The Road Less Traveled

When people I know embark on a spiritual quest, I often recommend two M. Scott Peck books: The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie. The first line of The Road Less Traveled is "Life is difficult." In People of the Lie, Peck gives the best explanation of evil I've ever heard. You'll be amazed how banal evil really is.

All of Peck's books explain, in clear and beautiful language, the spiritual struggles that last an entire lifetime but can also open up conversion experiences.

I'm a huge fan. So I was saddened to read that Peck has Parkinson's disease, the same disease hounding Pope John Paul II.

In a lengthy and terrific article in National Catholic Reporter, Peck talks about this latest development on his spiritual journey. Read the entire article.

Here's one excerpt:
He belongs to no particular church, attended several and, until Parkinson’s ended his driving, he regularly received the Eucharist. Now the Eucharist comes to him if one of his visitors is a minister. When asked which faith tradition he would move toward if pressed, he said that with a gun at his back in a choose-or-die situation, he’d become a Roman Catholic.

Here's another:
When asked if he was afraid of death, Peck replied, “Less than I used to be, but yes, still afraid.” He admitted he was critical of people who won’t face the fact that they are dying until the absolute end. “Terrified they are, and still in denial, even intelligent people. The power of denial among people dying is unbelievable. I mean literally -- a brilliant person, a previously introspective person, the body now down to a skeleton, but with a bloated belly, obviously dying and still just not dealing with it.”

Updating the Imagery

The all-male heirarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and many of the church's members, oppose the ordination of women. The argument against it goes that since Jesus was male, and all his apostles, too, then priests were meant to always be men. See Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter on the topic.

In other faith traditions, however, there is a long tradition of women ministers and priests. See history. I had the privilege of attending a retreat with Lutheran women a week ago from St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Spokane, part of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This branch of the Lutherans have ordained women since the early 1970s.

It was powerful to witness Pastor Beth Jarrett celebrate the Eucharist, using the sacred words common to several faith traditions. Made me realize that maybe those so opposed to women's ordination have simply never witnessed a woman presiding at a church service. My wish would be they would visit an Episcopalian or ELCA church and see for themselves how natural it appears. Maybe that would expand the imagery. Maybe. One can always hope...

A Litany of Catholic Blogs

Our managing editor, Ken Sands, e-mailed me a site filled with Catholic blogs, dozens of them. It's worth a look. It was compiled by Gerard Serafin who has a Catholic Blog for Lovers, which he describes as " a celebration of beauty, truth, and goodness, and, of course, love...and perhaps a little nastiness."

He has compiled what he calls St. Blog's Parish, where you'll find the list of dozens of Catholic blogs. Some are written by priests and nuns, but most are written by lay people. The names are intriguing and clever: The Lady in the Pew, and Whys Guy. Others I found interesting: Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director and Two Sleepy Mommies,.

I haven't checked all of them out, but my sampling seems to indicate these blog sites skew to the conservative. They all add to the amazing dialogue going on in the church.

Read the Words

The national meeting of the U.S. Conference of Bishops ended yesterday. You can read all the statements and addresses that came out of the meeting by going to the Conference Web site. The Presidential Address by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, was candid and pastoral. It's worth a read. Click here.

Some excerpts:

On healing the sex abuse crisis:
"Among those with whom we Bishops have an urgent obligation to re‑establish communio are the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Our solid steps to prevent future abuse must be accompanied by a healing and reconciliation with those who were abused.I understand that this is not something that will always be sought immediately by those who have been harmed nor will it be easy for any of us. The victims among us have lived with their pain and their grief too long; too many have experienced that some of us did not act like Good Shepherds when they came to us.That, however, does not release us from our responsibility to continue to seek reconciliation with them. Let us pursue and fulfill that obligation of actively reaching out to the victims in our midst with perseverance and with love, all the while praying to the Lord that our brothers and sisters who have been victimized will, with God’s grace, find the strength in their hearts to forgive us for what they have suffered."

On seeing the divine in the human:
"So often, our vision of ourselves is limited merely to the human.We see ourselves only in terms of our own strengths and limitations; or in terms of the tasks we have before us on any given day; or in terms of the relationships with others that we choose or refuse. God’s presence in our lives, however, should move each of us to meet and embrace the divine within."

On humility in the heirarchy:
"Even we Bishops need to reflect on our own need to accept just criticism, to apologize, and to forgive; not only in our relationships with the faithful, but in our commerce with one another."

