the big foot washing debate….really???

washing feet icon

One of the greatest barriers to true unity in our church is the propensity of Catholics to pick fights among themselves over seemingly trivial matters. The latest is the issue of whether priests should wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Really? I don’t know whether to simply shake my head, or hang it in shame.

There is an old liturgical law that states only men should have their feet washed. The law was put in place at a time when women were excluded from the sanctuary. Some folks, of the more traditional mind-set, believe that this is still the right and just way to perform the ritual. For them, it is not so much a sign of service as a re-creation of the Last Supper. The disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. The disciples were men. Therefore priests should only wash the feet of men.

Enter, Pope Francis. Last year, during his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he trekked down to a Detention Centre for Youths and washed the feet of young people – including women and Muslims. The traditionalists were aghast. Progressive Catholics were over-joyed. Those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really???

This year Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison will wash the feet of twelve seminarians. He is also enforcing strict foot-washing guidelines in his diocese. Priests have two options: wash the feet of men, or dispense with the foot washing ritual all together.

What would Pope Francis do? Well, we already know what he is going to do. This year he is heading down to a centre for people with disabilities. The papal foot-washing will, again, be a concrete sign of compassion and service not merely a showy display of clericalism. And, it will be inclusive of women, men, and non-Christians.

Is this trivial? On the surface, yes. Yet, it is a sign of the deeper malaise in our Church. It shines a light on the idealogical divides that just won’t go away. Jesus had few kind words for legalistic pharisees in his day. I have even fewer for our own modern day pharisees.

Pope: During Holy Week, ask which Gospel character you resemble | National Catholic Reporter

VATICAN CITY Preceded by young people and clergy waving tall palm branches, Pope Francis began his Holy Week liturgies by encouraging people to ask themselves which personality in the Gospel accounts of Jesus passion, death and resurrection they resemble most.”Where is my heart? Which of these people do I resemble most?” Pope Francis asked Sunday as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lords Passion.

via Pope: During Holy Week, ask which Gospel character you resemble | National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis was inviting us to enter into an Ignatian style of prayerful imagining. In the Passion story, who do you most identify with? For me, my heart, mind and gut are united with Mary.

My grand-daughter doesn’t like it when I call her my grand-baby. At the ripe age of 2 1/2, it insults her sense of maturity in relation to her one year old brother. I tried to explain to her that her daddy is still MY baby. “No, Grammy”, she argued. “Daddy’s not a baby!” It was useless trying to explain to her that the strapping young man who is now a wonderful husband and father will always be my baby boy.

One of the most glorious gifts of parenthood is rejoicing in all the accomplishments of our children, from first steps to graduations to careers to parenthood and beyond. One of the hardest aspects of parenthood is suffering with them through the many struggles of life.  As wee babies they stole your hearts and never gave them back. Their pain became your pain, and continues to be.

I resist pondering Mary’s agony as her son was tried, tortured, humiliated and finally put to a gruesome death. It is too much to bear. This was her baby boy, now grown and trying to fulfill God’s will in his life. How did Mary find the courage to stay beside him, to remain standing even at the foot of the cross when others had fled?  How does a parent survive the breaking of their own heart when they see their child suffer so?

Pope Francis, in his wisdom, knows that nudging us to enter into the gospel with our mind and heart can touch us more personally than soaring theological treatises or lengthy sermons. This is a powerful, yet simple exercise. What about you? Who do you identify with in the Passion readings?

I’ll pray for you

Some saints are easily recognizable by their inspiring works or words. Other saints are hidden, but their holiness upholds us through their prayers. Anna was one of these saints, a woman well on in years. Though ravaged with health issues that limited her activity and mobility, Anna was a permanent fixture in our church pews. She not only attended every mass and prayer service, she came early and left late. If there was a day-long Eucharistic Adoration, she was present for each and every minute.

Anna reminded me of the the prophet Anna, in Luke’s gospel story of the Presentation, who “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.”  I asked her once, what do you do during all those hours? Her simple answer, “I pray for each and every one of you.” Every temple, every church, every community needs an Anna.

I belong to a wonderful online faith community, Our Lady of the Round Table. We are eight women from around the world; the USA, Ireland, France, Kenya, Australia and Canada. Each day, we bring many prayers to the table…so many prayers. The list of names and needs grows daily. I get overwhelmed, forgetting whom we are praying for. Thankfully, we have our own “Anna” among us. 

Susan is a woman who not only remembers each and every intention, whether formally requested or mentioned in a passing comment, she lovingly lists the names each day. Her list becomes a prayerful litany, inviting us all to speak the name in our heart and lift their need to the heavens. Susan is our community’s memory. She nudges us to be faithful to those words, sometimes too easily rolled off our tongues, “I’ll pray for you”.

