Tuesday, December 22, 2009

DIAPERS AND DIVINITY – An Unusual Christmas Meditation

One of my most memorable theological discussions was with a precocious Third Grader. It went like this:

Jesus was God, right?
Yes, we believe Jesus was the son of God.
And Jesus was a real baby, right?
Right, a baby just like you and me.
So did Jesus need to have his diapers changed?
Well, yes, He was a genuine baby, you know.
Then that must mean that God had to have his diapers changed. That’s amazing!

That interchange many years ago has prompted many thoughts about the Incarnation and about the heart of God. But it also brought thoughts about diapers and the meaning of love.

First, diapers and love. As the firstborn in our family, one of my early tasks was to take care of the soiled diapers of my siblings as they came on the scene. It was sort of a ritual. Mom or Dad changed the baby, rolled up the used diaper and handed it to me. I took it to the bathroom and dumped the contents into the toilet, and then soaked it in a big pail. (We had cloth diapers in those days. No Huggies or Pampers. Our fortunate neighbors had wealthy grandparents who gifted them with a year long diaper service.) Mom would wash the diapers, hang them on the line, fold them and put them on the pile in the baby’s room for further use. It was a lot of work, which represented a lot of love.

It also involved two aromas. The first was the awful smell of a dirty diaper. The second was the wonderful smell of the baby powder which my folks applied to the bottom of the newly changed baby. The whole enterprise alerted me to the fact that my parents had done all of that for me too. And also that Mary and Joseph did all of that for their child, Jesus. And that, in so many ways, God cleans up our unsavory messes again and again throughout our lives. That’s what real love is.

Parents always breath a huge sigh of relief when a child is finally potty trained. And kids are very proud of themselves when they cross that threshold. But one of the sad facts of life is the realization that some of us may have to endure the indignity of needing diapers ( Depends?) in our so-called Golden years. Someone – a spouse, a child, a friend, a stranger – will help us, we hope. And we also hope that we might have the God-like graciousness and humility to appreciate them and thank them.

Theologians have theorized about the way in which the divine and human knowledge of Jesus may have coexisted in the Incarnation. Did the Lord share not only the experience of the innocent child who needed its diapers changed, but also the awkwardness of the senior citizen who is aware of it?

Christmas is the season of beauty and color and music and parties and gifts. It seems impertinent to soil the season with thoughts about diapers, of all things. However, such thoughts remind us that human life is messy, untidy and earthy. God made us the way we are – rational animals, but animals nonetheless. And God, who is love, rejoices in the amazing love of millions of parents, unsung heroes, who change diapers. This Christmas we might offer a prayer of thanks to those, living or dead, who did it for us. And we might think of that old joke that, if the three Magi had been women, they wouldn’t have brought gold, frankincense and Myrrh to Bethlehem. They’d have brought a casserole and a pack of fresh diapers.


Monday, November 16, 2009

THE NUN’S STORY – An Allegory

The spiritual home of my childhood was a grim place. Fear and shame crouched in the dark corners. It was a great day when my jovial Grandpa John decided it was time to redecorate with bright colors, cheerfulness, lots of sunshine and fresh air. Dismal was transformed into delightful.

However, after Grandpa died, my father and my older brothers gradually repainted the rooms with somber hues, and they hung heavy drapes to diminish the sun. Fear crept back into the dark corners. My mother and her friends were banished to the kitchen and nursery. But we cherished the memory of what was possible.

Then one day, our cousin Bernie from Boston came to live with us. He had gotten into trouble for helping some people molest children. To make room, my bed was moved downstairs to a sun porch off the kitchen. At least it was bright. My father explained, “Bernie is family, and he’s our kind of people.”

Next came another cousin, from the St. Pius X Society. He denied that the Holocaust ever happened, but again my father said, “He’s family, and despite his flaws he too is our kind of people.” This time my bed was moved to the basement, near the furnace room. At least it was warm.

One day a group of cousins came to stay with us, the Anglican family. They don’t like uppity women and gays. This added considerable tension with my Mom, but my father said, “They are family, and they are my kind of people.” So my bed was moved again, this time to a loft in the garage. It might be pretty cool in winter, but at least there is more fresh air than in the basement.

