Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fr. Hogan and the Living Body of Christ

We hear a lot about priests who screw up but not so much about those who faithfully carry out their ministry and inspire others. One such priest is Fr. Jim Hogan, long time pastor at Community of Christ the King, the Catholic campus ministry for the University of Montana in Missoula. Fr. Hogan is semi-retired now and has a new book out, self-published, called Yes We Are! The Living Body of Christ.

As a priest, he has struggled with and reflected upon all the hot button topics in the Church today, including celibacy. In an extensive interview with Montana Kaiman upon his retirement, Fr. Hogan noted that when he entered the priesthood his main concerns included loneliness, not having a family and running the risk of leading what he called an unhealthy lifestyle. As a campus chaplain, he solved the problem by becoming a great cook and sharing that gift with his student parishioners. Campus ministry intern Jennifer McWilliams remarked: "Probably my favorite memory of Jim is him just grabbing people after Mass, inviting them to his house for dinner."

However, Fr. Hogan says candidly that it's time for the Church to have an open conversation about the priest shortage and consider other alternatives. “I think that people don’t accept the criteria that surround the ordained, but I think people still have the gifts,” Hogan says. “Look at the Peace Corps, Americorps. Young people are willing to give their lives to service but not in a celibate way for a lifetime.”

One possible solution might be an expanded role for women in the church, he says. “I think if we changed the title away from ‘priest’ it would be easier to bring women into priesthood,” he said. “Priesthood has Old Testament cultic overtones to it and I think that will always be an obstacle. But the criteria should not be gender or marital status. The criteria ought to be gifts of the spirit and competence.”

Another of Fr. Hogan's great accomplishments is his work for peace. Working with the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center, in 2001 Hogan set up the Search for Peace Award in which Missoula students of any age are invited to express their concept of peace through any creative medium. He donates $500 towards the prize money which is supplemented by other contributors. Says Hogan: "For twenty-two years I was privileged to share life with young adults at the University of Montana. During those years I became deeply aware of the enormous creative energy in our young people. We cannot ignore the increase of violence in our world. I know it is possible for us to help our young people withstand the attraction of violence."

"In 2000, I was surprised to be the recipient of the Jeanette Rankin Peace Award. It is an honor to be recognized by those in our city who are dedicated to making peace. I felt this award also bestowed a responsibility. It affirmed my efforts to work for peace, but also challenged me to do more. One day as I was preparing to go on a hike, I realized that I could honor the award I had received by offering my own peace award."

Here is an article about Fr. Hogan's new book:

Priest's book confronts Catholics' frustration

By Rob Chaney
The Missoulian

Ace Hardware stores aren't known for their religious counsel, but the Rev. Jim Hogan has learned to take his lessons where he finds them.

And it was on a trip to the hardware store that Hogan saw something that crystallized his feelings about the Roman Catholic Church he's served for 48 years. He was looking for a gizmo and wasn't sure if the right one was available. The clerk found one in a factory-sealed box and proceeded to unpack it, removing the cardboard spacers and twist-ties and Styrofoam.

It was the wrong model, so the clerk tried to box it back up. But once undone, the gizmo wasn't easy to rewrap without either breaking its parts or its protections.

“The Second Vatican Council took the Gospel traditions out of their box,” said Hogan, “and they can't go back in without breaking.”

At least a quarter of Montana's regular church-goers attend Roman Catholic parishes. In his new book, “Yes We Are! The Living Body of Christ,” Hogan confronted what he saw as growing frustration and discouragement among many parishioners who believe the church is shifting from flexibility to authoritarianism.

His thoughts got a ringing endorsement from the Rev. Bob Egan, a professor of theology at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Equally concerned about the American Catholic Church's failure to thrive, he pointed to an atmosphere where “a large majority of Catholics disagreed with church leaders about several important issues, and were simply ignored.

“When we gathered for worship, it felt like something we had come to watch or hear, not like something we had come to do or pray,” Egan wrote. That ran counter to the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, which declared the Roman Catholic Church was made up of all its members, not simply its leadership: “It was hard for us to acknowledge that this wasn't happening, that the church was cutting off dialogue and resisting participation, that power and authority were becoming more centralized rather than less, that mutuality and accountability were being postponed and ignored.”

Hogan was ordained at the flow tide of that Second Vatican Council and its revolutionary teachings. In his tenure at Christ the King Parish in Missoula's university neighborhood, he was known for his different-drummer services.

“It became a dynamically alive Catholic community,” Hogan said. “It worked.”

But he also came to the priesthood at a time when the area diocese had 120 priests. Hogan went on senior status three years ago after serving 22 years as Christ the King's pastor, and there are now just 20 or 30 ordained priests covering the same territory. Those declines in clergy and congregation numbers are symptoms of the changing church direction, he said.

Freed of the daily parish management duties, Hogan felt compelled to put his own feelings and frustrations into a manuscript. The process was initially undisciplined. An adviser told him there were four potential books in the pile of paper. So he began the process of un-writing until he refined the basic message of “Yes We Are!”

“This is not a judgmental or accusatory book,” Hogan said. “I stay steadfast in the faith. Hopefully, it will awaken a lot of conversation and discussion.”

The observations range from theological giants like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, to the following chapter on “Harry Potter and Jesus.” Hogan's investigation looks at how institutions can become rigid and convinced of their “classical” righteousness, without realizing that an organization made of living people adapts and evolves in “historical” fashion.

“The problems we deal with today are different than what were there when the Vatican Council met 50 years ago,” Hogan said. “We don't have to let the hierarchy turn us backwards.”

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