Archive for April, 2009


Time to count Catholics. It ain’t Easter without Alleluia!

Catholic churches all over the country are packed to the gills this Easter.  Chairs in the aisles.  Ties and spring dresses and fancy liturgies with new songs.  A lot of people the regulars don’t know.  A lot of regulars displaced from their spots in the pews.  A few regulars going back out to their cars and driving home, harumphing about the injustice of it all and hoping God will take credit for the other 51 Sundays when most of these people were watching football or mowing the lawn…

Religion.  It can be so exhausting.

But there are millions of Catholics on Easter Sunday who find their way back to church because…, well, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.  It isn’t Easter without Alleluia!

A bishop from South America gave a great explanation on a seminary retreat many years ago that I have never forgotten.  He used the Solar System as a metaphor.  The Sun, of course, standing for the Son.  Pretty simple, that one.  Then there are the churches that orbit around the sun.  Each on its own path.  Each fairly predictable.  Never touching but affecting the other planets in the most delicate, infinitesimal ways.  Around some of the planets orbit moons. 

Moons maintain an intimate relationship with their planet.  Their mass squeezing and releasing the planet’s crust like a nervous child holding a parent’s hand.  Causing tides and triggering earthquakes.  Moons are the regulars in the church.  They’re comfortable and dependable, until riled.  And then they really do cause earthquakes in the crust of parishes.  Their collective anxiety, anger, joy and serenity all push and pull the congregation back and forth.

Then there are comets and meteors.  These are the people who suddenly show up, blast in with ideas and energy, and then often blow away as quickly as they came.  Sometimes they are just sleepy comets that regularly cross the path of the church every year–around Christmas and Easter, ususally.

The Easter count is huge in large part because of these comets and meteors.  But the church is designed for the moons of the world.  Homilies and song choices are predicated mostly on the people there every week, or even every day.  The relevancy of the church to these people lies in relationships with other church members.  This usually even trumps whatever pastor or vatican fancy is bubbling away in the community or world.

But to the comets and meteors who pass through the church on Easter, the church really is all the crap that’s bubbling around in the press or in the grocery store aisle.  Likewise, to the greater world, this Catholic church is defined by where our passion is visible.  Unfortunately, that passion seems hell bent on sexuality and procreation, out of step with world issues and global needs.  And so becomes ever more irrelevant.

Imagine a world-wide Catholic church lobbying, educating and organizing for health care, not focused on abortion or condoms, but on the whole of caring for our people.  Imagine a Catholic church championing a sacrament of marriage blind to gender, but instead committed to love and fidelity and children.  Imagine a Catholic church censuring politicians for torture, unjust war and murder.  Imagine all the Catholic schools becoming educational oasis for the poor and disabled, a church whose campuses shifted from private school to public services to seniors, disabled, poor people in their communities.

The Christ upon which our church is founded would be as exasperated with today’s church administration as He was with the pharisees and saducees in His time.  A prophetic church can change.  I believe that.  I pray for that.  I’ll try to stay focused on not only what needs to be changed, but to what we must change.


Close the Catholic Schools

Okay, I’m a product of Catholic Education. So are my kids, for the most part.  While they were in elementary school I sat on the local school board and then on the Diocesan Board of Education.  In fact I was awarded a Board Member of the Year by the NCEA way back when…

Why the bonafides?  Because I think most Catholic schools should be closed.  Most, not all.  And many will count this heresy.  But here are my reasons:

1.  Our Catholic high schools test incoming freshmen and, while recommendations and elementary grades are taken into consideration, students with the lowest scores are least likely to get in.  “The least among us.”  Should our measure for service and resources not be who needs it most, not who needs it least?

2.  While there are scholarships, most Catholic high schools charge tuitions that are a hardship for middle class and nigh impossible for minimum income families.  Despite exceptions, those who attend Catholic high schools represent a more narrow–and wealthier–slice of the student population than the communities they serve.

3.  Although perhaps a stereotype, my experience of the families with students in Catholic high schools is of families that care more–on the whole–about education that the average public school population.  These families are willing to pay more, donate more, volunteer more and demand more effort and results from their children than the average public school.  It sounds prejudiced and mean when I read it.  But bear with me…

4.  The Catholic high schools have drained the school population in the communities they serve of the brightest, wealthiest and most education-dedicated families.  In classrooms throughout the public shool system, many of the students who would ask better questions, raise class curves, challenge other students and teachers are gone,  sitting together in Catholic school classrooms.  There are MANY students like this in public schools, certainly.  But drawing the private school students out of the public schools drains some of the excellence out of those public schools.

