Based Church

JMJ

ONE THING DRIVEN HOME BY COVID-19 is many of our social structures are not only outdated but also irrelevant, and dangerously fragile. Yes, certainly racism lives under the surface of many of our societal functions recent demonstrations have attempted to reveal that to the masses. But recent actions of the government have also revealed how fragile the postal system is, for instance, or the independence of the Judiciary. If nothing else, we have all come to learn that our government has, hitherto, been a matter of polite agreements rather than either social contract or constitutional law. When one man uses a position of the highest power to be impolite the whole thing goes off the rails. There is no corrective built into our system for a jackass. Given the prevalence of jackasses in humanity, this is a very fragile system.

The church herself is not a fragile system. Humans have been trying to wreck the church from the inside for the last two millennia. As someone has remarked, the fact that the church can survive two millennia of human beings, including her own share of jackasses, is a sure sign of divine favor. Yet the church in her present form has not always existed. Certain temporal structures and ecclesial constructs in the Church are relatively temporary and recent (as compared to 2,000 years). The longer a relatively-temporary construct stays around, the more fragile it becomes. What was a provisional mapping of power sketched out on a Papal cocktail napkin might not stand the test of time even though it meets the needs of a here and now. In may blow away with a fresh wind of the Spirit.

The parochial structure, as we know it today, is one such relatively-recent construct. It arose from a need born in the Reformation: when we suddenly needed to keep track of who is actually Catholic and who’s one of them. From the same need arose our record-keeping. We need to know who was baptized, confirmed, married, and buried Catholic. In the earliest days (as now) the “local church” was the Diocese, gathered around the Bishop. Presbyters and Deacons were delegated certain functions by the Bishop, to be performed as sort of in loco episcopus. The parish system can be imagined to have carved up each local church into manageable slices but, in days of the past, this was generally harmless. The Bishop knew his clergy, the clergy knew the people, and the people of a parish, generally, all knew each other (even though they might have no idea who their Bishop was other than as a name in the prayers, and the Pope was nearly mythical). So the parish became the “local church”.

The system worked really well even in urban cultures since most people were fairly stable. Community could form around a Parish Church. In larger cities in America, ethnic parishes grew up, encouraged by the Bishops, where historically Catholic cultures from other nations were imported and maintained in enclaves in the heart of our Protestant environments. This began falling apart with our modern urban culture of mobility and the decline in active participation in the Church. Church closures and mergers mean that hundreds and hundreds of families can belong to the same parish. There is no unifying ethnic culture or shared history. It’s possible to attend the same Mass week after week without knowing the people one worships with – even in the church with “assigned” pews. Additionally, if one’s job moves or if one moves for another reason, the next urban center will also have a Megaparish where, again, you won’t know anyone. I think this might damage one’s faith and praxis unless one has a core group of Catholic friends. Covid-19 has accelerated this falling apart.

The pandemic has shown us the fragility of the parish system: folks who were only on the fringe seem to have fallen away entirely. Folks who were regular attendees but uninvolved seem to have faded. Even the population of the re-opened Mass, initially quite robust, has slowly dwindled. This is only an acceleration of the same decline that was seen in the latter half of the 20th Century which had nothing to do with Vatican II (as some need to be told over and over) and everything to do with the cultural chaos in which we live. In fact, Covid-19 seems to be the apotheosis of what was started in the 50s: it has given us free rein to proclaim personal privilege over any social good and even to indicate when I feel I can Sacrifice for the Good of Others or not, this is my freedoms. One might feel empowered to stay home, but if one wants to go out and risk the lives of others, that’s my choice too.

Some have realized this – they talk about running off into the woods to set up the same, comforting structures in a hidden world where the Collapse of Society won’t bother them. However, Jesus actually wants us to proclaim the Gospel in the society and not to run away. We have souls to save (including our own) and isolation will not preach the gospel and may damn us. They will hate us – not because we endanger their lives by our brashness, but because of our docility and love. God said if he told us to say something – and we did not – his mercy would take care of the others, but we would have to pay for their blood. That’s not a fun thought.