One of the first requests that Pope Francis made of us was “pray for me”. There is power in our prayers, whether we ask for them or promise to offer them for others. The mission of the communion of saints is to pray with us and pray for us.

God bless all the everyday saints here on earth who love and support us with their prayers.

family lessons from “call the midwife”



In my latest Prairie Messenger column I explore the many family lessons one can learn from watching “Call the Midwife”. The series follows the work of midwives in the East end of London in the late 1950′s and the families that they serve. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the stories are heart-warming and often uncomfortably realistic. This is, after all, what real family life is like. It can raise you to moments of great joy, or mire you in its messiness and challenges. Children are welcomed as a much desired gift, or as an unwanted addition to an already over-burdened family.

Bishops from around the world are preparing for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October. Questionnaires were distributed (though not with equal success) in order to measure the pulse of family experiences and church teachings. One of the big questions, of course, revolves around the issue of birth control.

“Call the Midwife” takes place in the years before the dawn of the birth control pill. Humanae Vitae and it’s prohibition against any unnatural forms of family planning caused guilt-ridden grief to many women and men of my parent’s generation. Here was an answer to all their worries about unwanted pregnancies, only to be followed by threats of eternal damnation if couples chose to regulate births by artificial means. Today, even while most Catholics ignore the teachings of Humane Vitae, some bishops continue to make headlines fighting against easy or free access to birth control.

This week, the Supreme Court in the Philippines approved a controversial birth control law which will give women free access to birth control. The law faced fierce opposition from the Catholic bishops in a country where 80% of the population is Catholic. In the USA, Catholic bishops denounced Obama’s healthcare plan because of its access to birth control. Do bishops really understand the reality of family life? Do they really understand the deep fear of an unwanted pregnancy? Are they truly being pro-life if they expect women to have baby after baby with no regard for the health or welfare of the mother or family?

(A wee bit of trivia…I was birthed by a mid-wife in England during the same era as “Call the Midwife”!)

are papal canonizations a good idea?


I love saints. I’ve enjoyed reading their stories and biographies since I was a child. Though I’m not a fan of gory displays of relics, I do get emotional when I visit the tombs or shrines of saints. Holy women and men who have gone before us are our heroes, our mentors, and our partners in prayer. We offer our intentions to them, knowing that they will pray with us.

I love saints, but am becoming more and more disillusioned with the saint making process. It is costly and bureaucratic. Official saint-dom comes to those who have supporters with the sufficient resources, both financial and human, to navigate the long process through the necessary Vatican channels. It is also becoming increasingly political, granting official recognition not only to the person being raised but to the ideologies and theological leanings of their followers.

My disillusionment is fed with the current trend putting almost all the 20th century popes on the track to sainthood. And, in the case of John Paul II, a questionably fast track. Here is a quick run-down. Pius X is already canonized. Causes have been opened for Popes Pius XII (questions of his WWII efforts have stymied its progress), Paul VI, and John Paul I. John XXIII and John Paul II have already been beatified.

The upcoming dual canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II is seen by some as an astute move by Pope Francis. We can only imagine the mountain of unfinished tasks that a new pope inherits. In one fell swoop, Francis has closed two high profile files on his desk. The shared ceremony is also seen as a bridge-builder between the more liberal supporters of John XXIII and the more conservative supporters of John Paul II.

Should we be in such a rush to canonize popes? Should they be canonized at all? I wrote a short piece for the NCR Today blog wondering what Pope Francis really thinks of these and other papal canonizations. I wonder, because Francis is constantly promoting a poorer, more simple and humble church and reminding church leaders to eschew all glory and excessive trappings. Beatifications and canonizations are not only expensive, but they are also all about status – granted, the heavenly kind.

how can an increase in births be promoted?….should it be?

There are friends, and then there are kindred spirits. Sometimes they show up in the most surprising ways. Maureen Weber is an editor for the Prairie Messenger. I first “met” Maureen back in the spring of 2011. I had hesitantly sent an email to the PM with a link to this catholic dialogue blog. I wasn’t sure what would come of it. What came was a quick reply with an offer to write my own catholic dialogue column for the paper.

Maureen encouraged me through the fear and trepidation of those early months, and continues to do so each time I send in an article. Through emails and phone calls, we quickly became friends. Just as quickly, we realized the many similarities in our lives. We are the same vintage, share many family and life experiences, and think and feel the same on church issues. When Maureen writes, her words resonate with my mind and heart….you said what? Me too!!!

