Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Patron for bishops

Today the Church celebrates St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor, and it is my honor to currently pastor a parish dedicated to his honor. 

The story of St. Augustine as it is usually told involves him living a rather debaucherous life and his mother St. Monica praying for his conversion which eventually happened. Tehnrpoblem is not with how we tell the story up to the conversion, but how we like to imagine the story after. 

We like to imagine that after his conversion he was totally transformed. His life post-conversion was as the perfect Christian, the perfect bishop.That version, as pretty as it may be, robs his teaching of its power. 

The real bishop St. Augustine was profoundly aware of his own brokenness, not only before but after his conversion. He did not try to hide or deny his sin and constant struggle with temptation. His personal struggles shaped his, and ultimately the Church’s, understanding of sin and how it operates in the human heart. He moved the focus of blame for sin from outside to inside the human person.

The good news is, he also  understood our absolute dependence on God’s grace in the struggle against sin. He believed in our ability with God’s help to live, not a sin free, but a good moral life.

On this Feast of St. Augustine, let us pray that he may be an example to all Bishop and church leaders.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Spirit not Letter

At first glance it is easy to look at today’s gospel and think of our bishops as the “blind guides” of which Jesus speaks. And this wouldn’t be inaccurate. But personally, I have always found it more helpful for my spiritual growth to ask how the gospel challenges me.

In the gospel Jesus is not condemning the taking of oaths as much as he is condemning the way in which they very carefully parse the words. So somehow swearing by the gold of the temple is binding but swearing by the temple is not. In the old days Catholics would do the same with mass attendance. How much of mass must I attend for it to “count”? 

 In th post Vatican II days, it became how much stuff in mass can we change and how much made up stuff can we add on. The dodge used by this group was the untrue statement, “whatever isn’t forbidden is allowed.”

We are disgusted when we see our politicians and church leaders carefully parsing their words to explain how what they did want technically speaking illegal. 

And yet, which of us does not on some level play this game. The speed limit is 60, but I am going 70, because no one is around. Even the phrase “white lie” is a dodge. What whitens a lie?

Jesus is once more calling us to. be better than this. Searching for excuses or clever rationalizations when we sin should not be the way we live. We should be honest, first of all, with ourselves. 

And when we do sin, Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Penance through which we can be assured of forgiveness and receive the grace we need to be transformed. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Clairvoyant Pastor

Whenever I read or hear today’s gospel about leaving the 99 to go after the one lost sheep, my mind flashes back to a friend who said of his parish, “I could stop going tomorrow, and no one would notice.” He did; and they didn’t. The next time he heard from the parish was his computer generated end of the year tax letter. And this is not just a Catholic phenomenon. When my brother died, the church from which he was buried kept him on the mailing list for youth events. 

As church communities grow it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of every single person. The problem is exacerbated by belief in the clairvoyant Pastor. The best example of this is the irrate coversation that goes something like this:

– My mother was in the hospital for a week and no one came to see her.
–Did you call the church to let us know?

Somehow Fr. John or Pastor Bob is supposed to magically know who is sick, who has died, who is in need of help. In larger communities, this expectation is extended to the staff. We can forget that by virtue of our baptism each of us shares in the ministry of the church. 

Each week around the world hundreds of people step back from their church family for a host of reasons. Today’s gospel reminds us that we are all our brother’s keeper. We all have an obligation to notice when the person next to us is missing that week. We all have an obligation to notice the one new person sitting all by themselves.  It is easy to chitchat with your friends before or after mass. How often to we “leave the ninety-nine” our friends, and go talk to the one?

There are some ministries that are reserved to the clergy, evangelization, reaching out to others is not.