Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Archbishop Job ~ A Witness to the Truth

revised Jan 3, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

"For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." (JN. 18:37)

His Eminence, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest fell asleep in the Lord on Friday, December 18. His funeral services were held in Chicago on December 22 & 23, and he was buried in Black Lick, PA on Saturday, December 26. Thus, we have lost an able archpastor who served us well in the Diocese of the Midwest. This was during a time of great distress throughout the entire Orthodox Church in America, when we were forced to come to terms with a "Church scandal" that exceeded the boundaries of the merely "financial." I have no intention of rehearsing the facts of that story beyond what would be essential here, as I offer a personal assessment as to how I now understand the role of Archbishop Job in serving the Church throughout this "time of troubles." I believe that his role was essential, decisive, and yet painful for him personally. I also believe that His Eminence grew in stature throughout this ordeal by his principled position, and in so doing he manifested a human capacity for "self-transcendence." Perhaps I am using this term somewhat modestly in this context, but I am referring to his ability to stay on course despite his own limitations, flaws and weaknesses, when the pressure on him was enormous to fall back into the dreary conformity of personal and institutional self-defensiveness. Yet, even with that modest understanding of the term, I am certain that Archbishop Job's clear demonstration of self-transcendence was part of the process of theosis that we hold to so dearly in our Orthodox theology.

I need to acknowledge that I was not personally close to His Eminence. My observations are thus made from something of a distance. However, we spoke more often and much more candidly as the years passed, and I believe that we had a mutually respectful relationship. His pastoral visits to our parish were always very positive experiences for our community, and many of our parishioners also deeply respected him for his witness to the truth. A good deal of this was made possible by the creation of the Columbus Deanery during my ministry in Cincinnati and our open meetings during the time of the Church scandal. His Eminence always shared openly with his clergy concerning the unfolding - or covering up - of events in Syosset and his reactions to them, yet always drawing a line between that sharing and idle gossip. He trusted his presbyters and we, in turn, respected him and supported him in the realization that His Eminence was acting as a good bishop should. It was encouraging to experience the build-up of that support and respect by witnessing Archbishop Job "do the right thing" time and again by witnessing to the truth and not being intimidated into meaningless silence. This was a time when the normal was positively heroic! This was his podvig (a Russian term meaning a "great feat" or "spiritual deed").

I believe that four of the most important words that His Eminence ever uttered - or put to paper - during his entire episcopal ministry were: "Are the allegations true?" These words were formulated in response to the "revelation" of financial malfeasance within the OCA in late 2005 and the stiff opposition that was forming against an open and unbiased investigation into this unsavory revelation. How utterly liberating that simple question, based on those four words, proved to be! These words were the breath of fresh air that blew through the odor of corruption that was immovably and noxiously hovering over an already beleaguered central administration. How meaningful that word "truth" was when it was in danger of being eclipsed, forgotten, and buried amidst an avalanche of legal jargon, pseudo-pious rhetoric about "serving the Church" by a cynical manipulation of the virtue of obedience, obfuscation, and deliberate falsification. A desire to uncover and know the truth served as a rallying cry for all members of the Church who were convinced that there was no other legitimate way "forward." One modest archbishop's witness to the truth most certainly inspired and awakened many men and women from a sense of frustration, discouragement and complacency, to an emboldened sense of commitment and a fierce insistence that we could, actually, "handle the truth" as mature and responsible Orthodox Christians - as sordid as it may be. If there was a march on Syosset by faithful members of the Church who were demanding accountability, I am certain that amidst the icons and banners held aloft, there would have been a large banner in bright letters that read: "ARE THE ALLEGATIONS TRUE?" Would it be too bold to say that those four words may have redeemed many past mistakes, or even sins, of Archbishop Job's past ministry? May it be so!

The slow unraveling of the crude attempts at stonewalling and cover-up emanating from Syosset was made possible by the role of His Eminence Archbishop Job during the key years of 2005 - 2008. It is difficult to believe that this could have happened without at least one bishop on the Holy Synod behind the movement toward uncovering the truth of our scandal in the name of "transparency and accountability" - although that mantra-like phrase should not further "cover up" Archbishop Job's attempt to act in the Name of Christ and the Holy Gospel. The Church is hierarchical, so it was essential that at least one hierarch from within the Holy Synod of Bishops would assert conscience over convenience regardless of personal cost. This singular position was clearly Archbishop Job’s cross. As admirable as Mark Stokoe and his website were in relentlessly covering the scandal with journalistic professionalism united to a real concern for the OCA's well-being; I am sure that Mark would acknowledge that he needed the episcopal protection that Archbishop Job gave to him within the Diocese of the Midwest to continue in working toward that goal. In other dioceses - the majority? all of them? - the attempt to "shut down” by threat of ecclesial sanction would have been very difficult to resist. Surely, great pressure was put on His Eminence to do precisely that in the Diocese of the Midwest. But, as he famously said: "We are free men in the Midwest." Again, His Eminence trusted the integrity and intentions of the faithful of his diocese.

