From: Gene Hemrick
Subject: Unleashing the Catholic Imagination
Date: April 5th,
At a time when there seems to be more of the negative than
the positive not only in our church, but also in the world, it is our wish and
mission to look at the brighter side of our church and to reflect Christ the
Light of the World. The question in
bold italics was posted on our website www.jknirp.com. We hope that the
responses to it fire up your “Catholic Imagination” as you read them. Please
feel free to add to the responses. Just go to the discussion section on
www.jknirp.com. Also, feel free to duplicate and distribute this.
The Catholic Church thrives on the imagination and
creativity of its members. What two issues do you think are most in need of
“The Catholic Imagination” -- and what imaginative changes would you envision?
1. When we study the liturgy, it is filled with rich
imagination. Perhaps this is the first place to fire up the Catholic
imagination. When I speak of the liturgy, I am thinking of the movements one
experiences when going to and participating in Mass. For example, the doors of
the church.. As we enter them, they remind us that we are closing out the
distractions of the world and are now entering God’s world. We bless ourselves
with holy water, reminding us of the blessings we seek in God’s temple — His church.
We genuflect. The knee in Hebrew means strength. In genuflecting, we break the
knee, symbolizing our strength comes from God not us. We stand at Mass, a
symbol of the Hebrews who stood girded to go on a journey. Our journey is with
God. When we kneel, we put ourselves into a humble position – we are below God,
not on equal ground. This further reminds us that if it weren’t for God’s love
for us, we would not exist.
Our liturgical worship is filled with rich symbols that grab
our imagination with excitement and meaning.
Right after Vatican II, it was a custom in some parishes to
explain all the symbols contained in the Mass. Priests would vest in front of
the congregation and explain each vestment as they did. They would point to the
lighting of the candles and explain their significance. The meaning of the
altar was explained. Just about everything that had liturgical meaning was
By resurrecting and explaining the symbols contained in the
liturgy, we cause awareness and enkindle awe. These are two of the qualities
needed for imagination. Instead of looking for something novel to enkindle the
Catholic imagination, why not first look at what we have in front of us. It may
well be the very thing that moves minds and hearts and raises them to a new
level of imagining.
2. In your letter on the Web site, you ask about two issues
requiring the imagination of church leaders. One that comes to mind: How can the
rate of Mass participation among young adults be increased without resorting to
legalisms or threats for their lack of more frequent Mass participation? The
recent CARA statistics on Mass attendance among younger Catholic adults were
alarming, I would say, in the suggestion that as each older generation dies
off, the younger generation that succeeds it participates in Mass much less
3. Martin Marty in his recent book: When Faith Collides
writes: "Faiths will continue to collide, but those individuals and groups
that risk hospitality and promote engagement with the stranger, the different,
the other, will contribute to a world in which measured hopes can survive and
those who hope can guide."
At the moment, there are damaging collisions within the
church. We have the far right and left collision; continuous collisions between
the genders, various cultures, the clergy and laity, clergy and their bishops,
to name just a few. All these collisions are calling for a new spirit of
hospitality. This spirit will only be created if we put a human face on it. We
need to come face to face; to hear each others' stories; to freely air
differences. Most of all, someone needs to "risk" taking the first
step in creating hospitality -- someone like a Cardinal Bernardin --- who tried
to open the doors to those who have been marginalized, or considered outcasts.
Hospitality and kindness go together. Kindness is nothing more than being well
disposed to others, even though we are not so disposed. It is simply another
word for love.
As for Catholic Imagination, how about some imaginative ways
of reaching out to the disenchanted and inviting them into our homes? How about
overlooking past attempts at this that didn't work, and trying again, and
again? How about praying for ways in which we can be more "civil" to
each other? How about living the wisdom of Goethe who once said: "kindness
is the golden chain by which society is bound", or Mother Teresa who said:
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person", or Romano
Guardini, "Kindness lets life begin anew", or Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
"What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness."
4. Individual devotions maintain the contact with God,
acquired from mass, throughout the week. Thus first, our priests need to teach
us about the many devotions, so we can find the "one" that we can
individually attach to and thus keep that contact with God the week.
Imagine the wholeness (holiness) of the Catholic Church as
it brings women into full partnership. While the Church is most often called
Holy Mother Church, an adequate image of women has not been realized.
Disconnected from its source – actual everyday mothers — this image exists in
the theoretical -- abstracted from the living presence of women. This
detachment allows us to say Holy Mother Church on the one hand and yet to deny
women’s place as full partners fulfilling our sacramental and ecclesial life on
the other. Our women stand in the shadows —and the feminine face of God is
felt, but hidden from view.
Symbolically, the masculine image is represented as the
head. Cognitive processes such as thought, order and form, the written word
belong to the masculine principle. As influenced by this image the Church’s
theology, Cannon Law, dogma, and even Scripture are characterized by masculine
principles. It is the masculine principle that gives sacramental life its very
form, and it is the masculine principle that takes a strong stand in the world
protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
On the other hand, the feminine image is symbolically
represented as the heart—it beats at the very center of the Catholic
Church—giving life to all its activities. The feminine principle is at the core
of our origins as a community, and is present each time we gather. Our rich
sacramental life with its feminine acts of ritual and ceremony honors the
mystery that is intrinsic to Catholicism. Likewise the Church’s ongoing
commitment to feeding, nurturing and peace-making flows from the heart to the
head giving purpose to our presence and action in the world.
