Organizational Structure of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit
The purpose for the existence of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit (CDOS) is two-fold. First is to provide a structure to understand, live and make known the beautiful and freeing Good News proclaimed and lived by Jesus. We make absolutely no claims that membership in any spiritual organization or church is “necessary for salvation” or is the “only way to God,” but rather acknowledge that we are and always will be – as human – an imperfect organization composed of imperfect (but working on getting better) human beings. Our Communion of dioceses is here to continually perfect the understanding of Jesus’ message and to present this wonderful spiritual perspective to others, who will be free to choose it or not, as their individual needs express themselves at that time in their eternal growth.
The second is to invite people into a lived experience of the Good News of Jesus’ message by becoming involved in some type of ministry, either paid or volunteer, whereby they utilize their Spirit-given gifts and reach out to others in their time of need in a healing manner.
We feel that the sum of our parts (our people) will always be more than the whole, that we encourage and support one another in and through our overall worldwide Communion and local communities, through spiritual and ministerial activities. We have no barriers to anyone who would dedicate their lives in a special way to making this beauty of the Jesus-Message known by seeking to be members of one of our dioceses: men and women are welcome to ordination and membership and they are also heartily welcome as non-ordained members, married or single, straight and gay, old and young, educated and self-educated. Everyone is welcome as a Member. Criteria for serving as an Ordained Member are pastoral and welcoming. As long as a prospective Member or Ordained Member holds to the essential “Catholic” (i.e., “universal”) theology of Jesus – that Divinity lives within everything and everybody, that everything and every individual is an individuated manifestation of God, fueled with the existence and love that is God/Loving Consciousness, and that this life is the way we are given to experience that by aligning ourselves with the workings of the universe as revealed by Jesus – then our Members and Ordained Members alike are welcome even if they belong to other Christian denominations or other religions.
These By Laws, Organizational Structure, are not written in granite. In fact, they probably become outdated as soon as they are published, for that is the nature of our humanity: growth and change. We anticipate constant revisions to keep up with the times. Our goal – which will be a constant challenge – has been to provide a structure enough to stay a viable, breathing, loving entity, but never to allow us to creep into dictatorial, patriarchal (or matriarchal), authoritarian, clerical, control mechanisms.
We are a Communion and a group of communities composed of spiritually kindred individuals, who love this world and the people in it (with all their/our faults) and who seek to become our better selves every new day, primarily through the Christ-Message, but also by being open to all the other revelations of Loving Consciousness in this world.
While we see as our particular charism the day-to-day lived spirituality that is meaningful and uplifting for our times and the re-framing of the Christian message in terms, concepts and contemporary mindsets so as to present it as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time, we also acknowledge that people are where they are. While the reason most people today are turning from church is that they no longer find it relevant, and we seek to change that, we also honor those who do find the mystery and spirituality of the past to be life-giving, and our members also seek to minister to those people. The old model of church/parish is that the people are required to come to the church building, but more and more (e.g., see “Europe” and the same growing trend in the USA) that model is fading. In the new model, the ministers have to lovingly infiltrate to where the Communion is in its work world, clubs, activities, social gatherings, etc. and bring, first by example, the Good News of Jesus.
“Communities” are not limited to small communities of faith which gather periodically for spiritual sustenance, encouragement, growth and Eucharist – though this is one ideal. There are also Communities of special interest, studies or activities, such as hospices, chaplaincies, education, pastoral outreach, existing membership groups, etc. The Eucharist has a special place in all Catholic spirituality, because it was the way Jesus asked us to observe and live his essential teaching, that everything is composed of God. The Eucharist is an essential part of our lives in whatever ways we may emphasize it in all our myriad current and future conditions.
The Call to be Friend/Minister within any of our diocesan ordained ministries must always be heard in relation to what is said by all the members of that person’s Community or Diocese. We say “Friend” Minister, because – throughout these By Laws – “Friend” emphasizes the mutual respect, care and devotion to each other that is essential to any Christian relationship.
Nothing will limit the positive personal decisions of each member, made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even though at times these need to be discerned also by the person’s Community and/or his/her Priest or Bishop, adding their assistance.
Our members are encouraged to not criticize other members of their communities, other communities, those who serve in ordained roles, or other Churches, dioceses, rites or Religions. We know that what we emphasize and life offers a resonant attraction to the deepest desires in a great many people. But we also recognize that other people are in other places, and they are where they need to be in the next step of their eternal growth. With those people, we chose not to argue, but to gently and politely “shake the dust from our sandals” move on to others who are looking for what we can express.
The members of our Communities are free to assist and participate in, or be members of, other Churches, dioceses, rites and Religious Celebrations, as long as those other entities are not in direct and material conflict with our diocese’s essential perspective and purpose. Our Diocese is ecumenical to its core because that is the way God made the world. This ecumenical core is to be in communion and not in submission to any particular denomination as a matter of choice and faith.
II. MINISTERS/FRIENDS TO THE COMMUNITIES
“There are many gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Teacher; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy or preaching; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of communication skills; to another empathetic understanding of differences. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person she wishes. As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” (I Cor. 12:4-12)
Within the Church, and consequently in the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, ministerial Calls exist for the service of people in or through various communities, and not to impose authority over others.
Our purpose is not to establish a hierarchy in which one ministry is seen as having more power than another and in which a “top-down” mentality prevails. Rather, we follow the inspiration and practice of the early Christian Church and recognize the development of various ministries for the service they bring to the needs of the members and of the world at large. The ideal is service and dialogue among all members, at all times, and in all places.
For this reason, all the designations for all the Callings in our Diocese will quietly have the technical designation “Friend” as part of their "official" titles, so that all, especially those who are the ministers, can remember this: neither “above” nor “below” but journeying “with”, as a companion, in friendship. However, shortened versions of those titles will usually be used.
“You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority. This is not the way with you; among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the willing slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-43)
Anyone is welcome to express the belief that he/she has a particular Call to be a Minister/Servant. There is no restriction for anyone who has received a Call to be a Servant, due to gender, race, physical challenges, age, sexual orientation, or other differences, although generally Priests will be at least 25 years old and Bishops 35, unless the Communion chooses a younger one.
There are six different Callings recognized in our Diocese: Baptized Christian, Deacon, Community Priest, Diocesan Priest, Provincial Bishop, and Principal Bishop. Generally each Call to a particular service needs to have already served in the preceding, either within or out of the Diocese, for a sufficient time to mature. We always emphasize that the only real prerequisite for each Call is that it come from the Holy Spirit, and be recognized by those who elect or receive those for ordination or service and by any Community they may be serving.
We have no objections to individual deacons or priests being members of other churches or religions as well as of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. As long as a ministerial member of the diocese is in harmony with the thrust and general theology of the CDOS Communion of dioceses, that would not mean that that person could not also be in alignment with other philosophical or theological perspectives, and feel a bond to others, as well.
III. HUMAN TALENTS / CHRISTIAN (MINISTERIAL) ROLES
Our ordained ministers (deacons, priests and bishops) are Preachers / Teachers / Pastoral Leaders / Spiritual Coaches. We are only “Alter Christus” or “Mediators of Christ” or souls “indelibly marked” in as much as EVERY human being is such. Our message and reach is to ALL God’s people as they come to us, everyone, not just Christians or members of our particular ecclesiastical organization. Our goal is to effectively help bring the liberating and joyful message of Jesus to others: “how this life and this universe works; how we are internally aligned with the way God ordered the world, and now is our continuous chance to choose to be in resonance.” That said, we are also grateful for the grace of ordination.
Later in this section we will be distinguishing between a geographic CDOS diocese and a ministerial CDOS diocese. It is noted that a deacons, priests or bishops who are members of a ministerial diocese are not formal members of the geographic CDOS diocese in which they may reside.
To be a “Christian” is the highest Calling in the Diocese and of the Church, because it is the inspiration to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, not out of necessity of being in Jesus’ fold as an end goal, but rather to align ourselves with Divinity Within as he did, and in that way to ultimately achieve perfect happiness, personal joy. Out of this general, great calling, the other functions of Deacon, Priest and Bishop are set as servants to all God’s people – both those within the Diocese, as well as those outside the Diocese, Christians or not. In the Church the baptized Christian Person has the most important position. The deacon is the servant of the People of God; the Priest is the servant of the servers (Deacons) and the people; and the Bishop is the servant of the servant of the servants (priests) and of them all. In this way the structure is a “structure for service” not for power.
Therefore the Ordination to the services (= ministries from the Latin “ministrare” which means to serve) is to deepen the presence of the Holy Spirit, to make a more fruitful action, each grade is a deeper grade/level of the Holy Spirit, and not a tool of or for power.
As to the gifts of the Spirit, some of which are suggested in the Acts of the Apostles, once one is a Christian, no Calling is more important than another. This was shown by Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles. Each Calling is equally important in the eyes of Jesus. We too choose this same belief and practice among ourselves. Neither pride nor jealousy was part of the life of Jesus.
We strive to always remember that we are all a priestly people. Everyone in our Church is called to follow Jesus equally. Non-ordained Christian people often follow Jesus in a profound way because they follow Him in lives which are very real, immersed in the world given us by God. The ordained members of the Diocese must always remember that they are Servants of the Christian people in their communities, following the example of Jesus.
Other than our ordained members, we do not know and will never know how many “members” our diocese has, because we are purposely not structured like the classic “churches,” nor the Roman model of Catholicism, nor the Evangelical, nor the Orthodox. Those who presently resonate with this message we preach (preaching in any of its myriad forms) can legitimately call themselves “members of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit” – even while being members of other religions or denominations or while being humanists, and even while espousing a myriad of spiritual beliefs or customs. Some may choose to formally join the diocese as ordained or non-ordained members; others may not. There are no file cabinets in heaven, as there are too often here on earth, to split people into their separate categories of exclusion. Like the earliest church, those associated with us desire to follow the original Jesus as we understand him today – at this time, in this place, not necessarily as he has been added on to over the centuries.
We would hope that people who adhere to our spiritual perspective would be recognized because they love others and have joy in their lives (Leon Bloy: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God”). They would not be recognized by an adherence to a magisterium, to doctrines, creeds or dogmas – which were of only minor importance to the original followers of Jesus. In adhering to the full Body of Faith passed down from the Apostles through the centuries, we do what every time has done: ask what this means for us and how we best implement the power of Jesus in our own lives.
Following the teaching of the Acts of the Apostles, all Deacons are called to serve their Communities and assure that all are being ministered to. In our Diocese, the diaconate has the same position as in the Acts of the Apostles, that is, a direct and visible service to the Communion. The Deaconate is not necessarily a step to priesthood. There may be as many Deacons in a Community as the Community deems necessary. The Deacons generally are elected by the Community they serve. Following the practice of the Apostolic Church, anyone moved by the Spirit, who has the permission of the Community, may preach during the Eucharists.
The Community, in union with their Priest, may remove a Deacon from his/her functioning Call for grave reasons.
C. FRIEND/COMMUNITY PRIESTS
Community Priests are generally elected by the Community then acknowledged by the local CDOS, or they are selected by the Bishop for evangelization/marketing service in specific fields, and they are presented to their Bishop for ordination. All the decisions concerning ordinations are made by the Bishop, often after the election by candidate’s Community. Since our most important Ministries are to preach and to heal the broken (and – as an integral, reciprocal part of that process – to heal our own brokenness), all our Priests must be able to demonstrate these gifts.
However, we will always attempt to be gentle and non-judgmental. Community Priests – elected to celebrate the Eucharist only for their specific Small Communities of Faith or for their specific field of ministry – do not need as much study as DiocesanPriests who usually will have obtained theological degrees, ideally at least at the Master’s level, but they need the approbation of their Bishop to be ordained. In this way there will hopefully always be a Community Priest to celebrate the Eucharist when the Community gathers. A Bishop may ordain a Priest who has not been elected by the Community for specific ministerial work not associated with Communities of Faith.
All the members of all the Communities generally will be called by their first names, including the Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Any member of any Community is free to approach any Community or Diocesan Priest – as a representative of all the People of God – for what used to be called “confession,” which is more closely appreciated now as a rededication / a reconciliation / a commitment to start over fresh.
D. FRIEND/DIOCESAN PRIESTS
Diocesan priests may be elected by the Community and presented to their Bishop for ordination, or they are selected by the Bishop for evangelization/marketing service in specific fields. Decisions concerning ordinations are made by the Bishop, often after the election by candidate’s Community. Since our most important Ministries are to preach and to heal the broken (and – as an integral part of that process – to heal our own brokenness), all our Priests must be able to demonstrate these gifts.
However, we will always attempt to be gentle and non-judgmental. Diocesan Priests with theological certificates – elected to celebrate the Eucharist for various Communities of Faith, and for their specific fields of ministry – require a degree of study which will mark them as Diocesan Priests able to communicate effectively with a wider range of people, and on a par with their peers, and who have attained a degree of scholastic recognition, at least equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. Such scholarship could be self-learned, but is generally the product of university training.
All the members of all the Communities generally will be called by their first names, including the Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Any member of any Community is free to approach any Communion or Diocesan Priest – as a representative of all the People of God – for what used to be called “confession,” which is more appreciated now as a rededication / a reconciliation / a commitment to start over fresh.
E. FRIEND/ BISHOPS
Any Bishop not the Principal Bishop of the CDOS family of dioceses will have as his/her title “Bishop”, i.e. as a friend/bishop for all the people of God, but with loving obligations especially in his/her particular geographic or ministerial “province” of activities.
There are geographic dioceses within the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, e.g., “the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit in the Philippines” or “the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit in Kenya.” These geographic dioceses are all a part of the overall Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, and they are headed by the loving leadership of their own bishops, who are themselves also members of the larger worldwide Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, and who will have pledged to follow these By Laws.
ROLE OF THE BISHOP
A Bishop in the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit does not have much of the job description generally associated with a bishop of the Roman Catholic rite (e.g., administrator, “superior,” owner of real estate holdings, etc.). A Bishop in the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit is a mentoring focus of a specific ministry or of a group of Communities of Faith, a hub of a concentric circle of spiritual influence, influencing and serving the rippling effects of his/her ministry. Bishops have, among others, the following responsibilities:
NAMING NEW BISHOPS
A priest must be presented to the Principal Bishop by any Bishop in the family of CDOS Dioceses in order to be considered as a candidate for ordination to the episcopacy. A Priest who meets the qualifications of Bishop may then be ordained a bishop, but usually only after at least three years as a priest. The Principal Bishop will make that decision in his/her sole discretion. If the Principal Bishop either decides to or declines to ordain a Priest a Bishop within the Diocese, the Principal Bishop may be overridden by a 60% vote of all the Bishops. Any Bishop may call for a vote of all the Bishops, and that Bishop shall communicate to the other Bishops why he/she feels the individual should be ordained a Bishop. Votes may be by email and shall be emailed to both the Bishop asking for the vote and to the Principal Bishop at the same time.
