Friday, August 26, 2011

We belong together...

I write this on a plane flying from Madrid to Chicago, returning from a business trip.  Many Catholics returning from World Youth Day (WYD) are also on this flight.  I’m sitting behind kids from the Sioux City, Iowa diocese in the United States.  Some of them are wearing t-shirts that advertise their diocese and commemorate their WYD trip.  Their shirt backs sport a quote from St. Paul about building the faith.  The following words appear below that quote: “creed”, “prayer”, “sacraments and liturgy”, and “moral life”, suggesting that these are foundational elements to building the Roman Catholic faith. 

I had started to write wondering why they chose those words to represent the Catholic faith versus words like “service”, “care”, “forgiveness”, “hope”, or “love” - things that I find more foundational to the faith than the ones they chose.  I pondered who had a more correct understanding of Catholic faith or whether our different approaches mattered. 

Thoughts led to thoughts and I became fixated upon increasing divisions in the church, particularly between conservative, orthodox and progressive camps.  Each side tends to stand in judgment of the other based upon a belief that they have a superior grasp of truth.  Instead of building the Body of Christ, the Body is tearing itself apart based upon ideology.  Thus, “division caused by those who believe they build” was becoming my theme for this article.

However, I am listening to my iPod in random shuffle mode while I write and the Pat Benatar song, “We Belong”, just played.  I had understood that song to be about two individuals suffering interpersonal brokenness and a plea to retain a covenant-like commitment simply because they belong together.  That might even be the artist’s intended meaning; I don’t know.  But the intersection of hearing the words while I wrote about church division prompted a new interpretation that, in turn, altered my theme.  If you’re not familiar with the song, the lyrics are at the bottom of this article.

Opposing sides of church divisions think they express their concerns; “Many times they try to tell” the other side what’s wrong.  Each side professes to weep over the brokenness and blame the other side for their hurt and pain; they believe they more accurately understand God.  Some believe the pain would vanish if only those who disagree with them would either agree with them or leave. 

Many people do leave the church due to pain.  Others teeter on the brink.  They feel enough pain that they contemplate leaving but they remain because they think they’ve “invested too much” to abandon it.  Many remain in the church simply because being Catholic has “become a habit”, a recurrent unconscious pattern, repeating ritualistic practices detached from their conscious thoughts or actions.

Accusations fly as to who is worthy to bear the moniker “Catholic”, based upon various “doubts that complicate” people’s minds.  Some doubt infallibility doctrine, some doubt Jesus gave a damn about priests’ gender, some doubt Jesus would label any of God’s creation as intrinsically evil.  Others doubt Jesus really meant we should not judge, have detachment from worldly goods, care for the poor, ill, vulnerable and stranger in our midst, tell the truth, or passionately and unrelentingly forgive each other.  Some doubt clergy should be given special privileges and almost unbridled power.  Some doubt those who doubt have a right to doubt.

People build arguments to “prove” their version of “truth” is God’s version of truth.  But, do they “distort the facts”, sacrificing truth for being correct so as to resist growth and change, and thereby justify remaining in their comfort zones? 

Comfort zones seem appealing so people surround themselves with other like-minded individuals.  They can then delude themselves into thinking they promote unified harmony.  But harmony does not arise from singing in unison.  Harmony comes from taking different tones and assembling them together.  Harmony and unity require stepping out of the insulated comfort zone of a monotone society and embracing those singing different tunes.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy, I recall times when people temporarily overcame division because everyone was ripped from their comfort zones.   With everyone forced to abandon comfort zones people seemed more capable to remember that at the heart of everything, “we can’t begin to know it; how much we really care” for and about each other. And for a short while, there was unity.

Whether we stay or leave the church, and though we might profess to shake the dust of the opposition from our feet, we are haunted by their faces and voices. That is because, as One Body, we do “belong together”, “for worse or for better”, “whatever we deny or embrace”, be that “creed”, “prayer”, “sacraments and liturgy”, and “moral life”, or “service”, “care”, “forgiveness”, “hope” and “love”.  Because we belong together, we cannot shake their dust from our feet.  Their dust is our dust.  Our feet are their feet. 

“Belonging together” is a key gospel message and a key way to build the faith.  Why then is unity so scarce?  Why is uniformity preferred over unity?  Why must it take massive destabilizing tragedies to realize unity is actually not that hard to achieve?  Is it any wonder people flee organized religions when they see such poor examples for togetherness practiced by those in organized religions?  No wonder Jesus preferred the company of outcasts to that of the religious leaders and pillars. 

“We Belong” – Pat Benatar
Verse One:
Many times I’ve tried to tell you
Many times I cried alone
Always I’m surprised how well you cut my feelings to the bone.
Don’t want to leave you really
I’ve invested too much time
To give you up that easy
To the doubts that complicate your mind

We belong to the light
We belong to the thunder
We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace
For worse or for better
We belong, we belong
We belong together

Verse Two:
Maybe it’s a sign of weakness
When I don’t know what to say
Maybe I just wouldn’t know
What to do with my strength anyway
Have we become a habit
Do we distort the facts
Now there’s no looking forward
Now there’s no turning back
When you say


Verse Three:
Close your eyes and try to sleep now
Close your eyes and try to dream
Clear your mind and do your best
To try to wash the palette clean
We can’t begin to know it
How much we really care
I hear your voice inside me
I see your face everywhere
Still you say:


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Codependency and the church...