The Church’s female image is particularly present in our
receptive nature as a people open to revelation and open each moment of every
day to conceiving Christ anew into our midst—and through the Eucharist,
receiving him into our very body as Mary did so long ago. Woman is the source
of the image of chalice--the vessel waiting to be filled--a space that invites
God to be with us.
While the qualities of male and female are symbolically
present in the Catholic Church, they are not actually present in equal measure.
The human soul is both male and female. Men cannot fully imagine what it is to
be female and likewise, women cannot fully imagine what it is like to be male.
Male and female He created them. And God said that was "very good."
Re-imagining women would re-vitalize the Church’s
sacramental life. The sacraments are a living connection where we experience
the presence of God in our midst. It is through the sacraments that we are
reminded we aren’t here alone, but are guided and directed by the presence of
the Holy Spirit. Sacraments, unlike our theology and dogma, directly and
immediately feed and nurture our spirit. They bond us together as family
sustaining us—strengthening our community. We need the direct engagement of
women’s imagination to reach the fullness of our sacramental life and all our
A new image of woman evokes a new image of relationship as
well. This new image moves us past the old dichotomy of male and female as
opposing forces on a hierarchical construct—an image that places man in a
higher position standing between woman and God. The new image is one of
mutuality—of man and woman sharing God-given power.
The world is out of balance—the people of the earth are
crying—the earth itself is groaning from the unrelenting pressure of
materialism and greed. Imagining women and men as mutual and full partners
invigorates the Church’s identity as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic—it
brings creativity to our commitment to nursing and feeding the world’s needy.
Our male nature is one of action. It finds its true strength when it combines
with our female nature reaching out in love and care—demanding that our
political structures operate with justice.
To find our true spiritual power as humans we must find that
lost sense of mutuality—equality—true partnership. To midwife this sense of
truly belonging to one community—thus birthing the kingdom of God into the
world—we must find this relationship balance in ourselves—and bring it into the
Church in a real way. To symbolize is to make the abstract concrete. To
concretize the image of Catholic the Church must re-imagine what it means to be
man and woman—re-imagine our partnership.
Our re-imagining of woman and partnership finally invites us
into a re-imagining of God, as well. As women are fully integrated into the
Church at all levels of ecclesial life we would honestly discover what it means
to be fully human in the world, finding true spiritual union with self and with
other. Our feminine nature has been present in the Church since its
beginning—its incarnation. It has existed with us through the ages, but in a
concealed way. Yet, we are created in God's image—male and female. It is time
to imagine inviting women out of the shadows—time to imagine God’s feminine
face. Let us begin as Church in this new millennium to realize our potential in
the joy of working together as men and women—no longer with inequality, but as
the People of God--in true communion around one table.
6. There are a number of attitudes that members of the
church must adopt, and some that they must avoid.
First, the prevailing spirit in the church must be other
than what Johann Baptist Metz describes as an ‘aggressive backwardness’. Such
an attitude, which implies a belief in the supremacy of the past over the
present, would convey the impression that members of the church believe their
best days to be behind them. ‘Backwardness’ would also suggest a failure to
appreciate the church’s eschatological orientation. Whatever its motivation,
any approach that divorces the church from the present is unlikely to have
widespread appeal in a society that longs for the triumph of hope and a sense
of possibility: if the Church becomes the refuge of those who look for security
and peace in some world of yesterday, then it should not be astonished when
young people turn their back on it and look for the future to uplifting
ideologies and redemptive utopias which promise to fill the vacuum which the
church’s pusillanimity has left there.
Secondly, it is unlikely that the communion of faith would
be able to express its identity as a communion dedicated to discipleship of
Jesus Christ if it pursues an uncritical adoption of the prevailing social
moves. The alternative, to draw again on Metz, is a spirit of ‘creative
noncontemporaneity’, which prizes eschatological hope above the comfort that
derives from merging seamlessly with the values of any particular moment of
history. The communion of faith, therefore, can model authentic human
existence, which strives towards transcendence, only if it avoids ‘a merciless
confinement within the facticity of the existing order of things’. This means
that Christians, while affirming the world as the venue for an encounter with
God, will also challenge those aspects of their culture that might obscure
either the presence of God or humanity’s orientation to God. Authentic
ecclesial faith, then, requires that members of the church maintain the tension
between the danger of fossilization and the embrace of values and ways of
living that might suggest a denial of human transcendence.
