Sunday, September 25, 2016

So long, Father

[Nota: I edited the original post considerably as giving away too much information about Father's whereabouts and his activities could potentially endanger him]

Our pastor of 11 years left our parish this week.

When he hired me as Youth Director and DRE way back in 2007, I was only a year or so out of college; he hired me even though I had no real qualifications; he just wanted an orthodox Catholic young man who seemed like he'd be good with youth, and he took a chance.

It was as DRE that I started this blog. Fr. Gerald and I came into conflict about it more than once; he often times took me aside and reprimanded me for things I wrote here - but all the same, he never sought to stifle my opinion; he could have easily told me that as his DRE and a representative of the parish, he just didn't want me blogging at all. In fact I almost expected that monthly, every time he would call me into the church or his office to cross examine me on this or that matter. But he didn't. He would express his disagreement, we would argue a bit, and then he would go out of his way to make sure I knew it was okay to keep blogging. I was always grateful for this.

Not that Fr. Gerald was hostile to tradition; at the time Summorum Pontificum hit, he was training with the Canons of St. John Cantius in hopes of obtaining the celebret under the indult. As soon as the motu proprio came out, he started preparing to celebrate. It took him awhile, but our parish began offering its first Traditional Latin Masses in 2009. Since then Fr. Gerald faithfully said the TLM on the first Sunday of every month and very frequently offered other things as well; he would say the entire Pentecost Octave (which does not exist in the new rite), and always performed baptisms in the traditional rite upon request - my own son was baptized in the traditional rite.

As an employee, I often butted heads with him. But he was generally just and quick to apologize if he felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had offended me. And the man worked incessantly. He was the sort of priest who literally had to be forced to take a vacation because he was so immersed in his duties. It sometimes happened he would announce he was "taking a vacation", but us employees knew he was really in the rectory working all week. He was relentlessly devoted to his ministry. He always took the worst hours for Adoration - the 3:00 AM shifts. He prayed for his parishioners relentlessly.

After I quit working for the parish in 2010 I continued to see Fr. Gerald regularly; I continued to attend the parish and I worked there a few days a week at the local homeschool co-op. We continued to have cordial interactions over the years. My experience of Fr. Gerald was that he was a very decent diocesan priest - saying the Novus Ordo reverently, with Latin, chant, and ad orientem, but also saying the TLM, preaching traditional Catholic morality, encouraging frequent confession and Eucharistic adoration and devotion to Our Lady. He was not perfect or a saint by any means; he had his faults and quirks. He was painfully human. But he did a good job, and the fruits of sanctity were evident in the people he nourished through his ministry, imperfect though it was.

Earlier this summer, Fr. Gerald made an announcement that came very unexpectedly. He told us that he was leaving his ministry in the Diocese to go work with  Christian refugees in the Middle East. He had been personally invited by the Christian community there and agreed to a three year mission.

Throughout 2015, as ISIS continued taking territory in Iraq and Syria and horrifying the world with its brutality, Fr. Gerald had frequently preached against the indifference of the Christian west and the United States to the systematic de-Christianization of the middle east. He had a very strong burden in his heart for the forgotten Christians of the region. Earlier in the year - without telling the parish - he used one of his vacations to visit a war-torn region of the Middle East. He was told that no priests from the west had come to help. That the spiritual needs of the Christian refugees were going unmet. He was personally asked him to return.

And so he agreed, making the announcement to us earlier this summer. We were all tremendously proud of him; we have all been going on and on about what's going on in the Middle East and "Where is the west?" Even our own Pontiff has been somewhat disappointing in his support of mideast Christians. But when Fr. Gerald received the invitation, his priestly response was, "These people need me; how can I say no?"

Fr. Gerald will spend the next three years working with Christian refugees. He is not in ISIS controlled territory, but he is still in a region where there is unrest and could be trouble - hence the vagueness of the details in this post.

So long, Father. Please pray for Fr. Gerald and his work. And pray for our parish. Our new priest will not arrive until November; we are told he says the Traditional Latin Mass, so this is good. To our bishop's credit, he wanted to send a priest who would carry on the work Fr. Gerald had begun, so we are all relatively optimistic. But in the meantime we are getting visiting priests every week.

I didn't always get along with Fr. Gerald, and I have mixed feelings about him in various respects; but when it came down to it, he is doing what a priest is supposed to be doing - putting himself at the service of Christ's flock where it is most desperately needed. I am very proud of him. God bless him, and may God return him home safely.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Stewardship of the Mysteries of God

The epistle from Mass this past Friday was taken from the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians. It reads:

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God." (1 Cor. 4:1-5, Douay)

St. Paul is referring to those in active ministry within the Church. What is the relationship between those who minister in the Church and the divine things entrusted to them by Christ?

It is Catholic teaching that Christ left the Church with all of the means necessary for carrying out her divine mission. She possesses, by the grace of God, all the gifts necessary for her to teach, govern, and sanctify the faithful. Because she possesses the fullness of St. Paul addresses the question of how those who wield these powers should view their position. He says that ministers of God's mysteries are to be regarded as stewards.

Stewardship is a common theme when the subject matter is finances - or more likely these days, care of the environment. In contemporary usage, it is often used to denote our management of some tangible or worldly good, such as mammon or natural resources. But it is interesting to note that in the New Testament, the concept is primarily used with relation to God's supernatural gifts. In the Gospels, the concept of stewardship appears in the various parables of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30, for example), the talent left with the steward represents the supernatural graces God gives people for the building up of His kingdom.

In the passage from St. Paul, the minister of the Church is described as a steward of God's mysteries, which of course refers to the sacraments. We know that stewardship, of course, means that one is given authority over something, but in a relative way - it is not absolute, but relative to the parameters set by the one who has entrusted it to the steward. In the parable of the talents, the servants have stewardship over the money their master entrusts them to the degree that they use it in a manner conformable to His will. This is why the servant who merely buries his talent his cast out; he has been unfaithful to his stewardship of his master's money by using it in a way inconsistent with the master's wishes.

It is amazing to me how this concept - which is at the core of stewardship - is so easily understood and so fervently preached when it comes to our use of mammon or natural resources, but so seldom understood or preached on when it comes to the sacraments, which is astonishing because that is actually the context in which St, Paul uses the term - stewards of the mysteries of God.

How common has it become to think of the sacraments as something pastors have absolute discretion over! This is facilitated in part by the modern view of the Church's rites as a laboratory for constant experimentation, in part by the plenitude of "options" that gives the impression of a ritual subject only to the whims of the celebrant. So much is discretionary, we can forget that the sacraments are something we are called to exercise stewardship over, not absolute dominion.

"Stewardship of the mysteries of God", says St. Paul. And what if we act out of the best intentions? If we believe our rites and traditions must be continually upgraded to fit the mentality of the modern times - if we act like what God has entrusted to us may be used anyway we choose and at any whim - we are not exercising legitimate stewardship but unjust self-aggrandizement over the gift of God.

St. Paul says, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." The servant in the parable of the steward thought he was justified in burying the talent out of fear, but the Master did not share his assessment. That servant was cast out, for he had been reckless with what the Master entrusted to him.

Stewardship is not simply about money. It is about how we handle anything God has entrusted to us - especially the supernatural means Christ has given to the Church for the building up of the Mystical Body.