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The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of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

“How God loves us through our bad theology”: A guest post

14051_10206246260419240_3924350429838097717_nCults are on my mind lately. For one thing, I’ve developed an addiction to the new Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s a Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy about an Indiana woman who escapes a doomsday cult and remakes her life in New York City. Much wackiness ensues.

But also, and more seriously, one of my college friends recently shared a reflection on Facebook. Theresa related how she was “raised with antiquated theology in a pre-Vatican II cult,” and the term “cult” was no exaggeration. I thought her analysis of that experience, and what it means to her today, was remarkable.

Therefore, I am doing something unusual. I am hosting a guest post, and the guest post is Theresa’s reflection. I share it below, and use Theresa’s real name, with her express permission. Continue reading

Quotable Quotes: “Through the heart to the head”

Religion is illusion. No institution understands that more profoundly than the Church of Rome. More than tenets and ethics, religion is mystery and magic, the ultimate conjuring act, body and blood from bread and wine. And the gleam of gold, the clouds of incense, the remote elevated person of the pope, the sacred art and evocative music, create that illusion. Stripped bare of all but its dogma, it would be exponentially reduced. Just as religious belief requires both reasoned argument and a leap of faith, so its practice requires both truth and illusion.

Rarely, if ever, can the spirit be reached and released by intellect or engineering alone. Religious faith comes through the heart to the head. It causes sinners to repent, the proud to humble themselves, and the powerful to bow to a higher authority. Emotions and imagination make zealots, saints, and martyrs out of clay-footed mortals.

R.A. Scotti writing in Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s

Cookie Monster and the limits of the theological enterprise



In my Facebook feed this week, I found something that warms my brought-up-on-Sesame-Street heart: “Cookie Monster ponders the mysteries of the universe.”

“Are you ready for some mind-altering, existential truth?” writes Boing Boing’s Maggie Tokuda-Hall. “Then by all means, behold: Cookie Monster. Not afraid to ask the difficult questions, his inquiring mind is like a tour guide for the hungry.”

Cookie Monster, lost in deep thought, wanders the corridors of the Guggenheim in New York. He gazes through the windows. He contemplates Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He meditates on a painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware. At each station, he turns to the camera and utters an insight:

“Onion rings are vegetable donuts.”

“Your stomach thinks all potatoes are mashed.”

“Lobsters are mermaids to scorpions.”

“Lasagna is just spaghetti-flavored cake!”  Continue reading

An aside: Chair

The "cathedra" or bishop's chair as it was until recently. Photo via parish website for Holy Name Cathedral (

The “cathedra,” or bishop’s chair, as it was until recently. Photo credit: the parish website for Holy Name Cathedral (

Late Friday afternoon, while en route from an errand in Hyde Park to a retreat in Lincoln Park, I stopped to pray at Holy Name Cathedral.

As my eyes adjusted to the semi-gloom, I scanned the front of the sanctuary. I looked down from the jagged colors of the clerestory windows to the marble altar. I looked up again to Holy Name’s most distinctive feature, a giant crucifix suspended in mid-air by thin, well-nigh invisible wires. I pondered the five red galero hats of the five late cardinals–Mundelein, Stritch, Meyer, Cody, and Bernardin–hanging from the ceiling.

It took a while, but I noticed something about the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, from which a cathedral gets its name. It was gone.  Continue reading