Archive for daniel horan

Thomas Merton Conference at St. Bonaventure

Posted in Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

merton-conferenceThere are only a few days remaining to take advantage of the discounted ‘early bird’ registration for the summer conference on Thomas Merton at St. Bonaventure University (prices go up after April 15). The conference, titled “Merton as Model and Mirror: Coming Home and Going Forth,” is scheduled to take place from June 19-22 and “will celebrate the relationship between St. Bonaventure University and Merton in anticipation of Merton’s 100th birthday in 2015.” This is one of the first of what will likely be many varying celebrations around the United States and world commemorating the Merton Centenary in 2015.

There are many reasons why you should consider coming to this conference, especially if you live in New York, PA, Ohio, or Ontario, Canada, for whom it would be just a couple hours by car. For starters, St. Bonaventure University was the last place that Merton lived and worked — he taught in the English department there before entering the monastery — and it is a place where his discernment to religious life blossomed into what would become his true vocation. SBU in June is absolutely breathtaking, located in Western New York amid the Allegheny Mountains and beside the river. Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and his journals from this time portray his experience walking the campus thinking, working, praying, and discerning. Also, there are opportunities to go out and actually visit the cabin in which he, Robert Lax, and their friends spent two summers writing, talking, drinking, and the like — you’ve likely read about the importance of that place in The Seven Storey Mountain too. You can follow in his footsteps. All this having only to do with the campus itself!

Additionally, and I’m of course biased here, there is a whole host of amazing speakers lined up. For the keynote addresses you have some very familiar names:

    • Dom John Eudes Bamberger, O.C.S.O., Fourth Abbot of the Abbey of Genesee;
    • Christine Bochen, Ph.D., professor of religious studies and the William H. Shannon Chair in Catholic Studies at Nazareth College;
    • Fr. Daniel Horan, O.F.M.,  America magazine columnist, author, St. Bonaventure alumnus, and doctoral student in systematic theology at Boston College ;
    • Michael Higgins, Ph.D., professor of religious studies and vice president for mission and Catholic identity at Sacred Heart University.

There will also be a number of excellent ‘break out’ or ‘concurrent’ sessions that include some other important folks from the world of Merton scholarship.

For a little overview of Merton’s time in Western New York and its significance, take a look at a 2013 feature article in The Buffalo NewsShadow of a Soul: Thomas Merton’s Spiritual Path Wound Through Bonaventure Campus.”

Check it out and consider coming, it will be a Merton experience of a lifetime! Visit: http://sbu.edu/about-sbu/news-events/events/thomas-merton-conference

FMS World Care Annual Benefit and Celebration

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

FMS_Image2014Every Spring, Franciscan Mission Service (FMS), a wonderful organization that provides training and support for lay missioners who serve from two to six years in various Franciscan placements around the world — e.g., Bolivia, South Africa, Zambia, and Kenya — hosts a fundraiser and celebration. The World Care annual benefit and celebration takes place in Washington, DC, and is set this year for 7:00pm on Friday April 11, 2014. Each year FMS honors a person who has demonstrated leadership in social justice, global transformation, and modeled the priorities of FMS. This year the honoree is Jack Jezreel, the founder of JustFaith Ministries. FMS also invites a keynote speaker to offer a reflection on the theme of that year’s event. The theme happens to be “Profoundly Changed: New Disciples for Peace, Justice, and Hope,” and the speaker is me.

It is an honor to be invited to be the keynote speaker at this event and humbling given the tremendous good work that FMS does at home and abroad. For those in the Washington, DC, area, I encourage you to consider coming to the benefit and celebration on April 11 or help out FMS in any way you are able. You can visit the website via the links above to learn more.

