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Walking in the Wide Church and Staying Within the Guard Rails

February 4, 2011

One of the struggles we have in the Church today is that we are often divided within over liturgy and what to emphasize. As a priest I am called to pastor people with a wide variety of liturgical preferences, political views, and opinions on social and ecclesial issues. Liturgically, I celebrate a lively Gospel Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, and also have pastoral duties related to the Maronite  Liturgy, and the Geez Rite and the  Neocatechumenal liturgies. This evening  I had a traditional Latin low Mass, at the altar, followed by Eucharistic Adoration. By Sunday, the same Church will echo with Gospel music.

Three weeks ago I led a march to an abortion clinic where we prayed for over an hour. Two  weeks ago I was at the pro-life march here in DC and witnessing to the Pro-Choice demonstrators, seeking their conversion. Earlier this week I was also meeting with our local organizer in the Washington Interfaith Network  (WIN) as we plan to engage our neighbors and City Council on matters of affordable housing, jobs, and improvements in our local public housing development.

As a priest I stand with the poor and the rich. I minster to Republicans and Democrats. I have done several bi-partisan and interfaith Bible studies on Capitol Hill and also conducted Bible Study for 5 years in the White House during the George (W)  Bush’s Administration.

I often laugh when people try to label me or figure me out. I am against abortion so they call me a Republican. I am troubled by the death penalty (along with the Pope and Bishops) and they call me a Democrat. I am against Gay “marriage” and they call me a Republican. I advocate for the poor, love immigrants  and work with the Interfaith Network and they call me a Democrat. I say the Latin Mass and they say I am a conservative. I rejoice at a Gospel Mass and they say I’m off the hook. And all this time I was just trying to be a Catholic and a disciple.

The Church is wide. I think of the Christian journey as a trip up the King’s Highway. Now on this road there are a good number of lanes. The Church permits us to drive in any or all the lanes, but sets up guard rails beyond which we must not go. Hence there is legitimate diversity on the King’s Highway. An old song  also says, King Jesus has a garden full of diverse flowers.

It often grieves me when I see the children of the Church squabble over what the Church allows. One may have preferences, and I respect that, but why seek to have everyone conform to my preferences when and where the Church allows diversity? Consider the social and moral issues of the Church. On one wing we have tend to have those who are concerned about abortion and the moral issues of our day: sexuality, stem cell research, euthanasia etc. On the other wing are those concerned with social issues like poverty, injustice, immigrants rights etc. But in the end, all these issues are important and the Church needs two wings to fly. It is fine that one may choose to work in one specific area. But hostility to those who work in other areas is strange. We ought to be glad that Jesus has ALL the bases covered.

I know that my little essay will not end the debates over priorities and emphases, tastes, and preferences. But  I am a priest called to serve all God’s people. I walk in the wide Church and and am willing to drive in every lane. Just don’t ask me to go beyond the guard rails set by the Church.

With that in mind, I’d like to share two videos of your truly as I walk the wide Church.

The first video is an interview of me conducted by the USCCB in regard to my organizing work. Now some of you may have concerns about Saul Alinski. But I can assure he never comes up in conversations and I have never been asked to read Rules for Radicals, nor have I read it. Most of our DC parishes are members of the Washington Interfaith Network and our Pastors work with organizers because WIN does effective job in bringing about creative change in line with Catholic Social teaching. We’re staying in the guard rails here!

The second video is a PBS interview featuring my work with the Traditional Latin Mass. Now some will say that I want to “impose” the old Mass and do all that Latin stuff! No, I only do what the Church permits and I choose to serve some of her children who love the older forms. No imposition here, just celebration in the ancient forms, just living  and letting live. Just walking the wide road and staying inside  the guard rails.

Two videos from very different lanes but all within the guard rails!

It’s a wide world and a wide Church.


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  1. Ron Dee says:

    Thank you for a wonderful viewpoint and point of view!

  2. Brad says:

    Simply fantastic, Monsignor! When asked my political views, I like to think “The Transcendent Polis / The Heavenly City.” Of course, it defies the alignments we find with any options here, as you pointed out so well. This post is like the echo of St. Paul, who sought to be “all things to all people.” That’s my motto as well, but as you say, within the “shoulders” of the Kingdom’s Road.