So, if the structures are destabilized and at risk of collapsing because of their fragility if we still need to be the Church and preach the Gospel, what can be done? Its now time to take steps to replace the collapsing structure with a different one, one that may well last for another 500 years in support of the same Local Church (the Bishop in the Diocese). Yet we don’t need to build something new for one already exists, one that was developed by Catholics living in Catholic cultures where parochial structures had been weakened or even destroyed either by political or military violence.

Enter the Base Community.

This blog post has now gone on long enough. I’m going to quote in full the Wiki article on Base Community. I’ll be back later with another post.

A base community is a relatively autonomous Christian religious group that operates according to a particular model of community, worship, and study of the Bible. The concept of a base community is often associated with liberation theology. The 1968 Medellín, Colombia meeting of Latin American Council of Bishops played a major role in popularizing them.

Description
Present in both rural and urban areas, the base community, organized often illiterate peasants and proletarians into self-reliant worshiping communities through the tutelage of a priest or local lay member. Because established Christian parishes with active priests were often miles away and because high level church officials rarely visited even their own parishes these “base communities” were often the only direct exposure to the church for people in rural areas or those for whom a “local” church may be miles away. Thus, the base community was significant in changing popular interpretations of Roman Catholicism for multiple reasons.

Initially, their very structure encouraged discussion and solidarity within the community over submission to church authority and, as their very name suggests, made power seem to flow from the bottom or base upward. The influence of liberation theology meant that discussions within the church were oriented toward material conditions and issues of class interests. Through this process of consciousness raising, evangelizing turned into class consciousness.

Emphasis
Other Base Communities came into existence in the Eastern Bloc, but with a different theological emphasis. They did not subscribe to Liberation Theology, as they were being persecuted by Marxists themselves. One of the best-known groups was Hungarian priest György Bulányi’s “Bokor” (Bush) movement after World War II, which sought to save the teachings of the Christian Church and resist the increasing persecution by the Communist Party. The movement’s ideals were simple, namely to express Christian love in three ways: giving, service and non-violence. Bulányi was jailed for life by the Communist régime of Mátyás Rákosi, General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, in 1952, and was amnestied in 1960. However, he was not allowed to work as a priest. He continued to start small base communities illegally, and wrote illegal samizdat articles.

They are in some ways similar to Western cell groups (small groups), a notable component of many Pentecostal and some Protestant churches. Base Christian communities believe in helping people whose lives have been destroyed. Over 120,000 new churches have been set up to help the poor. The Base Christian communities follow the word of God and stand by the poor, helping the helpless. The Base Christian communities work to fulfill Christ’s purpose to proclaim good news to the poor, tell them of hope, and to remind all people that there is always someone loving them somewhere, and that they still have a chance in life.

A Base Christian community is a group of people who join together to study the Bible, and then act according to a social justice oriented form of Christianity especially popular among the third world and the poor.

The Problem (2018.11.13)
The Praxis (2016.12.31)
The Vision (2019.10.04)
The Plan (2016.09.20)
The Church (2020.09.21)

Love in the Time of Covid-19

JMJ

Dear Fathers in Christ –

Some diocese are canceling public services. Some are not. No matter where you fall on the spectrum between APOCALYPSE and TOO MUCH HYPE there is something you can do to help us all: especially the folks in the places with no Masses.

Put your Mass live on Facebook. Put your Mass live on YouTube. Do the same with your daily offices and any other devotions you offer. You can do this today, now, if you have a Facebook Page for your parish and a laptop with a camera built in. Follow these steps (I’ve marked the suggestions in italics the other steps have to be done.)

