pope francis talks and models dialogue

pope and congress

When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. .. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces. (Pope Francis addressing Congress)

Pope Francis is proving to the world that respectful speech will move hearts more readily than aggressive arguments. A kind, peaceful demeanour can be more powerful than angry, wagging fingers. Acknowledging that which unites us rather than railing against that which divides us opens doors to peace. This is a pope who promotes and models dialogue over diatribe.

During his visit to the USA, he has repeatedly spoken of the need to dialogue to overcome existing polarities in our church and in our world. In today’s address to Congress, he mentioned “dialogue” twelve times. Yesterday, he called the American bishops to be “promoters of the culture of encounter” saying,

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love

Surely it is no accident that Francis spoke strongly of the need for dialogue to both bishops and members of congress. Pope Francis faces similar challenges within the Curia and the Synod of Bishops that President Obama faced in Congress. Pope and President both came into their offices with dreams and hopes for change. Both offered us promises of ushering in much needed change; change that would promote equality, peace and justice.

Both leaders have been stymied by a lack of dialogue from those who hold tight the reins of governance with a myopic determination to ensure that change will never come under their watch.

Why is dialogue so hard?

Dialogue requires us to control our passions and emotions in the midst of difficult discussions. Perhaps the most importance aspect of dialogue, and the one we usually struggle with the most, is to simply stop speaking and listen. Listen effectively. Ponder carefully. Respond respectively.


Let’s make it more interesting. Watch any candidate or leadership debate on either side of the border. Now, let’s make it into a drinking game. Raise a glass every time a speaker is interrupted mid-sentence by another participant. Most of us would be tipsy within the first 20 minutes.

And, how about the discussion boards on some Catholic sites? I’m a huge fan of NCR. Their discussion boards offer an opportunity for dialogue that is rarely found in the Catholic Church. They attract many intelligent and witty writers. Sadly, too often what began as a respectful and thoughtful back and forth of ideas degenerates into a childish, mean-spirited fight between progressives and traditionalists.

At last year’s Synod of Bishops, it didn’t take long for idealogical lines to be drawn among the episcopal brethren. It shouldn’t surprise us that the world’s bishops don’t constitute an homogenous mind-set. But, it will take the patience of a saint and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to ensure respectful dialogue and not aggressive debate among these men, especially on issues that produce strong passion and conviction from differing views. No wonder Pope Francis keeps asking us to pray for him.

Today’s address to Congress was a brilliant example of a heart that yearns for dialogue. Yes, Francis could have challenged more, and sugar-coated less. But, he managed to speak to all. urging all to embrace their call to leadership as a vocation of service.

Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

I don’t want to go to church!


Each morning I wake up and reboot my internal calendar. Cobwebs clear and the day before me comes into focus. With retirement comes a letting go of many daily obligations. It is a joy not to think in Monday to Friday terms anymore. No more work day grumbling and moaning. Life still provides many commitments, but there is a lovely sense of freedom. In the words of Harry Chapin, “I let time go lightly”, relishing this new pace of life with my hubby.

The obligation of Sunday morning Mass attendance remains. And, an obligation it continues to be. I struggle most Sunday mornings to drag myself to church. If not for my faithful and committed hubby, I would probably have stopped going years ago.

I blame my aversion on too many years of putting up with priests who were either anger provoking or less than inspiring. Dysfunctional behaviour is probably worse than mediocrity, but both can be a challenge for us poor souls in the pews.

Yes, yes, I know that it is not the church of the priest. WE are the church. But, as with any organization, the health of the organization is directly affected by the quality of its leadership. Our parishes and worship reflect the clerical-centric structure of the institutional church. The priest has the final word in parish administration; lay councils can only advise him. The priest leads the prayer. The priest breaks open the word at the homily.

Some priests are truly gifted pastors, and blessed is the parish or community that they serve. Some are kind souls, but simply lack liturgical or homiletic skills. Some are overly harsh and judgmental, showing disdain to the less-than-perfectly-Catholic. Some are just too lazy to put much effort into the task of preaching.

I’m not a patient person, and my patience is wearing ever thinner as the years go on. I’m tired of feeling like a hostage on Sunday mornings. I’m tired of going to mass out of guilt rather than genuine desire. I’m tired of leaving the church tired and depressed rather than rejuvenated and nourished.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our liturgical life. It is meant to be a foretaste of the Kingdom, a touch of heaven on earth. What can we do if it feels less than heavenly? What do you do?

democracy and the church


Our western society views democracy as an inherent right.  We have fought wars in its name. We believe that democracy can cure the ills of many nations, and have self-righteously offered it as a panacea for countries suffering from instability and chaos.

Many reform minded catholics yearn for a more democratic church; one where the people have an effective voice in current issues, and a vote in their leadership.

The reality is that democracy does not guarantee good leaders. It does not guarantee a just and equitable society.

Democracy is at its best when the people are invested in the process and make the effort to be informed. Sadly, we experience wide spread voter apathy and a media that too often resorts to schlock reporting rather than in-depth analyses.

There is a soap opera quality to daily political news. What shocking headlines will hook us into reading an article or viewing a video online? What new dirt has been dug up on the current roster of candidates? Whose star is rising and who is tumbling into electoral oblivion even before the polls open? What cheesy plot is being rehashed yet again? Our news is delivered in sound bites, often wrapped with blatant bias. We find out more about the personal lives and missteps of candidates than about the real issues at hand.

The serious voter will delve into the story behind the head-lines and listen to or read speeches in their entirety. They will explore candidate and party platforms and search well written, intelligent commentaries and opinion pieces. It takes serious work to be a serious voter. Yet, many of us shirk the duty to educate ourselves about issues. Too many don’t even make the effort to vote. Seriously….we don’t give a damn. And, this does not bode well for democracy.

Would democracy have a better chance in the church?

I confess to being a church news junky. I scour catholic sites for the latest news. My shelves and Kindle are filled with more church related books than novels. But, church news can take on the same “soap opera” quality as does political coverage. It is human nature to be hooked by headlines that announce more sensational stories. When church leaders speak, their quotations can also be taken out of context or the full issue is not presented clearly.  Even with a well written article, discussion boards show how quickly the main message can be thrown aside in order to better serve the narrow agenda of some posters. 

If we were offered the opportunity to vote within our church, would we? How many catholics really care about church issues beyond Mass on Sundays? How many catholics would participate in a leadership vote if given the chance? How many catholics would lend their voices to a dialogue on issues affecting women and men in the church? Would an open electoral process help unify us, or simply magnify the existing polarity between progressives and traditionalists?

I admit that these are simple musings, as I watch our electoral process unfold yet again both in Canada and the USA. It has made me think about our own church politics. I view the popularity of a Donald Trump with horror. Then, again, there are bishops in the church that are darlings to one crowd and enemies of another.

I believe that it is time to reform the hierarchical structure of our church. Authority and voice can no longer be barricaded and protected behind the walls of ordination. Are we, as lay women and men, invested enough in the issues of our church to “give a damn”? Do we try to understand and inform ourselves about the issues facing our local, national and world church? Are we willing to enter into dialogue with those who think differently from us, to help seek common ground rather than feed divisions?

Again….I’m simply musing….