Tuesday, November 13, 2018

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - November 11, 2018

This past weekend, Archbishop Lori requested that a homily which he recorded be played at all Masses in the Archdiocese. Therefore, I did not preach. I am posting the homily that I gave this past August 26. It still reflects my basic perspective on the current Church situation and may be of some help at this time. My prayers and best wishes!

Father Michael Schleupner
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
November 11, 2018
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore     

The Church Crisis 


Angry, ashamed, disappointed, disheartened, shocked – these are some of the feelings I have heard from Catholics in the past two months.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the McCarrick scandal have been very painful for all of us, and that includes me. I do have a perspective on this crisis and I also see a way forward.

I discussed this with Father Joe and he felt that it would be good for me to share this with you. Obviously, my perspective is limited because I am only one person. 

My thoughts today are also limited because I am focusing on only one dimension of the issue. I just want to say that up front.  

How Did This Happen?


The question is: how did our Church allow abuse to go unchecked? How did some of our leaders, some of our bishops, fail to address this properly?

There are a number of possible answers. I am focusing on one because I am convinced that this is very much at the heart of the problem.

The major issue is the clerical culture or clericalism in our Church. What do I mean by that?

Clericalism means setting one group, the clergy, ordained priests, apart from the rest of the members of the Church. In fact, it has meant setting the clergy above others and treating them in that way.

The origins of this go back to fifteen hundred years ago. Without getting into all of that history, I would say that the clergy continued to view themselves as apart and above for at least several centuries after that status was no longer helpful to society. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus is putting down the clerical culture in his own religious tradition. The scribes and other leaders also held themselves apart and above the other people in their religion. 

Well, this culture, this clerical culture has created the environment that allowed the present problem to happen. Here is why I say that.

The Clerical Culture

If we look upon the clergy as apart and above, as almost the core of our religion, then we – or at least we clergy – feel the need to protect the clergy, ourselves. 

For us to admit of imperfection in our ranks may seem to admit of imperfection in our Church. For us to admit of moral failure in our ranks may seem to admit of moral failure in our religion.

I am not justifying that rationale. I am simply saying that this has been the human dynamic at play for hundreds of years.

The result is that there developed the tendency to cover up mistakes and even serious moral flaws. This was done by us, the ordained bishops and priests.

This was very shortsighted and morally wrong, but it was part of the clerical culture. It has ended up hurting minors and adults and hurting the entire Church.   

Now, the clerical culture is not nearly as alive today as it used to be. But, remnants of it still linger in some places. 

We need to move completely away from a clerical culture to a People of God culture. We need a culture that respects, empowers and allows all the baptized – all of you – to participate in the full life of our Church. 

We already have the vision for this in the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. Now we need to implement it fully. 

That takes me to some thoughts on how to move forward. I have three ideas – I know that there are other things we have to do and some that we are already doing, but I want to highlight three big directions that I think we need to take. 

Moving to a People of God Culture 

First, as I said, we need to include all the baptized, all of you in the entire mission of the Church. This includes the setting of direction, the ministry, the oversight and the accountability systems.

There are many ways that this is already happening, and we can see this right here at Saint Matthew’s. But, we need to make sure that this happens in all places and on all levels of the Church, from top to bottom. 

Second, we need especially to assure the role of women in our Church. As I say this, I think of today’s first reading and again of the gospel. 

In both passages, widows are central to the concern. And the reason is that women in general and widows especially had no rights.

They could not even have title to or inherit their husband’s money. Jesus shows special sensitivity to widows and all women.

Today, we in our Church have work to do on the dignity and role of women. I realize that the Church teaches that ordination is not open to women. 

But aside from that, we still need to make sure that women are included as equal partners in mission and ministry. I say this after having listened to the thoughts and feelings of many women especially over the past thirty years. 

The third direction that I see is that we need to open up the issue of ordaining married men to the priesthood. There is absolutely nothing to preclude this.