Subtext to Bishops' Same-Sex Marriage Decision

Looks like a done deal today that the bishops attending the U.S. Conference of Bishops meeting in Washington D.C. will approve a document that condemns same-sex marriage. See complete article.

Seems an obvious decision, until you remember the church's history of homosexual priests. It's been pretty well-reported in the mainstream press that between 25 and 50 percent of all Roman Catholic priests are gay. (And gay does not equal pedophile.) Psychotherapist and retired priest, Richard Sipe, is often quoted by the maintream press because he has spent the last 40 years researching and writing about the sexual habits of Catholic clergy. This does not mean that all gay priests act upon their sexuality. Just as heterosexual priests can choose celibacy, so can gay priests. It does mean, however, that those gay priests who have formed intimate relationships with other men probably understand better than most the reasons for desiring same-sex marriages.

The Vatican, instead of addressing this topic directly, declared last year that gay men should be excluded from the priesthood entirely.

Yet if this is done, it could exclude as many as half of all priest candidates, adding to an even worse priest shortage.

So you see why this issue is cloudy.

We Can Only Hope

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting all week in Washington D.C. Today, the group's president, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory said he believes the Catholic church has "turned the corner" on the sexual abuse crisis, but that the process of restoring trust will take years. See the entire Boston Globe story.

There's much more on the agenda, including how to get the Eucharist to parishes that lack priests. According to an AP story on the meeting, more than 3,000 of the U.S.'s 19,000 parishes do not have a resident priest. AP's source? The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Expect everything that happens this week at the conference to be looked at closely by the laity hoping for major reforms. And that group of laity won't be shy about commenting on it all.

Tom Roberts, editor of National Catholic Reporter, has a great mantra for the laity, not just this week but in the weeks, months and years to follow. This mantra should be repeated anytime the heirarchy talks to members of the church. "The laity needs to say, at every level, 'We simply won't accept anything less than adult conversation.'"
Read entire article.

Crisis Magazine: Check It Out

You know those people who whenever you have a conversation with them, seem angry about something? But they usually have a point. Well, articles in Crisis Magazine always have that feel. The magazine describes its mission this way: "To interpret and shape the direction of contemporary culture from a standpoint of Catholic tradition. We are dedicated to the proposition that the crisis of modernity can be answered by a Christian humanism rooted in the teachings of the Catholic Church. We bring the wisdom of the Catholic tradition into direct dialogue with contemporary politics and culture."

The magzine is edgy, often angry but always thought-provoking.

Two recent articles of interest:
Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, recently resigned as chairman of the National Review Board, which is the board studying the nature and scope of the sex-abuse problem in the church. He resigned in part because he didn't feel the victims were listened to enough by the board. He also complained about the role of the heirarchy. "Los Angeles’s Roger Cardinal Mahony said that my suggestion that some in the hierarchy behaved like the 'Cosa Nostra' was inappropriate and the 'last straw.' It was appropriate, and it was true."
Read the entire article.

The second article is Strangers in the House: When Catholics in the Media Turned Against the Church. It's written by Mark Gauvreau Judge. Here's a sample paragraph:

"It’s a dispiriting sign of our times that the current mainstream liberal press—never mind the socialist organs—would rather bungee jump off St. Peter’s than allow a Christian into their pages. They claim to represent the faith by giving us folks like E. J. Dionne, Maureen Dowd, Mike Barnicle, and the pro-abortion Tower of Babel Chris Matthews—people who claim to be Catholic but only emphasize it when there’s something negative to say. They define their Catholicism by the leverage it gives them in the liberal culture."

Da Vinci Code: Take Two

Yesterday, during the online chat with Bishop William Skylstad, a reader asked his views on the book The Da Vinci Code, a novel by Dan Brown that explores the church's suppression of women's stories, including the story of Mary Magdalene, a woman the book says was married to Jesus.

The bishop had some good insights, which you can see if you read the chat, but the question reminded me that I've been meaning to blog on an article titled: ``Reissuing Venturini" published in 1994 in the Italian journal Gregorianum. My buddy and book collaborator, Daniel Kendall S.J., a Univeristy of San Francisco theologian, wrote the article with well-known theologian Gerald O'Collins, S.J.

