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.