  1. Set up for Mass. (If you’re in “isolation mode” you’re probably going to want at least a server/lector with you – even a brother priest. Cantoring optional.)
  2. The Laptop needs to be somewhere the camera can “see” all the action at Mass. To be honest, you don’t need the full shebang for this. Put the laptop on your clean desk, spread a corporal and you’re off. But you can do this at a full altar as long as the camera can see everything. You don’t want to be moving the camera during Mass.
  3. Open the laptop and log in to FB. You’re going to want to have the laptop plugged in because you don’t want it to die during Mass.
  4. Make sure you and the reader (if any) are able to easily get into the line of sight. You’ll be preaching & reading from the same place.
  5. Go to your parish’s page (If you don’t have a page you should really fix that…). I would suggest adding links to the readings of the day and – if you feel like it – to any hymn texts you may want everyone to use. Keep it simple though!
  6. Click on live like in the image at the top of this post. Then you’ll go to a new page.
  7. When FB asks you to approve the use of your camera and audio say yes or there will be all kinds of problems! You’ll see your camera image appear.
  1. Make sure everything looks ok.
  2. Pick where this post will appear: it should be on your Parish’s Facebook page.
  3. Say something – here’s where to put the links for your readings, today’s Mass intentions, etc.
  4. Skip everything in this box unless you know what’s going on. It should be set correctly.
  5. A title: Mass, Vespers, etc.
  6. Click this when you’re ready!

I will help you if you’re having trouble. DM me on FB, or ping me on Twitter. Leave a comment here with a way I can get back to you online first (not via phone call until we’re both on board). With 25 years of customer and tech support, I can walk you through this! I will happily be tech support for getting your Mass online in this simple way. (There are more complex ways to do this, networked cameras, blue tooth mics… I’m not able to help with those: you’ll need someone with other skills.)

YouTube works really well, too, but accounts have to be approved to do livestreaming on YouTube: if you’re not approved this may not be the right time to go through that. If you are already approved then you know all about this. Never the less, I’ll do another post about that option later. Facebook is literally click-and-go for this.

This could work for Mass, the Daily Office, in fact for any possible set of devotions. I would advise having pictures for the Stations or Rosary. Your mileage may vary.

Although this may or may not work well for your parish (you know your people) once it’s on the internet, you’re available to anyone who has access to the internet and Facebook or YouTube. People who are panicking or stressed out because of the world situation can find your Mass and be comforted.

I would love it if there were masses everywhere all day on Facebook, and if the Daily Office were being offered all over the place.

If the Daily Office is a thing: you may want to consider setting up a Zoom account. I’ll do a post about that as well. The advantage of a Zoom (instead of FB or YT) is that your Zoom can be interactive: other folks can pray along and all participants would be able to hear and interact.

Your faithful son in Christ Jesus,

Huw (Stanley Robert), OP

Kerygma My House, My House Kerygma

Not a part of the Kerygma series, but, hey community is part of the Kerygma. Come live with me and be my…

Dreaming of a house in San Francisco where several Catholics of all ages live together, being the Kingdom. Singles and married families with or without kids, different rites, different parishes. Everyone has their things to do: their own charisms, their own vocations. What we share is a community life of work and prayer that supports us in the evangelical counsels and our apostolic works.

Some of us have secular jobs, some of us work for the Church, some of us are unemployed, some are retired. While we each show apostolic zeal in our endeavors out in the world, we also share a common sense of hospitality for everything from the lost young adult at the door to the neighbors’ animals, and random strangers on the street. We host weekly gatherings for the community and sundry to enjoy our space and feast with us.

Denver Companions of Christ

As a model, I’d like you to look at the Clerical Fellowship called “Companions of Christ“. Their governing documents are written for a group of clergy, but a committed group of lay folks could build this as well. And while giant houses in SF are next to impossible to come by (with God all things are possible) the idea of living together in cells of three or four together is very doable. This quote from their FAQ expresses what could be possible in this context for us:

WHAT MAKES THE COMPANIONS OF CHRIST DIFFERENT FROM JUST A BUNCH OF PRIESTS WHO ARE FRIENDS?
The Companions have events and ways of relating that help to form a particular culture among this group of friends. Celebrating the Lord’s Day on Saturday nights, praying and eating together during the week, committing to a common vision for priestly excellence, vacationing together, and gathering to share our spiritual joys and struggles in a bi-weekly fraternal group are some of the more important ways that we help each other to follow our baptismal call to holiness and our priestly call to service. You could say that our friendship has an expressed purpose: to help each other to become saints.