In it, they look at nine articles and books, written between 1916 and 1987, that take the Jesus story in some interesting directions, directions the two theologians say the story couldn't possibly have gone, including Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene.

For instance, they point out Donovan Joyce, in the 1973 book The Jesus Scroll, says that "Jesus was married to Mary Magadalene...Jesus was taken down from the cross while still living, and was buried in the tomb of a close relative...Once out of the tomb he was discovered by his wife, Mary Magdalene."

The 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, has the general theme that "Jesus was the bridegroom at the marriage feast of Cana, the bride being Mary Magdalene. They subsequently had a number of children...Mary Magdalene was married comes from the fact that unmarried women did not travel unaccompanied; therefore she must have been married to Jesus."

The two theologians wrote their article long before the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, but they probably aren't surprised that the book is doing so well. At the end of the article, Kendall and O'Collins write: "Given venal publishers and a gullible public, there is nothing to stop this cultural and commercial phenomenon."

The Future of the Church

Just found the best analysis of the current situation -- and the future -- of the Roman Catholic Church written by Tom Roberts, editor of National Catholic Reporter. He made the remarks in an address to a gathering of the Voice of the Faithful at Fordham University. You can read the entire speech. But here are some excerpts to sample.

On Speaking Out:
Don’t presume you have a voice in the church, even if you are deeply involved in working in the institution. It is a new experience, since the impulses of reform were gathered and given expression at the Second Vatican Council, that lay people should even seek to have a voice in church affairs. That has not been the norm for most of the centuries of church history beyond the first few.
The popular expression, “Pay, pray, obey,” is a flippant description of deeper realities. Scott Appleby, the Notre Dame historian, has taken to urging Catholics, in this era of scandal, to “Stay, pray and inveigh.”

On the sex abuse scandal:
We will continue to face the legal and financial fallout from the crisis far into the future. At the same time, I believe that long ago Catholics learned to forgive the sins of their clergy, whether the indiscretion be alcohol, drugs or sexual abuse. We Catholics understand individual sin, we are mostly merciful toward our priests and we realize the increasing pressures they are under as their numbers shrink.What would compound the tragedy of the sex abuse crisis is if U.S. Catholics become convinced that the bishops’ actions to date had satisfactorily dealt with the scandal and that we can now put it behind us.

On the priest shortage:
Today there are more American priests over age 90 than under age 30; by 2010 the number of active diocesan clergy, projected at just over 15,000, will be less than the country’s 19,000 parishes.
The number of “priestless parishes” -- those without a resident priest -- will rise from the current 3,000 (16 percent of U.S. parishes) and no one is certain by how much.
More than 3,300 U.S. parishes are led by pastoral administrators, of whom nearly half are lay, a third women religious, and nearly 20 percent permanent deacons.

On an interesting trend:
Meanwhile, over the past three decades, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, enrollment in lay ecclesial ministry programs has more than tripled - from 10,500 to more than 35,000. They will join an additional 35,000 fully certified lay ecclesial ministers and 13,000-plus ordained permanent deacons.

Final thoughts:
Should we continue to just pray and pay? Perhaps. Perhaps not. You can decide. Just don’t do something because you’ve always done it.
Pray and stay? Certainly, but also remember to inveigh.
Stay informed and inform others - look for signs of hope.
And know that The Voice of the Faithful is a sign of hope.
Spread the word of hope.
Don’t be afraid to create a new wild moment of becoming.
Stay with it. You are faithful. You are the church.

Chat With The Bishop

Over the years, I've run into Bishop William Skylstad, head of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, at many events. Our chats have always been interesting, because he doesn't seem afraid to hear viewpoints that might differ from his own, as mine sometimes do.

The Bishop has an impossible job in many ways, with a schedule that would do in most of the rest of us. He oversees more than 50 priests and more than 80 parishes. And, in these times of Catholic turmoil, he's often talking with people with very strong opinions. He hears from conservative and liberal Catholics and from those who feel he hasn't done enough to heal the sexual abuse crisis and those who feels he's done too much for the victims.

And, on top of this, he's vice president of the United States Conference of Bishops. He recently returned from a nine-day trip to Rome and participated in the 25th anniversary celebrations for Pope John Paul II.

This Wednesday, Nov. 5., Bishop Skylstad will be at The Spokesman-Review for an hourlong online chat beginning at 1:30. You can submit questions in advance at or join the chat live.

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