In my estimation, or at least from what I have heard, there were three basic responses to Archbishop Job's freely-chosen position that left him very vulnerable and isolated on the Holy Synod: 1) Some brother bishops were silent supporters; 2) others offered a kind of passive-aggressive resistance; and 3) there was open hostility against him. This open hostility led to what His Eminence called the "worst day of my life," when the now-removed Bishop Nikolai of Alaska made an attempt to remove Archbishop Job from the Synod of Bishops and have him deposed on canonical charges that betrayed their artificiality. To the credit to the rest of the Holy Synod, this ill-conceived attempt at removing - and thus silencing - His Eminence failed to gather any real support. Yet, from what I understand of this incident, any support offered to Archbishop Job was more "behind the scenes" than openly and boldly vocalized.

Unfortunately, this same evasion of acknowledging the integrity of Archbishop Job's principled position of resisting a Byzantine-like cover-up of a festering scandal within the OCA only continued at his funeral service. Both the Vigil on Tuesday evening and the Liturgy on Wednesday morning were served with due solemnity and with a dignified liturgical grace that was moving for all who were present. I am very glad to have been present at such a memorable event. And it was an honor to join in the singing of "Memory Eternal" for our departed hierarch. What I am referring to, however, are the eulogies/homilies delivered on both Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. I must state here that I was not able to remain for the closing eulogy on Tuesday evening, and therefore did not here it with my own ears. But from a reliable source, I was told that there was no real mention of Archbishop Job's "witness" and role in serving the Church by struggling to uncover the truth. And then I was personally surprised, and not a little disappointed, at what was not stated again on Wednesday morning by our chief hierarch at the Liturgy. We heard the Christian hope of deliverance from death through our Lord’s resurrection. And, when referred to, His Eminence was treated with respect and compassion, and held up as a model of a good pastor who took up his cross to follow Christ. But all this was delivered without the necessary specificity of applying it to Archbishop Job's courageous witness in the face of determined opposition. Thus, one of the OCA's greatest hours of honesty and integrity was left unrecognized, as was the application of episcopal integrity to a specific pastoral situation. This was a serious omission. The "crown" of Archbishop Job's episcopal ministry, and for which we pray he receives his "crown" by the mercy of our philanthropic Lord, was essentially left unmentioned. In no way was that "meet and right." It was "unfair" to the memory and legacy of His Eminence. Though it did not need to be dramatized or delivered with rhetoric, that legacy demanded some tribute by specific mention. It needed to be acknowledged, and I believe that it was something of a "scandal" that it wasn't. I wonder if there remains any lingering resentment or envy over the courage of his response.

It is hard to say what a man keeps hidden in his heart, but I was left with the distinct impression, gained by listening to His Eminence in person - including one week before his death at a deanery meeting in Indianapolis - that he forgave his detractors. He seemed genuinely concerned over the failing health of his main detractor, the former bishop of Alaska, Nikolai, and asked us to keep him in our prayers. As a man who had a certain weariness about him, I believe that he understood human weakness and the vagaries of human passions. He did not appear to be embittered, but only saddened by the loss of many close friendships from the past and, of course, the dissipation of so much energy within the Church on such an avoidable debacle. At that last meeting of our deanery on December 11, he also remained uncertain and tentative about the future of the OCA. Yet, in his modesty, he never indulged in making any grand predictions about the future. There was every indication that he had a genuine trust in the providence of God. His Eminence was a firm supporter of the canonical integrity and mission of the OCA within North America and Canada. And he was very excited about his retirement in March 2011! Iconography and the composition of liturgical music were clearly on his mind. Yet, God decided otherwise.

When the "dust settles," and when the day may come that this part of our OCA history is given a written account that aims at objectivity; the name of His Eminence Archbishop Job will stand out as a shining example of how a modest man who (reluctantly?) accepted the "cross" of episcopal leadership in the Church, and who, by the grace of God, rose to the occasion of displaying courage and honesty precisely at a time when they were needed the most, will be referred to as of "blessed memory" despite his sins and other shortcomings. The faithful will get it right, and he will be well- remembered and his stature will grow over the years. I hope and pray that our next bishop will continue in that manner of genuine episcopal ministry.

