In memoriam: Francis Cardinal George (1937-2015)

I often disagreed with him. I often said so.

I believed, and still believe, that such is my responsibility as a baptized person. Indeed, it is an article of faith with me that every baptized person–not just the clergy, or bishops, or pope–must exercise the ministries of “solicitude for the church,” and “the confirming of the brethren.”

And so I said what I had to say. I could say it with a razor-edged tongue, as I did here.

But that was not all there was to what I said. Nor was that all there was to him as a person. For as I further noted, in the same place:

In 1999, I was news editor for the paper at my Catholic high school, and Cardinal George presided at our all-school Mass. I asked our principal if the cardinal would let me interview him. She didn’t see why not.

After Mass, George toured the school and ended up in the library, where I waited with a mini-tape recorder. I shook his hand and asked if we could talk. He said of course. We sat down, and the cardinal waited with seemingly infinite patience while I tried to get the recorder to work (I’d never used one before).

I finally got it going. By now, George had acquired a plate of refreshments. We talked through his impressions of the school, the vocation crisis, and the upcoming Jubilee Year 2000 as he ate crab salad and bruschetta and drank diet Coke from a plastic cup.

The cardinal nodded sagely at every question and gave long, thoughtful answers, apparently in no hurry. He didn’t look over my head to see who else he should be talking to, even though by now the library was filling up with VIPs. They had to wait their turn, because I mattered.

When we finished, he nodded again and said he liked my questions. This was not disingenuousness or mere politeness. One of our exchanges, about whether society has a crisis of religion or a crisis of love, appeared in his column in the Catholic New World about a week later.

I was a student who had sprung upon George from nowhere in the middle of a public reception. But he treated me as though I had called in advance from CBS or NBC.

Even as I became a very different kind of Catholic, who winced when the Cardinal sputtered and fumed–something that seemed to increase as he got older–I remembered that day. It told me something true about him, about who he really was. I never forgot it. Because I never forgot it, I never disliked him; because I never forgot it, I will miss him.

The first man with his job who lived long enough to retire from it, he wanted a long retirement in which to hear confessions, write books, and counsel seminarians. He didn’t get it. I am very sad that he did not.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Anima ejus, et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace.

In memoriam: Robert McClory (1932-2015)

On Good Friday, I boarded the Metra Electric train to the Chicago Loop. There, I represented Call To Action at the annual Good Friday Walk For Justice, which is sponsored by the 8th Day Center For Justice.

The walk is a modern-day Stations of the Cross that examines contemporary social issues at each station. Each station has a different organization presenting it. With CTA program director Ellen Euclide, I read for the Fourth Station, “Helped In The Struggle.” It focused on the struggle for justice within the church.

Other Call To Action folks were there. They included our colleague, retired chapter liaison and development director Bob Heineman. As Ellen and I completed our station, near the Chicago Board of Trade, Bob looked grim. He told us he had a new message on his voice mail. He needed to check it now.  Continue reading

An Aside: American Jesus

It is Saturday evening. I am in a car. I am on my way to a Bulls game. I approach the junction of Route 30 and the I-57.

I look to the left side of the junction. I see a giant building that looks like a convention center. In fact, I think it was a convention center at one time. It is possibly the one where I walked the stage for my high school graduation.

It is no longer a convention center. It is now the sleek, hulking, concrete-and-glass campus of something called “Believers Church.”

To the right side of the junction, directly across from Believers Church, I spy another church. It looks like a big brown box. I can’t see the name. But I know what it is. It bears a giant, golden light-up cross and crown.

The brown box adjoins a hotel. I imagine couples from my high school sneaking here after prom, to do what it is you do after prom. They’ll look out the window of their room. They’ll see the glowing cross and crown. They’ll learn to have either more guilt, or less guilt, for reasons of more or less value.  Continue reading

Collateral damage: Of boycotting and leaving in an age of insanity

So, a few days ago, this happened:

Such a picture, I believe, is odious and repulsive at face value. Others who share that belief are urging dramatic action.

