Friday, April 29, 2011

"Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward."

This Sunday we read from Acts 2:44-45 where it says, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”   Acts 4:32-35 repeats this theme, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common...  There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”  Obviously the first Christians were very serious about sharing material wealth to ensure people’s needs were met.

Also this Sunday, the deceased Pope John Paul II will be beatified.  Though I have not seen estimates for the full cost of his beatification, the City of Rome estimates its costs will exceed $5 Million and the Diocese of Rome estimates its costs will exceed $2M to erect stages and megatrons, and cover security costs among other things.  The Diocese of Rome will fund all this via donations from the faithful.

The early Christians entrusted their worldly possessions to the apostles for distribution to the poor.  Yet, on the same weekend we read about this example of selfless giving, the present-day apostles take money from the faithful to glorify a fellow apostle.  With so many needy people in the world, can the apostles justify this?  Why will the faithful pay it?  If the apostles do not use our donations to meet people’s needs, should we circumvent their coffers and give directly to those in need?

I especially question the beatification’s vulgar misuse of funds because according to Catholic doctrine, the communion of saints includes the faithful on earth, those in purgatory and those in heaven.  Therefore, if one believes that John Paul II was a believer, he’s already a saint and has been since his baptism.    Thus, the whole spectacle around beatification is a multi-million dollar expenditure celebrating the blatantly obvious. 

Vatican officials have expressed concern that England’s Royal Wedding this weekend might overshadow John Paul II’s beatification.  For example, Fr. Caesar Atuire, chief executive of Vatican pilgrims' organization Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi said, "I have indeed noticed that the wedding is drawing a lot of attention," … "I wish these two young people all the best in life …  but the events are on two different levels.”

I actually see some similarities between the two events.  The merchandising of memorabilia is rampant for both.  For example one can purchase a bobble-head to commemorate either event.

Yet I agree that the events are on two different levels.  A large part of the Royal Wedding’s expenses are being paid by the bride’s and groom’s families.  The bride and groom ask that, in lieu of gifts, donations be made to a charity that helps underprivileged children, families of military personnel, and nature conservation.  The groom does not expect his wife to "obey" him but treats her in dignity as an equal.  Furthermore, the newlywed couple are an imitation of Christ’s abiding commitment to his church.  If they are so blessed, they will bring forth children from their union.

The beatification of John Paul II asks that people donate money, not for the poor, but for the glorification of a deceased apostle.  John Paul II married the church and believed that he best represented Christ on earth.  He also dehumanized women by insisting they are less Christ-like than any man on earth, most especially clergy.  To many, this is scandalous arrogance.  No children emerged from this union.  However, by his active enablement, clergy abused thousands of other people’s children.

I prefer my children follow God's authentic call rather than walk in anyone else's footsteps.  However, if I had to choose one of this weekend's featured celebrities for my daughters to emulate, it certainly would not be an unmarried man who thinks they are inferior humans to him and child molesters he enabled. 

Perhaps this weekend is a good time to reflect upon MT 6:1-5 as megatrons broadcast events from the Vatican, “… take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father … When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Standing in the garden....

During the Good Friday Liturgy, we read the Passion according to John.  This version contains the description of Peter striking and severing the ear of Malchus, a high priest’s slave (Jn 18:10-11).  Jesus rebuked Peter for trying to defend him.  In Luke 22:50-51 we learn Jesus also healed the ear of Malchus, a member of the party arresting him, a party formed by Judas.

As he stood in the garden, on one side Jesus had one of his apostles, Judas, who profited from betraying him, leading the gang to arrest him.  On the other side, Jesus had another apostle, Peter, incorrectly assuming Jesus needed his human protection, incorrectly equating his human thoughts with the will of God.  Two apostles are deluded with self-importance while the truly important person is getting ready to die on their behalf.  I know what I would be thinking if I were in Jesus’ sandals that day but I know I’m not Jesus and he probably had much more loving and charitable thoughts than I could have conjured in the situation.

Scripture actually lends insight into Jesus’ thoughts.  Just hours before this scene occurred, Jesus, fully aware of their future actions, had dined with both apostles.  He had served both apostles, washing their feet, cleansing them so they could share in his inheritance.  Both had been charged by Jesus to imitate him, serving others with a willingness to act as humble slaves performing the lowliest most unpalatable of tasks (Jn 13:1-15).  Within a few hours of being so charged, both apostles profoundly failed Jesus. 

