What is my Primary
as a Catholic?
“How shall they believe Him, of Whom they have not
heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher?”
preach the Gospel ... when no one else will
Where are the
If they are not in the homes, in the playgrounds,
in the work places of Catholics — at any opportunity at all that presents
itself — then they have ceased to be. They are no longer among us.
we hear the Priest every Sunday give a homily!”, you retort. Indeed, I reply.
You hear much about “what I think Jesus means” ... and not
what the Church teaches us that Jesus means. I am not interested in hearing
what a given priest “believes Jesus is saying” — but I am deeply interested
in hearing what Jesus actually says Himself, what the
Holy Catholic Church teaches us that He means ... which
is to say, what Christ means!
This is often quite different from what “Father Bill” believes Christ is
really saying — apart from Christ's own words that appear
oddly clear to us without an involuted explanation involving things too
often only remotely or imaginatively tangent to the actual Gospel Reading.
It’s show time. Time for the priest to display his talent for finding humor
in the most solemn utterances of Christ — and bring laughter, rather than
the occasion of grace, to the congregation. “Oh”, we ooze, “that
Father Bill is such a rascal! Look at the gleam in his eye!.”
The Third Rail called Sin
This, of course, presumes that
he attempts at all to invoke the meaning (real or imagined) of the Gospel
passage just read. So often, too often, most often, it is overlooked entirely
in favor of a rise from the audience ... I mean, congregation.
“Let’s see how clever I can be, how entertaining, how funny, and they will
love me! I will then prove myself to be a good priest, for I brought them
something far greater than the Sacraments, even greater than Jesus Christ
Himself in the Holy Eucharist — I brought them laughter ... and even
it up a bit” to show them that I’m no different from them. Sure, I’ll throw
in the obligatory, “love each other”, “you are the light of the world”,
and very clearly “God’s chosen ones” — but I’ll stay clear of the third
rail called sin. What if I trouble someone’s conscience?! The basket
would be empty in a month! — and who will be left for me to tickle pink?
Where would I get my “positive feed-back fix for the week?” This is serious
The alter Christus —
altered and tailored to fit
We used to know “Father Coughlin” and “Bishop Sheen”. Remember? Probably not. Why?
Because the priest no longer sees himself, nor (consequently) do
we see him, as an “alter Christus”, literally, “another
Christ” in the world, which his ordination to the Priesthood made him.
We have opted, instead for the leveling of Christ in the person of His priest
to the lowest democratic and common denominator: a mere man. They
are just, “one the guys” (sorry, girls) and so we now have “Father Dick”
and, here in Boston, even “Cardinal Sean”. We are all on an intimate
first-name basis with our priests, bishops, and cardinals. Try that
with your own Senator or even your local Representative or Mayor. Why is
this? “It's just so ... cool!” Our cardinals, bishops, priests —
in order to “really reach us, to understand us on a human level” — have
de-Christifed themselves, thrown off that out-dated vestige and aura
of an alter Christus — “another Christ” — so that they can be “just
another guy”. And somehow that desacralizatiion will make us more likely
to be holy when we are in contact with them ... Right.
being “Christ-like” they no longer call us in our own vocations to be Christ-like
either. We are called to be just “one of the guys” (“C'mon, Fadda ... it’s
Miller Time! Let’s crack open a frosty and root for the Red Sox. Them goddam
Yankees ain’t no good no how — jus’ like you said in your last homily ...
and the one before that.” Sanctity is the World Series and the Parousia is the
Sox in the finals — and Heaven? ... the Boston Patriots in the Superbowl.
“Fadda Bill” is definitely one of the guys. And none of the “guys” is anything
like Christ. It’s circular ad infinitum. Saint Peter who was crucified
upside down in Rome or Saint Paul beheaded in the same place? Home-schooling
kids stuff. Okay, that was a cheap shot. The kids are head and shoulders
over “the guys” — you know, Fadda Bill, Cardinal Sean, ... and the “other Christs” who left His company to become
“just one of the other guys”
so that, in a way beyond comprehension, the other guys can get to Heaven,
too. Maybe even before the 6th inning. “Pass me another frosty, would you Fadda?”
