Sunday, November 29, 2009

Some Thoughts For The First Sunday In Advent

Given the release this past Thursday of the Dublin report about priests and their enabling bishops who demonstrate a different notion of integrity, I thought I'd get the new week off to a better start with the words of encouragement from a priest of real integrity and a theologian with a different definition of who is worthy of sharing the Eucharist.

Acceptance Speech: Reverend Donald Cozzens: Voice of the Faithful Priest of Integrity Award
Long Island, New York October 31, 2009

I am honored to receive this award from brothers and sisters in the faith—from women and men I’ve known and admired for many years now. I especially admire the commitment of the National Working Group for Priest Support.

As you know, Pope Benedict has declared 2009 to be the “Year for the Priest.” Well, I think the Pope should declare 2010 the “Year of the Laity.”

Your voice, the voice of the faithful laity, has spoken with urgency and strength and clarity to church leaders and to the church as a whole at a time when the voice of priests and bishops is hardly heard at all—except to minimize, contextualize, and rationalize the abuse scandals and their cover-up that have led to the worst crisis ever faced by the U.S. Catholic Church.

You have spoken from your hearts—with hope and courage for a renewed and vital and humble church. And you have done so in the face of uncalled for mistrust, misunderstanding, and trenchant hostility from numerous church bureaucrats and authorities.

You have rightfully recognized, in perfect harmony with the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on the responsibilities and rights of the laity, that you have an obligation to speak out—in the name of justice and compassion—for reforms promised by the bishops and popes of Vatican II who sat in ecumenical council, the highest authority in the church.

With Pope John XXIII, you have insisted on Aggiornamento, the updating, so clearly, undeniably needed by our church—for its own sake, for the sake of the children, for the sake of the church’s mission to bring the hope and freedom of the gospel to a battered and bloodied world.

I’m sure you must wonder if anyone is listening to your voice…wonder if anyone understands the depth of faith and fidelity and passion with which you speak.

I’m afraid most Catholics in the U.S. haven’t heard of you. Of course, most Catholics don’t know the name of their own bishop. While most priests have heard of the Voice of the Faithful, many of us remain either indifferent or wary of your voice. While bishops certainly have heard of Voice of the Faithful, many accuse you of having an “agenda”, some Machiavellian scheme to refashion the church in such a way as to render it indistinguishable from the churches of the Protestant Reformation. (The enabling bishops and their cover up of 5000 abusers have certainly delineated Catholicism from Churches of the Reformation. Now the question is can the current structure make it distinguishable from the Mafia.)

As the years go by and your energy ebbs, you might indeed wonder: Is anyone listening? I believe Jesus of Nazareth asked himself the same question. But he went on preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus’ voice was indeed THE voice of the Spirit. But I say, without hesitation, that your voice is of the Spirit.

Dear friends, don’t give up, “though your hearts may be weary.” Don’t give up, though no one in purple robes seems to be listening. Don’t give up, though you might be judged unfaithful rather than faithful.

You can’t give up because the church, in spite of deafness in many quarters, needs your voice, your commitment, and your witness.

You can’t give up because the women of the church and the world need you to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. We need women leaders in our chanceries and Catholic Centers. We need to hear the gospel preached in the voice of women as well as men.

You can’t give up because the men in holy orders are growing old and tired. The lifting of mandatory celibacy is the key to a healthy, revitalized priesthood and church.

You can’t give up because the world’s economic order is twisted and unjust and you are positioned to forge a more just and humane order.

You can’t give up because the church has barely set out on its grudging journey down the road of accountability and transparency.

You can’t give up because there remain victims of clergy abuse who need your support and compassion.

You can’t give up because children continue to be abused not only in rectories and schools, but also in their homes and neighborhoods. (Many mental health professionals think childhood sexual abuse is the scourge of today's society. One of the unintended consequences of the abuse scandal in the Church is raising the profile of this pandemic issue.)

Don’t give up. We priests, whether we realize it or not, need your witness of adult maturity and courage and integrity. You are the voice of hope to countless priests you may never hear from. (I have no doubt this is very true, and especially true because the voices of priests have been coerced into silence.)

