Category: Faith

The Creeping Culture of Consumerism

I remember reading an article in the Worker written by Dorothy Day sometime in the early 1950ies. In her inimitable style she paraphrased Luke 2:1 “…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all who inhabited earth.” Her version was “… a decree went out from Macy’s, and Wal-Mart and Sears, that the whole world should do their Christmas shopping.” I substituted Wal-Mart and Sears because the other two department stores she mentioned are no longer in business.

Although she was just applying consumerism to Christmas, I believe she was a prophet of the creeping of consumerism that has in recent years taken over our society. This commentary will consider consumerism and its underlying philosophy as it’s grown beyond the season of Christmas. I believe consumerism is a symptom of our value system. In a future commentary I will suggest ways of moving from a society based on consumerism to what has been called a Society of Sustainability. If we can’t change the world—at least we can change ourselves!


is not a new phenomenon. Nor does its epitome, the , have the corner of the market. Wherever I mention the , you can just insert your own country. The dream is a matter of degree. According to Professor Peter N. Stearns in his book in Word History, it has been around for centuries in different societies. Stearns’ book provides a comprehensive, academic review of its development and impact on societies.

To go back even farther in history, the sacred book of China, Tao Te Ching, which literally means the way, “…was written in China around the 6th century BCE presumably by Lao Tsu, approximately the same time as Buddha lived in India.” [LINK] The English translation is The I Ching or the Book of Changes. It’s made up of 81 brief chapters or verses. Verse 46 seems to describe a forewarning from the 6th century about the moral values that underlie contemporary consumerism. I think Lao Tsu nailed it; here are several lines from that verse:

There is no greater loss than losing the Tao (the Way), no greater curse than covetousness, no greater tragedy than discontentment; the worst of faults is wanting more—always. Contentment alone is enough. Indeed, the bliss of eternity can be found in contentment.

For the of this commentary I want to focus on consumerism as it today in most of the developed societies, particularly the United States, which is perhaps an extreme example of consumerism at its worst. We all know that most of us buy things we don’t need; that advertisers exploit consumers through promoting campaigns that encourage us to buy stuff we don’t need because they know that we think more stuff will make us happier, smarter or more loved as we pursue the that’s built on the mentality that more stuff or newer stuff is better. The has become the American Nightmare. But before discussing any scholarly explanations of consumerism’s impact on society, here’s how the word stuff became so popular when talking about compulsive consumerism.

I believe the philosopher/comedian, a later day Lao Tzu,  George Carlin, was way ahead of his time whenhe choose the word stuff to characterize consumerism in the early 1980ies in a routine he called A Place for My Stuff. The word stuff has become the symbol for all those things that we buy, but could do without. With his unique gift to see humor in situations that most of us would fail to notice, he philosophized that “…all we need in is just a place for our stuff…all your house is, is a place for your stuff…as a matter of fact, a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover over it…and if we didn’t have stuff we wouldn’t need a house.” He goes on at length to point out how ludicrous the emphasis that we give to acquiring stuff is. Here’s the video of him performing that routine. You might want to watch it at your leisure if you’re not offended by some of his vulgarities. [LINK]

Remember that Carlin’s routine was performed before there was a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday. Now we even extend these margin days up to Christmas Eve. It’s basicallya national campaign, in which big business lowers prices and quantities to increase demand, and as a result—profits for them—all in the name of holiday shopping, when spending becomes as addictive as any drug. As you may know, there are actually 12 Step Programs for Shopaholics. “Hi, my name is Don and I’m a Shopaholic, Hi Don!”[LINK]   Here’s a website that indicates, [LINK]compulsive shopping, also known as a spending addiction, can be as debilitating as gambling or alcohol addiction. Psychologists believe that the person who is a compulsive shopper uses shopping to soothe him/herself rather than dealing with ’s challenges head on. Obsessive shopping ultimately leads to worse problems than the ones from which the person is seeking relief. In many incidents the compulsive shopper’s behavior puts his/her family’s welfare in grave jeopardy, which often leads to divorce. Caveat Emptor!


In the words of Lao Tsu, whom I mentioned above, “She who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” Here’s another quote, this time by an “unknown author, “When having more leaves you empty, you’ll discover true happiness lies in enough!” Or how about this one from Gandhi, provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Or as we used to say in the Bronx, “enough already”!

Although all of these quotations are though provoking, they don’t provide a black and white answer to the question, what’s enough under every situation.  We need to determine whether we’re concerned about how much stuff we need versus how much stuff  we want, or whether we need to buy a new car because our car is just obsolete and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a new model versus because it’s dying on us. I believe we don’t need a bureaucrat to figure it out for us; but sometimes we need help to motivate us in making the right choice, in answering the question; What is Enough for Me?

