Monday, September 19, 2011

Of Bishops and Holy Boldness

The Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket

Most bishops and priests today won't need to suffer a physical martyrdom; rather, the martyrdom they must suffer is a white one.  It starts at the pulpit.

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There is a discussion going on in two posts at Father Z's blog that are topics I think we should talk about in greater depth. I am linking to his posts because of the discussions taking place in his comboxes. You can pick up original links in his posts.

Respected philosopher, Dr. Peter Kreeft, recently stated something to the effect that it would be wonderful if 100 bishops were thrown in jail for marching with graphic images of aborted babies.

Yesterday, Dr. Ed Peters responded, respectfully, with a few interesting thoughts.

My own thoughts can be found in both of those comboxes.   If you want to discuss those topics, do it there where there is a good flow of dialogue already.

On to the main topic of this post....

Holy boldness begins at the pulpit, not on the street

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7)

One commenter in the post on Peters' response suggested it would be good just to hear the bishops talk about abortion from the pulpit. I agree. There are ways to talk about things like abortion in a way that goes right over the heads of small children.

I think bishops and priests need to go back even further.  There seems not to be a problem talking about things like imigration reform (which is not the subject of this post, btw), but when was the last time you heard the word "cohabitation" in a homily, or fornication, or adultery - things that lead to unwanted pregnancies, some of which end in abortion.   Chances are, some people engaged in these things openly are distributing Holy Communion as EMHC's, or serving as catechists.

When was the last time you heard a priest or a bishop preach on sin, or the "four last things".   Incidentally, if you don't know what those are because the walls of your parish church haven't echoed them in nearly 40 years, I direct you to the blogging Msgr. Charles Pope who is unafraid to talk about such things, and he does it in a thought-provoking way, without condescension.   Make this man a bishop!  That's right; I said it!

I'll take it a step beyond the pulpit.  There are too few pastoral letters on subjects like those I mention above.  I pray for the day when I can visit the USCCB website and see a statement on cohabitation right smack on the front page.   I'll bet the New York Times would give it some publicity as they gasp at the audacity of  such "judgmentalism".  If you are wondering how so many young, unmarried Catholics today can be living and sleeping together, seemingly ignorant of the 10 Commandments, I'll tell you how it happens...

Kids are taught the 10 Commandments in the 2nd Grade.  Of course, they really can't be taught all of the Commandments at that age for obvious reasons.  Many do not come back for catechesis until the 8th grade when they want to make their Confirmation.  Does the material revisit the 10 Commandments at this time?  I know it didn't when I went back.  It seems to me we were still reflecting on how much God loved us without any mention as to how we were suppose to love God back, which starts with those Commandments.   Parents,  often ill-catechised themselves, or thinking that their kids are hearing it in catechism, or just plain lazy, or uninspired and running on empty for lack of hearing it from the pulpit, do not cover the 10 Commandments in the home with their older children, and there you have it: A generation of young people who get shocked when they go into the parish office, want to get married and are lucky enough to find a pastor who then tells them that they ought not be living together.  Why is this the first time they hear it?  Many a priest, and many a parent will have to answer for not teaching these things.  God have mercy on them.

In these days of often anemic homilies, our bishops and priests need to do a serious, collective self-examination on why they cannot bring themselves to talk about things like those mentioned above.  We don't need them  thrown in jail for carrying graphic pictures of abortions; we need them to understand what it is that must die within the self  for them to begin preaching about the fullness of the faith, rather than just parts of it. They ought not worry about the handful that are going to walk out of Church on account of pride when they discuss difficult topics.   If someone starts shouting from the pews, stop preaching, stand there humbly and wait for them to leave, which they usually do.  Consider that an entire town told Our Lord to stay away because they didn't want to know the truth.  Don't yield to these types who are sitting in the pews and thus refrain to teach the rest of us the fullness of the faith.    There is way too much concern for the self-esteem of a few and not enough concern for the eternal souls of the many.  In these times, there is no room for such false charity and spineless reserve.