    God bless you, sir.

  3. Brad says:

    …aaaannnd just watched the videos. Both magnificent and gave me goosebumps. Thank you for the gifts you bring to Christ’s Bride!

  4. Sherry says:


    Thanks a million for this faith, hope, and love filled column and videos. So often I have tried to put into words the ideas in this explanation of why our faith is not rigid as some people believe. There is much latitude to account for different personalities, backgrounds, situations, etc. The ability to celebrate the Mass in so many different legitimate ways is wonderful. There is something for everyone.

    God’s vineyard is indeed expansive – there is great need for all the gifts and talents we each uniquely bring to the table. It makes me think of Scripture describing the various parts of the body and how they each do something different and important but they all work together to form a whole. The discord that one sees in terms of Pro-Life “versus” Peace and Justice is so sad – hopefully, your column will help people see that they are both extremely important. It is not an either/or situation but an all and both situation.

    Obviously your parish and pastoral work has involved finding the best in each person – or providing the environment where it can be discerned – to be able to involve many in many different projects and endeavors. Each of the Apostles was certainly different and each contributed in a different way – towards an integrated whole.

    The videos are really helpful in putting it all together. Thank you.

  5. Ryan Ellis says:

    I’m sorry, Msgr., but this is simply not accurate. The lanes are not created equal, though they are all part of what the Church teaches.

    Let’s take the two areas you cite: liturgy and social teaching.

    On liturgy, the Second Vatican Council and everything before and since has consistently taught a few things about preferred liturgical form: “pride of place” is to be given to Gregorian Chant; the propers are preferred to hymns (including gospel music); what changes in the liturgy should proceed organically from what was there in tradition; vestments should be dignified, and sacred vessels should be truly sacred; the rites should be characterized by a “noble simplicity.” Throughout all these directives, from Sacrosanctum concilium to Sacramentum caritatis, there is a consistent call for the liturgy to be solemn, dignified, by the book, and in keeping with tradition. Are “gospel” songs allowed? Yes, as you point out, But it (and any other vulgarization) is merely a permitted indulgence relative to the preferred norm–the proliferation of decomposed “ars celebrandi” notwithstanding.

    On social teaching, “Faithful Citizenship” makes it clear (as do our bishops, as does the Catechism), that all social teachings are important. But one in particular has first dibs, and wins rock-paper-scissors every time: abortion. We are not even free to vote for a pro-abortion candidate unless there is another candidate at least as pro-abortion. When it comes to (say) food stamp spending, that’s a prudential matter left to individual conscience. All these issues are important, but you can’t argue that they are equal. That falls into the “seamless garment” error of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin.

    • Mary says:

      I hope Father replies to your comments as they are very well made. One thing I would like to point out is that the first thing my Democrat friends smugly throw at me when I take a stance against abortion is ‘But what about the death penalty?’, as if it’s a forgone conclusion that everyone who is against abortion is for the death penalty. Where did that come from? And not all good social causes carry equal weight. The Church may be wide in that it wants to welcome everyone, but everyone must be willing to follow a particular Narrow Road. May the Church in her wideness get everyone on that Narrow Road. I know Msgr. Pope is on it!

      • Erik says:

        I like to inform people when they throw the abortion vs. death penalty argument at you that thee have been over 50 million direct abortions of completely innocent people since Roe v Wade in 1973. Since 1976 and the death penalty there have been 1,180 executions in the U.S. of convicted felons and felons are not innocent.

        50,000,000 innocent lives=Jesus Christ
        1,180 convicted murders=Barabas’

        Once again we choose Barabas.
        Hardly equal

        • You are right about the numbers. Abortion is far more significant. But I wonder at your main point? Are you saying we can’t talk about the death penalty at all? It is also true that abortion kills far more than heart disease, homicide, aids, diabetes, and cancer combined. Are these issues also off the table? I am not sure why we can’t talk about a range of issues even while agreeing that Abortion is the most significant of them all by any estimation. Is having concern about the Death Penalty really equal to choosing Barabbas? Is that what the Pope and bishops are doing? Perhaps you could clarify your point?