There will be Priests who do not wish to be ordained Bishop, because they do not choose to engage in all the activities of a Bishop. This could be for any number of reasons, including health, retirement, job-related time or other obligations, etc.
Bishops will refer to the Principal Bishop of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, the names of the candidates presented by themselves or by the Priests within their specific ministries for the calling to be Provincial Bishop. Only the Principal Bishop, after consultation with the Bishops of the Diocese, and after prayer for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may name the Bishops, but he/she does so within the consensus of the Bishops’ judgment, but is subject to their 60% override as described above. It is expected that the Principal Bishop will accept the judgment of the local CDOS diocese unless the Principal Bishop believes that the nominated Bishop will not reflect the CDOS mindset or lifestyle.
Generally new Bishops will be named directly by the Principal Bishop, for new areas of ministry. All the Bishops must listen to the advice of their respective counselors before making any major decision. The counselors must always give their counsel based on what the Holy Spirit speaks to them, always seeking to be conduits for good.
When a Bishop of a geographic area or specific ministry retires from active service, dies, or is removed by the Principal Bishop, the new Bishop for that geographic area or specific ministry will be elected, after being put in prayer, by all the Priests, Deacons and non-ordained CDOS members within that ministry, and must be approved by the Principal Bishop. If the Principal Bishop does not approve of the election of that individual, the Principal Bishop’s decision may be overridden by a subsequent vote of 60% of the eligible voters. If the Principal Bishop’s decision is not overridden then the elected individual will not become the Bishop. If the Principal Bishop’s decision is overridden, then there will be another, subsequent and immediate election, and the individual previously eliminated will not be eligible to be nominated or elected.
Whenever possible, although it is not obligatory, there will be three Bishops who ordain a Bishop, following the ancient custom. Deacons, Priests and Bishops all receive their faculties to exercise their Calling from their ordination. Priests and Bishops also receive their Call through and from their Communities.
The Bishop of a geographic or specific ministry within the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit may initially be appointed by the Principal Bishop, but he/she becomes subject to a four-year term election upon two events: at least five (5) years in office, and at least 10 CDOS members in his/her diocese. Elections will take place at every fourth year, at the local year Diocesan annual general meeting (see below), and will serve for the subsequent four years. He/she will be installed at the end of the meeting which elects him/her. Elections for local geographic and specific ministry Provincial Bishops will be held at the Council/Convocation of that local Diocese next held every fourth year, or at the Leadership Annual Convocation (see below), as may be best determined by the parties, after the initial appointment of the Bishop by the Principal Bishop. The records of the local geographic or specific ministry within the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit will transfer to each new local Bishop from the previous Bishop. The Bishop lives wherever he/she wishes within the diocese he/she leads, and there is no set geographic location for the headquarters of each Diocese. Should the local Diocese in the future acquire a headquarters, the local geographic Bishop will not be required to live there or nearby, but may if he/she wishes.
REMOVAL OF A BISHOP
The Bishop may be removed from office is he/she seriously impairs the work of the diocese and the members within his/her diocese, causes grave scandal by his/her actions, or materially neglects his/her responsibilities by laziness or by incapacitation. Removal may not be for character flaws, but may often result from health reasons of prolonged incapacitation. In order to be removed, the Principal Bishop will serve notice to the Bishop being removed, while at the same time notifying the other Bishops of this move and seeking their advice by email. If 40% of the other (not the Bishop named for removal) Bishops do not object, the subject Bishop will be removed from office, but will still be a Bishop (because all ordination is permanent) with only duties of a priest in good standing in that diocese and in the family of CDOS dioceses, unless removed from that standing as well. If 40% or more of the other Bishops object to that Bishop’s removal, he/she will not be removed, but will remain in term.
F. THE PRINCIPAL BISHOP
The spiritual and administrative leader of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit shall be the Principal Bishop.
ROLE OF THE PRINCIPAL BISHOP
To have as his/her first Calling, to listen to the Holy Spirit about all aspects of the Mission and concerns of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, and to encourage all the other Friend/Ministers have this same approach. In that vein, then, to administer and manage the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit within the framework and spirit of these By Laws.
SELECTION AND TERM
The Principal Bishop will be elected by all the Bishops, deacons, diocesan priests, Community priests and other non-ordained members of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. Generally, to be elected Principal Bishop, one needs to have exercised the ministry of Bishop within a CDOS Diocese for at least two years.
(The original Principal Bishop, who started the diocese in 1999 which eventually became this Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, was James H. Burch of Clifton, Virginia USA. In the early years, the development of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit was slow, and did not encourage the changing of leadership. As of this re-writing of these By Laws, in 2018, James H. Burch is still the Principal Bishop, although this is not a life role. The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit has now developed and grown, and attracted inspiring individuals, so that it is now proper that a process for election of the Principal Bishop be put on track.)
Beginning in the year 2018, the Principal Bishop will be elected at every other two year Diocesan general meeting, and will serve for the subsequent four years. He/she will be installed at the end of the meeting which elects him/her. The records of the Diocese will transfer to each new Principal Bishop from the previous Principal Bishop. The Principal Bishop lives wherever he/she wishes, and there is no geographic location for the headquarters of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. Should the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit in the future acquire a headquarters, the Principal Bishop will not be required to live there or nearby, but may if he/she wishes.
IV. ADVICE AND PARTICIPATION
Each level of the Diocese will seek the counsel of its members, so that the Spirit of collegiality can represent the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There are no requirements of a quorum, although generally two or three, depending on the level, ought to be present. It is presumed that, should a quorum not be present, everyone would have been properly notified and included in the opportunity to make decisions. Such advisors are not there to direct, but to aid the Priests, the Bishops, and the Principal Bishop in their discernment. We decide by consensus rather than by majority or plurality. Consensus, of course, does not mean universal approval, but rather a sense that this is the generally preferred course of the members of the Diocese.
V. CONVOCATIONS, GATHERINGS AND REPORTS
At the end of each calendar year all the Bishops must send a report of what has happened in their ministry to the Principal Bishop. Likewise, each priest must send such a report to his/her bishop, and each deacon must send such a report to his/her priest. If they fail twice in this, without an acceptable explanation, they will be automatically suspended from the diocese.
Every two years each Bishop must visit the Principal Bishop, to give a report on his/her Mission. This can take place by the Bishop attending the General Convocation held every second year. This can also take place by the Principal Bishop visiting the Bishop during that bishop’s provincial convocation held yearly.
Every other year, in odd numbered years, there will be a General Convocation of all the Bishops and the Senior Staff (described later) of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. It will be held in the location announced by the Principal Bishop, preferably a year in advance, and it will always be held in the third week of September. Every Bishop and every Senior Staff person is expected to attend, unless they are excused by the Principal Bishop for good reason, in which case they must meet with the Principal Bishop by Skype or electronic video conferencing. Any member and any friend of the diocese are welcome to attend public meetings as well. Should there not be enough members of any individual CDOS geographic or ministerial diocese to have its own convocation, the members of that diocese are expected to make every attempt to attend the General Convocations.
Every other year, in even numbered years, there will be Provincial Diocesan meetings of the various dioceses (geographic or ministerial) of each of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. They will be held in the location announced by the respective Bishop, preferably a year in advance, and they will always be held in the months of September, October or November. The Principal Bishop will make every effort to attend these Provincial Diocesan Convocations, so the Bishops should coordinate with him/her to see if a good schedule can be devised. These Provincial Diocesan Convocations would only be held when there are five or more ordained members in that CDOS diocese. If there are not five members of a particular diocese, the members of said CDOS diocese should make every effort to attend the General Convocation in order to foster the friendship of Communion.
VI. THE STRUCTURE OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESES OF ONE SPIRIT
The general structure – not of administration or of importance, but rather of management – of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit is:
At the death or resignation or removal of any Bishop, those within that ministry are charged with electing the successor. They will gather as soon as possible to elect that successor. Generally, in the case of resignation, a short period will precede the date, so that the successor may be elected before the date of the resignation, to maintain a smooth transition.
In case of the death or resignation or removal of the Principal Bishop, outside of the usual electoral process, there will be a gathering of all the Bishops (in person or electronically) for the single purpose of electing a new Principal Bishop. This may be done by email, by Skype or some other electronic method and will be administered by the Bishop with the most seniority as a Bishop within the Diocese, unless he/she declines, in which case the election will be handled by the Bishop next in line with seniority within the Diocese.
The Diocese has a record of ordinations. Each Bishop will maintain a full file of the application, resume, head shot photo, welcome letter and certificate of ordination or incardination of each ordained member of his/her diocese, and will forward to the Principal Bishop a full electronic copy of all such material so that the Principal Bishop will have a record of all ordained members of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. As non-ordained members now join through the Internet at this time, the Principal Bishop will also maintain a record of all non-ordained members as well. The other Bishops may maintain records of those non-ordained members in their areas of care as well.
Selection and Removal of Ordained Persons
Each election for Principal Bishop will require sixty percent (60%) percent majority, unless, after four votes, no new Principal Bishop has been selected, in which case the subsequent votes will require a 50% majority to elect a new Principal Bishop. If after generally seven attempts there is no consensus as above, the person for that office will be chosen by casting lots among the candidates who received at least thirty percent of the votes, as was done in the Acts of the Apostles 1: 26.
The process for removal of any ordained minister – from Deacon to Principal Bishop – will follow the same procedure as that for an election, as above. An ordained minister may be removed for substantial cause (in the sole discretion of those empowered to do so) by the Communion, ministry, bishop or bishops together in the case of considering the removal of the Principal Bishop. An ordained minister may be removed from his/her duties upon personal request of said individual. Any minister so removed is immediately relieved of his/her duties and ministry.
Within our collegial decision-making, the different opinions will be presented by someone who represents that point of view. Nothing critical will be said about anyone, any suggestion or any proposal, although the objective facts may obviously be presented. Then, as mentioned previously, all the decisions will be made by consensus. (“The Holy Spirit is not a Spirit of confusion” – 1 Cor. 14, 33.) If a consensus cannot be reached, the decision may be postponed temporarily, but never more than three days. If after a reasonable time, but never more than three days, no decision can be made, the matter will be sent to the next level for resolution. Any difficulty which cannot be resolved in a Communion, Mentoring Bishop, or Diocese shall be sent to the next level.
History of Ordination within the Catholic Church
VII. ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL DIOCESES WITHIN THE CATHOLIC DIOCESES OF ONE SPIRIT
Geographic or ministerial Dioceses within the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit have complete and absolute autonomy within these By Laws, and are united to the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit and the other CDOS dioceses spiritually and ecumenically. They may or may not be independent legally (often dependent upon the laws of the country within which they operate, which vary greatly), physically and financially, though they are a part of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. As such they are a diocese within the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. As dioceses within our Communion of dioceses, each Provincial CDOS Diocese pledges as it is established and set up within our Communion of dioceses, and each subsequent bishop promises as part of his/her taking of the episcopacy of that diocese, that it will promote the spirituality proclaimed by the Communion of CDOS Dioceses and that it will organize and run itself completely in accord with these By Laws. They may not operate outside these By Laws. Should they do that, they agree that they give up the name “Catholic Diocese of One Spirit” or any name that might be confused with it, and they break the bond with the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit.
The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit has a checkbook and an account “The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit”. Policies may be adapted by the Principal Bishop as will facilitate the ease of administration. Three signatures should appear on bank records as being able to each sign checks, one of which will always be the Principal Bishop, who will keep the check book in his/her possession. The financial records of the Diocese will always be open during reasonable business hours to any member of the Diocese who wishes to see them, but they will be kept at the house or office of the Principal Bishop and not maintained elsewhere.
Every member of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit will be asked to contribute a modest monthly sum to be automatically withdrawn from his/her account. Those who cannot afford to make such a donation will be excused from doing so. These funds will be used to promote the work of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, to advertise its existence and spiritual stance, to provide travel for the Principal Bishop to visit the Provincial Dioceses, and also to provide funds, at the discretion of the Principal Bishop in consultation with the Director of Charitable Outreach, for the CDOS charitable outreach.
At the discretion of the CDOS diocese itself, any Bishop may establish a separate bank/checking account and obtain voluntary contributions of its members, in addition to that donated to the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, in order to promote the work of that CDOS diocese.
IX. RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Each member of the Diocese has the right to be loved and respected, as was shown by Jesus. Each member, and especially each Friend/Minister, has the responsibility to exercise his/her Calling under this same teaching.
Any member of the Communion or any ordained minister who seems to have done anything materially not in keeping with the teachings of the New Testament (everybody does things not totally in keeping) and/or outside of the Inspiration of Holy Spirit will be treated lovingly by his/her Mentor. If the problem or scandal cannot be immediately resolved, the ordained minister may be removed from his/her position as described above in Section VI.
We always see the removing of a Friend/Minister as temporary and any Deacon, Priest, or Bishop so removed may be returned to his/her ministry at any time when it is evident to his/her mentor that the problems that caused the suspension have been rectified. During this time of suspension, and after the return of the person, if appropriate, the person will always be treated with the same love that Jesus would give.
The Principal Bishop may be suspended or removed from his/her office only with the plurality consensus of 60% of the bishops, priests and all members of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, who may make their wished known by email.
Our formation candidates generally will be trained near their home and in a Mentor Model. The formation program will be simple, since the basic requirement for diaconate and priesthood is the Call of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, each formation candidate may choose any type of educational training he/she wants, after praying for discernment and consulting with his/her Communion and Bishop. Generally the formation candidates will pay their own costs of formation, or with the help of his/her Communion, at that Communion’s discretion. The Diocese offers its own formation program, administered by the Director of Formation. The Director of Formation will determine if a course of study requested by the applicant will suffice in place of the formation program offered by the Diocese.
In addition to any formation required by the Admissions group within the various dioceses on behalf of the respective Bishop, all incoming members of the diocese will be asked to take the full slate of “Conversations” courses offered by Bishop James H. Burch online. Upon completion of these courses, and upon supervised ministerial work, if needed, and upon other readings that may be put in place between the incoming member and his/her CDOS mentor, the student will be issued a non-accredited degree through the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. This is to insure that the ordained members of all the dioceses understand the spirituality of Jesus in contemporary terms and are able to communicate it well.
Any formation candidate will receive a formation related to the Communion in which he/she will exercise his/her ministry, always taking into account the customs of each culture. Formation will be near individuals’ homes. In this manner they will not have to leave their culture to enter our Church. The respective CDOS bishop will see to the formation of any minister within his/her diocese, which will include the certificate of degree awarded by the Communion of Catholic Dioceses online as described herein.
