Pastor’s Perspective – April 7

* Sunday’s Gospel

When Jesus leans down and begins to write on the ground with his finger, what do you think he is writing? The gospel story does not say, and so it has become a favorite speculation for preachers throughout the centuries. Was he writing first the sin of hard-heartedness and condemnation on the part of the crowd, and then the woman’s sin of adultery, wiping them out with his finger as each acknowledged their sinfulness? We do not know. What we do know is that Jesus refused to be caught up in the group anger and condemnation of the woman. One the most consistent things we learn about Jesus in the gospels is his distaste for a type of religious righteousness that certain people would use to condemn others or keep themselves from acknowledging their own need for God’s mercy. As we end the season of Lent in a week, have our acts of penance, our intentional attempts at being more merciful, our times of prayer, and our fasting and abstinence made any difference in how we react to the sins of others and to our own sinfulness? If not, it is still not too late to embrace the Lenten call to repentance.

* Fridays Gospel Live!

One of the more powerful Re-Claiming Fridays of Lent prayer experiences last year was the one on which various people acted out a Gospel encounter between Jesus and a specific person.  Using the gospel story as the framework but filling in the details of what that encounter might have looked like, the gospel stories came to life. Combined with music and time for reflection, the hour went by quickly and offered much food for thought.

Join us Friday April 12 at 6:30 p.m. for the “Gospel Live!” experience this year. It is appropriate for old and young alike.

The Catholic Church and Abuse of Minors: The Current Picture (conclusion)

Please see previous articles that have led to this point. I will collect them and put them together on the website under News-Pastor’s Perspective-Archives/Series. I have been giving my two cents on underlying causes for the crisis and subsequent ways to move forward, focusing first on what I think are some misguided understandings. The final one I want to address are those who claim that homosexuality has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of abuse by priests.

It is true that serial abusers will prey on those who are available. Odd as it may sound, such abuse for them is not an expression of their sexual orientation but of their power and control. For Catholic priest abusers that often has meant that boys have been victimized, even if that does not mean the priest abuser is himself truly homosexually-oriented. And, as mentioned last week, I think those who want all homosexually-oriented priests out of priesthood, even if they are living celibate lives, are misguided and the Church’s capacity and heart for ministry would be severely harmed. However, looking at the statistics from the John Jay study of the crisis, it is clear that in the Catholic Church there is a disproportionate number of cases of priests abusing teen boys, compared to the pattern of abuse in the rest of society.  This does not lessen the wrongness of these actions. Absolutely criminally wrong. All such cases should carry with them full legal penalties. Such a priest should not be in the priesthood. But it seems to me that the statistics suggest a human formation problem in our seminary systems, especially in terms of integrating a mature sexuality into one’s life.

Since the time of the Council of Trent in the 16th century, when our current form of seminary formation was established to deepen the intellectual and spiritual formation of candidates for priesthood, the Church has favored a model that sets the candidates apart from the rest of their peers and surrounds them with a semi-monastic schedule. This was done often from high school age on. But even if from college age on, too many candidates had to come to maturity and integration of their sexuality and human formation in that more isolated context. This environment was, moreover, nearly all-male, and so any sexual acting out was more likely to be male-male, something that carried over for some into ministry. Add to this reality the fact that such an environment is not the easiest one in which to honestly acknowledge and deal with sexuality. It is much easier to suppress, ignore, be in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset. I do not think it is happenstance that the highest percentages of abusers have come from classes of priests trained in such closed systems, and that the most common form of priestly abuse has been with a teen male as the victim.

Some of this began to change in some places from the mid 1970s on after the Second Vatican Council. This was also the peak of the so-called “sexual revolution,” and attempts at changing the formation process were haphazard at best. The good news is that there is now an awareness that priestly formation needs to include mature human formation, including formation in sexual maturity and integration of a celibate life into one’s vocation. The not so good news, in my opinion, is that we have not found an adequate model of priestly formation in line with the vision of the Second Vatican Council. Instead we have fallen back on the older, semi-monastic model. This has been coupled with a decidedly negative view of homosexuality, even if one was desirous of living a celibate life. I am not sure that such a system will be optimal for encouraging priests to be both honest about and integrate their sexuality in a mature way.