          • Daniel says:

            I have serious reservations about the use of the Death penalty in this country, however, I do see how it can be justifiable. The pope has said himself that there can be legitimate disagreement on the question of the death penalty amongst the ranks of Catholics without necessarily straying from the Church’s moral teaching. Indeed, ut was the Church’s direct position for a long time that the death penalty be kept quite legal.

            Msgr, while I am glad that you find solace in diversity, we must alway remember that liturgical abuse is not a sign of diversity but rather disobedience.

            Take the three Catholic parishes in McLean, VA. One is marked by its heavy emphasis on Latin; another is a Melkite parish with one of the most reverential Divine Liturgies I have ever witnessed by a parish. The past one, however, has been a bastion of disobedience. The pastor once said to the Children of a CCD class that Satan and Hell did not exist! The masses there are also frequently rife with abuses.

            We find diversity and joy in the former parishes. Spiritual Death and disobedience in the second.

    • John Masslon says:

      I agree with Ryan. I would just like to add an example. Currently in the USA it is permitted to receive the Eucharist in the hand (when there is no risk of profanation). However, it is not the norm in the universal church. Furthermore, how can anyone say that receiving the Eucharist in the hand when some particles of the host are sure to fall on the floor is the same as receiving on the tongue while kneeling?

    • You are technically right in your quotes. But priests and bishops are Shepherds and fathers, not just technicians. While you precisly quote you also finally admit of your less favored approaches: “they are all part of what the Church teaches.” Ryan I have no idea of your age so I don’t know if I can appeal to your experience as a father or just ask you to imagine it. But what is a father to do who has many children with different gifts? I suspect a father best shows care for his children by acknowleding their gifts, teaching them to appreciate the differing gifts of their siblings, and giving all his children an appreciation of family history and the essentials of life. Perhaps all of his children exhibit certain characteristics of their generation that need correction and balance. Here too a good father will find what encourage, and correct or dinstiguish what is wrong or out of balance. He will be the wise steward who will be bale to go to his storehouse and draw forth both the old and new.

      But imagine a father gathering his children and saying: You all exist but you were not all created equal. Some of you have “pride of place” and some of you are second class. In other words, some of you are gifted to deal with the really important stuff and some of you are dealing with merely secondary issues. Some of you prefer the finer things and some of you prefer art forms that I think too modern, banal and trite. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re allowed to have these gifts and perferences, but as your Father, I think what I ought to do is feed those of you I think have the most important roles and proper preferences and let the rest of you get the crumbs that fall from the table. Afterall we have to have priorities here and what that means is that until the priorities are fully dealt with the rest of you are going to get crumbs. But just remember, I love you all!

      IOW Ryan, you quote technically well. In a modern age that has rejected tradition that Church, as teacher will often choose to emphasize the goodness of tradition and the proper place it ought to have in our worship. This needs to be said since we have a tendency today not to embrace tradition. We are already doing fine in incorporating modern and cultural variance and so the Church reminds us not to forget the past. But what the Church does as a pastoral thing you weild as a sword or club that emphasizes superiority and you easily conclude that what you do not prefer is not dingified, solemn or sacred. Now if that were the case, then such things that you do not prefer would be forbidden by the Church, but they are not. The Church is pastoral in this regard, (giving special encouragement to what we often forget but permitting what is allowable). I fear you are not. Abortion too is an urgent issue and we as a Church have to focus on it but we ought not forget the rest. Here too, what the Church gives as a pastoral directive you swing as a club and make claims of superiority rather than urgency and balance. It is not helpful in finding the proper mix when you speak in this way. The Church needs a wide vision when addressing the moral and social issues of our day and cannot merely cede the territory of these to others. It makes sense that there be a certain division of labor that the Lord raises up in the Church which helps us to stay in the fight in all these areas. A little more mutual appreciation for the gifts of others may be called for. There is too much hostility from both wings directed at each other. The Social Justice wing has its tendencies to be dismissive of the pro-life community as “caring only about the unborn.” But your argument from superiority is not helpful either.

