I don’t know how many blog visitors are football fans, and how many of you are looking in from your tailgate parties in various NFL stadiums right now. (Right!) For those who don’t believe that religion and sports intersect in the cosmos, there are many fewer atheists in the Michigan State University community after last night’s incredible turn of events.
I have cut back considerably from my high school and college days, when it was easy to make a day out of football. I generally watch parts of a late Saturday evening game, like last night’s Utah game, though I rarely reach the 1 AM finish. On Sundays the NFL makes things easier nowadays, as the dictates of advertising have pushed the “important” games to the supper hour (the “doubleheader” game) and now NBC’s Sunday night game, which is a great innovation in my opinion. So I generally don’t switch on a TV on Sunday till about 5 PM.
I like to keep part of Sunday, at least, in the spirit in which the day was invented. So after a workout and a blog entry, I keep the afternoon free for theological reading and study. (If the Buffalo Bills happen to be playing, I keep my IPad next to me in quiet mode to keep up in ESPN Live Cast.) It is on afternoons such as these that I have my best chance to survey editorials, articles, and opinion pieces. I saved two such pieces for today, both on the Synod of the Family. I have not posted much about the Synod in recent days because of its wide coverage in nearly all Catholic outlets, but I found in these two essays some remarkable insights about the issues being discussed and the intense angst among many about its outcome.
The first is a somewhat ominous assessment of the Synod to date by Father Thomas Reese, S.J., a giant in Catholic academics, writing, and journalism. His piece, “Five Reasons the Synod is Doomed to Fail,” appeared in National Catholic Reporter’s news website on Thursday. I hope you have an opportunity to digest this brief but pointed assessment. I call particular attention to Father Reese’s concern over an absence of experts at the meeting. Vatican II, as he himself observes, brought together many of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Theological research has seriously declined after the Council because popes have chosen to make sexual ethics the “litmus test” of orthodoxy over the last several decades. The metaphor of CEO’s disengaged from their research and development staffs is extraordinarily timely.
The second piece is an NCR news story from Friday, an interview with Chicago’s Archbishop Blaise Cupich, one of Pope Francis’s appointments to the Synodal body. Bishop Cupich gave a press conference drawing from his long experience as a confessor. The gist of his remarks involve the power of conscience and the roles of the priest and the penitent in confession. I hasten to point out that the archbishop’s pastoral practice is neither unusual nor without precedent. Somewhere in my ancient transcript I have record of a seminary course in my history dealing with “internal forum” matters in the confessional or the counseling parlor, which is nearly verbatim to the pastoral philosophy expressed by the archbishop. That would be around 1972.
Please respond if so moved, and I will see you tomorrow for another flashback to Vatican II.
I did not get home from a very long day till about 10 PM last night, Saturday, So I'm going to take it easy today. I hope to return tomorrow to continue our Vatican II memories. I will share something funny, though: I obtained a second book of Vatican II memories and accounts by the Catholic theologian and Council peritus Hans Kung. Wouldn't you know--I left it at the parish where I was working yesterday. I hate that when I am in the middle of a good read. Well, I'm sure the staff found it and eventually the contents will find their way here. Have a nice Sunday!
s good to be back at the “editor’s desk” after several days out and about. On Friday I had an enjoyable lunch with our diocesan director of faith formation. I think we are both at a point in our lives where we know the miracles and the foibles of our Mother Church will both go on long after we pass from the scene, but we enjoy the privilege of participation nonetheless. I had a chance to talk about new ideas for assisting the catechists in our own diocese as well as hear about present and new happenings on the religious education scene. When I got to my car I was a little surprised to see how long we had talked, which is usually the sign of a pleasurable breaking of the bread.
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.
Wild Card Sunday