Public Lecture and C21 Resource

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Prayer with tags , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Horan_lectureI want share an update about an upcoming event in the Boston area that is free and open to the public. I have been invited to give a lecture at Boston College as part of the Church in the 21st Century Center’s 2014 series of events. The series includes other speakers such as Rowan Williams, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Alice McDermott, M. Shawn Copeland, Richard Gaillardetz, among others. I certainly do not deserve to appear on the same webpage let alone event schedule as they do, but I’m happy to spread the word as best I can about all the events this Spring.

The lecture, titled “Dating God: Intimacy, Prayer, and Franciscan Spirituality,” will take place on Thursday February 20, 2014 at 5:30pm (more information available here).

Additionally, the Church in the 21st Century  publishes a very helpful resource for exploring faith, spirituality, and the Catholic Christian tradition twice a year. The magazine, C21 Resources, is available free online, free subscriptions and print copies can be ordered through the C21 website too.

The current issue, “Intimacy and Relationships in Catholic Life,” edited by Lisa Sowle Cahill and Kerry Cronin, includes a number of essays from a wides selection of authors. You kind find a short essay by me in the issue titled, “The Intimate Journey of Relationship with God.”

I haven’t shared too many schedule updates of this sort, but I’ll try to be better about doing so (a number of people have been asking that I send more notices out). In the meantime, you can always visit: http://danhoran.com/events/ for the latest information on lectures, retreats, and other events.

Respondeo: On Clericalism

Posted in America Magazine with tags , , , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

priest-collarThe response to my column “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism” (10/21) has been a mixture of those whose experiences resonated with what was described in the piece and those who have taken to defending the trappings of a clerical lifestyle including the wearing of fancy vestments and use of titles. A sampling of some letters to the editor and Internet comments about the column can be found in the November 18, 2013 issue of America.

There are several things that I believe merit additional comment from me. Unfortunately, with about a 700-word spatial limit, there’s only so much that can be said in a single column. I’ve waited to let the dust settle, meanwhile observing the responses and reading the feedback across various media. Some of the strongest resistance has come from the “blogosphere,” while some of the most supportive and encouraging responses have come in the form of private emails, letters, and Facebook messages. What readers have picked up on and what they have offered in response has been enlightening.

Attire and Titles

There has been a surprising amount of discussion, primarily on blogs by diocesan priests, about clergy attire, vesture, and titles (for example, “Titles and Cassocks and Vestments, oh my!” and “The False Charge of Clericalism”). The attention paid to these themes in themselves is surprising to me (and to many readers) because nowhere in the column do I claim that any of these things are inherently problematic. In fact, there is only one mention of vestments or titles at all and the point is that some priests “appear to be more concernedabout titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners, and they focus more on what makes them distinctive than on their vocation to wash the feet of others (Jn 13:14–17), to lead with humility and to show the compassionate face of God to all.”

The attire and the titles are a problem, I suggest, because they can be seen as ends in themselves and that far too much attention is given to what is distinctive about the clerical lifestyle than what is shared in common as baptized Christians and fellow members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church.

Nevertheless, it is striking that there would be so much energy poured into defending the uniqueness in clothing styles and the instance on titles – some suggesting that clerical titles be used even among family and friends. The question for reflection is whether or not how we dress, how we interact with others, how we introduce ourselves, and what we expect from the people with and for whom we minister breaks down barriers to relationship or adds unnecessary barricades to potential relationships.

For every person that is drawn to initiate a friendly chat with a Roman-Collar-wearing clergyman at the bank, there are others for whom that social symbol is a barrier to genuine human relationship. Does the church need priests appearing distinctively at all times? Or does the church need disciples of Christ, who minister by their presence, word, and sacrament? You don’t need to wear a cassock to the grocery store to reveal the compassionate face of God to your sisters and brothers in the community. If you think you do, then you might want to ask yourself why.