I would re-write that in this way: The [Name] have events and ways of relating that help to form a particular culture among this group of friends. Celebrating the Lord’s Day on Saturday nights, praying and eating together during the week, committing to a common vision for Christian perfection, vacationing together, and gathering to share our spiritual joys and struggles in a bi-weekly fraternal group are some of the more important ways that we help each other to follow our baptismal call to holiness, the apostolic mission of laity, and our service to the church and to each other. You could say that our friendship has an expressed purpose: to help each other to become saints.

Evangelical Counsels Not Only For Monastics

The Evangelical Counsels apply to all Christians: poverty, chastity, and obedience. If we live together in community we share poverty in that we share all that we have, from each according to their ability to each according to their need. We live chastely, each according to their state in life, by the Grace of God and the support of the community. We live obedience to each other and to the Magisterium of the Church. The Evangelical Counsels help us to live our lives as Christians in but not of the world.

Is this a vision you could share? HMU.

The Problem (2018.11.13)
The Praxis (2016.12.31)
The Vision (2019.10.04)
The Plan (2016.09.20)
The Church (2020.09.21)

Nukuler Family

+JMJ+
I found out recently that there is, among conservative Catholics, an idea common with conservative Orthodox folks: that a person must decide between “marriage or monasticism”. I wrestled with that a lot in the Orthodox church, because I know I’m not called to marriage. Even my dearly loved Spiritual Father, Fr V, tried to fix me up on a date… it was literally 10 years before I realized it was a date… when I got the “well you never called” comment. And I was like, “What? I was supposed to call?”

Anyway…

Then I tried a monastery. I did pick the wrong one… and that may still be my vocation… but when I heard that Catholics, too, had this idea among their more conservative folks, I had to think about it again. What if they are both right?

Thing is, this idea is not in the Church Fathers at all. This idea is not in the canons or the liturgy. There’s no sense, even, that one is “called” to marriage until well… 1950 or so. That’s when it hit me. Single people in the parish are not a violation of canons, or tradition, or even Tradition: they are a violation of Mid-Century ideas of Autonomy and Suburbia.

We have this post-war fixation on “the Nukuler Family”. This idea is far more deadly than the atomic bomb! It’s American Autonomy done up in  Sit-Com Costumes. Prior to this time, you family was not just Mom and Dad, Buddy and Sis. It was generations, and kids, and cousins, and hangers on. Your family was large enough to handle marriages and singletons. It was a lot of love for protection and support. But if Mom and Dad have to raise their kids far from the in-laws, and the kids have to grow up and move further away… as a cultural idea than, of course, single people get left out of the package.

To the Church’s credit, a monastery is a great place to find community when you don’t have it in your family. But it’s not because everyone is called to “Marriage or Monastery”. Rather, it becomes a stop-gap because we have an unhealthy idea of what “family” is supposed to be.

Yes, I realize that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in my generation (and younger) that would rather chop off their right arms, and their left ones, than live in the same small town they were born in. But that’s only because we taught them not to. We taught them erroneous – even heretical – ideas of self sufficiency and autonomy. We taught them that it was a failure to stay with their parents (even if they had jobs). And we taught parents that their successful children had to move out. WTF for? If Mom and Dad are both working, and the kids too, buy a bigger house, and expand! Get more land, build more rooms, glom on to the tract house ranch in the adjoining lot(s) and take over the whole cul de sac!

We have this sick idea that when I hit 18, I’m not only not supposed to live with my parents any more, but I’m not supposed to pay them back for 18 years of support… until they are old and decrepit and need someone to take care of them. Shouldn’t they get the reward of befriending their adult children? Shouldn’t we all get a chance to care for each other now? Nearly every social service, every welfare program, every “safety net” is predicated on supporting folks in their autonomy rather than keeping them in family networks.