Codependency interweaves with abuse.  It is a form of addiction revolving around approval, usually from another addict, rather than around a substance or behavior.  Some codependents enable addicts.  Some codependents have other addictions as well.

Addictive and codependent behaviors conflict with and undermine gospel principles.  Yet according to Philip St. Romain, church leadership has a much higher than average number of addicts and codependents in ministry (Freedom from Codependency, 1991 Liguori Publications).   Therefore it’s important to understand codependency and its impact in the church.

First, what is it?  Codependency is a set of behaviors learned by people in abusive situations as a survival mechanism to deal with the instability and insanity of living with an addict.  Because children in addictive households universalize their early family experiences as “normal”, they are particularly vulnerable for becoming codependents.  They desperately seek the approval of their parents who cannot offer healthy love because their first love is to the addiction source.  “Love” is offered or refused as a controlling mechanism.  However the child does not know they are being manipulated or that this is unhealthy because this is their first and possibly only model of “love” in their formative years.

Children of addicts learn many codependent behaviors seeking parental approval and keeping familial peace.  They think they are responsible for things beyond their control.  As a result they learn to live in a constant “crisis mode” while caring for their addictive and/or codependent parents.  They are dependent upon their parents despite inability to provide a healthy nurturing environment so they are very threatened by external criticisms of their parents. 

Codependents learn to lie, compensate and cover for the person whose approval they seek rather than hold them accountable.  Loyalty is the highest virtue.

Codependents are hypersensitive.  They interpret many things as “rejection”.  They are defensive about discussing issues.  They try to deny or minimize problems rather than deal with them.  They attack people who try to discuss them.  They blame others for their failures or unhappiness.

They tend to develop alternate realities formed from delusional beliefs.  They are selfless to the point of losing themselves.  They often view themselves as victims or martyrs since these boost their self-esteem.  They like to hear things like, “I don’t know how you deal with so-and-so; you must be a saint.”

Codependents operate with numerous covert rules. Expectations are communicated indirectly if at all yet penalties for violating the rules are strictly enforced and usually severe.  Some of these rules include:
  • No discussing problems - say “nice” things
  • No discussing certain topics – there are many secrets
  • No expression of feelings  - feelings should be “private”
  • Use indirect communication such as a go-between to deliver messages or gather information
  • Be “strong”, “correct”, “good” and “perfect” (with nebulous shifting definitions of what each of those mean)
  • Don’t embarrass me – and just about everything embarrasses me
  • Be giving and anything that doesn’t give in to me is “selfish”
  • Do as I say and not as I do
  • Don’t be playful – life is serious
  • Don’t rock the boat but just be obedient
Above all, the codependent wants to project an image of perfection and harmony to the outside world.

What is the impact of prevalent codependency in church leadership?  Let’s start with the last statement first.  The human condition includes imperfection; this is expressed in church doctrine.  The church is human; it is the people of God.  This is also church doctrine.  Yet, codependent church leaders want to project an image of church perfection.  Doesn’t this violate the commandment about bearing false witness?  The church falsely presents itself as perfect in places where it is imperfect.  Institutional imperfections caused by human imperfections within the church cannot be fixed because codependent leaders refuse to acknowledge and address what is broken.

St. Romain also explains that the demands of priesthood share many parallels with codependent behaviors.  Thus, the priesthood attracts codependents accounting for their high percentage in church leadership.  Furthermore, he explains that emotionally healthy ordained and lay ministers struggle to avoid adopting codependent behaviors because they constantly interact with codependent colleagues and leaders.  Many succumb and unconsciously begin adopting codependent behaviors.  This trickles out to the laity and the same occurs there, especially as the laity value approval of clergy or confuse clergy approval with God’s approval.  Thus, codependency has become characteristic of church leadership and culture.

Here’s a simple seemingly innocuous example of ecclesial codependency: Father is habitually late for Mass but people look the other way because he doesn’t take criticism well.  Yet Father chastises others for shortcomings in their liturgical ministries.   This sends many unhealthy messages: “Do as I say and not as I do”, “You are not good or perfect enough”, “Don’t embarrass me”, “Don’t say things about me that aren’t nice but I can say things about you that aren’t nice”, etc…  If parishioners escalate to the bishop, a codependent bishop defends the priest because admitting the priest has human flaws shatters an illusion of perfection.

As we look at more serious issues such as pedophile priests, we start to understand why the bishops fail to address these situations properly.  It’s more important to lie and cover-up for the abusive priest than to deal with truth.  This is an “unpleasant thing” so don’t talk about it, hence the Vatican’s directives for handling pedophile issues with a code of secrecy.  Above all, the bishop wants to project an image of perfection and harmony.  As people force bishops to be accountable for handling pedophiles, they become angry because their alternate reality is threatened.  They begrudgingly comply but as minimally as possible.  They invest more effort in creating an illusion of fixing the problem than in actually fixing the problem. 

