another modern day papal saint….really???

I’ve already shared my thoughts about papal canonizations, especially the increasing desire to crown all recent popes with saintly honours. At the moment of their election, popes automatically become the most prominent and visible Catholic in the world. They are each greatly loved by some, and not so loved by others. When they die, they are memorialized in grand monuments and remembered in history books. Is it really necessary to beatify and canonize them also?

Politics have played too great a role behind these papal canonizations, as ideological groups in the church vie to have their heroes named as official saints. Now, Pope Paul VI is to be beatified by Pope Francis. The timing and location of the beatification has undeniable political overtones. Paul VI, the author of Humane Vitae, is to be beatified at the close of the Synod for the Family in October. Here is an excerpt from my latest Prairie Messenger column,

Pope Paul VI courageously oversaw the completion of the Second Vatican Council, which was no easy task. But, he is perhaps best known for the damning condemnation of all artificial means of birth control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. The greater truth of the dignity and beauty of human sexuality that was meant to be the core of his teaching was overshadowed by the loud “thou shalt not” that was heard around the world. Women and men of faith were forced to choose between unbending moral teachings and the practical realities of life. Understanding priests tried to lessen fears of eternal damnation by counselling the right use of conscience. Eventually, most Catholics simply ignored the teaching.

Scheduling the beatification of Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, whether intended or not, can be interpreted as once again closing the door on much-needed dialogue around the question of ethical and responsible reproduction. It also shifts the intended focus from families back to the hierarchical leadership. Paul VI was the pope who founded and promoted the modern Synod of Bishops, but the bishops are meant to meet not for their own sake and promotion, but for the service of the greater church. It seems rather disingenuous to speak of the importance of the family, only to cap off the synod with another papal beatification….read more

remaining in love

ImageToday’s Gospel reading includes the simple words, “Remain in my love.” (John 5) Jesus is pointing to the love between him and the Father, a love that knows no bounds. A love that will never end. We are invited into that bond of love, and called to love others the same.

Too often, we are unable to live up to the divine standard of Trinitarian love. Yes, we enjoy the sweet emotions of “falling in love”. Who doesn’t? But, when disillusionment strikes love often loses its sweetness. Is it possible to remain in love when emotions fail us?

And, what does that glorious pint of Guinness have to do with all of this talk about love? Read my latest Prairie Messenger article to find out……!

do not be masters of doctrine

During an ordination ceremony on Sunday, Pope Francis stressed that

…priests are not “masters of doctrine” but must be faithful to it. Francis described the pain he feels when he hears of people that no longer go to confession because they fear being told off; they felt the church was slamming the door in their face. “Please don’t do this,” Francis urged priests, stressing the importance of mercy.

The next day, he spent an hour in a question and answer session with seminarians and young priests in Rome in which he stressed the danger of “academicism”,

“There are four pillars to a priest’s education:” “spiritual education, academic education, community education and apostolic education.” “I would not be able to understand a priest who comes to study for a degree here in Rome but doesn’t lead a community life – this will not do – or who does not look after their spiritual life, taking part in daily mass, daily prayer, the lectio divina and personal prayer with the Lord.” “Academic purism is not good” in this sense. If you only focus on the academic side, there is a danger of slipping into ideology and this is not healthy” because we become “macrocephalus” and “this is bad, it is a sickness.”

I agree wholeheartedly. We need doctrine. We need academics who are willing to do the hard work of studying the faith in order to teach others. What we do not need are doctrinal bullies who use church teachings as a hammer of orthodoxy to force us into unquestioning submission. And, we do not need a narrow, judgmental view of faithfulness that focuses only on doctrinal “purisms” and disregards our personal relationship with God through prayer and our attempts to live this relationship in our works and deeds.

And, yet, the image of church leaders as masters of doctrine continues to not only haunt us but to also make its presence known. Recent headlines have been disheartening to say the least.

The religious women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) are once again in the lime-light. In a recent meeting with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the women were told in no uncertain terms that they and their work are still under suspicion. (NCR has ongoing coverage of the LCWR story here.)

Theologians continue to be threatened with censure. The latest is Fr. Michael Amaladoss, a Jesuit from India and author of The Asian Jesus. The LCWR was also reprimanded by Cardinal Müller for awarding its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to “a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.” This theologian is the well known and much respected Sr. Elizabeth Johnson.

“Masters of doctrine”, for me, brings with it images of past, inquisitorial times. Inquisitions are used to regain and maintain purity in the church, but at what cost? They encourage an atmosphere of accusations rather than dialogue, secrecy rather than transparency, and cruel emotional and spiritual torture rather than mercy.

Sadly, today’s inquisitions are showing a growing disconnect between the words and actions of Pope Francis. The reform that Francis has called for, the reform that has given so many of us hope, is in danger of morphing into the counter-reformation style of doctrinal purification that was the distinguishing factor of the previous two papacies.

If Pope Francis truly believes in a church of mercy, a church that does not slam its door in the faces of her own, it is time for him to rein in the modern day inquisitors.

 

a Marianist experience of global vocation realities

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This is a photo of the World Council of the Marianist Family (WCMF) taken at last November’s meeting in Rome. The members represent the leadership teams from the four different vocations in the Marianist Family: Marianist Lay Communities (MLC), the Society of Mary (priest and religious brothers), the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (religious sisters) and the Alliance Mariale (a secular order of consecrated women).

In my two terms on the MLC leadership team, I attended nine WCMF meetings. We gather as equals around the table sharing the current blessings and challenges of each of our branches around the world. In these conversations, I learned much about the global reality of the church, and the global reality of religious vocations. I wrote about this in my latest Prairie Messenger article, for a special issue on Vocations…

In my Marianist work and travels I have made many friends with sisters, brothers and priests of all ages and from all corners of the world. The ones who stand out are those who are, indeed, attractive witnesses. They dare to live differently in the world but not as strange otherworldly creatures that stand above or apart from others. Hierarchical mindsets and self-appointed exclusivity may be attractive to some, but not for most Catholics today.

The attractive witnesses, for me, are the religious women and men who embrace the joys and trials of community life for it keeps them grounded in their humanity. Collaboration with the laity is assumed and comes naturally, because the only way to be church is to be church together. They do not seek special status or privilege for they know that holiness and wisdom are not automatically conferred with vows or sacramental oils. Their holiness comes from their wholeness. Read more…..

On the first Friday of each month, the Marianist Family is called to pray the Magnificat for a specific social justice issue or project. This month we are united in prayerful support with the newest project of our Marianist Sisters in India. To fully appreciate the magnitude of this project, you have to realize that the Sisters are small in number (with only a handful of members in India), but truly audacious in faith!

Singhpur, is located in a poor rural area of northern India near Ranchi. The Marianist sisters there were aware of rising rates of infant and maternal mortality in childbirth, diseases and infections that could be easily treated if there was a local medical clinic. Through the support of Accion Marianista, the Marianist Sisters, and the Italian bishop’s conference, such a clinic became a reality.

The clinic serves 28 villages and 900 students of the Chaminade School sponsored by the Marianist brothers. Currently a doctor, nurse, laboratory technician, and two nuns work in the clinic. On the day the clinic opened, November 25, 2013, it served more than 90 people. Adult patients are asked to pay a nominal fee and students of Chaminade School receive free medical service. (From the Friday Magnificat, May 2, 2014)

Here is a video put together by Accion Marianista, a Marianist sponsored NGO and supporter of the project.

 

the big foot washing debate….really???

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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”

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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?

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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?