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.

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