Conservative v. Liberal, Progressive v. Traditional, and Other Polarizations

Every response to this column that has included the claim that clericalism is “not just about conservatives” (or some iteration of that assertion) is absolutely correct. However, in the spirit of America’s new vision following the article by editor-in-chief Matt Malone, SJ, “Pursuing The Truth In Love” (6/3-10), I never used any of the following words in my column: conservative, liberal, progressive, or traditional. Not once. I never made a claim about what ecclesiastical or political self-identifying moniker those who exhibit signs of clericalism appropriate. I only mentioned a relative age group: young priests.

Yet, these polarizing terms have appeared frequently in the online comments, letters to the editor, Facebook replies, and, especially, on blogs. In retrospect, for it was never my direct intention to do so, this column seems to have served as a clericalism “Rorschach test.” Each reader projected his or her own biases and presumptions about who constituted the clerical class about which I was writing. This has left me thinking a lot about how deeply ingrained some of this polarizing discourse and these presuppositions surrounding Catholic clergy in the United States really are.

The Other Responses

I have also seen some comments on the America website, Facebook, and elsewhere that suggest clericalism is not a reality, that it is some fiction propagated by “(fill in the blank) types of Catholics.” While I cannot share the private emails and Facebook messages sent to me in the days and weeks after the column was published, I think it’s important to express that this topic of clericalism struck a chord not just with those who wish to defend some vision of a clerical lifestyle, but it also resonated with those who find themselves struggling daily with the burdens of this cultural phenomenon. I received notes from diocesan and religious priests, lay staff at parishes and major United States diocese, seminarians, and others who identified this reality. I heard from priests, seminarians, or staff in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Archdiocese of Newark, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie (Archdiocese of New York), and the North American College in Rome, just to name a few.

Every single one of the emails or messages expressed an appreciation that the topic of clericalism was being discussed openly, but each also expressed the complications of being situated within a culture where clericalism was often present and, especially for the seminarians, pressures to conform were felt. This does not mean that there isn’t hope. Many of these notes included references to the hope for change in culture and attitude signaled by Pope Francis in recent months. It is a hope that I likewise share.

I still maintain that hope expressed at the end of my column: “Eight months into Pope Francis’ pontificate, I sense that he is challenging the whole church, but especially its ordained members, to a similar way of living. His call for humbler and more generous priests is a call to work against a culture of clericalism. It is a call for priests and bishops, young and old, to remember that their baptism is what matters most.”

This post was originally published at America magazine.

Latest America Magazine Column: Against Clericalism

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , on October 14, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

priestIt has been really interesting to see the immediate and personal response from a whole spectrum of people to my latest America magazine column: “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism.” There have been a handful of comments on the America website itself, but there have also been a huge number of responses online — especially in the world of Facebook (take Fr. James Martin SJ’s public Facebook page for example). Additionally several blogs over at Patheos (Deacon’s Bench and Fr. Michael Duffy) have offered responses or tracked some of the comments. Here is the column, for those who haven’t seen it yet. Another interesting thing to note is that this has only been published online for three days, the print issue still doesn’t come out for more than a week.

Next month I turn 30. While that might seem like an old age to me as I approach the milestone, most people are quick to remind me of how young a friar and priest I still am. That statement of fact is often, but not always, accompanied by some well-meaning remark by a parishioner after Mass or an audience member after a talk suggesting that I’m not like other “young priests” they know.

What generally follows that sort of comment is an expression of concern about the perceived unapproachable or pretentious character of so many of the newly ordained. They appear to be more concerned about titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners, and they focus more on what makes them distinctive than on their vocation to wash the feet of others (Jn 13:14–17), to lead with humility and to show the compassionate face of God to all.

What concerns people, in other words, is clericalism.

What I hear in these moments is not so much a compliment or praise for me as the worry people have for the future of ministry. As St. Francis cautioned his brothers, I realize that anything good that comes from my encounters in ministry is God’s work, and the only things I can truly take “credit” for are my weaknesses and sinfulness (Admonition V). And, trust me, there are plenty of both in my own life. At the heart of this encounter is the intuitive recognition that we are all sinners, yet we all have equal dignity as the baptized, and that those ordained to the ministerial priesthood should serve their sisters and brothers on our journey of faith.