The need to maintain that tension suggests that the primary
concern of members of the church can never be simply ‘to modernize’ or ‘to
up-date’ the church. The challenge, therefore, is less about discerning how to
develop a church suited to the ‘modern Catholic,’ a phrase that could imply
that we are ‘summing up and going beyond our less advantaged ancestors’, than
it is about seeking how to be authentically Catholic in the here and now. In
short, the urgent task is the articulation of what is conducive to genuine faith
and discipleship in the present, rather than the pursuit of a church that can
merge comfortably with what might be currently in vogue, ephemeral though it
Thirdly, members of the church must grapple with the fact
that ecclesial faith will demand openness to the God who is always greater, the
willingness to pursue authenticity, and to prize communion with others, as well
as loving service of them. Those demands mean that we understand the church,
and our place in it, only when we recognize it as something other than an
association whose primary purpose is to provide for the needs of its members.
The church then, is not to be a religious consumer of society, where somebody
else is always responsible for meeting my needs. It is a participatory communion
that depends on the contribution of all. In a society where there is often an
obsession with ‘marketing’ and consumer products, an emphasis on the challenge
of ecclesial faith can be one expression of ‘creative non-contemporaneity’.
Fourthly, healthy ecclesial faith requires openness to the
questions that confront faith, both from within the church and beyond it. Such
questions promote the need for theology. In the toxic climate of division in
the contemporary Catholic church, there can be a suspicion that theology
promotes doubt, confusion, and truculent opposition to authority. While it
would be disingenuous to claim that it is impossible to co-opt theology for a
subversive purpose, theology’s primary purpose is not ideological. Theology
manifests the capacity of human beings to wrestle with the mystery of God. In
fact, the willingness to address questions — to do theology — expresses the
conviction that the members of the church are able to ‘endure education,
complexity . . . and the irony that brings an end to innocence but the
beginning of wisdom’.
There is, then, a need for teachers and pastors within the
church ‘to provide an adequate passage towards greater complexity’. Thus, for
example, preachers need to encourage engagement between faith and contemporary
questions. Conversely, preachers ought not to assume that any member of the
church is above, or below, the need for nuance, insight, and deeper
understanding of faith. Nor ought they to assume that ‘ordinary people’ do not
ask questions: Preachers fail to realize that in their own way, many [‘ordinary
people’] are making decisions about theological issues in an unsophisticated
and commonsense manner — some staying with the church but with reservations,
many others abandoning ship. Often, sad to say, this withdrawal is the result
of a naive grasp of the faith — sheer ignorance of what the more sophisticated
theological stance of the tradition actually has been and is.
7. How our parishes would thrive if we, Bishops, priests and
laity, were formed in the words of Jesus as we are called to be formed.
Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, were formed in
the Spirituality of Communion as as the Pope requested.
Imagine if John Paul II's wish for all parishes to become
schools of love was taken seriously by Bishops, priests and laity..
Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, began to take
seriously Jesus's new Commandment, "As I have love you, so also must you
love one another".
Imagine how it will be if the Kingdom of God becomes more
and visible in our lives and parishes to the point that when others see us,
Bishops, priests and laity, they will say, "See those Christians, how they
love one another" [with Christ's love].
Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity come to believe
that we are called to sanctity, to become saints.
Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, resolved to
strive for personal and collective holiness, remembering always, that if our
lives don't show God, our words and actions never will.
Imagine if we, Bishops, priests and laity, come to say with
St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within
Thank God for the Eucharist and the liturgy.
8. At the core of life, especially the life of the church,
are relationships. Too often I hear of priests who are in outposts and have as
much as four hours to visit a neighboring priest. I hear of lay ministers who
seldom if ever meet with a priest, mentor or superior. Everyone is so busy that
they don’t, or can’t, find time to come together. Some priests have as many as
four or five funerals in a week on top of two or three daily masses and a ton
of other responsibilities. This causes them to become like ships passing in the
night with those around them.
Although Christ often went off alone to pray, he was never
alone, but always in personal contact with his Father.
We need to find creative ways of staying in
"close" contact with each other if this church is to remain healthy.
Today, we find our self more often than not in the "too busy"
syndrome. We are running from one task to another at such a speed that we don’t
take time out to look into the eyes of those around us or to hear what they are
truly saying. We are so used to sound bites that we employ them ourselves, and
we only listen for them. If someone is a little too long winded they are tuned
In the early 1960's, the church was alive and people were
taking courses in group dynamics and reading the works of Buber and his
thoughts on I-thou relationships. We took down the altar railings to make our
liturgy more personalized. We came together for "summit meetings." We
studied the workings of dialogue. We were deeply interested in and worked at
relationships with each other. This spirit needs to be recaptured. Seminars,
forums, writings need to be crafted that look at modern technology and how it
can help us be more relational; what is causing us to be ships passing in the
night; the "too busy syndrome"; the essence of true leisure; and how
to strengthen and maintain I-thou relationships.
There is much truth in the saying, "In unity there is
strength." The first thing unity would dictate is to take account of our
social skills. Are we connecting with others? Do we fear being too connected
because it might mean more work, more of our time being eaten up? Do we really
know those with whom we work, live? When last have we really experienced a
sense of teamwork, an esprit d’corp, community, true collaboration, the
If we can unify ourselves better by strengthening our
relationships, I believe we could see a much more imaginative church. It is
surprising how awesome people think when they feel free and comfortable with
other they know at a deep level.