Yesterday I found myself fixated upon that scene from 2,000 years ago and how we continue to repeat the original apostles’ mistakes. 

We have apostles and laity who profit as they betray Jesus by merchandising their faith in him, merchandising their gift of grace, merchandising their salvation.  We have tele-evangelists and other entertainers who profit betraying Jesus, taking on iconic personas and celebrity statuses.  We have politicians who betray Jesus as they profit by marketing their Christianity to gain votes.  We have people who profit betraying Jesus through lies and deceit.  We have people who believe they profit from self-preservation as they betray Jesus by remaining silent in the face of injustices.

We also have apostles thinking they defend Jesus.  We have an entire practice of apologetics attempting to defend Jesus.  We have groups like the Catholic League thinking they defend Jesus.  We have orthodox groups like the Order of Peter, Opus Dei, Legionnaires for Christ, etc… trying to defend Jesus.  But Jesus does not need their protection now any more than he needed Peter’s in the garden.  Like Peter, they unnecessarily rip other people apart, injuring the Body of Christ they believe they protect.

Where are the apostles who serve others with a willingness to perform the lowliest of tasks?  Where are the apostles who bathe wounds, or mop fevered brows and vomit from floors?  Where are the apostles who change dirty diapers, sweep floors, and wash dishes for others?  Where are the apostles who cook for and feed the hungry?  It seems currently many diocesan clergy believe their willingness to offer sacramental care at appointed times of their choosing fulfills Jesus’ instruction to humbly serve.  It seems a larger quantity of priests in religious orders passionately follow this instruction than do diocesan priests.

Let us not lay all burdens for humble service upon the apostles’ shoulders.  Jesus actually charged his disciples not just apostles with this instruction for humble service.  On the cross in his dying moments he reminded his mom and the disciple whom he loved to take care of each other.  Therefore, how are we humbly performing the duties of the lowliest of servants as we care for each other?

As importantly, where are the apostles who follow Jesus’ example gently healing those who attack them?  Can we follow this example?  Where is the radical forgiveness of others as we heal, abide with and forgive people even before they commit sins we know they likely will commit?  


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Who attended the Last Supper?

Asserting that only twelve male apostles attended the Last Supper when Jesus instituted Holy Orders, church leaders only permit men to be ordained.  However, although Jesus also instituted the sacrament of Eucharist at the Last Supper, church leaders do not restrict Eucharist to only men nor only apostles.  Why the inconsistency? 

Regardless, since church leaders believe Last Supper attendees’ gender justifies excluding people from a sacrament, it is important to understand who actually attended.

Mark’s gospel indicates Jesus asked two disciples to prepare the Passover meal and then Jesus “came with the Twelve” (Mark 14:13-17).  According to Mark’s gospel, at least fifteen people attended the Last Supper: Jesus, two disciples and “the Twelve”.  Since Jesus had male and female disciples, and since meal preparation was a traditionally female role, the two disciples attending the Last Supper easily could have been women.  

Matthew’s gospel indicates disciples prepared the Last Supper (MT 26:17-19). It does indicate “the Twelve” attended but it does not indicate only “the Twelve” attended.  In the Eucharist institution narrative, Jesus takes the bread and cup, blesses them and distributes them to the disciples.  During the Holy Order’s institution narrative, Jesus also tells disciples to, “Do this in memory of me”.  Since Matthew’s gospel specifies disciples, it also offers the possibility for female attendees.

Luke’s gospel mentions apostles attending, but it does not mention the number twelve nor indicate that only apostles attended.  John’s gospel indicates disciples attended (John 13:5).  Therefore, both accounts permit the possibility for female attendees also.

About eight years before Mark wrote the earliest gospel, Paul first wrote a scriptural Last Supper account in 1 Cor 11. Pope John Paul II cited 1 Cor 11:24 in Mulieris Dignitatem, using this passage to justify excluding women from the priesthood.  However, Paul does not mention who attended the Last Supper at all, much less their gender.