May the Lord grant His Eminence, Archbishop Job "rest eternal in blessed repose."

Memory Eternal!

Fr. Steven

AVATAR and Hollywood's Pantheistic Pandering

Dear Parish Faithful,

You may or not be making plans to see "Avatar," the new "ground-breaking" film by James Cameron in terms of technical achievement and wondrous "special effects." As something of a "film buff" I admit that I am interested in eventually seeing it sometime after the Feast. However, even with a total disinterest, it may be difficult not to at least hear something from the coverage through the media. Whatever the case may be, I found this to be quite an interesting analysis of Hollywood's ideological direction, which ultimately is based upon what it believes the public wants to see and hear. The Op-Ed writer, Ross Douthat, offers a good short critique of superficial pantheism and make a few good comparisons with biblical theism. Mr. Douthat is an undisguised Christian of a traditional bent, and he knows a thing or two about theology.

What may be of greatest interest, is that this critique is found on the pages of the New York Times!

If there is any interest shown in the form of responses, perhaps we can have a short discussion of some of these themes in an upcoming post-liturgy discussion.

Fr. Steven


Heaven and Nature

Published: December 20, 2009

It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.

But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi.

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.”

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

Link to original article on

Monday, December 21, 2009

Preparing for the Nativity

Dear Parish Faithful,

My intention this week was to write a few meditations on the approaching Feast of our Lord's Nativity. However, the unexpected and sudden death of His Eminence, Archbishop Job has altered the course of the week for many of us. I will be leaving for Chicago sometime on Tuesday so as to be present at the funeral service(s) for Archbishop Job. Today, I am somewhat overwhelmed and have to "fit in" a few things I left for this week. Be that as it may, I am forwarding a pre-festal "message" from Fr. John Ealy, a semi-retired Orthodox priest from Florida. Fr. John very emphatically reminds us of our preparation for Nativity and the focus of the Feast.

As announced in church yesterday, we will have the Pre-festal Vespers scheduled for this evening at 7:00 p.m. I once again "invite" you into the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the church this evening for a service that is Christ-centered from beginning to end. Then, our next services will be on Thursday morning, the eve of the Feast. These are the Royal Hours at 9:00 a.m.; 10:00 a.m.; 11:00 a.m. and Noon. We now have readers!

Matins at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening
Divine Liturgy on Friday, December 25, at 9:30 a.m.
Great Vespers on Saturday, December 26, at 6:00 p.m.
Divine Liturgy on Sunday, December 27, at 9:30 a.m.

Fr. Steven

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Please remember this is a special week in the Church. It is the "Holy Week" of the pre-feast services held every evening at Church. There is no Christian Feast without preparation. Orthodox Christians DO NOT feast before the feast. Doing so is participating in pagan festivities. We prepare for and celebrate the Feast by participating in the Liturgy of the Church. Here we come to know who Jesus is, why He came, and what this means to us and for us. THIS IS THE ONLY REASON FOR CELEBRATING AT THIS TIME.

December 24th is a strict fast day and not a day of celebration. The strict fast comes at the end of our ascetical Advent fast. It is not a day for family gatherings and festivities. IT IS A STRICT FAST AS A FINAL PREPARATION SO WE MAY BE ABLE TO ENTER INTO THE JOY OF OUR LORD, CELEBRATING THE COMING OF THE ONE, WHO CAME FOR US MEN AND FOR OUR SALVATION. It is the last day of preparation for the Feast. This year the Vigil for the Feast is at 7 p.m. (after the Holy Supper). The Vigil finds its fulfillment in our participation in the Eucharistic banquet at the Divine Liturgy on the morning of December 25. God reveals and gives Himself to us in Word and Sacrament.

It is important that we teach our children what we celebrate. Please remember we are not celebrating the "pagan liturgy" of santa and gifts on Christmas morning. We celebrate the gift of the coming of God in the flesh. He comes for us men and for our salvation. He returns us to paradise where we eat of the fruit divine. Eating of that fruit is our gathering at the banquet table in His Kingdom at the Eucharistic Liturgy. That "eating" begins as we stand in VIGIL when we hear God's words in the liturgical hymns proclaiming that, "CHRIST IS BORN."