9. Taken from: The Mission of the Contemporary Parish
Author: Bishop Howard Hubbard --- Origins, Jan. 2005
I would say that the issue of responding to the alienated,
the fallen away and the unchurched continues to be the No. 1 challenge
confronting our church and parish,” Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., said
in a Jan. 6 speech to the annual Diocesan Leadership Symposium sponsored by the
National Pastoral Life Center in New York.. “The critical question, however, is
how do we respond effectively and constructively?”
Hubbard’s speech reflected upon “the mission of the parish
at the outset of the new millennium.”
“The search for meaning --- what does it mean to be human
--- is the religious question of the day, and young people in particular are
We can help people connect or reconnect with the parish and
the church only insofar as we have befriended and loved them . . . The
challenge of evangelization is that it it’s not so much a lack of programs or
resources that is at the heart of the problem but a lack of relationships.”
Hubbard stressed the centrality of Jesus for the parish’s
mission., but said, “At times, unfortunately, it seems that the person of Jesus
gets lost in translation. Parishioners today must learn how to enter the
mystery of Jesus, seeing how his life, his words, his temptations, his choices,
his facing death and his overcoming death related to the demands of the day, to
the needs of God’s people and to the fears of our contemporary world and
Hubbard presented four characteristics of successful
-- Good liturgy and preaching
-- An ability to help people deal practically with their
-- A feeling of ownership on the part of the people
-- An alive quality to the parish
“It is not enough to have one or two of the characteristics
for a quality parish, but all four must be present and interrelated with one
Hubbard discussed parish councils, collaboration among
parishes, the ecumenical dimension of the contemporary parish, polarization and
the need for a new civility, the parish’s commitment to social justice and
Excerpts from Hubbard’s talk:
To most people it matters little that Jesus walked on water some 2,000
years ago and that Peter walked with him. What matters to them, however, is to
know that when they are sinking, this Jesus in whom they have put their faith
and trust will lift them up. What matters to them is whether they can muster
courage to step out of the boat and into the storm. What matters to them is
whether they can invite others to take bold new steps into unfamiliar territory,
with confidence in this Jesus.”
Father Gerald Vann, the renowned writer and preacher, once shocked his
audience when he said, “I don’t believe in the dogmas, doctrines and teachings
of the Catholic Church.” Then pausing, he added, “Rather, I believe through
them in the living reality beyond, in the person of Jesus Christ.” These words
tells us, I believe, that what we need among our parishioners in this third
millennium of the Christian era. For it is possible to be a disciple, to give a
loving response to Christ’s invitation to come follow him, only if we have
truly met Jesus and responded to his presence in a personal way.”
The members of the pastoral council must appreciate that they not only
have responsibility to see that the parking lot is paved and the annual bazaar
conducted, but that they share responsibility for making the mission and
ministry of Jesus tangible and real at this particular moment in history and in
this particular space. So, too, must the music, youth, Eucharist and
bereavement ministers, those preparing couples for marriage, those exercising
the ministry of hospitality, or those working in the parish soup kitchen, food
pantry, or thrift shop, or those engaged in outreach to the elderly, AIDs
sufferers, gays and lesbian or the unchurched.”
What I would add, then, to my 1998 observation about the challenge of
evangelization is that it’s not so much a lack of programs or resources that is
at the heart of the problem, but a lack of relationships, both in terms of our
people being willing to engage others in their search for meaning and of being
confident that such an engagement is not so much a matter of having answers to
questions they may have or providing programs for their formation and
edification, but evangelization is a matter of being willing to listen, to
understand and to walk with them in their spiritual quest.”
Even those parishes which remain vital and viable will be able to survive
only if they are willing to collaborate with neighboring parish communities in
joint articulation of mission, in sharing personnel and resources and in
programming together, for example, in marriage preparation, youth ministry, the
operation of food pantries, social service programs, etc.”
Especially we must demonstrate that we can keep our deepest convictions
and still maintain our civil courtesy; that we can test others’ arguments but
not question their motives and that we can form communities where conflicts are
not avoided but resolved peacefully.”
Evangelical daring is not power, it is vulnerability; it is not pure
calculation, but simplicity of heart and trust in the wisdom and power of God.
Evangelical daring is not a clenched fist, but open arms.”
10. The Church, i.e., the People of God and the hierarchy,
need to better bridge the gap between hope and the realities they confront. A
vibrant church depends on vibrant people who are forward looking, have
something to look forward to and are filled with hope. Hope always starts with
facing daily realities and trying to figure out how to best respond to them.