Both situations are manifestations of the same issue: power abuse stemming from codependency in church leadership impacting the general church population.  In both cases, those trying to foster healthy operating environments and healthy relationships are seen as threats.  Codependents attack those fostering healthy emotional and interpersonal practices instead of the abusers.  They push promoters of healthy interactions to the margins or try to bully them out of the group, protecting the abuser instead of the abused.

Examining the impact of codependent leaders on the micro and macro church is probably ample fodder for a doctoral dissertation rather than a blog entry.  But, I will leave you with a few questions.  What codependent practices have we consciously or unconsciously adopted as survival mechanisms in the church?  Is it more important to prophetically speak God’s truth or retain approval from church leaders?  Do I confuse God’s approval with church leaders’ approval?  Do I compromise my values to enable codependent clergy or lay ministers?  What might I do differently to better live gospel truths and love, rejecting codependency in the church?

Thanks to my cyber-friend, George for inspiration to write on this topic.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is the best posture for receiving communion?

A local priest criticized the Second Vatican Council during a recent Sunday homily.  He disparaged Vatican II because he felt it ushered in the “new” without properly respecting the “old”.  His was one of the more publicly expressed dissents against these church teachings but it reflects a church leadership trend of steadily departing from Vatican II teachings. 

Another church leader dissenting from Vatican II-based norms is Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship.  He expressed his personal opinion that Catholics should resume the pre-Vatican II practice exclusively receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling rather than in hand while standing.  This was a personal not an official statement so it does not change reception norms.  However, it is confusing for the worldwide liturgy leader to say this. 

These types of dissent represent alarming ignorance and disregard for church teachings, not only those emanating from Vatican II but also those on the dogmatic precedence conciliar efforts have over individual utterances and pronouncements, including those of popes.  Due to affirmation of the Spirit’s guidance across a large body of individuals rather than just a single individual, the church teaches councils’ doctrinal efforts carry more weight than individual pronouncements.  Thus, the Second Vatican Council’s teachings should be considered extremely binding, not things to dismiss casually based on personal preference or disagreement. 

Like it or not, Vatican II resulted in sixteen documents that present binding (albeit not infallible) church teachings: four constitutions, three declarations and nine decrees.  They do not include Humanae Vitae, Pastores Dabo Vobis, Mulieris Dignatatem or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, lesser binding (and also not infallible) teachings issued via papal encyclicals from Paul VI and John Paul II.  They do not include Inter Insigniores which is a lesser binding (and not infallible) teaching issued via declaration made by a Vatican office rather than a council.  For those unfamiliar with those latter documents, they contain teachings on birth control, priest gender requirements and the role of women - topics from which many church leaders permit no dissent.  Why do current leaders tolerate no dissent for lesser binding teachings while dissenting from more binding conciliar teachings?   

Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council was not about ushering in the new and discarding the old.  It was about reclaiming the old, looking back to original Christian traditions and appropriately adapting them for the Church in the Modern World.  During its multi-millennial history, the church took many small, seemingly valid tangential deviations that cumulatively set the church off course.  Vatican II corrected course, returning to that which Jesus originally entrusted to his followers.    

The statement about communion reception is particularly puzzling for a few reasons.  First, Cardinal Llovera feels that kneeling is THE appropriate way to respect and adore Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.  Going back in time, standing was a sign of respect; kneeling symbolized subservience.  Regardless, is there really a universal way for someone to show respect?  How can someone think to impose a universal “ultimate” when respect is conveyed in diverse ways depending upon individuals and cultures?    

Second, the Eucharist re-actualizes the Last Supper.  The church teaches that priests represent the person of Jesus in this effort.  At the Last Supper, the disciples reclined at table with Jesus; they didn’t kneel.  Scripture suggests Jesus was the only person who knelt at the Last Supper, as he made himself a servant to wash the disciples’ feet.  He told them to do likewise.  He even chastised Peter, who felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ radical act of humility.  Yet Jesus told Peter accepting this seemingly inverted humility was essential for inheritance in God’s kingdom. 

If we imitate Jesus, shouldn’t priests, acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during the Mass, kneel during communion – not before the host but as they serve the people approaching them for reception?  At the Last Supper Jesus didn’t say, “Get down on your knees and adore me or you cannot share in my inheritance.”  He blessed and broke bread, sharing with friends.  Therefore, at a minimum, shouldn’t people approach the Eucharist in communal friendship rather than servile adoration? 

This brings up another point of confusion.  Jesus told the disciples and apostles “Follow me.”  He didn’t say “Adore me.”   It seems many people expend great efforts trying to perfectly “adore” Jesus and fall far short following him.  Adoration is significantly easier than emulation.  

Yet scripture indicates our judgment will not be based upon how much we adored Jesus, or passing an exam on the church’s dogmatic teachings, but rather how well we followed Jesus.  When I was hungry, did you feed me?  When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink?  When I was naked, did you clothe me? When in prison, did you visit me?  When a stranger in a strange land, did you welcome me?  Did you radically forgive and radically include?  If I follow Christ, shouldn’t I kneel before the poor I serve at the food pantry more readily than kneeling before the host?