      Now Mary, again you are technically right about Capt. Punishment. And yet, I fear you adopt some of the same lines of argument that dissenters often use which is to state that if something isn’t absolute dogma I can just go my own way. The Pope and the Bishops have all been clear that they ask us to stand with them against the death penalty even while admitting that it is not an intrinsic evil, as you rightly distinguish. They do this as a pastoral and prudential policy in battling the overall culture of death that prefers the death of human beings to other solutions. We ought to give religious assent even to non-infallible teachings when our shepherds reasonably ask it. I would be less concerned with battling a democrat friend and battling a secular distinction (which, as you point out is wrong) and more concerned to just be Catholic and to have Catholic priorities. I fear too many Catholics on both sides allow their secular politics to influence their thinking and priorities more than Church teaching as expressed in the Catechism and by the appointed leadership of our Pope and Bishops.

      • Jenny says:

        Dear Msgr.,

        I am a great fan of your writing and I thank you for the great work you are doing for the Church. I am a parent, so I understand what it means to have children with different gifts and talents. That being said, I think this is a bit overblown: “But imagine a father gathering his children and saying: You all exist but you were not all created equal. Some of you have “pride of place” and some of you are second class.”

        The Church is not talking about people when she mentions ‘pride of place’; she is speaking of practices. Some practices are clearly preferred over others. It is our duty as Catholics to learn what the Church teaches. So many liturgical practices now are based on ‘how they make people feel’, or just ‘that’s they way we’ve always done it (at least since the 70’s’). Society constantly tries to tell us the arbiter of ‘goodness’ is how something makes us feel- not at all what the Church teaches.

        There is plenty of room in the church for different styles of devotional practices but the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a different story. If the Church says certain practices have ‘pride of place’ in the Mass, shouldn’t we be doing everythng we can to teach people about them? How can it be denigrating to people to show them what the Church teaches? This is not saying that their current practices are unworthy- just that they need to be practiced in a different place.

        My children are lucky to have many clothes. Not all of them are appropriate for Mass, but they serve beautifully elsewhere. They weren’t born knowing which clothes were which; their father and I had to teach them. Sometimes we had to tell them that their choices were not suitable. That’s part of the the parent’s job. Not much teaching about the liturgy has gone on in the past 40 years so people no longer know ‘which clothes are which’ (literally and figuratively). The Holy Father is trying to be an example in this regard but there is much work to be done

      • Well I don’t happen to disagree with you that tradition is a good thing and that the expression pride of place is accroded to Chant and polyphony. . But I do wonder what the practical effect of pride of place is supposed to be. Does this mean, as I think you suggest, that other forms have no place in the Mass? Or does it mean that 50% should be latin chant? And does 50% mean parish wide or 50% of every Mass? For example what if a parish had a regular latin mass, TLM or OF. but also had a Neo Mass, or a Gospel Mass. Does that fill the bill or do the neos and Gospel Mass have to chant 50% of the time? If 50% the norm, how about 30% or should it be 70%. Or 100% as you seem to suggest. Is the pride of place only for chant and renaisance polyphony? What year do we cut off the pride distinction and just say no. Is it 1650, or 1750. is 1800 too far into the romantic period? Is the Vox humana stop on the organ still forbidden as it once was. How about tremello, are these too much of the romantic period still, or are new norms in place? At one point Pius X banned orchestral masses. Did VC II mean to continue that ban? Do Mozart, Scarlatti, et al. get the pride of place badge or do they get the boot? Are they still banished? If not banished how much is too much. Are the orchestral masses I celebrated in Latin in St. Paul Minn at St Agnes in violation, or are they OK? How OK, a little or a lot? Even if they are permitted you suggest that things other than chant (and some polyphony) be done elsewhere. Remember orchestral masses were once banished as mere opera, now they are done even in Rome, but still Pride of place is what seems to matter, at least from what you say not that something is permitted? At any rate do you see my point. It’s sometimes hard to pin down the specifics. Clearly pure Greg. Chant has a prominent position, but how, always, or generally, is this accomplished at one of the masses, or must all have it etc.

        I am also not so sure I can so easily distiguish your statement: The Church is not talking about people when she mentions ‘pride of place’; she is speaking of practices. This may look good on paper but try it out on a congregation. Go into a black congregation and trot that out: The translation is too easily heard as, “It’s not you it’s just your inferior music, you know it’s just less noble, less solemn, less, you know, less dignified. It’s OK, but the Church reluctantly permits you this but she really prefers something else…But please don’t take any of this personally it not about you, its just about what you do.