To generate hope, the church needs new, poignant questions
that dig into the realities it faces. For example, how do we create new models
of church that better integrate the role of women, lay administrators, deacons,
international priests and multiculturalism? Where is found the new models of
teamwork, collaboration, and crossing parish and denominational boundaries to
discover new ideas? Where is the new corps of model builders? Where is the
research that is needed to create discovery and experimentation? What are we
doing to capitalize on the new age of instantaneous communication? Are we still
using the linear approach for communication, i.e., writing, or are we moving
into the imaging approach in which images, pictures and icons that are
"worth a thousand words" are being employed? Who is preparing the new
generation of our church to create new modes of communications that capitalize
on effectiveness, efficiency and making a greater impact on the minds of
What new models of spirituality are needed to meet the
demands of today — demands filled with hectic pressures, anxiety, and
complexity? Where is the Gospel being translated to speak to such mundane
things as gridlock, misuse of natural resources, ethics in the marketplace, the
impact of technology on the human spirit, and the new fears generated by
terrorism? How is it being translated to help guide newly weds, families and
young adults? How does the impact of the Sunday liturgy on parishioners compare
to the liturgies of shopping on Sundays and sporting events? Do we compete
better against these secular liturgies, or do we integrate them into ours, as
we did with certain pagan practices? Where are the sociologists,
anthropologists and philosophers to help us imagine ways of answering these
These forward looking questions are not meant to overlook
many of the internal and distasteful problems the church is presently facing.
Sex abuse, bankruptcies, and other scandals and difficulties are realities that
must be addressed in creative ways. At the moment, the church seems to be in a
navel gazing mode, and understandable so. It isn't as exciting to solve
problems of sexual abuse as it is to generate new and creative ways of better
utilizing new technologies. It is true that we need to face difficult
realities, but we need even more so to generate excitement that comes from
looking outwardly and that is positive in nature.
11. The most creative things the Church could do would be to
live up to the beliefs and values clearly annunciated in the Church's social
teaching. The Church should begin on the inside-on itself-by doing justice for
those who work inside the Church and thus by example spread it's teaching. The
Church should pay just wages and benefits, promote freedom of conscience to
priests, religious and lay persons, cease it's silencing, cronyism and
patriarchalism ways. The Church itself must live the love and justice it
preaches for and to others or it will ever become more empty-in every way. For
the Church internally to do the most ordinary acts of charity, justice and
humility in the everyday, work-a-day world for those who work in and for the
Church would be revolutionary and transformative for the world.
12. As for what needs require Catholic imagination, the
first for me is to realize that the church is no longer one organism, but like
a body, made up of many organisms.
The church officially pays lip service to the idea of
catholicity and the idea of inculturation. However, there is very little
catholicity in the Roman Catholic institution, because of an inherent
Roman/Euro/Afrocentric point of view. Acculturation is only allowed in a
In regard to the policies and disciplines of the church, one
size does not fit all.
I stayed in Rome once for several months and I saw that the
bureaucrats of the Vatican are very well informed about matters in Africa and
Europe, but not the rest of the world which I believe they call “il
We need new ecclesiology. Even that of Vatican II is
hopelessly dated. The result is scerotic paralysis. Further, when considering
the “body” symbol in regard to the church, the head is Christ, not Rome. Thus
the head is everywhere, not in a certain place. This is I believe the gospel
preached by St. Paul.
13. From Cardinal Dulles’ Paper
My hope would be for Catholic agencies, especially colleges
and universities, to demonstrate once again that religious faith can give
inspiration and direction to the arts and sciences. Although we have much to
learn from secular institutions, we should not simply envy or mimic them. We
need to strike out on our own and produce samples of Catholic philosophy,
jurisprudence, poetry, theater, literature, music, and visual arts. Because of
the inroads of secularism, these religiously inspired cultural achievements are
almost totally lacking in today’s world, but there is no reason why they cannot
A Reply to the Cardinal
Taking this to the next level; to begin a Catholic revival
in the arts it would be useful to identifying how secularism made its inroads
and the nature of those inroads. Second, after knowing about the inroads of
secularism specific steps can be designed to undo the inroads of secularism and
revive Catholic arts. Therefore, what are the inroads of secularism and how did
they occur? What specific actions should be taken to reverse the current
secular trend and begin a revival in Catholic arts?
14. Only have time
for one discussion item now. The Holy
Spirit needs to be set free. Unfortunately every Pentecost Sunday I hear the
same homily, that the feast of Pentecost commemorates the birth of the Church.
First, that is not true and second the Body Of Christ is still being told that
it is just at the stage of being born. Please see Catechism paragraph 766
concerning the birth of the Church. Please see Catechism Paragraphs 696 and
1287 concerning Pentecost. Pentecost is connected to the sacrament of
Confirmation and a going forth not just birth. Please see Catechism beginning
with Paragraph 1302 concerning Confirmation. The Church was Confirmed on
Pentecost and it went forth proclaiming "the mighty works of God". Is
birth safer than sending forth? What are the risks involved with sending forth
(living the sacrament of Confirmation)? Who is willing to take the risks? How
can the risks be minimized? Will the contemporary Church be more full of life
if it understands Pentecost in this way? The earliest Church came to life after
15. Taken from See, I am doing something new!"
Prophetic Ministry for a Church in Transition.
A talk giving by Rev. Bryan Massingale Annual Spring Assembly of Priests
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Brueggemann maintains that among the ways that the prophets
pierced the veil of the community’s numbing despair and energized it with new
hope was by offering symbols and images that nourished an alternative vision.
In that spirit, I want to offer an image that speaks to me of hopeful endings
and new beginnings: the image of hospice. I want to suggest that prophetic
ministry today requires a "hospice" mind set and approach to priestly
ministry. I believe that priests today are called to be hospice ministers for
Hospices prepare people to face endings that are unthinkable
yet inevitable . . . and thus also prepare people for new beginnings that are
unwanted yet full of life. Hospices do not deny diminishment, death or loss.
