HALF FULL? AP wire story notes that mass attendance is down to about 50 percent in Ireland, a drop of 10 percentage points from a similar poll taken in 1998. Not the most cheering news, to be sure, but if you scroll down you find that belief in a number of core Catholic doctrines remains quite high: 87 percent for the perpetual virginity of Mary, 90 percent for the real presence, and 95 percent for the divinity of Christ. 87 percent also said that they wanted their children raised Catholic. Given that Ireland was hit fairly hard by its own clerical sexual abuse scandal, I'd say the glass is at least half full here. But maybe that's just me....
QUID HOC AD AETERNITATEM: Fr. Jim Tucker has a great homily I wanted to link to before it scrolled off. Favorite line: "Even the most stubborn and difficult personalities can be molded into serenity by the grace of Christ." I certainly hope and pray this is true, because I'm not very serene! Here's a paragraph I particularly liked:
The founding pastor of my little German parish in Kentucky is said to have frequently repeated a particular phrase: “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?” -- “What is this in the light of eternity?” I suppose, with a parish full of German immigrants, old Father Volk had plenty of reason to pray for patience. At any rate, when we are faced with a source of disturbance or anxiety, when something is provoking us or trying our patience, we should ask ourselves whether this matters in the light of eternity. Viewed against the the vast stretches of the universe, against the timelessness of the mind of God, against the endless life that we hope one day to gain, is this particular irritation of any real importance? Do you think the Archangels really care? This simple question, “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?” helps us keep perspective and see all things in the context of our eternal goal. Applying this little question to my own life, I find that nine tenths of my problems fade away into insignificance.
HERE TO STAY: John Allen's Word from Rome column is the Word from North America this week, since Allen is on a speaking tour. Allen addresses the controversy about a leaked Vatican document about the liturgy that some believed would ban altar girls. Allen argues that this is "not so," and that document envisions no change to current canon law on the subject, which allows altar girls when there is a "valid pastoral motive." "One can of course debate the need for such language," writes Allen, "but a 'ban' this is not." As usual, Allen takes on a wide range of topics in his excellent weekly column.
WE'RE HERE! WE CHEER! GET USED TO IT: Waving pompoms and wearing kilts, these young men and women root for political causes, not sports teams. Radical cheerleaders might seem like an oxymoron, but in the last few years, teenage and twentysomething activists around the world have turned an American tradition into potent political theater. There are Radical Cheerleading squads from Burlington, Vt., and San Diego, as well as France, Poland and even Japan. Some squads carefully choreograph routines and wear matching outfits, complete with pompoms and megaphones. Others go for a more eccentric look.
PETER'S BONES: Interesting piece in the Atlantic Monthly about the archeological excavation of Saint Peter's grave under the church that bears his name and the bitter archeological battle that ensued. The author thinks it unlikely that Peter's bones are actually present and suggests that Peter was dumped in the Tiber after his martyrdom. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, but my faith is not affected one way or another by where the good saint's body actually ended up.
ALLEN: NCR Vatican correspondent John Allen is increasingly breaking into the mainstream media as a recognized expert on the Vatican. In this Newhouse News story, he handicaps the next papal conclave, but offers that he believes that the event is probably years, rather than months away. I can imagine religion desk reporters at the wire services calling Allen every time the Pope has a hiccup...
COULD LEAD TO DANCING...: Much ado about an article in an Italian magazine that allegedly contains excerpts from a forthcoming Vatican document aimed at curbing certain "abuses" in Catholic worship. Some of the practices mentioned include: altar girls, liturgical dancing, "self-service" communion, reception of the Precious Blood, applause, and non-scriptural readings at mass. Several of these are, of course, quite common in the United States.
I suspect everyone ought to take a deep breath before getting their knickers in an uproar. It's hard to tell whether this is a leak or a trial balloon. In any case, the document is likely to be revised before it is finally promulgated.