Here’s a story that helped me revaluate how much stuff I needed. It’s a book by Bob Perks, entitled I Wish You Enough. [LINK]I was very moved by his story. Youmight recognize the story because “…those words have been read at graduations, weddings, funerals, award ceremonies, and even engraved on stone.” Bob wrote the story after watching a father and daughter saying goodbye at an airport. If you’ve never read this heartwarming story, or even if you have, you can reread it on the link above. Pay special attention to the Seven Wishes that father shared at the end of the story, they are antidotes for our tendencies to accumulate more stuff then we need, and to keep us conscious of the effect too much stuff has on the environment.

The more I thought about Bob’s story, the more I could imagine that, I Wish You Enough being one of Jesus’ parables that was meant for our times; the Seven Wishes could be His 21st century Sermon on the Mount; and if we put the words to music, it could well be the national anthem for an anti-consumerism, sustainable society.


“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” ~ Edward Abbey

The good news is that there are a number of change organizations and programs and must read books that are already fighting the cancer of consumerism. Thebad news is that consumerism has metastasized to the point that if we continue to have the attitude to let George do it, our legacy for the next generation could be disastrous. So, to paraphrase an old call to action, “Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their galaxy.”

With that in mind, I’m going to focus on just one icon of our generation, who has a theological and scientific background, who devoted his personal, religious, and professional , among other things, answering the key question, what’s enough! He taught us not only by what he wrote, but by being a model of how to live the New Story, or as some refer to it as, the Great Story of the universe, and our place in it, without jettisoning the entire Old Story.

If there were a Hall of Fame for individuals who have made significant contributions to our sense of responsibility to one another, our sense of the divinity of the universe and our place in it, how we can make a difference in our environment; how we can see beyond the myopic

views of our planet earth that many of have, the late Fr. Thomas Berry, would be a shoo-in for induction. He was a pioneer in the field of spirituality and ecology; some called him a monk, a cultural historian, an author, a teacher, and a mystic. He wrote or co-authored twenty books, but for this commentary, I’d just like to consider several of his most popular ones.

His book The Dream of the , which was published in 1988, has had an impact on historians/ecologists/ecotheologians, as well as spiritual seekers. The president of the Northern America Conference of Religion and Ecology praise his book as being “…quite possibly one of the ten most important books of the century.” The book suggests that the ecclesiastical establishment, along with empires, corporations, and nation states, have controlled western nations in their becoming progressively more destructive of the earth.

I’m sure he aggravated the when he wrote, “…the primary ‘pro-’ act is to support planet earth, which sustains all the we know.” He was not a pro-abortion advocate, but he was in a subtle way, trying to awaken the hierarchy to their need to get their priorities straight. He believed that the Church needed to be more proactive about preserving the environment. Think about it, rather than spending their time and our money on pushing an agenda of contraception and abortion, our planet might be facing more than the loss of unborn children if they don’t put more energy into fighting for the survival of mother earth.

In Berry’s own words in the Dream of the :

“We have a new story of the universe. Our own presence to the universe depends on our human identity with the entire cosmic process. In its human expression, the universe and the entire range of earthly and heavenly phenomena celebrate themselves and the ultimate mystery of their existence in a special exaltation. Science has given us a new revelatory experience. It is now giving us a new intimacy with the .”

 Equally powerful was another book that he co-authored with Brian Swimme, a renowned physicist/cosmologist, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Cosmos. This book’s major focus is on interrelatedness of the whole universe and our place in it. They point out that for most of the 14 billion years of creative evolution, we humans were not around until the Ecozoic Era, the era when our ancestors realized that they were the result of a long story, and they needed to understand that they could be overseers of the earth with all its wonders. I think Connie Barlow captured their reverence for our planet when she wrote on her website The Great Story, [LINK]The more we learn about and process, the more we are in awe and the deeper the urge to revere the evolutionary forces that give time a direction and the ecological forces that sustain our planetary home.”

But if you really want to get to know Thomas Berry, as both a man and scholar, I found that Carolyn W. Toben’s memoir, Recovering a Sense of the Sacred: Conversations with Thomas Berry, published in 2012, offers an intimate sense of Berry beyond his books and essays.

For ten years Ms. Toben spent hours with Berry in deep discussions about his fundamental thinking. She makes it clear that for Thomas the relationship that we humans have with the earth, is the primary experience of the divine, and the pain that Berry had for the destruction of our eco-system. But despite that pain, the conversations give us more than a little hope; it gives us a workable path to the future.