The ICON of the NATIVITY and the ICON of the THEOPHANY should be the focal point of our home celebration for these Feasts of the winter Pascha. The Icon gives us the full meaning of the Feast and why we celebrate. Beginning with the Prefeast we sing the Prefeast Troparion before meals and on the Feast until Dec. 31 we sing the Troparion before meals and the Kontakion after meals.



On Monday evening we began the Pre-feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The first Hymn we hear at the pre-feast vespers, invites us with these words to come and celebrate the prefeast of Christ's Nativity: "LET US CELEBRATE, O PEOPLE THE PREFEAST OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY...WITH THE EYES OF OUR SOUL, LET US BEHOLD THE VIRGIN, AS SHE HASTENS TO THE CAVE TO GIVE BIRTH TO THE LORD AND GOD OF ALL...."


With these words we begin our "Holy Week" of preparation. God in His wisdom nourishes us with His Word at these important liturgical services. They remind us of what we are preparing for and what we will celebrate, that is, the coming of God in the flesh who is the "Lord and God of all."

Each night at vespers and compline we hear the announcement of who is coming and why He comes. To know Christ and who He is, and why He has come, all one needs to do is to come and behold the most unusual and most glorious mystery we are preparing to celebrate. It is truly a mystery. For how is it possible for the creature to give birth to the "Lord and God of all." How is it possible for the uncontainable One to be contained. How is it possible for the creator to become a creature. This is the great mystery. It is the great mystery of God's love for us, a love that is unconditional. He loved us in our sin and in our sinful condition without any strings attached. His love made the impossible possible. "God is love" is the underlying proclamation of all these prefeast services.


The prefeast of the Nativity and Theophany follows the pattern of the prefeast or Holy Week before Pascha. The style of the hymns, the tones used all remind us of that Great Week before Pascha. Both feasts, Nativity and Theophany, are Pascal Feasts. They are related to Pascha, rooted in Pascha, and their meaning is fulfilled in Pascha. The prefeast liturgical hymns remind us of this.


Come then, let us all celebrate the prefeast of Christ's Nativity. Come let us receive the word of God into our hearts through the inspired hymns of His Liturgy in His holy Church. Let us use this time to go up to Bethlehem and grow spiritually, then when the day of the Feast comes we can enter into the joy of our Lord. Let us welcome Christ into our midst, the One who existed as the Son of God in the bosom of the Father before the world began. Let us welcome Him as the only One who gives meaning to our lives.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Of Perfect Role Models

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Ten days ago, I wrote something of a commentary/reflection on the sordid saga of Tiger Woods, who has clearly "fallen from grace" in a rather spectacular fashion. (I am rather amused at the panic setting in for the advertising industry and the "agony" in those circles of what to do with Tiger Woods as a promotional figure in the near future). Since then, the endless parade of "multiple mistresses" has only added to the sordidness of this domestic drama gone public, and has maintained the feeding frenzy of the media. The world of tabloid journalism and "tell-all" TV interviews that are treated as serious 'investigative reporting" have been thrust upon us. Andy Warhol's "fifteen minutes of fame" has taken on a new life! I can assure you that I am not obsessing over this unedifying contemporary morality play in a moralizing manner. No real necessity to do so, because only the most morally obtuse person would not get the point! But this very public display of a picture-perfect career - and marriage - gone awry, serves to raise some other broader issues that I believe we can explore to good effect - especially as Orthodox Christians. So I am returning again to the subject of "role models" or "heroes" in today's world, a subject that framed my earlier reflection.

I repeat that we have an intuitive need to seek role models. And I believe that this is most true of impressionable younger children, teen-agers, and young adults. I would further add that we need these role models. They inspire us all to do our best in a wide variety of human endeavors. This is the basis of the "hero" from ancient times to the present. These figures transcended the boundaries of the limitations that mere mortals are subjected to. We are always attracted to living images of success, quality performance, creativeness, fierce commitment, and the celebrity and acknowledgment that goes along with such positive characteristics. We all admire such figures - male or female - and many people choose a particular person or perhaps a select few for closer admiration and even emulation: "I want to be like that one day." I believe, however, that there is often a confusion between "celebrity" and the positive "role models" briefly outlined here. Nowadays we know of people who are "famous for being famous" - Paris Hilton, anyone? - and if, on the whole, we can make that distinction, many younger people struggle with that, as celebrity status itself seems to be a powerful goal regardless of any moral or ethical dimension attached to it - American idol, "dancing with the stars," and reality TV all come to mind. On closer examination, a good deal of this comes up as frivolous and empty. But the search goes on.

