areas, forgiveness is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it does not come cheaply. The cost is letting go of the great defense of anger that has freed you from victimhood.

Too often, people practice a phony forgiveness, a premature rush to proclaim forgiveness, which does not allow them the dignity of proclaiming their own worth and value in the face of what has been done to them. This is particularly true when they have suffered soul-destroying attacks on their humanity that can actually cause a kind of psychological death such as violent rape, torture, slavery or child sexual abuse.

Before we forgive, we must first know and believe to our depths that we were wronged, that we are not the receptacles for other people’s trash they these people have reduced us to. This is difficult if the world around us will not affirm this with us.

Anyone who faces this should read the book of Job. I don’t think the book of Job is, as is usually claimed, about suffering. I don’t think it is about suffering at all. I think it is about victim-blaming.

That’s what Job’s “friends” did to him. It’s what happens to any victim who is among those the culture proclaims may have “asked for” the evil that was done to them.

Forgiveness in the face of this is only possible when it comes from God. God alone can give us the certainty of our own humanity and worth that is so rock solid and absolute that we are free to lay down the defense of our humiliated rage and forgive from the heart.

This circles back to earlier points. Scripture tells us that if we “seek the Lord, He will draw near to you.” Everything I’ve listed above, including #1 is a way of seeking the Lord.

10. Accept God’s forgiveness. I’ve had a real tussle with this one and more than once. The most dramatic and public of these situations was after God showed me the full horror of what I had done by being pro choice.

I was plunged into grief, shame, remorse that went beyond the graces of confession. Long story short, after a long period of intense grief, I finally realized (this was probably from the Holy Spirit) that I had to have the humility to accept God’s forgiveness.

It is a kind of narcissism to think that your sins are bigger than God’s mercy. Nothing we can do is beyond the mercy of God.

There are times when it takes humility and trust to accept God’s forgiveness. But those moments plunge us into what He told St Faustina was the “ocean of my mercy.”

No matter what you have done, confess your sins and accept His forgiveness.

These are 10 things that you can do to save your family. Notice that not one of them is political. Not one of them involves any of the solutions that are usually recommended for marriages and families in trouble.

Every single thing I’ve mentioned is about you and your spouse, getting right with God and trusting Him.

That is how Christians change the world. We do it by giving ourselves without reservation to the One Who made us and loves us and who will be with us the end of time.

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The Gay Marriage Ultimatum: “Choose Me or Christ”

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tambako The Jaguar

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tambako The Jaguar

People still come to me for help, solace and advice.

It’s a natural adjunct to 18 years in public office in this community. People know me, and they’ve learned over the years to trust me. Not only that, they’ve formed the habit of turning to me when they want to talk about something they can’t discuss with the people around them because they know that I won’t, ever, talk about what they tell me.

I left office a year ago, but I didn’t stop being the mother confessor for a lot of South Oklahoma City folks. I don’t know if I ever will.

The Supreme Court sent a number of people my way since last Friday, all of them looking for solace in the face of personal attacks they had suffered because of the decision on gay marriage. They called me on the phone, approached me after mass, in checkout lines and while I was running errands. I also had internet encounters of the same type that went far beyond the boundaries of my community and my personal friends.

Here’s the summarized version of what they told me:

There was a lot of yelling and screaming in certain circles this weekend. It was directed at Christians in their personal, and, heretofore, safe personal relationships. It was also directed at priests who spoke about the decision from the pulpit. One friend, who gave me permission to discuss this, witnessed an ugly blow-up at a longstanding poker game she and her husband go to. The people there hold diverse opinions about matters of faith and morality, but they’ve been meeting for this friendly get-together on a regular basis for years.

This week, the atheists in the group refused to practice civility. They cursed the Lord, called Christians bigots and homophobes and were otherwise verbally insulting. According to my friend, this began with a celebration on the part of the atheists over Obergefell. She said she felt like, “OK, you won your deal, have your celebration.” She said the Christians at the table kept silent.

But when the celebration turned to repeatedly cursing the Lord and calling Christians ugly names, she said one of the Christian men told them to shut up. It devolved from there into two men squaring off to fight one another. At that point, my friend stood up and told them to stop it.

