Sunday, September 26, 2021

TURF WARS IN THE FAITH COMMUNITY - A VERY OLD PROBLEM


Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.

Mark 9:38-43

Some weeks, our Sunday readings offer us a chance to reflect on problems outside the church, in the broader community. Other weeks, our readings offer us a chance to reflect on problems inside the church, even inside our own diocesan offices, religious communities and parish committees. Today the focus is on what happens inside our faith communities. Basically, what we have here is a message about pettiness and jealousy in church ministry that has been around since the beginning and can still cripple the church's ministry, making it less effective. I call that pettiness and jealousy "turf wars."

Competitiveness and jealousy have been the dark side of church culture for a very long time and it is certainly alive and well today. When the competitive apostles, James and John, were caught making a power grab for the best seats in Jesus’ new kingdom, they had to face the jealous indignation of the other ten apostles, not to mention a stern reprimand from Jesus. Today, we have the story about John trying to put a stop to someone who was driving out demons in the name of Jesus because he was "not a member of the inner circle.” Then there is the story about Joshua doing pretty much the same when he complained to Moses that Medad and Eldad were prophesying even though they had not been “in the tent with the others" when the spirit came to rest on them. Then there is the story about the apostles being snubbed by some Samaritans while on their way to Jerusalem. In response, James and John asked Jesus if it would be OK just to call down fire from heaven and burn them up! In tomorrow's readings, we will even hear about the apostles' jealousy of all the attention Jesus was giving to a bunch of kids and how they tried to get shoo them away!

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests dedicates quite a bit of space to the subject of clerical envy and competition. Whether you like his work or not, the late Father Andrew Greeley was quite insightful on this subject. He wrote about the leveling that goes among the priests of a diocese, whereby some priests are reluctant to applaud the work of other priests for fear that it will take away something from themselves. Deacons, parish staff members, members of religious communities and lay ministers all have a similar problem. As I said earlier, I call this pettiness and competition “turf wars,” where people end up in ministry positions or on parish committees and then try to hug that power to themselves. Rather than making room for new people and giving others a place to use their gifts and talents, they fight to protect and preserve their own positions of power and hug their little domains to themselves.

What Father Greeley says about priests, can usually be applied to deacons, parish staff members, parish council members and lay ministers. He says that, in the clerical culture, “to be a member of good standing, a priest must try not to be too good at anything or to express unusual views or criticize accepted practices or even to read too much. Some ideas are all right, but too many ideas are dangerous.” In clerical culture mediocrity is rewarded and excellence is punished. I have both seen it and felt it. Father Greeley wrote, “When a layman mentions that Father X is a good preacher, the leveler priest’s response might likely be, ‘Yes, he preaches well, but he doesn’t get along with kids.’” Or, “He’s really good, but all he does during the week is prepare his sermon.” Or, “everyone says that, and it’s probably true, but he’s not an easy man to live with.” But! But! But! One famous Protestant minister once said, “The meanest, most contemptible form of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but.”

I have presented over 160 workshops and retreats in 9 countries addressing the jealousy and competitiveness among priests, offering ideas for building the unity of presbyterates and calling all priests to work together as a ministry team with the bishop, rather than competing as "Lone Rangers." A presbyterate, by the way, is all the priests of a diocese as a whole, as a unified body, as a team. My work in this area started back in 2003, eighteen years ago, when I published a little book entitled Intentional Presbyterates: Claiming Our Common Sense of Purpose as Diocesan Priests. It was the first book on the subject ever published. To my surprise, it took off. The first printing was 7,000 copies. Back then, before one-at-a-time print on demand, you had to order that many and store them until you could sell them. I had no idea how I was going to get rid of them when they came from the printer. However, the Bishop of Dallas, Texas, when he was a priest working for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote me and told me that the title itself, Intentional Presbyterates, had captured the imagination and attention of several bishops and my title named a problem they were all experiencing. I sent every bishop in the country a free copy. As a result, Bishops started ordering my book by the case to give to their priests as Christmas presents. Within a few years, I was even invited to address the American Bishops as a body at their spring meeting in Florida. My little book went through several printings in English and was translated into Spanish, Vietnamese and Swahili. Before long, I was invited to give workshops all over the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and even a workshop for the eastern rite Slovakian presbyterate of the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio. I was invited to several dioceses more than once to do follo-up workshops. I completed over 160 workshops and retreats on presbyteral unity, but turned down invitations to India, Singapore and Tonga in the south Pacific. I even turned down Hawaii just a month ago because of the uncertainty of air travel during the COVID epidemic.

When I was teaching in the seminary, in my August transition class with the deacons about to be ordained priests and entering presbyterates, I always ended with a class on the spiritual practice of blessing their fellow priests. Blessing them is not about waving crosses over them. It’s about looking for goodness in them to affirm. For some reason, the ability to affirm goodness in each other does not seem to come naturally to ordained priests. It is a spiritual discipline that must be taught and intentionally cultivated.