While I know many good and humble religious and diocesan priests, I’ve encountered far too many clergy who, for whatever reason, feel they are above, better or more special than others. Pope Francis also recognizes this and spoke critically about it in the impromptu interview he gave during his return trip from World Youth Day.

Catholic News Service reported the pope’s words: “I think this is a time for mercy,” particularly a time when the church must go out of its way to be merciful, given the “not-so-beautiful witness of some priests” and “the problem of clericalism, for example, which have left so many wounds, so many wounded. The church, which is mother, must go and heal those wounds.”

Pope Francis names this the culture of clericalism, which maims and distorts the body of Christ, wounding those who seek God’s mercy but instead encounter human self-centeredness.

In an interview published in America (9/30), Pope Francis suggested ministers could help heal these wounds with mercy. He said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

St. Francis of Assisi is often remembered for having had a special reverence for priests, a characteristic that appears frequently in his writings. But he also had a particular vision for how the brothers in his community, ordained or not, would live in the world. His instruction seems as timely as ever in light of the persistence of clericalism.

In his Earlier Rule St. Francis says, “Let no one be called ‘prior,’ but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother.” He also wrote in Admonition XIX:

Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more. Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by others and [who] does not want to come down by his own will. Blessed is that servant who is not placed in a high position by his own will and always desired to be under the feet of others.

All members of the clergy, not just Franciscans, should be challenged by these words.

Eight months into Pope Francis’ pontificate, I sense that he is challenging the whole church, but especially its ordained members, to a similar way of living. His call for humbler and more generous priests is a call to work against a culture of clericalism. It is a call for priests and bishops, young and old, to remember that their baptism is what matters most.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including the forthcoming The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering.

Photo: stock

Recording Audio Version of New Book

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, The Last Words of Jesus with tags , , , on September 18, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Horan_cover_draft2013I’ll be on the road for the next few days recording the audiobook for a new book of mine that comes out in December titled, The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering. In the next few months I’ll share more information about this book as we get closer to its release date. This is the second time so far that I’ve had the experience to record the audio version of one of my books and, as other authors who are asked by their publishers to read their own books for the audio versions can tell you, it is not easy. It looks easy: sit in a room and read your book to yourself out loud. But it isn’t. The experience last time, when I recorded Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis, was an incredibly humbling venture. It’s difficult to read well, consistently, without goofing up or tripping over your words, and for hours on end. There is something disconcerting about being in a sound-proof room alone with only the words you had written for print before you, a microphone to record that vulnerable editorial offering, and the knowledge that in another room is a team of engineers and producers listening to every syllable you say and pause you make. It gave me a lot of respect for those women and men who do this sort of thing professionally. Wish me luck and keep me in prayer — hopefully, this will be as painless as possible!

A (Just Beyond) Midsummer Reflection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 1, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

summer-desktop-backgroundsIt’s difficult to believe that the calendar reads “August 1″ already. Like so many people who mourn the quick passing of the warm, sometimes sweltering-hot summer months, I am saddened to see how fast the time flies when, for the most part, one is having fun (or something). This morning seemed like a good time to take the opportunity to look back on the last few weeks and months and consider how, as the stereotypical elementary school first-day assignment goes, “I spent my ‘summer vacation.’”

First, as other women and men in an academic field can attest, there is no such thing as a “summer vacation” for scholars in the way that popular culture depicts. Mid-May doesn’t roll around and all of a sudden we find ourselves with nothing to do. Quite the opposite. Summer is the time for grad students to do some coursework or work on foreign languages; it’s time for students and professors alike to complete research begun in nascent forms during the super-busy academic year; it’s time for scholars of all sorts to focus on completing books and articles; write conference papers and then attend the conferences around the world at which said papers are to be presented; revise said papers in light of feedback from colleagues in the field at conferences; submit said papers to academic journals for peer-review and then potential publication; revise said papers in light of reviewer comments; prepare syllabi, lectures, and other material for Fall (and, if really organized, some Spring) courses; and then feel odd around August 1 that you only have a few weeks before beginning the next academic year.