So, What has this to do with
Preaching and being Catholic?
Well, this really brings us back to Saint Paul:
“How shall they believe Him, of Whom they have not
heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher?”
“Fadda Bill” and “Cardinal Sean” have more pressing matters
than saving souls. In fact, the entire lexicon associated with the “salvation
of souls” is a fourth-tier priority behind Social Justice, Saving the Planet,
and Immigration. I mean, get real! Mother Earth is in far more pressing
need of salvation! Look at the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico! Where have
you been? And all those poor water fowl! Illegal Immigrants have
unaddressed and underfunded legal rights! The Social Network for
all that ails society cannot be ignored! And your talking about “souls”?
I mean, get real! 4.7 million ducks are in the Mississippi River coastal
marshes and face destruction! And you're talking about the peril of the
destruction and damnation of millions of human souls for all eternity who
haven't even died yet? Where are your priorities?! Yeah, okay, there are
dozens of government agencies to deal with these issues ... and not one
outside the Church to deal with the salvation of immortal souls. But after
all! Can’t you see? That's the trouble with you Catholics. You keep your
eyes on God and not on the things that really matter to the world: ducks,
wildlife, deforestation, endangered animals, global warming, politics,
immigration, Wall Street! Well, not all of you, I grant. Your
bishops have lots of conferences on these
that have nothing to do with the salvation of souls. At least
they get it!”
Indeed. Where are our priorities as Catholics?
That is where they should be. At least in the eyes
of Christ, the Gospel, and the Church. We have hundreds of organizations
preaching social justice, immigration reform, global warming —
no one is preaching the Gospel! Even those to whom it has been entrusted
have tossed it off as an archaic embarrassment. So who ... WHO will
preach the Gospel? Most often not your priest. And your bishop
is busy with environmental matters and
As of this writing it is the holy season of Lent 2011. What
rich soil in which to harvest souls! So much that is deep and holy; so many
parables of our Blessed Lord to which even the most homiletically-challenged
priests can advert in calling us to the serious business of holiness, of
self-denial instead of “self-affirmation”, of conversion from sin. It is
the venue preeminent for preachers! As Christ told us with the greatest
urgency, “The fields are white to harvest!”
How, then, do our parishes,
our priests, our “parish councils” respond to this plea from Christ Himself?
Let us take one fairly common example, in this case St. Patrick “Faith Community”
in Stoneham, Massachusetts. The theme? The “Lenten Mission” which
is ... :
“Chicken Soup for the Soul”
click to enlarge
St. Patrick parish has hired a “motivational speaker”
(to the tune of a $5000 - $12,000 speaker fee, according to the
Premier Speakers Bureau
— and which comes from your collection basket). Apparently the pastor does
not feel himself equal to so grave a challenge as to call souls to Christ
himself, so he ... well, “outsourced it.” And with delight, according to
“We are singularly blessed to welcome
LeAnn Thiemann to Saint Patrick Parish as the first lay
person and the first woman to present
our three-night [at $5,000-$12,000 per night, we wonder?]
“First lay person and the first woman”
— how ... avant garde,
how “progressive”, of St. Patrick's! Surely they are on the very cusp of
things to come! Such a distinction for a mere drop in the bucket!
Only $5,000-$12,000. Money well and wisely spent, to be sure.
Prevailing wisdom in contemporary Catholicism appears every bit as
edified as it's counterpart in classical antiquity where, 2,400 years
ago, Socrates famously took issue with the Sophists of his day who
for a fee, for a living, but this is Stoneham, not Athens, and what is being
sold is not wisdom but contemporary Catholic teaching through outsourcing
the Lenten Mission to “professional speakers”, for a staggering fee. So
what will the parishioners of St. Patrick's get for their money (it
is their money, after all, spent by others who apparently
can produce nothing compelling on their own)?
“She will provide practical advice”,
the bulletin continues, “on the ways in which we can get
ourselves in better shape: physically, emotionally, and [oh, yes ...] spiritually.”
In that order.
to Lent at St. Patrick's in Stoneham, a small and sad iteration of the spiritual
bankruptcy and malaise that afflicts the Church in America at large.