You may want to check out my website for more information about the Fr. Berry and the Great Story under the title ism and Evolution and scroll down to # 16, [LINK]  In addition to videos of the Cosmic All Stars singing their songs, We are the Cosmos and The Cosmos Blues, there is a wealth of information from experts on the new cosmology and the New Story. To mention a few: Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, # 4; Brian Swimme’s, website, The Center of the Universe, # 5; Teilhard de Chardin’s position on suffering from a cosmic perspective #14; Connie Barlow, the creator of the website the Great Story, # 15; Matthew Fox and his story of the Original Blessing, #17; and many more.


I must confess that I am a recovering “shopping sinner”. It wasn’t until my early sixties that I changed my shopping habits and became a more conscious consumer and more concerned about the damage we were doing to planet earth. I grew up at a time when a new car cost between $1,200 and $1,600. So it seemed natural to me to trade my “old” car for a new one every other year, whether I needed a new car or not. I had a fixation for buying wrist watches. How many wrist watches did I need?  Certainly not a half a dozen! And then there was just stuff! Stuff that I didn’t need; stuff that ended up in a closet for years; sweaters that were taking up space in drawers. I’d clean out my closets and drawers, just to make space for more stuff. I never told the priest in confession that I was guilty of buying too much stuff: Bless me father for I have sinned, I just bought a new watch and sweater that I didn’t need.”  At that time, I didn’t think that I was an evil person or that the Lords of Consumption, the corporations, who were profiting from my purchases, or the hucksters who were promoting hyper-commercialism were evil. It was just the way things were.

I suppose most of us had, or has at least a touch of the shopping sinner’s syndrome. So, now’s a good time for us to reflect on how we can change our wicked ways, and as the eighth step in the 12 step programs say, make amendsMy “aha moment” was when I first was exposed to the Great Story of the Universe. From there it seemed an obvious next step to become involved with the Green Movement [LINK] . The movement“… advocates the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policies and individual behavior.”  The movement is centered on ecology, health and human rights.

In my next commentary, I will focus on specific ways we all can become involved both personally by changing our consumer habits, and through change organizations by advocating for for saving mother earth us and for future generations.

 I wish you all enough for 2013! 

Humpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall…

I’m not sure why, but as I was thinking about a title for this commentary, one of my childhood nursery rhymes Humpty Dumpty popped into my head. It was almost as if I were having a mystical experience. But why Humpty Dumpty I thought? What does he have to do with despair or hopelessness for reform in the Church? Then I remembered as kindergartener I could never figure out why Humpty fell off the wall in the first place. Did someone push him or was it his own fault that he fell, and why couldn’t they ever put him together again?

Then in my adult mind it dawned on me, perhaps Humpty Dumpty is an analogy for the situation the is in. There are many who believe the church is at a breaking point or already has “had a great fall” and can’t be put together again. An increasing number of us no longer have the energy to “fight the good fight”, and are ready to admit defeat, and move on. The question is, can Humpty Dumpty be put together again? This commentary will consider whether the hopefulness for renewal in the Church that I covered in my last commentary, makes me a Cockeyed Optimist, like the song in the Broadway musical, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, South Pacific. Or is it time to join the increasing numbers of what Tom Roberts calls ‘had it’ Catholics? [LINK].


I believe that many of the reasons for our hopelessness for reform can be traced to actions or inactions of the hierarchy. Since there are so many examples of our leaders stonewalling adult dialogue, and examples of their own misbehaviors, I decided to limit the sources of hopelessness to a few fairly recent sources.

I’ve been reading Brian Lennon S.J.’s book published in 2012; Can I Stay in the ?, with the hope that it would provide new information for how we decide our standing in the . Here’s a website, Building a Church without Walls, [LINK] with information about his book and links to other articles that he’s written, as well as links to articles by the website’s editor. Lennon clearly identifies the most logical reasons for leaving the church, and seems to be incensed by the behaviors of our church leaders. He asks the question, “So why do I choose to remain in the church?” I don’t mean to spoil the suspense but, his final decision is to remain in the church. I respect his decision, but I was surprised in the way he arrived at it. Lennon replays all the scandals over the centuries, from slavery which was “…imposed in the Third Lateran Council of 1179 on those helping the Saracens.” [LINK] to the crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries, to the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, up to the scandals of present time. When you come right down to it, I believe that he uses all the past scandals to confirm his thesis that eventually, the Holy Spirit will intervene and the church will bounces back magically from the current discontent, as it has in the past, but that change might take decades or more.

