Sunday, November 26, 2017

Whatsoever you do to the least of these...

My Sunday began by reading a bizarre Facebook rant posted on the page of a “sister Sue, I’m better than you” type of uber-pious Catholic.  The post ranted against the song, “(Feed theWorld) Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a 1984 charity effort to help relieve famine induced starvation in Ethiopia that year.

I have my own concerns about some of the song’s dreary, condescending lyrics but in general support the idea of using one’s gifts to help feed starving people.  However, the rant’s author felt giving to the poor and hungry is “socialism” and “not about Jesus in the least little bit,” and ended the rant by extolling US “values and freedoms” as the salvation of the world…the adoption of which would enable poor countries to, “save themselves” and thus, “wouldn’t need us to save them…”  Keep in mind, this rant was written by a self-proclaimed “good Christian” and posted on the page of another self-proclaimed “good Christian” someone who is quick to offer fraternal correction to anyone whose opinions, words or actions deviate from her view of morality.   I dare say the rant’s “let them eat cake” tone rivalled that of Marie Antoinette.

I found myself puzzling over the historical, political, and economic ignorance about Africa, Ethiopia and even the song itself conveyed in the rant.  I guess this person believes Ethiopia should have just held elections and voted for rain.  Oh, wait, they did move to a democratic government in 1991 yet still have an average annual per capita income of about $600 USD/year.  Anyway, those concerns were dwarfed by realizing blatant selfishness and nationalism currently pass for Christianity with some folks...too many folks.

Ironically, MT 25:41-45 was part of today’s gospel reading at Mass.  Please allow me to quote what I’m sure the aforementioned folks must consider to be socialist drivel from that gospel passage:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed…. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

The homily I heard immediately following the reading of that gospel passage helped snap some puzzle pieces into place. Did the homily discuss the gospel reading?  Nah!  The gospel passage played second fiddle to promoting a diocesan evangelization campaign. 

At this point you might still be puzzled because to you, caring for the starving might tie in very nicely with evangelizing…walking the talk.  Allow me to share a bit about the diocesan campaign.  The campaign assumes that the people sitting in the pews are the “found” sheep in the flock and those not sitting in the pews are “lost.”  Perhaps the pews have special varnish that seeps virtue into one’s body by just sitting there because the object of the evangelization game is to get more buns in the pews.  The formula for doing so is to form your evangelization plan based upon answering the following questions contained in a handy brochure:

First you “Grow” in your own faith:
1. PRAY: When in your day will you commit to pray?
2. STUDY: What can you study, read and attend to learn about your faith this week?
3. ENGAGE: How can you become more involved in your parish?
4. SERVE: What can you volunteer to do this month to help those in need?

And then “Go” and evangelize those people who are obviously inferior to you because their bun is not in the pew every Sunday:
1. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone in your life who is no longer coming to church. Write his/her name:
2. How will you pray for him/her?
3. How can you share your faith with him/her?
4. What could you invite him/her to?
5. How could you accompany him/her?

I continue to assert that some of the best followers of Jesus are people who did not “fall away” from the Catholic Church.  They fled at top speed as if exiting a burning building.  I also think some of the most lost souls I have met are bishops and priests as well as uber-pious laypeople.  Therefore, I do not limit my evangelization to people who do not attend Mass.  Rather, I think some of the people most in need of re-introduction to the gospel messages sit their happy asses in the pews on a pretty regular basis…sort of like this person braying like a donkey that feeding starving people is totally unrelated to Jesus.  Maybe she or the bishop will be my evangelization targets.

I also notice that in this magical evangelization formula, daily you are to pray.  Weekly you are to put your bun in the pew.  But just monthly do you need to worry about anyone needing assistance. 

For many hierarchy members, once per month would be an improvement over their current efforts to feed the poor.   Recall my former pastor is giving a new meaning to “orange is the new black…” having traded in his black clerics for an orange prison jumpsuit, serving a lengthy sentence for embezzling huge sums of parish money for his personal use…and we have another priest waiting in the wings for embezzlement trial for $5M USD.  But, I digress... In general, I raised my kids to help others on a daily if not perpetual basis...sort of always keep that radar up observing the situations of others so as to offer assistance in a sensitive way that preserves dignity…on the recipients’ schedules not on yours.

The formula also speaks of spiritual formation studies.  It has been my experience that it does not require a lot of prayer or studying theology to give someone a sandwich when they are hungry.  For example, I have provided financial assistance anonymously even to some of my worst critics when they have fallen upon hard financial times.  But, I do understand it might require extensive theological gymnastics to contort the gospel into a self-serving interpretation that justifies you not feeding the hungry.  If you intend to walk side by side with people in your respective spiritual journeys, judging not, lest ye be judged, it does not require a lot of theology study.  But, if you wish to assume a moral high ground...possibly whilst denying food to the hungry, that indeed requires extensive studying.   