An additional general required formation program may be put forth by the Principal Bishop in consultation with and administered by the Formation Director. Any substantive changes to the formation program will be presented to the diocese by the Principal Bishop in order to achieve a consensus.
XI. ADMISSION TO A DIOCESE WITHIN THE CATHOLIC DIOCESES OF ONE SPIRIT
Ministry is God’s work, and the call of the Holy Spirit Within. It would, therefore, be completely inappropriate to begin the process of how an individual becomes graced through ordination within this Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit by first setting up all the hurdles to be passed in order to be accepted by us. Rather, the proper perspective invites us to ask of the individual what call he/she feels, how it is known to be true, and what that individual has done with that call to date … what activities, works, studies, or deeds of charity that call has set loose within the individual. Ordination within a Catholic Diocese of One Spirit is an acknowledgment, an acclamation, an honoring of an already-existing call of the Spirit. Once that has been explained to our Discernment Group, someone from that group, plus the individual seeking to have his/her Call honored by ordination and/or acceptance into the Diocese, will together discern what gaps there may be in the individual’s development that may need to be filled prior to ordination and/or acceptance into the Diocese, which would then allow that person to function well in his/her new capacity, and which gaps there may be that need to be filled subsequent to his/her ordination and/or acceptance. We do not wish to erect barriers to the Call of the Spirit of God. We wish to enhance the individual, so that he/she can more readily and easily function in that accredited role. The historical barriers of men-only, celibate-only, heterosexual-only, highly-educated-only, “litmus-test” orthodoxy as judged by others, etc. – all are jettisoned here. We apply the practical standards seen in the Acts of the Apostles, in which the real, down-to-earth challenge of how to spread the Good News brought by Jesus, through people in whom the Spirit was already active, was considered and then acted upon. Therefore, a person seeking to become ordained a deacon, priest or bishop within the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit should exemplify the following characteristics, in order to effectively communicate that message today. These are the signs of that Call from the Spirit:
Criteria for Diaconate/Priesthood In the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit
(a) A prayer life that seeks to recognize God in every aspect of daily life … prayer being the concentrated awareness of the presence of God in whatever we might be doing.(b) A love of people, reflecting the love that Jesus showed for all people and the dignity Jesus respected within them, and rejecting no individual or category of people (as was the lived-style of Jesus).(c) Although the Diocese imposes no creedal or dogmatic litmus test on applicants, membership implies an understanding of the Body of Faith passed down from the time of Jesus, and a respect and adherence to its call.(d) A demonstrated (not just hoped-for) desire for service to others through spiritual ministry.(e) A psychological wellness and wholeness, which allows the individual to get along well with others and to be well accepted by them because of a positive personality.(f) An education and level of knowledge commensurate with the people he or she is to serve.(g) A degree of personal adequate financial sustainability without help from the Diocese.(h) A background free of continuing or overwhelming abuse of others, whether sexually, chemically, psychologically, managerially or otherwise.(i) A demonstrated ability to be a positive influence on the Communion he or she will serve, and not a drainer of life or one who constantly stirs up problems.(j) A positive thinker who calls others to recognize God’s love and does not burden them with guilt, beliefs in sinful nature, or debilitating personal reprimands.(k) An articulate, pastoral promoter of contemporary theology and modern Christian concepts, as may be generally espoused by the Diocese.(l) For priests and bishops, an ability to lead communal services with a command of language and insights, and an ability to bring life to liturgies without reading from a text or book.(m) For Diocesan Priests only: a Masters of Divinity degree issued by either an accredited institution of higher learning or by the non-accredited Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, through its offered online courses, if and when that might occur.(n) For Deacons and Communion Priests only: a selection of online “conversations” on selected topics offered through the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, as determined by the Principal Bishop or the Provincial Bishop, as advised by the Formation Director, and as decided in each case by the prospective deacon or Communion priest in concert with his/her mentor.
The Principal Bishop and each Bishop will appoint a Discernment Group Chairman and two other ordained members of the respective Diocese who will review the applications of those deacons, priests and bishops already ordained through apostolic succession and wishing to join the diocese, as well as those who wish to be presented for ordination or formation leading to ordination. The name of each aspirant and each person seeking incardination will need to be presented to this group for the discernment. This committee will review the scholastic records, the personality of the candidate in reference to the criteria for pastoral work, have a criminal background check performed, and review the candidate’s ministerial work to date, and assess, with him/her, the candidate’s suitability to the charism of our particular Diocese. The purpose of this review will be to begin the discernment with the candidate of his/her call to ministry and what voids, if any, need to be worked on prior to joining our Diocese.When the Committee has finished its work for each individual applicant, it sends its recommendations for that applicant to the respective diocesan Formation Director, who then works with the candidate to create an educational, ministerial and spiritual program. The Formation Director will also appoint a mentor for that candidate, in consultation with the candidate, which mentor will work with the candidate in all realms of formation. When that candidate is ready for ordination or for incorporation into the Diocese, he/she will be presented by the mentor and the Formation Director to the bishop within the diocese who sponsored him/her, or to the Coordinating Principal Bishop.It is anticipated that there will be many cases where the individual is as prepared and ready for either ordination or (in the case of those already ordained) admission to the Diocese as an already-ordained deacon, priest or bishop. In such cases, the applicant is sent directly back to the bishop for incorporation or ordination, or perhaps conditional ordination if there is doubt of the Apostolic Succession, within the diocese.Bishops ordained outside the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit and wishing to join CDOS will always be recognized as ordained bishops, but they may or may not serve as a bishop in office within CDOS, unless they fit the requirements of a bishop within CDOS, as determined by the Principal Bishop. Those who enter CDOS without the portfolio of a CDOS bishop will have the role of a priest, and will be able to help out in ordinations if they can when requested by the CDOS Principal Bishop or Bishop.Each ordained person joining the Diocese must sign the Code of Ministerial Conduct of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit (Appendix 1).
Generally, there is no reason to enter the personal life of the members of the Diocese, with the exception of abuses; be they emotional, physical or sexual. In a case where there is an accusation that seems to be valid, the mentor of this person must immediately form a group to investigate the circumstances and help the people involved. If, after an initial investigation, it appears that the accusations might reasonably be valid, the person suspected of such perpetration will be immediately suspended. Of course, all laws requiring immediate reporting to civil authorities must be followed meticulously. A thorough investigation will be made by the person’s mentor or bishop and the Committee to determine the validity of the accusation. A final decision will be made by the person’s bishop.The position of our Church on the subject of a pattern of abuse or a single overwhelming case of abuse is zero tolerance. Jesus himself spoke very clearly and firmly about scandalizing the little ones. It should be noted, in this context, that the lived Christian life is one of healing and renewal. The Diocese will continue to pray for those individuals who have abused others as they repent and seek reconciliation with God. There will be those who fail in the highly-visible faults of sexuality and who then realize their failing ways and change through the grace of God. Those individuals the Diocese must welcome back to ministry with open arms, making certain, however, that the individual does not place himself/herself in – and is not recognized by the Diocese for ministry within – circumstances that can either induce failings as before, or will appear that way to the general public and thus scandalize them. For one whose ministry is by nature public, there should be no appearance of impropriety.The Diocese will continue to minister and support those who have been affected by the abuse of another. If abuse victims have left the fold, we welcome them back with open arms, and a chance to rebuild their relationship with Christ.
XIII. THE LEGAL STRUCTURE
The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit is a voluntary organization of progressive and spiritually-minded persons, operating in the spiritual structure of Catholic/Christian dioceses of the early church, and incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA. The Diocese neither appoints its ordained ministers to assignments nor pays them any financial rewards whatsoever. No ordained or non-ordained ministers or members are in any way an employee or an agent for the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit, or any of its Provincial Dioceses or any of its bishops or officers or other ministers. Rather, each ordained minister chooses his/her ministry, and is helped in that ministry by other ordained and not-ordained people who choose freely to join with him/her. Likewise, neither CDOS nor any Provincial Diocese pays any salary or fees to the ordained minister, but rather that minister derives his/her own income from his/her individual job and work. The commitment of individual deacons, priests and bishops to their work and to CDOS and their local Diocese is based on the mutuality of their spiritual perspectives and vision of ministry with the other members of CDOS and the local Diocese, and not on legal binds. The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit and all the Provincial Dioceses of One Spirit are not liable in any way, including financially, for any infraction of any law or any abuse by any member.
Branding and Name Usage “One Spirit Catholic”
Pastoral Letter on
Catholic Church Leadership
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit
April 20, 2005
The election of Joseph Ratzinger as the Roman Catholic Church’s new Pope Benedict XVI is a conclusive sign that the leadership engine of the church’s train is only remotely connected to the people in that train. Catholic theology, brought to a higher level of fruition in the Second Vatican Council, teaches that the people of God are themselves the Church. The Church is not the hierarchy … though you would never know that truth based on the distance between the hierarchy and the people today and on the hierarchy’s totally un-Christian chokehold on power.
Pope John Paul II, a man of many talents and a singular and most conservative experience of spirituality (rather than an admirer of God’s many beautiful expressions in peoples, cultures and perspectives), singularly appointed all but two of those who chose his successor. He stacked the deck with those of his own limited vision. He also appointed approximately 90% of the world’s Roman Catholic bishops over his 26 year “reign”. The dioceses over which these appointed bishops “ruled” had virtually no say whatsoever regarding who would be their “leader”. The “laity” (the word “lay” literally means “uninformed”, as in “a lay opinion”) had no say at all, zilch, nada, zero. The priests in each diocese – themselves products of a dictatorial, paternalistic, authoritarian leadership structure – had input that was so cursory as to be virtually non-existent.
This was not always the case. The word “pontiff” comes from two Latin words meaning “bridge” and “builder”. In early centuries of the church – after the concept of a “pope” had evolved into being more than just another bishop – the pope was considered the “bridge-builder”, the one who kept the peace and who brought different factions together. It was considered inappropriate for him to take a position that would fracture Christian unity. Today, thanks to the last couple of hundred years, he is considered by his appointed leadership to be virtually a spiritual dictator. In the early 19th century, only a handful of bishops were appointed by Rome; the great majority were either elected by their dioceses or appointed by the civil authorities in their countries. To counter some abuses that were occurring with civil appointments, Rome did not reform the democratic process for the selection of bishops but rather usurped to itself the practice (it is not a “right”) of appointing whomever it chose. The result has been a complete disenfranchisement between the “leadership” and the Roman Catholic people. These appointed bishops might as well be from Mars. It is as if the United States of America somewhere along the line had initiated the rule that only residents of Key West are allowed to be President, and that that President appointed only Key West residents as senators for all states, congressmen from all districts across the US, and governors of the various states. Sound ridiculous? Well, that is how the Roman Catholic Church propagates its leadership today.
All during the many days of commentary on the Catholic Church by the news media (during which, by the way, almost exclusively conservative commentators were interviewed, and virtually all men to the exclusion of women), there was much bemoaning of the virtual abandonment of the Roman Catholic Church by Europeans (who go to church only in the single digits) and Americans (only 27% of American Catholics go regularly to church services). This was seen not as a failure of the Church to provide any kind of intellectual and pastoral stimulation, but rather as a form of spiritual depravity of the people.
Anyone who really knows these non-church-going Americans and Europeans knows that they are, by and large, extraordinarily decent people. They care about becoming more loving people; they care about others; especially those who have less; and they have a finely-tuned sense to seek personal happiness. Yet they are condemned and tsskd-tsskd by men in red dresses as being morally untethered.
On the other hand, much was made of the spread of Roman Catholicism in the developing nations of South America and Africa. These are the “good” people, close to God, not caught up in the nasty consumerism and selfishness of the Western mentality. This is the future of the Church, the model for humanity, the hope for salvation of the immoral Western culture.
The reality is that this is just more rationalization from Church leaders who do not want their privileged status to change. They are, in fact, incapable of seeing anything other than through their own tinted glasses. They have created their own plush surroundings, and they like it a lot. Don’t expect voluntary surrender (note the election of Pope Benedict XVI).
The Roman Catholic Church has always been a lover of the poor, and the greatest aid to the poor for all of recorded history. Because of this, people who have little or nothing – who are totally unconcerned with dogmas, doctrines and moral commands – flock to the Church, seeing its genuine love for them. But what happens inevitably is that the poor over time become affluent and educated, as most have done in Europe and America. They are then no longer a recipient of the Church’s love for the poor, but have moved into the category of the New Sheep needing to be morally directed and intellectually constrained. And they go out the back door as fast as the new poor are coming in the Church’s front door.
Does anyone really doubt that as South America and Africa become more affluent and educated, their populations will also follow the historic paths of America and Europe?
This enormous gap between a Roman Catholic leadership run self-servingly wild and a populace being pablum-fed is destroying the Church. Not until parishes are controlled by the people themselves, until bishops are chosen by their own dioceses, until the heavy hand of dictatorial edict is lifted, until spirituality is seen by the Church as not just filling pews but of enlightening minds – will the Roman Catholic Church really flourish. There is a long, long, long way to go. Sheer numbers do not commitments make.
Women priests, married priests, rational acceptance of contraception/divorce/gay people/etc., less infatuation with sexual practices of the populace, practical respect for the primacy of conscience (taught as fundamental Catholic theology for centuries, but now relegated to textbooks instead of practical life) – all these are secondary matters. The most fundamental teaching of Jesus – the recognition of the presence of God in every thing and in every person, and the deep respect and honor that goes with that recognition – is missing. And it is essential to Jesus, if not to “Christianity” as it is lived today.
There are now, within the Catholic Church (the “Catholic Church” being more than the “Roman” Catholic Church), thousands upon thousands of baptized individuals – ordained and not – who have been blessed to conclude correctly that they do not need the permission or the validation of this leadership class, so self-aggrandizingly aloof, to be what they are, the people of God. There are many non-geographic Catholic, but NOT Roman, dioceses, headed by Catholic bishops with apostolic succession just like their Roman counterparts, which have dispensed with the non-essentials, in favor of living a practical, Jesus-led, truly “Catholic” life (Catholic fundamental theology is that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that we are sanctified) in this magnificent universe given to us by God to experience the deepest reality of Who We Are. You will see more and more of this in the years to come..
There are now, within the Roman Catholic Church, thousands upon thousands of deeply spiritual reformers, who are crushed by the usurpation of their church by the ultra conservatives. This reality is now clearly evident in the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. The church is now – thanks to the 26 years of appointments by John Paul II – completely dominated by a mind set that demands conformity and certainty, rather than that which honors experience, wisdom and understanding. These reformers have stuck with the Roman Catholic Church through thick and thin, because it is extremely difficult to abandon one’s cultural and familial socialization, especially when it is drilled into one’s head that such orientation is more than cultural choices; it is “God’s Will!”
