Reading the news this past week one could get the idea that the Church is circling the wagons. Why you say? Here is a smattering of stories:
The Washington Post reported that the Diocese of Arlington sent a letter to all catholic school teachers requiring them to sign a fidelity oath. By signing the letter they are pledging to submit “of will and intellect” to all of the teachings of church leaders and to commit to “believe everything” the bishops characterize as divinely revealed, now and in the future. Oh, by the way, all teachers must give the oath in front of a priest.
Then a St. Louis news site reported that the Rev. William Rowe, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church for 18 years in Mt. Carmel, Ill. was removed from his parish by the local Bishop. He was suspended with all his faculties removed, thus preventing him from ministry and preaching. No, no it is not what you think. It was not another case of sexual abuse, thank God. Rather Fr. Rowe was caught improvising some prayers of the new Roman Missal. Really? That never happens! My Lord, if this sentence is given to all who “improvise” there may be few priests left saying any masses. I wonder if Jesus used the exact same words all the time?
Then, for the icing on the cake…Catholic News Service reported that uber traditionalist group – Society of St. Pius X will give its definitive response to the Vatican on its offer of reunification. The group was formed in 1970 by the French Archbishop Lefebvre in response to errors he believed had crept into the Catholic Church following Vatican II. With the religious nuns in check, time to bring this conservative group back in the fold, or so they think.
So…just when I thought nearly all hope was lost and that the wagons were just about hitched in a circle, an article was published by the New York Time about the oldest working priest in New York City. At the age of 92 Msgr. Ryan still serves his parish in the Bronx. The article comments that his journey as a priest has been away from the formalities, trappings and titles of the church, in search of a deeper meaning of the Gospel.
Msgr Ryan states, “I think I have come a long, long way from when I was ordained,” As a seminarian, I liked the idea of saying Mass, hearing confession and being addressed as “father,” but that was “like a fairy tale.”
“It isn’t about serving the church in the way you have envisioned, from the altar, and from the position of authority and power,” he said. “But it is learning what human nature is, and what the struggles of people are. And where Jesus really is.”
Perhaps there is some hope….perhaps there is an opening in the circle being formed by the wagons….perhaps the Church can turn its attention away from the ‘right’ oaths, the ‘right’ words and the ‘right’ way some thought it used to be and unhitch the wagons focused on power and authority and simply focus on where Jesus really is.