To me, it reminds me of playing baseball in grammar school, before we came up to bat we’d pray, “Hail Mary full of grace, let me get to second base” and expected divine intervention. I don’t mean to dismiss the Holy Spirit or prayer, but Lennon is basically making the argument, that because other incidents of malfeasance by our leaders have eventually been resolved, or faded from our memories, that’s the way the Holy Spirit works. It just doesn’t fit with my understanding of outside intervention by the Holy Spirit.

Episcopal John Shelby Spong wrote an essay recently that I believe is an example of why the majority of the catholic laity doesn’t buy the church’s position on same sex marriage. The title of the essay is, You Are Profoundly Wrong: A Response to the Archbishop of Newark and Others.[LINK] Spong answers a lengthy article by Archbishop John J. Meyers, When Two Become One: A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage. [LINK]

He starts his essay in a very civil fashion by acknowledging that he has no reason to believe that Meyers is not a good and sincere person but, he advises the Archbishop that “…one has a responsibility to be well-informed on the issues about which one speaks.” He suggests that it is not acceptable to just quote the authority of the magisterium of one’s church to support ideas or “…to quote traditional religious conclusions, as if they are viable or still acceptable in academic and intellectual circles.”

If you look at the references at the end of Meyers’ article you’ll see that most of them are quotes from the Catechism of the or what popes or early fathers of the church had to say. It’s like me quoting something from an article I wrote years ago, to prove a point on a current issue. This doesn’t make any sense, unless you’re in the type of denial [LINK] that can make an otherwise intelligent individual behave in an unintelligent manner, because they are too threatened by the Truth, and are unable to process what is perfectly apparent to most people. Spong goes on to “…try to unravel this maze of incoherent conclusions.” The article is well worth reading if for no other reason, to see how a contemporary scholar responds to a clergyman stuck in the past, whose mission is to impose the teaching of the church on the consciences of others, in this case sane sex marriages. Thus, denying us the primacy of our conscience.


This reference is hot off the press. It’s a response from Americans United for the Separation of Church and Stateto President Obama’s re-election on November 6, 2012. The title of the article, Election Outcome is Bitter Defeat for Catholic s and [LINK] is essentially a response to the Catholic s and their religious fundamentalist allies’ attempt

to control the outcome of the election. Many of us believed that the bishops’ casuistic strategies in their campaign to defeat the Obama administration, was an abuse of the power of the political pulpit. Attacks by some bishops and other clerics were blatant assaults on the President (like comparing him and his administration to the Nazis and worse). When the bishops were criticized publically, they tempered their rhetoric. They prefaced their statement by assuring their readers that they weren’t telling the faithful whom to vote for, but if you vote for a politian who supports legislation in favor of contraception or abortion etc., you are putting your immortal soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation. I questioned their approach in several commentaries on the website, one was entitled Obama vs. Dolan, [LINK] challenges the way the bishops abused the church’s tax exempt status to surreptitiously promote the election of political candidates who didn’t agree with their positions.


Since the day that spent a pleasant four hours at Castel Gandolfo in 2005 with his former colleague, and newly minted Benedict XVI, Kung has reassessed his optimism for Benedict’s papacy several times. I remember when Kung came to Phoenix for a lecture about two weeks after his meeting with the pope, and I had the pleasure of having an “intimate dinner” with him along with a group of 30 or 40 members of the Jesuit Alumni Association of Arizona. He told us “privately” that he had decided to talk about things that both he and the pope agreed on to avoid any awkwardness. His immediate response after their meeting was that they had a cordial reunion talking about old times and issues they agreed on, and he was “cautiously optimistic”.

Fast forward to 2009 when Kung called for a Third Vatican Council, and listed a number of issues that had not even been discussed at Vatican II. [LINK] At the same time he recognized that “…another global council would not happen because the Vatican was afraid…and was trying to restore the pre-Vatican II church…”

Kung’s next major announcement was a five page, single spaced letter addressed to all the Venerable s. [LINK] He first apologized for the open letter format, and adds that “…unfortunately I have no other way of reaching you.” After expressing how his hopes for the pope’s papacy along with “… so many engaged catholic men and women have been unfulfilled…”, he spends over a page pointing out the missed opportunities for rapprochement with every religious group that Benedict has estranged. He particularly highlights the Jews, when he “… reintroduced into the liturgy a pre-conciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews…and the Muslins in his 2006 Regensburg lecture…(when he) caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity…”

Kung gives his assessment of what he thinks were serious faux pas on the pope’s part, like promoting the medieval Tridentine Mass, and reinforcing the anti-conciliar forces in the church by his curial appointments. He goes on to discuss some major crises that were poorly handled by the pope. At the top of his list “…comes a scandal crying out to heaven-the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents …and to make matters worse, the handling of these cases given rise to an unprecedented collapse of trust in church leadership.” He concluded the letter with six proposals for the bishops to consider.

