I’m pausing for a moment today to remember and give thanks for the life of Fr. Ken Opat, osc, who passed away today.
My favorite Fr. Opat story is a short and irreverent one. Like many others, I got to know Fr. Opat many years ago through a Catholic retreat program in central Minnesota. He was the coordinator of the program, and often a spiritual director on the weekend retreats. On the evening before one of those retreats began, he and those of us who were volunteering as the team for that weekend were meeting and going over last minute details. Someone was reviewing the readings that would be used for the liturgies, and noted that the text in the missal would need to be changed. The U.S. lectionary had recently been amended so that instead of saying “This is the Word of the Lord,” the lector would conclude a scripture reading by saying only “The Word of the Lord.”
Someone asked why that particular change was made. The first to respond was Fr. Opat. In his gruff voice he casually mumbled: “Some a##hole in the Vatican didn’t have anything better to do.”
At the time, I was pretty shocked. At that point in my life I had rarely heard a cleric openly criticize Rome, much less swear while doing it. It was a good lesson for me, a demonstration that it’s OK to question, and even criticize, those in authority. It was also a lesson in priorities: Fr. Opat was not concerned with living one’s faith in a legalistic way. He was more concerned with practical matters, like how to ensure that a three day retreat could be affordable to anyone who wanted to attend (it still costs well under $100 per person). He was concerned with encountering Christ in the people he served, not in the minutiae of how a particular phrase ought to be translated.
Don’t get me wrong: I definitely think there is a place for pondering and wrestling with the smaller details of theology, such as the wording of the Mass (as the U.S. Catholic Church currently undergoes a major change in the liturgy’s translation it’s clear that much can be at stake when words are chosen). But I think of Fr. Opat’s flippant comment, and remember that we ought to always consider our actions: is there something better we could do?