Now, back to the business of the real meaning of Lent, and the call
to conversion and sanctification — in a word to the business of the
salvation of souls, apart from the putative values of Chicken Soup.
Who will call others
— lapsed Catholics,
non-Catholics, unbelievers, to Christ?
— excluding, of course, “professional
speakers" who will do so ... for a fee (“Freely
you have received”, our Blessed Lord said,
“Freely give”. Remember? Matthew 10.8)
Who is left?
“Preach the word: be instant in season, out
of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience
and doctrine”, Saint Paul
says 1. "But I'll be shunned! My friends will flee me!
My boss will fire me! I may even end up in jail if I do it in public or
on government property!"
But that — THAT IS THE COST OF BEING CATHOLIC!
It is the cost of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, His Church, and the Gospel:
“Going therefore, teach ye all
nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded
These are the very last words,
the final commandment,
given by Christ before His Ascension into Heaven. They are the last words
of the Gospel of Saint Matthew.
How, then, shall we summarize this sad state of affairs? If you do not preach the Gospel, in season
and out of season, and at great cost — no one will.
2 St. Timothy 42
St. Matthew 28.19-20
“Mirror, mirror on
the wall ...” Number of photographs of
“Cardinal Sean” himself on his own June 2010 “blog”: 37 to date (12
June 2010) ... and 18 more days of photo-ops to go!
May? A modest 47. There was, of course, a time when Christ used to
be “the point” and the “center of attention”. But that alluring mirror
that “Cardinal Sean” seems ever to hold before himself — and us — appears
to suggest to him that he is much more “photogenic” than Jesus, especially
on the Cross. But that is what “blogs” are about, right? Promoting oneself
... not another. And certainly not “Jesus Christ crucified” whom Saint Paul
incessantly preached (1 Corinthians 1.23).
St. John 4.35
Boston Catholic Journal
Comments? Write us:
Responses to the Editor:
“This is a very, very good article that makes
its point very clear... yes it has to be said ... Thank you! It proclaims
a truth, that we have an obligation to give Christ to others and not
just the hierarchy, priests and religious.
Give a definition of PREACHING, many people regard it, interpret it
as a negative... i.e moralizing , it is not it is the proclamation of
the the truth of the Gospel, it is giving Christ to others!
It is so profoundly true, that the Holy Spirit is the great revealer,
He can make the most dense of passages clear to us, often 'personal
explanations' only confuse. Take for example when you expose yourself
to Sacred Scripture for the first time: God speaks, communicates as
He will and clearly even if the individual words seem difficult. What
you have written here is so true! Excellent point:
“ ... apart from Christ's own words that appear oddly clear to us
without an involuted explanation involving things too often only remotely
or imaginatively tangent to the actual Gospel Reading".
I would add too that St Paul and Christ's followers preached a CHRIST
CRUCIFIED, they did not avoid the problem of pain and suffering but
gave us words and concepts that drew us beyond it to the Resurrection,
omitting to talk about dying, death and suffering is also a great failure
on the part of many preachers.
The THIRD RAIL — is so important in a world loosing the sense of sin,
this needs to be said, all the great preachers in the church, Francis,
Dominic, Anthony, and so many others tried to touch the heart of man
to return to God... and what's more it is WHAT PEOPLE FOR THE MOST PART
want to hear, I have at times given some souls hard love and it is much
more fruitful that pussy footing around the issues... truth must be
spoken, but always in love.
The other Christ's-- also an excellent point, excellent.... we have
bought into the world far far too much. But there ARE exemplary preachers
in the priesthood: look at Fr Baron, Fr Canta La Messa, Fr Groeschel ... and many others. Why do people really listen to them?
Because at the end of the day the soul yearns for TRUTH.
Think of Padre Pio, thousands went to him and why? Hard love, the truth,
hard confessions! and Gospel directness! That's why! We buy into second
best by supporting the joke scenario, which makes me want to weep anyway.
I laughed my head off about the ducks, this is so so true! Well done!
A good thrust, I think this is one of the devils greatest smoke screens
of our time, to occupy the mind of man with this issue. Of course we
need to respect the earth and not abuse it, that is simply common sense.