She said, “I’ve never forced my faith on you. I don’t come here with a Bible telling you what to do. But you are disrespecting me and my Jesus and I will not stand for it. You stop this now or my husband and I are leaving and we won’t be back.”

My friend is the most soft-spoken Hispanic woman you’d ever meet. I’ve never heard her raise her voice. Not once. Not ever.

She said the room fell silent and everyone sat back down. But she doesn’t think she and her husband will be back for more fun next week. They are through with the group.

I’ve heard stories of spouses calling one another names and people walking out of mass on their priests. I also had Public Catholic readers directly ask me what they should do in the face of this hate that is being directed at Christians.

I think that my friend gave a template for how to handle friends who are not family. We really need to stand our ground. If the people we call friends do not respect us enough to allow us the space and personal dignity to hold our own beliefs and act on them, then the friendship is on sick and sad grounds. I know from personal experience how painful this is. But there is nothing we can do but let them go.

That also goes for priests who have parishioners walk out on them when they teach what the Church teaches about marriage from the pulpit. Many of these walkers away will walk back later. But whether they do or not, priests must still teach the truth. They have a responsibility before God to protect their flocks from the error of grave sin. Silence in a situation where their parishioners are facing this kind of abuse is cowardice. It is a shepherd, running away to protect himself when his flock is in danger.

Family members are a bit more difficult. There are several gay people in my family and we’ve never had a problem. The reason is simple: We love one another. I may not support gay marriage, but when my gay family member has to go to the hospital or is in trouble with the law or just lonely and feeling bereft, they know that I’m there for them. I will sit in the hospital waiting room, go to the trial and hang out with them when no one else will.

They do the same for me.

What is politics, compared to that?

However, this sort of familial sanity does not prevail in all families. Children, in particular, are too willing to use their parents’ love for them, a love they do not doubt or they wouldn’t do this, as a form of blackmail. “If you love me, you’ll desert your faith and back gay marriage.”

Chose me, or chose Christ. That is the thing in the balance.

All I can say is that you must never stop loving people because they are jerks and bullies. But no one — no one – can be put between you and Jesus. Jesus has to be your first loyalty.

That doesn’t mean you lecture them or even try to get them to change. Even if you do this with the intention of saving their souls, it is still the wrong thing in this circumstance. They are too set on their downward path to listen. Their ears are stopped and their hearts are hardened.

All you can do is love them and continue to love them and reach out to them in love. That, and keep the faith with your faith in your own life.

Aside from the fact that Jesus Christ must be your Lord or He is nothing to you, what they are demanding is far beyond the right of any person to demand of another. It is a crude and vicious violation of your integrity as a human being, of your natural human rights as a person.

At bottom, it, as my friend said, “disrespects” you. I heard a discussion this weekend in which someone more knowledgeable in these matters than me said that these kinds of attacks on the integrity of another person’s soul are always an indicator of disrespect. They do not respect you and your right to believe as you believe.

Disrespect at this level is disrespect of you as a person. You have a responsibility to yourself, to God and to the person attacking you not to accede to this. Mutual respect is the beginning of genuine trust. It is the foundation on which all good human relationships are built.

If I cannot trust you to respect me as a person enough to allow me the dignity of making my own choices in matters as profoundly personal as faith and morality, then I can not trust you at all. There can be no friendship, no true relationship, without this basic level of respect and the trust that comes from it.

I don’t know if my friend should go back to her poker game or not. It’s possible that the people there heard her and that they will respect her in the future. But if they do not, she really does have to leave.

I know my friend well enough to know that she would take a lot of disrespect directed at her, personally. But she will not abide disrespect to Jesus Christ.

That has to be the bottom line for all of us. Even the most co-dependent among us must stand for Christ in these times.

Do it in love. If you love someone, give yourself the freedom to keep on loving them. Never send someone who is really close to you away. If they leave, that is their choice. But when and if they decide to come back, welcome them home with the same love you felt before they left, and then let the past go.

Love hurts in times like this. The people we love are the ones who can and will nail us to the cross. But if our first love is Jesus, He will help us through this. Stay the course, my friends. On the other side of this Gethsemane, you will find that your faith in Him is stronger, your walk with Him closer, your love of Him, deeper.

You may lose trust in the people around you, but your trust in Him is a rock on which you can build your life.

