Friday, April 02, 2010

The Pope should listen to Fr. Bart

Today, Maundy or Holy Thursday, is the start of the Easter/ Paschal Triduum. This Passover meal or the Last Supper commemorates the beginning of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Maundy Thursday is significant for three reasons. The first is that during this Last Supper, Jesus established the Eucharist. Consequently, Jesus established the priesthood with the Apostles becoming the first priests. Hence, there is a special Mass called the “Chrism Mass”, which is celebrated by the bishop with priests in attendance.

Second, Jesus led by example and showed the true essence of love and servant leadership by washing the feet of the twelve Apostles. During this Chrism Mass, the Bishop also blesses the Oil of Chrism used in the sacraments. He also washes the feet of twelve of the priests. The Pope did that today. As priests, they were first and foremost, to be exemplar servants of God.

Third, the term “Maundy” comes from the Middle English, and Old French mand√©, from the Latin mandatum, meaning to command. It is the first word in “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”). Thus, Jesus commanded the Apostles to be servants of God, servant leaders motivated by love of God and for each other.

Why am I writing about Maundy Thursday? Well this evening, I attended mass at the Newman Center at the University of Arizona. The Dominican order runs the Newman Center here and if you know Dominican priests, they give some of the most enlightening homilies. Tonight was no exception. Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP provided some illumination to the current priest molestation controversy in the United States and Europe, which is adversely affecting the image of the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict. I am very disappointed and appalled at the conduct of many priests and the seeming cavalier attitude of the Church hierarchy. What many of these priests have done are horrible, violent, and criminal. They need to account for what they have done. The Tucson Diocese itself was bankrupted by the sexual molestation cases of at least 26 priests. Fr. Bart was pained, but, to his credit, addressed the issue directly. What I took away from his homily include the following:

  • The priesthood was instituted by Jesus to be servants to God and to the people. Priests are expected to be servant leaders working towards love of God and fellow humans.
  • The history of the Church is one of constant change and flux. Its present institutional structure got its start when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Thus, many of its good and its horrible aspects over the centuries were influenced by its institutionalization within the Roman Empire. Power and wealth, at many times, replaced service, humility, and love. Yet, when the Roman Empire disintegrated, it was the Church as an institution that survived to provide guidance and aid during the ensuing instability. Arrogance is a cross that each priest must contend with everyday.
  • Coincidentally, Pope Benedict proclaimed this year the Year of the Priests. Fr. Bart didn’t understand why, but he asked his congregation to, now more than ever, pray for priests. He asked us to hold them continually accountable and to help priests became faithful to their calling. He humbly asked for our forgiveness for his shortcomings and the failings of the priesthood.

It was both a touching and illuminating homily. The arrogance that Fr. Bart spoke of in priests is not unfamiliar to me. Add to this the immorality, vindictiveness, and incompetence of many priests and Bishops in the United States and even in the Philippines, and I am not surprised that many have left the faith. Many times, however, one is blessed to meet and know wonderful, wise, and inspiring priests. Their comforting presence and encouragement, as well as their wise counsel do indeed help save souls and relationships. Fr. Bart is one of them. He has done a fantastic job at the U of A Newman Center and was recently awarded the Pope John Paul II Distinguished Service Award by Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas.

The one who officiated my wedding and baptized my twins, Fr. Rudy Fernandez, S.J. is another inspiring priest. Fr. Rudy, after the brutality of the Japanese army on Filipinos during World War II, chose to serve in Japan for fifty years educating Japanese schoolchildren. He is still active giving retreats, advising couples, holding roundtable discussions with retirees and businessmen, and just being there for the troubled despite his advancing years.

Another of Fr. Bart’s co-priests, Fr. Miguel B. de Las Casas Rolland, OP, is a fellow anthropologist doing dissertation fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico. Fr. Miguel, like his fellow Dominicans in Tucson, gives some of the most insightful homilies. He backs up his words on love of the poor with actual work with Mayao Tsotsil Chamulua Indians in their struggle against social and economic injustice.

Fr. Ricky Ordonez, a twenty plus year veteran of the Philippine travel sector prior to becoming a priest at age 50, allots his time teaching at the Sts. Peter and Paul parochial school, attending to the sick and dying at the university hospital, and ministering to the Filipino-American community in Tucson. In July, he will become the recruitment director for the Tucson Diocese. Fr. Ricky was recruited by another Filipino priest, Fr. Remigio “Miguel” Mariano Jr. who is the parish priest at St. Joseph Parish, Tucson. Fr. Miguel, himself a social scientist, has been a key supporter of Gawad Kalinga Tucson.

Lastly, there is Fr. Jose Funes, SJ who is the current Director of the Vatican Observatory. Fr. Funes is also a professor of astronomy and has substituted at the Newman Center. Fr. Funes as the Vatican Observatory Director has begun the discussions on life in space and what it means for Catholics. His astronomy classes at the university are among the most well attended.

Our stay in Tucson has been made richer by the company, wisdom, insight, patience, and presence of these priests. Their dedication is inspiring. Their homilies open up new ways of looking at things. Their friendship valued. This Lent and this year, we pray for them and all priests that they may remain true to their calling as servants, servant leaders, and paragon examples of love and humility.

Happy Easter all.