In this week’s Prairie Messenger, Maureen writes a moving and honest reflection on her experience of motherhood. One of the survey questions for the upcoming Synod for the Family was“How can an increase in births be promoted?” For Maureen this is a perplexing question, and seems to be a throwback to days gone by.

Here is Maureen’s article.

Should parenthood be considered obligatory for all couples? Should women and men be pressured into having children, or having more than they can physically, emotionally, or financially support? What do you think?

Francis the comic strip | National Catholic Reporter


Patrick J. Marrin’s NCR comic strip “Francis” has been syndicated by The cartoons are brilliant in their simplicity and spot on message, and guaranteed to warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. Hmm…sounds a lot like their title character. ;-)

Here is an NCR article giving the story behind the comic strip. And here is a link to some recent instalments of “Francis”.

Francis the comic strip | National Catholic Reporter.

leadership by bullying is an energy sucker

My latest column for the Prairie Messenger is titled Leadership can have a powerful hold over our spirits.

One of the strongest powers of leadership is the power that it can hold over our spirits. True servant leadership has the power to raise our spirits and energize us for our mission. Abusive, authoritative power crushes those same spirits and transforms our zeal into disillusion and doubt. Read more…..

Bullying is often at the root of dysfunctional leadership. We see it in the workplace, in classrooms, in homes and, sadly, in our churches. Besides making our lives miserable, these leaders bring immeasurable harm to those they are called to serve.

Leaders who speak to the heart hold the most effective power for growth and reform.

Pope smiles as he arrives to lead general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

the annunciation – saying yes and living it

annunciation - fra angelico

annunciation – fra angelico

March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. It is a day to look to Mary and ponder her Yes to God. And, what a Yes it was. Pregnancy and birth is seldom easy. An “unexplained” pregnancy for an unmarried girl carried the death sentence of stoning. Mary felt fear yet allowed her fears to be calmed by God’s promise. She did not fully comprehend, but who could? All she had at her disposal was her faith. If she was saying Yes to God, then certainly all would be well.

We often image Mary as the gentle hand-maiden meekly acquiesing to God’s will. Yet, her Yes did not come from cowering fear or blind obedience. She questioned and discerned and only then freely agreed to God’s will. This is what makes her blessed. God could have used her without her consent, but then she would have simply been a human vessel. Instead, she fully cooperated with God and became an active agent in God’s plan.

It takes courage to say Yes to the unknown. It takes even greater courage to reaffirm that same Yes when the unknowns are replaced with difficult or unexpected realities. Our Yes’s are easily forgotten in the face of suffering. The certainty of dreams and visions of goodness and glory vanish quickly when we struggle to seek God’s hand in the midst of darkness and evil.

Mary’s Yes led her to an uncomfortable birth far from home. She faced the hardships and fears of a refugee in Egypt. She felt the gut-wrenching trauma of every parent when they think their child is lost. Mary did not fully understand her son’s ministry and must have feared for his safety. How could she understand the horrors of his death?She said Yes at the annunciation and she continued to say Yes throughout her life.

In these times of Yes’s too easily retracted, of commitments too easily broken, Mary is a model of faith for us all.





the lost child of philomena lee

philomena leeAfter too many book-less weeks, I delved into “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith. I knew that it wouldn’t be a light, escapist read. It chronicles the poignant and heart wrenching story of the forced adoption of a young Irish boy. Philomena, his young unwed mother, was sent to one of many convents in Ireland whose mission was to house “fallen” women until their babies were born. The women repaid the nuns’ “kindness” with up to three years of free labor in their kitchens and laundries. In reality the women were forcibly enslaved in wretched, harsh workhouses.

The story of these asylums makes my Catholic heart shudder in shame. The cruelty of the nuns was grounded in a firm belief in the unredeemable sinfulness of the girls. It also described the power that the church had over the government, a power used to fill the ecclesial coffers. If a family had the money, the young woman’s freedom could be bought after the baby was born. If not, she had to work off the debt.

The young mothers were forced to sign over their babies who were then handed over for adoption by American couples in return for a “donation” to the convent. Philomena’s son was three years old when he was taken from her.

The theology of fear and constant threats of eternal damnation were used to ensure the complicity and silence of the birth mothers. It is the all too familiar strategy used by child abusers in the church. When the truth began to leak out, many records were destroyed by the nuns and church officials. Today, the victims continue to fight for fair and just recompense. Again, an all too familiar story.

This is not an anti-Catholic story like some claim. The church’s actions are indefensible. There are no words to describe the shame of such cruelty and injustice. The church has much to repent in her history. This is a story of sins that must be repented and never repeated.

(This news story just came out today: Irish religious orders confirm they will not pay Magdalene Laundry victims.)