But they facilitate the choice to live while dying, and focus on preparing for
the new by letting go of the old. So when one enters into a hospice, you become
committed to the task of living fully while dying. Such a decision is an act of
faith in the resurrection, which believes that one’s end is but the gateway to
a more glorious beginning.
At the least, a hospice approach to priesthood means that we
must help facilitate honest conversations of sadness, hurt, anger and even
rage, for these are some of the inevitable and essential reactions to any
transition or loss. A hospice consciousness requires that we recognize that not
everyone in the Church will be on the same page in dealing with the stress of
transition. All of the stages of dying and grieving — denial, anger, bargaining,
depression (and the spiral back and forth among these states) – are to be
expected both in ourselves and our people. A hospice understanding of prophetic
priesthood requires the virtues of patience and compassion; an ability to
provide boundaries and guidance for grieving communities; and a sense of
laughter and humor in the face of the unknown (i.e., what St. Thomas Aquinas
might call gnome, that is, the ability to reason well in the unfamiliar
situation). Hospice priestly minister demands a new appreciation for the
traditional virtue of epikeia )which loosely means, "Don’t let laws and
rules get in the way of life.") Ministering to a Church in hospice also
requires deep prayer, that is, a contemplative stance of surrender to what we
do not fully understand and yet intuitively sense is worthy of trust. . . .
"Hospice" as a mindset or consciousness frees us
from the pressure of frantically trying to preserve the status quo at all
costs. For hospice accepts the reality of death. And yet a hospice stance is
full of hope. The denial of death is the denial of hope. Those who cannot
accept the mortality of a particular understanding of Church also cannot
embrace the promise of a new beginning.
16. I think issue #1 would be for a healthy renewal of the
Priesthood. Priests who were open, compassionate, and joyful in their vocation,
as well as professional. Priests should ideally return to the Cassock &
Biretta - but avoiding the stern rigidity originally associated with same.
Neither garb has been abrogated for Priests, A suit & tie does not cut it,
we are not Protestant Ministers , but Catholic Priests belonging to an ancient
Tradition. People need to SEE that God still has easily identifiable servants
in the world; the same goes for Religious. "Nuns" in pant suits,
permed hair & jewelry is hardly conducive to the Consecrated life. Not that
yards of black burlap should be worn, not even a Chadoor-although you notice
people hold those Muslim women in respect- But a modest dress & veil
(Orders can choose distinctive colors) for Nuns & basic habit for men is
more professional than the current fashion. In all honesty, most youth were
attracted to the Consecrated Life firstly by the Religious habit. As many
Religious now live & dress like everyone else, why bother? (Isn't that why
Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity have great numbers of
Issue #2. For the Church to focus more on
teaching/practicing "Mary" issues- devotion to Christ in the
Eucharist, Our Lady & the Saints, and less on 'Martha'
issues-Social/political etc. Not ignoring same, but in proper perspective.
Remember that Our Lord made it clear that 'Mary' issues were a better choice than
Why are Religious Orders established to teach either no
longer teaching, or not teaching the full Catholic Faith & Tradition? Why
do Young Catholics not know what Benediction or the Rosary is? Why are Nursing
Orders no longer nursing? "Martha" stuff often becomes a trap of
distraction; many Religious have been distracted out of the Consecrated Life
We need a more Joyful devotional Church (not pre-Vat II
Jansenism) This can only come about swiftly from the Clergy & Religious
setting the example.
I'm sure these ideas won't be popular, a bit too 'reforming'
at this present fad of political correctness & frenetic activity of 'Social
Justice' by the Hierarchy et al. But I am NOT calling for a return to 1950's
attitudes or back to Latin etc. Just giving an opinion.
17. Taken from a talk by a USCCB Official
Identify the types of reading/media resources that meet the
needs of Hispanics.
Produce materials that are usable and affordable for
Learn better how to reach the Hispanic market.
Identify people who can produce creative materials that take
into consideration Hispanic cultures and traditions, and who know the
differences in language and customs in Latin American.
Identify Spanish translators who know the idioms of various
Latin American cultures.
Identify publishers and production centers that are already
successful in the Hispanic market.
18. I think one issue that we the church are going to have
to face seriously before too long is the whole idea of ordaining married men
along with celibate men to the priesthood. The celibate priesthood has been and
is good for the church in many ways, but to demand that it be the only way is
getting to be somewhat counter-productive to the good of souls and the good of
the church it seeks to promote. Then, too, some serious reflection on the Cross
as "the power of God and the Wisdom of God" and its place in the life
of the Church is always in order.
19. Issue # 1 The Holy Spirit has not been providing us with
single, celibate, male priests for over forty years.
Response: Heed the message of the Spirit and
discuss/dialogue immediately and nationally where the Spirit could be leading
to provide us with priests
Issue # 2 Discussions re the shortage of priests are done in
whispers with shaking of heads as if the situation is too hopeless and
secretive to talk about.