However, the election of Benedict XVI will be a tipping point. It will cause the damn to break and an unprecedented number of thinking Roman Catholics will expand their concept of Catholicism to include their following their consciences, staying “Catholic” but abandoning the Roman extremism that is not life-enriching and Jesus-experiencing.
Perhaps the election of Pope Benedict XVI is just what the Church needed … just not in the way most think. They might yet clean this place up, without ever picking up a broom.
Pastoral Letter on the Eucharist
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit
June 1, 2004
There has been much written in the news lately, and thus much resultant confusion, about who can and who cannot receive communion. Catholic politicians who do not enforce the Vatican’s teachings on abortion in their public roles as legislators, and recently people who wear sashes to identify themselves as gay or lesbian, are among those presently debated as not being able to receive communion at some Catholic churches. More groups could be identified as outside the pale in the future. A commission of notable Roman Catholic prelates is now studying this issue, even as a few of the most conservative bishops break loose and issue edicts barring pro-choice Catholic politicians from the sacrament.
I would like to point out a few principles, so that you might make up your own minds on this issue. I speak as a Catholic bishop, but not of the Roman rite. However, truth, which we each must seek ourselves, is not limited to any particular rite or church. What Jesus said and what he meant is as it is. It is up to each of us to interpret for ourselves, listening to as many points of view as possible, what it is that Jesus calls us to.
Of key importance is PRIMACY OF CONSCIENCE. As followers of Jesus, we also are called to act as he did in the treatment of others. We see that Jesus always told stories with morals to be interpreted by his listeners, and he often asked questions like, “What do you think?” Jesus did not command; he invited. Thus, primacy of conscience has been the most fundamental of Catholic postures, even invoked today through the teachings of the most prominent of Roman Catholic theologians, Thomas Aquinas, who taught that conscience was first.
Secondly, we must get our priorities in order. From the earliest days of Christianity, “adherence to orthodox teachings” was not the definition of a Christian, but “the way they love one another” was. Christians were followers of “The Way.” There were no official dogmas, creeds or doctrines in the church until 325 C.E., when Emperor Constantine, who was not yet himself a Christian, approved the dogmas of the Council of Nicea, which he had called, reviewed and approved … a shaky start to dogmas. Jesus seemed almost totally unconcerned with the definitions and codification of laws and rules. He spoke virtually all the time about the abiding presence of our loving God in all that is and in every human person, and invited us to look for that and to see it as our way to joy and peace. Such an approach seems far better suited to a church that would be like Jesus than the demand to adhere to human, time/culture-bound definitions.
Finally, we must look at what the Eucharist – communion, the body and blood of Jesus – really means. Jesus did not teach for three years, and then on the night before he died give us something new, out of the blue. The Eucharist is the physical expression of what Jesus had been teaching his whole ministry. Incessantly Jesus had spoken about the “kingdom of God,” the “reign of God,” and the “kingdom of heaven.” We can count 140 references in the gospels to these ideas. In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, what he was saying and what his audience was hearing was: “the all-pervasive and life-giving presence of God in all that is.”
Thus, Jesus whole message was that God lives in, gives life and existence to, everything and everybody. We do not exist outside of the energy, power, intelligence, spirit and life that IS God. It is impossible for any of us or anything to be separate from God. That was the essential message of Jesus. Not that we must obey his (or the church’s) directives in order to get the prize of heaven, but that we already have heaven. Not that God will love us if only we do what is prescribed, but that God already does love us. Not that we shall have eternal life, but that we do. Jesus mission was to help us to see that, so that we might avoid choosing that which causes us live in a temporary “hell.”
And so, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a physical reminder of all that he had been teaching his whole ministry. We do not have to make ourselves “worthy” to approach and receive the body and blood of Jesus. The very gift of this sacrament is a statement that we – all of us – already ARE worthy. Communion is a visible sign of Jesus’ fundamental teaching: that God already lives within each and every one of us, that we ourselves and everything that is, ARE the body of God.
Thus, everybody is worthy, and everyone may receive the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Pastoral Letter on
Marriage, Divorce, and the
Reception of the Sacraments
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit
In July of 2002, the Vatican declared, once again and with renewed force, that those who divorce and remarry cannot receive the sacrament of communion unless they abstain from sex. The Vatican says that this ruling is “derived from divine law” and indicated it may not be changed in the future.
This proclamation out of the Vatican Curia is not only incorrect, it is harmful and damaging to people. As a fully “Catholic” diocese not of the Roman Rite, we are compelled to offer an alternative, fully-Catholic, legitimately-Christian teaching, so that Christians may determine what is proper for them, using their God-given consciences and their God-given gifts of free choice.
Marriage is a gift of God, bound by a sacred covenant. It is the individuals who love each other and pledge their devotion to each other who are the instruments, the ministers, of this great sacrament to each other. A priest is a witness on behalf of the Church, which is the communion of all the people of God who adhere to the teachings of Jesus, the Christ, and usually the priest is also a witness on behalf of the state.
Because marriage is a freely-given gift of God, it is arrogant and abusive for anyone who is not God to presume to determine whether or not any person or couple shall actually be able to enjoy this freely-given gift. God is love, so that those who feel love, experience God. Therefore, those who have been married in the past, and who are later given the love of another as a gift of God once again, are free to enjoy that gift. They are blessed by God with the love of another, which finds its conclusion in the dedication to that other, which is marriage.
An ecclesiastical annulment process is an affront to the grace of God. The laws of divorce within Christendom have changed constantly throughout history. Biblical scholarship recognizes that references to divorce within the Old and New Testaments were aimed at rectifying abuses which existed then, so that they were in response to the demands of the times. The questionable and time-sensitive biblical matrimonial adjustments stand in weak contrast to the very clear message of the New Testament that God is Love and that we find God by loving others. Moreover, nothing could be more clear than, “judge not, that you be not judged.”
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit – this portion within Catholicism – therefore, affirms that divorced people are free to participate again in the deepest participation humans can make with one another, marriage. To love another is to know God. To feel love is to experience God.
Participating in the Eucharist, the meal of Jesus’ body and blood, is not a reward for good behavior. It is a physical statement, a reenactment of our belief that God lives in all.
At the core of all physical matter, the place where physical matter comes into being, there is a pervasive Oneness of Energy, an energy that vibrates in such a way that it at times appears as energy and at times as particles. From this arises sub-atomic particles, then atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, “inanimate” matter and life. Infused within this energy is an Intelligence that is beyond our human comprehension, in that it holds itself together, identifies itself as what it is, relates to other things, and has the innate ability to cluster together to form the complexity of the universe – from the most minute to the most complex of physical existence. This pervasive Energy and Intelligence is also Spirit, Life, and Power.
Because Energy, Intelligence, Spirit, Life and Power are the very words that would best sum up our understanding of “God,” it follows that everything exists within this Divinity; this Divinity lives within everything; and everything is a manifestation of God. God did not just make us and then keep an eye on us; rather, we arise as individuations within the Totality which is God. It follows, then, that everything already is the body and blood of God. “The Kingdom of God is within.” When Jesus took the ordinary things of common meals of his time, bread and wine, he said this was his body and blood. It is the body and blood of God, as Jesus is the expression, the body and blood, of God. As we are also the expression, the body and blood of God. As all creation is the body and blood of God.
When we designate the bread and the wine as sacred elements to recognize there the body and the blood of Jesus, we choose the bread and the wine as sacred elements to remind us that Jesus is really present in them, as God is really present in all of creation, especially in other people. Communion is the statement of the reality we affirm, that God lives in all, so that we may hold all creation and all other people in awe, in respect and in honor. This was the gift of Jesus, to help us remember that deep reality.
The gospels indicate that Jesus gave communion to everyone present. There is no mention of anybody being excluded for any reason. Jesus even gave communion to Judas, who he knew had already betrayed him in his heart.
Communion is not a reward to a person for being ritualistically pure. We are not excluded for being unworthy. Jesus showed us by his acceptance of everyone that we are all worthy already, because God lives in us already.
Communion is meant to strengthen our recognition of the reality within which we live, and thus to become better and more loving persons.
Everyone is welcome to communion who wishes to receive it. We cannot imagine Jesus turning away divorced people, public “sinners,” various denominations of Christians, or even non-Christians. Above all, communion is the celebration of the reality of God’s extravagant love for all humanity. All are welcome.
Religions seem to have an unholy fixation on sex. Genitalia are tools, as are hands and other body parts. What matters is the inclination of our hearts: do we choose love, or do we choose selfish alienation. All sorts of things are instruments used in the carrying out of our heart’s intention, but it is the intention itself that matters. To say that divorced and remarried individuals must refrain from sex if they are to receive the sacraments is absurd, as most thinking individuals know. The emperor has no clothes here.
This language is bold and regretfully seems confrontational. It is necessary because the language out of the Vatican is imperial, disassociated from human reality, dictatorial, insensitive to the ebb and flow of life, and damaging to real spiritual growth. Yet there is good sense in the whole community of the people of God, and most Catholics and Christians who are not part of the hierarchy agree with these common-sense theological realities. Many Roman priests and bishops disagree with the Vatican on these matters as well, but are afraid to say so publicly. Within the Roman form of Catholicism, the “doctrine” of infallibility is always predicated upon the infallible proclamations being received as accepted by the faithful. Obviously, the teachings on divorce, remarriage, reception of sacraments and over-concentration on sexual restrictions are not practiced by most Catholics or by most Christians, and thus are not “received.”
Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit
November 15, 2006
Of all the arguments throughout the centuries, pro and con, regarding homosexuality, this topic is actually illuminated by one quick insight, a singular truth.
The life and teachings of Jesus was about loving and accepting all people. Jesus said not one word about homosexuality, and very little about sexual matters at all. To say the least, this was not his preoccupation. What he certainly did, however, was to bring a New Message of love, a radical turning on its head of the judgmentalism of the past, into a recognition of Divinity Within and of God’s equal and unequivocal love for every human being.
The Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States, meeting a couple of years ago in Baltimore, freshly condemned homosexuality all over again, saying that it is “objectively disordered,” “not [in] accord with the natural purpose of sexuality” (as though that were evident on its face), and that homosexual acts are “sinful” and “never morally acceptable.” These are the same group of men who continue to tell women the details of regulating their feminine bodies. This group of overwhelmingly elderly men, who are supposed to have no contact with sexuality, also tell homosexuals that their way of life “do[es] not lead to true human happiness.”
How sad. There is another Catholic way, a “truer” Catholic way.
God is love, according to the most fundamental teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, and so, to feel love is to experience God. Sometimes the feeling of love can be light and fleeting, sometimes passionate, sometimes rapturously consuming. But always, in some way or another, it is the experience of God, who is love. This is, then, the end of the debate about whether such experience comes from God, and whether or not God loves homosexuals and accepts their loving style. The God who gives love, loves its recipients.
God is not much more interested in genatalia than in earlobes or elbows. God gives all things as tools for us to use to become more loving people. God is concerned with the direction of our hearts. God loves every one of us, each on our unique journey of experiencing the Divinity which infuses us with life and purpose.
Pastoral Letter on the Sacramentality of Life
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit
Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008
The Body and Blood of Jesus
and the Sacramental Nature of Life
as expressed in Christianity, in Catholicism
and in the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit
Sacramentality has been considered the key element of Catholicism since at least the Middle Ages. The Eucharist, as the real presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, has been not only Catholicism’s most defining and uniquely visible element, but also the chief measuring rod by which others are considered “in” or “out” of the Catholic Church.
In actuality, as in most things religious and institutional, much of the beauty and spectacular truths within these hallmarks have been covered over so massively that their original intent is difficult for most people to recognize at all. We who have concluded that the message of Jesus, the way he encouraged us to lead our lives, the roadmap he left for us – that all this is of incalculable value – want to make absolutely certain that we come as close as possible to following what he actually said and did. So we must take a new and closer look at Sacraments and the Eucharist.
The Sacramentality of Life
Anyone who gives many speeches comes up with a Stump Speech – the essentials that he or she wants to get across every time, a careful presentation in which none of the main ingredients of his or her ideas be left out. From a reading of the Gospels, it seems evident that Jesus’ stump speech was The Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor … blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice …” All of this has come to be recognized as beautiful and profound to us Christians, and also as a good way to live even by those who are not Christians. And, yet, how many of us really want to be “poor?” How many of us consider that way of life to be more a “religious” value than a deeply human one? Not many college courses are offered on how to become the best poor person.
Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago, in the context of a completely different mindset. In the Aramaic language he spoke, so massively different from the Greek in which the Gospels were written, a “poor” person was not someone who had nothing. A “poor” person in the Aramaic frame of mind was someone who – no matter whether he or she had a little or a lot – put integrity, honor, love, compassion, justice, etc. first. A “poor” person was someone who had his priorities in order, or who worked to get them there. This, then, is not a solely “religious” value, but rather one that all people of good will can identify with.
A “meek” person was not someone who liked to be slapped around. A meek person was someone who could empathize with others. Someone who could say, “This is truth as I see it, but – given your history, culture, experiences – if you see your truth as something else, then I can accept that for you.” In other words, a “meek” person was someone who could put themselves in someone else’s shoes and accept them for who they are. Again, this is a human, not purely religious, trait which all people of good will can find enriching.
And so it goes through the Beatitudes. The conclusion an Aramaic language listener would come to, who had heard Jesus’ giving his Beatitudes stump speech, was the very Aramaic concept that we “breathe in and out the universe.” Jesus was telling us that every moment of every day is where we put into action the way of life that constantly tries to keep our priorities in order, that identifies and empathizes with other people, that looks out for the person who has less.
Real spirituality for Jesus wasn’t about just knocking off some rituals, filling your playbook.
In order to make this very mystical lesson more practical and easier to understand, Jesus told very earthy stories – we call them parables – to get the ideas across to his listeners. Throughout the many parables, the singular and overwhelming theme was the “Kingdom of God,” the “Reign of God,” and the “Kingdom of Heaven.” He spoke of this 140 times, so often that nothing else even came close. And, once again, the Aramaic meaning was much, much different from what we 21st Century people conjure up. To the Aramaic language listening audience, all this meant the “all-pervasive and life-giving presence of God in everything NOW.” Jesus said it was “at hand” (in everything we touch) and “within” (each and every one of us).
This blends harmoniously with an Aramaic word in heavy usage in that day, “ruha.” Ruha meant 1) my breath, your breath, the breath of every human being; 2) the breath of every animal, bird, fish, living thing; 3) the “wind,” which they called the “breath of the earth;” 4) by extrapolation, any physical movement, such as the tides, waves coming off a fire at night or a rock in the sun; 5) we must add that if the people of Jesus’ time knew about electrons and protons orbiting around the nucleus of the atom, this most certainly would have also been “ruha;” and then, most importantly for our understanding, 6) ruha also meant “spirit.”