There is yet another reason why you can’t give up. The church is in the midst of a major, powerful, wrenching period of conversion and renewal—the likes of which we haven’t seen in centuries.
We are too close to this conversion to see it in perspective, but we sense its muted thunder and urgent significance, its transforming power and spirit of hope.

By the workings of the Holy Spirit, you are “players” in this conversion and renewal. Your voice, your faith, your commitment to the gospel matter greatly.

So carry on, carry on.

As you meet here in significant numbers, remember what Thomas Merton wrote to Jim Forest, a discouraged young activist exhausted from his work for racial justice. Whether or not he saw any positive results from his work for racial equality, Merton wrote, he must carry on. Merton understood that seeing results in the young activist’s lifetime could not be the ultimate goal. Jim Forest’s faith, his vision, his integrity required him to persevere, even if his efforts seemed, at the time, fruitless. (This is a hard truth.)

So we keep on carrying on. Parishioners and priests speak the truth in love. And as we speak, we ask for the grace to listen as well. For it is necessary for us to listen—prayerfully, humbly, and with open hearts. Otherwise our voice will be heard as strident, whether we mean it to be or not.

Merton would be pleased, I think, to see the new movement surfacing, slowly to be sure, for “contemplative leadership” in government, business, education, the military, the church—and throughout the various dimensions of society.

The “contemplative leadership” movement, spear-headed by the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living, understands that spirit-grounded leadership begins with a vital spiritual life—a life of prayerful listening for wisdom, the whispers of grace, that forge respect and mutuality that in turn lead to authentic renewal and right reform.
Voice of the Faithful needs to be a part of this movement. Our voice needs to arise from a bedrock of trust that the Spirit is with us. Our voice will be heard if it is an authentically contemplative voice.
I see a link between the emerging contemplative leadership movement and the insight of the seventeenth century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal. Pascal wrote that all the evil in the world can be traced to our inability to sit still in a room.

Our voice—the voice of the faithful—is different after we sit still in a room. It has a different quality to it. It has the ring of humility and authenticity and patience. Our voice will also have a ring of quiet confidence and joy.

In his memoir, The Journal of a Soul, Pope John XXIII spoke of his complete confidence in the maxim: Absolute Trust in God in the present and complete tranquility in regard to what is going to happen in the future. (The operative words are tranquility in regards to the future. Fear for the future can not be operative in a healthy trust and faith in God. The current abuse crisis surely shows what happens when decisions are taken in fear of the future.)

While Pope John had complete confidence in the maxim, my own confidence isn’t quite complete. Perhaps I haven’t learned to sit still enough. (It would help if I wasn't typing while I was sitting.)
Might we consider sitting still for the first five minutes of every Voice of the Faithful meeting—before every meeting with a bishop or pastor, before meeting with the media or drafting our press releases?

You who love the church and you who have dared to speak your truth in love should sleep well—no matter how small the steps of renewal and conversion might be in your lifetime. You have taken the gospel seriously. You have taken the Second Vatican Council seriously. You have tried to act responsibly and faithfully. Now that, it seems to me, is integrity.

If only we priests were more united, we would do well to honor Voice of the Faithful with our “Laity of Integrity Award.” It would be well deserved.
Thank you for honoring me with this award. You have my love and respect.

Rev. Donald Cozzens
John Carroll University


People have asked me how I envision the future of Catholicism. I respond, "It really doesn't matter what I envision, because the direction of the future is already unfolding. The Church will be a contemplative Church because the further one walks the contemplative path the more one comes to understand we are all connected, we all share the same God, we are all in the soup together. We may be different vegetables, meats, and spices but we are all part of the same soup."

If the spiritual leadership of the world's religions don't get this, there will be no future for mankind. Otherwise one of the strands of humanity, one of those strands which insists on it's superiority to all the other strands, will take us all to the grave in a vain attempt to prove their superiority. The sad thing is they will do so in the even more vain attempt to prove their superiority to themselves.

It's happening in Catholicism this very minute. One strain of Catholicism, an unhealthy part of the clerical strain, is taking this Church down the drain in order to maintain it's illusion of superiority over the rest of us. The level of psychological denial of some of them, like Bishop Murray of Limerick, Ireland, is breath taking:

Last night, when questioned about the culture of cover up in the Dublin Archdiocese, Bishop Murray flatly denied he was part of such a culture.