I’m reminded of a quote from Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham when she is at dinner with the cousin who is, by way of legal snafu, now the heir to the estate and hears him (a professional-class lawyer) talk about when he has leisure time, particularly during the weekend. To which she replies quizzically: “What’s a ‘week-end?’”

Might many an academic ask: “What’s a summer vacation?”

Of course, contestation will arise — it is true, not all those in graduate school or on faculty at a university somewhere do all, or some, or any of these things. Why these folks aren’t doing these things is beyond me. But my experience is a mixture, one of natural inclination and the other of gratitude.

I don’t express any of what I’ve said so far to suggest that I don’t actually like what I and my colleagues do and, as it happens, really must do. If I didn’t enjoy this work — theological research, writing, lecturing, teaching, and so on — I wouldn’t be doing it and I’d probably opt to do something that would more readily offer a “week-end” or “summer vacation.”

This summer began for me with a period of time from mid-May through mid-June that I like to call “Conference Season.” It is the time when, immediately following the end of the Spring semester, theological conferences are scheduled to take place. That is also the time when many of the boards and committees I serve on also schedule meetings, and then there are the family and religious-community commitments. In other words, “Conference Season,” is a season of travel.

It is also a season of great joy. Connecting with colleagues, seeing brother friars, seeing family members, and so on. It involves an active engagement with the life of the mind (and one’s patience with the TSA). But it is a wonderful time that is nevertheless exhausting. I’m grateful for the magical amnesia that hits me in the Fall of every year during the call for papers for the following conference season — I always seem to forget the annoyances of travel, time, and energy, only to recall the fun and collegiality.

In addition to some research visits to archives, short trips to see family and friends here and there (I’m fortunate to live four hours from my parents and not much farther from my brothers and many friends), a trip to Seneca Falls to preside at the wedding of friends, a trip to my hometown of Utica, NY to run the nation’s largest 15k roadrace (68 mins, in case you were wondering), I have spent most of the remaining time to date completing some major writing projects and working on my foreign language skills. Among the writing projects are two books, each of which were in various stages of completion and both of which are due at the end of the year, and several articles. I also have another book coming out in the Fall, so the nitty-gritty details of book publishing are hitting their climax around this time — permissions requests, working with editors on the manuscript’s finishing touches, reports from the publisher’s marketing team, galley proofs, and so on. That all takes time.

One of the things I don’t think many people know about me is the number of speaking and writing invitations I receive every week, sometimes as frequently as everyday. It’s hard to quantify how much time goes into responding to requests, some of which I am able to accept and others I have to decline. The correspondence that goes into responding to such requests can take a great deal of time and energy too. I hate to say no, but it does have to happen, and I always want to make sure that every request is treated sincerely and considered thoroughly. All this to say that an increasingly surprising amount of the summer, I have found for at least the last two years, is spent on my upcoming calendar and corresponding with wonderful people from around the world about various requests for articles, chapters, lectures, and retreats.

Oh yeah, and I’m a priest. That means that in addition to the academic work, which I love, there is the opportunity to serve as a sacramental minister in the church. I love presiding at liturgies, preaching, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, baptizing infants, and offering the occasional spiritual direction. (Lady Grantham’s snarky question, “What’s a ‘week-end?’” seems again relevant). I’m fortunate to not only minister regularly during the year at Babson College and St. Anthony Shrine, but during the summer I find myself at a number of ministry locations including St. Anthony Shrine in Boston and, especially, St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, NJ, where I’ll be for two weekends in August (17 & 18, 24 & 25).