I am not speaking of our religious orders, like the Franciscans and Jesuits, where celibacy is part of the commitment to community living and religious life. But I am speaking of the diocesan priesthood.

In fact, the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have a tradition of ordaining married men to the priesthood. We in the Western or Latin Rite now need to do the same. 

Conclusion 

I have had these thoughts for many years, since I was a young priest, and not just since the current crisis. 

I believe these directions will end a clerical culture and lead us into a full People of God culture. This will energize our Church.

It will lead us to a renewed priesthood and a renewed community of faith. That gives me hope, and it gives us a positive way forward at this time. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - November 4, 2018

31stSunday in Ordinary Time 
Cycle B
November 4, 2018     9:30 and 11:15am 
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 

Rabbi Herschel 


I want to start my reflections today with a brief quote from a Jewish rabbi named Abraham Joshua Herschel.

Rabbi Herschel was a prominent scholar in our American Jewish community. He was an author, a philosopher and a theologian and he died in 1972. 

I am quoting just three short sentences from him. Rabbi Herschel said: “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.”

I want to repeat this so we can just allow it to sink in. “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.”

This morning I want to reflect with you about the words that we use. And, by the way, how appropriate to quote a leader of the Jewish people who have been victimized by words and then by actions over the centuries and were just victimized again last week in Pittsburg.

Our Words

Our words are powerful. 

They have an effect on us. To some extent, they form who we become as persons.

Our words also have an effect on others. They may lead others to feel good or to feel lousy about themselves, to become compassionate or to become hateful.

And because of this, our words have an effect on our relationship with God. Just think of the two great commandments of love that we hear in today’s gospel. 

A very important way that we show our love for God is by the way we treat one another. And our words play a crucial role in the way we treat others. 

So, I’ve got five, quick, positive rules for the kinds of words we are to say, and also corresponding negatives for the kinds of words we are to avoid. I hope they will be helpful. 

Five Rules on Words 


Number 1. Use words that are respecting and not belittling.

Respect others as persons and if possible, affirm their good qualities. Don’t belittle others and make them appear as no good.

Number 2. Use words that are unitive and not divisive.

Emphasize the things that you share in common with others and that unite you. Don’t divide and treat others as if there is no common ground between you and them. 

Number 3. Use words that are reconciling and not distancing. 

Ask for forgiveness or be forgiving, or at least speak in a way that leaves the door open to that. Don’t distance yourself from others especially by holding yourself as absolutely right and them as absolutely wrong.

Number 4. Use words that are protecting and not bullying.

Be protective of others who are vulnerable. Don’t bully others by taking advantage of their weakness or lesser position.
                                                                                               
Number 5. Use words that are persuasive and not coercive.

Treat others as reasonable persons and try to respectfully persuade them about whatever the issue is. Don’t try to coerce others into seeing or doing things your way.

Conclusion


I see these as five basic and important rules on our use of words.

When we use words that are respecting, unitive, reconciling, protecting, and persuasive – when we use words like these, we are fulfilling Jesus’ commandment about love in today’s gospel. We are doing that without even using the word love.

But when we use words that are belittling, divisive, distancing, bullying, and coercive – when we use words like these, we are not following the way of Jesus. We are injuring others at least to some degree. 

So, the words we speak toothers – maybe toyour husband or wife, your parents or children, toour classmates or co-workers, our neighbors or friends – these words can have helpful or harmful effects on them.

And the words we speak aboutothers – maybe aboutindividuals we know or about entire groups who are different from us in some way – these words can also be constructive or destructive

So, let’s be an example of how to speak and what words to use and not use. Then we and our words will help bring about the kingdom of God on this earth and make a positive contribution to our world.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - October 28, 2018

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
October 28, 2018      
4:00 pm, 8:00, 9:30 and 11:15am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville       

The Church Crisis 


Angry, ashamed, disappointed, disheartened, shocked – these are some of the feelings I have heard from Catholics in the past two months.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the McCarrick scandal have been very painful for all of us, and that includes me. This weekend, I am talking about this at each of our Masses here at Saint Mary’s. 