It was this “spirit” that Jesus elevated to call the “Holy” Spirit. The expression of God that is the Holy Spirit does not consist of a ghost or a wisp that appears in a poof from time to time. The Holy Spirit is the Stuff within which and out of which everything exists. It is the movement that constitutes life and existence. It is the sine qua non of all that is physical. It is the organizing intelligence within the otherwise chaotic soup of matter. It is the energy that likes beneath the atom and has pushed physical matter first into existence in the Big Bang, and which continues to push it into existence at every moment in time and in every spot in the universe.
So, then, Jesus’ message was that Everything IS a manifestation of God.
God is the most “secular” element in the universe, because every last speck of dust on every planet IS a unique expression of God, who consciously gives it its existence. Within this context, Jesus told us that every moment of our unique existence is important, as we “breathe in and out the universe.” (It is certainly not just about going to church and reading the Bible … these are just tools toward the life he invites us to.) And he told us that we achieve our life’s purpose if we live it in a manor that struggles to keep our priorities in order, to empathize with others, to look out for those who have less.
Every moment of our life is, then, by definition, sacred. “Sacraments” or “sacred moments” are every moment.
We recognize many moments as especially sacred, especially “sacramental,” and we celebrate those moments. The number of “sacraments” has varied throughout the centuries. Who could ever state emphatically that there are an eternal specified number? Most people do not ever experience the sacrament of Ordination. But many experience another sacred moment, the sacrament, of the birth of a child. Most of us have gone through the difficult but sacred time of the sickness or death of a loved one – they way we are profoundly moved and recognize a deep oneness with the other through such an experience. Many have loved their pets and found there a celebration of life, joy and God. Some of us had lived the hell of divorce, and then blossomed from its death to its resurrection, as we have used it to strengthen our souls and more radically chosen our best selves. All of these but begin to touch the myriad expressions of the Holy Spirit’s bursting forth in sacred events in the unique lives of all God’s children.
Every moment is life is sacred and sacramental. Occasional powerful moments in each of our lives occur, which are exceptionally sacred and meaningful, Sacramental. Many entail rituals which celebrate the existence of such a sacred happenings, and which often strengthen them and call them to the fore to be lived more forcefully.
This is what is at the essence of Christianity’s celebration of sacraments. Sacramentality is not merely an essential Catholic characteristic, but it is also an essential Christian characteristic and it is an essentially human characteristic.
The message of Jesus works for everyone. He did not come to say, “Here are a bunch of bizarre things for you to believe, and some exotic practices for you to take up, an organization which you must join – which you would never otherwise choose to do on your own. And if you believe and do all these strange things, God will surely know you love Him, because why otherwise would any sane person ever believe and do all this?” No, Jesus rather came to say, “here is how the universe works; here is how God set things up to be; if you align yourself with the meaning in it all, you will achieve happiness and joy faster.”
The Catholic Church (in all its manifestations) and the other Christian Churches (in all their manifestations) do not hold the pathway to eternal life, we teach the pathway to eternal life, which has already been implanted in all human beings by God from the beginning. We are to enlighten … not to confine, not to bring non-Christians or Christians who do not believe all that we do into our spiritual coral, certainly not to “save souls for Jesus Christ.”
In this process, many wish to get closer to our institutions so that they might become more a part of the practices and come to greater understandings more quickly, but belonging to the institution is never a requirement.
God has been at work in this universe for 13.8 billion years. Religions have been around approximately 5,000 years, and Christianity 2,000 years. Clearly God does not need our institutions to make the work of God go on. We religious types merely ring bells around the edges. God doesn’t need us; the good luck is ours to be able to think about these blessings on a more constant basis. We can hopefully articulate the Sacredness in All for others, and help them to move more quickly toward their inevitable, eternal conclusion: recognition of their own Oneness within God.
Within the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, we choose to live sacramentality in this way – not confined, not strangled in its officialdom or encrusted in liturgical concrete, but rather keeping an eye toward the movement of the Spirit of God wherever it makes itself most evident. While maintaining the sacredness of the historic seven sacraments, we wish to constantly bring life to the expression of these realities, and to make them radically meaningful to the participants and observers. We also recognize and celebrate other sacred moments and create liturgies or celebrations of many of them as well – meaningful, profound, reverberating. And we honor the sacredness of every moment of existence.
The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus
The more one reads the Bible, the more one comes to realize the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching – the methods as well as the substance. It is simple, yet cuts to the core of the very meaning of our world and of the pervasiveness of the Loving Begetter.
Given the importance of the Eucharist – the celebration of the Body and Blood of Jesus – in Christianity, and especially in Catholicism, it is difficult to believe that Jesus would have forgotten about it until the Last Supper. (Why don’t we hear about it until the last day of his three year ministry?) Did Jesus quietly thank God over and over again for reminding him of it at the last moment?
Or, perhaps, was Jesus saving this – his most powerful, ordered practice – as a “going-away gift?” Was he saving it, mentally gift-wrapped, as a surprise at the end of his ministry?
Probably not, on either count.
It is much more likely that the injunction to “do this” was a summation of all his teachings and a way for us to call those essential teachings to mind. He said do this “in remembrance of me.” Recognizing the heightened seriousness of his ministry rapidly coming to a conclusion, and at the time of his gathering with those he loved most one last time, it is highly probable that Jesus wanted to emphasize that which he had tried over and over to get his followers to realize: that everything already is the body and blood of God. If God’s Holy Spirit is the energy which moves/breathes life and existence into all that is, then everything is an individualized manifestation of God.
Jesus probably looked at the table, saw bread and wine, which was eaten at virtually every meal (and, surprisingly, is still a staple of meals worldwide), and said, “Look at this; this really is me.” Because God is the One out of which all manifestations of the Spirit flow, then everything already is the body and blood of God.
We now know that the mucus lining of our mouths replenishes itself every three hours. Skin replaces itself every 24 hours. 98% of our current body was not here last year. Our life force, our soul, takes food and drink and air, and makes “me” out of the physical elements of the earth. If I inhale a deep breath, I have inhaled billions upon billions of molecules, and it is highly likely that one of them was exhaled by a Chinaman yesterday, caught the jet stream, and I used that molecule to make me today. Thus, our spirits/souls use matter to put forth the body that we use to breathe in and out the universe, and to experience the wonder of the God Within.
Jesus said “the Father and I are one” and that “you are my brothers and sisters.” He asked, “Have you not read that you are Gods?” And he told us that “greater things than I do, you will do.” His whole ministry was a way of teaching: if you can’t believe that God dwells in you and is the Stuff of which you are made, then look at me. The dead rise; the lame walk; the blind see. And I am telling you that the same Life of God that has come to full fruition in me is also in you. You are to be like me.
The eating of the bread and wine and the recognition of the real presence of Jesus in them is the way Jesus left us to help us see the greater reality: that God’s real presence is in everything and in everyone. It is how we renew, in our lives, the teachings of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus, it seems, meant this everyday occurrence to be a constant reminder of the most life-changing and life-giving insight we can possess: that God manifests God’s Self in everything and in everyone.
If each of us could only keep this in mind on a more constant basis, then we would hold all the earth and the universe in the reverence that it deserves. We would not pollute it. We would not try to amass it for ourselves. We would not keep it from others. We would not view it as our possession, to do with it as we pleased. Not only would we not harm God’s expression in physical creation, but we would rather embrace it as what it is: a 13.8 billion year long process bringing us to the experience of God in the plethora of God’s expressions. We would know the earth to be holy, to be sacred, to be a pathway for us to experience who we are through these gifts strewn on our path.
Moreover, if we could keep Jesus’ teaching in mind about God being expressed in each human manifestation of God, then we would not only refrain from using other people to our own selfish plans, but we would honor them, hold them in awe. We would accept their limitations as time capsules in which their eternal and perfect spirits come to this earth life to experience that perfection we originally only know theoretically. Through choices of good (the experience of beauty, joy and love) and evil (the misguided attempts to find ourselves, which turn out to distance us from our true selves, but turn us back to who we really are through the experience of pain and disappointment) we discover God Within.
If only we had a way to keep these truths in the forefront of our consciousness.
And we do. Given to us by Jesus is the cleverest of ways, what we call the Eucharist. For this practice, meant to be integral to our everyday life is as good a way as we will ever find.
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ sharing of his body and blood were informal, everyday affairs. The Last Supper was a raucous as a large family dinner, such as our Thanksgiving, could be. There were men, women and children all around. Everyone was talking, and, in all probability, time for announcements and common prayer and singular focus was limited in duration. The sharing of his body and blood was a part of the meal, not separate.
After the resurrection, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus who brought Jesus to their place of rest that evening “recognized him in the breaking of the bread.” This does not sound too formalized, too ritualized, too set apart, too “sanctified” and “hallowed.” This sounds like an integration into everyday life.
How much of a disservice to Jesus’ intention do we not give this great gift, when we make its reception a distant, ritualized, solemnified for only certain consecrated hands, taken out of daily life experiences? Should we really store that which is to direct us to a higher understanding in a gold tabernacle, reverence it in a monstrance, or adore it all night long – or should we honor it in its more profound presence in the other reflections of God we meet daily? Do we defeat its purpose by only participating in this ritual away from our homes, away from our daily lives, once a week or once a month? Have we sapped most of the meaning out of what Jesus left us as the most practical way to connect with his primary teaching?
This is important. Jesus gave us a way to help us to remember the most substantive of his teachings, the part which makes everything else make sense, which brings it all together. Should this not be a part of our everyday lives? Should we not find a way to do it often?
In the early church, celebration of the body and blood of Jesus was not necessarily solemnized by a priest. It was done by the head of the family or friends gathered. We can do it that way again today. And we should.
Pastoral Letter on
Pro Choice Catholicism
Pro Choice Catholicism is fully “Catholic”
On February 28, 2006, Fifty-five Catholic Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a statement that they have the right as good Catholics to respectfully disagree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, at least in their roles as representatives of all the people they represent. On March 10, 2006, three Roman Catholic bishops – Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, DC, who heads a task force on Catholic politicians; and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the bishops’ Domestic policy Committee – replied to the Democratic Catholic congressmen that, succinctly, there was no room to be good Catholics and to be a Pro-Choice legislator at the same time.
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit is served by this bishop, not of the Roman Rite but as thoroughly “Catholic” as the three Roman Catholic bishops who issued this statement, as “Catholic” as any Catholic bishop including the Pope. I respectfully disagree with the Roman Rite bishops’ position. I categorically state that there is room for differences on this issue, both from the historical stances of the Church, from the learning we continually acquire as to how God works in this world, and from traditions existent within the worldwide Catholic Church in all its complexity and shades. I would further like to encourage the Catholic congressmen that their Catholic faith allows them to encompass their current beliefs and practices.
The reality is that theological opinion on abortion has been far from unanimous over the past two millennia. Elected representatives who may be Catholic are free to be Pro Choice, and publicly so.
“Authentic” teaching of the Church
Catholic teaching is only the belief of the Church if it is “received” by the people of the Church. That means that anything promulgated by the hierarchy which does not resonate as true in at least most of the Catholic people is opinion and not essential to Catholic belief. Polls show that roughly half of all Catholics, like most of the American population, believe that abortion can be allowed in certain cases and that the decision belongs to the woman. Therefore, the Pro Life position is not infallible teaching of the church, and not necessarily a requirement of being a good Catholic, no matter how many priests and bishops (and even popes) say so.
There are also many priests who are secretly Pro Choice, though they could never say so, and would never say so if asked. They know full well that they would be ostracized from their clerical fraternity and silenced by their superiors.
When are souls “created?”
The Pro Life argument is based on the assumption that souls are created for specific bodies at the time of the formation of those bodies. Who says? Certainly Jesus never touched this subject directly or indirectly. Not even modern medicine would venture as to when a “soul” began, having as difficult time, as it does, with when a “soul” actually enters a body (or, as usually stated another way: “when life begins”). I think it is equally plausible to believe that all souls, as individuated expressive manifestations of God, have existed since the beginning of time, perhaps prior to that.
Moreover, isn’t it a bit narrow of us to think that souls, which realistically may have existed beyond our earliest understanding, and which will live eternally, have only this 60-100 year lifetime to get it all right? What tells us that this incredibly short episode within eternal existence is “it”? Certainly nothing in the words of Jesus tell us that.
The Pro Life position has to be based on the belief that each soul is created by God for a specific body as that body is being formed in the womb of its mother, and that, if aborted, that soul is forever blocked from further life and shut off from God. Under this scenario, God notices a couple in Western Africa copulating and cranks out another soul (“Off you go to the Congo, little soul … luck of the draw!”). Frankly, that scenario presumes a rather strange “God.” The God of the Judeo-Christian heritage is All Loving, compassionate, the source and the life from which all reality draws its continued existence.
Jesus said “the Father and I are One,” and “you are in me, and I am in you.” The Aramaic language which Jesus spoke (not the Greek language of the original Gospels or the Latin of the earliest translation we have existent [the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome]) gives us a greater vision of what Jesus taught than we are used to in current Gospel translations. When he spoke of the “Kingdom of God,” the “Reign of God,” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” 140 times in the Gospels, the Aramaic words Jesus used actually meant “the all-pervasive presence of the sovereign power of God in All That Is.” He never meant the Kingdom of Heaven is some future promise, but that it is “at hand,” it is “within.” God is within all that is. Nothing is outside the divinity of God, because it is not possible for anything to be outside the divinity of God. Anything that exists, exists as a unique manifestation of God. God is the life and the existence of anything that is, including each soul, born or unborn, in this life or on the other side of life. Our God is good and loving, and never forsakes us.
We cannot thwart God’s Will
Do we really think that if we humans decide that a soul should not come to this particular body by ceasing its formation early on through an abortion (just as, in like manner, we humans decided to begin it in the first place), we actually stop God’s timeless purpose for that soul? Do we really have that kind of power that we can thwart God’s “will”? Hardly! Isn’t it short-sighted to think that this life, no matter how abbreviated or how long, or how re-directed if the body is diverted as a home for a soul in this lifetime through an abortion, is essential to any soul’s never-ending journey, just because it is the limited perspective we happen to have now? If souls exist eternally before and after this lifetime, then they continue to be the image and likeness of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, sanctified, reflections of their creative God throughout all eternity.
None of us are capable of thwarting God’s will, because God would then be deficient to that degree, and God is never deficient. As we co-create with God, we have been given the right to make decisions in concert with God. Each soul has trillions of myriad options open to it in the future. No abortion stops God’s interminable plan dead in its tracks; no single instance (a mere blip on the eternal screen of experiential existence) sidetracks the soul (a unique manifestation of God) from its eternal journey of self discovery … because God has given each soul never-ending life.
