Some music to accompany my preliminary rant. Read while listening.
I have seen sharp criticisms launched by lay people against bishops whom they accuse of being weak in the public debate about Pres. Obama’s attacks on the religious liberty of the Catholic Church and indeed on the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans.
I respond saying that bishops were issued big-boy underwear when they were consecrated. Criticisms and the inability to please everyone come with the hat and the stick. It has ever been so.
I have in my mind’s eye episodes in the ancient Church when people rioted in the streets when they were unhappy with bishops. For example, by 406 around Hippo things were pretty bad. Donatist thugs called circumcellions had staked out the diocese and were ambushing clergy on the road, beating them with clubs and blinding them with lye. In 428 when people found out that some of Augustine’s monks owned property they nearly rioted in the streets until Augustine conducted an investigation. And, a bit earlier, there was the lethal interlude of Diocletian.
Thus, I am inclined to think that bishops have it easy today. They aren’t being set upon with clubs… yet. Even the kerfuffle between Card. Wuerl and the irate Mr. Neumayr is t-ball compared to the hardball innings bishops played in the 3rd and 4th centuries. It’s big-boy underwear time for both of them too, by the way. But I digress.
Let’s keep something clear. My role as a priest, and the bishops’ role as bishops, is to form and support the laity for their proper role in the public square. It is the role of lay people to shape the world around them according to their vocations. I (or, even more, the bishops) will teach, give you the sacraments, and support you. The work of the public square is really your work, lay people, not mine. Remember that when you think bishops aren’t being strong enough in the public square. We clerics know that you lay people often face in your daily lives challenges that would make many of us roll up in a ball and hide under the covers. On the other hand, the Enemy of your soul hates priests and bishops with surpassing malice. We live every day knowing that we go to our judgment with Holy Orders upon our souls and to those to whom God has given much, more will be expected. As Augustine said, “I am a bishop for you, but I am a Christian with you.” Neither portion of God’s poor little servants should fall into the trap of thinking that the other has anything easy in life.
If you are p.o.’d that a bishop isn’t jumping around with his hair on fire in front of the White House, waving his arms, and telling you whom to vote for, then maybe you should be doing that according to what Holy Church has taught you and in keeping with your vocation. And if the priests and bishops in your life have not been stellar in their roles of teaching (read = they are human, they are sinners, they are … x, y, z….), then put on your own big-boy underwear and get to work anyway. Things will improve. Priests and bishops will find their way to the spines they need, or in some cases abandoned. And they will do it faster if you are with them rather than against them. Believe me: carping at priests doesn’t generally make them do things either faster or better. I know this by experiential knowledge and not merely by theoretical. Help them out by prayers and encouragement and example.
There is only so much the bishops can accomplish in the public square on their own: the rest is your job. Don’t shirk your role even if you think bishops and priests are being lazy or craven. Stand up and get to work right now, even if you are disappointed that bishops aren’t beaming lasers out of their eyes or issuing decrees of excommunication while they levitate to the strains of Verdi’s Dies Irae.
Thus endeth my rant.
To my point…
In the newspaper of the Diocese of Madison, His Excellency Most Rev. Robert Morlino, whom we have seen here before, made some comments about religious liberty and conscience.
He starts out by mentioning the rally for religious liberty at the capitol of Wisconsin (in Madison). He goes on to remind the reader the political sphere, the public square, concerns the mission of the laity. Note his distinction about liturgical roles! Kudos for that.
Bp. Morlino makes some other very good points in his piece, but I will focus on his discussion of the mission of lay people.
Religious freedom, freedom of conscience
Thursday, Mar. 29, 201
That is the true role that the Church was trying to enliven in the laity through Vatican II — faithful people witnessing actively to today’s world, bringing the Church into the world of today (as opposed to the idea that the main way one can be an “active” Catholic is by performing different liturgical roles). [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]
The women, men, and children gathered in Madison last week were undertaking the lay mission of the Church, which is to witness to the sanctifying presence of God in the world and I’d encourage all of us to remember our call to that mission in our everyday lives, and as we look to the future of our nation.
Each of you has a mission — it is the lay mission of your Catholic faith — to think and speak clearly, remembering that faith and reason work together, and that faith and reason are on our side. But we have to be able to explain how faith and reason are on our side. This is something about which we need to read more, we need to think about more, and most importantly we need to pray about more.
So, let’s do what we need to do in terms of making clear that this regulation that takes away our freedom of conscience cannot and will not stand. Let’s do it in a way which is very charitable, which is very reasonable, and which carries with it a smile, because where there is no charity, we cannot expect the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ to be unleashed.
Let’s make sure we are charitable, but let’s make sure we are clear and we are heard. Sometimes we can be tempted wrongly to think that charity and reasonableness are excuses for acting like wimps.
We have to speak out clearly, charitably, reasonably, unmistakably, unambiguously, about freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Let’s do all of that actively today, so that we can enjoy the glory of Easter tomorrow!
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Praised be Jesus Christ!
We are in this together, friends.