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Did Your Pastor Preach on the Supremes’ Decision on Gay Marriage?

This is an informal, non-scientific poll that I’m conducting from my own curiosity.

Did you pastor address the Supreme Court decision doing away with marriage in his homily Sunday?

Has he ever preached on the issue of gay marriage?

I’m just curious.

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Bishop Tobin, You Can’t Lead People by Bashing and Shaming Them.

Bishops are teachers, leaders and administrators.

They are also priests.

When a bishop becomes so exasperated with his flock that he no longer likes them or feels love for them, it’s time for that bishop to go back to God in prayer.

Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island has published a letter to is flock that is a case in point.

I can’t say what Bishop Tobin feels in his heart, but various comments he’s made and things he’s done lead me to believe that he’s more than a little disappointed in the people in the pews in his diocese. He runs a diocese that is more densely Catholic than most, but also less publicly committed to following the Church.

Bishop Tobin has experienced the personal and pastoral debacle of seeing members of his flock defy him and vote to pass laws legalizing gay marriage. He preached and taught the right things, but they didn’t listen, or rather, not enough of them listened.

Poor man, he took their sins on his own back and blamed himself for the failure of those who should have followed hm to do what was right. It must have been a bitter black moment for him as a leader of souls.

This exasperation, this disenchantment, with the people he is tasked to lead comes blasting out in a recent article he posted concerning the way that Catholics dress when they go to mass. He wants his flock to show their respect for the Lord by dressing up a bit when they come to Church.

Fair enough.

Catholics are notoriously casual in the way we dress at mass. I wear a lot of jeans and t-shirts to mass myself. Maybe we should be a bit more polished in our appearance. Many of my fellow Catholic Patheosi think they should. Me, I’m not so sure that I agree. I think that casual is the new normal of our culture and there are much bigger fish for a bishop to fry than taking on the role of fashion cop.

But I’m not a bishop and I don’t set bishops’ agendas. If Bishop Tobin looks out over his flock and sees attire that is unseemly and disrespectful of the Lord, it is will within his job description for him to admonish the faithful to spiff up a bit. It is the job of Catholics in the pews to listen to him and try to follow his teaching. He is, after all, their spiritual leader.

What is unfortunate is that, when he attempted to do this, he let loose with his anger at the people he leads. Here’s a bit of what he said:

You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen it too. Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.

These displays reveal a gross misunderstanding of the sacred space we’ve entered in the church and the truly sacred drama taking place in our midst. C’mon – even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck.

Every member of the worshipping community should dress appropriately for Mass, but the obligation is even greater for those who fulfill public ministries during the liturgy – ushers, lectors, servers, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Because they’ve assumed a public role in the sacred liturgy and are in the public eye, it’s important that they give good example to others in the way they dress, speak and present themselves during Mass.

Certainly the people of God should dress with appropriate modesty when they go to mass. I agree that those who participate in the mass should make an effort to be visually presentable when they do so.

But I can tell the good bishop that long-term leadership of a group of people depends on trust and inspiration, not verbal flogging and public shaming.

Every person who comes to mass is a volunteer. Every single one of them has something else they could be doing. Every person who is sitting in a pew is there because, at least at some level, they are seeking Christ the Lord. That deserves respect, which is exactly what I think Bishop Tobin is trying to ask for himself and the mass in his misbegotten post.

I think that the bishop wants people to respect the mass, and I am guessing that he would also like for them to respect him. However, I do not think that talking to the people in the pews in the manner I quoted above will garner the respect he is seeking.

The reason why is simple: To get respect, you have to give respect, and Bishop Tobin disrespects his flock in this letter.

People will follow a leader through all kinds of hell and high water if they trust that leader. They will respect and support a leader who respects and supports them. That respect and support is the basis of trust and inspiration, and trust and inspiration is the basis of leadership.

When a leader — it does not matter if it is a priest or a president — disrespects the people he or she is trying to lead, they damage that essential element of trust and inspiration. When they do it repeatedly, they can destroy the trust, quench the inspiration, that is necessary for them to lead.

Bishops have a tough job. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to get tougher as time goes forward. Their authority is battered and tarnished by their own failings in the priest sex abuse scandal.  The Church itself has become the sign of contradiction against the satanic influences that are ripping at our whole society.