This got decided after some conversations involving Father Kunkel and our two deacons and their wives. I do have a perspective on this crisis and I also see a way forward. 

But obviously, my perspective is limited because I am only one person. My thoughts today are also limited because I am going to focus on only one dimension of this issue. 

How Did This Happen?


So, how did this happen?

How did our Church allow abuse to unchecked? How did some of our leaders, some of our bishops, fail to address this properly?

There are a number of possible answers. I am focusing on one because I am convinced that this is very much at the heart of the problem.

The major issue is the clerical culture or clericalism in our Church. What do I mean by that?

Clericalism means setting one group, the clergy, ordained priests, apart from the rest of the baptized. In fact, it has meant setting the clergy above the rest of the members of the Church and treating them in that way.

The origins of this go back to fifteen hundred years ago. Without getting into all of that history, I would say that the clergy continued to view themselves as apart and above for at least several centuries after that status was no longer helpful to society. 

This culture, this clerical culture has set us up and allowed the present problem to happen. Here is why I say that.

The Clerical Culture

If we look upon the clergy as apart and above, as almost the core of our religion, then we – or at least we clergy – feel the need to protect the clergy, ourselves. 

For us to admit of imperfection in our ranks may seem to admit of imperfection in our Church. For us to admit of moral failure in our ranks may seem to admit of moral failure in our religion.

I am not justifying that rationale. I am simply saying that this has been the human dynamic at play for hundreds of years.

The result is that there developed the tendency to cover up mistakes and even serious moral flaws. This was done by us, the ordained bishops and priests.

This was very shortsighted and morally wrong, but it was part of the clerical culture. It has ended up hurting minors and adults and hurting the entire Church.   

Now, the clerical culture is not nearly as alive today as it used to be. But, remnants of it still linger in some places. 

We need to move completely away from a clerical culture to a People of God culture. We need a culture that respects, empowers and allows all the baptized – all of you – to participate in the full life of our Church. 

We already have the vision for this in the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. Now we need to implement it fully. 

That takes me to some thoughts on how to move forward. I have three ideas – I know that there are other things we have to do and some that we are already doing, but I want to highlight three big directions that I think we need to take. 

Moving to a People of God Culture 

First, as I said, we need to include all the baptized, all of you in the entire mission of the Church. This includes the setting of direction, the ministry, the oversight and the accountability systems.

There are many ways that this is already happening, and we can see this right here at Saint Mary’s. But, we need to make sure that this happens in all places and on all levels of the Church, from top to bottom. 

Second, we need especially to assure the role of women in our Church. I realize that the Church teaches that ordination is not open to women.

Aside from that, we still need to make sure that women are included as equal partners in mission and ministry. I have listened to the thoughts and feelings of many women in our Church, some right here at Saint Mary’s, and I know that we have work to do on this. 

And third, we need to open up the issue of ordaining married men to the priesthood. There is absolutely nothing to preclude this.

I am not speaking of our religious orders, like the Franciscans and Jesuits, where celibacy is part of the commitment to community living and religious life. But I am definitely speaking of the diocesan priesthood.

In fact, the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have a tradition of ordaining married men to the priesthood. We in the Western or Latin Rite now need to do the same. 

Conclusion 

I have had these thoughts for many years, since I was a young priest, and not just since the current crisis. 

I believe these directions will end a clerical culture and lead us into a full People of God culture. This will energize our Church.

It will lead us to a renewed priesthood and a renewed community of faith. That gives me and, God willing, you too hope, and it gives us a positive way forward at this time. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - October 21, 2018

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
October 21, 2018

“You be Jesus”


There is a story about a mother who was making pancakes for her two hungry sons.

Kevin was five and Ryan was three.  As the first pancake was getting golden brown, the boys began arguing over who would get it.