All in all, the summer has been very busy, very productive, and even enjoyable. I’m not the kind of person who likes to just sit around and “do nothing,” I’m not really sure what that means. I am looking forward to my own little getaway weeklong summer vacation starting tomorrow, which happens to be the Franciscan feast of the Portiuncula or “the little portion,” which refers to the Church in lower Assisi that was Francis’s beloved mother church for the Order of Friars Minor. I consider my short retreat and vacation my own “little portion,” so expect to hear little from me during that time.

I hope that everyone has had, so far, a safe, enjoyable, and perhaps even productive summer! I love the ministry — academic and sacramental — that I am privileged to do. May you be able to do what you love and find some rest along the way. Far too many people are burdened by systemic injustices in our society and world at large that make such a reality a near impossibility. May those who enjoy the ability to write, speak, lead, teach, and serve — in whatever capacity — work to change the systems and provide the conditions for the possibility that all might live their true vocation with dignity.

Photo: Stock

Dispatches from the Road: Conferences, Meetings, Commencement Addresses, and Lectures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

gradcapsYes, I am still alive. The many loyal readers of DatingGod.org may have been wondering where the regular posts have been in recent days, and I’m writing this rather narrative piece today to fill you in on what has been going on in my life. Like so many involved in academic theology, the first two weekends in June are traditionally the dates of the big theological conferences: CTS and CTSA. I wrote a short piece over at America (“What Gives Theologians Hope“) earlier in the week that can fill you in on what that entails. Last weekend, I was out in Omaha, Nebraska for the CTS conference, which marks the beginning of two very busy weeks for me. I am not in Miami this weekend for the CTSA conference, but in my hometown of Utica, NY, instead to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame High School for their 2013 graduation exercises this evening. I was honored to have been invited to be the speaker this year, which happens to be the 12th anniversary of my own graduation from that school and the graduation year of my youngest brother, Ryan, who will walk across the same stage that his parents and three older brothers did in years and decades earlier.

Between participating in the CTS conference at Creighton University in Omaha and delivering this commencement address in Utica, NY, I spent the better part of the past week outside of Syracuse, NY, along with about 25 other Franciscan friars from Holy Name Province who are involved in education ministries. There we discussed the future of our relationship to our two sponsored institutions, St. Bonaventure University and Siena College, as well as what the future of education ministry in our province might look like in more general terms. It was, as all gatherings of this sort tend to be, a wonderful opportunity to catch up with other brothers who are working in a similar line of ministerial work. The room included friars who are graduate students, professors, administrators, a college president, among others. Institutions represented included SBU and Siena, Boston College, NYU, New York Medical College, University of St. Mary’s, several secondary educational institutions, among others.

In addition to these Central New York events, I will be traveling to Vernon, NY — located midway between Syracuse and Utica — on Sunday to give a talk about Franciscan spirituality. I’m looking forward to that event amid the other festivities and excitement this week.

Next week I travel to Sacred Heart University in Connecticut for the International Thomas Merton Society conference. This is one of my favorite events, which occurs in North America once every two years at some university around the United States or Canada (on alternating years, there is an ITMS conference held in Europe, usually in the UK). I was recently informed by the ITMS that I have been reelected by the society’s membership to the Board of Directors for another two-year term, which means that I will have to be in town early for the annual Board meeting.

This is a “just the facts” sort of post, but I thought folks who are interested might like to know what is going on and why posts here will be more sporadic than usual. Thanks for your patience — I hope to get back to the regular schedule in the very near future. There are also plans to Tweet at the ITMS conference, so look for #Merton2013 next week to follow what’s happening!

Photo: Stock

Hans Küng on Pope Francis and Saint Francis

Posted in Pope Francis, The Papal Watcher, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Hans KüngIt is exciting to see Hans Küng, the great Catholic theologian and well-known papal cynic (for lack of a better description, seem so enthused by the decisions and actions of Pope Francis so far. In a National Catholic Reporter piece, titled “The Paradox of Pope Francis,” which shares a similar thesis to my earlier America essay, “What’s in a Name? The Significance and Challenge of St. Francis for Pope Francis,” Küng offers a personal reflection on how he sees the promise and challenge of the intention Pope Francis has seemingly laid out in his decision to take the name after the famous Saint of Assisi: “It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity.” He goes on to suggest why it hasn’t happened before: “This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high.”