If I go to a monastery, shouldn’t I be able to do so knowing the rest of the family is there to take care of each other? And if I decide not to go to such a place, should I not have the joy of a house filled with loved ones and kids, and life? Until 20th Century America, the idea of running away to “strike out on your own” was just not a thing. Why did we let it take over in the Church?

What can we do to repair this? No, I don’t think you should tell all the singles in your parish (regardless of age) to move back in with their folks. But can we create communities that hold and harbor them? I don’t just mean at Pizza Night either. I mean in homes, in large networks of familial form and even content. Can we create intentional, multi-generational communities of love including married and single folks looking ever Christward in their service, prayer, and mutual support?

“Marriage or Monastery?” is not the correct question. Rather we should ask “Where is your community?” Which is your family of choice – this large, boundless, familiar tie that weaves through your life, or this boundless brotherhood (or sisterhood) that you would graft on to in the name of Christ? Either way it’s an icon of Christ in his Church. The only failed icon is the Cleavers…

The Problem (2018.11.13)
The Praxis (2016.12.31)
The Vision (2019.10.04)
The Plan (2016.09.20)
The Church (2020.09.21)

Praxis – Towards Community

A long while ago (2006? 07?) I scared some folks on my blog with a series of posts on Doxos Dot Com (they are still out there, but I can’t find them at the Internet Archive), as it then was, discussing a protestant group called “Praxis.”  They met on Saturday Nights for dinner and a eucharist. They had a very high view of sacraments – so high, in fact, that the evening service was closed to visitors. They did a Sunday Morning thing with preaching and singing that was basically an Office of Readings plus Morning Prayer and a sermon.  The point was to be welcoming – and the idea that closed communion would not be welcoming did not mean they shouldn’t do closed communion.

What scared folks was they thought I’d been worshipping with this group that had no orders, no communion with anyone else, etc.

It was a thought experiment that I made up in my head. Not only did it not exist, but I’m so much the Dreamer-not-the-Leader that I just wanted the ideas out there. Maybe someone would pick them up. This was all before my experience in the Buffalo Commune and knowing that such living together was possible.

These ideas still rumble around in my head, too. And on days like today, after I’ve been wandering in the world all day and I’m sitting home alone, I’m wondering what such a community would be like, attached to the Church. Not making up liturgical stuff, mind you, just to be cool and hip. But rather living together and praying one or two offices together, sharing meals and duties.  It would be someplace between the cool life of the “Hippie House” in Buffalo and the not quite my thing life of the Monastery in Colorado.

It would have to start with my Cooperative Housing Plan for the Future or some other sort of the same ideas. It would need the Liturgy of the Hours, at least, and an Oratory space. It would also need at least a visiting priest. Everyone would need jobs (at least at first) and, it might need a Rule.

This feels like sort of a laypeople’s Oratory of St Philip Neri: in which the resident clergy have only their residency in common. They work in various parishes, they have jobs in the world. But they commit to a rule together in common living and prayer: it is that stability in common life together that seems to be what I’m talking about. The main difference is that it is not intended as, primarily, a religious order, but rather a lay community. The visiting priest is to keep the community centered, only. Maybe Mass could be said in the Oratory or not, confessions heard, etc. But it would be good to have such a center person.