Their mother quickly saw a teachable moment. She said, “Okay boys, if Jesus were here, what would he say?

“He would say, `Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.’”  With that, Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Okay Ryan, you be Jesus.”

Being a Servant: A Mindset

Kevin and Ryan show how difficult it can be to accept Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel.

Being a“servant”is very challenging.  It seems to go against our natural instincts.

Because of that, we need to understand carefully what Jesus is saying here.  As I look at the gospels, Jesus does not spell out specific actions that make up service.

Instead, our serving one another is more of a mindset. It is a perspective on life and an approach to living and to relationships.

In other words, Jesus is getting at some personal qualities that are important for us to have.  I see four traits that make us persons of service.  

Traits of Service

First, respecting.  This means that we place the well-being of others on the same level as our own.

Respecting others means that we are concerned for their physical and emotional and spiritual good.  It even means that the common good of everyone is dominant in our mindset.

Second, listening.  This means that we take in what another person is saying with both ears and not just one ear.

Listening means that we try to discern the feelings underneath the words.  It means that understanding the other person is dominant in our mindset.

Third, communicating.  This means that we share our insights and faith.

But communicating means that we are careful not to dominate a conversation.  It means that standing up for something without putting down someone is dominant in our mindset.

And fourth, helping.  This means that we ignore those messages about not getting involved or always making ourselves first.

Helping means that we step forward to assist someone in need. It means that the question “What can I do to assist?” is dominant in our mindset.

So, respecting, listening, communicating, and helping – these are four traits that emerge in the person of Jesus.  These also make us persons of service – servants to one another.

Priests

I want to add that I find these traits especially important for priests.

Our second reading today speaks of Jesus as “the great high priest who sympathizes with our weakness.” In other words, he is one with us in our humanity.

I believe that what is important in priesthood is not status and not title.  I believe that priests, unlike some times in the past, are not to be apart from or above.

Instead, what is important is that we be one with people. And what makes us priests distinct or different is the quality of our being with people – the way we are part of instead of apart from.

Holy Orders marks us with the responsibility to lead in the human journey back to the Father.  It marks us with more of a responsibility than a right – a responsibility to be respecting, listening, communicating, and helping.

This gets expressed in our leading the Eucharist and the other sacraments.  But that must be an expression of how we are trying to live in everyday life.

Not perfect or pretending that we are, not having all the answers to life or pretending that we do – but first being authentic in trying to follow the way of Jesus, the High Priest who was the servant of all – that is our calling.  In our doing this, we are then to be leaders of others in doing this.

This is the great responsibility and the wonderful fulfillment of being a priest.  And in a similar way, it is also the great responsibility and wonderful fulfillment of being a Christian and a Catholic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - October 14, 2018

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
October 14, 2018      
4:00 pm and 8:00 am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville  

11:00 am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore


Disconnect 


So, you are a good person.

You don’t steal or cheat or cheat on your husband or wife.  You work hard and try to be good to others. 

And yet, you are not quite sure.  Something feels incomplete and so you ask Jesus, “Am I doing okay?”  

This is what the man in today’s gospel is feeling and doing.  And then Jesus answers you and says, “Well, as a matter of fact, there is one thing that is lacking.”   

You anxiously ask, “Uh, what’s that?”  And Jesus responds to you or me with a 2018 answer – different from what he says to the man in the gospel, but just as unsettling.

He says, “Power off your cell phone and shut down your tablet and your laptop.  And just be there for your family or friends or for the people you work with and definitely for anyone who is in need.”

You and I are really put off, much like the man in the gospel.  “Power off my Smartphone and shut down my tablet and my laptop?

“Are you kidding?  I might miss out on something.”

FOMO


And that is the issue, maybe the problem.

Some psychologists are studying this fear of missing out on something as an addiction.  They refer to it by the acronym FOMO – F-O-M-O – Fear of Missing Out.

