Archive for church

The Church: A Community of the Ordinary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

feet walking sandEverybody loves an underdog story. Humble origins, overcoming disadvantages, surpassing expectations, courage in the face of adversity, and so on, these are the themes that ground the contexts of innumerable narratives that are passed down from one generation to the next — from David v. Goliath (pace Malcolm Gladwell) to modern-day sports triumphs. We seem to take collective comfort in knowing that anything is possible, anything can happen, and anyone can be a success, regardless of the obstacles ahead.

Yet, when it comes to the church, which is the Body of Christ, we are slow to recognize this familiar underdog setup.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew’s account brings us to the foundations of Jesus’s ministry and the famous “call” of the first disciples. These men were illiterate fishermen, unimpressive in their trade (how many pericopes throughout the Gospels focus on when these guys do not catch fish), and even less impressive in their social standing. They were and remained underdogs, the least likely to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth after his death, no matter how charismatic his presence was in life.

But they do.

When it comes to saints and sinners, I think it is far too easy for us to forget the underdog and unlikely origins of the Christian community and instead assign the magic, heroic title of “saint” to Simon, Andrew, James, and John, while appropriating “sinner” for us today. Time has allowed these early disciples, the Twelve especially, to become more than who they were and, therefore, allow us to pale in comparison — at least within our own imaginations.

Today’s Gospel calls to mind how the church began and remains a community of the ordinary, a collective of those who try and fail, but try again no less.

There are ways that today’s Gospel account has also been reduced to a priestly vocations ad, which is really misguided. Yes, the Spirit of God calls people to different ministries and ways of being in the world, this includes those called to the ministerial priesthood. But this Gospel passage isn’t about the ministerial priesthood, it is about the way in which God in Christ continues to call women and men where they are — like the Simon and Andrew at the seashore — and call them to do something both ordinary and spectacular.

The ordinary activity of Christian living is to follow in the footprints of Christ, to “Follow me,” as Jesus asks us to do. It is little things done with love and lovely things that bring light to the world.

The spectacular is what happens when all are engaged in the ordinary activity of Christian living.

Simon Peter was not the one responsible for the continuation of the church after the death and resurrection of the Lord, but it was the entire community bonded to one another in the spirit of Christ and sharing the love of God. This is what St. Paul alludes to in the beginning of his Letter to the Corinthians in our second reading this Sunday. What makes us who we are, we can hear him suggesting, is the call we have received to love one another, walk in the footprints of Christ, and embrace the invitation that comes to all women and men. When we bicker and dispute about ultimately unimportant things, we weaken our connection to each other and work in ways that stand in contrast to the true meaning of our faith. We are the Body of Christ and therefore constitute and continue the community that we call church.

The Christian community began and remains a story of underdogs, those who are not necessarily hailed by the world as clever, popular, intelligent, original, or special. The Christian community is what happens when our ordinary efforts and ability to love meets the invitation from and power of God.

When we consider our proximity to Simon and Andrew and James and John, we can begin to see the responsibility we have to do what they have done — to come and follow Christ.

Photo: Stock

The First Postcolonial Pope?

Posted in Pope Francis, The Papal Watcher with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

117049-pope-francisIt may be too early in the relatively new pontificate of Pope Francis to make such strong claims about the potential signs of postcolonial awareness and sensitivity on the part of the current Bishop of Rome. Yet, a consistent thread of continuous admonition and reading of the Gospel through daily homilies and catechesis suggest there might be something to consider about the ostensible shift in the papal worldview. There are the superficial factors that one might rightly take into consideration, although with an effort to avoid overstatement, including the fact that this pope is the first from the Global South, which also makes him the first from a Latin-American nation, which also makes him the first from a nation whose entire history has been marred by European colonialism in a way that no previous pontiff has known. He is the first non-European Bishop of Rome in more than one thousand years.

There is also his vocal expressions of solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten, the immigrant, and the stranger. If the subaltern could speak and, even more impossibly Gayatri Spivak might add, if a pope could speak for the subaltern (which is, understandably, contradictory in so many ways), perhaps Francis would be the one most capable of the task. His words are words of exhortation to heed what liberation theologians like Gutiérrez and Sobrino have said for decades: the church of the poor is the church.

