I’m back from Lima, Peru!

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Some of the participants at the meeting. I’m in the front row, second to the left of the banner.

 

Ok, to be honest, I have been back from Lima for nearly two weeks. The 6th International Meeting of Marianist Lay Communities was a great success. The success came not only from the excellent hospitality of our Peruvian hosts, but also from the depth of reflection and sharing among delegates, guests, and observers from around the world. The theme of the meeting was “Faith of the Heart in the Heart of the World”. The process of the meeting was intentional in connecting mind and heart through much personal reflection and small group sharing. Yes, there was time devoted to business matters but the focus was on the gifts and challenges of living and sharing our faith as lay women and men in the world. 

It was evident at our meeting that the spirit of Pope Francis has caught on internationally. Here is a piece I wrote for the National Catholic Reporter blog, NCR Today.

The conclusion of the assembly also marked the conclusion of my term as international President of our Marianist Lay Communities. After all of the intense work in the weeks preceding the meeting, I was expecting to come home with all the worries and burdens magically lifted. I was not expecting the intense physical, emotional, and mental draining that happened instead. I still need to take time to enter fully into this time of transition; in thankfulness for all that has been, and with openness to what the future will hold. 

Of course, one immediate goal is to get this blog going again! :-)

Romes clergy tailors find a subdued mood under low-key Pope Francis | National Catholic Reporter

Romes clergy tailors find a subdued mood under low-key Pope Francis | National Catholic Reporter.

Dear friends,

I’m back from Lima, but still in recuperating mode. All the energy expended in the weeks before the meeting plus the meeting itself took more of a toll than I expected. I have much to share in the days ahead, but just need some time to process all that has been before I lunge into all that will be. ;-)

In the meanwhile, here’s a great piece from the National Catholic Reporter on a topic that always fascinated me – and not in a good way. There is a new man in town, and his simplicity is shaming cardinals , bishops and priests who desire to wrap themselves in princely garb. Pope Francis sent a message to the newly appointed Cardinals preparing for their upcoming installation, “I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.”

Apparently, our good man from Buenos Aires recycled the robes from his predecessor when he was granted the Cardinal reds in 2001! The simplicity of Francis is good news for all who eschew excessive pomp and clericalism. Apparently it is bad news for the high end clerical tailors.

Is dialogue impossible? I hope not!

My bags are packed and I’m flying out to Lima tomorrow. Here’s one last post before I go. It’s actually a two for one special.

The National Catholic Reporter recently suspended their discussion boards due to increased negativity and lack of civil discourse among some respondents. NCR was known for its active comment boards. “NCR Today”, their online blog, received the 2013 Catholic Press Award for its far-reaching discussions. Many of us are missing these discussions, even if they did get nasty at times. Here’s a piece that I wrote for NCR Today on this issue.

In the article, I’ve included a link to a Prairie Messenger column I wrote before Christmas addressing the issue of modern day Pharisees in the Church. (Spoiler alert; Pope Francis is on our side!)

And now I’m off. See you all in two weeks!

In much gratitude for the many good women and men who add to the dialogue with insight, inspiration, and respect.

Isabella

Sacred Heart Church in Camden and Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS

My friend,  Joanne, just shared a wonderful video from Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly on PBS.  It highlights the works of Fr. Michael Doyle and the good people of Sacred Heart Church in Camden. (That’s Joanne on the left in the top picture.)  Joanne is always ready to share the good works of this amazing faith community, and I’m always honoured to give Sacred Heart a shout out.

I have heard many of Joanne’s stories. I have seen pictures from inside the church, and marvelled at the spirit of prayer and social action. This is the first time that I had a peek into the neighbourhood itself. It is also the first time I actually saw the annual service for those murdered in the community. You are right, Joanne. To see you all stand there, representing each person murdered, tears at the heart and highlights the senseless loss of so many lives.

This is gospel living at its finest. What an inspiration. May God’s blessings continue to rain down on Fr. Michael and the good people of Sacred Heart and Camden.

downton abbey and the church

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Here is my latest column for the Prairie Messenger…

The days of maintaining pomp and grandeur at all costs are over. The days of patriarchal superiority are over. The days of claiming exclusivity over wisdom and decision-making based on titles and privilege are over. The days of oppressive hierarchical structures built on the backs of subservient and obedient people are over. The days of women working only behind the scenes with no access to proper leadership positions are over.

Days of Upstairs Downstairs in the Church are over

I had great fun writing this piece It also helped me rationalize the too many hours spent watching TV over the Christmas holidays. I was doing research! ;-)

updates and apologies

Dear friends,

It is time for yet another MEA CULPA! Before Christmas, I was on a roll with reflections on Evangelii Gaudium. I so enjoyed pondering and writing on the hope-filled words of Pope Francis, and hope to return to them soon. But, life took a few unexpected turns in December. If you remember, we already had to deal with some kaka back in September. Well, hubby was back for a second eye surgery just before Christmas. Thanks to a wonderful surgeon and the prayers of many, the procedure went well. But, there was more time off to recover, office renovations to work around, and Christmas to plan for. The days after Christmas were a time for doing glorious nothing!

