As luck would have it, we had our little faith sharing group on Friday night. The evening’s leader, working from a yearly calendar of topics handed down over time by the parish, had put together a truly excellent little presentation on a very difficult subject, “Church Tradition.” She had researched and discovered an audio presentation by an outstanding American theologian, Father Michael Himes, and she played a clip of his explanation. As luck would have it, Father Himes’ brother, Kenneth, is a Franciscan priest and one of the nation’s eminent moral theologians (not to mention one of my classmates in Washington for several years.)
I was quite impressed by her work in arranging this, but there was one individual whose criticism went well off the reservation….as a launching pad into a Joe McCarthy-esque rant about evil bishops plotting to hijack the Synod of the Family and lead the Church to teach untruths about sexuality. I could see that some of the group was becoming a bit rattled. I generally keep a low profile in the group, but desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, and I had to publicly discredit her information, which appeared to come from some extremist right blog sites who consider themselves more Catholic than the pope. I have been seeing this kind of material for about a year now in some unmonitored blogs.
However, as much will be reported about the Synod on the Family, which begins this weekend, I did try to summarize a list of news services you might consult. In looking at the coverages provided today by these sites, you will see that that there is a range of conservative and progressive sentiment about this Synod and what it might or might not do. The pope’s sermon for this Sunday is posted already at several sites. In no special order, here are several news and opinion coverage sites you might want to check in with as the Synod progresses:
Vatican News Service Osservatoire Romano
Rome Reports (independent news)
Whispers in the Loggia (blogsite of Rocco Palma)
National Catholic Register news
First Things: Xavier Rynne II reports
Catholic News Service from USCCB
National Catholic Reporter online
Saturday (yesterday) was one of the most pleasant days—albeit a busy one—that I have had in a while. I was assigned by my diocese to teach an advanced course on sacraments at the church right here in my home town, where I served as pastor 1979-89. I had not been back for any official functions since. The drive was less than fifteen minutes—compared to trips to Ocala, Daytona, Melbourne, Lakeland, and other places I have taught. I taught in a fine religious education facility built after I left, and the parish host had a continental breakfast ready for us from Panera’s—it doesn’t get any better than that. I had a small but very open and thoughtful class, most of whom were high school teachers in our flagship Catholic high school.
As I was teaching, though, it occurred to me that it is growing harder and harder (for me, at any rate) to teach comfortably on the subject of sacraments, or even to write about the subject here at the Cafe. I have a 16-page outline I make available to the students on the Scriptural, historical and liturgical theology of each sacrament. But, at the end of the day, sacraments are “outward signs” as the Baltimore Catechism used to teach, and understandings and attitudes of sacraments are formed for good or for bad by what people actually see or experience in real life. It is depressing for me at some levels to teach the “ideals” of each sacrament when I know that in many parishes the public witness from the top down is quite otherwise. This puts me as instructor in a “commiserating role” with students as they wrestle in that swampy terrain between the ideal and the real. I have been giving a lot of thought to eliminating “sacrament day” from the routine of the blog and replacing it with another aspect of our common faith life, or using the day as a personal study day.
One of my students was a lady I baptized while pastor there. That she is now a well-established teacher in our local Catholic high school made me feel my age. But she told me that her parents—dear friends from my years in that parish—would be attending the vigil Mass with her and asked me to stay and join them. This struck me as a great idea, and I phoned Margaret, who agreed to join us for Mass. The upshot was that the parish was celebrating its patron saint, Francis of Assisi, whose feast is today. I met my old friends and Margaret, and we sat up near the front for Mass. The pastor, an old friend, singled me out and introduced me to the congregation after communion. In truth, there has been great turnover in the quarter century since I left, but the few who still remember me were effusive in their affections and I greatly appreciated it. It was good to go back. I have gotten over the changes to the church structure that have been implemented by successive pastors, as the basic atmosphere of worship has not changed.
My former parish, by the way, is celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. I have a number of photo albums from those days, so I guess I’ll be “scanning” a lot more in coming months. Given the last few full days, I think I’m signing off for a good nap, but we should be heading back to Vatican II tomorrow.