A couple of years ago, I came across my notes for former student, Jorge Gomez, of the class of 2011. Tragically, Fr. Jorge (from Mexico) and his diocesan brother, Stanley (from Kenya), were killed in a car wreck two weeks after Fr. Jorge's ordination. Here are the last words I said to Deacon Jorge to bless him on his way out of the seminary. “You have not forgotten that you do not have a vocation to the seminary, but to serve the People of God. You have a deep love and respect for your country, your family, your people and your community. You are very dedicated to “the people.” You seem to know instinctively that, as priests, we are “called from the people, to live among the people, to serve the people.” I also told them which saint they reminded me of. For him I selected St. Luke, whose heroes are always the underdog, the foreigner, the disaffected and the left out. I am very happy that I had taken the time to bless him with these words while he was still alive!

Brothers and sisters, especially those of you who are active in church ministry, our sin may not be so much about “what we have done,” those mean and nasty things we say about each other, but “what we have failed to do,” our withholding of clear and unconditional compliments that encourage each other. Sadly, we are often better at competing with each other than affirming each other.

St. Cyprian, in the Office of Readings for the feast of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, put it this way. His words could be applied to deacons, religious Sisters/Brothers and lay ministers as well. “Why should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happenings of its brothers wherever they are?” Again, that famous American Protestant preacher described our sin best when he said, “The meanest, most contemptible form of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but!” Jesus was right in his response to John in today’s gospel. "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Brothers and sisters, let's learn to affirm each other, encourage each other, include each other and welcome each other in ministry. Just not saying any thing hurtful to each other is not good enough! We need to teach ourselves to "bless" each other, to look for ways to offer clear and unconditional compliments to each other and to look for opportunities to bring others into our ministry rather than protect and defend our turf as if it belonged to us! What I have said today can be applied to families and marriages as well because today "teamwork," not "competition," is needed there more than ever! In families, marriages, parishes and presbyterates, we need more team work and cooperation, not more "turf wars."






Saturday, September 25, 2021

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"SAINT THERESA MUSEUM BRIEF" #5 - Our One Religious Brother"

 

BROTHER EDWIN LEONIDIAN BURCH, F.S.C. 
1914-1939


Born Joseph Leo Burch, Brother Edwin Leonidian is the son of Leo Burch and Elizabeth Abbie (Elder) Burch. After their marriage at St. Theresa, the Burch family moved to St. Louis where Joseph Leo was born July 19, 1914. 

Joseph Leo Burch entered the community of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1930. In 1933, he was invested with the holy habit of that community and received his religious name Brother Edwin Leonidian. 

While teaching at St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota, in 1936, his health began to fail. He was sent back to St. Louis to Mount Saint Rose Sanitorium for treatment for about a year. Feeling that the country air would be more beneficial, with his Superior's per mission, he went to his grandmother's home in Mooleyville near St. Theresa Church. In the summer of 1939, he died at St. Joseph Infirmary in Louisville. His burial services were held at St. Theresa's and he was laid to rest among his family members in the church cemetery.

Sister of Mercy Sister Mary Bernard Warren, Father Joseph Henry Elder, Brother Edwin Leonidian Burch, Father Henry Lee Egart and Dominican Sister Mary Catherine Buren, all from St. Theresa, died from tuberculosis, (the first at age 31, the second at age 39 and the last 3 at age 25), one of the infectious diseases that took the lives of many young people at that time. In those days, many women died during child birth which explains why so many men married two or three times in their lifetimes. 

PROPOSED SAINT THERESA HISTORIC PHOTO GALLERY



Tuesday, September 21, 2021

HONORED AND HUMBLED TO BE INCLUDED

In June of 2019, I was invited to Notre Dame University to present a paper at their fifth annual conference on Catholic preaching. The title of my paper was "Claiming the Pulpit for Spiritual Leadership and Personal Sanctification."

I was honored two weeks ago when a copy of the book, PREACHING AS SPIRITURAL LEADERSHIP: Guiding the Faithful as Mystic and Mystagogue, arrived and saw that my paper made up Chapter 18 of the book. It was both a tremendous honor and such an affirmation to be included among 24 nationally recognized leaders in Catholic preaching! 










 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

PEOPLE WILL LOVE YOU FOR A LIE AND KILL YOU FOR THE TRUTH



One of the biggest problems we face today is the ability to distinguish between what is true and what is false! We seem to have lost the ability to know whom to trust! It is so bad now that people who do tell you the truth are condemned, while those who tell you a lie are praised! Even tech companies are having a hard time separating truths from lies and what to do about it when they do know lies are being packaged and spread as truth! People seem to be more susceptible to all this because people want their opinions validated, not challenged. People seem to, more and more, want to hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe, do what they want to do and they do not want anyone to challenge them on it! Traffic in misinformation is now a big business! Calling the truth a lie and a lie the truth must be a very old problem if the Book of Wisdom speaks about it as clearly as it does today.