In all of this discussion, it would be discouraging to think that "we" - children, teen-agers, young adults, and the rest of us - do not look to the saints of the Church as the perfect role models and heroes that we continue to crave. We are surrounded by the saints as if by a "cloud of witnesses." I am not saying this for any pious effect. I believe that it is of the utmost importance in our spiritual growth as Christians not be blind to this presence in our midst. There are a few things that I am certain of: the saints of the Church will not let us down or disappoint us; they do not have "secret" "double" or "hidden" lives that will cause scandal once they are discovered; and they actually care about us - in fact they love us - and not just about their careers and bank accounts. Yesterday, we commemorated St. Herman of Alaska (+1837). He is a living challenge to the "values" of our secular and self-absorbed society. Actually, he is a radical alternative to the multitude of role models that we draw from the surrounding culture. And the degree to which we are attracted - or indifferent - to St. Herman will reveal a good deal of our own "worldview" and commitment to the Gospel. No one has expressed this better than Fr. Thomas Hopko from a chapter on St. Herman in his book The Winter Pascha:

By American standards, St. Herman of Alaska, like the Lord Jesus Himself, was a miserable failure. He made no name for himself. He was not in the public eye. He wielded no power. He owned no property. He had few possessions, if any at all. He had no worldly prestige. He played no role in human affairs. He partook of no carnal pleasures. He made no money. He died in obscurity among outcast people. Yet today, more than a hundred years after his death, his icon is venerated in thousands of churches and his name is honored my millions of people whom he is still trying to teach to seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness which has been brought to the world by the King who was born in a cavern and killed on a cross. The example of this man is crucial to the celebration of Christmas - especially in America. (p. 47-48)

Thus, if we pray and sing about the virtues of the saints when we come to church, doesn't that mean that those are the very virtues that we are pursuing in our daily lives? Do we want our children to grow up emulating and practicing the virtues of the saints; or is our concern more with their future status and success? It is amazing, and I would add distressing, just how thoroughly we know the lives of today's celebrities, and remain quite ignorant of the lives of some of the greatest saints of the Church, including the very saint we may be named after. It seems that we are not willing to go beyond kissing their icons when they are in display inside the church - and that is only if the service commemorating them is on a Sunday. But we would "die" from excitement to be in the presence of a big celebrity!

The saints are not just about miracles and stories of wondrous deeds that make us shake our heads (in disbelief?). They are not just about extraordinary fasting exploits, hours in endless prayer, or the giving away of their last garment to a poor person - though those are remarkable accomplishments. The saints are the men, women and children who manifest Christ to the world, who live Christ-like lives that actualize the presence of the Lord among us. Their lives are about dedication, profound commitment, hard work, overcoming adversity, remaining faithful in situations of distress and danger, overcoming egoism, and putting God and neighbor above all else. They embody what we wish to embody as Christians. Beginning with "faith, hope, and love." They encourage us by their examples. And they pray for us before the throne of God that we too can walk in the "newness of life" made possible by the life in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These are men and women who were not born saints, but who became holy persons by their faith and who manifested many of the virtues and practices just mentioned as the fruit and "reward" of that faith.

Of course, we do not see the saints of the Church with the same directness and palpability as the contemporary role models alive, adored and aggrandized before our very eyes. We acknowledge that we "see" the saints through the eyes of faith. This can have the effect of making them seem distant and abstract. As not sharing the same world as we do. This is all true, and clearly this is a challenge. Reading The Lives of the Saints is one way of bridging that perceived gap. Yet, what we truly need are "living saints" to be the role models and heroes that we pursue in our lives. The clergy, parents, godparents, Church School teachers, and the simple faithful of the Church must always be vigilant about their place in presenting at least modest role models for the upcoming generation. We cannot compete with celebrity status, but we can embody those simple virtues that hopefully go deeper than what is passing today as worthy of our attention and, at times, misguided adoration.

Tiger Woods has a wife and two children. I hope that his indefinite withdrawal from the world of professional golf will prove to be fruitful in his desire to salvage and then restore his battered and besieged marriage. As often happens, his family's sad case raises other issues that can be explored without getting too lost in the murkiness of sex, money and fame. I believe that his current demise does raise the whole issue of the role model in today's culture - and perhaps a meaningful reassessment of how we approach and understand that issue. Especially in the light of our lives in the Church.

