7 years of blogging

Hnery Clive - Woman Writing at Desk
Woman Writing at Desk- Henry Clive

I began this catholic dialogue blog on December 8, 2010. This anniversary came and went without my notice until I sat down to write about Pope Francis’s Tweet below.

pontifex tweet

I was a big believer in the internet and social media as tools for uniting humanity and networking for good works. Today, I’m not so sure that I share Pope Francis’s optimistic hope for “spaces that are rich in humanity”. The internet is becoming more inhuman and inhumane as the years go by. Malicious software and malicious humans prowl the net spreading misinformation and attacking all in their path.

And yet, there is still good to be found. There are voices speaking out for justice, peace and equality. Calls to unite for resistance. Ideas to ponder. Reflections to encourage. Experiences to share.

I embraced the internet early. VERY early. Hubby arranged for a dial-up connection for me as a birthday present. We were one of the first families in our small town to get connected. I can’t remember the exact year. It was some time in the mid 1990’s. What I do remember is the excitement of hearing the other-worldly sounds of the modem connecting through our phone line. If you’re nostalgic for the old martian sounds, here’s a brief walk down memory lane:


The connections and downloads were painfully slow and tied up the phone line (a serious issue in our family of seven.) The initial subscription came with a 30 hour/month limit. But, I was hooked. At the time I was completing distance courses in theology, and was eager to check out resources online. I ventured into a catholic chat room, eager for good discussions and a chance to test my knowledge. I didn’t expect the depth of passion (obsession!) of some participants. This was my first encounter with militant apologetics. I quietly sneaked out the back door and did not return.

My work in Marianist leadership began in 1997, when I was elected communications co-ordinator for the Marianist Lay Network of North America. The internet was brand new. Friends in the social justice world were quick to criticize the inequality of access to online communications, but I firmly believed in the potential of networking across the miles, languages and cultures.

As I transitioned into international leadership, the internet became even more vital. Relationships and friendships were formed through emails. It was such a joy to eventually meet email friends face to face at meetings. International communications became easier as more and more countries were connected online. Language became less of a barrier with online translating machines. Documents and news were sent back and forth in seconds.

The internet was also the spring-board for my humble writing journey. First, the blog. Then came the wonderful invitation from Maureen Weber at the Prairie Messenger to write a column for the paper. This was soon followed by an invitation from Dennis Coday to write for the NCR Today blog. Sadly, life circumstances curtailed my writing in the past few years, but I owe a debt of gratitude to both Maureen and Dennis for their faith in me.

Today, the ideas are many but the writing is still sporadic. The internet is both friend and foe. It provides me with countless resources to read and ponder each day, but it also consumes my time, my mind, my energy and my creativity. Just one more click! Just one more article! Just a quick check for updates!

The hostility of online writing and discussion boards keeps degenerating into mindless ad hominem attacks, even from people that I otherwise admire. Much needed dialogue is replaced with echo chambers; like-minded people whipping each other into a frenzy of anger and hatred at the “other side”. Our short attention spans bypass serious, in-depth journalism to click on the latest outrageous comment, usually without context or back-ground.

Several times over the past few years I’ve been tempted to “get off the grid” completely. No Twitter. No blogging. And yet…

I believe in the adage of praying/pondering with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. It is important to stay up to date on current affairs. Hiding our heads in the sand does not make the bad news go away. I can, though, try to control when and how much I read the news.

Each day, whether I write or not, people find their way to this blog. These readers come from around the world. Sometimes (often) they are connecting to past writings. They make their way here via search engines, looking for articles on various “things catholic”. Some stay and read a few extra articles. (Thanks, WordPress stats!) So, catholicdialogue.com will continue to plod along. Perhaps, hopefully, it will regain some its past energy. What paths will it take as it enters its 8th year? I don’t know.

For all who have followed faithfully for so long…

For all who have been kind enough to stop by for a quick visit…

For all who have been generous enough to Like or comment on a post…

Thank you…and God bless!




statues, history writ large


Statues, as with any art, are seldom neutral. Images frozen into stone, marble, bronze or wood are more than a reproduction of an actual person or event.

the medium is the message

We stand before seemingly unchanging massiveness,  firmly grounded and soaring above us. Physical immutability etching a permanent message for the ages.

And yet, messages can change. Sometimes they must change. Should statues and monuments reflect that change?


history is not neutral

Many of us learned history by memorizing facts from a text book. The facts we learned depended on the dominant view at the time. For example, as a child I learned of heroic Jesuit missionaries martyred by the savage Iroquois. The historical focus was on courageous colonizers of foreign lands, who brought civilization and Christianity to uneducated natives.

Today, there is an increasing awareness about the dark side of colonialism. European domination and empire building led to enforced assimilation, loss of cultural and linguistic identity, pillaging of natural resources, slavery and war after war after war.

In my university studies, I learned the importance of historical criticism, the need to judge sources carefully. Who is recording the history? What sources are they using? What is their ideological leaning? The most important lesson I learned is that history is never without bias. The honest historian will acknowledge their own bias while trying to be as objective as possible.