It is clear the clergy, who need an audience to remain employed, promote a bias of spiritual superiority to those who merely sit in the pews even if exhibiting only little regard for people’s needs.  The clergy play to their audience.  It's easier to keep the uber-pious coming if they remain largely unchallenged and feel as though they wear a gold star of moral superiority upon their foreheads. It is my observation, that this is a case of clergy molding the laity into the same do-nothing-but-feel-superior-about-it crowd as themselves.

Thus, we logically arrive at a subset of people who claim superior mastery of Christianity over others yet overtly reject the gospel by not only turning their backs on starving people, but doing so with a flourish of self-righteous scorn, blaming the starving for their state of starvation.  I guess in their version of the gospel, it reads, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, you are right.  Do not buy into socialist propaganda and feed hungry people for they were hungry but they deserved a lecture on socio-political economics instead…”

I invite you to select your favorite lost-sheep clergy members and evangelize them.  But, don’t worry.  You needn’t insult them by giving them money lest they feel they are the recipient of socialist ill-gotten gains…receiving money from those who have more and giving it to priests who don’t have as much.  Just offer to help them once per month; maybe take them to an interesting lecture on dealing with abusive personalities or something

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Free air: 5 Cents"

Serious family matters have interfered with me writing blog articles lately.  However, many fascinating things in our Church have captured my attention during this lapse and have been rattling around in my brain.  I’ve tried forming them into a single cohesive article but I think a series of vignettes might work better.  Here are a few recent ones from my hometown, diocese and state:

1. My former pastor recently pleaded guilty to embezzling large sums from the parish’s accounts earmarked for helping the poor pay for education, food, housing, and utilities.  He’s been sentenced to several years in prison but is still a priest because stealing money donated to help the poor does not merit defrocking.  To be defrocked, it requires doing something really reprehensible like advocating for women’s ordination or reproductive health.    

I feel rather sorry for the guy.  I think he simply blurred the lines between schmoozing encouraged by the hierarchy, such as for acquiring golden chalices, and schmoozing that displeases the hierarchy…when caught, such as funding the trappings of personal pleasure.  Due to weakly written and even more weakly enforced Canon Laws, pastors can get away with blurring these lines for decades.  Kudos to the current pastor for his whistleblowing.  However, he is frustrated because people’s lingering mistrust has impacted weekly donations.  People don’t trust the system; it’s probably not personal.

2.  Four of our diocese’s Catholic high school football players were not permitted to start in last Friday’s football match.  Their crime?  Stealing from the poor?  Nah…  Before the game, they respectfully kneeled during the playing of the U.S. national anthem as a poised social justice act denouncing the (sometimes deadly) biased treatment young men of color frequently receive from law enforcement officials. 

It was very windy this past weekend so all I can figure is the wind tore apart diocesan officials’ Catholic theology books, blowing away all the pages covering Catholic Social Justice teachings which would justify these young men’s actions.  I did not attend the game but I envision clergy and school officials scurrying about to collect, reassemble and study these pages during the game because, miraculously, in time to snatch a come-from-behind win, the players, including the star quarterback, were admitted to play in the game.  Catholic Social Justice won in the end.  But, praise Jesus, the 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not lose sporting matches,” remained intact too.  Kudos to the young men who schooled their school and diocesan officials in Catholic Social Justice.

3.  My dad often tells the story of a service station in his youth that advertised this ironic slogan, “free air: 5 cents”…the air itself was no-charge but using the air pump to direct it where it was needed cost a person 5 cents.  (For my non-US readers, 5 cents is 5% of one US dollar.)    

I share that story because in the Detroit Archdiocese, we have one of these “free air: 5 cents” situations tied to the beatification Mass for Fr. Solanus Casey.  The Mass will be held at Ford Field in Detroit, the sporting arena for the Detroit Lions professional football team.  Tickets are “free” but you have to pay a $5.00 USD processing fee.  I guess with over 70 years of inflation, free air now costs $5.00 instead of 5 cents.

Solanus Casey was a Capuchin friar who spent many years at St. Bonaventure monastery in Detroit.  He lived a life of minimalism with almost no personal possessions and he gained local fame for interacting with people like my grandfather who brought a few alcoholic colleagues to Fr. Solanus for healing.  Though Solanus’ life was noted for simplicity and poverty, his beatification Mass, it seems, will not.  Tickets have been given for “free” at $5.00 per ticket to 60,000 people already, yielding $300,000 for “free” tickets.  That’s some expensive processing.  I assume further profits will be made in the name of this simple man because concessions will be open for the beatification Mass.  Maybe instead of the typical sporting event concessions combo of a hotdog, popcorn, pretzel and a soda, pious participants attending the beatification Mass can get a hotdog, popcorn, rosary and some holy water to-go.

The Church officially prohibits charging for reception of the sacraments such as attending a Mass.  To do so is called “simony.”  To get around this prohibition and pretend no one is charging for access to the sacramental beatification Mass, the tickets are free, but the processing fee to order and receive the tickets costs $5.00.  Yes, between hawking tickets at $5.00 apiece as well as hawking concessions, the money changers will be in the temple!