        IOW I don’t think peple will easily maintain your distinction between people and practices. Now I am talking to you as a pastor here. I am aware of what the documents say, but I wonder exactly what they mean and how exactly to implement them when we are not talking in theory but dealing with real people. What does it mean to say on the one hand “pride of place” and yet allow and even affirm other cultural expressions? The documents and the actual practice of the Vatican are in some tension here. Most of the Pope’s liturgies in Rome are in accord with the pride of place norms, but as he travels they are far less so.

        I think the Pope is probably on better ground that what you suggest (which I interpret to be “out with them” for you say: “This is not saying that their current practices are unworthy- just that they need to be practiced in a different place). THe Pope is more pastoral than you and my understanding is that he is reproposing the tradition rather than imposing it. THis is healthy since it seeks to refamiliarize the faithful with the beauty of tradition and allow them naturally to desire it rather than to say (rudely) to them that they should take their forms and practice them “in a different place.”

        I think I like guard rails and several lanes more than what you propose which seems to be that some people don’t even belong on the road and should find the nearest exit. If the Church permits it, I think if we’re all on the road and inside the rails, we ought to have some respect and appreciation. In this context the sharing of the tradition is better received, as I have discovered.

      • John says:

        In our home, we have three places that we eat our meals: the kitchen island, the breakfast nook, and the dining room. I have wonderful memories with my wife and children eating at all three. Each place works for specific purposes, and for certain eating times. But, without question, the ‘primacy of place’ is the dining room. It is, there, that we use our china, crystal, and silver. We wear our more formal clothes, and exhibit a more formal eating posture. Still, our dining room’s primacy of place doesn’t subtract from our experiences around the island or nook. Nevertheless, if the kids chew their food with their mouths open, or lean over their food while eating in any one of those places, they can expect to hear a lecture from Mom about their table manners. Guardrails, yes. Strict, unbending rules, no.

  6. Nick says:

    This reminds me of all the hubub over the Pope’s signing a document on dialogue about celibacy back when he was a cardinal. Really, what’s the big deal? Celibacy isn’t a doctrine, it’s a discipline, and disciplines come and go. No need to fuss or worry or argue over it; the Church is a wide ship!

    • Not sure your exact point here, though currently I would argue that mandatory celibacy is a guard rail beyond which we cannot go. There are certain exceptions to it even now, but the fundamental policy is unlikely to change. Disciplines may come and go but this one is arguably of apostolic origin even if it has been enforced in a variable manner. Even in the East their bishops are celibate, for all the talk about married clergy there this important distinction is usually lost.

  7. Woody says:

    You are certainly everythiing to everyone! However, even on the highway you must stay right of center. It is forbidden to go left of center.

    • Well, you’re messing with my metaphor a bit since its really the gaurd rails that serve the purpose you describe. Right and left are political terms that are best set aside in Church discussions. I am use to being called a conservative but as this article points out and some of the comments make clear, I am not so easily labeled, and, I would argue, neither is the Church. Worldly categories are suit that is is four sizes too small for the Church to wear. One might try to apply the label “theologically conservative” but even here, I wonder what is the essence of that. For example, is unity with the Holy Father an essential element of being Theologiclally conservative? I would think so, but then why do so many who wear that label dimiss what he says about the death penalty? Why was Deus Caritas est so widely “panned?” I suspect that we can and should have vigorous discussions about all these topics, but my point is “conservative” is not so easily defined and applied. I am confortable in its occassional use as a kind of shorthand but it is really rather hard to nail down and, as I ahve said above, I am afraid that secular politics is far more influential in determining what a Catholic think than the papal magisterium, the catechism, or the magisterium as a whole. Hence a I worry a bit over terms like right of center.