Yesterday, we received a letter that some cousins from Rome are coming, the Inquisitors. They said that they’ve heard alarming rumors about my mother, and my sisters and me. They want to look into it. My father says, “They are family, and very much my kind of people.” Evidently my bed will be moved into a house across the street. My father explained, “Despite your flaws, you’re still family. But you’re not really my kind of people.”

I’ll still be invited to Sunday dinner. However, I won’t be allowed to eat.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Swimming the Tiber

The Vatican made an overture to disaffected conservative Anglicans to come on over to the Catholic side en masse. They were offered their own rite to retain some traditional Anglican elements. Anglican priests can even keep their wives (if they want to). Only married bishops would lose their miters in the crossing (no married Bishops allowed).

The details are still being worked out, but it would be interesting to see how many Anglicans might actually take the offer. Up to this point, I know more Catholic priests than Anglicans (Episcopalians) who switched sides. Many switched to get married. Will they be welcomed back?

To get Stephen Colbert's take on the issue go to http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/252747/october-27-2009/holy-water-under-the-bridge---randall-balmer

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Crazy Diocese

St Mary of the Lake Seminary ordained an average of 36 priests a year for the first 60 years of its existence (1927-1987) -- all for Chicago. The last few years averaged 12, and almost none were born in the United States. Many of the parish priests in Chicago today are from Poland, Africa, Mexico, South and Central America (not a bad thing) but many are not fluent in English which makes for some problems of communication especially in homilies. What is crazy is that Chicago is letting some of its priests join the neighboring diocese of Joliet. One especially sad loss was a vibrant, charismatic priest who had led one of the most dynamic parishes in the diocese. He had been assigned to a retirement village as chaplain so he joined Joliet as a parish assistant.

Romeo Marty

Friday, October 16, 2009


It was a miserable rainy day. The large man in the black suit and Roman collar was already running late for a wedding when he noticed his fuel gauge was on empty, so he pulled into a Shell station. A handwritten note taped to the pump declared, “Only pay inside today.” So after filling up, he headed inside to discover a lengthy line. When finally he plopped his credit card on the counter, the clerk said, “No credit card today. Only cash.” He had just $25.00 in his wallet. The clerk said, “Pay up or I call police.” An older man behind him said, “How much do you need?” The priest said, “Twenty more.” The stranger said, “I’ll give it to you.” The priest said, “I’ll mail you a check when I get home tonight.” He replied, “Not necessary,” but he finally agreed to give him a business card. It read Ira Goldman, Attorney at Law.

At the church, the priest began Mass with an apology for being late. He concluded his explanation by saying that he had been saved from jail by a good Jewish lawyer.

After Mass, a number of people came up to talk. One explained the he owned a string of Shell stations, and the problem was that their entire computer network had crashed that morning. Then a woman reminded him that it was Ramadan and the clerk was probably fasting. Low blood sugar coupled with extra stress probably explained his curtness. Finally, another woman commented that the Jewish lawyer was sincere in not wanting repayment because this incident had provided him with an opportunity to perform the “mitzvah” (commandment) of “tzedakah” (charity.) Indeed, he had been able to practice the 4th of the Talmud’s 8 levels of charity – giving before being asked. That proved to be true because when the priest sent his benefactor a check for the twenty, it was returned with a request to consider it a donation to the parish.

A miserable day had been transformed into something remarkable.

In his somewhat quirky best-seller “The Evolution of God” author Robert Wright describes a pattern in the evolution of Judaism, Christianity and Islam which, by fits and starts, has gradually moved them away from mutual belligerence and intolerance towards harmony, compassion and reconciliation. Using “game theory” from contemporary mathematics and economics, Wright sees a fundamental shift from zero sum dynamics (competition) to non-zero sum dynamics (cooperation). “Zero sum” describes a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the loss or gain of the other participant(s). For example, a baseball game has only one winner no matter how many extra innings they have to play.