Despite these superficial reasons, or perhaps in addition to them, what has captured my attention in recent days and led me to ask the question that titles this post, is the visit Pope Francis made to the island of Lampedusa last week. In his homily during a mass celebrated there, the pope began with these powerful words:

Immigrants who died at sea, from that boat that, instead of being a way of hope was a way of death. This is the headline in the papers! When, a few weeks ago, I heard the news – which unfortunately has been repeated so many time – the thought always returns as a thorn in the heart that brings suffering. And then I felt that I ought to come here today to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated. Not repeated, please!

Reflecting on the first reading from the Book of Genesis, Pope Francis asks — as God does in the scripture — “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?”

These two questions resonate even today, with all their force! So many of us, even including myself, are disoriented, we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live, we don’t care, we don’t protect that which God has created for all, and we are unable to care for one another. And when this disorientation assumes worldwide dimensions, we arrive at tragedies like the one we have seen.

“Where is your brother?” the voice of his blood cries even to me, God says. This is not a question addressed to others: it is a question addressed to me, to you, to each one of us. These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times to those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity! And their voices rise up even to God! And once more to you, the residents of Lampedusa, thank you for your solidarity! I recently heard one of these brothers. Before arriving here, he had passed through the hands of traffickers, those who exploit the poverty of others; these people for whom the poverty of others is a source of income. What they have suffered! And some have been unable to arrive!

The situation at Lampedusa is emblematic of the worldwide plight of those who are exploited, abandoned, abused, forgotten, and left for dead. They are the nobodies, the people who cannot speak, the ones who have no resources or recourse. As the pope notes, so many of these immigrants risk everything — their lives and the lives of their loved ones — to seek something slightly better than the squalor and misery the world has forced upon them.

And it is forced upon them. Abject poverty is not part of God’s plan for creation. It is the result of our sin, for what we have done and, perhaps especially, for what we have failed to do.

Here is the most powerful of points in Pope Francis’s homily, which is well-worth quoting at length. It is here that the pontiff, who has been over the course of centuries symbolically representative of the European colonization of the two-thirds world, it is here that the pope makes a historic shift in pontifical outlook:

Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility; we have fallen into the hypocritical attitude of the priest and of the servant of the altar that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the Good Samaritan: We look upon the brother half dead by the roadside, perhaps we think “poor guy,” and we continue on our way, it’s none of our business; and we feel fine with this. We feel at peace with this, we feel fine! The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference. In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business…

We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of “suffering with”: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! In the Gospel we have heard the cry, the plea, the great lament: “Rachel weeping for her children . . . because they are no more.” Herod sowed death in order to defend his own well-being, his own soap bubble. And this continues to repeat itself. Let us ask the Lord to wipe out [whatever attitude] of Herod remains in our hears; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this. “Who has wept?” Who in today’s world has wept?

The critique of globalization rooted in faith, in scripture, in tradition, is striking. Those who unthinkingly participate in institutions and systems of global commerce — which is all of us in the United States, for example, if only by proxy — are responsible. We are responsible in some part for the plight of others, for the subjugation of the majority of the world, for the blood of our sisters and brothers. But do we even weep? As the pope asks, “who in today’s world has wept?”

Photo: File

Universal Pastor: What a Pope Should Be

Posted in Pope Francis, The Papal Watcher, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

06212013p01phaIn a recent article by NCR’s John Allen, Jr., titled “Francis at 100 Days: ‘The World’s Parish Priest,'” the veteran Vatican reporter attempts to offer a summary account and initial analysis of the new pope’s first 100 days as Bishop of Rome. He highlights what appears to be the ostensible dissonance between what is (or is not) actually being done and what the perception of the pontiff’s “administration” has been. In other words, there are some who might suggest that not a whole lot is, in effect, changing or has changed because of the relatively few and minor substantive changes that have been inaugurated to date. Put another way, Allen suggests: “The usual models would thus say that so far, Francis has been all sizzle and no steak.”

“Yet,” as Allen notes, “at the grassroots, there’s a palpable sense something seismic is underway.”