  8. BHG says:

    One of the great temptations in the Christian faith is to decide that my calling should be everyone’s calling. Or my particular inversion of that–the calling of those who are very different in talent and temper than I really ought to be mine. In one sense yes–we are called to respect and rejoice in the gifts and callings of others, but in another, not–we all have our place in the Body and a tongue is not a toe, though both are needed. Part of my continuing struggle is figuring out just what my gifts are and where to use them. As I do, I am so thankful that there are those with different passions within the Church: for working with the poor, for teaching, for preaching, for prayer, for hospitality, even for–gasp–politics. We all have our jobs and none of them has pride of place. A toe can seem pretty unimportant to the rest of the body, but see how well the rest of a person works when the toe is broken or inflamed…. As for liturgy, I never thought I would enjoy such variety (a former High Church don’t-change-my service Anglican) but as I have learned to open my heart to Christ and what He teaches me in his Church, I have learned to appreciate (not necessarily enjoy) all of it, at least when it is obviously directed at loving, worshipping and serving God. As we used to say so many years ago–Right on, brother, right on!

  9. Rob Kaiser says:

    Thanks, Father. We need to hear this Catholic perspective more and more. We are universal not exclusivist. God seeks faithfulness not uniformity. That has always been.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement wherever we are nor does it mean that anything goes. But there is room in our Church for legitimate variety. It is just hard for so many of us to think with the mind of the Church because there are two tendencies.

    Tendency 1 – to be so open minded one’s brain falls out (and one falls out of grace).
    Tendency 2 – to be so closed and rigid that one becomes a pharisee (whether that is a charismatic pharisee or traditionalist pharisee or some other stripe).

    It is understanding that legitimate variety is good, that is hard part but is so necessary to being the “Catholic” church.

  10. Bill says:

    There is a statement attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Life is too short to read things with which I disagree.” I have always found that statement slightly amusing, somewhat true and difficult to practice.

    One of the topics I try to avoid regularly is this notion that you can use modern social-economic-political labels to define what the Church, the Holy Father or a Priest “is.”

    First of all, I find the effort to “reduce” the Church or the faithful (ordained or lay) to some ideological or social scientific “category” to be symptomatic of a diseased modern social science. It yields, therefore, an incomplete, insufficient and unsustainable understanding of what it purports to explain. It really is a “thing” to be avoided as it leads nowhere, Actually, it leads as modern philosophers have illustrated directly to a morally relative world of nihilistic tendencies—a fancy way of saying nowhere!

    Second, you cannot conform God to yourself or to this world and its categories. I am afraid that when we try to “prove” that we are a “big tent,” we risk slipping into the modern liberal philosophical trap. Not always, but you have to be very deft to avoid the many snares of this modern liberal philosophy. I agree with you Msgr that the Church is universal—truly both Catholic and catholic. But at times when we teach that the message of Jesus Christ and the salvation He won for us is open to everyone, we start to “show” people our “diversity” in the name of proving–in the words of the hymn—that all are welcome, but end up being reduced to another organization that has earned its “toleration” badge.

    Third, we must keep at the forefront of our evangelization and our apologetics the centrality of the message: God is Truth. All are welcome to acknowledge the Truth and free to reject it. How you get to the Truth (whether you chant your Faith or clap your way to Jesus) should not be used to divide us as Christian brothers. After all, there’s plenty of division in this world caused by the simple idea that Jesus Christ is God and that God is the way, truth and life. Shouldn’t that be our true common cause?

    Having said all that (and demonstrated my inability to ignore the things with which I disagree), I do agree with Ryan in the sense that I wish the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church steered us back to a more traditional liturgy. Only a stubborn soul with no appreciation for the organic nature of historical liturgical development can take the position that we have gone to far in many places. Too many lanes within the Church can too easily be reduced to the kind of “personal religions” we find rampant within the Church. And they leave the rest of us in a wider cultural war with one arm tied behind our back.

    And of course, he is absolutely correct about the primacy of Life—getting the abortion question wrong makes every other fight somewhat meaningless. A culture that is socially and economically just, but has no respect for the dignity of human life is a culture of death. No matter how well-off, well-fed and well-educated we are as a people, a culture of death cannot sustain itself in the long run.