One of those pastoral coordinators, Christine Ramirez, told NCR of recognizing her call to parish ministry after raising three children. At the age of 50, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology, then a master’s degree in pastoral theology from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She went on to serve as a lay minister, providing spiritual guidance to parishes in Iowa and Indiana. Then an ad in the National Catholic Reporter caught her eye. A Glenmary mission of 28 families in Clintwood, Va., was seeking a minister for this small parish -- “trained in social justice,” the ad said -- where everyone was involved in outreach of some kind. She applied, was hired and moved to the southwest corner of the Richmond diocese. “I love being part of a church that is church,” Ramirez said. “This has been a tremendous time of ministry for me.”
Glenmary Fr. Bob Rademacher, the last priest-pastor of the Virginia mission, still lives in the area and serves as sacramental minister. Ramirez described their relationship as a “collaborative ministry.”
“There were challenges,” Rademacher said. “For instance, we needed to encourage the people to look to Christine for spiritual guidance and pastoral care. Now they call on both of us.” After three years in her position, Ramirez is recognized as the spiritual leader of the community
George Weigel also focuses on the phenomenon of laypeople serving as Pastoral Life Directors (PLDs) for parishes. He focuses on Switzerland, where these ministers are in wide use, and tells a cautionary tale of a local PLD turning down an offer from the bishop to celebrate mass. He concludes with a warning:
It must be clear to everyone --- the local bishop, the local priests, the pool of candidates for the position of Pastoral Life Director, the parish councils asked to accept a PLD --- that PLDs are an interim solution until normal pastoral structures, meaning a resident priest-pastor, can be re-established in a parish. Sure, there are things priest-pastors do today that could be done just as well, and arguably better, by lay Catholics. By the same token, however, everyone involved in the PLD phenomenon has to understand that pastoral leadership and governance in the Catholic Church are, in normal circumstances, functions of the ordained priesthood.
If some parties don't understand that, what's virtually inevitable here is something akin to what's happened around Fribourg. Pressures to regard PLDs as the norm, rather than the exception, will intensify. Priests will be further marginalized (and demoralized). Vocation recruitment will be commensurably more difficult. The American temptation to think of "the church" as the local congregation, period, will be even more difficult to resist.
Calling PLDs an "interim solution" isn't a put-down; it's a frank description of Catholic reality. In fact, I'd suggest that anyone who takes "interim" as a put-down is automatically disqualified to be a Pastoral Life Director. Parishes are Eucharistic communities governed in a Eucharistic context. That's why priest-pastors are crucial. And that's something everyone making decisions about PLDs ought to understand.
Well, what do you all think? Are PLDs (or whatever you want to call them) an interim measure or the future? Will we soon be seeing them everywhere, or only in rural areas? Is this a positive development, a negative one, or a little of both? Feel free to post your comments.
WORRIED OPTIMISM: Tom Friedman takes stock of where we are in Iraq. He's still optimistic, but believes that long-term success requires that Iraqis take on more of the military task of finally putting down the remains of Saddam's resistance. A related need is for Iraqis to take greater public "ownership" (as we say in the management consulting biz) of this process:
The other thing that will make me stop being a worried optimist, is when I not only see Iraqis fighting for the aspirations we have in common, but when I hear them speaking out to defend those aspirations in public — in Arabic. Whenever senior U.S. officials tell me about Iraqis who thanked them, with tears in their eyes, for getting rid of Saddam, I have a simple response: Could you please ask those Iraqis to say it in public, in Arabic, on Al Jazeera TV? There's been way too little of that.
In part, this is because many Iraqis are still afraid that we're going to leave and Saddam will come back and punish all who worked with us. In part, this is because America is so radioactive in the Arab-Muslim world that even an America that has come to Iraq with the sole intention of liberating its people cannot be openly embraced. In part this is because while we think we've "liberated" Iraq, and deserve applause, we forget the fact that Iraqis couldn't liberate themselves is deeply humiliating for them, and our mere presence there reminds them of that. And in part, it's because while we and the Iraqis share the same broad aspirations, it doesn't seem to them that we have a workable plan to achieve them.
We need to ease those doubts, and Iraqis need to get over them, because we can't stay as long as we need to, to get the job done, without Iraqis ready to defend the progressive outcome we both aspire to.