But, history is never completely objective or neutral.

historical bias in the church

Some of the most blatant experiences of historical bias can be found in our churches and cathedrals. If history is written by the victors, than those same victors and their followers wanted to make sure we remembered them in all their glory. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is filled with tombs and monuments of military heroes. Massive statues of the apostles stare down at you as you walk the nave of St. John Lateran in Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica itself is dizzying in its proportions. Statues of saints and popes tower over us lesser humans.

The effect of these historical edifices, at least for me, is an “in your face” shout out to patriarchal leadership. If we, in the present, are standing on the shoulders of giants, then those shoulders are predominantly men. And they are GIANT…or at least their egos were.

sinners and saints

As history is read more critically, we learn that many of our saints were more sinner than than we realized. Our heroes were more scoundrel. The fact is that our public squares and worship spaces are filled with monuments to historical figures who have an odious past; who have no place in the public square. Their pasts were whitewashed by faithful scribes. Their looming presence chiseled in stone.

The question is what do we do with them?

Sometimes destruction is necessary for societal healing. Tearing down monuments of toppled tyrants and dictators can be both cathartic and necessary. The problem is, that one person’s tyrant can sometimes be another person’s hero. There is no easy answer.

education and dialogue

As with all controversies, education and dialogue is vital. The more heated the controversy, the more difficult it is to reach a consensus. Often, a consensus will never be reached. What to do?

One solution is to acknowledge the controversial past of the person or event with a plaque, or other educational method, explaining the controversy and encouraging dialogue and education.

Another positive action is to put money and resources into statues and monuments depicting those who have been denied a place in history,

  • Those who have been silenced.
  • Those who have been erased from history literally and/or metaphorically.
  • Those whose backs were broken to fill the purses and feed the egos of the “giants”.

Today, we are experiencing a resurgence of nativism, racism and white supremacy; evils that we thought were safely locked away in the annals of the past. We are watching, horrified, as history is repeating itself.

We cannot erase history. We must remember the evils of the past in order not to repeat the horrors in the present.


Here is an older blog post reflecting on the photo attached to this article…a woman in the the church






love of law vs law of love


“To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40

When I was growing up, being a catholic meant following all the laws of the church. These laws were presented as black and white directives. Our faithfulness as catholics was measured by our faithfulness to these laws. Here are some examples:

  • obligatory Mass attendance
  • obligatory head coverings for women and girls in church
  • obligatory confession before receiving communion
  • obligatory fasting before receiving communion
  • avoidance of all things Protestant, including bibles, books, services, spouses, friends
  • no eating meat on Fridays

An obsessiveness with the law often lead to strange debates. What constituted a head covering? Can a kleenex replace a hat? How late can one come to Mass and still observe their obligation? How early can you leave? Is taking medicine before Mass breaking the fast?

The ever present threat of mortal sin fed our obsessiveness. If we died in the state of mortal sin, we were told, we would face an eternity of hell fire. Fire hurts. It hurts like hell! Avoiding such horrendous punishment became the goal of every good catholic.

And yet, even as a child, I couldn’t understand how missing Sunday Mass was on the same moral footing as murder. Since both were considered a mortal sin, either could send your soul to hell. Really? Would missing Mass put me on the same fast track to damnation as, say, an Adolph Hitler?

Perhaps it’s because of this illogical equating of man-made laws with God’s laws that many of these laws eventually fell to the wayside. The greatest gift of the Second Vatican Council was to sieve through the detritus of rules and regulations in order to focus on faith as a living organism. Being a catholic became less about following rules and more about relationship; with God, with each other and with the world.

Love of Law vs Law of Love

Jesus wasn’t a fan of pharisees who put their love of the law before love of those they served. Despite Jesus’s own admonitions, pharisaical obsession with laws continues in our church today, and is perhaps the greatest cause of division.

For example;

Our liturgy is meant to be the “source and summit” of the church’s prayer life. Instead of focusing on prayer, some liturgists spend time and energy fighting over correct words and actions. Instead of celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity, battles are fought over worship styles, vestments, music, and church decor.

Another example;

Our belief in the dignity of life from conception to the grave has been co-opted into a single-issue culture war by extreme pro-life advocates. They judge politicians and political parties solely on their stance for or against abortion rights. They fight to deny free and easy access to birth control (which is proven to reduce abortions) in the name of religious freedom.

These same pro-life voices are often strangely silent when it comes to promoting universal health care, welcoming refugees and immigrants, guaranteeing living wages, assisting low income families and other social justice issues.

Obsessive adherence to or promotion of laws should never trump the basic law of love.We are blessed with a pope who never tires of preaching about love as the most basic core of our faith. Loving God must translate into human love, or it is meaningless. Love means we care for each other. Love means we work for justice, equality and peace for all. Love means we fight for laws that ensure basic human rights for everyone.

The law of love is so simple. It doesn’t require extensive discernment or study. All that is needed is a touch of empathy…

Do unto others

as you would have them

do unto you.