It is the fear of missing out on something or someone more important, more interesting, or more exciting than the thing we are now doing or the person we are now with.  This other something or someone may be better or worse.

We don’t know, so we just have to check it out. The thought of missing an email or a text or a tweet terrifies us.  

So, we interrupt one call to take another.  We’re constantly checking Facebook or LinkedIn to make sure we are not out of the loop.

We are connected and available 24/7.  This is what we are holding on to, much as the man in the gospel was holding on to his wealth. 

Shocking Us

Now, Jesus is not telling us to throw away our cell phones and tablets and laptops.

In fact, the man in today’s gospel is the only person that Jesus ever tells to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor.  He never says this to the apostles or to Martha and Mary and Lazarus or anyone else.

Jesus apparently says this here to shock this man – to shake him into looking more deeply at his life.  And I think it is the same thing with us and all of our electronic and social communications.

Communicating or being connected is a wonderful thing, Jesus would say.  But the kingdom of God is not just digital and real caring is not just a virtual experience.  

Disconnect to Connect

I think Jesus would say: “Disconnect in order to connect.”

Disconnect from the cell phone or tablet or laptop and do this to connect with those around you.  The purpose of communication is not just communication but communion – communion with others and with God too.

The persons around us are the “poor”to whom Jesus tells the man in the gospel to give his money.  They may not be financially poor or any more emotionally or spiritually in need than we are.

But they are the persons we are with right now – your family at home, your friend with whom you are having a beer, the guy or woman who live next door.  Jesus is saying: let go of what you are afraid you are going to miss – FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.  

Disconnect in order to connect.  Make sure your communications are for communion with others.

If you do this, then you are really with the other person or with God or even with God by being with that person.  And then you will experience an inner peace and no longer FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 30, 2018

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
September 30, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville       4:00pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore             11:00am
            

Hopkins Buildings 


One day several years ago, I was leaving Johns Hopkins Hospital after visiting a person who had major cardiac surgery.
                                                                                                 
I noticed something at Hopkins that really caught my attention. I was leaving the Sheikh Zarad building.

This building is for patients who are in critical care, including heart surgery. It is named after Sheikh Zarad who was the major donor.

He is a Muslim and is from the United Arab Emirates. What caught my eye is that the ground floor hallway connects the Sheikh Zarad building to the Weinberg building. 

This building is a cancer center and the major donors are Harry and Jeannette Weinberg. They were a Jewish couple from Baltimore. 

And then, not far from these buildings is the Anne Pinkard School of Nursing. Anne Pinkard was a Catholic, a member of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Parish in Baltimore. 

She and her husband Walt – an Episcopalean – were major donors to this building. Well, today’s gospel triggers my memory of these buildings at Hopkins.

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”


And this is why I say that.

The apostles are upset because someone, who is not part of their group, is helping others and invoking the name of Jesus. So, the apostles try to stop this man for just one reason: he is not part of their group. 

But Jesus says: “Let him alone. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Jesus’ point is that he wants us to recognize good by whomever it is done. He doesn’t want us to be exclusivist and think that only those who are part of our group are good and can do good.

He doesn’t want us to think that only Christians or only Catholic Christians or only those who agree with us on everything can do good. He wants us, as I said, to accept good by whomever it is done.

Jesus is calling us to embrace this open attitude and mindset. And if we do, there will be good results.

The Effects in General  

This is why I am remembering those buildings at Hopkins.

Muslims, Jews, Catholics, other Christians and probably persons of other faiths or of no faith tradition are all cooperating in the mission of Johns Hopkins Hospital. The results are excellent. 

Hopkins is one of the finest hospitals in the world. This happens because of openness to the good that everyone can do – even though there are major differences among those involved.    

This openness to the good that others can do and collaborating with them in doing it also brings people closer together. It prevents differences from becoming divisions and it helps to melt some of the divisions that we have allowed differences to create. 