This is not to be underestimated. There is a way in which cynics (including me at times…let’s face it, we’re all cynical now and then) follow Allen’s initial observation: on the one hand, some presume nothing new is happening until something dramatic unfolds and, on the other hand, some are simply waiting for “the shoe to drop.”

While it’s by and large true to say that “actions speak louder than words,” perhaps in the case of Pope Francis we might need to simply say that actions speak louder than actions. Or, as Allen puts it, “sometimes style really is substance.” Allen explains:

Perhaps the key to resolving the conflict boils down to this: Francis seems determined to function as a pastor, at least as much as a primate or politician, so the right model may not be the one used to assess chief executives. Rather, it’s how Catholics tend to think about a parish priest. Their basic question usually isn’t what his policy positions are, but whether he inspires.

What is interesting about Pope Francis’s style is that it really does seem to inspire. Whether or not there are empirical correlative effects — such as the alleged rise in confession and mass attendance — there is a near-universal sense of Pope Francis’s sincerity and intention. He points, not to himself — which could sometimes be the effect of the late John Paul II’s charismatic side — but to those for whom a singular voice, let alone a world stage, is unimaginable. Pope Francis’s words and actions point beyond himself to the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. His words and actions point simultaneously to Christ and the meaning of authentic Christian living.

As I shared yesterday, Thomas Merton draws our attention to the fact that the Bible is about God’s promise to the poor and marginalized, just as liberation theologians have reminded us ever since. Likewise, Pope Francis is reminded the world of exactly the same thing, which is why even business newspapers and magazines are on the defensive in response. Allen highlights this:

As evidence that people are taking notice, the august business journal Forbes felt compelled in a mid-May editorial to admonish the pope. “Profit isn’t what drives poverty,” the editorial asserted; rather, “profit is what overcomes poverty.”

Of course, fervorinos on behalf of the poor have long been a staple of papal rhetoric. What seems to give Francis’ appeals punch is the perception they’re backed up by personal commitment.

In addition to Pope Francis’s simplicity, Allen highlights humility, accessibility, and staying out of politics as key themes of his first 100 days as pope. All together, these elements construct the foundation of the pope as universal pastor. He is for the church the spiritual leader it needs at this time, a person disinterested with the office and trappings, a person who seems to understand that he is first a bishop — a local leader — and not a ecclesiastical monarch, a person whose ability to walk the walk gives force to the talk of the magisterium in an age when all thought the church had lost all moral authority.

Indeed, Pope Francis strikes me as a universal pastor but, really, isn’t that exactly what a pope should be?

Photo: CNS

Vatican II, Inculturation and What the Church Learns from the World

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Among the many important insights that arose from the Second Vatican Council, one of the more timely is the recognition that the church has not simply been a self-contained and distinct civilization or institution from the “rest of the world,” but has always been a part of the world. Additionally, the church has benefited and, even more strikingly, has needed the culture, philosophy, and traditions of the world in which it exists. This is a wonderfully insightful development given the state of the so-called church-world relationship prior to the ecumenical council. Whether theologically, or otherwise in theory, the church understood itself as apart from the world, it pragmatically acted as such. Here I mean the church in the literal sense as the Body of Christ, which is — as Vatican II put it, among other ways — the People of God. The baptized acted as if the church, its ministers, and so forth, were quite different from the quotidian experience of their lives and work. This was perpetuated by the attitudes and dispositions of the church’s leadership in those years.

And what is troubling, in my view, is that there is an undercurrent of similar attitudes percolating in our own day. There are women and men, especially within the ranks of the church’s leadership in certain sectors of our society, that feel as though the church should be “purer,” more isolated, and set apart from “the world.” As the great theologian Edward Schillebeeckx once said, the idea of a “pure church” is a heresy. Those who maintain such a view need to realize that the teaching of the church’s magisterium, here in the documents of Vatican II, especially Gaudium et Spes, confirm Schillebeeckx’s observation. The church and the world are inseparable and, further, the church needs the world, as we read here:

Just as it is important for the world to recognize the church as a social reality and agent in history, so the church also is aware of how much it has received from the history and development of the human race.