Response: There should be a national symposium of Catholic
clergy and laity to discuss married deacons, married ex-priests, maybe US
missionaries staying in US to serve here but everyone should be openly
dialoguing about this
20. Taken from Book: Voices of the New Springtime
The Church can clearly define the high principles upon which
the free market rests. The Church should emphasize the bedrock need for a
growing economy to provide the jobs and opportunities for individuals to take
proper care of their families and achieve satisfaction from gainful employment.
The Church could certainly improve upon her portrayal of business
as a calling. The art of producing goods and services is sometimes portrayed as
a vulgar activity. But business persons are called to be God's co-creators in
the economic realm. The Church should recognize this role and affirm it.
The Church must also speak out on topics relevant to
business an business people. Why not have a periodic global summit of Church
and business leaders to focus on particular topics? By including highly visible
business leaders, several good things would happen:
First, the event would garner a lot of attention (take note
of other such gatherings that have included people like George Soros and Bill
Gates: the media loves these types of events!)
Secondly, these business leaders would be professing their
Catholicism, which is a good message to send to the world.
Third, there would be communiques from Church and business
leaders together, which would have more of an impact than either group doing it
on their own.
The bottom line is this: business people desperately need
the Church's help in putting their faith to work in their lives.
21. Taken from Voices of the New Springtime
The future of the Church depends upon recapturing the
element of the feminine, particularly as exemplified by Mary, who is also the
paradigm of philosophers. But we must always keep in mind that the feminine and
masculine are never known independently of one another. It also depends upon
our notions of masculinity if we are to restore the sense of the feminine, and
if we are to take the Church forward into the new millennium.
22. I was thinking about your request...and of course I see
the church through very different eyes than you and the rest of the born and
raised Catholics. There are a few issues I think could make things better with
the church the first is having the church become more ecumenical. Though they
are getting better at this with joint services at Thanksgiving, Christmas and
Easter, I think they could do a better job with it. Joint choirs and ministers
from other churches speaking formally at Sunday Mass or in special sessions
"getting to know your neighbor" would be really helpful. And of
course this needs to start at the grass roots with the kids in CCD as well as
with RCIA. We need more of "what makes us similar" rather than
"what makes us different. "The second concern I have is the same
people are always involved in groups or
aspects of church projects or even the mass. Is is so hard to ask someone to
bring up the gifts as they are walking into the church, is it so hard to ask
someone to light the advent candle as they walk into church...signing up to do
things like this is just so rigid and makes one feel well if I have to sign up
there must be come "requirements" that come along with doing the task
(ie I have to belong, I have to be a member, I have to tithe) I think that
makes people feel left out. Not everyone is the type of person who will speak
up and say I want to help with this project but if someone approached them they
might be so happy someone asked they would not only gladly do it but they would
help organize it and maybe even take the project over.
Finally in had with the previous comment is there are always
sign up sheets to do this to do that, I know it is important to get a quota but
really making an effort to know your parishners and what they do well would be
better than saying there is a sign up sheet next to the bakers rack. We need to
make the handshake of peace go beyond the mass. Ok that gives you a few things
to think about!
23. "The Catholic Church thrives on the imagination and
creativity of its members."
I can understand this statement only if it refers to the
laity who are 'The Church' and not the priests and bishops who represent the
'Institution' who time and again exemplify by the 'Campaigns' on which they
launch themselves out of the NCCB with so much disregard for the Religion they
claim to represent or is lead?
"What two issues do you think are most in need of The
There is no area within the faith not in dire need of
'Imagination' as that is exactly what the Institution has so mercilessly
stifled for the last fifteen hundred years."-- and what imaginative
changes would you envision?" I would envision the Bishops no longer
believing that they can lead but begin to understand how their imprimatur has
stood in God's way for far too long."
24.Let us, the People of God, take back our beloved church
in unity with the hierarchy.
25. The first thing the Catholic Church needs to do is to
call for and support imagination and creativity in its members. I think the
message we get is more of obedience and sticking to the status quo. The most
important question after that is the almost complete lack of focus on justice
in the world we experience in the American Church. We don't even publicize what
the pope says in matters of poverty and exploitation, much less focus on what
we need to do other than giving a few dollars to charity.
26. I think the Church's main two challenges in the
months/years to come will focus on recruitment and retention issues. We need to
attract good quality people to the religious life and, once they have taken
their vows and offered their lives to God, we need to ensure they are provided
the support and encouragement they need so we can keep them in the Lord's Army
serving God's family.
The Catholic imagination is desperately needed in this
effort to develop and put into play a good plan to encourage more people to
follow a meaningful life of prayer and service in the Church. That can be with
either a formal vocation – or just an addition to a well lived and focused
life. Either way the Church receives a benefit.
At present, when it comes to encouraging vocations, it seems
we are following a path that leaves vocations up to a spirit of inspiration and
good example. In other words – we’re leaving it up to God to move the soul and
the local pastor to move the spirit. That used to be enough -- but,
unfortunately, recruitment is down and there are a lot of places that need more
priests. Clearly, we need to do more to encourage vocations. That will be our
first imaginative step.