In contrast, “non-zero sum” describes a situation in which the interacting parties’ aggregate gains or losses is either less than or more than zero. For example, a barn raising. There are teams to hoist each of the four walls, but they aren’t in competition with each other to see who is fastest or strongest. Success is measured by how skillfully all four teams can raise the walls simultaneously

The contemporary religious scene has both kinds of people, but the gradual trend is towards cooperation, in Wright’s view. Zero sum practitioners range from the violence of jihads or crusades which seek to destroy or subjugate so-called infidels, to religious leaders who insist that their brand is essentially superior to the competition. One wit characterized some recent Papal pronouncements, for example, as saying, “God loves all of us human beings, but He loves us Catholics more.” By contrast, Non-zero sum folks have benefited from things like the Hubble space telescope, which reveals the immensity and complexity of creation. If we believe in a Creator, it (or she or he) must be even more astounding than we ever imagined, which introduces a profound modesty into our religious debates.

Also, the scriptural insight that “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God in them” alerts us to any and all manifestations of authentic love in our increasingly globalized world. Here in the United States, we have countless opportunities to rub up against Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, other varieties of Christians, as well as sincere agnostics and atheists, whose goodness is deeply touching. Thus on that miserable day in the gas station, not only three individuals, but three traditions intersected in a wonderful way. Moreover, the comments after Mass alert us to the fact that there are others who are able to assist us in understanding deeper levels of our interactions with people of other faiths.

All of which is remarkable.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Have you ever visited the abortion monument at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago?

It stands just west of the bridge at the bottom of the hill atop which sits the Cardinal’s mansion. Actually it’s his country mansion, modeled after Mount Vernon. His city mansion with its 17 chimneys is located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood near Lincoln Park. At any rate, the seminary’s granite monument to victims of abortion is in a peaceful setting under pine trees near rippling waters. It was paid for by the Knights of Columbus.

A visit prompts a host of thoughts and emotions. Deep sadness for the thousands of young lives lost to abortion. Compassion for the mothers, many of whom were themselves victims, facing desperate circumstances before terminating their pregnancies. Frustration about the fathers, a good number of whom walked away from their responsibilities for these women and children. Consternation about our nation’s polarization and inability to deal effectively with abortion, and its tangled web of causes and effects.

Standing at that spot brings thoughts of Cardinal Bernardin, who once dwelled in that big house up the hill. With his “seamless garment” approach he attempted to find common ground on a wide variety of respect-for-life issues, trying to bridge the toxic gap between the right and the left. Sadly, during his lifetime he was accused by his colleagues of equivocating on abortion by mingling it with a host of other contentious societal problems. After his death, that voice of moderation and reconciliation has been overwhelmed by armies of angry partisans. However, in his controversial visit to Notre Dame earlier this year, President Obama resurfaced the Cardinal’s name as one whose vision might help us find our way out of the so-called abortion wars and our current stalemate on this crucial issue.

But back to the victims. Why was this monument located in this isolated setting? How many people even know that it’s here? And what about those other victims – the children and teens who have been sexually abused by priests and teachers, relatives and neighbors, and other trusted adults? What about a monument to them? If one monument is good, wouldn’t two be better?

What might it look like? Perhaps it should depict Jesus, seated and surrounded by a group of girls and boys. Jesus as their protector and friend. Perhaps such a monument would include his words to the disciples who wanted to send away the children and parents who sought to see him after a long, laborious day. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Or perhaps, more ominously, it might include those words about the millstone which would be fastened around the necks of those who scandalized these little ones. Such a monument might be a fitting twin to the abortion monument.

And where would it be located? Here in this bucolic spot at the seminary? Or perhaps just as the Cardinal has a country mansion and a city mansion, there should be a country monument and a city monument to victimized children. Perhaps it should be in the courtyard of the cathedral, or on the corner of North Avenue and State Parkway on the Cardinal’s property across from Lincoln Park, or at the corner of Chestnut and Rush, where the old Quigley Seminary has been transformed into the new Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. In any of those locations, hundreds of passersby each day might be reminded of our communal responsibility to guard and protect vulnerable young lives at all stages. Perhaps this second monument could serve as a reminder of that seamless garment of compassion and concern which envelopes the precious gift of life.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