The Effects for Our Church

Jesus’ words today – “Whoever is not against us is for us” – are good guidance for our Church.

We as a Catholic Church and any religious group can easily slide into the attitude of the apostles. In fact, we have done this at times.

In the name of God and of what we believe to be true, we can slide into a kind of exclusivist mindset. We can fail to see the good in those who are not part of our group – our Church.

Sometimes we have done this because of disagreements – maybe on issues of faith or morality. At times, there seems to be a fear of watering down our faith – I have heard that expression used – the fear of watering down our faith if we recognize the good and cooperate with others with whom we disagree.

In truth, we water down our faith when we fail to do this. We are not living the gospel. 

The truth is that Jesus calls us to recognize the good that others do regardless of who they are. If we do that, a lot more good will be done.

If we do that, we will not be allowing differences to become a source of division. In fact, we will be melting some of the divisions in our relationships, our community, our country and our world that we have allowed differences to create.

We will be building up the kingdom of God. That’s my take on this gospel passage today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 23, 2018

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
September 23, 2018
            

“Compare and Despair” 


Back in 2010, a Jesuit priest named James Martin published what I think is an excellent book.

It is titled: A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  It is insightful and enjoyable reading.

At one point, James Martin talks about the human tendency to compare ourselves with others.  Sometimes we look at others and their lives and may feel down because we think we don’t have it as good as they do.

James Martin says that this tendency to compare is a real trap.  He has this little saying: “Compare and despair.”  “Compare and despair.”

He says that when we compare, we often minimize the good things in our own lives and maximize the good things in other persons’ lives.  And ironically, we often maximize the bad things in our own lives and minimize the bad things in other persons’ lives.  

So, “Compare and despair.”  Martin advises that we just be with our own strengths and challenges and find our peace right there.

Striving to Be First 


This insight helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.

The apostles have been arguing about which of them should be number one – above all the others.  On the surface, each of them is asserting that he should be number one because of his own special talents.

But my bet is that, underneath the surface, each of them feels less than the others and that being designated as number one would make them feel better.  They are comparing and, as Martin says: “Compare and despair.”  

In response to this, Jesus points to a little child.  And with the child, he teaches two lessons. 

1. See the Value of Each Person 

First, each of us is already valuable just in being ourselves.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, children were at the bottom of the ladder.  For example, if a family did not have enough food, the father would eat first, then the mother, and only then would the children get what was left over.

This sounds backwards to us.  In our culture, some of our parents may have held back on eating or on buying something so that the children could have enough. 

Well, in that very different culture, Jesus says, “Whoever receives a child such as this, receives me.”  He’s saying that a child and who that child symbolizes is valuable – anyone seen as insignificant, powerless or hurting.

So, if a child has such value and worth, then each of us does too.  Our value is inherent in our very being and is given to us by God.

This means that we don’t have to compare ourselves with anyone and we don’t have to be above others, as the apostles were trying to do.  Our value or self-worth is already there.
     
2. Care for the Least

And then Jesus teaches a second lesson with this child.

He calls us to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting among us.  He does this when he calls us to receive the little child as if we were receiving him.

So, we are not to compare ourselves and see ourselves as better than those whose income is at poverty level.  We are not to look upon them as a drain on society.

When we do this kind of comparing, the “Compare and despair”rule acts in reverse.  Here we will not be caring for those in need and so they will despair.   

I sometimes think of it this way.  In a hospital, the health care professionals simply treat us when we are sick.

They don’t ask if our intestinal or coronary trouble is our own fault because of eating fatty foods and, if that’s the case, they refuse to treat us.  They simply treat us, help us to get better, and then advise us on how to take care of ourselves.

Well, in the same way, we are to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting in our society.  We are to do this without comparing and seeing them as below us or as undeserving.   

And interestingly, Jesus is saying that again, in doing this, we ourselves will find self-worth.  Our sense of self will be strengthened and enhanced.