Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Tidbit from Vatican II: Reflecting on the "Hierarchy"

I am a student of the Second Vatican Council.  I was actually in high school seminary during the last three sessions of the Council, and then in college seminary during the first years of its implementation.  The Council was so formative for all of us at that time!  In my studies since that time, Vatican II has always been the foundation for what I've been involved in, and it has been this study that led me to the diaconate.

This semester I am blessed to be teaching a course on the Council to a group of upperclassmen.  We are focusing on the major documents of the Council.  One of the classic bits of history concerning the Council concerns the re-crafting of the foundational document The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium).  It went through several drafts, with the world's bishops rejecting the first draft as completely inadequate to the task.  Many bishops spoke against the first draft, and still more submitted written objections to it.

Perhaps no one was more clear and concise in his concerns than the 53-year old bishop of Bruges, Belgium, Emiel-Jozef De Smedt.  He was ordained a bishop at the age of 40, and served as bishop of Bruges from 1960 until 1984, and didn't pass into eternal life until 1995.  In his speech to the Council about his concerns with the first draft of Lumen gentium, the bishop spoke of three areas of concern: 1) the draft's triumphalism in tone and content; 2) the draft's clericalism; and 3) the draft's juridicism.  His concerns were overwhelmingly affirmed by the Council Fathers and the draft was sent back to Committee for a complete overhaul.

While there is much to consider in Bishop De Smedt's intervention (speech), I was struck once again by his comments on clericalism, and thought I would post a brief quotation here so that it might serve as a point of reflection by all who are, by definition, part of the hierarchy.  Officially, the "hierarchy" of the Catholic Church includes all of the three orders of ordained ministry: bishops, deacons and presbyters.  So the following quote applies to all of them:

In the first chapters of the Draft the traditional picture of the Church predominates. You know the pyramid: the pope, the bishops, the priests, who preside and, when they receive the powers, who teach, sanctify, and govern; then, at the bottom, the Christian people who instead receive and somehow seem to occupy second place in the Church.
We should note that hierarchical power is only something transitory. It belongs to our status on the way. In the next life, in the final state, it will no longer have a purpose, because the elect will have reached perfection, perfect unity in Christ. What remains is the People of God; what passes is the ministry of the hierarchy.
In the People of God we are all joined to others and have the same basic rights and duties. We all share in the royal priesthood of the People of God. The pope is one of the faithful; bishops, priests, lay people, religious: we are all the faithful. We go to the same sacraments; we all need the forgiveness of sins, the eucharistic bread, and the Word of God; we are all heading towards the same homeland, by God's mercy and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But as long as the People of God is on the way, Christ brings it to perfection by means of the sacred ministry of the hierarchy. All power in the Church is for ministering, for serving: a ministry of the Word, a ministry of grace, a ministry of governance. We did not come to be served but to serve.
We must be careful lest in speaking about the Church we fall into a kind of hierarchism, clericalism, episcopolatry, or papolatry. What is most important is the People of God; to this People of God, to this Bride of the Word, to this living Temple of the Holy Spirit, the hierarchy must supply its humble services so that it may grow and reach perfect manhood, the fullness of Christ. Of this growing life the hierarchical Church is the good mother: Mother Church.

A great reminder to all of us yet today!

"Have Stole, Will Travel"

Remember that old TV show from 1957-1963 starring Richard Boone, "Have Gun, Will Travel"?  Well, I'm thinking of putting a similar statement on my own business card, "Have Stole, Will Travel."  Effective 1 June, I will leave my current University teaching position and my wife and I will head West, for the great State of California.  I will be responsible for supporting a number of pastoral ministries in the Diocese of Monterey.  I will direct the offices of catechetical ministries, youth and campus ministry, lay and deacon formation, pastoral planning and so on: whatever the bishop asks me to do.  With the bishop's full support, I will continue to travel and to teach, especially on matters related to the priesthood and the diaconate.

None of that will affect us here at the blog, however!  But I ask that you keep my wife and I in your prayers as we make another transition.  After a lifetime of moving for the US Navy, including a wonderful tour in Monterey some years ago, we are looking forward to moving back to such a beautiful area of God's creation.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Letter to a Newly-Ordained Deacon

The most recent issue of the National Catholic Reporter contains an article I wrote in the form of a letter to a newly-ordained deacon.

You can read it here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Anawim, the Beatitudes, Deacons and Cairo

Last Sunday's readings spoke of the "anawim", the faithful remnant of Israel who in the face of hardship, persecution and powerlessness, turned themselves totally over to God.  It is to the "anawim" that Christ directs the Beatitudes.  Not only are we called to serve the anawim in our own day, but to recognize that we are all called to be anawim -- to give ourselves over completely to God.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, when preparing to address the beatitudes, speaks directly of "Our Vocation to Beatitude."

Thanks to my friend Deacon Eric Stoltz, a contemporary reflection on the anawim and the beatitudes may be found on his website here.

Given what is going on in Cairo and elsewhere at this very moment, now is a wonderful time for such a reflection, and I thank Eric profoundly for his work.  I would also pose a question for the deacons among us: There are, literally, only a handful of Catholic deacons in Egypt: What do you think they are doing right now?  Let's keep everyone in prayer. . . .