Teddy Kennedy’s funeral was different. It wasn’t your typical Roman Catholic celebrity liturgy. Ordinary priests had the starring roles of presider and homilist. There was an abundance of stories and much tenderness. The preacher spoke as one who had been a soul companion on Teddy’s final spiritual journey, rather than merely a clergyman. It was basically a “low Mass” with the ordinary parts spoken, not sung. Family was central despite the presence of exalted guests. The locale wasn’t a famous cathedral, but rather the working class church where Teddy had prayed most powerfully when his daughter was at death’s door, and where he himself encountered God during his final illness. There was open admission that the deceased had once led a wild life, which had been redeemed by God’s grace and the love of a good woman. There was talk of the spacious sea as well as the contours of politics and the urgency of social justice. The dominating figure was the widow, Vicki, who said not a word, but embraced and comforted all comers. Boston’s Cardinal stood on the sidelines until the very end, looking uneasy as if expecting a deluge of letters from his colleagues, many of whom would have denied Teddy Holy Communion if he had dared enter their precincts.

What was going on? Perhaps the Catholicism on display was more Celtic than Roman. History reminds us that ancient Celtic Christianity is not the same as the Irish Catholicism created under Cardinal Paul Cullen in the homeland back in the mid-nineteenth century with its legalism and Jansenistic rigidity, which accompanied the immigrants to our shores during the devastating potato famine. Centuries ago, Celtic Catholicism had gone underground after the Roman ways were imposed at the Synod of Whitby in 664.

The precipitating arguments at that time were about the date of Easter and tonsure and Baptism. But the issues beneath the surface focused on the fact that the leaders of the ancient Irish were not bishops and clerics, but abbots and abbesses in their monasteries, and holy men who lived in the forests. Moreover, the Irish form of Confession was ongoing spiritual direction rather than once-in-a-lifetime deathbed forgiveness. Also, women were powerful and honored church leaders. Rome was distant geographically and spiritually. When the Viking raiders arrived in the 9th century, many of the great abbeys were pillaged and destroyed. Still the faith persevered. And when Cromwell and his armies arrived in 1649, the ancient religion burrowed even deeper. Once again, in our own day, the pervasive sex abuse crisis is testing the faith of the Irish.

These ancient rivers run deep. They explain how the Catholic faith continues to hold our hearts despite clergy misconduct, hierarchical ineptitude, and the shortages of parish priests. They also explain how we can support Obama and Notre Dame and women religious and gays and other assorted outcasts. Teddy Kennedy’s funeral touched our hearts, and as he himself said, “The dream goes on.”

-- Baltasar

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Open Letter to Cardinal Hummes

Eminence Claudio Cardinal Hummes, O.S.F.

Dear Cardinal Hummes:

Congratulations on the new responsibility you have just taken on. This past April, Pope Benedict XVI granted you the power to dismiss from the priesthood and release from the obligation of celibacy, priests who are living with women, who have abandoned their ministry for more than five years or who have engaged in seriously scandalous behavior. I am one of those you will be dismissing – not for the scandal part but for the woman part.

It is a big job you have taken on. World wide, there are many thousands of us and, to add to the challenge, most bishops have no idea who or where we are. We have been on the “pay no mind” list for such a long time that tracking us down will be quite a headache.

I have seen your picture on Wikepedia. You seem like a kind man and your vitae demonstrates that you have Doctor of the Church quality brains. You clearly have some iron in your soul as demonstrated by your advocacy for homeless, indigenous people and your stance against the dictatorship in Brazil. But you have been away from parish work for a long time and prolonged exposure to the curia can cause cataracts. I am appealing to your kindness, brains and iron.

First off, understand that this project is a matter of paperwork, a re-organizing of files in cabinets, a clearing of the priesthood balance sheet. It has nothing to do with protecting the good of the church, avoiding scandal or getting things right in the eyes of God. God knows the Catholic Church has a good deal of work in those areas, but releasing thousands of us from the obligation of celibacy should be about around 10,000th on the Vatican to do list.

