Monday, September 06, 2010

Another thought on titles

Fifty years ago it would have been unheard of to call a priest by any other name than "Father (insert last name here). At some point, probably about the same time that churches started looking more like malls and less like places of worship, there began a transition. It started with Father (insert FIRST name here ) which eventually just became (insert first name here). My generation of priests express frustration at the lack of a title. We often get accused of trying to be separate from the world or of having a misguided sense of authority and power by insisting on being called Father (insert last name here). I've even been told it was during the height of clergy power and authority that the sexual abuse crisis took place, which seemed to imply to me that I should just be called by my first name or I am a sexual abuser. Of course, pointing out that the same guys that argue for only using the priest's first name are usually the ones that make unilateral decisions (it's just that their decisions are unilaterally ecclesiastically liberal) is fruitless.

I was watching reruns of West Wing this morning. President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen called a friend who is a priest to visit him. Despite the hypocrisy of the fact that the President kept calling the priest by his first name, I couldn't help but reflect that there is a certain translational property that can be applied to what President Bartlet says to what my generation of priests is asking for...

Priest.: I don't know how to address you.Would you prefer "Jed" or "Mr. President".
President: To be honest, I'd prefer "Mr. President."
Priest. That's fine
President: You understand why, right?
Priest: Do I need to know why?
President: It isn't ego.
Priest: I didn't think it was
President: There are certain decisions I have to make when I'm in this room; do I have to sent troops in harm's way, which fatal disease gets the research money.
Priest: Sure.
President: It's helpful in those situations not to think of yourself as the man but as the office.
Priest: Then "Mr. President" it is...

One could certainly argue that the decisions the president has to make in any given day are much larger than any priest does most years. I don't have my finger on a button controlling a bundle of nuclear weapons. I certainly don't determine financial policy affecting millions of dollars and people. But, as a priest, I need to be constantly reminded that my life of service shouldn't shouldn't be determined by who I like and who I don't like, who is nice to me and who isn't nice to me. When someone comes to me for confession or wants to be anointed, they get it because they ask for it and they get my time because they need it not because they are attractive, not because they have money, not even because I see them on Sundays. I am called to emulate the Father, to be the image of the Father in personae Christe and I need you to remind me that that is the office to which I was ordained.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

We must design our lives to give up everything and follow Christ

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath Day be with you. I hope you are all having a beautiful Labor Day weekend. I love Labor Day but I also hate it. I hate the fact that I tend to use Memorial Day to work outdoors in order to start getting prepared for winter. I believe there are two types of people in this world; those who pick things up right when they notice a mess and those who wait for a designated time to clean up everything. I know this is a simplification of people’s personality but it has often helped me understand why I am different than a lot of other people. I tend to be the latter of the two; the person who designates one day a week, usually Monday, as cleaning day. This past week, my Aunt and Uncle called on Monday to tell me they’d like to visit. They wanted to see my rectory and take some time to catch up. I quickly looked around the rectory and realized that, in many ways, I’m still not entirely moved in yet. And, by the time they got to my place on Thursday, I knew it would be fairly cluttered. So, in between two masses, several appointments, and, of course, the Iowa State game, I had to also plan in a time to clean up the rectory before my Aunt and Uncle got there. It meant for a very busy Thursday!

Whenever I find myself situations like that, I think to myself that I really wish I could just keep things relatively clean all week long instead of doing it all at once. I think of several people; roommates, family members, and priests with whom I shared a rectory, who all tried to get me to pick up my clothes, put dirty dishes in the dish washer, and put my toothbrush away. I couldn’t help but think of that as I was reading the Gospel today. Our Lord has three points that he is driving home. The first is that we need to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even our very lives” if we want to be a disciple. Jesus is using exaggeration to make a point. He doesn’t want us to become that angry person who hates the world and everyone in it. Remember that Jesus calls us to love one another in other places of the gospel. Most scripture scholars I read said that Jesus isn’t talking about feeling hate toward other people inasmuch as hating what they can do to us. In other words, the type of hate that Jesus is talking about is probably closer to the way Iowa and Iowa State football teams feel toward each other than the way North and South Korea feel toward each other. North and South Korea are willing to kill each other. Iowa State, on the other hand, simply wants to score more points than Iowa and vice versa. They don’t really hate each other inasmuch as having different goals in mind that cannot coexist. If your friends, family members, or your own desires get in the way of being a disciple, then do whatever you can do to isolate yourself from them. That’s what Jesus means by hate.

Secondly, Jesus calls us to renounce all our possessions. In other words, we not only need get rid of everyone who gets in the way of our relationship to God, we need to get rid of everything that does this as well. Sometimes these are vices in our life. Being an alcoholic gets in the way of a relationship to God. Looking at pornography and masturbating gets in the way of our relationship to God. Sometimes its not even a vice inasmuch as an excuse we use to avoid nourishing our relationship to God. I know of a lot of people who make excuses about only coming to church when it’s convenient. If they are out of town or if they stay out the night before with friends they think this is a good reason to skip mass. It’s actually a good way to not be a disciple.

Lastly, Jesus talks about taking up our cross to follow him. We do this when we make the decision each day to live our lives according to the way God wants us to live. This challenge was taken up at baptism either when the baptismal candidate or the parents speaking for him or her say they will live their lives in the practice of the faith by keeping God’s commandments. This same challenge is given at confirmation when the person is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wisdom that guides us in the way of holiness. We renew these promises each Sunday when we come before the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and affirm that real presence, not only in the consecrated species but in the body and blood of Christ that is the church. In that Amen we are saying that we want to live our daily lives in such a way that truly makes us a part of the body of Christ on earth.

Life is messy. I think that, in the end, there are times when God calls us to keep the messiness of life picked up as we go and other times when a major flaw is pointed out to us and we have to spend some time cleaning it up. What are the messy areas of life that God is calling you to clean up?