Fr. Steven

Friday, December 4, 2009

When Heroes Go Down (The Faithful Must Remain Vigilant)

Dear Parish Faithful,

It is a good thing that as a society we still seek "role models" even though our pop culture is "slouching toward Gomorrah," to use the phrase of Robert Bork. Regardless of the hedonism the American public either defends, tolerates or dismisses, there remains an intuitive understanding that our children and young adults need to regard their public "heroes" as men or women with some qualities worthy of emulation. Hence, the "role model" image that we continue to cling to. This is primarily true concerning "stars" in the entertainment business or the "superstars" of the sports world. (Outside of our barrier-transcending president, are there any other politicians even considered as role models today?). So to this day, we remain in a curious state of tension between the knowledge that our pop culture superstars live in fantasy worlds of almost obscene wealth, and are thus subjected to every conceivable temptation of the mind and flesh; and our desire that they at least project an image of wholesomeness, hard work, integrity, honesty and, we may add, marital fidelity. That same tension may be one of the main reasons that the apparent marital infidelity of golf superstar Tiger Woods is so captivating the news media at a time when we are still debating the health care bill, recoiling in horror at tragic rampages of shootings and death, and assimilating the future consequences of the "troop surge" in Afghanistan.

I agree with these very public personas who plead for privacy and the "right" to keep their domestic and private affairs away from public scrutiny. I believe that Tiger Woods' website statement made that case rather forcefully. To have one's domestic disputes subjected to wild and salacious speculation has to be not only frustrating but demeaning and discouraging. However, to choose from one of many cliches: "it goes with the territory." Or, we could say, it is the "price" paid for being so highly-paid as a successful athlete. Since I am not attracted to the world of golf, I can honestly say that I have never seen Tiger Woods drive or putt a golf ball. But I do know that literally millions of his fans and fans of the game look on him with breathless seriousness every time he does actually drive or putt a golf ball. Now those same eyes are either filled with a knowing look (if not smirk); while others will reflect a sincere disappointment over yet another "idol" now wobbling precariously on his pedestal, or in danger of toppling over. The point is that it would be naive to believe all of that attention and affection will now politely accede to Tiger's request for privacy and look the other way as he struggles to bring order back into his domestic life, following his acknowledgment of certain "transgressions." This is more that just the usual grist for the tabloid rumor mills! Much to Tiger Woods' chagrin, he is learning that you can't have it both ways. He is a very public figure and his current predicament will now draw the attention and disapprobation that his amazing skills earlier absorbed and deflected as praise and adulation.

Yet, it does seem that even if that attention were to magically disappear today, Tiger Woods' will remain a tarnished hero who has lost his aura of wonder boy innocence. I am sure that the majority of the public will "forgive" him for his all too-human fallibility. Some may even be glad that he has proven himself to be like the rest of us - subject to temptation and even succumbing to temptation. I understand that there was a certain aloofness to him before that made Tiger seem like something of an abstract iconic figure. Regardless of our Christian principles, perhaps we would do better not to quickly pass judgement since it is difficult to know what we would actually do if our lives were lived in the rarefied realms of "fame and fortune." This is something that Tiger Woods and his wife will have to face together perhaps with the help of family, friends and good counsel. Still, it remains disappointing that another "role model" has now lost that mantle. Money, drugs and sex are so pervasive in the world of pop-culture entertainment and sports, that it seems amazing to find certain stars apparently untouched by such temptations. We are reaching a point where we are expecting the bigger stars to eventually get caught, which is very unfair to those who are actually "clean."

Are members in the Church - even potential "role models" like the clergy - immune from the baser temptations that come in the form of money, drugs and sex? Sadly, not always. And when these role models succumb, then we have a genuine "scandal" on our hands. (How scandalized are we any longer concerning the stars mentioned above when they fall?). Scandal here means to cause great disappointment and discouragement among the faithful; even, in some cases, to shake that very faith. The response can be a cause of further skepticism or distrust toward the leaders of the Church. Or simple anger at being "fooled" by the semblance of piety. This becomes the cause of cover-up or rationalization within the very Body where truth is absolutely essential. Of course, it is in the Body of Christ - the Church of the living God - that genuine forgiveness is practiced, but this implies repentance and the unfortunate but essential need for sanctioning the culpable. If, indeed, our popular forms of entertainment are truly "slouching toward Gomorrah" as a parade of revelations concerning "transgressions" of many kinds continue their steady disclosure; and as the hungry appetites of those who love these types of stories continues to be fed; then our vigilance from within the Church must be tireless, so as to not cause any scandal to the faithful and to the unbelieving world.

Fr. Steven