Secondly, some historical context needs to be established. You may not realize it, but the Vatican has zig-zagged for years about laicizations. Under Paul VI when large numbers were leaving, there was a fairly straightforward, but slow process. John Paul II pursued a much harder line, apparently in the belief that he could stem the tide by making laicizations virtually impossible. It didn't work. The unintended consequence was to diminish the credibility of the process. In his later years, he switched to a strategy wherein a petitioner had to lie, and state that he never really had a vocation at all. Most of us could say that we had a genuine vocation to priesthood, but not to celibacy. Now, Pope Benedict has done a complete about face. Forgive us if we are a little confused but the Vatican has changed its strategies like most of us change socks.

I left the Vatican priesthood during the late 1980’s when the church was NOT granting formal dispensations from the obligation of celibacy. During my “exit interview” with Cardinal Bernardin he said that I could apply for a dispensation, but it would not be granted until I was much, much older. I remarked that the Vatican was playing hardball. He agreed, but his eyes told me that he had no stomach for such silly tactics. (By the way, what SHOULD be on the Vatican “To Do” list is to put Joe Bernardin on the canonization track.)

So, let’s be clear. In the 1980’s the Vatican would not grant that which was asked for and now, 20 years later, will take that which has not been offered. In light of this context, please be careful about tossing out phrases like “abandon our ministry.” This revisionist bit of history is a lie, pure and simple.

I am no ecclesiastical prognosticator, but I have to believe that you are on anyone’s short list for Pope. The Congregation for Clergy is a big job and this chance to clean up the sacerdotal balance sheet is litmus test of the first degree. But you should know that it is only important in Vatican circles and in diocesan offices. Everywhere else, Catholics find it funny and upon deeper reflection, really quite infuriating.

I’ll give you an example. My wife and I have been in a civil marriage for the last 19 years. We couldn’t get married in the Catholic Church because I didn’t have a dispensation the Vatican wouldn’t give. Our marriage has been full of consensual sex. When my wife found out that our sex, in the eyes of the Vatican, was causing serious scandal, she laughed right out loud. “Our lawn is a scandal”, she said. “Our consensual sex is a sacrament.”

I fear most women married to ex-priests will not, like my wife, find this particularly funny. They will instead fume and wonder out loud why the Holy See has such a hard time seeing real scandal and such an easy time manufacturing fake scandals.

This notion that our church will become “leaner and purer” are concepts best applied to cuts of meat and not the Church of Jesus. Cardinal Hummes – if your kindness, brains and iron could only understand how absurd this all is to all of us, if only you could muster up a real giggle about these forced dispensations, you would surely make a terrific Pope.

So, to make things easier for you, here is my address; 1528 West Glenlake, Chicago IL 60660. I would be happy to be dispensed from the Vatican’s notion of priesthood and released from the obligation of celibacy. I wonder, will you send us some sort of note? My wife and I would like to know when the deal is sealed. I wonder if you will let our home parish know? My home parish is St. Gertrude on the north side of Chicago. I think you would be surprised by their reaction. Talk about a scandal! I would love if there was a way you could send someone from the Archdiocesan staff to deliver the dispensation at my place of work. I have started two schools on Chicago’s West Side. Our students are wonderful and the place is full of beatitudes. You would be proud of the work we “non-dispensed” ex-priests do. I am sure you would never use the phrase “abandon our ministry” again.

Good luck! You have an uphill battle ahead of you. I think Melchizedek is right, but I will encourage other ex Vatican priests to ask for their dispensations and to send you a note expressing their views, all the same. It will make for some exciting reading.

Best Wishes,
John Horan
Ordained; May 13, 1981
Left the Vatican Priesthood; June 10, 1988
Was civilly married and began consensual sex; October 27, 1990

For those of you who would like to drop Cardinal Hummes a line, here is his contact information:His Eminence Claudio Cardinal Hummes, O.S.F.
Official Web Site:
Mailing Address: Palazzo delle Congregazioni, 00193 Roma, Piazza Pio XII, 3 Telephone: Fax:
Click here for more information about this new responsibility for Cardinal Hummes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"And with spirit your..."

Not having the votes necessary at their San Antonio meeting, the US bishops have since ratified new(?) translations for various liturgical texts. These texts are a step back from ordinary English language in deference to more literal teanslations of traditional Latin texts.

John Allen reported that Bishop Trautman led a small group of bishops advocating a more contemporary style. “I say yes to translations faithful to the Latin,” Trautman said, “but I say no to incomplete sentences, no to thirteen lines in one sentence, no to archaic phrases and texts that aren’t proclaimable, intelligible, or pastorally sensitive to our people.”

