canadian bishops optimistic about synod

I was away from writing during the recent Synod on the Family, but I tried to stay on top of the news coming from the Vatican. Pope Francis promised a more open synodal format, encouraging dialogue and debate rather than the usual litany of speeches towing the party line. By all accounts, there was dialogue and debate. And disagreement. And grumbling. And dire predictions of divisions and schisms.

The open negativity of some conservative bishops during and after the synod was astonishing. Their fear of any movement from doctrinal certainty to pastoral compassion was not surprising. Most were outspoken cultural warriors whose names have graced media headlines in the past. What was surprising was their open criticism of the pope.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, was “very disturbed” by the synod’s open discussions of current church practices towards gay people and divorced and remarried person. The discussions, he believed, sent a confusing message and “confusion is of the devil.”

“Pope Francis is fond of ‘creating a mess,’ ” said Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I. “Mission accomplished.”

The loudest voice of discontent came from Cardinal Raymond Burke, he of Vatican high fashion fame, who said “At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,”

Sadly, these were the voices that garnered most headlines. Meanwhile, here in Canada the bishops are much more optimistic.

Michael Swan , of the Catholic Register, writes,

From Newfoundland to British Columbia, bishops said there’s nothing to fear in open debate and even disagreement.

“Within that definition of Catholic is a broad range of opinion, which when you throw it all together and sift it all out you get the wisest way of proceeding,” said Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan. “I’m delighted that we have lay people invited to continue their participation. I have no fears about that. There will be no floodgates let loose that are going to drown us all.”

Swan also quotes PEI, Charlottetown Bishop Richard Grecco who wants an ever-widening discussion among all Catholics while remaining true to core beliefs.

“You can’t walk down the road just barking truth and barking judgments. You have to walk down that road of life and love giving hope, accompanying everybody. Because the holy church is a church of sinners — we’re all sinners. You have to walk down that road in hope. Don’t compromise the church’s teaching,” (Read more…)

Francis’s greatest achievement with this synod was one of process. Yes, there were opposing voices. There always are. But, this time all voices were heard without threat of censure or silencing. I share the optimism of our Canadian bishops and others around the world who see this as a golden opportunity to reignite the spirit of renewal begun at Vatican II.

I hope that these and all voices speaking out for greater pastoral compassion and understanding do not remain too polite and quiet. It’s time to drown out the naysayers and doomsday predictors in our church.

cafeteria catholics

Several months ago, I was asked by U.S. Catholic to write an opinion piece on “cafeteria Catholics” and the need for a new style of conversation in the church. Is it OK to be a cafeteria Catholic? was published on line this week.

Writing in defense of cafeteria Catholics landed me in hot water in the past. Basically, on one side of the argument we have passionate traditionalists that equate Catholic faithfulness with unswerving belief and and obedience to each and every teaching of the Church. On the other are those of us who sincerely love our faith and love our church, but struggle with some of her teachings. So, the issue of cafeteria Catholicism becomes yet another divisive debate along the old trad-lib ideological lines.

I’m hoping that the article and attached survey will be a spring-board for dialogue…

connecting with strangers

Zachary R. Dehm, a Master of Theological Studies student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, has written a wonderful article in the NCR Young Voices column called Theologians need strangers to help study faith outside of academic footnotes. Zachary admits that he can be shy and introverted, and often dreads the question “what are you studying?” It is much easier to keep your theological ponderings within the safety of academic walls or among a community of like minded souls. And yet, he believes that “theologians need strangers”. They need to welcome the chance conversations of daily life.

Encounter with someone who does not have a studied theological reason for believing or not believing is necessary. It is important to hear the honest, sometimes tension-filled words “I stopped going to church because …” or “I keep going to church in spite of my strong disagreement with …”

I am not a theologian, but I share Zachary’s discomfort. I also share his tendency to be shy and introverted. I have been on many plane trips when seat neighbours asked me what I do, or the purpose of my travels. I hummed and hawed, or made up a simple response to avoid an explanation of my work with the Marianist Lay Communities, a lay organization in the Catholic Church. (A what?)

I still do not feel comfortable telling strangers or acquaintances that I am a writer, dreading the follow up question, “what do you write?”. (Oh, Catholic stuff.)

If I am writing about faith but not willing to share this journey in daily encounters, then why do I write? Who do I write for? I have long been a proponent of taking our faith outside of the church walls. Why, then, do I so often avoid faith conversations with strangers?

One of the big events in our lives these past months has been the sale of hubby’s dental practice. I am asked the same question over and over, “so, what are you going to do with yourself now that you’re retired?”

I am going to spend more glorious time with our grand-babies, I say with all honesty. But, I do not add that I’ll also have more time to write because they do not know that I am a writer. If I tell them, then I have to be willing to enter into a conversation about my writing.

Continue reading

a long sabbatical…..

Dear friends,

Life took many unexpected turns these past months and writing was put on the back burner. The nitty gritty reality of our often messy human existence can force us to choose priorities.

Vatican synods for the Family pale in importance to family matters closer to home and heart.

World and church affairs have little emotional draw when loved ones are hurting.

Decisions of popes and bishops have little meaning in the midst of one’s own personal discernments.

After five months of almost no writing, the desire (and need!) to write has finally returned. So, I’m back. Hopefully it will not be to merely pick up where I left off, but to begin anew.

affectionately,

Isabella

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???

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?