What might be an alternative model in light of Vatican II? I think the Council’s focus on the vocation of every baptized person and the call to holiness of everyone, no matter their walk of life, is the starting point, especially for diocesan priesthood. Rather than trying to maintain a complete (and somewhat isolated) formation process all wrapped up in one seminary, it might be better to have a more parish-centered focus for formation. This would allow even more time for a candidate to live within a parish and be part of parish ministries and interacting with all aspects of parish life; forming spiritual and friendship bonds with men and women of all backgrounds, ages, and temperaments; appreciating the real holiness that others are striving to live; receiving their theological education always alongside other men and women who are receiving the same education. I wonder as well if the model for the future might more typically be men who are involved in various professions and have proven their maturity in such professions, but find themselves desiring something more. Life experience would already have given them a significant degree of human formation. They would know that priesthood is not just a way to avoid dealing with self-development, rather a true calling to use their gifts and personality for the good of the Church.

Because priests do need more focused formation in prayer, liturgy and other areas, I could see that happening in a more intense way, much like the current model of a novitiate year for religious men and women. But the key, I think, is to have several large, strong, well-run parishes who would see themselves as integral to the formation of future priests, including encouraging their commitment to a celibate life. Of course, such a model would also be conducive for forming men who choose to be married first and then become priests. I do wonder, probably not in the United States but elsewhere, if that is a direction that various conferences of bishops might choose to follow, breaking the automatic connection between celibacy and priesthood, and moving away from a semi-monastic model of formation.

Holy Week April 14 through April 20

Next Sunday is the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, more commonly known as Palm Sunday. Palms will be distributed and blessed at all the weekend Masses. As we enter into Holy Week this year please try to free your calendars as much as you are able. Our final Tuesday Holy Hour with Benediction will take place from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m., preceded by a time for individual confession. Then we will prepare for and celebrate the three central days of our entire liturgical year, the Great Triduum of Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, and Holy Saturday evening Easter Vigil. Together they form their own distinct season. To actively participate in all three is to be re-connected to the heart of our covenant with God through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Holy Thursday, April 18, adds the element of commemoration of the Last Supper. The tabernacle is empty (there is no adoration of the Blessed Sacrament this day because of this). Unless we the Church believe in the continuing reality of what Jesus did at that Last Supper and come together in faith and do what he asked us to do in his memory, there will be no enduring presence of the risen Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament. Everyone is invited to have their feet washed or to help in washing others’ feet. Yes, it is awkward, just like Peter who tells the Lord “You’ll never wash my feet, Lord.” But, if you allow yourself to say yes to that moment, you can experience what it is like for the Lord to wash our feet, unworthy though we are. We end the evening with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose in the new chapel and leave the chapel open for quiet prayer until 11 p.m.

Good Friday’s Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion has three components. 1) The Scripture Readings, especially the Passion Narrative according to John. Everything’s been stripped bare; a solemn mood is in the air; we connect at an emotional level on what Jesus was willing to do for each of us. 2) The Veneration of the Cross. We bring some act of reverence—kissing the cross, touching it, bowing/genuflecting before it—which captures our willingness to share that cross of Jesus, if the Lord needs us to for the good of others. 3) Holy Communion from the bread consecrated the night before at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday is the only day of the Church’s liturgical year when Mass may not be celebrated. As a day of fast and abstinence, we are asked to

re-center ourselves and not take for granted what it means to come to Eucharist and to receive the gift of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist.

Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening. The central celebration of the whole year. During the opening Service of Light, you will experience not just intellectually but physically what it means that Jesus Christ is risen and that Christ is the light who overcomes all darkness. You will hear in miniature the whole story of salvation through the various readings from the Old and New Testament. You will renew your own baptismal promises and take part in welcoming others into full initiation in the Church. You will be part of the community who celebrates Easter Eucharist in the fullest way possible.

If someone were to celebrate nothing other than those Triduum liturgies, one’s connection to and identity as a Catholic Christian would be solid. That is how important they are. Take time to be part of them, no matter where you are.

Fr. Buersmeyer