I rarely hear the subject of recruitment and the number of
priests we need addressed and when I do, the only suggestions I hear from those
who discuss these issues about how to increase the number of those serving the
community have to do with allowing priests to marry, allowing for women
priests, or some other similar approach. We need something that goes deeper
The key is to encourage the consideration of the religious
life by young adults and adolescents. Maybe even programs that encourage late
vocations from the widowed or still single older population (50/60 or so).
There are programs to ensure we make the best use of our aging population in
every organization but the Church. Perhaps we should focus more resources on
encouraging those who are retired to take a more active role in the day to day
life of their Church. Whether as a priest or deacon – again the Church would
gain from increased participation and increased exposure of the importance of
dedicating part of one’s life to God’s work.
The Catholic imagination could focus on the first issue
(Recruitment) by encouraging pastors to select one Sunday per season to talk
about vocations -- maybe special programs in our Catholic schools or Catholic
Sunday School sessions would help. Most kids don't know there are lots of
choices and opportunities to serve in God's Army. It'd be like a recruiter who
only tries to get people to join the Marines and knows nothing about the Navy.
In like fashion, we have diocesan priests, missionaries, Franciscan brothers --
and nuns and religious women in all sorts of orders and communities. We need to
emphasize the diversity and different opportunities to serve the Church.
What I’m trying to say is the job of the priest is a good
one and well defined – it’s just having an image problem. That’s where we want
to focus our Catholic imagination – to change the image of a priest’s life.
Retention issues are also important and that means taking a
closer look at issues like working conditions, assignments and financial issues
(current and long range). This is our second issue for the Catholic
We could start by increasing priest participation in the
decisions that most affect them – wages, duties, assignments and future
financial planning. There’s a lot to be considered and the Catholic imagination
of those involved is a precious resources we must employ to the fullest.
I have paired the two issues (recruitment and retention)
together because I believe one flows from the other. It is my hope and prayer
that the Church continues to consider the issue of vocations and focus on
encouraging our young people to get involved because there is no more important
job than saving souls and spreading the good news. Once they join, I hope the
Church then focuses on keeping our good talented priests and religious to both
tend God’s flock and encourage others to do the same.
I know I'm preaching to the Choir on this one -- but I think
if we're looking for issues that need Catholic imagination -- we should start
at the basics -- recruitment and retention.
27. The most creative things the Church could do would be to
live up to the beliefs and values clearly annunciated in the Church's social
teaching. The Church should begin on the inside-on itself-by doing justice for
those who work inside the Church and thus by example spread it's teaching. The
Church should pay just wages and benefits, promote freedom of conscience to
priests, religious and lay persons, cease it's silencing, cronyism and
patriarchalism ways. The Church itself must live the love and justice it preaches
for and to others or it will ever become more empty-in every way. For the
Church internally to do the most ordinary acts of charity, justice and humility
in the everyday, work-a-day world for those who work in and for the Church
would be revolutionary and transformative for the world.
Imaging that Raises the Level of Catholic Imagination
Over the years, I have played some excellent rounds of golf.
One of the reasons for them is good coaching. Good coaching not only consist in
pointing out errors in a golf swing and how to correct them, but also in giving
a golfer sound images to think about when swinging a club.
When the golf professional, Sam Sneed was asked about how he
thought about his beautiful smooth swing, he replied, "It is oily."
To imagine a swing as oily, is to imagine it as flowing with
no jerking, no quick movements. Like a slippery surface over which one glides,
a good golf swing is nothing other than gliding smoothly through the ball.
Every time I addressed the ball on the tee, I would tell
myself, "Just swing slowly and smoothly, be oily, relax and let it
flow." This image not only worked in helping me hit long, straight drives
off the tee, but it carried over into my fairway shots and putts.
In the responses to the question on improving the Catholic
Imagination on this website, I noticed that Fr. Massingale encouraged priests
to embrace the image of hospice care, i.e., that their world of church as they
knew it is coming to an end that is distasteful. But as hospice care teaches,
bitter endings lead to new life. This is a beautiful image to keep in mind when
all seems to be falling apart and disillusion is setting in. Like the image of
"oily", it has a way of sustaining one when old traditions are
In the book, Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to
American Priests? [on your website], I noticed that many priests explain their
ministry in terms of images. One priest saw himself as the Chosen People
heading toward the Promised Land. It reminded him to keep looking forward and
not to try and go back to Egypt, as the Hebrews wanted to. It was a thumbnail
principle he clung to when pinning for the "good old days."
We need as many new images as we can create for the church,
its ministers and participants in order to sustain them during confusing times.
Many of the old images are still effective, but we could use many more new ones
to help us through a confusing transition period of history. What images would
most help us stay strong in facing the new threat of terrorism? What images
should a working man or woman reflect on when caught in grid lock? What image
would best help a person cope with bad news that we experience daily through
the media? How should we see ourselves in this new age of technology and
There is a need for creative persons who can poetically
translate our anxieties, fears, joys and concerns into images that sustain the
spirit, strengthen it and give it zest. We especially need images that connect
us much better with God the Creator who is allowing creation to move in the
directions it is going.