    • All well stated. I think I am trying to create the balance you describe in my metaphor of the lanes, but also the guard rails. I am an advocate of traditional liturgy as stated above. I am also hopeful that the wider presence of the TLM will help sow seeds of greater balance in some of the modern tendencies. In another blog post we discussed the Holy Father’s approach which is pastoral: he is reproposing the tradition and giving the example as is his gift. THought for now he has not imposed more restrictive things, rather he has opened the way for greater freedom in expressing the tradition and made a place for more traditional forms. THis helps avoid rather severe reactions and factions that a simple imposition might cause. I think there is a prudential wisdom in this. Perhaps down the road it will be more necessary to rein in the diversity he is currently permitting (eg, EF, OF, Anglo-Catholic, Neocatechumental, etc et al). But for now he seems to be making a wider place for various forms, mostly traditional, and we shall see where the spirit leads us.

      I would not share your view that Ryan is “absolutely” right since I think he wields a club when it is unecessary. rather than a scalpel. But I agree with your more skillful presentation of the primacy of life. But remember I am not trying to resolve the problem mathematically to find the exact balance and precise priority percentage. I think it is a very clear truth to say that if I don’t have life my other rights don’t matter much! But in this post Iam just trying to state that as a pastor I walk with all kinds and that a little more mutual appreciation would be helpful in the Church. The poor really are weighed down and I’m glad I’ve got some troops to dispatch to stand with them. Abortion really is a horrific and I am glad I have some troops to dispatch to stand for the unborn. Alone we don’t have all the gifts, but together we have all the gifts.

      • Bill says:

        Understood and agreed. Now as to the last point…I don’t think he is absolutely correct on everything, my point is as to the primacy of Life in the moral code. Let me try to make the point another way.

        A culture that acknowledges the moral obligation to respect human life would be more comitted to the cause of economic, social and racial justice. If what gives rise to that obligation is the idea that God is the source of ALL life and that we each are created according to the image and likeness of Him, we would be led inexorably to embrace the more “liberal” causes of social justice (of course, this is where you guard rail metaphor becomes indispensable!

        A culture that reduces a human fetus, a terminally ill person or even a convicted felon to a sub-human status—isn’t that what we really do—in order to “justify” the taking of human life, has started down a different road that leads inexorably to a moral calculus that allows for all sorts of injustice. I am thinking here of the horrible twisted use of the biblical “poor you will always have with you” argument to ignore real economic injustice (versus economic inequality).

        That’s why I think we must start with Life. Winning that battle will lead to all sorts of other victories. We are currently losing that battle in our culture—is it any wonder the other battles are so difficult? I recognize that this is a strategic position and that I could very well be wrong. And I do, as you point out, prefer the scalpel to the bludgeon!

  11. K Gurries says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope, I think your pastoral approach is a great example of St. Paul’s spirit of being “all things to all men” so that all can be brought closer to Christ and His Church. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. evener says:

    For some time I’ve thanked God I’m not like those publicans, and for some more time thanked Him I’m not like those pharisees, and have now set my face like flint, because my Holy Catholic Church now carries the heavy cross of division, and I WILL NOT ABANDON HER.

  13. Brother Clarence, CR says:

    Msgr. I always enjoy your posts! This article is great because I tend to be called “too conservative” by my liberal friends and “too liberal” by my conservative friends. I am a “dinosaur” vocation at 58 in second theology and you give me such great ideas of how to be a Godly priest! I always learn from your posts!
    In Christ
    Brother Clarence

  14. Frank Weathers says:

    This is fantastic Monsignor! I added a link to this post to For All the Meanings of the Word “Catholic.” After all, the Church is the “world-society of souls.” Thanks for these thoughts.

  15. Cynthia BC says:

    Music for tomorrow’s Gospel reading. I can’t imagine that anyone would be able to watch this sitting still.

  16. rebecca says:

    Thank you, I am going to share this blog on FB, hopefully others will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed your teaching here.

  17. esiul says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope for this most enlightening writing and all the replies. Can you please explain to me what is meant by the Geez rite”. I’ve never come across this term before.

  18. Sacerdos/Priest/Presbyter says:

    Wonderful “essay”; interesting comments and responses. To lighten this up a little: Does Msgr’s facial hair make him a conservative or a liberal? When I was in the seminary, we had class ordination pictures hanging on the walls of some corridors. I was surprised to see classes of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with stovepipe hats and all kinds of facial hair–some even a la Abraham Lincoln.