Aside from the fact that I have pointed out that the some of the discussions about Francis of Assisi in light of the new Bishop of Rome have, as Küng does and admits to some degree, simplified and idealized the thirteenth-century saint and neglected the deeper and most significant dimensions of his life and legacy, Küng offers a unique contribution to the discussion at hand.

His essay centers on four questions about what lies ahead, structured around the basic premise that the institutional structures of the Roman Curia form an oppositional force to legitimate change and progress in the church’s constant need to return to the fundamentals, or what Küng calls “the early Christian concerns.”

He places Francis in opposition to his contemporary, Pope Innocent III in a way that is not entirely accurate. For example, Innocent III not only was a brilliant canon lawyer (something Küng notes) and theologian, but was an organizational genius. Nevertheless, his vision for the church was one of structure and order according to his time, while Francis, according to Küng, was not at all interested in these things because of his desire simply to attend to his so-called “early Christian concerns.” What is somewhat complicated about this, which gets overlooked, is that Innocent III provided the very condition of the possibility of the Franciscan Movement by granting the oral probation for its licit establishment in 1209 and, perhaps more importantly, Francis of Assisi sought this institutional approval that eventually culminated in the Regula Bullata of 1223.

Nevertheless, as I point out in my America essay, Francis was not a blind follower of Innocent or any other ecclesiastical leader. At various points in his life and ministry, Francis exercised what I anachronistically call “ecclesiastical disobedience” (akin to “civil disobedience”). Francis’s relationship to exercises of ecclesiastical power and structures of power, such as the curial interventions in his evangelical movement, are more complex than a narrative such as the one Küng tells — in genuine good will, I presuppose — can express.

The greatest take away from Küng’s piece is the final sections of the essay in which the German theologian gets to the main point: there will be resistance from those who exercise power to maintain the status quo. How that is overcome remains to be seen. I agree that as the whole church, that is the Body of Christ, we need to reform ourselves and our institutions of power. However, his last paragraph is one that comes across as a bit confrontational in a way that I’m not sure will be helpful. Küng writes:

We should then in no way fall into resignation; instead, faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the top down, from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pushing for reform from the bottom up. If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic church. However, if he just lets things continue as they are, without clearing the logjam of reforms as now in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of “Time for outrage! Indignez-vous!” will ring out more and more in the Catholic church, provoking reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case — as I already wrote before this papal election — the Catholic church will experience a new ice age instead of a spring and run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect.

Ironically, this confrontational approach “from the bottom up,” at least as Küng seems to present it, actually contradicts his desire to point to Francis of Assisi as a model for reform. Francis did not provoke “reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy.” On the contrary, he sought approval from the pope and his curia from the beginning (in fact, his entire lifestyle shift began with the approval of his local bishop, Guido of Assisi around 1206).

I agree that change is needed. Big change!  I agree that Francis of Assisi is a powerful model for what that could look like and mean.  However, I’m not sure that Küng’s well-meaning proverbial call to arms is the answer. It appears to be just a reiteration of his earlier calls for similar action. I think that a serious look at Francis of Assisi’s negotiation of these relational structures of power between his movement and the church’s leadership, between his desire to follow in the footprints of Christ and his solidarity with the marginalized, between his expressed loyalty to the church and his willingness to act out of conscience — this is more nuanced, subtle, and effective than rallying something of a quasi-democratic grass-roots movement.

Perhaps it is time we all really take Francis of Assisi seriously.