I’m not sure if any of the Venerable s personally responded to Kung’s letter but the Vatican responded on the front page of its official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, under the headline, Dear Hans, followed by a bit of tactless sarcasm from the author, Pier Giordano Cabra. [LINK] He told Kung that “…perhaps if your letter had breathed a bit more of the hymn to charity, it would have turned out to be a more elegantly evangelical gesture of congratulations” for Benedict’s 83rd birthday and fifth anniversary as pope, as well as “a more fruitful contribution to the church that is suffering for the weakness of her sons.” The weakness of her sons, indeed!

“Comes the revolution!” On October 5, 2012 an article appeared in The Guardian entitled, Catholic Theologian Preaches Revolution to end Church’s ‘Authoritarian Rule’. [LINK] Guess who the theologian was? You got that right! Apparently Fr. Kung’s letter to the bishops and all his previous strategies of reform, revival, or renewal didn’t have the effect on the Vatican that he hoped for, and he proposes a new strategy, revolution. He’s following an old dictum “If the strategy you’re using is working do more of it, if it’s not working, do something different.” This was not the first time Kung mentioned a more aggressive approach for change in the church, for example, the comprehensive transcript of an interview by Anthony Padovano presented at the meeting in Detroit of the American Catholic Council [LINK], and an article in Der Spiegel [LINK] entitled the Putinization of the , both in 2011. It’s apparent in reading these articles that Kung was getting more and more impatient with the hierarchy, not only for their digging their heals in, but if push comes to shove, they would take a laissez faire position and settle for a much smaller church.


The title of an article in the Catholic News Service on October 26, was in Jesus Means Being Optimistic about the Future, Synod Message Says. [LINK] I’m sorry, I have faith in Jesus, but I don’t have the same faith in the 260 cardinals, bishops, and priests who attended the synod. Unlike the optimism that the documents of Vatican II inspired in many of us fifty years ago, I found the end results of the synod disappointing. Although the New Evangelization at times seems like talking points prepared by a Madison Ave. PR agency, there are some encouraging words. For example, an article entitled, Message of the Synod: Look with ‘Serene Courage’ to the Future of Evangelization, [LINK] is mostly positive. They point out issues of families, poverty, the importance of parishes, need for dialogue and how they “…want our communities to harness and not suppress, the power of their enthusiasm.” They talk about dialogue, dialogue, dialogue! [LINK] But given their recent history dialogues is not their best suit. We need actions not just words. The bishops know how to “talk the talk, but not how to walk the walk” as they say in the twelve step programs. I’d be more hopeful if they had added a sentence with a touch of humility, something like, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, we realize we haven’t always been open to dialogue, nor have we been consistent in being transparent, but we promise to be more transparent and committed to dialogue in the future.”

They reflect on Vatican II as, “the great Council of the Church”, which proclaimed the need for the faith to be communicated anew to the modern world.” This doesn’t match their recent rhetoric and actions. They acknowledge , for setting “…the groundwork…by laying out the Church’s mission; Gaudium et Spes, in which the Church dedicated herself to “dialogue,…changes in the social order and shifts in attitudes to morality and religion….”; Ad Gentes tell us the how of evangelization…” etc.

Much of text in The New Evangelization’s document reminds me of a song that Frank Sinatra sang in the early 1940ies, I’ve Heard that Song Before. Some of you might remember, the first line: “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before, It’s from an old familiar score, I know it well, that melody.”Now don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia and I believethat some of the content of the New Evangelization can be helpful, but not as it’s presented in the synod documents, where they don’t mention the faithful having any role in the governance of the church. They are clear that our role is to evangelize, to spread the faith, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”, but they apparently plan to continue to dictate to the faithful what they must believe, without listening to what the sensus fidelium has to contribute to their decisions.


In the space available for this commentary and my last one in , Hope Springs Eternal …, [LINK] I’ve provided examples to help balance the pros and cons for whether to remain, leave, or take a sabbatical from the Roman . But, I don’t think it’s enough for us to just add up the pluses and minuses to make a decision. I wish it were as simple as it is for someone like Bill Donahue, “…the chronically peeved president of the Catholic League…” as Bill Keller referred to him in an article in the New York Times, The Rottweiler’s Rottweiler. [LINK] In Donohue’s new book Why Catholicism Matters, his characteristic response to someone who disagrees with the church’s teaching, on say gay marriages, would be, Shut up or go! Would that it were so unequivocal!