Those satanic forces are gathering and will attack the Church without ceasing so long as it stays true to its mission of preaching the whole Gospel of Christ. Bishops, as the generals in the Lord’s army, are the top targets in these attacks.

But they can no go to ground and take cover. Bishops need to stand and lead. They must lead, and they must do it fearlessly and with the kind of strength and faith that only the Holy Spirit can give.

It is not possible for any man to do the job that confronts our bishops out of his own wisdom or strength. If God does not support these men, they will fail. That means that they have to unlearn the lessons of clericalism that have formed so many of our religious leaders and take on the humility of true followership of Christ. There is no other way for a bishop in today’s world to effectively do the job that is set in front of him.

Leadership requires a lot of those who take it up. Among other things, it requires self-discipline. That self-discipline includes a refusal not to indulge personal pique in public venues.

That’s what I read in Bishop Tobin’s remarks: Personal pique.

He is dangerously close to giving the impression that he flat-out dislikes the people he must lead. He needs to stop this and stop it now.

If he is genuinely concerned that the level of casual dress in his parishes has become so extreme that it endangers the sanctity of the mass, he must, as is his job, teach in that area. But it is imperative that he do so as a bishop, a priest, a father and shepherd of a flock that he loves and longs to lead to heaven.

There aren’t many chances when it comes to publicly dissing the people you lead. Such behavior violates the compact between leader and those who are led. If they trust you deeply, they will give you one or two second chances, but only if they love you deeply and trust you absolutely. No one ever gets more chances than that, and most leaders get no second chance at all.

All bishops, not just Bishop Tobin, need to take this to heart. I know what I’m talking about here.

I want to see our bishops succeed. I pray for their success. When I see a bishop shoot himself in the foot this way, I think it’s important to say something.

Bishops must respect and love the people God has entrusted to them. If they do that, they will find the job of leadership a natural outgrowth of the trust they receive in turn.

For a comprehensive dust-up on this whole question, check out The Anchoress who, as usual, says it best, or, have a look at Jen Fitz who employs old-fashioned story-telling to make her point.

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Cafeteria Catholics Wear Red as Well as Blue

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Surly Girl

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Surly Girl

It was a rout.

They knocked one another down, running away from Him.

The temple guards tried to catch John Mark by grabbing his clothes. When his clothes tore lose, Mark ran away naked into the night like a panicked bunny rabbit.

A few days before, John and James had been arguing over who would sit at the places of honor in His Kingdom.

Now, they ran.

It was ignominious defeat, an end to all their boasting and bragging about their great loyalty.

Jesus has suffered many Gethsemanes since that night, many times when His followers ran from Him and straight into the maw of the world. People stampede the same as a herd of cattle. When they are panicked, they will run right over a cliff and to their destruction.

We are the weakest of followers for a Heavenly King. The question isn’t why we choose Him. The question is why He chooses us.

Given our behavior, that question is so confounding that only one answer is possible. That answer is love. He loves us, and love makes all things right, even our tawdry behavior.

The disciples ran that night because they were panicked, afraid for their lives. They also ran because, as Jesus told them, This is satan’s hour. 

But satan doesn’t have just one hour. His taunts and beguilements are an ever-renewing source of spite, hate, malice and lies. This time in which we live is every bit as much satan’s hour as that night in the garden.

Satan will use any doorway into us, including what we think of as our faithfulness to Him. One clear sign that we can use to discern that we are on the wrong path is when we begin to base our righteousness on the sins of other people.

That is the first sin of cafeteria Catholics, of the red and the blue, the left and right. They are forever attacking one another and claiming righteousness for themselves based on the sins of the other.

Cafeteria Catholics of the left claim, often rightfully, that those on the right ignore the cries of the poor, that their economic policies concentrate wealth in a few hands and impoverish all others. They are accurate when they say that this is not free enterprise, because it isn’t. It is corporate fascism, the corporatism that has been consistently condemned by every recent pope.

Cafeteria Catholics of the right claim, often rightfully, that those on the left attack the human, that they seek to destroy the very foundations of civilization with their destructive nihilism. Abortion, gay marriage, mutilating surgeries used on mentally ill people, euthanasia, egg harvesting, porn; these are the crimes of the left.