Paul and the four gospel authors had closer connections to the Last Supper than today’s church leaders, yet they inconsistently described its attendees.  Why do current church leaders insert attendee gender assumptions with such certitude as to use them to exclude? 

Paul didn’t mention Last Supper attendees’ gender, number, or disciple/apostle distinctions.  Rather, his testimony emphasized Jesus.  How he was betrayed by selfish disharmony amongst his followers.  How he selflessly gave of himself and advised us to imitate his sacrifice in remembrance of him (1 Cor 11:23-26).

Paul compared the Last Supper to the Corinthians’ behavior at Eucharistic meals.  Much like Judas’ selfish betrayal, the Corinthians selfishly betrayed Christ by neglecting the needs of others and using the Eucharistic gathering as an excuse for gluttony, posturing and self-aggrandizement.  They came together as a single Body of Christ only as a façade because they divided into judging factions, “In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you…” (1 Cor 11:17-18)

Perhaps Paul de-emphasized Last Supper attendees for the same reason he admonished the church of Corinth.  It is not about “you”.  Jesus selflessly gave of himself and you must do likewise for each other. 

Should we more profoundly consider that which Paul emphasized from the Last Supper rather than inserting attendee gender assumptions that divide the community?  Does fixation upon the Eucharistic celebrant’s gender commit a similar error to that of the Corinthians’ misguided priorities?

Do we posture, choosing where to sit based upon who is in our clique?  Do we first insure that everyone’s needs in the community are met before we dare celebrate the Eucharist?  Do we judge the worthiness of others rather than examine our own worthiness? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

"And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” MT 15:3

Last week I was in Prague, Czech Republic.  During my visit, I learned about the underground Catholic Church that operated there during the communist era.   The underground church helped the Catholic faith and church survive while the country lived under the Iron Curtain’s rule.   

The situation was very dangerous for Catholics then, especially for clergy.  Ordination in the official Catholic Church required Communist Party approval.  Consequently, informant priests working for the Communist Party regularly betrayed fellow priests, nuns and laity.  Priests promoting Christian ideals conflicting with the totalitarian government’s interests experienced imprisonment, torture or death.  Other Catholics openly living their faith experienced similar persecutions.

Felix Davidek, legitimately was ordained bishop in the underground church in 1968 with the Vatican’s full knowledge.  In 1992, the Vatican validated his ordination as bishop. 

Knowing Catholic priests were easily identified and targeted by their celibate life status, Bishop Davidek ordained married men as priests beginning in 1968.  This helped ensure the people received sacramental care.  Knowing imprisoned women were denied all sacramental care because males including priests were not allowed in female prisons, he called a synod in 1970 to discuss possible female ordinations.  Following the synod’s split decision, he ordained six women to care for the many imprisoned Catholic women including hundreds of nuns.  Focusing on the people’s needs rather than church tradition, the church survived that stark period by ordaining women and married men.

For over twenty years between 1968 and 1989, married men risked their lives answering the call to be ordained. For almost twenty years between 1970 and 1989, women like Ludmilla Javarova did likewise.  One might regard as heroes these brave Catholics who placed the sacramental needs of others above their personal well-being.

However, once the Cold War ended, many Vatican officials including the pope denounced these ordained women and married men.  Rather than hail them as heroes, they nullified their vocations.  They questioned Davidek’s sanity, invoked Canon law nullifying acts by mentally ill bishops, and declared invalid many ordinations he performed.  Their concern was not caring for the people but preserving church laws and traditions excluding women and married men from ordination. 

Church leaders are considered ecclesial fathers and these parents invalidated those who fed their children for decades.  Would they rather have seen their children starve than change their laws and traditions?

Before I became a parent, I read many books on parenting and thought their advice worthy of implementing with my children.  After I actually had children, I found some of that advice very impractical or outright contrary to caring for my family.  No textbook or law book substituted for knowing my children.  That is because parenting is an effort of the heart, not of the head. 

Do church fathers stand with their textbooks and Canon law books, or their hearts in hand as they retain their “only celibate males” ordination tradition?  As parishes close from priest shortages, are these parents again opting to starve their children to death rather than relinquish their man-made traditions?  Does Jesus’ query of religious leaders in MT 15:3 apply now?  "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”