Actor George Takei is one of them. As he put it in an MSNBC blog post: “I have called for a boycott of Indiana by companies, conventions and tourists, not only to send a clear message to Indiana, but also to help stop the further erosion of our core civil values in other parts of this country.”

Takei compared the situation to a previous boycott, which had rolled back a similar “Religious Freedom Bill” in Arizona in 2014: “But thanks to pressures upon the governor’s office in days before she was set to sign the law, and in the face of a boycott of the state by tourists and the NFL, which threatened to move the Super Bowl to Pasadena, Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately decided to veto the law. Tolerance and equality won out that day.”  Continue reading

An aside: Palm Sunday. Or, “How can we do that to him?”

Passion graphic“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.’ But [Peter] vehemently replied, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And they all spoke similarly.” –Mark 14:30-31

When I was at my old parish, we had a retired guest priest. He was bald and stout and in his seventies. He stopped in every weekend to take one or two Masses.

One year, Fr. John had the Saturday evening Mass for Palm Sunday. Saturday evenings are when I have always attended.

In his previous life, Fr. John had been pastor of a parish a couple towns to the north. He told us how, as a pastor, he’d had a parishioner who was developmentally disabled. After Palm Sunday Mass–which is the one time per year, besides Good Friday, when we read the Passion, or the story of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and burial–this parishioner could always be found in a side vestibule. There, he would be disconsolate, crying his eyes out. Every year, Fr. John would ask why he was crying.  Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: On the perils of being a progressive Christian writer for money

0808-0710-1617-3417Lately, I have been following the discussion at Stuff Christian Culture Likes about Tony Jones. As a “progressive Catholic” rather than a “progressive Christian” (I have learned that while the terms sound similar, the communities occupy different niches and have little to do with each other), I never would have known there was a Tony Jones without SCCL.

Jones is a progressive Christian writer and theologian situated in the “Emergent” movement. I went to his website once. There, he described himself as an ecclesiologist. According to him, this meant he was a kind of proctologist for the church. I did not go to his website again.

Afterward, I paid him no attention until Jones’ divorce made it into the SCCL feed. His ex-wife, Julie McMahon, has accused him of abuse. I do not know either party in this case, but I believe her. There is no reason to doubt her; she can only lose by speaking out. I encourage you to read her story, chronicled at places like SCCL and David Hayward’s Naked Pastor site, where she originally revealed it.*  Continue reading

An Aside: Parish. Revisited. Also, a rant.

The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community….Other Church institutions, basic communities and small communities, movements, and forms of association are a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit for evangelizing different areas and sectors. Frequently they bring a new evangelizing fervor and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed. But it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church. This kind of integration will prevent them from concentrating only on part of the Gospel or the Church, or becoming nomads without roots.

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, par. 28, 29

Context and setting: I am attending a gathering for an organization with which I have a relationship. I am talking about Catholic parish life. I am saying something about how I consider parish life key to the revitalization of the church.

Parishes, I try to say and not very well, force us to deal with all kinds of people. They are resources for their local communities in so many ways. They are where the marginalized go when they need something to eat, or a place to stay, or a social worker with whom to touch base. They connect us with what I think of as the whole bloodstream of the church. They are the only non-moneyed and non-miter-wearing interest groups that bishops must pay attention to. And there are good examples of parishes that, however unique and rare, do define their own terms and compel their bishops to let bygones be bygones, and so other parishes are able to learn and extrapolate from them. I mention how I wish more young adults, those who are spiritually and geographically able to do it, should commit to parish life.

I am not an exemplar of parish participation. But I’m trying. I’m trying more now than I have in recent years. I am accustoming myself to the idea that I should try and not grow weary, that I should read at the lectern and go to young adult meetings and not grow faint. And I do have strong feelings about it. I discuss them in depth in this recent blog post. If you’ve read the post, everything I’ve said above should be dull and repetitive to you. In fact, that is why I am talking about parish life at this gathering. Somebody there read my post, liked it, and brought it up.  Continue reading