Both groups condemn the pope and the Church for violating the “teachings” of their side. The Pope is a sign of contradiction to this world. Cafeteria Catholics of both the right and left react violently when the Holy Father’s teachings contradict and lay bare their own departures from following Christ.

They don’t respond to this revelation that they are walking outside the faith with humility and a desire to change. They don’t even do as I often do when the Pope’s teachings contradict my shibboleths, by twisting and turning, arguing and complaining, before I ultimately give in and follow.

Hardened cafeteria Catholics respond to the teachings from the pope that contradict their politics by going into spittle-throwing, self-righteous rages. They attack and defame the pope himself for calling them to a conversion they do not want to make.

Cafeteria Catholics of the right have, for many years, condemned and excoriated anyone who departed from what they termed obedience to the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church.  Their brittle self-righteousness in condemning everyone who departed from their standard of faithfulness has driven many people from the Church, turned people away from Christ.

It was not their faithfulness that drove people away. It was their self-righteousness, their ugly use of the Church as a club to beat their political opponents over the head.

But when the pope, this Pope, dares to teach the truth about corporate fascism, they turn hard about 180 degrees and attack the Church, and the Holy Father themselves. I have deleted the most appalling comments about Pope Francis in the past 24 hours, comments that come from the pit of spiritual death.

That, of course, is nothing new. I delete appalling comments about the pope and the Church almost every day.

Cafeteria Catholics on the left chime in on a regular basis, letting me know that the Church has failed to live up to their self-righteous standards, as well. The Church, they say, is cruel and has no compassion because it “condemns” the sick and elderly to suffering when a good dose of poison would end it for them.

The Church is cruel because, while it admits anyone, including homosexuals, it will not tell homosexuals that their sins are not sins.

The Church supposedly hates women because it will not support them in killing their children with abortion.

Both sides, cafeteria Catholics of the right and the left, the red and the blue, abandon the Church founded by Christ the Lord to bend their knee and give their loyalty to the false gods of this world. Both sides, cafeteria Catholics of the right and the left, seek to limit the Church’s teaching to areas that goad the other guy’s ox and not theirs.

Jesus Christ doesn’t mean all that much to either side. They will abandon Him on behalf of their political philosophies anytime. Any time at all.

They do not follow the Vicar of Christ. They follow the pundits and talking heads who taught them this false gospel of self-righteousness and condemnation of others in the first place. They are comfortable in their mushy wallows of false doctrine and self-congratulation. They like pointing the finger at the other guy and declaring that he is not faithful, while, they proclaim, they themselves are absolutely faithful.

Left wing cafeteria Catholics loved to attack Pope Benedict XVI. They piled onto Pope John Paul II. But they’ve decided to patronize Pope Francis by misinterpreting what he says to fit their politics. They are attempting what the right wing accomplished by doing the same thing with the teachings of the earlier popes: Self deification.

Right wing cafeteria Catholics breathe fire at Pope Francis. I’ve deleted comments from them that say outrageous things about him. This is especially poignant, coming as it does from people who have long based their claims to righteousness on their faithfulness to the teachings of the Church.

In truth, neither group of cafeteria Catholics is looking for leadership from the Pope. What they both want is validation of their sins. That, and holy verbiage they can use to condemn their enemies in the wars of this world.

They aren’t looking for redemption and forgiveness. They have no use for salvation that comes at the price of a cross. They have convinced themselves that they don’t need it.

They are so certain of their theological omniscience that they lecture the pope on Church teaching. They are so proud of their righteousness that they use themselves for the measure by which they judge what is right and what is wrong.

Cafeteria Catholics are exactly like the political movements they have made the lords of their lives. The only difference is that the puppet masters at the top of these movements know what they are doing. They got their 30 pieces of silver.

Their followers down below do not have the respect of those on top these movements. These hapless souls who’ve sold their birthright for a bowl of pundit porridge are just things to be used by those they follow.

Do not run away from the Lord of all life. Do not feed your salvation to the dogs of this world.

The simplest way to know that you are following Christ is to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. Scripture tells us to Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. 

I would make that more explicit. I would say trust the Vicar of Christ and do not follow the pied pipers of the media and the internet to your own destruction.

Save. Your. Soul.

Turn your back on the death-dealing philosophies of this world, whether they are from the right or the left.

