Friday, September 3, 2010

An Invitation for Input

Dearest Friends,
As a pastor, one of the truly difficult tasks is discerning when a reply in the public forum is necessary, helpful, or prudent. If it is something that can be addressed in my own bulletin or in homilies then that is what I prefer. However, there are times when your target audience is not in your parish or within the reach of the community "grapevine". I have been known to respond in the public forum when the attack is against my own parish such as happened this past spring with regards to the alienation of property and fixtures from a church building that is no longer in use. But this one is a real clinker for me. Thus, the invitation.

There is a woman in Winona, MN, who claims to be a Catholic Priest. She is part of the "Roman Catholic Womanpriest" movement. Normally I'd figure, she's in the Winona Diocese, let them deal with it. The problem is, she regularly writes letters to the editor or is afforded "guest editorial" space in order to publicize her heretical views and many of my parishioners take that particular paper and are thus confronted with this. It is also the case that she is a "chaplain" at one of the local healthcare institutions.

So, my question is this: What would you want your pastor to do? Would it be best to rebutt her in the same forum in which she has put forward her views so that there is no confusion on the part of the faithful and others as to where their pastor(s) and the Church stand? Does this give her too much standing? (Maybe that's why the Winona Diocese has said nothing since the notification of her "ex communication" was explained some time ago.) Maybe it's best to simply deal with this in my own bulletin. But then, what about the salvation of this woman's soul? (Of course, the best of all worlds would be that the laity could/would rebutt her when in the public square.) It's a real conundrum. It would be wonderful to receive your input/insights. Thanks! and, Blessings + to you all!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"No one who prays is ever alone"

I just had to share this piece from Archbishop Dolan's blog. It is SO wonderful! Now, how to get others to see, realize, and practice it. Hmm...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

And they're off!

A little something for everyone as the rush of the school bears down upon us. Enjoy!

Blessed are the meek and humble...

In this week’s readings from Wisdom and from the Gospel we are clearly called to the virtue of humility. Personally, I’ve struggled with how to identify with this virtue, even to understand the nature of this virtue, not least because of the message that the world consistently presents to us. I remember everyone from parents to coaches to teachers to Marine Corps drill instructors urging me to show some pride! PRIDE! Isn’t that one of the seven deadly sins? I even had the experience of a brother priest telling me that if I wanted to be noticed, if I wanted to achieve the things that are near to my heart, I would have to promote myself – get myself out there! That seems so wrong to me.

As Christians, we are called – very clearly today – to be humble, meek. We are also called, elsewhere in the scriptures to have courage, to be confident. Very often our difficulty is in recognizing where that calls us to be. Again, this confusion is fed, in no small part, by the messages the world gives us with regards to these words, even by our natural human tendencies.

Pride is offered by parents, coaches and teachers (even drill-instructors) as a positive thing. It is that by which we can go out with confidence and achieve great things. Unfortunately, when it is not touched by humility, it can tip over into arrogance, triumphalism, even militance.

Humility also suffers from historical caricature. So often we are given a picture of humility or meekness as walking around with our heads lowered, meek to the point of mousiness. It is a picture of one who gets run-over, one who is a doormat.

I’ve struggled over where courage/confidence and humility/meekness meet. This is an important struggle because we are called to both. What is the virtue where these meet? What is the word?

It occurs to me that the answer is found in the baptismal rite. In the baptismal rite, after the washing with water and the anointing with chrism there is the presentation of the baptismal garment. Along with the white garment comes this injunction: “See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity…bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.

Dignity! That’s the virtue whereby we have confidence and act with courage, meekness, and humility all at once. But, having the right word is not enough. How do I find that dignity in my heart? Who will show me? Who will be my role-model?

When I began to think this over my mind almost immediately turned to Venerable Pierre Toussaint. Unfortunately, Venerable Pierre is not very well known to us. But, he is an utterly fantastic role-model for all people, especially with regards to seeing very clearly that intersection between confidence/courage and humility/meekness.

Venerable Pierre was born into slavery in Haiti in 1766. His master, a French plantation owner, taught him to read and write. Following the French Revolution there began to be more frequent slave uprisings in Haiti and so Pierre’s master moved his family and some of their household slaves to New York City. Once there, Pierre’s master apprenticed him to a hairdresser. He became very adept at dressing hair in the European fashions popular with the elite of New York society. He came to be much in demand and he was able to take on many clients and was able to make a great deal of money. He was popular with New York’s society women because not only was he an excellent hairdresser, but he was an excellent listener and gave them spiritual advice drawing on his experience of attending Mass at 6:00 am each morning at old St. Peter’s and reading the works of such masters as St. Alphonse Liguori. He was well known for his respect for the confidentiality of his patrons. He was well-known for saying, “Toussaint is a hairdresser, not a newspaper”.

He used the wealth he accrued to buy the freedom of many slaves in New York, including the woman who was to be his wife. He also started an orphanage and donated to schools, hospitals and other charitable works. He didn’t just donate money. When a great epidemic hit New York he went out and personally cared for those who were stricken. He also donated for the construction of the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Ironically, he never bought his own freedom. In fact, when his master lost everything in the slave uprisings in Haiti, it was Pierre who supported his mistress for the rest of her life. She seems to have never known that it was her slave who was supporting her in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. He cared for her until the day of her death when, at the age of 41, he finally was granted his freedom.

This man of dignity and grace continued to make a living dressing hair and continued to use his wealth to free other slaves and to support, and gain support through his many patrons, for so many charitable works in New York. A friend once suggested that he was wealthy enough to retire to a very comfortable life. He agreed that he could live comfortably on what he had, but if he quit working he wouldn’t have the resources to assist so many of those who were in need.

This man of grace would not even bow to self-righteous rage when he was denied entrance one day to the very church that his money had done so much to build. Imagine! He remained faithful to the end in a way that completely befuddles the spirit of this world.

Because of this his funeral was quite the affair. This man who had no family was sent off by a church filled with admirers – Catholic, protestant, black, and white. They knew that they were commending to almighty God a saint who had walked in their midst.

Today, Venerable Pierre Toussaint lies at rest with the Cardinals and Archbishops of New York beneath the altar of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

At the intersection of confidence and humility, there is God – and Venerable Pierre Toussaint. Through the example and prayers of this great Catholic-American, and the grace of God, may we too be found there, not only in the life to come, but even yet in this life.