I think the major reason why it so difficult for many of us to buy into Donohue’s shut up or go philosophy, is that the decision to leave the church is not just a black and white cognitive decision. It involves emotions that we might have struggled with for years. Looking back on my , there have been a number of occasions when I had to make a decision to stay or leave. I remember how I agonized about leaving the active ministry. It took me at least five years before I wrote Paul VI a letter requesting a dispensation (It took him two years to answer me). Then there was the dilemma of my divorce. In some ways leaving the church is similar to getting a divorce. My personal experience of getting divorced, and my professional experience as a therapist, where I counseled couples and families through their divorces, and gave workshops on divorce recovery, supplied me with ample anecdotal and empirical information of just how heartrending it can be. Leaving the church, despite its many moral weaknesses, is not an event as much as it is a process. No matter how much reflection, how much support, how much praying we do, when push comes to shove, only the individual can make that decision, we are the deciders; not the pope, not our bishop, not our confessor, not our parents, only we can make that decision. But that’s a whole other commentary.

As I’ve said a number of times, I believe change in the institution of the church has to come from the bottom up. I don’t belong to the same Roman of my youth. I don’t kowtow to Rome or its minions. I follow the mantra of “Keep the , but question the beliefs”, and have eliminated those beliefs that no longer make any sense to me. I intend to continue to be part of those lay movements that are working from inside the church for change, as I have for years. Will all the changes I’d like to see, happen in my time? I doubt it! In the meantime unless they kick me out of the Catholic community, I don’t plan to change religions. Living in a retirement community, where the good Holy Cross fathers preside at the liturgy every Sunday, meets my need for a sense of being part of a spiritual community. But I am open to the sharing responsibilities for the disenfranchised with other spiritual and religious communities.

So, as a former professor of mine used to say, “We shall see what we shall see!” 

The Hope Which Springs Eternal Within the Human Breast

The title for this posting was stolen (like in baseball) from a classic poem I memorized in grammar school, at the Bat [LINK] by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. He in turn stole (like in plagiarism) the line from an essay On Man by Alexander Pope. Just in case you can’t remember the poem, or sadly never heard of Mighty , here is a brief summary. The baseball fans of Mudville, who were watching their team lose that day, were divided into two groups, the “struggling few (who) got up to go leaving there the rest” and the loyal fans who stayed because of their belief in the “hope that springs eternal within the human breast”; and they were counting on Mighty to whack out a homerun and win the day for the Mudville Nine. If you want to know the outcome of the game, click on the link above.

It seems to me that in some ways, many of us are waiting for “a Mighty like” person or movement to fulfill the hope that II inspired for s in the church. If we’re one of those, I think we need to listen to the wise sage Pogo, who said in a 1971 cartoon, “We have met the enemy and it is US![LINK]  Pogo’s statement has become a universal truth that applies to most organizations, including the church. Like many others, I believe that the laity is the key to change.  Having aired our grievances, and recognized that we are part of the problem, we need to keep hope alive. We all need to become change agents and not just “leave it up to George”. This commentary will focus on those who believe that “hope springs eternal…”, and are willing and able to follow Pogo’s challenge to be part of the solution. In my next blog I will focus on sources of hopelessness.


“Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I don’t intend to use “hope” in the biblical or theological sense, as in Faith, and , but in a more everyday way, as in “ is the belief in what is possible and the expectation of things to come.”  Or as St. Augustine of Hippo described it, “ has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  Or if we think of hope as a movement, the Chinese author and Guru Lin Yutang described it as, is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.

I realize that these “bumper sticker” type quotations might seem Pollyannaish, especially when we apply them to the . So, I’d first like to suggest a prototype of person who as a cardinal, had all the characteristic and values for providing a vision for leading the church forward, while at the same time would not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

In my last commentary in a, [LINK]I included several references to Cardinal Carlo Martini’s death in which the articles mentioned examples of his progressive observations and  convictions that the cardinal had about what the church needed to do to  become relevant in the 21st century.  The September 8, issue of The Tablet: The International Weekly had several post mortem articles under the overall title Cardinal Carlo Martini Remembered. The lead article on page 2, Prophet for Our Times [LINK]  acknowledges some of the many contributions Cardinal Martini made to the church, and suggests how different the church might be now if he had succeeded Pope John Paul II.