The experience of past centuries, the advances in the sciences and the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, which disclose human nature more completely and indicate new ways to the truth, are of benefit also to the church. From the beginning of its history it has leaned to express Christ’s message in the concepts and languages of various peoples, and it has also tried to throw light on it through the wisdom of the philosophers, aiming so far as was proper to suit the gospel to the grasp of everyone as well as to expectations of the wise. This adaptation in preaching the revealed word should remain the law of all evangelization. In this way, in every nation, the capacity to express Christ’s message in its own fashion is stimulated and at the same time a fruitful interchange is encouraged between the church and various cultures.

To develop such an exchange, especially in a time characterized by rapid change and a growing variety in ways of thought, the church has particular need of those who live in the world, whether they are believers or not, and who are familiar with its various institutions and disciplines and understand them intimately. It is for God’s people as a whole, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and especially for pastors and theologians, to listen to the various voices of our day, discerning them and interpreting them, and to evaluate them in the light of the divine word, so that the revealed truth can be increasingly appropriated, better understood and more suitably expressed (Gaudium et Spes no. 44).

Hopefully, in returning to the documents of the Second Vatican Council as we mark the half-century that has passed since this great moment in the history of the church and world we can renew our vision of what it means to live the Gospel in our own day.

There is a clear call here for the validation of various cultures, philosophies, and ways of thinking. There is value in the thought and practices of people throughout the world, no matter how different those ways of being-in-the-world might appear alongside the Euro-normative traditions we generally associate with Catholicism since the middle ages. What can we do to live this truth out in our own lives, communities, and universal church?

Photo: Stock

Vatican II and the Equal Rights of All People

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

As we continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, I plan to make occasional posts related to the documents, history, and reception of the Council. There is a lot of talk among Christian women and men about the Council — people talking about its apparent merits and problems, the “spirit” and challenges, and so on — but there is very little discussion of what the Council actually said. The truth is, as one seminary professor said to me a few years ago, very few people, including very few priests and other ministers in the church, have actually read the texts themselves or have only half-heartedly read portions of the texts for coursework and the like. My interest is to stir up discussion about what we believe, what the church has actually said as an Ecumenical Council (the highest teaching authority in the church), and what these teachings might mean for us today.

Today I’m struck by one of the most important texts, Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). There is a striking passage in section no. 29 that deals with the question of the equal rights of all people.

Since all men and women possessed of a rational soul and created in the image of God have the same nature and the same origin, and since they have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality which they all share needs to be increasingly recognized (no. 29).

What the Church teaches is that by virtue of being a human person, all people have inherent rights from the creator. The problem isn’t the “granting” of these rights by a particular government or group of people, but the uncovering or recognizing the truth that is always already present in the fabric of creation.

Furthermore, the next two paragraphs of this section really deliver home the meaning of this uncovering or recognition of the equality of all.

Not everyone is identical in physical capacity and in mental and moral resources. But every type of discrimination affecting the fundamental rights of the person, whether social or cultural, on grounds of sex, race, color, class, language or religion, should be overcome and done away with, as contrary to the purpose of God. It is matter for deep regret that these basic personal rights are still not universally recognized and respected, as when women are denied the choice of a husband or a state of life, or opportunities for education and culture equal to those of men.

Moreover, although there are just differences among individuals, the equal dignity of persons demands access to more human and equal conditions of life. And the excessive economic and social inequalities among members or peoples of the same human family are a scandal and are at variance with social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person and, not least, social and international peace (no. 29).

As the church notes nearly fifty-years ago and as we still experience it today, people do not have access to the basic rights and needs that ground fundamental human flourishing. This is a social sin in which all who don’t work, in whatever capacity she or he is able, to overcome this are in some way complicit.

Healthcare, equal and living wages, the right to vote, the right to love whomever one loves, and the like are contained and expressed above as included among those rights that — as Gaudium et Spes makes explicit in a later section — all human institutions (e.g., governments and the church) are to work to guarantee for all people, regardless of any person’s mental, moral, physical, or social capacity or utility.

The church does not ignore the practical differences of each person, but instead affirms the reality that aptitude does in fact vary from person to person. Nevertheless, one does not earn something like access to healthcare or the right to make as much money doing the same work as someone of another sex. These are the intrinsic rights that the Creator has bestowed and that other human beings have unjustly curbed or outrightly taken away from other women and men.

