Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Look for me at UPI

Starting this Friday, I will have a regular weekly column at UPI's Religion and Spirituality Forum (click on the Columns dropdown menu to get to it). My column, which will be entitled Epiphany (original, isn't it?), will focus on the Sunday readings.

I will be joining quite an array of other columnists from across the religious spectrum, including a Jew who believes in the Messiah and who has AIDS, a believer in Kabbalah and someone taking a Masters in Earth literacy. I hope it proves to be interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The new document

Well, it was bound to happen. So many people were after this document that it was inevitable that it would be leaked to the media before the Church could officially produce it.

That document is, of course, the Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders. I might have more on the document itself later on, but I wanted to look at the media coverage first.

I did a search on Google News after Phil Lawler broke the story on that the document had been published by an Italian news agency named Adista. Here was the first headline to AP's story: "Vatican says active homosexuals unwelcome in priesthood." The next headline read: "Vatican: Sexually active gays unwelcome." Then the Aussies came out with this one: "Gays and supporters unwelcome: Vatican." The Baltimore Sun came in with this unique headline: "Vatican disallows active gays for priesthood."

What's wrong here? The problem is that word, "unwelcome." This is not a matter of welcoming or not, as if the priesthood was some sort of club that is generally open to all. This is a matter of whether or not the man is fit to become a priest or not. There are many men who are not able to become a priest -- those who are unbaptized, those who are married, those who are mentally unstable, those who have certain physical handicaps (like no hands). These conditions do not make them "unwelcome" to the priesthood; it makes them unfit for it. (Yes, I can say unfit without a bit of difficulty as I am married and therefore unfit for the priesthood. It's simply a fact of life.)

While the Sun is to be commended for their efforts at making a better headline, it's still not correct. Active "gays" have never been allowed, at least by the rules, into the priesthood. The AP story notes that a 1961 document from the same congregation makes that perfectly clear. It was a matter that certain seminary rectors and bishops made the allowances for them to enter the seminary, contrary to all the teachings, tradition and disciplines of the Church.

Later headlines messed it up, though in a different way. CBS said, "Active gays unwanted as priests." CathNews in Australia said, "Gays in priesthood document leaked." And then starting with Philly 'Burbs, the headline became: "Vatican rejects actively gay priests." All of these headlines are inaccurate. The document was on the admission of candidates to the seminary, not on those who are already ordained.

And then it changed to, "Vatican affirms gays banned from priesthood," which, of course, is also not true since there are active homosexuals as well as those who are celibate who are in the priesthood and are not going to be kicked out. And the document is about admitting candidates to the seminary, not about priests. (Didn't I already say that?)

Of course, it's also going to be almost humorous to watch the media slaughter the document and misinterpret it to the nth degree. I say "almost" because the vast majority of Catholics are going to believe what the secular press say about it -- which is certainly not humorous, but rather very scary indeed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Solemnity of Christ the King

The Solemnity of Christ the King

Ezekiel 34.11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23
1 Corinthians 15.20-26, 28
Matthew 25.31-46

This Sunday in the Catholic calendar is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church year. (Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent and the first day of the Church’s calendar.)
This has always been one of my favorite feasts, one to celebrate with great festivity, solemnity and joy. This Sunday’s readings give us pause to reflect on how we relate to God and to one another. The Gospel reveals to us that Jesus will return one day, not as savior, but as judge. That image of Jesus doesn’t always go over very well in our culture. In our tolerant and non-judgmental society, we prefer to think of Jesus as a friend, a counselor, a wise man, a comforter – anything but a judge.
Yet, the fact that He is king brings with it the fact that he is judge. As king, Jesus holds all three branches of government within himself – he is lawmaker, executive and judge. Our American sensibility for the separation of powers is offended – how can anyone make that claim? And Lord Acton’s famous quote, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” comes to mind.
But herein lies the difference – we are talking about God; God who created the universe and who set its rules into place. Some people might object, as I saw one writer complain once about how God treated Job (he claimed that God basically bullied Job into submission rather than answering Job’s questions). But don’t we humans do the same thing? When we invent something, we make it to run according to our rules; when it doesn’t, we say it’s broken. In the same way, the God who created everything out of nothing and for His own purposes has the right and even the duty to set the rules. If there were no rules, then there is no way that it could be said that God brought order out of chaos.
But those rules or commands, as St. John says in one of his letters, are not burdensome. The reason they’re not burdensome is because they are given to us out of love. Look at the works Jesus says the just accomplish – they welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned. These are all acts of kindness and mercy, which are both types of love.
When these things are done, we become more like God, who “makes His sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5.45).
And that is really what we are supposed to be doing. The Fathers talk about the kind of kingship we are supposed to exercise in our lives, since at Baptism we are anointed, as Christ was, as a priest, prophet and king. As priests, we offer the daily sacrifice of praise and love; as prophets, we proclaim the never failing truth of the Gospel and of God’s own works in our lives; as kings, we exercise sovereignty over our passions in order to follow God’s commands.
When we have this kind of control over our passions, then the Lord’s own work can be seen more clearly through us. Of course, the control over our passions is something we do under submission to the Lord. We cannot pretend to do this of our own accord. We have to be like the servants who say, “We are but useless servants; we have done no more than we have been commanded.”
One thing should be cleared up on this story – it is not directed towards Christians. Yes, you read that correctly. Notice that Jesus said that when He comes to His glorious throne upon the cherubim, the nations will be assembled before Him. In the Old Testament, the nations refer to those people who are not Israelites – the gentiles. The just and the unjust both ask Jesus the same question, though from different aspects – “Lord, when did we see you....” and His response is, “Whenever you did it (or not) for one of these least brothers, you did it to Me.” We Christians already should know when we are serving the Lord. And doing these corporal works of mercy are only part of the Gospel message. Notice that there is nothing here about prayer, loving our enemies, the Eucharist – nothing of the essentials of what Christians live out in our everyday lives. We know already that we have to do these things because it’s part of the Golden Rule.
Rather, it’s the people of the nations, those outside the faith, who are left wondering when they did this because they had never acknowledged Him before in their lives. They didn’t recognize Him in anyone because they did not know that He is Lord. That’s why they’re stupefied at what He said. And those whom He calls the least brothers are not every other person in the world. Rather, the least brothers are Christians. This is very clear from reading the rest of the New Testament that the term brothers, outside of where it used in reference to a blood relative, is used to refer to the body of believers.
I know this goes against all tolerant sensibilities, but that is what Jesus was saying. Again, for Christians, these are the minimum requirements. If we aren’t at least doing these things on a daily basis, then we have no business calling ourselves followers of Christ. Not only must we do these things, but we who, by His grace and mercy, already recognize the King of Kings, have to submit the totality of our lives to His reign.