Choose Christ.

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Vatican Puts Former Nuncio to Dominican Republic on Trial for Child Sex Abuse, Porn.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Dennis Jarvis Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Dennis Jarvis Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by

The Vatican plans to put former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who served as the Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic on trial for child sex abuse offenses while he was overseas, as well as additional charges of possession of child pornography while he has been living at the Vatican.

Former Archbishop Wesolowski was laicized in 2014. He was found guilty of “grave crimes” under Canon Law. He is being tried under Vatican City State law — as opposed to Church law. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense under statutes of the Vatican City State.

From National Catholic Reporter:

The former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic who left his post in 2013 after being accused of sexual misconduct with minors will stand trial next month at the Vatican with possible “international legal cooperation.”

Former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish-born prelate who served in the Latin American country from 2008 to August 2013, will stand trial beginning July 11, the Vatican announced Monday.

Wesolowski was recalled to Rome nearly two years ago after allegations of abusing young boys and possessing child pornography. While originally free to roam the city upon his arrival, he has been living at the Vatican under a form of house arrest since Vatican officials arrested him in September 2014

Monday’s statement said the president of the Vatican City-State’s tribunal “has ordered the trial” of the former nuncio, for offenses from his time in the Dominican Republic and while living at the Vatican since 2013.

“With regard to the period spent in Rome, the nuncio is charged with the offence of possession of child pornography,” the statement reads. Charges from the former prelate’s time in Latin America, the Vatican said, are “based on evidence transmitted by the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo,” the Dominican Republic’s capital city.





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Climate Change Crosses Political Lines: What’s a Bishop to Do?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by USCCB Migration and Refugee Service

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by USCCB Migration and Refugee Service

So, Pope Francis has written a soon-to-be-released encyclical on the environment.

Long before we got this close to actually reading the document itself, we’ve been treated to histrionics and “instructions” to the Holy Father to mind his own pontifical business.

Rush Limbaugh took time away from counting his money to come out against the encyclical he had not read. Predictably, he based his thinking on his own greed-is-good theology. Now, he’s running his jaws, flapping about a “leaked” version of the encyclical, which, for all we know, a Vatican janitor pulled out of the trash. Of course, Mr Limbaugh repeats his slanders about the pope being a “Marxist” while he’s doing this.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum chimed in a few weeks ago, instructing Pope Francis to “back off” talking about climate change. His logic? The Church should steer away from scientific questions. According to Fox News, an unnamed blogger at First Things “accused the pope of promoting ‘theologized propaganda’ on conservation — a post the journal’s editor later disavowed.”

According to WMAL, the GOP is on the verge of doing battle with Pope Francis over climate change. USA Today has written an article stating what is obvious to anyone who understands politics: The opposition to this encyclical is about money.

In the meantime, environmentalists and liberals are tuning up for their happy dance. I have no doubt that their interpretations of the upcoming encyclical will be as self-serving and inaccurate as those of Mr Limbaugh, et al.

Every pope in recent memory has spoken out about the environment. Every pope in recent memory has taken a strong stand against the evils of corporatism, which is organized greed wedded to government power. Why is Pope Francis any different?

The answer to that is as obvious as the answer to why corporatists oppose him with such venom: People are listening to this pope. They’re paying attention to what he says. For the first time in a long time, ordinary people see the Church as accessible. Pope Francis is a father figure to billions of people who never listened to the Church before.

He has shifted the Church away from the appearance of partisan alliances and given it the old-time Gospel outlook of a Church that is beholden to no political party or faction. That is exactly as it should be. The Church should have one Master, one Lord, and that is Jesus Christ.

Contrary to what the nay-sayers are yapping about, Pope Francis is entirely within his purview when he addresses the environment. Human beings were explicitly told from the beginning that we have “dominion” over this earth. We were commanded to care for it as good husbandmen, to lead it to be fruitful and to bring forth its goodness for all humanity, for all time.

Corporatism is the antithesis of this. Corporatism is evil, and like all evil, it only destroys. Corporatism rapes the environment. Corporatism cuts down the rainforests, and plunders the wealth of the ground, all the while displacing people, shutting them into economic slavery and destroying both their hope and their future. Corporatism destroys life on a global scale; wiping out whole species of beings like mowing down grass.