Photo: File

A Few Reflections on Modern Itinerancy

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on December 4, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

667airplaneI’m writing this post sitting in BWI airport just outside Baltimore as I prepare to board my last (scheduled) flight of the 2012 calendar year. Those at least vaguely familiar with my travel schedule for speaking events, board meetings, and the occasional wedding, know that I’m on the road a lot. There are lots of people I know who absolutely despise air travel — or any travel for that matter.  Yet, there are others for whom it is not much of a choice, work or family obligations require frequent trips to the airport, train or bus station, or long rides in the car.

As time goes on it seems that I fall more and more in that second category of people, with speaking requests and other obligations requiring travel more frequently. Fortunately, I (usually) enjoy it. Asked earlier this Fall by some of my classmates how I put up with being on the road so often while managing the responsibilities of academic work and pastoral ministry, I simply responded that I’m able — in a counterintuitive way, I admit — to get as much, if not more, work done in airports, on planes, on trains, or on buses than I do at home. Curiously, there are less distractions when traveling than at home when all of your quotidian comforts are in near reach. Reading and writing are activities I find more relaxing while in the company of others, particularly strangers, because I’m not tempted to chat instead of work.

Regardless of how I productive I can or cannot be on the road, the travel can still be grueling. I readily admit that now and then I also feel the effects of weekly flights, the monotony and absurdity of the TSA lines, the long drives on highways, and so on.  Yet, there is something about this whole experience of being on the move that is entirely resonant with my vocation as a friar minor, a Franciscan.

Francis of Assisi, if he was obsessed with one thing, was obsessed with itinerancy. Many people think about Francis (after thinking about his connection to creation) in terms of his radical embrace of evangelical poverty. One of the most striking ways he modeled this detachment from possessions and places was through the insistence that the friars were to be itinerant after the example of Jesus.

As we read in the Gospels, Jesus himself said that “birds have nests and foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus was on the move without a typical place to call “home.” He commissioned his disciples to do the same, going out into the world and into villages that would welcome them.

Francis of Assisi is often remembered in the early sources for chiding his brothers who became too “comfortable” in one place or established a residence in a “convent” (not to jab my Conventual Franciscan brothers too much but, historically speaking, this was a big reason my branch of the OFM family broke away from the “Conventuals” — the increasing adoption of a more standard or parochial way of life. Today, however, we’re all similarly shameful by Francis’s 13th-Century standards).

I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity and the very humbling privilege to be invited to speak at universities, parishes, retreat centers, and elsewhere, all over the country. One of the ways I understand my ministry in the church is through the modern form of itinerancy that comes with these various groups, schools, parishes, and organizations that bring me out to different parts of the country.

As I flew from Atlanta, GA, this morning after spending the last three days at the Catholic Center of the University of Georgia, I reflected a little on itinerancy and the positive impact this way of life has had on my understanding of what it means to be a friar and a Christian more generally. I have the unique joy of meeting so many people of so many different backgrounds, ages, worldviews, and experiences. I get the chance to preside, preach, lecture, converse with, and learn from so many people and my faith is inspired and strengthened by each and every encounter.

I don’t take any of this for granted, knowing that some folks who would love to have the chance to visit so many places and meet so many wonderful people often don’t have the chance. It is, in a sense, a great luxury and honor to be in a form of ministry where organizations generously pay your way to have you speak. I recognize this vocation to itinerancy for the challenge and grace that it really is: an unsettling reminder of our Franciscan call to resist the security of a regular lifestyle and a true gift of travel, relationship, encounter, teaching, and preaching.

My prayer as this calendar year comes nearer to a close is that as long as I am called to do this sort of ministry through writing, speaking, teaching, and sacramental presiding, that I may have the grace to continue with a spirit of gratitude (even with 6:00 am flights and annoying TSA agents) and a willingness to respond to the invitations of others to share my gifts and to learn from and be inspired by others along the way.

Photo: Stock

UPDATE: Yes, for those who are curious, the 2013 speaking schedule is already filling up, but it’s intentionally less packed (so far) than 2012.

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