of popes and mercy


Pope Francis never tires of promoting a church of mercy. His recent announcement of a Holy Year of Mercy  has cemented his title as “the Pope of Mercy”. But, wait. Shouldn’t Pope John Paul II be called the Pope of Mercy? After all, didn’t he promote the Divine Mercy devotion and officially proclaim the first Sunday of Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday?

Both popes preached of mercy but their style and approach was different.

In my opinion, the Polish Pope’s personal devotion to the writings and visions of St. Faustina Kowalska should have remained just that. A personal devotion. The church has a healthy skepticism and caution regarding personal revelations and visions. Catholics are never obligated to believe them. Yet, here was the Pope not only actively promoting a devotion, but also fast-tracking its founder to sainthood. It’s unfortunate that the devotion and the message of God’s divine mercy were so closely woven together, for the former often overshadowed the latter.

There was also an irony in all the talk of God’s mercy while the church, herself, was becoming increasingly clerical, authoritarian, and focused on maintaining doctrinal purity within her ranks. During the previous two papacies, there were many who felt the church’s wrath, not her mercy.

And then along came Pope Francis. From the moment he stepped onto the papal balcony, he exuded mercy in both word and deed. He nudged us to go beyond church walls and did so himself. He never tired of writing about and speaking about not just God’s mercy for us sinners, but also the mercy that WE must show as a church. In his March 17th homily at Domus Sanctae Marthae he stressed the importance of mercy and not judgment toward those who had left the church and are now seeking to return,

“And how many times today in Christian communities [they] find closed doors: ‘But you cannot, no, you cannot,'” said the pope, imitating someone who prevents such people from reentering the community.

“‘You have done wrong here and you cannot,'” Francis continued the imitation. “‘If you want to come, come to Mass on Sunday, but stay there, but do not do more.'”

 Summing up how he feels about such a situation, the pontiff said: “That which the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of people, Christians with the psychology of doctors of the law destroy.”

 Francis reflects Jesus’s impatience with the Pharisees of his own day. Over and over again Jesus stressed that the law of love and mercy must always be above man made laws and traditions. Over and over again Francis, too, speaks of the need to show mercy before judgment.

 When this Pope calls us to a much needed Jubilee year of mercy, there is a feeling of optimism that mercy and compassion might begin to flow more freely within our church, and out into the world.

This is the Psalm (145)  in today’s liturgical readings. The response is “The LORD is gracious and merciful”. If the church began to genuinely reflect God’s mercy, what would she look like?

Here is the same Psalm reworded. A vision of a merciful church indeed!

The Church is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The Church is good to all

and compassionate toward all God’s people.


The Church is faithful in all her words

and holy in all her works.

The Church lifts up all who are falling

and raises up all who are bowed down.


The Church is just in all her ways

and holy in all her works.

The Church is near to all who call upon her,

to all who call upon her in truth.

family life and prayer support

From the Prairie Messenger:

Meditator, yoga instructor and missionary Elaine Zakreski is passionate about sharing the peace of Christ with others.

As a student of the Living School, a two-year course of study through Richard Rohr’s centre for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, Zakreski is embarking on an experiment linking women in Saskatoon to women in Malawi, Africa through meditation and prayer.

via Malawi-Ursuline prayer connection established.

Much about the two Synods on the Family has focused on what the church can do to better support families. By “the church”, we too often refer to the institution – parishes, dioceses, episcopal conferences, and the Vatican. But, what can WE do as individuals and communities?

A community of elder Ursuline Sisters in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan are simply connecting with elder women in Malawi through prayer and meditation. The “Go-Go Grandmothers” of Malawi have taken on the responsibility of raising their orphaned grand-children while struggling with the economic and health challenges of aging. (Note to the Synod fathers: This is family love and commitment in its highest form.)

Can the knowledge that you are being prayed for take away all your problems? Probably not. But, knowing that you are being held in loving prayer can give you the courage to face the daily struggles. Being connected personally, having your name raised to the heavens in union with all the saints, is a generous act of love and support.

In the last year, in the midst of our own family struggles, my own prayer often fell to the wayside. It was at this time that the prayers were lovingly picked up and raised up for me – for us – by my dear friends, the women of the Our Lady of the Round Table online faith community. The act of being remembered in my silent absence was a powerful reminder that we were not travelling this journey alone.

Some like to describe the core of our faith in terms of dogmas and beliefs. We have certainly had an earful of doctrinal pronouncements regarding this synod and family life. What if we changed gears and looked to the power of prayer? Not just liturgical prayer, and worries about who attends mass and who doesn’t, but intentional, personal and communal, prayers of presence, awareness and mutual support?

(Note: Elaine Zakreski and her husband, Peter, do more then pray for the women in Malawi. They are the founders of the Hope for Malawi Foundation Inc. and have travelled extensively to Malawi and helped with various community projects.Awareness leading to prayer leading to action.)

LGBT hospitality and the church


The questionnaire for the upcoming Synod for the Family includes the following;

  1. How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate? While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation? (Lineamenta, p.25)

Let’s try to ignore the clunky and awkward language (homosexual tendencies…”such persons”) and focus on the invitation to dialogue. And, a dialogue on the church’s hospitality (or lack of) to LGBT persons is sorely needed.

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone continues to make headlines with his proposed Faculty Handbook for local Catholic schools. Sadly, his culture warrior approach of doctrinal enforcement is not unique. Instead of proposing dialogue seeking understanding, these tactics turn a diocese into a judgmental community of heresy seeking suspicion.

What does it say to a young LGBT person when teachers or parish workers are threatened with dismissal not only for living in an openly gay relationship, but also for simply supporting those who do? How can a person feel welcomed in a church that judges them as “intrinsically disordered”?

Sam Albano has written a heartfelt and faith-filled essay for NCR titled That all might hear the Gospel and life. He describes his own experience of being asked to resign from active parish ministry. For many, this would be the final nudge out the church doors but Sam writes,

And I remain steadfast in my pilgrimage as a gay Catholic man, trusting in God and striving to follow the way of the Gospel. I continue to love my parish. I continue to love my pastor. And I persist in my love for the church. My service to God and to the church has clearly changed, but certainly not ended.

Those who hope for a “leaner and purer” church are happily holding the door wide open for those who do not live up to their ideals of doctrinal perfection. My hope and prayer is for more women and men like Sam to remain steadfast in their faith and in their belief in a loving God that welcomes all. Their refusal to leave the church inspires others to stay and work together for a more just and inclusive church.

I also hope that the Synod bishops will take time to put aside the lengthy, dense documents and simply sit and listen to more stories like Sam’s. Black and white pronouncements can close minds. The sharing of personal journeys can open hearts.

marianist lgbt issues with youth

A positive aspect of the Synod questionnaire is its request for concrete examples of pastoral initiatives. The Marianist Social Justice Collaborative has published an online booklet titled Addressing LGBT Issues with Youth; a Resource for Educators.  This resource clearly states current church teachings while acknowledging the complexity of balancing doctrine with real life. Navigating this complexity is not easy. It requires a prayerful, well-informed and discerning conscience.

I was especially impressed with the wealth of practical advice in this short booklet, from intentionally including LGBT issues in more general class-room discussions to how to listen to and support a young person and their family in their “coming out”.

The authors are obviously writing from experience, knowing that simply inviting a dialogue on LGBT hospitality in the church can draw angry responses from some. But, they believe, “The issue is not debating the existence of gay and lesbian students, however, but rather ensuring they are treated with the dignity due all God’s children.”