But many bishops (including those most recently named by the Pope) fell in line with approving the texts - because that's what Rome wants. I guess real English-speaking people aren't really given a consideration.

I wonder if American priests can keep using the current translations, even if they are suppressed? After all, as B16 stated in reviving the use of the Latin Mass, ""What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."

Oh, and the post title is my most literal translation of "Et cum spiritu tuo."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Marty Learns to Blog

I have normal intelligence but am a techie dunderhead. I got lost in Facebook but have made it out. Thanks to Bob Motycka I'm trying to learn to Blog. Don't look for any brilliant contributions until I learn how to get into this more easily.
Marty Hegarty

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ask Peter Ignotus

Dear Peter Ignotus,
When I resigned as Pastor of a parish and started pursuing a secular career and life, I thought that my priesthood was over. Now a year later, a couple has sought me out and asked me to “do” their wedding. Now, I wonder, should I? Could I? What do you think?
Gone, But Not Forgotten.

Dear Gone, But Not Forgotten. Your vocation was a calling by God, recognized and celebrated by the people of God (the Church), and certified by the institutional Church. Resigning your commission as a deputy of the institution does not nullify the call of God or the Church - the people of God. You are still being called (literally, on the phone) to continue your ministry and this is a validation of your continued priesthood.

Should you? This couple has sought you out because they believe you are the best person available to bless their union. If you assume this role, give them your best to prepare them for the wedding – and marriage. Most regional Pre-Cana programs are still open to them. Also, you should discuss any possible future ramifications that may come from their marriage not being “officially recognized” by Church authorities. Most of all, make it a celebration of God’s love and presence.

Could you? Remember that the couple themselves are the ministers of the sacrament, and any priest is simply invited to be the state’s, God’s, and the community’s witness. That being said, you want to make sure that you would be a legal witness. Each state dictates the qualifications of the officiant. In some states anyone (literally) can officiate, other states have more stringent rules. So to ensure proper certification, some “resigned” or “non-canonical” priests have joined groups like Celibacy Is The Issue (CITI) http://www.rentapriest.com/ or the Federation of Christian Ministries (FCM) http://www.federationofchristianministries.org/ for support and certification.

Would such a wedding be uncommon? Not according to studies. One third of Catholics do not get married “in the Church”, and the reasons are varied (Cara Study, 2007), http://www.usccb.org/laity/marriage/marriage_report.pdf

Fewer priests, tighter Mass and Confession schedules and clergy language deficiencies (English, Spanish, etc.) shrink options for young couple even seeking a Church wedding. Some pastors will not accommodate Friday evening or Sunday afternoon weddings, some will deny the sacrament to cohabiting engaged couples (most are), even when they have children together, unless they retreat to exclusive domiciles for six months. Some parishes enforce parish membership rigidly. Outdoor ceremonies are verboten.

Many Catholics do divorce from even “Church” marriages, and most remarry without the benefit of an annulment. Even if an annulment process made sense, it is often deemed long, expensive, intrusive and arbitrary. The fact is, over 90% of annulment petitions are granted to those who endure the process anyway, so why not resolve the annulment question using an “internal forum” approach?

Some couples presenting themselves to me are spiritually naive, but others have lost their faith, not in God, but in the institution of Church which seems to treat them indifferently and without compassion. They see the hierarchy’s treatment of women, gays, dissenters, and reform advocates as demeaning.

Many of the weddings I do now are for the same kinds of people I would (reluctantly) chase out the rectory door in days past. I even have referrals from priests and deacons (sometimes their own children) who couldn’t or wouldn’t get married “in Church”, but wanted their marriage celebrated as a holy event and blessed in a meaningful ceremony. Often parents prefer having a married priest preside over their children’s wedding than to see them getting married by some accommodating Protestant minister or Justice of the Peace, lest they be lost to Catholicism altogether.

Hopefully this brief response has given you some things to think and pray about. Perhaps the sisters and brothers of WEORC can offer some of their wisdom and experience. Share your thoughts at weorc@comcast.net .