I guess if it were a Mass for someone like the embezzling priest, the money changers in the temple wouldn’t seem so garishly vulgar as it does capitalizing on the good name and works of a man who owned one religious robe, one pair of sandals, a shaving mug and a violin.  Forgive them God, though I think they know full well what they do…

Finally, a side note: I will be speaking at Call to Action’s regional conference in Detroit, MI on October 21.  Here’s a link for more details.  I look forward to praying and discussing spiritual journeys with those who attend.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

When the clergy are the 1%

This might strike readers as unusual but sometimes I just don’t know what to say. 

Earlier this month I received an email from the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) inviting me to join its rector on a pilgrimage.  PNAC is the US bishops’ seminary in Rome.  Somehow, I do not think of myself as being on the PNAC’s “A” list for invitations to anything.  Nonetheless, I received the invitation. 

Maybe some readers would like to join the PNAC trip so here’s a link to the flyer advertising the trip. 

Receiving the invitation is not what left me speechless.  It was the pilgrimage’s description and price…$7,699 per person for a 9 night luxury cruise on the Mediterranean.  There is also an option for $12,399 per person for folks with more discerning tastes.  The flyer describes free-flowing champagne, butlers, room service, shoe shine service, spas and marble-clad bathrooms…you know…all the amenities Jesus had.  I am sure there will be reflection exercise on “where would Jesus cruise” and “what kind of marble would inspire Jesus to excrete.”

To put this in perspective, the global annual median salary in 2012 was estimated at about $1,225 USD.  Thus, the modest per person pilgrimage package, in the name of Jesus, is equivalent to about 6 people’s annual income.  About every day and a half on the cruise, each of these fine pious folks will burn through the equivalent of one person’s entire annual income.  The more luxurious package equates to 10 people’s annual income, burning through more than a person’s annual income equivalent per day. 

And I had no words for weeks.

Thankfully my words have returned.

It is one thing to opt to spend money in this way.  It is another thing to think somehow you are closer to Jesus by lavishing the equivalent of people’s annual income on yourself each day for a course of 9 days.  It is yet another thing to do this as a priest, who theologically I am told intrinsically reminds me of Jesus and operates in persona Christi.  But it is beyond the pale to be the rector of a premiere Catholic seminary, responsible for forming priests for an entire nation and undertake this kind of extravagance.  But hey, they will say Mass every day aboard the cruise ship. 

Pope Francis, this is all happening in your backyard.  Can you do something about that?  You are scheduled to meet with the rector a few days before his trip because this “pilgrimage” is all timed around diaconate ordinations of PNAC transitional deacons.  I hope everyone has their Gucci chasubles back from the cleaners for the occasion.

In this same timeframe, two priests in my diocese have been arrested for embezzlement, one from my parents’ former parish and the other from my sister’s former parish.  Here’s a link to information about one and the other.  Both are accused of embezzling several hundred thousand dollars and one seems to have embezzled about $1.85M from parish coffers to pay for his rather grand gated residence.

The bishop and his staff are said to be fully cooperating with police and both priests may well serve prison time.  The bishop has been on television regarding at least one of these priests, explaining he is a sinner who succumbed to temptation.  He asks the good people of each parish to withhold judgement until the criminal justice systems plays out…innocent until proven guilty…though in each case it was the diocese’s audit that surfaced suspicions which prompted the bishop to call the police.  So, the laity are to withhold judgement but evidently the bishop already suspects guilt, or he would not have turned these guys over to police. 

I find it peculiar that the rector of PNAC goes on a cruise for over $850 per day (not including airfare) and we call that a “pilgrimage” and sprinkle all sorts of holy awe around it whilst two other guys from the same brotherhood merely did stuff like take about $844/day and $228/day respectively (if you average $1.85M and $500K over 6 years’ time.) To me it is two sides of the same coin.  The embezzlers are a bit of a bargain compared to the rector.  I guess these guys saw their superiors living marble-clad lives and just went about securing that lifestyle for themselves the wrong way. 

In general, I think the PNAC pilgrimage involves more moral bankruptcy than the two embezzling priests.   With the embezzlement situations, most likely people gave money innocently albeit incorrectly thinking their money would be used for good causes.  In the case of the PNAC cruise, people knowingly are paying for themselves and the rector to live in luxury, deluding themselves that this equates to pious devotion. 

Truly, I believe the best chance of encountering Jesus on the PNAC cruise might be in the experiences of very likely underpaid cruise employees serving as butlers, shoe shines and wine stewards.

In both the PNAC and embezzler situations, it seems a clamoring to live like the 1%.  Though I probably would fail to answer correctly the question, "which marble inspires Jesus to poo," I will go out on a limb and guess that "what would Jesus do" does not involve butler service.  I've been looking for the gospel passages where Jesus said to lavish upon one's self and ignore the poor.  Alas, that only seems to be in the gospel according to Paul Ryan and the Mighty Pious Catholic Republicans.  Have mercy on us!

Might I suggest that they follow Sia's advice and pursue "Cheap Thrills" that "don't need dollar bills to have fun...?"  It avoids scandal and might help eliminate prison time...provided there's not a sexual impropriety issue as well.  Just a suggestion...