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.”

synod requires a culture of encounter

Pope Francis is a man who knows how to speak to the heart, from the heart. His homilies and talks touch many because he genuinely shared the life of the people he served in Buenos Aires.

Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.

(Pope Francis, October 4, 2014. Prayer vigil before Synod on the family.)

Francis paints a realistic image of the joys and struggles of family life. Pastoral experience and compassion give credibility to his words. The above quote is included in the lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on the family.

Some priests and bishops focus on promoting an idealized model of family wrapped in doctrinal purity and moral perfection. Perfection is unattainable for most. Despite our sincerest efforts, family life is often challenging and down right messy. We do not need to hear any more condemnations of our failings, or judgmental diatribes about our lives or those of our loved ones. We need compassionate support and practical help to safely traverse the challenges before us. We need spiritual tools to remain grounded in God’s love in the midst of the messiness.

It is simplistic and wrong to say that priests and bishops, because they are celibate, have no right to preach or teach about family life. The key, of course, is how grounded they are in the lived reality of those they serve. Pope Francis has captured the hearts of many because of his experience as a pastor who reached out beyond the confines of the chancery office. The recent synod recognized the need for the church to embrace this pastoral approach.

The path of renewal delineated by the Extraordinary Synod is set within the wider ecclesial context indicated by Pope Francis in his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, namely, starting from “life’s periphery” and engaging in pastoral activity that is characterized by a “culture of encounter” (Lineamenta, p.18)

Do you know a pastor or bishop whose homilies are characterized by a “culture of encounter” formed from genuine time spent with the families he serves? Please share your story.