The article also serves as an introduction to his last interview two weeks before he died, entitled, The Pope and Bishops Should Find 12 Unconventional People to Take on Leadership Roles (notice the title specifies people not clerics).That interview describes “…a papacy that never was, but might have been.”  The interview is on pages 8 and 9 on the link immediately above. Additionally, in an article entitled Never Afraid on pages 6 and 7 under the same link, Cardinal Martini is remembered as “…the torch-bearer of liberal ism”. I particularly appreciated the author’s describing Martini’s primary role as bishop being “a pastor of souls” rather than being limited “to that of ecclesiastical authority”We are getting closer to a conclave to elect a new pope. fully the next pope to sit in the chair of Peter will be someone like Cardinal Martini. If that were to happen, I think the hopes we had for II, and even beyond, could become a reality not just a dream.

Another source of hope for me was the celebration of the 50ieth Anniversary of the Second Council’s opening session. I’ve been encouraged by the many positive reactions to the celebration of that historical event.  There have been a number of article that I’ve read in the past several months that I found ,without ignoringwhat remains to be done, nor hesitating to point out how much of what we hoped for and thought would be accomplished had been sabotaged by the Curia, Pope John Paul II, and his handpicked successor. For me the articles brought back some of the same excitement and hope that I had as a newly ordained priest when I first heard about Pope John XXIII’s plans for the Council. In the words of the renowned philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again”.

One concept that was reinforced by several of the anniversary articles was collegiality, the fact that we are stakeholders in the church.You know that, and I know that, but the people in charge still don’t seem to “get it”.  We’re all familiar with the sensus fidelium (the mind of the people). The term stakeholder is perhaps more in touch with current corporate lingo.  It wasn’t around when sensus fidelium was first used by the early fathers of the church, but it’sexactly what collegiality is in current corporate lingo. As members of the People of God, we are stakeholders, and this is one of the issues that remain to be resolved in accord with the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, , promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November21, 1964.

Chapter 3 of is where collegiality is spelled out. [LINK] In an article by John Wilkins in Commonweal, p.16 in its October 2012 edition, the author describes the “fierce and protracted” debate between the minority of the conservative bishops, and their progressive opponents had over collegiality. Basically, the conservatives were concerned that if they budged an inch on collegiality, the church’s teaching on infallibility, defined by I in 1870 would be in jeopardy. The argument was between those who saw collegiality as community and those who saw it as a pyramid, with the “…pope at the apex.” In Roman Law a college (like in the College of Cardinals)  is an association of equals, a concept that the traditionalists could not reconcile with a monarchial papacy.” [1] Although the progressives won in the end, in reality the “community” structure, as envisioned by was never operationalized, thanks to the long reigns of John Paul II and the present pope’s obsession with tradition.(See Jeff Mirus’ article Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity).[LINK]I believe that the concept of collegiality is a priority for change and needs to be implemented according to the original promulgation of II.

As stakeholders there are a number of change organizations that are available for us to join if we want to participate in taking our church back and beyond II. I suspect that most of you are familiar with the major lay organization in your own countries and around the world, so I’ll put their websites along with additional articles, at the end of this posting, so you can refresh your memories if you think it’s necessary. What all the lay organizations need is more of us stakeholders to join them in their missions.


Besides the older lay organizations’ contributions, I see a source of hope in a lay group that was established in 2005, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Governance (NLRCG). If you check their website [LINK] you’ll see a completely different type of organization with strong ties to the US Conference of Bishops (USCCB), with a membership that includes key lay leaders from organizations across the country. The “Target membership is approximately 225 individuals who are top leaders and key experts from the worlds of business, civic life, professional associations, foundations, universities, healthcare systems, vibrant parishes, and other organizations.” The board of directors is made up of seven lay women, seven laymen, and three clergymen. The Executive Director is a lay woman. I was very impressed with the credentials the members have and what they’ve accomplished in a short time. If you check their website, their annual reports for the last few years, along with their mission, strategic plans etc. are available.

One of their guiding principles of NLRCG is to provide:

“…an avenue for greater incorporation of the expertise of all the faithful, especially in the areas of church management, finance, and human resource development. By virtue of baptism, lay people have not only the right but also the duty to offer their gifts and talents in service of the church. See: Christifideles Laici – Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on The Vocation and The Mission of the Lay in the Church and in the World, 1988, 29 and Code of Canon Law, Canon 222.1, 1983.

NLRCG’s goal is to build “… a Church that is stronger in areas of management, finance and human resources and more fully utilizes the talents and skills of the laity.” Their recommendations are presented to the USCCB and, as stated in an article in America, they become a, Blue Print for Change [LINK], “…a roadmap for strengthening the organizational, financial, and managerial structures of the church at three levels: national, diocesan, and parish.”