5.  The same is true of pulling these education-committed parents out of the public school communities.  Many of the families who care most are disengaged from the public schools.  Their demands for better classrooms, better books, better teachers…they take that power off to their Catholic school communities where expectations are collectively higher.

6.  Public schools budgets are predicated on student populations.  Every student drawn away from the public schools reduces school budgets by approximately $10,000.

7.  Many of the Catholic high schools have instituted a Friday mass that is increasingly becoming the defacto worship experience for what were local parish families.  Students and their families are increasingly less present in local congregations and more involved with the high school’s spiritual, worshipping community.  Not a terrible thing, but one in which the schools are complicit.  As students move away from parish experiences in high school, and then in college, their parish experience can be lost forever.

8.  As a church focused by Jesus on the least among us, upon the beleaguered, marginalized and poor of our community, what do we teach our children by pulling them out of real communities and cultures and instead insulate them in the homogenous hallways of well-managed and maintained campuses.  Yes, we haul them down to Mexico once every couple years to find the poor hundreds of miles away, or to the streets for an adventure with the homeless.  But, back in the public schools they have abandoned, the poor and uncared-for are present by the thousands every single day.  And the care, treasure and love that Catholic families can bring to them is absent.

Our Catholic schools train leaders for our communities.  Hopefully they inculcate our Catholic children with the values to go out into the world to care for those least among us.  But, as a church, we are finding fewer and fewer returning to the pews.  We divide these luckiest from the least-lucky at our great peril, both as a church and as a community.

To where, I wonder, would Jesus wander in search of the lowliest in Portland and in our other US cities?  Would he find his way to Jesuit?  Or to Roosevelt?

Here is a radical idea.  Test students and gather their school performance records.  Take those with the lowest scores, the lowest grades and build the finest school possible to give them the best chance for education.  Find the poorest families and put them, too, in the school.  Put our best effort, our treasure and our love, into these least among our students and leave the smartest, the best performers, the wealthiest…leave them in the public schools where parents have the will and resources to demand quality and performance.  Is that not, really, the Christian way?

Impossible?  I send $20 each month to St. Andrew Nativity School in Portland.  No tuition.  I’ve sat in a classroom and watched 3 English classes in which students are LOVED, challenged, encouraged and educated.  It can be done.


Outraged…but what do we do?

Last night at our monthly faith-sharing group we wrapped up discussion of  Tomorrow’s Catholic by Michael Morwood, MSC.  The last chapter is entitled Leadership in a New Millennium.  I shared my recent anger and frustration with the Catholic Church–ranging from injustices at our local parish to the Pope’s recent visit to Africa.  Pope Benedict’s statements in Kenya proscribing condom use against HIV/Aids sparked an energetic discussion about what we CAN do as lay members of a Catholic parish and the Roman Catholic Church.

It was a fascinating discussion frustrated by the lack of infrastructure in the church for parishioners to really do anything.  I stated that in my life I have participated in marches and protests, been arrested repeatedly for civil disobedience and generally been an activist for peace and social justice issues.  Yet, right here in my church, in the face of terrible and continuing injustice, I act impotent.  I do not pickup a placard.  I do not walk out.  I do not march or disobey.  As our Archbishop of Portland has said personally and publicly to those who are unhappy, “Maybe you belong somewhere else.”

No.  He says this as though it were his church.  As do many pastors when they censure us for “inflammatory” statements or “inappropriate” questions.  But this is not their church.

In that last chapter of Morwood’s, he quotes St. Augustine in regards to communion, in regards to the Body of Christ:

If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful,
“You, though, are the body of Christ and its members,
it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table;
What you recieve is the mystery that means you.
It is to what you are that you reply “Amen” and by so replying you express your assent.
What you hear is “the Body of Christ” and you answer “Amen.”
So be a member of the body of Christ in order to make that “Amen” true. 

I would also refer you to the Ring Story for yet another concept of what Eucharist is.

As we talked about our church it was clear that we all shared both a frustration with our ability to “move” the church and to find a constructive, effective outlet for our concerns.  We wondered if other faith-sharing groups shared our frustration and we promised to check, locally, to see if they do.  Beyond that we talked about new ways to remain part of our Eucharistic community while “breaking open the word” together as a small group.

I promised to put otgether a letter or petition of some sort to express to the leaders in Kenya that there are American Catholics who do not agree with Pope Benedict on his condom proscription.  That petition is now online and I encourage you to sign it.  There is also a new website,, which will chronicle local and global church issues with reports and commentary from all points of view.  Please feel free to add to this dialogue by commenting here and by adding your comments to the CatholicOutrage site.

I know I promised to write next about Catholic education.  But I’m still collecting research on enrollment, scholarships and effects on public schools.

April 2009
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