For our part, we need to do a serious, collective examination on how much time we spend on our knees praying for the sanctification of bishops and priests, and for them to get the holy boldness they need.   Perhaps we in the pew, through lack of prayer for them, have earned the banalities we have been lamenting for so long.  We would do well to start spending no less than one hour per week in a holy hour for this purpose, most especially on Thursday evenings - meditating on Our Lord's passion, asking for vocations, and praying for the sanctification of the priesthood.  Don't let the lack of an adoration chapel in your area stop you; just shut the TV off, get off the internet, and do it in the home if it is all that is available.

For those who live locally, Assumption Grotto has a holy hour every Thursday following the 7:00 pm Mass for the sanctification of the priesthood.  There is secured parking. 

EDIT SEPT 21:  Quick, go read a column by a bishop who just mentioned cohabitation (and a few other things).  Bravo! Bravo, Bishop!

EDIT SEPT 20: I have been getting some positive responses in email from priests and deacons.  There are some additional points I would like to offer with regards to "how" sensitive subjects should be approached in homilies (and how they should not be discussed).  I can't speak from experience on the preaching end because I'm not a priest; rather, I have experience on the receiving end which might yield some fruit if I "think out loud" about it.  I hope to do this within a few days or a week, at most.  Stay tuned. 

A few words were added for clarification on a couple of points I was making, as well.

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Deacon Volker said...

BULLY! Great article and it's message needs to be heard over and over and over again by all of us in the pulpit!

I'm probably going to borrow your line about caring for their salvation more than their self-esteem. Fair warning.

Anonymous said...

excellent...the people in the pews are being denied any challenge, direction, leadership!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the suggestion of moving away from unchallenging homilies. In my life, it seems that on-going catachesis of adults was non-existent, unless one was fully aware of catachetecal resources--long before the internet. While today these sources are available, nothing in basic Catholic life directs any such inquiry. In today's non-bold world, I would like to see bishops direct parish priests to split their apportioned eight minutes to four minutes of homily and four minutes of instruction. That could provide at least 200 minutes of on-going catechesis to at least many nominal Catholics. We all could use more.

Anonymous said...

Where are you "churched" THAT YOU HAVE A PASTOR GIVING AN 8 MINUTE
HOMILY? Our pastor speaks for 20 to 25 minutes.Much of that time is spent on personal stories that have little or no relevance to the gospel. The other part is usuallly a story read from a recent catholic magazine or newspaper. He's never bothered to appraoch the 4 Last Things in 5 years of homilizing.

Bethanie Ryan said...

Amen! I'm tired of the "cautious" homilies where the priest is so wishy-washy about the topic, I go home not knowing what to think about it. There are so many topics out there, like the ones you've listed, that they can make strong statements about. The gospel is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Priests need to not be afraid to get their hands dirty.

Bethanie Ryan said...

PS: I just noticed your disclaimer in your side bar. Can I steal that?

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...


Yes - you may "steal" my disclaimer.

With regards to cautious homilies, pray for the priests, and give them some needed encouragement - gently and respectfully.

The reasons that each cleric does not speak about the kind of topics I mention in my post are as varied as there are clerics.

I am all too aware of my own ignorance and I'm all too aware of the shallow catechesis I received. I'm also aware of how priests were uninformed about certain aspects of the faith, or even malformed - sometimes by people they trusted, who themselves were uninformed and malformed. That's the most charitable interpretation I can offer and one I prefer over assuming that it was intentional in some way. That's for God to sort out.

What many may not realize is that for a number of years - decades perhaps - a priest who spoke on those issues could be sent packing to a chaplaincy. Not that people in those places are unimportant. The soul of someone near the end of their life in nursing home is as precious to God as the soul of a newborn, and the unborn. In fact, those people, with all of their suffering, often without access to the Sacraments (EMHC's cannot forgive sins, or annoint, or, non-sacramentally - the apsotolic pardon) are probably in greater need of the graces that come with the Sacraments, yet the infirm in nursing homes are sometimes the most neglected in this regard.

My point is that priests have been conditioned for decades not to speak about those things. In some dioceses, priests who did not "make waves" got plum assignments.

It's changing. I'm witnessing a zeal in a new generation of priests that no one will be able to contain. We just need to be patient with, pray for, and encourage holy boldness in the oldest of priests to the youngest and let God take care of the rest.