Monday, June 27, 2005

The Anti-Sweetie Pie

Now let's be clear: Bill McClellan of the beloved St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a snarky character. So much so he makes this blog look like all those cheezy Fr. Lovasik books from the '50s which form the inspiration for the current editorial stance of our Catholic Standard & Times (poster-boy priests, page one; predator priests, page eight).

But, despite his biases, McClellan shows off his bishop-meter today, in a column about his daughter's confirmation by the then-St. Louis auxiliary Edward Braxton:

[B]ut everybody seemed on edge for Braxton's visit. I could see why as soon as he arrived. He was stern, aloof, very formal. He did not smile as he approached the children.

"We are in St. Francis Xavier Church," he said. "So tell me: Who is Francis Xavier?"

The kids stood there mute. As far as they knew, this was College Church. More importantly, this was not one of the facts they had been required to learn for their confirmation. There was an uneasy stirring in the audience. This wasn't fair! This was making the kids uncomfortable. This was making their teachers look bad.

"What is a bishop?" Braxton asked one of the kids. This was a more familiar question, but still, the child was rattled. "He is ordained and serves as a pastoral leader to his fellow Catholics," said the young person.

"Does that sound right to you, Bishop Kraus?" Braxton asked the pastor, the Rev. Len Kraus, who is, of course, not a bishop but is ordained and does serve as a pastoral leader.

Ouch.... And for those from the "he was having a bad mitre day" school of thought, hold off a sec.
I wrote about Braxton's visit and people called me. "He did the same thing at our church!" Oddly enough, most people were upset. Few were entertained.

And the rub is that, even now, confirmation is the one time when most Catholics have any kind of personal interaction with a bishop. Given all the preparation and the uniqueness of the moment, this is not the kind of conduct that keeps our kids -- who are embattled enough already -- motivated to keep engaging their faith.

But, ah, the man who took Edward's place knows what to do. Even when he's a guest, they call him "The Ultimate Host."
Some years later, my son was confirmed. The auxiliary bishop who presided was Timothy Dolan. He was friendly, informal, approachable. He asked the kids the questions for which he knew they had prepared. If they hesitated or were slightly off, he gently coached them along. Everything went smoothly. There was no drama. I felt cheated.

McClellan may have felt cheated, but to see Tim Dolan is to love him. Even to watch him on television, he just exudes goodness a la Uncle Ted. Even when he has to eat crow (i.e. saying "bass-ackwards") in Milwaukee, one can't help but come away with a "just folks" feeling about the guy. As a friend says, "he's such a sweetie-pie."

When we speak of a new model of bishop, that quality is a good place to start.



Blogger Mr. Meyer said...

Without expressing an opinion about Bishop Braxton one way or another (I just don't know enough about him), I would observe that a parish pastor is an ordained person "who serves as a pastoral leader to his fellow Catholics", hence his comment.

I agree about Archbishop Dolan!

27/6/05 19:28  
Blogger Mr. Meyer said...

Ooops. I skimmed too quickly the rest of the paragraph in which McLellan basically said the same thing. Sorry for being repetitive. In any event, that is the style of some. I guess it didn't rattle me as much as it did McLellan.

28/6/05 01:49  

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