Sacred Paths – A Beloved Heretic Who Cared for All

We have lost a great friend. The Rev. Msgr. Ernest J. ?Bud? Fiedler (1925-2007), rector emeritus of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City, Mo., was a quiet, saintly heretic.

While the Roman Catholic Church says homosexual acts are gravely disordered, he negotiated the presence of the gay support group at the Cathedral.

In many other ways, Bud placed others within his heart and seemed surprised when the church failed to do so as well. He was utterly devoted to the Vatican II document ?The Church in the Modern World,? which warned the church against turning in on itself. Instead of seeking to convert the world, the church was to have dialogue with the world, to serve the world. Bud was a loving servant.

He loved the church for what it could be. And although I am not Catholic, he brought me into deep respect for his vision of the church.

I loved him, as did everyone who knew him. This is evident in the many stories people have sent me since my tribute in The Kansas City Star appeared. I?d like to retell the story of one of the casket-carriers, Jim Houx Jr.

The ring on Bud?s little finger pictured in the 24-page booklet for his funeral rites Jan. 2 at the Cathedral came from Houx.

Bud served as an adviser at the first session of the Second Vatican Council and then was assigned to a Warrensburg, Mo., parish. That?s where, in 1963, he and Houx, then a student, met at a high school event and became friends.

In those days Protestants were suspicious of Catholics, who worshipped ?in a strange language.? The Protestant churches were often antagonistic to each other as well.

Bud began inviting his fellow clergy members to coffee, one by one, and ultimately spread the spirit of friendship all around. He transformed the town.

In 1968, the bishop gave Bud approval to preside at the wedding of Houx and his bride, neither of whom was Catholic. After the two exchanged rings inscribed ?one in Christ,? Houx gave Bud a ring with the same inscription.

Bud often joked about going on their honeymoon as well. His Karmann Ghia was stranded in Springfield, Mo., so the happy couple gave Bud a lift on their way to their New Orleans destination.

Bud was later reassigned to Kansas City, and Houx?s business brought him here was well.

Houx says, ?You could not not have a good time with Bud. He was preaching, teaching and healing without recognizing his power. He loved everyone as a child of God, and embraced Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists ? everyone.? Houx often referred to Bud as ?a ball of light and love disguised as a priest. He was a community treasure.?

In the early ?90s, Bud and Houx talked about how the culture places profits above people, with spiritual values uplifted on Sunday and greed ruling the rest of the week. Instead of spirituality pervading all of life, it is often quarantined away from the work world.

This led to the creation of what is now the Center for Spirit at Work. True to Bud?s interfaith approach, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian Universalist speakers from business, government and nonprofit sectors of society have led the public breakfast and dinner programs. Originally a program of the Cathedral, later authorities encouraged its independence from the church.

Despite tremendous tensions created by the new administration, folks came together to create funeral services that truly honored the love so many had for this great man. I cannot capture here the wonder of the things that were said about Bud at the wake and funeral. The feeling with which Bishop Emeritus Raymond Boland presided according to Bud?s wishes, the glory of the music and the extraordinary arrangements by Msgr. Robert Gregory created a fitting and magnificent celebration of Bud?s life.

I ended my Star column by saying, ?Although the Catholic faith is not my story, the liturgy placed Bud?s life within the Christian narrative of love, service and community, enacted and confirmed by the people receiving the Eucharist, in the promise? of eternal life, with Bud a precious parable of the cosmic story.?

Stories make sense out of our lives. Stories, more than technology or markets, create civilization. Spirituality is not conversion but rather caring for one another. That was how Bud lived his life.

The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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