God acts through, with and in us
Finally, there is an essential question as to whether God creates, sustains and moves this universe forward acting as a singular Director, calling all the shots, or whether God creates, sustains and moves this universe forward acting as a Symphonic Conductor, calling forth the blossoming of the universe through the decisions, energies and judgments of all God’s manifestations (i.e., originally spirits and angels, and now joined by us human/spiritual creatures).
The Jesus who respected everyone he met and told them that God was within them seems to be saying that God acts through us and in us. Jesus was so full of respect for the individual conscience that he only healed those who asked, he found no person out of bounds for him, and he did not condemn even those who killed him.
Not being yet the fullness of God ourselves, we can obviously never thwart God’s plan for souls (the expressed individuated life-forces of God) to ultimately, through the billions (trillions?) of years’ evolutionary process and through eternity, experience the Wholeness of ourselves as the pieces of God that we are. But it certainly looks as if God chooses to let this process go forward with us as co-creators. All our decisions have value. Through the ups and downs of it all, God emerges in creation and in us.
Brain wave activity
If the cessation of brain wave activity is considered the critical factor for determining the end of life, why should not the inception of brain wave activity also be considered the critical factor for the beginning of life?
If “potential life” must be safeguarded and be preserved so that nascent life be brought to fruition, when must that safeguarding begin? Most human beings carry within themselves the potential for hundreds, thousands even, of offspring. Does Pro Life theory require that anything which would curtail the full potential of thousands of children per person be outlawed, to ensure that the full potential is born? Is each male to save and protect the millions upon millions of sperm his body periodically and automatically expels? At what point does life become “actual” and not just “potential?” At what time is official protection reasonable and right? Thoughtful people can legitimately differ on this.
Pro Choice is as valid a Catholic alternative as is Pro Life
No Catholic and no Christian is compelled to be Anti-Abortion, or Pro-Life, though Christians may certainly determine that they should be. Likewise, no Catholic and no Christian either must be or must not be Pro-Choice, though Christians may certainly determine that they should be. We are all called to use our good sense and decide for ourselves. Nobody has legitimate spiritual or moral authority over our individual conscience. This is good Catholic theology. This is good common sense. Nobody can be expelled from his or her religion for following his or her conscience. Nobody else is ever given that right over another.
Churches are dead wrong to coerce their members into what the church’s hierarchical party line is. The Church is the people of God … ALL of them, not just its administrative leadership. What the Church believes is what we the people of the Church (all the people) believe.
Catholic politicians are always advised to follow their consciences. When a Catholic politician does that, he or she is a fully-participating member of the Church, of the Body of Christ. They cannot be expelled from the life of God by a mere human person; nobody (neither pope, bishop nor priest) has the right or the ability to do that.
Conscience as the Defining Requirement to Judgment
The teaching of Thomas Aquinas is the bedrock of traditional, conservative Catholic theology. Thomas states conclusively that conscience is to be followed, in every case, after thoughtful inquiry. For the Catholic, Christian or other person who follows her conscience to the point of having an abortion, after having wrestled with this problem to the best of her ability (as she knows it, not as others state it should be), she suffers no moral judgment or condemnation. God honors her choices.
Catholics, like all human beings, are always obliged to follow, first of all, their consciences. This concept of individual conscience first is essential to the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and is taught in seminaries and Catholic universities to this day as fundamental Catholic teaching. A person who takes the time to inform himself or herself is called by God to follow his or her conscience.
The Goodness Inherent in both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Supporters
What we can all honor the Pro-Life supporters for is their respect for life. No one can doubt their sincerity or dispute that the “life” they fight for is all-important. After all, in so many ways, the word “God” can be equated with the word “Life.” In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word “ruha” meant breath of all humans, breath of all animals, wind (“breath of the earth”), tidal movement, and all movement within physicality. If the people of his time had known about the movement of particles around the nucleus of the atom, that probably would have been “ruha” as well. The same exact word also meant “spirit,” and Jesus elevated this by calling it the “HOLY spirit.” For Jesus, God/Divinity is infused in every nook and cranny of physicality. Everything is then sacred. To the extent that the traits of God show up more in certain forms of physicality than in others – the highest we know of being human beings – to that extent God/Life is more to be honored in those higher forms.
However, the question really is: are we required to act as if this particular experience of life is all there is, that life is not enduring and does not have an eternal journey, that God is only capable of giving us this one experience to determine our eternity, that God is really not all-loving and all-infusing and not permeating all creation … with the result that some of God’s creation falls away and ends separate from that which is its continuous source of life? No, greater faith in God – based on the constant message of Jesus regarding God’s overwhelming loving presence in all that is – tells us that God never lets go, that we are destined to be as Jesus was and to do greater things than he did, that we are obviously not there after one life’s term on this earth, and that our souls (which have no galactic bus to catch) have eternity to get back to our Source, Which never lets us go.
Humans cannot thwart that, but we can use our God-given freedom of choice to choose the eternal circumstances under which we each arrive at that eventual destination.
P.S. There is still another, tangential though important, aspect to consider: reincarnation. Though not a necessity in our understanding of what life means, reincarnation nevertheless intrudes as a significant mitigating factor, and consideration of it may enlighten our understanding of how God equals Life.
Reincarnation either is or it isn’t true, and what IS – beyond our current understanding – is happening anyway, whether we believe it or not.
Do we each get only one chance?
What makes us think that a soul gets only one chance at a life here on earth? Why would God, in concert with God’s co-creators (us) not continue the process of that soul entering another body or enter some other form of experiential existence? Perhaps a soul had never entered the body of an aborted baby. Perhaps it had. If it had, then there was a purpose for that short visit, an experience that short-visiting soul had graciously given for the experience of the aborting parents. God makes good out of everything. We should not presume that belief in reincarnation is not Christian. A great many Christians and Catholics believe in many lifetimes for each soul.
Half the world believes in reincarnation, but it is presumed to be something that is not in keeping with Christianity. However, many Christians believed in reincarnation from the time of Christ to beyond the Fourth Century, and many believe in it today. Many of the early church Fathers taught it openly, e.g., Origen, Justin Martyr, Jerome, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Plotinus. But St. Augustine’s anti-reincarnation viewpoint won out, and he succeeded in scrubbing it from Christian teachings.
The Scriptures do not speak of rebirth definitively. The Scriptures do not speak of many things which may have been presumed or which may have been budding, nascent understandings. But the references to multiple lives is so casually passed by, that we now tend to squeeze whatever understandings the people of Jesus’ day were coming to sense into the later interpretations we have been taught. Perhaps there were other mentions of reincarnation in the Bible which were purged in the first few centuries when church leaders were translating from one language to another, selecting texts considered primary, and rewriting as they thought proper. Yet these sayings did remain:
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
– John 9:2
How could the man who was born blind have already sinned, unless he had lived an earlier life?
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”
– Luke 9: 18-19
The apostles themselves answered Jesus that many of His followers thought Jesus to be the reincarnation of an earlier prophet. Jesus did not correct this concept of reincarnation, but went on to explain how He is more than that.
Then the disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
– Matthew 17: 10-13
That is about as plain a recognition as of continuous lived experiences as there could be. Jesus tells his disciples that John the Baptist had been Elijah in a prior life. It is quite plausible for Christians to believe that we are each entities that choose to come back to this physical world, to be continually re-incarnated, until we shall have achieved the perfection of God, as shown to us as an example and fully lived first by Jesus Christ. It is not necessary to believe in reincarnation to also be Pro Choice, but it does add yet another element of confirming support.
by Daniel C. Maguire and James H. Burch
We believe in the REIGN OF GOD, this reign which fuels our world, filling it with love and beauty just beneath the surface of all that is1. We believe that we are called to join God in creating a world in which oppression gives way to justice. And we believe it can be done.
We believe that wholehearted biblical JUSTICE is the hallmark of the reign of God, a justice that shudders at poverty and will not rest until all God’s people are showered with empathy and care. A Justice that acknowledges Creation as the instrument and reflection of Divinity. And we believe that injustice is our prime moral challenge and the central mission for Christian people.
We believe in PROPHECY and that we are called to stand for what is right, to be the social conscience of our society, to work for an ever-better stewardship to the earth, to be specialists in the art of cherishing the earth and its peoples, and to join with the prophetic movements of all world religions. We want to stand for something important, and that something important is Christ.
We believe that PEACE can be achieved by justice, and not by war, a peace in which all hostile barriers are dissolved. We know that we are all one person in God. We claim only Peace and reject all hostilities.
We believe that our God is a God of TRUTH, that we are missionaries of truth in a world awash with self-serving deceptions. We seek to be only Truth.
We know that we are called to FREEDOM, and that freedom married to justice and compassion is the only true Freedom. We are grateful for this kind of Freedom and hold it as our ideal.
We believe in HOPE, Hope which drives us to dream and work for a better world. Hope where the cries of the oppressed are no longer heard and where tears are wiped from sorrowing eyes. We carry this Hope in our minds and in our hearts.
We believe that the whole law is summed up in LOVE and that God is love. Not out of shallow rote allegiance, but out of deep understanding that there is only One – and that One is God, and that God is Love – do we commit ourselves especially to loving those who consider themselves to be our enemies. We see in Jesus that love can melt all divisions and heal all wounds.
We believe that JOY is our destiny, that the promise of the REIGN of God elicits sheer Joy. Where joy is not present because of poverty or prejudice, our work is not done.
All of this we believe and to all of this we commit ourselves, because we are followers of Jesus.
By Rev. Thomas Doyle
Thomas Doyle is a Roman Catholic priest, a Dominican, a military chaplain and a canon lawyer. In 1984 he issued a strong warning on the dangers of the sex abuse within the Catholic Church, which was ignored but later became recognized as prophetic. The following was an address given by Fr. Doyle at the Voice of the Faithful conference on July 20, 2002.
What we have experienced in our lifetime is a disaster the horror and destruction of which is perhaps rivaled by the bloodshed of the Inquisition, but which certainly makes the indulgence-selling scam and related corruption of the Reformation pale by comparison. For decades and even centuries, the rape and pillage of children, adolescents, and young adults in our midst at the hands of the clergy has been allowed to not only happen but to flourish. The physical and emotional plunder has been intensified by the spiritual devastation brought on by the aggressive refusal to face the truth.
Honest men and women, Catholic and not, have repeatedly asked. Why? Since the first public explosion of abuse in our era in 1984, people from all walks of contemporary life have been searching for believable answers and have been met with continued frustration.
The despicable saga of clergy and religious sexual abuse is not the essence of the problem. It is a symptom of a deeper, much more pervasive and destructive disease that is nearly fatal in nature: the fallacy of clericalism.
The primary symptom of this virus is the delusion that the clergy are somehow above the laity, deserving of unquestioned privilege and stature, the keepers of our salvation and the guarantors of our favor with the Lord.
The deadliest symptom, however, is the unbridled addiction to power.
The horror of this sex abuse debacle cannot be adequately described, nor its devastating effects accurately measured. No public apologies, no new policy statement, no set of elaborate procedures, no widespread purges of suspected or confirmed clergy abusers will ever come close to repairing the immeasurable damage that has been done to the bodies, emotions and souls of the victims, the survivors and indeed the entire Christian community.
Yet out of this nightmare there has emerged a beacon of hope. It is the realization that we must have a deep, probing and painful scrutiny of the governmental system that has caused this to happen, joined by a firm commitment to bring about a real change.
This widespread and deeply ingrained abuse of power by the hierarchical leadership of our Church has been sustained and even encouraged by the myth that what is good for that tiny minority, the clergy, is identified with what is good for the Church. The Church, according to this erroneous way of thinking, is the clergy and the hierarchy. But they have lost sight of the Christ-given reality that the Church is US. Its most vital and important members are not those who wear the elaborate robes and sit on the thrones of power, but the marginalized, the hurting, the rejected, and the abused. What we see happening around us are the initial death throes of the medieval monarchical model of the church. This was and is an institutional Church that was based on the belief that a small, select minority of the educated, the privileged, and the powerful was called by Almighty God to manage the temporal and spiritual lives of the faceless masses, on the presumption that their unlettered and squalid state meant that they were ignorant and incapable of discerning their spiritual destiny. This is 2002 and not 1302, and that model is based on a myth that is long dead, if in fact it was ever remotely grounded in a sliver of reality.
We are often told that this model is based on God’s will, grounded in an interpretation of Christ’s action in giving the “Keys to the Kingdom” to St. Peter. Rather than depend totally on this statement as the rationale for the hierarchical system which was later invested with all of the trappings of monarchy, there is another statement of Christ that is a more accurate reflection of His vision for human government. We find it in Mark’s Gospel:
You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority. This is not the way with you: among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the willing slave of all. (Mark 10:41-43)
For centuries, the only form of government most people knew was monarchy. Even today there are countries throughout the world that are either monarchies or dictatorships. But the Church is not any ordinary society. Although its temporal leadership could perhaps conceive of no other form than monarchy, it is entirely possible that God’s vision was more expansive. If we listen to the words of Christ and especially learn from his actions, we see looming up that word that strikes fear and trembling in churchmen – democracy! Why? Because it surely is evident that this was the reality that Christ lived by in his ministry. Why the fear and trepidation? Because to accept democracy means to shed the deep seated misconception that to serve means to control.
The terrible disaster that we are living through has proven beyond any doubt the need for all Catholics and indeed all Christians to abandon the magical thinking about the hierarchy and clergy that sustains the medieval paradigm. We must accept the great risk involved in accepting Christ’s challenge to lead by serving. The hierarchical system appears to have lost its ability to do this. You, we, must take up the challenge.
The strength, credibility and effectiveness of true church leadership does not need to be fortified by way of multi-million dollar public relations firms. It does not need to ally itself with high priced lawyers as a backup or even a front line. We live in the hope that we will see a church that is a Christ-centered community of equal believers first, and a political structure second. This hope is within our grasp and within our vision.
Is clericalism and its co-dependent spouse, a monarchical hierarchy, part of the Divine Plan? Hardly! We need only look to the unequivocal words and actions of Christ. We need to try Christ’s radical egalitarianism. Where do we begin?
We must all accept the responsibility for our own spiritual growth. It is painful to grow from religious infancy to spiritual adulthood but we must accept this pain to someday rejoice in the freedom the Lord promised. We can no longer depend on a magical notion of the sacraments and the priests and bishops who administer them. By sustaining the erroneous magical thinking about the sacraments we also sustain the false notion of the power that clerics hold over the believers.
We must stop enabling, through our continued financial support, the very power structures and office holders who have been largely responsible for the horrific consequences of the cover-up of widespread sexual abuse. Rather we must, in truth and in charity, do our utmost to help free them from these terrible chains of addiction to power and control!