The Problem (2018.11.13)
The Praxis (2016.12.31)
The Vision (2019.10.04)
The Plan (2016.09.20)
The Church (2020.09.21)

Cooperative Housing Plan for the Future

  1. Get 5 or 6 more friends interesting in Co-housing. 
    1. Couples+Singles would be the excellent. 
    2. Couples and Singles that also include children would be awesome.
  2. Create a community contract stipulating plans and ALL that follows.
    1. It should be clear about obligations 
      1. including obligations for departing members such as paying off bills, etc.
    2. Everyone signs it.
    3. Get it notarized.
    4. Bring this with you when you do anything as a group: apartments, banking, joining Sam’s Club etc.
  3. Set up a joint bank account.
    1. You’ll need, probably, a credit union to do this.
      1. Cuz they will be easier on your group 
      2. Their fees won’t kill you
  4. Even though everyone is still living on their own, begin collecting money monthly from all parties: this is to set up a fund for first month’s rent, security deposit etc.  Ideally this fund will also have the second month’s rent in it (or more) before you find a place to live – each month that you have saved up is one less month of stress when you actually move in.
    1. Yes, this may take a year or more.
    2. During this time, hang out a LOT: picnics, bar nights, movie nights. 
      1. Do you all go to the same school? 
        1. Take classes together. 
      2. Do you all go to the same worshipping tradition?
        1. Can you transfer memberships, whatever, to end up together?
  5. Find a large apartment or townhouse, house or other structure to rent.
    1. Tents are probably a bad idea
  6. Move in!
    1. YAY!
    2. Now for the hard part
    3. PAY ALL BILLS ON TIME NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE – EVEN IF YOU’RE HAVING A FIGHT WITH THE SERVICE PROVIDER
  7. Track everything – any spending on food, utilities, rent, fixing things, renting movies for the house, phone bills (individual cellphone bills, yes) and anything else associated with the house.  Document it all on a spreadsheet.  Have weekly meetings to submit receipts. DO NOT FIGHT OVER THESE, YOU’RE STILL IN THE FIRST PHASE.
  8. After six months evaluate:
    1. Add cost rent (6 months)
      Cost of Utilities (6 months worth)
      Cost of food bought for the house (6 months worth)
      Cost of any individual purchase – phone bills, light bulbs, etc.
    2. Take total cost and divide by 6
      Take that 1/6 cost and divide by number of folks in the house.
    3. This is the cost of living in your house monthly per person.
    4. NB It is ok to make adjustments: the room under the stairs doesn’t need to cost as much as the penthouse, but everything else should be divided evenly.
    5. To the monthly cost per person, add $100 – this is for savings.
    6. Figure out what a basic health care plan would cost for an individual in your area, be that through Blue Cross, Healthy SF, Covered CA, etc. 
      1. Allow for folks to include this estimated cost in the monthly contribution to the community.
  9. Begin collecting the new rent+costs+$100 from each person each month
  10. PAY ALL BILLS ON TIME out of the new fund.
    1. Including individual cellphone plans.  
    2. Shop for the house from the new fund.
    3. Get a CSA and or join a food club. 
    4. Its OK to fight over these now.
    5. The goal is “From each according to their ability to each according to their need.” The month my cellphone bill taps my savings account is the month I need to eat on the house, so it’s ok. 
  11. You should, ideally, have $500-600 a month left over. 
    1. Put this in the bank account until you have two months’ rent surplus.
    2. Then begin putting monthly surplus in a savings account.
    3. Set aside the estimated health costs into a second savings account. 
      1. This is only a just-in-case fund: just in case someone is unemployed and needs to be covered.
  12. Live well and shop good. 
    1. Host public events – a weekly potluck is awesome
      1. Use these events to get the community’s name out there, to let people know that a common life of prayer is neither scary nor impossible to construct.
    2. Give one weekend a month to the community’s needs.
      1. The Garden, the doors that need painting, etc.
    3. Give 5% of time a month to an outside org and volunteer together at 
      1. The Senior Center
      2. The Animal Shelter
      3. The Parish’s After-School Program, etc.
  13. After 5 years: evaluate. 
    1. How much money do you have in savings? 
    2. Is there enough money to buy a house?
    3. No? Then come back next year.
    4. Yes? Well then, let’s see about doing that!

The Problem (2018.11.13)
The Praxis (2016.12.31)
The Vision (2019.10.04)
The Plan (2016.09.20)
The Church (2020.09.21)