"I wish to state that I never deliberately or knowingly sought to cover up or withhold information brought to my attention. There were, as the report notes, occasions when roles or responsibilities were not clear or where I did not have full information concerning cases in which I was asked to become involved," he said."As I indicated in 2002 in response to one particular case, if I had succeeded in deriving more information, it might have been possible to prevent some of the dreadful suffering of child abuse in that instance. I very much wish that I had been able to do so." (Bishop Murray was thoroughly castigated in the Murphy report for his handling of any number of abuse cases, not just how he investigated them but how he dealt with the victims. The victim he refers to in the 2002 case committed suicide two days after meeting with the Bishop and his board of advisers.)

A contemplative Church by it's very nature is a threat to the clerical sacramental church. A contemplative Church values personal experience, spiritual insight, and equal communal sharing. In some respects it truly is the antithesis of what we currently have. A contemplative Church would have a very different understanding of the Eucharistic meal and who belonged at the table, and this wouldn't be dictated from above, but dictated from an individual's heart. In closing I offer the thoughts of John Dominic Crossan on the Eucharist. This is taken from a longer article in the Washington Post. (My thanks to the Progressive Catholic Voice for the link.)

By John Dominic Crossan

The Christian Eucharist has two intertwined layers. First, it is bread and wine, the standard summary of a Mediterranean meal, the normal synthesis of Mediterranean eating. It is, in other words, about food. Throughout his life, Jesus insisted that food, as the material basis of life, was to be fairly and equitably distributed to all God’s children around God’s table. He imagined God-as-Householder (he said “Father” but that was patriarchal normalcy) of the House-World or Homemaker of the Home-earth. And his question was - as in any well-run family - whether everyone had enough or some members had far too much while others had far too little.

Second, none of that was about compassionate charity but about distributive justice. (The Roman Empire did not crucify you for insisting on the former but for insisting too much on that latter.) So Jesus, having lived for non-violent justice died from violent injustice. When one dies an ordinary death, we speak of the separation of body and soul. But a violent death - like crucifixion - involves a separation of body and blood.

In forging the magnificent eucharistic ritual, those twin layers were inextricably linked together to proclaim this: if you live for justice very strongly you could die from injustice very swiftly. When those earliest Christians participated in that ritual, they understood all too well what it meant and to what they were committing themselves. They were pledging themselves to a way of life by participating in the life (definitely) and death (possibly) of Jesus.

They did not have time to debate about the exact mechanics of the “transubstantiation” of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (watch for red herrings, always watch for red herrings) because they were too acutely aware of their own “transubstantiation” from Roman citizens to Christian traitors.

Finally, then, we can face our question. In general: who should accept the eucharistic ritual? Those and only those who are intentionally, self-consciously, and publicly committing themselves to live like Jesus and, if unfortunately ever necessary, to die like Jesus. That is, of course, an on-going lifelong process and it is precisely such eucharistic participation that initiates, continues, and consummates it. The eucharist both proclaims and empowers a life, as Paul would say, “in Christ” or, better “in the body of Christ.”


  1. First Sunday of Advent. And on The Guardian front page - right now - is an article about the proposed law in Uganda! And how it's backed by the US evangelicals!

    It's good this is getting out beyond the churches now!

    I hope this is just the beginning. And I'm glad it's getting the word out, also about US backing through conservative religious bigotry (my word).

  2. Very sad situation TheraP. The Evangelicals will use this situation worldwide to further their destabilization of western governments.

  3. butterfly, I enjoyed your music. And to my amazement, so did Mr. TheraP, who rarely can tolerate me listening to music over the internet. He's a discerning listener. So rejoice!

    Thank you for your talent. Music soothes the soul. And heaven knows we need that through these trying times.

  4. Thank you TheraP. I've just uploaded a new one entitled Determination at Stereofame.

    I am delighted to hear that both you and Mr. TheraP are enjoying my music. Music has often allowed me to get through difficult times, to enter into a new doorway of hope.