But the constant issue about global warming eventually gets on my nerves.
Is man going to harness the sun? The winds? Is he going to by his own
human strength change the planet! COME ON ... there is a great blindness
here; look, our planet in many ways is dying but its all part of the
life cycle.... its happened before, if you study the life of the planet
we haven't got it in our power to change this cycle, we might think
we have ... but we have not.
It would do man far more good to see this, accept it and seek for God...
the planet has been through ice ages, and fire all before, all before,
its a natural cycle. OK, we may have assisted it but do we really think
we can make much difference to GOD'S PLANET! Come on!!! Its a great
diversion all this ... from what really matters for man.
Your paragraph on this was sooo good! Ducks! Now its snakes! They say
there is a great dying off on the planet of snakes (apart from politicians)!
I loved your ending WITH CHRIST ... it was a good ending.
I really did enjoy the article.
Well done! Keep going!
While I agree with your assessment that our priests and bishops should
not be referred to on a first name basis (though I think this applies
to everyone, the informality of 21st century culture is ridiculous)
there is something that needs to noted in regard to 'Cardinal Sean'
(I infer that you are referring to Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley).
The reason that Cardinal Sean goes by 'Cardinal Sean' is due to the
fact that he is a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He was
born Patrick O'Malley and took the name Sean (in honour of St John the
Apostle) when he professed his vows as a member of the order. Thus,
his proper name is in fact 'Cardinal Sean', due to his membership in
a mendicant order, which precedes his status as Cardinal Archbishop.
We do not refer to Mother Teresa as 'Mother Bojhaxhiu' or the Blessed
Father as 'Pope Ratzinger'. Certain persons do actually adopt a Christian
name as a mononym depending on the traditions of their order (Cardinal
Sean and Mother Teresa) or position (Pope Benedict XVI). The point I
am trying to make here is that this is one of the few cases in which
it would be acceptable to call a Cardinal by his [assumed] first name,
just as you normal member of OFM Cap would be called 'Brother Paul'
or 'Father James' as opposed to 'Father Taylor' or 'Bishop Anderson'
which would apply in the case of a diocesan priest or bishop.
Other than that, spot on article. Very good.
Point taken, and many thanks for the correction. We do, however, note
that a Catholic addressing a Cardinal should, in fact, address him as
"Your Excellency", a protocol widely recognized in forms of address.
It is also noteworthy that the press, as well as Vatican documents,
invariably address Boston's present Cardinal as, "Cardinal O'Malley",
thus avoiding the embarrassing cutesiness of presumed personal familiarity
that the name, "Cardinal Sean", invokes. To wit:
If non-Catholics, and “professional" Catholics (not
Catholics”) invariably accord the Cardinal this dignity, so,
a fortiori, should Catholic laymen and ecclesiastics.
We are reminded of a story several years ago of a meeting
after Mass between the priest and some members of the congregation upon
leaving. One new parishioner, "Mrs. Jane Doe" was introduced to the
priest and greeted him as “Father Murphy”.
“Please", the priest insisted,
“you can call me Father Dick".
Unabashed, the woman responded,
you can call me Mrs. Williams."
Dear Mr. del Campos,
Loved it! Why do priests think it is cool to be “kind-of-priests
but not really priests", but as you said, “just one of the guys".
Aren't they supposed to examples of holiness, and not Joe Cool with
a collar pretending to be American Idol? Its like, “Wow! I'm cool!
I can relate!" In the parishes I've been to the priest seems like he
can't wait to leave the altar and get out into the audience and play.
OR he invites all the kids to come up while he sits down with them and
plays Mister Rogers. When are they going to get it that we go to Mass
not see him “be cool" while he makes a moron of himself, but to be with
God who is somewhere backstage waiting for his turn! Who are the real
morons who teach them this junk? That's what we'd like to know!
Cindy and Mark K.
We suggest you contact:
Rev. Arthur Kennedy - Rector and President
Saint John's Seminary
127 Lake Street
Brighton, MA 02135
(617) 254 - 2610
Perhaps Rev. Kennedy can shed some light on the pedagogical method that
appears to reduce authentic vocations to comical skits. We would be
interested in what you find. Let us know, would you?