We must challenge ourselves and everyone who is a part of the church to abandon the notion that the Church is a kingdom made up of a series of fiefdoms called dioceses. There is no longer any justification for timidity and deference to the very structures and leaders who have betrayed us. Our church has been hijacked and we want it back!
We must challenge any deacon, priest or bishop who voices his support for the victims and survivors and who hopes for a re-vivified church to not simply talk, but act!
We must keep this wonderful, hopeful spirit alive. The pope, the cardinals and the bishops and indeed millions have been praying for relief from this crisis … praying for a new dawn. We believe that our prayers are being answered and the new dawn is breaking, and a sure sign of it is here today. This Spirit of God is really alive and well and staying involved! It is here and it is moving through all of you. We cannot stifle or short-circuit this Spirit by factionalism, narrowness or power struggles.
For years, this sex abuse nightmare has caused so many of us to question everything we knew and believed about our Church, and even to wonder if the Lord cared. The response of the people to the victims, to the survivors and indeed to the whole Catholic community as we painfully live through this tragedy, is a response to God’s promptings. It is the most eloquent and convincing proof that our Lord is with us and He cares.
A selection from: Eucharist and the Early Church By Rev. Rich Hasselbach
For the first three centuries of its existence, the church existed without churches – buildings in which to gather. In the earliest Jewish Christian communities in Jerusalem, Judea, and throughout the Levant, Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the homes of members of the community. These home churches were small in comparison to the large groups of worshipers that would gather in the large church buildings, the basilicas, which were built in Constantine’s time and thereafter. Home churches tended to be smaller, more intimate gatherings of friends and believers, at which all the brothers and sisters, of whatever social rank or standing, were welcome.
The early church was not hierarchic, though it was not without its structure. In Paul’s church, and because of his letters his is the church we know most about, ministry was not a function of office, but of gift of the Spirit. Members of the community were called to exercise different gifts through the spirit, as they were given. …
In Paul’s church there was a radical equality of all in Christ, including an equality of the sexes. There truly were no Jews or Greeks, no slaves or free, no man or woman, but all were one in Christ. Consequently the gifts of all were recognized and allowed to flourish. There was no need for ordination – indeed there was, as yet, no cultic priesthood. The brothers and sisters gathered to share a meal, literally and ritually, and to remember the Lord. The entire community celebrated, the entire community prayed, and if there were a presider at all, that person was called from the community to lead it in prayer.
Gradual clericalization and emergence of the monarchic episcopacy
Gradually, especially after Paul’s death, a natural leadership emerged in the communities Paul founded. In later letters attributed to Paul there is mention of elders ‘(presbeteroi), and leaders (episkopoi), though no distinction is drawn between the two, and there is certainly no claim of authority based on a call from the apostle through ‘ordination.’ In fact, there is NO mention of “ordination” in the New Testament. And during Paul’s lifetime he never asserted an authority of coercion, never attempted to impose uniformity or conformity, or centralized authority (his or anyone else’s) on the communities he founded. Paul was content to trust in the Spirit to guarantee unity, precisely through the diverse gifts of the members of the community, and in particular through the “greatest” of the gifts of the spirit – agapic (selfless) love.
Women, it is clear, played an important role in the early church – Paul addresses women, as well as men, as his synergoi, his “fellow workers.” At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul acknowledges twenty-nine leading Christians in the Roman community to whom he sends greetings – ten of them were women. He calls Phoebe, a “woman active in the Church in Cenchreae, a diakonos, indicating that she was the leader of a home church. He writes of the woman Junia as being “distinguished among the Apostles,” suggesting that she was instrumental in spreading the faith, and eminent in the Christian community – in every respect Paul’s equal.
Women in the early church were welcomed to share their gifts as the Spirit gave them; many women were considered prophets, and teachers, both considered higher gifts than the gift of leadership. Though cultural biases against women would gradually take root, in the earliest Christian communities women were accepted as the equals of the likes of the Apostle Paul, their ministry welcomed and unrestricted.
Over the course of the first hundred and fifty years of Christianity the function of presbyter and bishop slowly developed into a clerical caste of professional ministers over and against the “laity.” Bishops, at first merely the informal leaders among the many priests in a community, took on increasing authority, especially after the conversion of Constantine, when the monarchic episcopacy began to develop, and bishops emerged as powerful authorities in both civil and ecclesial society. More gradually still, the bishops of the great cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, emerged as the Episcopal powerbrokers and Rome, claiming association with both Sts. Peter and Paul, claimed central authority. What had been born as a gathering of people proclaiming the Lordship of Christ had become the world’s first fully functioning bureaucracy – the Institutional Church.
What the past can teach us: Back to the future
What is essential in the Church can be found in its origins, and those origins also point the way, at least potentially, to the church of the future. There can be no Christianity without the Eucharist – and that meal belongs to the people of God as a gift from the Spirit. As Christians are asked to go without the Eucharist because there are no priests to preside at the Lord’s Table, it is important to remember that long before there was a professional, hierarchical priesthood, Christians gathered to remember the Lord and experienced his presence in bread broken and shared.
The Eucharist cannot and must not be held hostage by a moribund hierarchy.
The early church can show us a different, yet completely authentic, way to be church. As early Christian communities allowed ministry to emerge from within it – not as offices of authority, but as ministries of loving service — so small Christian communities today, meeting in homes or other informal places, can call one of their own to lead, to preside at the Lord’s Supper while remaining completely faithful to the tradition. Both men and women may receive the call when the gift of leadership is discerned – a refreshing return to the fundamental equality of all the sons and daughters of God in Christ.
We do not need an ordained priest for a “valid” Eucharist – we merely need a community of faith calling one of its own to lead it in prayerful celebration of the Lord’s meal.
[Note from the Diocese: those “called by the community”, as described above, are some of the ones the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit opens to ordination as community priests, thus blending the informality of the early Church with the often-felt desire to be a part of a limited structure and to be acknowledged in today’s society. While we may not “need” an “ordained” priest, such ordination has a historic and cultural value, and it acknowledges not just the community’s validation, but that of a larger community within the Church as well. It also provides a sense of belonging to the community and to its ordained leaders.]
In these communities all should be welcome at the table as all were welcome at the Lord’s own table. We should particularly welcome those shut out by the Institutional church. The apostles were those believers in the Risen Lord who, inspired by the Spirit, zealously worked to create a path of holiness for all God’s beloved creation. Their mission was to extend the compassionate, loving, hope filled message of Christ to the ends of the earth. We are their successors NOT when a bishop with the proper ‘apostolic succession’ lays hands on us, but when we do what the apostles did: when we bring good news, and build communities of hope and healing through the power of the Spirit. This is radical Christianity – a faithful return to the root of the tradition.
Used with permission © 2005 Rev. Richard Hasselbach firstname.lastname@example.org
By Carl Hemmer and Jim Burch
The sacrament of ordination can be viewed, traditionally, from two perspectives: in terms of ex opere operato (the ontological view), or ex opere operantis (what the recipient must do). Here we focus on one of the traditional aspects that is often overlooked. It’s both legitimate and important to attend to what priests should do to make the most of their graces.
Priesthood is usefully expressed by the modern image of the coach. A priest, like a good coach, knows the game of life because he’s played it. He’s wrestled with the tough questions that come up during the game and he can prepare others, his players, to deal with these questions. His role is important in forming the players, teaching them the disciplines they need, suggesting ways to deal with the problems they’ll have to solve in the course of a game, motivating them to do their best and to strive to win. But the (priest, as) coach has a very limited role. After the locker room chat, after brief sessions during timeouts, the players are on their own. The game, after all, takes place apart from the coaching. The coach’s pride is that the players can play successfully under their own power and with their own wits. They can improve on his advice and counsel.
The application to the priest is fairly straightforward. He is a player himself who takes on the role of sharing what he has learned so that others can play more successfully. If he has somehow bridged the gap between the human and the divine in his own life, he wants to help others to build their own bridges.
Ultimately, the priest wants those he coaches to walk their own bridge to God because that’s the only way it happens. The priest facilitates, motivates, and leads the way but he cannot walk the walk for others. The priest keeps the signs of the invisible God visible and meaningful to others but he always recognizes that, beyond the signs, there is the game of life that others must play. The priest sees assertions of his “betterness” as irrelevant to his role; he is either a successful coach or he is not.
There are other consequences to this view of priesthood. Most obviously, some people are not cut out to be priests. They may be able administrators or technical assistants, but they don’t have the stuff to be good coaches. When “priest” is used to describe wildly different capabilities related to Church administration, it confuses the term. It should be reserved for those who are really pastors and coaches.
Another consequence is that priesthood is not necessarily for life, not forever. It’s an “arrogance of institution” to pretend that lives can be so commandeered that no other role can be permitted. In fact, the Church accepts the temporary character of priesthood when it laicizes priests, or allows them to retire, or gives them non-pastoral roles, or permits the ordination of priests who will primarily serve in jobs that don’t require ordination — e.g. teaching chemistry. Are all of these non-functioning priests still priests forever?
Does any of this denigrate priesthood? Of course not. Rather, this approach demands more of priests, insists that they be what they claim to be or stop claiming a special place in creation. More importantly, it insists that priests must be helpmates, coaches, sources of inspiration who bring others to their full potential and adulthood, not gurus or mediators who must always be there for something worthwhile to happen. Ultimately, a priest mirrors Christ precisely because he is willing to die and disappear and let others carry on the message he has shared with them. Like Christ, a priest multiplies his presence by empowering others who can live without him, not by creating dependencies that hold others back from following the spirit that works in them. For a priest, the sacraments are training camp, back-to-basics exercises that school believers in what they must do in the whole of their lives, in the continuing game (!) of life. For a priest who has found his own bridge to the divine, his work is to build up the courage and yearning and faith in others that will multiply these bridges so that all can enjoy the wonders of creation.
The priest also celebrates the sacraments as signs of what must continue throughout life, apart from the ritual. The sacraments are, in their way, the locker room pep talks, but the game is still to be played. If the priest’s celebration of Eucharist doesn’t knit the celebrating community into a stronger family, open to other humans who also need their love, it fails as a pep talk. If receiving the Lord in communion doesn’t drive home the mandate of Matthew 25 to make communion a consuming daily occurrence, it fails its purpose.
And so the priest must be a natural leader of spiritual services. The priest who is awkward, tongue-tied, inarticulate or a wall-flower will not inspire confidence and light up a service. Yet there is a fine line in the other direction as well: the priest should not make the service about himself or herself, but should integrate all the people into a joyous experience. The axiom of Lao-Tze comes to mind here: “Of the greatest leaders, the people say, ‘We have done it ourselves’.”
The priest must be able to generally follow the outline of the service (whether baptism, Eucharist, funeral, house blessing, etc.) without making it rote or a blathering of words exhaled from a book with no life or energy. The priest, in order to be good at the role of service celebrant, must be able to spontaneously pray in a way that expresses the theme of the service, the resonance of the congregants and the grace-filled inspiration of the moment. The message should be adapted to each time, situation and type of participants. It must always come across as uplifting, relevant, personable, welcoming, professional, warm and vibrantly spiritual. It is taken for granted that it must express the message of Jesus.
Always, always and always, it must be considered well and put into clear execution: what are we doing here, and how do we communicate and uplift with today’s message of Jesus.
You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority. This is not the way with you: among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the willing slave of all.
– Mark 10: 41-43
See my servant, whom I uphold; my Chosen One, in whom I delight. I have put my spirit upon him; he will reveal justice to the nations of the world. He will be gentle – he will not shout nor quarrel in the streets. He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the dimly burning flame. He will encourage the fainthearted, those tempted to despair. He will see full justice given to all who have been wronged. He won’t be satisfied until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth, nor until even distant lands beyond the seas have put their trust in him.
– Isaiah 42: 1-4
From Like His Brothers and Sisters
by Roman Catholic Bishop Fritz Lobinger
The Crossroads Publishing Company, New York, 1998
(Please note that Bishop Lobinger arrives at different solutions than we do in his book; his conclusions draw from the institutional model of the Church as a separate societal entity. Our conclusions, outlined elsewhere, draw from a perspective of the sacredness of all creation, the God-Life in all humanity, and the Church as a spiritual yeast within the everyday life of the world.)
WHY WE SHOULD ORDAIN COMMUNITY LEADERS
The shortage of priests: not the reason but the trigger
It is certainly true that it is the shortage of priests which has prompted us to examine the state of Church ministry. That shortage has given us the courage to rethink an age-old practice which seemed almost unquestionable. However, this trigger-motive is not to be confused with the deeper reasons why we should reintroduce the ordination of proven local leaders.
If the shortage of priests were the actual reason for ordaining community leaders, then we should discontinue the practice as soon as we have sufficient priests. If the arguments we present in publications and discussions for introducing the ordination of lay leaders mainly concern the shortage of priests, then we imply that the present policy is the totally correct one. This present policy excludes many charisms and admits only candidates who choose celibate, full-time priesthood and, as a consequence, we practically say that the communities cannot celebrate the Eucharist without the presence of a priest who comes from outside their ranks. This was never our explicit teaching or our intention, but our practice seems to give this impression. If we continue to place our emphasis only on the shortage of priests we re-enforce this wrong impression.
The present priest shortage has certainly been the trigger, the starter-motive, but it is neither the only nor the deepest reason for the ordination of community leaders …
– Page 86
Reasons for ordaining community leaders
It is actually wrong to put the question in this way: “Why should we ordain proven members of the community?” because it puts the onus of proof on the wrong foot. The proven community leaders are the more natural kind of candidates and it would therefore be more appropriate to ask “why not proven members of the community?
Why restrict ordination to those who are not members of the local community, are not following an average profession, an do not have a family?” The onus of providing reasons lies with those who want to continue the present type of restrictions on the access to priesthood, not with those who want certain restrictions to be lifted …
– Pgs. 86-87
A mature community should have its own presiders
The process of becoming a mature faith community includes many aspects, and one of these is that the community develops the ability to fulfill all its essential tasks by itself. An immature community is either unwilling or unable to do so, or prevented from doing it. The New Testament communities provide the model for a mature community.
They were quickly enabled to assume all responsibilities even to presiding over their sacramental celebrations. However, they will welcomed and wanted the periodic visits of an apostle to ensure that their community life was complete and genuine.
The congregation which says: “we are able to do most things for ourselves, but for the authenticity of the Word and presiding over the sacraments we prefer to wait for somebody to be sent to us” cannot be considered as leading a complete or mature community life …
– pg. 87
To show that it is we who celebrate, let our own leaders preside
A liturgical celebration is like a word the community is saying to God. God desires to hear the word of every community and each community wants to say its own word to God. It should not be someone who comes from another place who says the word on its behalf. For the word to be truly genuine, it should be uttered by the community itself. Of course this does not mean that the community’s intention is to say this word in isolation but in communion with the Whole Church. This is why the situation must change and a community should have some of its own members ordained for the task of presiding over the celebrations. They will at the same time act as the link to the Universal Church …
– pg. 88
To show that God is everywhere in the world, let the people of the world stand at the altar. When we approach the altar, we bring ourselves to it with all we are. We should not say: “We cannot come to the altar because we are involved with the world of fields, of machines, of science, of families, of …”, but instead: “We come to the altar with all we are”. It is important for Christians to experience the whole world as being very near to God.