Given the fact that, “…the Church in the United States, with its more than one million employees and operating budget of nearly $100 billion, is comparable in size and scope to some of the nation’s largest corporations…” having management experts guide the bishops seems like an excellent idea. Especially, since most bishops do not have any professional credentials or experience in managing what is essentially a position for a CEO of a large “corporation”.  At the very least it should promote a new transparency in the church, and strengthens the role of the laity in at least the governance of the church, and give them a foot in the door for being included in decisions on the church’s teachings.  I believe that the clergy sexual abuse of children, would never have reached the proportions it did if the “managers”, i.e. bishops, were not able to cover up for the perpetrators. In the words of James Muller, “With lay people involved in the decision making, certainly no priest who had abused a child would have been transferred to another parish…parents would never have permitted it.”

To me, the fact that there is such an organization as NLRCGis encouraging. I often wondered how we could expect men with degrees in theology, canon law orscripture to have the knowledge that’s required to be a “CEO” in a “corporation” as large as a diocese.


Here’s a major issue that NLRCG has already recommended to the bishops, “… improvements in the process by which bishops are selected. While recognizing the primacy of the Holy See, it suggested the process for choosing bishops be supplemented with help of human resource professionals…” The election of bishops is one of the goals that most of the lay groups have been advocating for years. Here’s an interesting paradox: despite the fact that the hierarchy usually invokes tradition and teachings of the fathers of the church as their rationale for their doctrinal positions, yet when it comes to the selection of bishops, the fact that bishops were chosen in the early centuries of the church by the laity, doesn’t register with them.

In his book, Electing Our Bishops: How the Church Should Choose It’s Leaders, Joseph F. O’Callaghan, points out that “The terrible moral failure of the American Bishops in handling the crisis of priestly sexual abuse has focused intense attention on the office of the bishop.” [2] He believes that bishops are often perceived as branch managers or subordinates to the pope in their own dioceses, with administrative responsibilities over subdivisions of multinational corporations with their headquarters in Rome. This goes back to our conversation on collegiality.

I also recommend Robert Mc Clory’s book, As it Was in the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Church. As the title suggests, the author goes back to the beginning of the early church, which obviously not like the present church, and shows what needs to reclaimed and rejuvenated. He makes a good case for laypeople: having a sanctioned place at the table, along with the clergy; provides many historical examples of laity playing significant roles in assisting the institutional church in adapting to the 20ieth and 21st centuries. His answer to the question “is anyone listening?“, often asked about the hierarchies’ negative responses to the “…energy expended by all these groups…”,  is very positive. He lists a number of achievements that he sees as signs, and in his final chapter “The Vision Presses on to Fulfillment”, he provides a number of scenarios for the Coming Democratization of the Church.


As an octogenarian and card carrying member of several catholic organizations whose foci are on in the church, I obviously don’t have the same energy that I had fifty years ago, and my involvements with these groups ain’t what it used to be: no more driving at night to meetings, no more taking leadership positions, no more demonstrations, no more lectures, but thanks to the modern technology I can still actively participate on-line. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a half a dozen petitions to sign, or “change causes” to support. Thankfully, I am still able to take advantage of connecting with the virtual world out there in cyberspace with my computer. To paraphrase Descartes, “Scripto ergo sum” (I write therefore I am).  What I’m suggesting is we don’t have to sit on the sidelines if we still have a glimmer of hope.

In my next blog, I will consider the other side of hope, the hopelessness that the hierarchy “will never get it” despite all our efforts to the church.


1) Wilkins, J. (2012) “Bishops or Branch Managers?” Commonweal, October 12, p.18.

2) O’Callaghan, J.F., (2007). Electing our Bishops: How the Church Should Choose Its Leaders. New York: Sheedp. 3.


The Second Vatican Council has Already Made Us FreeArticle by Robert Blair Kaiser, National Reporter,  August 7, 2012.

Opening the Church to the World Op-ed, New York Times, by John W. O’Malley, S.,J., October 10, 2012,

The Promise of Vatican II to the People of God National Reporter, Editorial, October 11, 2012

The Bigest Meeting in History Feature Article on II, The Tablet, October 6, 2012, by Hilmar Pabel.

Map for the Journey of Faith From the Editor’s Desk, The Tablet, October 6, 2012.

Catholicism at the Cross RoadsReview of Paul Lakeland’s book, by Frank Dechant, Future Church.