Bob Feller, Jesus and Charles Hammond

When Bob Feller broke into major league baseball as a 19 year old prodigy in 1936, people were stunned at his overwhelming power. Where did this kid come from? Out of nowhere, it seemed. A small hamlet in iowa called Van Meter. Hall of Famers like Gehrig and Hank Greenberg were New Yorkers and well scouted but this kid came from the sticks, a small farming community. ”The Heater from Van Meter” stood pro baseball on its ear and proved that you never know where lightning is going to strike.

And the wandering rabbi himself Jesus of Nazareth, was no big town kid, but came from a similar backwater a dusty Galilean town. “Nazareth? what good can come from there” a character named Nathanael says in John’s gospel.

You never know when lightning will strike.

Or when dark clouds will descend like the time a priest friend on the inside told me that a totally reactionary bishop was about to be named. No attempt to send out those “sub secretos” probes quietly sent to locals about the suitability of a candidate). Fuggedabout it! Nobody would have put this guy on their ballot so far out on the Richter scale he was but Papa in Rome knew best and ignored all the pastoral priests and named Bishop Orthodoxy who like all the other automata had to swear they would promote the birth control encyclical and never ever raise the issue of women priests. The predictable result followed. The local church was set back decades.

Lightning on the other hand can be a sudden insight, a burst of clarity from an unexpected source. And today’s winner from the small Michigan town of Ubley is Reverend Charles Hammond.


Hammond seems to be one of those Vatican ll priests who did his best in a time of institutional Catholic dysfunction and a massive failure of nerve in implementing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. At the time it was considered by the bishops and most of the people as “the greatest grace of the century” then the inevitable forces of reaction set in in the one papacy of John Paul ll and his enforcer Benedict XVl. The bishops raised up by these two popes were a very timid lot, long on institutional concerns but fairly immune to the ‘signs of the times’. They became obsessed with pelvic orthodoxy and after 30 years this seems to have run its course.

Meanwhile Rev Hammond and many brave pastors carried on the best they could. I knew several who gave up after 20 years and simply hung on. They were out of energy, depressed at topdown autocratic rule of Rome which ignored the communal thrust of the great Council. There was little attention paid to the  sensus fidelium, how the Spirit was speaking in the whole church. Suddenly they were out of style with the my way of the highway diktat of the papacy.

Rev Hammond writes in the National Catholic Reporter (Aug 29,2014)
During the last 35 years, no Second Vatican Council priests have been named bishops. The result has been a very lopsided church, in terms of leadership, characterized by legalism and clericalism.
Many priests ordained in the 60s and 1970s have felt isolated and unsupported. Even if Pope Francis initiates changes in this trend, they feel it wouldn’t affect them, and the institution is just waiting for them to retire or die out.
Meanwhile they are given isolated pastoral assignments (which they actually consider a blessing). But instead of being in in a “passive retirement” mode many are very much alive in pastorally implementing the spirit of Vatican ll not by confronting the institution but by personal ministry inspired by jesus, one person at a time. They do not want to waste the rest of their days bemoaning this situation but continuing to do what they’ve always done: responding to the needs of people in a spontaneous and unstructured way.
In contrast to the faithful Charles Hammond, I heard about the clown bishop still around who said, he was not a Francis 1 bishop but a Benedict XVl one.

I guess I’m a John XXlll man myself

Hats off to priests like Charles Hammond who never became a bishop but stayed the Vatican ll course


1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Bill Heffernan Says:


    Jon Brooks and I are heading out on the road soon ( with guitars ). We’ll be in Michigan at both the front and back ends of our 10 state trip. We would like to look this Hammong guy up. We’d even drop in and do a song or two for him. Do you have any leads…?

    Tour dates, Oct 13th-Nov. 3rd…


    Ps…how about considering doing a Jon Brooks house concert at your place? $500…( you simply get 20 people at $25 each for an intimate concert and the cost is covered ). Think about it…his new album is amazing….)

    Sent from my iPad


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