Fifty years after the call of the Second Vatican Council, we can look back and reflect on how we’ve responded to this challenge and the needs of the modern world as seen by the church. We have a long way to go. What can you do to make a difference?

Photo: Stock

Giving a Retreat this Weekend for New England Young Adults

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This weekend I am in Hingham, Mass., giving a retreat at the Benedictine Glastonbury Abbey. The retreat, geared for women and men in Boston in their twenties and thirties, is titled “Being Catholic in the 21st Century.” This is the third year in a row that I’ve been humbled by the invitation and honored to lead the 20s/30s Boston annual retreat. I’m especially excited to reconnect with folks I haven’t seen in while and to discuss, reflect, and pray about the retreat theme about which I asked to speak.

I don’t wont to spoil the surprise for those who are attending this retreat with the particular details of three sessions of the retreat, but I can share that during this week when we celebrate the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, being a “Catholic” in today’s world needs to be understood as always flowing from our ecclesial identity expressed by the Council — particularly in terms of Gaudium et Spes, which directly addresses this question of what it means to live a life of faith in the ‘modern world.’

Much more to come on this weekend. Perhaps there will be internet access (and time) for me to update you along the way. In the meantime, Peace and all Good!

Photo: Glastonbury Abbey

Some Reflections on Ordination to the Priesthood

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Do you feel any different? Has been the recurring and most popular question posed to me since Saturday morning when I and my Franciscan confrere, Steve DeWitt, were ordained priests by Cardinal McCarrick in Silver Spring, MD. It was a wonderful and absolutely amazing liturgy, made even more spectacular by the many family, friends, friars and parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, VA, that attended! The blogosphere “radio silence” from me has not arisen from a lack of things to share or upon which to reflect, but is simply the result of having too many obligations along with travel. I am now able to catch a breather and offer a few initial reflections on the tremendous events of the last few days, they are but a small portion of what could be said and for which space is too limited to share.

As for that question everybody keeps asking me — “do you feel any different?” — the answer is no and yes! No, in the metaphysical, magical, substantial sense that one might assume comes with ordination to the order of presbyters (also known as ‘the priesthood’). I still “feel” very much myself. However, the answer is yes in the sense that I do, in some way, feel different. This difference is most noticeable in terms of my relationship to other members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. In other words, it is wholly relational. Whereas before my place within the assembly was first as active participant and then deacon, now it is as priest, which often means presider and celebrant.

The types of ministries for which I am able to serve the Body of Christ has now changed, which makes me feel, in a sense, different from the way I felt before as a friar and deacon. As a friar who is an ordained priest, the variety of ways that I can serve the people of God has increased. The two most notable are the celebration of the Eucharist and the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation (or, sacrament of penance, as it is more technically called). Within three days of my ordination I have celebrated both of these Sacraments of the Church. And that change in my role within the community of faith certainly elicits much upon which to reflect.

My general response to all sorts of people — family, friends, strangers — who have inquired along these lines, has been to say that, perhaps to my and others’ surprise, everything feels perfectly natural and right. By this I mean to say that I feel comfortable and blessed to serve the Church in this way. Another way to describe this feeling is to say that, on some level, I feel as though I was meant for this way of life and ministry, which might very well just be another way of describing ‘vocation.’ I enjoy presiding at the Eucharist and I have been blessed by the privilege and responsibility of administering the other Sacraments.

My other general response has been one of absolute gratitude for this vocation and the ability to respond to it within the fraternal community of my Franciscan Order. To be a Friar Minor, a Franciscan, is my primary and central vocation. That God has also called me to a life in which I can serve the Church through the ministerial priesthood is indeed another blessing for which I am grateful. I am also grateful to my family, friends and brother friars, all of whom have been nothing but supportive of me over the years. I could not reach this point and will certainly not be able to continue in this line of ministry without their support, encouragement and prayers.

I look forward to (what I hope will be a long and healthy) lifetime of service as a Friar Minor and presbyter in the Church. Please continue to pray for me as I certainly remember all of you who support me along the way in prayer.

Peace and good!

Photo: Liz Horan
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