  19. Lee Gilbert says:

    Dear Father,

    Many years ago I encountered a priest of similar temperament. Only one. Not that I ever met him, but when I visited his church he had magazines and newspapers from across the entire spectrum of Catholic opinion. The Wanderer together with the National Catholic Reporter (which probably is not within the guard rails today, btw). America and Commonweal together with Triumph (now defunct). It was very refreshing. He felt his parishioners were grown up enough to sort it all out.

    Also many years ago I heard a lady pentecostal preacher talk about the differences and tensions within the church and it was truly an eye opener. She said that if a person has the gift of mercy and has a passion for social justice, he simply is not going to understand people who are not as concerned for the poor as he is. If a person has a gift and a passion for teaching, he will probably be impatient with people who emphasize the need for social justice, but are not as interested in catechesis as he is. And so on. Of course, the whole body of Christ should be attending to the entire spectrum of needs, but we should not be dismayed to find impatience within ourselves at the enthusiasms and views of other Christians, nor dismayed at their impatience with us. It is the nature of the beast, so to speak.

    So also for “conservatives” and “liberals” within the Church, those who are avidly concerned for eliminating the death penalty and those who are concerned with the proper management of the biretta. Even though these groups are mutually incomprehensible, they are both within the same body of Christ and should be able to enjoy the “freedom of the sons of God” without a tons of criticism being dumped on them.

  20. QWERTYUIOP says:

    Father, your column has attracted enough responses to fill all of the lanes on the highway. Most of our area parishes still limit their liturgical repertoire to the “Barney Mass”. I detest this as much as ever, but as I get older I realize that Catholics who know no other form of worship aren’t going to see things my way anytime soon. My hope is that the TLM will continue to spread. We have a thriving TLM community here, and a first-rate priest. For me, that will have to do. If more people are given a choice, things may get better in the long run. The comments by your responders are another hopeful sign.

  21. crazylikeknoxes says:

    Well said. From Dorothy Day to William F. Buckley, Jr., I do love this People.

  22. Plain Catholic says:

    THANK YOU for describing how we feel about the Church. The Church is not rigid, it strives for compassion. At the same time there is a balance to prevent a free-for-all party without becoming tyrannical. As a convert, I fell in love with the House of Jesus in which there are a multitude of flavors in a well thought out banquet of liturgies. The Church has sought to be faithful to Jesus and present His Truth in many formats so that everyone can hear it and understand.

    Your homilies and talks are well worth the time in my overflowing day.

  23. Ken says:

    I wonder if our passion for our “preferences” does not sometimes blind us to the overall mission of our Catholic faith. Abortion is clearly a monstrous evil with its offensiveness to God, corruption of personal morality and impact via huge numbers. Yet if we as Catholics do not have exemplary action relative to service to and protection of the poor and the voiceless then our ability to have a significant impact on the issue of abortion is greatly reduced. We are blessed to live in an era with a woman who understood that. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s life work was service to the poor, of all divese faiths, yet she spoke forcibly and calmly about the evil of abortion at every opportunity. I believe God challenges us to use our energies to do the same, rather than focusing on one “instead” of the other.

  24. Kurt says:

    On liturgy —

    I like the comment conecting the Church’s term “pride of place” with his/her wardrobe. My tuxedo has “pride of place” in my wardrobe. However, I wear a pair of jeans 100 times more often than my tux. It is a misunderstanding to suggest the term “pride of place” means any particular degre of frequency.

    On public policy concerns —

    I am one of those people who is opposed to abortion and the death penalty while supports the right of workers to form labor unions and aid to Catholic schools, I am also tired of those who insist I need to rank those matters and only speak on the single most important. While my sad experience has been that unkind accusations come first, with the eventual directive that my multi-issue position is unCatholic because “Well, Kurt, abortion is more important than whatever other issues come before Congress and you can’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate.”

    You see, like Msgr. Pope, I am an adult American citizen not allowed to vote for any U.S. Senators or a Representative in Congress. And, while trying to employ what sense of Christian charity grace has given me, I am starting to really resent those who harange me on voting preference when I have no vote.

    • Excellent points. I think for clarification, when you say you are not allowed to vote, you are likely indicating that you live in Washington DC where we have no voting members in congress.