Of course corporatism’s well-paid mouthpieces fear this pope and his message. Of course, they are enraged by the very thought of this upcoming encyclical.

All this presents the American bishops with an unsettling conundrum, one that, like most of their problems, is at least partly of their own making.

America’s Catholic bishops sit on shaky thrones. Their prophetic voice has been chipped and scarred by the clergy sex abuse scandal. Their authority and ability to teach is compromised by the refusal of priests in the parish to carry the message on critical issues such as the sanctity of marriage.

The bishops were forced to reach over the heads of their priests and go directly to the people in the pews in the matter of the HHS Mandate. It is to the everlasting credit of the pew-sitters that they found loyalty and support there in this critical fight for religious freedom.

Now, with this encyclical, they have to go in y0ur face with their most loyal followers. The civil religion, which worships at the altars of the R and the D, is divided cleanly along party lines. The Ds support abortion, backed the HHS Mandate and have fallen over backwards into gay marriage. The Rs have become the only home that faithful Catholics feel they have in the political sphere.

Given that the level of teaching at many of our parishes tends toward a Hallmark card Christianity that no longer addresses the lived reality of many of those in the pews, serious Catholics have been taking more and more of their “teaching” on theological matters from the Republican Party.

This was frankly encouraged by the original founders of the religious right such as Jerry Falwell. Rev Falwell, and most of his fellows, imposed their own political beliefs on the Gospels. They did this even when those political beliefs ran counter to what the Gospels themselves plainly said.

As a result, the religious right deified corporatism. The Catholic Church did not join in with this heresy. But the bishops and the parish priests did not oppose it in the kind of clear language that is necessary to teach the people in the pews. They failed, at a critical juncture, to effectively teach the constant teachings of the Church. These teachings go back in a straight line, from one pope to the next, for hundreds of years. But the people in the pews never got the message.

This created a vacuum where there should have been legitimate Christian teaching. This vacuum left the people in the pews to make up their own theology. Over time, they were seduced by the civil religion of party politics. Faithful Catholics in the pews came to substitute the civil religion for Christianity in matters concerning economics. They exchanged the teachings of right-wing corporatists for the constant teaching of the Church in economic matters.

Now they are hardened in this heresy. And the bishops stand hapless, unable to figure out how to set things right.

At the same time, “progressive” churches did their part by bastardizing the Gospels on issues life, marriage, gender identity and the sexualizing of women and children. Left and right, they both cut their religion to suit their politics. The political heresy reigned.

Nobody in the religious sphere, other than the popes themselves, was teaching the whole Gospel of Christ.

Now, after decades of this, we are reaping the whirlwind.

Part of the damage of that whirlwind is that the American bishops are now faced with teaching an encyclical in parishes where the most faithful of the parishioners have drunk so deeply of the Republican Kool-Aid that they actually place more trust in the likes of Rush Limbaugh than they do the Vicar of Christ. These are people who are dying for leadership. They want to be led. They’ve settled on following the teachings of their political party rather than the teachings of their Church.

I haven’t read the encyclical Pope Francis has written on the environment. But I do not doubt that it is based on the simple fact that humanity’s dominion over creation is a responsibility, and not just an opportunity for destructive exploitation by the few to the detriment of everyone else.

Pope Francis is Peter. Think carefully before you follow the R or the D instead of the Church created by Christ the Lord.

As for the American bishops, my heart goes out to them. They are in such a mess, and they don’t appear, most of them, to be up to the task in front of them.

One thing I know: We don’t need institutionalized “company” men, at this time. We need men of God.

From The New York Times:

… With Francis expected to make the case that climate change, unchecked development and overconsumption are exacerbating the suffering of the poor, advocates for the environment and the poor are thrilled.

But the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States may be harder to win over. At the spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops here last week, bishops from around the country said they were withholding their enthusiasm until they saw the document on Thursday.

Some said they were wary about getting the church enmeshed in the debate over climate change, a contentious issue in the United States. They also expressed concern about allying with environmentalists, some of whom promote population control as a remedy, since the church sees abortion and contraception as great evils.

Some bishops said they had received hate mail from Catholics skeptical of climate change. That has added to the bishops’ hesitation and confusion on the topic.

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