While this realization is necessary at any time, there is a renewed need for it in our times when so many people find it difficult to sense God’s presence in our modern world. Consequently it is important that some of those who normally preside over the sacraments live in the world in the same manner as the other members of the community. That is, some community members should be ordained for this service.
– pgs. 88-89
We need sound motivations for full-time priesthood
… There are numerous complaints that in spite of today’s people-of-God theology taught in the seminaries a dominating kind of priest keeps on developing or re-appearing. The reason seems to lie in the fact that young candidates are formed by the atmosphere of the great shortage of provider-priests. They know that they will automatically hold a very special position among the people even if they have little to offer as spiritual wisdom and maturity. Whatever views they hold and whatever way they have of dealing with people, they are sure to be accepted as the only existing spiritual providers. They know that they will be the only ones who can dispense the sacraments and this alone assures a kind of automatic superiority. It is unavoidable that this automatic superiority is experienced as a temptation to be less of a listener than a talker, to pay little attention to the spiritual situation of others but to adopt an attitude of knowing it all. The temptation to become a domineering person is too great to be avoided. The assurance of a monopoly is often stronger than our servant-theology.
The introduction of OCLs [“Ordained Community Leaders”] can be a powerful antidote against a monopolistic idea of priesthood. IF parishes have teams of OCLs, young candidates for full-time priesthood will no longer aim at being the sold dispenser of sacraments. They will see that there is a constant and sufficient number of respected people who can administer the sacraments. In this context they will come to realize that the Church needs not only dispensers of sacraments but also priests who, above their liturgical role, are evangelizers, witnesses, spiritual friends, community builders, animators for the various charisms in a congregation, formators of the different kinds of ministers, and, in a special manner, are the link with the Universal Church …
The existence of OCLs will therefore be a powerful motive for priest candidates to make greater efforts to develop their ability to animate leaders and communities. At present many of them feel instinctively that even with little knowledge or skill their future position is unquestionable because nobody else can administer the sacraments. If OCLs become a reality and administer the sacraments, it will be immediately clear that something beyond that is expected of the theologically fully-trained priests. Candidates will take their formation more seriously because of the higher expectations they will have to meet.
Important reasons for the above nature are often overlooked. Those commonly given for the ordination of community leaders relate to the sacraments: the people must be “provided” with sacraments. If the traditional kind of priest is not available to “provide” them then we need additional “providers.” This impoverished, distorted view of ordination and of the sacraments is not only a weak basis for the ordination of community leaders, but it perverts our whole evangelization. It should be replaced by the true conception of ordination.
– pgs. 90-92
We want to follow the self-ministering communities of the New Testament
Many New Testament scholars have reminded us that in the early years of the Church the one new priesthood was practiced in slightly different forms in the various areas. None of those areas, however, would ever have dreamt of doing what we are practicing today: telling the communities they could only celebrate the Eucharist when somebody who had been ordained somewhere else would be sent to them. The communities and the itinerant apostles automatically did the opposite. They ordained some of the local leaders so that the new communities could very soon celebrate the Eucharist on their own.
This practice was the only reasonable thing to do, also for practical reasons. For economic reasons it would have been impossible to have highly trained, Church-employed celebrators ordained and sent to each community. If the issue was discussed by those early communities, we can assume that they would have advanced not only practical reasons why each community should have its own ordained leaders. They would have advanced theological reasons. They would have pointed at their way of understanding the charisms given by the Spirit, the spiritual duty to use them and to accept them. They would have pointed at the nature of the Eucharist which was the thanksgiving of each community, not the thanksgiving of distant leaders.
– pg. 92
Our theology of ministry: We want to be brothers and sisters in Christ’s way
… We know that Christ sent the whole community of his believers to continue announcing and building the Reign of God and that this mission of the whole community is led, authenticated and crystallized in the work of those who are the pillars of the community. The mission of the whole community is one with the mission of those called to be their sacramental leaders. The mission can only be fulfilled together …
Listening carefully to these aspirations of today’s believers we discern that the priority is the desire to become a community of brothers and sisters in Christ. The desire to be and to be seen as a community of equals has often been given the first place; this has also been acknowledged by the Second Vatican Council (GS 29 and LG 32).
People want to be seen as equals and want to overcome anything that could indicate master-servant relationships. People of today are touched and inspired by the example of Christ who wanted to be a priest who is “like his brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:17) …
In former times the believers may have felt called to be Church in different ways, and may therefore have been happy with different forms. But it is the task of today’s Church to look for forms of priestly ministry which correspond to the signs of the times as expressed in the genuine aspirations of the believers and of all people of today. If bishops and theologians hear the genuine voices of the believers saying “we want to be brothers and sisters in Christ’s way,” then this is a theological norm of shaping Church life and ministry today …
The suggestion to entrust the ordained ministry to a team of local leaders within the communities constitutes a major shift in the theological history of priesthood. It looks like a return to the practice of the first century, but it differs in many ways from it. It was not conceived as a return to something practiced before but rather as a response to the faith experience and the situation of today. The history of the first century of the Church was not the decisive motive, but more an enabling factor …
– pgs. 94-97
ORDAINING TEAMS OF COMMUNITY LEADERS
The suggestions never to ordain one leader alone but only teams of viri probati have, understandably, been made only in areas where congregations have experienced progressive stages of community building … Those who promote this … are convinced that the presence of many other active teams, as well as the one at the altar, is an essential element of the congregation.
They consider it vital that the few ordained ones come from the ranks of the many who have been community leaders for many years. All of them wanted to assist the community; they did not aim at priesthood. They do not have a clericalistic outlook; they have proved over many years that their style of leadership is a non-dominating one seeking the cooperation of the whole community. In a healthy community the domineering characters are less likely to be successful, although one can expect to find some exceptions. Furthermore, having a team of ordained leaders offers the constant possibility of new candidates emerging from the community to join the team. There is a greater chance … that the changing times and the concerns of society will be reflected in the team of ordained leaders …
The selection of candidates … is community based. The candidates emerge gradually form among the active people of the community. Many people are engaged in the early stages of selection, and even the final process requires the cooperation of the formation personnel, the parish council, the wives [or husbands … ACCL added] of the candidates, and the bishop. Selection is certainly not based on academic examinations but on the presence of a charism and the ability to serve and lead this particular community …
The term [“ordained community leader”] should be suitable for people who live like anybody else. It should avoid reference to an otherworldly, different class. It should be suitable for ordained leaders who never wear clerical dress. It is our desire that the new kind of priest should not just supplement and imitate the existing priests but should be different from them and should be “like the brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:17).
– pgs. 68, 68, 73, 77
Learning from the successes and failures of history
In the Middle Ages we had too many priest and one of the aims of the Council of Trent was to reduce the incredibly high number; to have fewer priests and to have them properly trained in diocesan seminaries. …There is no comparison between [these] two models. The thousands of medieval “Mass priests” existed because of an almost magic idea of Holy Mass, each priest celebrating alone on one of the countless alters in corners and niches of the Churches. The viri probati priests will conduct the liturgy together, always in a community celebration, always as a team, always with the collaboration of teams of lay leaders, and will be involved in much more than liturgy. They will not, like the medieval Mass-priests, live from Mass stipends but from their secular occupation. They will not appear as a clerical class. A low level of secular education or of theological training can constitute a danger but does not automatically do so. It was a danger for the mediaeval Mass-priest because it was coupled with a kind of magic understanding of the Sacraments about which the people had little understanding or knowledge. The viri probati priests’ standard of education should be on a par with that of the people in the area; where that is of a low level, there will not be any problem because the community will probably change with the changing times and will admit more highly educated candidates when levels of education rise …
From the models which have been successful in other Churches we can single out the Methodist Church. It is accepted that the Methodist practice of establishing teams of “preachers” in each small or large community has proved efficacious and has been adopted as the most suitable method by many other denominations in developing countries. According to this model, one full-time minister may served an area of 20 to 50 kilometers in diameter with 50 or so congregations, each with five to ten “preachers.” The interesting aspect is that the preachers rotate, for each Sunday service from congregation to congregation according to a “plan” which is decided and printed each year. This “plan” which has assumed strategic importance, assigns each preacher to a different congregation every Sunday. The preachers move to their assigned places at their own expense; their service is completely voluntary. The full-time minister visits each congregation only four times a year; on all other Sundays the local preachers together with the “scheduled” preacher conduct the service. The structure is held together by the regular meetings of all the preachers with the minister, by the strict procedure of appointing new preachers and by the need to be included in the “plan” in order to be accepted. This method has worked well over a long period of time, especially in developing countries.
Frequent celebration of the Eucharist is not seen as a value in the Methodist church, at least not in the majority of the congregations. Therefore the training programme for preachers does not include such a liturgy or being barred from it, but simply a matter of the particular theology the church has adopted. The reliability of the structure, the low cost of maintaining it, and the fact that it has been copied by so many other denominations recommend it. If a church with a high regard for the sacraments would adopt it, it would certainly be a promising model.
THE PREPARATION OF CANDIDATES FOR ORDINATION
Preparation of the candidates
… To attain this vision it will be important to avoid all forms of status seeking from the beginning. This means that the parish should never ask for volunteers for becoming OCLs. The long journey of training must start with nothing else in the mind than working for the community and certainly not with the motive of becoming ordained. Only when the trainees have been working and training in this general way for many years could the question of ordination … be posed carefully. … Status seeking is extremely prevalent and this is one efficacious way of preventing it …
Onging, unending formation is not limited to the OCLs. It must be universal practice for all forms of ministry including the non-ordained, in order to avoid any danger that formation might gradually stop after some time. If only the ordained have to continue with formation it would certainly be in danger of disappearing. The experience of other Churches has shown how easy it is to gradually neglect such formation, reduce it again and again, and eventually to drop it altogether. It must therefore be part of the preparation work to introduce ongoing formation for all kinds of ministry, not only for the OCLs …
– pgs. 157-158
HOW TO MAINTAIN THE STRUCTURE OF ORDAINED COMMUNITY LEADERS
Linking the teams of ordained community leaders with the animator priests
In this regard we can learn by observing other Churches. Even Churches which place a high value on lay involvement and on equality, such as the Methodist Church, have made sure that the full-time minister retains strong power. His authority does not rest on the ability to administer sacraments; it is based on other requisites such as the nomination of preachers or the issuing of receipts for Church dues. Is it not obvious that the dioceses which introduce teams of OCLs should form the beginning ensure that there will be a permanent link between them, the full-time priests and the bishop?
… There is the possibility of giving a special status to the full-time priests, such as appointing each of them (or many of them) as Episcopal Vicar. This recourse will not be necessary in the initial phase of exceptional ordinations of community leaders but it may become meaningful once many communities have their own teams of ordained community leaders. Then the communities will no longer say “we need a priest” but will say “we need unity” and this means they want a clear link to the bishop. Calling the animator priests “vicar of the bishop” will therefore become meaningful as he would exercise part of the overseeing role of the bishop. This presupposes the ability to accompany the OCLs, to unify them, to plan with them and to be the link between them and the bishop.
– pg. 165
Possible ways of preventing community leaders not in communion with the bishop from officiating in the Church
A diocese could introduce the following practice:
Each year every parish arranges a time of renewal for all its leaders, during which the community evaluates its whole life and the performance of the OCLs and other leaders. The Parish Council decides which new candidates for lay ministries should receive formation and at the end of their training who should be commissioned and receive the blessing of leaders from the bishop (or his representative). The Council also determines which active lay leaders are to be presented for the annual rededication and the annual blessing. The rededication of the ordained leaders may take a different form, such as the inclusion of a clause that the Episcopal Vicar must be present in the parish council when the decision is taken to present the OCLs to the bishop. Experience may prompt other procedures. It is when the bishop (or his representative) pays a visit of some days to the parish that these matters are discussed.
At the end of the renewal session the Eucharist is celebrated. The communion of the OCLs with their bishop and the Church is confirmed and a “symbol of priestly communion” exchanged. The community is told:
“The bishop is the center of the body of priests, called the ‘presbyterium’. These your priests exercise the priestly ministry in union with the bishop and with all the priests of the diocese. This gives your whole community the joyful certainty tat you live in communion with the whole Church.
“Therefore we will now express in a ceremony that the priests of this community are rendering their service in communion with the bishop and the whole Church. If we are united in this way we can be certain that we are in communion with Jesus Christ, the High Priest.”
After the explanation the bishop extends a visible sign of communion with the OCLs. Probably it will be wise to introduce a new kind of visible sign, a “symbol of priestly communion,” e.g., the “touching of the chalice of the bishop,” a special chalice which is kept at the bishop’s residence and which the bishop or his representative brings with him at the annual visit and which he invites the OCLs to touch and to drink form during this liturgy as a sign of communion.
The above is one of various ways how communion between the bishop and the OCLs could be expressed and maintained. Other symbolic liturgical actions can be designed for this important ceremony.
If the deliberations which take place during the visit bring to light that one of the OCLs can no longer exercise the priestly ministry at this time, all the aspects of the case are thoroughly discussed by the Episcopal vicar4/animator priest and the local community who together reach a decision. The OCL may have to be told that he cannot for the time being exercise his priestly ministry although his ordination remains valid. At the final liturgy of that particular year he is not included in the symbol of priestly communion. The way will be kept open for the later re-inclusion of a temporarily suspended priest.
It is necessary to make the moratorium visible to the whole community because the OCL will have many relatives and supporters in his community. The fact that a suspended OCL is not invited to “touch the chalice of the bishop” would serve as a definite and powerful sign that he is not to function as a priest.
– pgs. 165-167
A NEW PRINCIPLE: ORDINATION AS SUCH DOES NOT IMPLY REMUNERATION
Before ordination to the priesthood, a community leader should make a … statement that he expects no financial assistance.
People may find this difficult to understand. They are so used to the fact that every ordained person is financially completely dependent on the Church that they find it inadmissible for an ordained local leader not to be in a position to claim financial support, not even when he is in need. The new principle becomes acceptable when we remember the fact that active parishes rely on the voluntary work of hundreds of lay people and none of them would dream of claiming support from the Church in times of need. When some of them are ordained this does not change their financial position. Spontaneous assistance in times of need can of course be offered but cannot be claimed and has never been claimed by voluntary leaders.
– pgs. 180-181