Confronting this twisting of the truth has been called "fraternal correction." “Fraternal correction” is an old religious idea that has fallen out of style, but one that our readings today talk about! “Fraternal correction” is the practice of calling a brother or sister on some destructive action as a way of helping them stop doing that wrong! As you might imagine, it is extremely risky, because the one who receives the criticism almost always acts defensively. “Mind your own business,” “You’ve got a lot of room to talk,” “Who in the hell do you think you are?” are only mild forms of the backlash you might receive in response. You could end up with black eye, missing a tooth, a former friend or even end up seriously maimed in the process! With so many people on edge and so many available guns, you can actually get yourself killed for trying to confront evil! John the Baptist had his head chopped of for having the nerve to tell Herod that it was not right for him to live with his brother’s wife! No wonder the idea of “fraternal correction” has gone out of style! People tend to think that "prophets" are mainly people who predict the future. Not, so! More often than not, "prophets" are simply people who tell the truth when nobody wants to hear it! That's why they usually get killed - not for lying, but for telling the truth to people who don't want to hear it!!

Here again is what out first reading said. Listen to it's warnings to those of us who dare confront evil.


The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for according to his own words, 
God will take care of him.

Wisdom 2:12,17-20

Regardless of how tricky and dangerous it is, the Prophet Ezekiel tells us that it is our obligation to correct others, and others to correct us, when wrong is being done! Ezekiel says, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die and I will hold you responsible for his death.” Whoa! That sounds like another version of Cain’s old question to God about his brother Abel: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is: “Of course, you are!”

In the gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a four stage process on how “fraternal correction” is to be done. (1) If your brother or sister is in the wrong, first have a “one on one” to discuss it. (2) If that doesn’t work, get a couple of friends together to make the appeal. (3) If that doesn’t work, get the whole faith community to make an appeal. (4) Finally, if that doesn’t work, “treat him like a Gentile or tax collector.”

It is very important to understand this 4th step. How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He loved them anyway! In other words, if all efforts fail, let it go and love them anyway, even if you think they are making a mistake!

I can still remember one very painful experience in particular, from years ago, when I tried “fraternal correction.” It involved one of the one or two weddings that I simply refused to do! A young woman and her boyfriend, both friends of mine, were fighting like cats and dogs. There was infidelity, as well, on both sides. They came in one day and told me that they wanted to get married and asked if I would preside at the wedding. They came to me with the crazy belief that marriage would cure their intense fighting and chronic infidelity!

It would have been easier on me to just go ahead and perform the wedding, and have them to like me, but I knew in my gut that my doing a marriage was not right and that it would not be good for them either. I told them I could not, in good conscience, do their wedding under the circumstances. I finally got up the courage to do the right thing, not the easy thing. They left very angry at me and went to the Lutheran Church where the pastor asked no questions and performed their wedding in a few weeks. The marriage lasted six months and, sadly for them, ended in a very messy and angry divorce. I could not stop them from hurting themselves, but I felt that I had done the loving thing for them, even though they did not appreciate it at the time.

There are times when we absolutely must speak out, especially when others' lives, property or reputation are at stake. We should all know by now that it is illegal, and immoral, not to report a possible Columbine-like situation. We should all know by now that is illegal, and immoral, not to report child abuse, even suspected child abuse. We should all know by now that it is illegal, and immoral, to leave the scene of an accident without offering assistance or calling for help. We should all know by now that we are morally and legally obligated, for the sake of the community, to “blow the whistle” in cases of gross embezzlement, grand theft, pyromania and hazardous exposure.

It is not always appropriate or advisable to confront someone personally, as in cases of suspected spouse or child abuse, grand theft and vandalism. In those cases, there are avenues that provide help and guarantee anonymity. Sometimes, when the situation is not life-threatening but involves close friends or family members, all we can do is speak the truth with love and let it go! Sometimes all we can do is not participate in, encourage or condone immoral behavior! That kind of silence and passivity can speak louder, and sometimes be even more effective, than words! The loving thing is not always the easy thing. The easy thing is not always the loving thing.

We are our brothers and sisters keepers. We are morally obligated to speak out, but we are obligated to speak the truth with love! The goal of “speaking out” is not to hurt, embarrass or get even, but to help the individual and to help the community. As Christians, we are called to do “fraternal correction” for each other. Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to evil gives it an environment to grow and spread, until it inundates a community and even the world.

In the Confiteor, when we call to mind our sins, we admit to the things we have done and failed to do. The Letter of James says this, “It is a sin to know the right thing to do and not do it!” The famous Edmund Burke put it this way, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good people to do nothing.”