This month, I am busy with last minute preparations for the International Meeting of Marianist Lay Communities in Lima, Peru. The theme of the meeting is Faith of the Heart in the Heart of the World. The meeting will also mark the end of my term as President of the Marianist Lay Communities. I know I will have much to write about when I come home. 

In the meantime, please know that I have not abandoned this blog. In fact, having more time to write is something that I look forward to very much. There is so much happening in our Church at the moment. The fresh breezes of hope and change are all around us. 

So, here’s to 2014 and all the blessings to come!

we must not speak more about law than grace

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 15

First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. (Evangelii Gaudium, 38)

Pope Francis is giving a simple piece of practical advice for preachers but it is applicable to all our evangelizing efforts. He uses a concrete example. If you give ten homilies on temperance, but only mention charity or justice two or three times, then there is an imbalance that must be righted. We cannot “speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”

I knew a pastor once who never missed an opportunity to preach about Sunday Mass obligation. Sadly, he was preaching to half empty pews. It was not only annoying for those of us who were there, we were getting fed up with the guilt trips that he laid on us. It was our fault if our family members and friends were missing and what were we going to do about it?

Threats of mortal sin and hell fire no longer draw good men and women through the doors of the church. Finger wagging tirades about doctrinal, liturgical and moral indiscretions will probably turn away many who are already there.

Yes, sin exists and Pope Francis never shies away from preaching about it. But, and here is where the proportion is balanced, it must always be preached with a good dose of God’s loving mercy. First and foremost, we must come to know and love God on a personal level. We must hear and embrace the gospel message of Jesus; a message of love, justice and peace. We must be on fire with that message in order to truly live it in the world.

Christian morality, according to Francis, is “not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.”

pastoral ministry in a missionary key

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 14

Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. (Evangelii Gaudium, 35)

Catholic doctrine and teachings are too often presented out of context. Pope Francis reminds us that we must “not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.”

We cannot demand obedience or belief without understanding. We cannot promote morality as a long list of “thou shalt not’s” with no connection to the gospel message of love and mercy. We cannot expect a message to be accepted unless the inherent beauty and wisdom of the message is understood.

Francis is calling us to simplify the message “while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becoming all the more forceful and convincing.” He also models how to do this. His words are clear, simple, and few. He uses images that are recognizable and nudge us to better assimilate the message. He does not couch his talks in dense theological musings. And, surprisingly enough, the world seems to be listening.

excessive centralization complicates the church’s life

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 13

The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. (Evangelii Gaudium, 32)

Pope Francis believes that it his duty as the Bishop of Rome to “be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.”

Vatican II called for a greater collegiality among the pope and bishops as well as a greater sense of subsidiarity for episcopal conferences. Francis is now calling for a renewed effort to make this a reality. He believes that “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.”

These are rumblings of a major paradigm shift about to happen. Whenever there are rumblings, there will be those who fear the uncertainty that comes with change. For some, it will require a major letting go not only of old ways of doing things, but of a leadership structure of elitism and privilege that will be hard to give up. Francis won’t have much trouble convincing many Catholics on the ground of a more horizontal style of leadership. The tougher sell will be among the “princely” leaders of the church.

more pope francis bishops please!

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 12

The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). (Evangelii Gaudium, 31)

Pope Francis encourages all bishops to foster pastoral dialogue, “out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply those who would tell him what he would like to hear.” The focus of forming this active and practical spirit of communion is not ecclesiastical organization, but “the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.”

This missionary aspiration is not always apparent, or it is presented in ways that lack compassion and charity. Reading Catholic news both here in North America and around the world, we see a diversity of bishops. Some are loud, cultural warriors seeking the media spot light to rant and rail against the evils of the world. Some are quiet pastors. Some rule their dioceses with a strong doctrinal arm, with a bevy of faithful minions ready to snitch on those who stray from the black and white lines of orthodoxy. Some focus their efforts on local and national social justice issues. Some revel in ecclesiastical honors and glory. Some live humbly, walking the streets to be with the people; taking on the smell of the sheep.

Francis calls bishops to a new style of leadership. At times, he says, a bishop will “go before his people, pointing the way and keeping the hope vibrant.” At other times, he “will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence.” And, sometimes “he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.”

In his focus on pastoral ministers, Francis has spoken often about the evils of clericalism in the church. Eugene Cullen Kennedy has written a satirical but, sadly, too true piece for the National Catholic Reporter called, The envelope, please, for the 2013 Clericus Maximus Award.

In the almost fifty years that I’ve spent in my current diocese, there has only been one bishop that I would nominate for this award. He is long gone, but his memory and the hurts he left behind remain. We are thankful for the many good bishops in our church, and pray that more will follow in the steps of Pope Francis.