Viewpoint: Some Items That Caught My Attention Recently

by M. Francis Mannion

I cannot write in this column about everything that comes across my desk. Even if I could, not everything would fill a complete column, but some things deserve a mention. Here are six brief items that caught my attention recently.

  • Since the highly-publicized shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina on June 20 that left nine parishioners dead, people have been suggesting that worshippers everywhere should learn how to shoot and bring guns to church on Sundays. Some pastors have been leading the way. I cannot think of anything more contradictory than bringing a gun to church in case a gun battle might break out. How can one receive Communion, the sacrament of unity and the bond of charity and yet pack a gun in the Communion line? Talk about a lack of congruence and proportion and a fundamental misunderstanding of eucharistic Communion.
  • During a homily on September 10, Pope Francis implored priests who cannot be merciful in Confession to ask their bishops “for a desk job.” “Never [again] walk into a confessional, I beg you,” he pleaded. Francis went on to suggest that priests who are too uptight (my words) in Confession should go to a doctor. “There are pills for that,” he said.
  • The stars of the reality show “Sister Wives” have been in court recently arguing that since same-sex marriage is now legal in the U.S., polygamous marriage should also be legal. I ask: Why not?
  • The Rev. Greta Vosper, a minister of the West Hill United Church in Toronto is facing dismissal. Why? Because she acted inappropriately in a sexual matter? Because she emptied out the parish bank account? Because she alienated the whole congregation? No. Because she is an atheist! She has dropped the Lord’s Prayer from the liturgy; declared that she “did not believe in a god called God”; doesn’t believe that Jesus was God; and declared that belief in God causes extremism. Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you the outcome of the Church’s dismissal court. (Perhaps inclusiveness will save the day for the minister. I wouldn’t be surprised.)
  • A recent column in the Jesuit weekly America called to mind a study by the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., some time ago, which found that poor preaching is the single most common complaint of Catholics who have stopped attending Mass. Bad preaching is a major elephant in the ecclesiastical living-room. Bishops don’t want to deal with it lest they tick off their clergy; clergy don’t want to hear about it, and feel threatened; and laity who are verbally critical are thought to be busybodies. So the elephant grows larger. Were I Pope, I would institute a ministry of lay homilists. This would have nothing to do with the priestly ordination of women (although I am all for women deacons). What a revolution that would be! Excellent lay preachers would give the clergy a run for their money.
  • Reportedly, the Vatican expressed no objection to a central Roman square being named after Martin Luther—interesting since Rome was not Luther’s favorite city! That was a welcome ecumenical gesture, not least in the light of the coming 500th anniversary of the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The upcoming commemoration of the event that split Western Christianity demands bold, courageous, and long-lasting gestures on the part of both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide. If Pope Francis is still in office in 2017 (as I earnestly hope he will be), then we can expect him to come through with magnanimous initiatives.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.

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13 comments

  1. On some regular basis I encounter people who have left the Catholic Church to join another church, very often a megachurch. I always ask them what attracted them to the other church, and the first thing they say is the quality of the preaching. Amazing! Life-changing! Uplifting! Scriptural! Challenging! Really makes you think! On and on they gush. They may or may not mention music, hospitality, or children’s ministries, but without a single exception preaching is the first reason they give for changing churches.

    “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

    Not all who are called to the priesthood or diaconate have the charism to be great preachers. All can work to improve, many don’t, but not everyone has it in them to excel in this area. Opening up the pulpit to properly trained and deputed lay preachers would be a great step forward.

  2. In general, I don’t want to live in a world where people feel the need to bring guns to Church. Live by the sword, die by the sword and all that. But on the other hand, I would have no problem if a police officer on break decided to show up at a daily Mass for example. Such a person has been trained on how to defend people. And those “gun free zone” signs are just ridiculous, basically advertising that the law abiding people occupying that space are sitting ducks. It is naive in the extreme to think a person bent on doing evil will leave their gun at home because somebody put up a sign that they are entering a “gun free zone.”

    If a member of the clergy doesn’t believe in God anymore, that person should find another line of work…sorry, but being “inclusive” only goes so far. What about her parishioners who do believe in God? I’m sure that parish is emptying itself out. Maybe she can try to start an atheist congregation and see if anybody shows up? I do believe someone tried starting up a Church for nonbelievers. Why does she have to be a minister of the United Church if the United Church’s doctrine includes belief in God?

  3. 1. Excellent lay preachers would indeed give the clergy a run for their money, but poor ones would simply demonstrate that mediocrity knows no (ontological) boundaries.

    2. My experience of hearing the confessions of my brother priests suggests to me that if a priest is “uptight” in the confessional (or in the pulpit) it is often because of the intolerable workload imposed on him by his superiors and the unrealistic expectations of him by those he is trying his best to serve. It is not a doctor or pills that he needs primarily, but support and understanding.

  4. Fr Richard Duncan CO : 1. Excellent lay preachers would indeed give the clergy a run for their money, but poor ones would simply demonstrate that mediocrity knows no (ontological) boundaries.

    I have long said that I am in favor of lay homilists because there is no reason why the laity can’t preach as badly as the ordained.

  5. How can one receive Communion, the sacrament of unity and the bond of charity and yet pack a gun in the Communion line?

    That assumes they are actually receiving Communion at Church. Many of the more evangelical Churches only distribute Communion occasionally.

    My brother-in-law is a Southern Baptist Minister, and they only offer it at Easter and Christmas in his church. And then, they go to great lengths to emphasize it’s only a symbol that recognizes they have already been saved and it does nothing special for the soul.

  6. Clergy have a lot to do during the week in addition to writing a homily. Moreover, they have to crank out quite a few. I think that lay preachers would end up delivering some clunkers if they operated under those conditions.

    but then, a retired lay preacher who only had to deliver one sermon a month or less may well raise the standards! Or not…ever been stuck with someone who wants to read you their bad poetry? It can be awkward. And then, who gets to tell the guest preacher that they’re no longer welcome to the pulpit? Why, the Priest of course! Might add some tension to the congregation.

  7. I don’t know why we talk as if lay preaching is some untried thing in the Catholic church. There are actually quite a few opportunities for laypersons to preach. And we could, and should, find more.

  8. Should individuals who don’t have the gift of preaching be authorized to preach? Restricting preaching to the ordained is a discipline not a doctrine.

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      Well, that’s a nice concept, but…who decides that? After all, it can become a pretext to prevent preaching that is good but unwanted. So, that may be one of those be careful what you ask for things…

  9. Jim Pauwels : I don’t know why we talk as if lay preaching is some untried thing in the Catholic church. There are actually quite a few opportunities for laypersons to preach. And we could, and should, find more.

    And why does it have to be at Mass? I don’t like the idea of breaking the link between the priest teaching his people…lay preachers to me feels like the priest outsourcing his job to lay people.

  10. Hey, I’m underworked where I am. I would gladly help my Roman Catholic brothers by preaching a Mass or 5! Seriously! Fat chance, I know. At my little brother’s funeral I wasn’t even allowed in the chancel. I gave his “eulogy”, not very cleverly disguised as a Lutheran sermon, from a lectern, on Romans 6.

    I’m retiring soon so I am available in the Phoenix area. Look me up!

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