pondering a more centralized church


Pope Francis is promoting a more centralized church. In my latest PM article, I ponder the good and the bad of giving bishops more power.

A decentralized church is not always a good thing. What if your local church is ruled by iron-handed episcopal edicts, focused on creating a purer church? What if your bishop spends more time delivering judgmental diatribes than compassionate messages of gospel love and hope? Would you want your bishop to have even more decision-making power in your diocese?

Read more here, at the Prairie Messenger.

francis again shows he is a pastoral pope

More off the cuff remarks by Pope Francis are lighting up discussion boards and the blogosphere. The topic du jour is the reception of communion by Lutherans and Catholics. A more detailed report by Joshua J. McElwee can be found on NCR.

Ecumenical commissions have been taking place for decades, carefully dissecting doctrines in hopes of finding common ground for issues such as inter-communion. Doctrine is what divided us, so focusing on doctrine is a necessary starting point. Doctrine can also bring dialogue to a stand still.

Despite what the critics of Francis say, our pope is no light-weight theologian. The glaring difference between our current pope and his two predecessors is that Francis consistently chooses a pastoral approach over black and white rules and regulations. His comments yesterday model how to interpret church teachings in light of the needs of women and men in the pews. He nudges us to return to the core of the Christian faith journey.

“There are explanations, interpretations,” said the pope. “Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always make reference to Baptism.”

“‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord,’ Paul tells us,” Francis continued. “From there, grab hold of the consequences.”

“I will not ever dare to give permission to do this because it is not my competence,” he said. “One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I do not dare to say more.”

Francis knows he can’t simply offer a carte blanche eucharistic welcome for all Christians. Can you imagine the tangle of ecclesial lace he would face from bishops and priests who feel duty-bound to patrol their communion lines? The recent synod showed the disagreement among bishops around the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics and communion. It’s sadly ironic when the eucharist, the sacrament of unity, becomes a source of division; when doctrine trumps pastoral needs.

The key, I think, is in the words “Speak with the Lord and go forward”. The pope is acknowledging the role of individual conscience with the important caveat of discernment. An informed conscience requires the hard work of seeking deeper understanding so we can make a heartfelt assent in faith. Respecting this conscience is a sign of an adult church that treats women and men as adults, allowing for the grace of God to flow freely.

Communion is not a reward for the sinless and pure. If it was, our communion lines would be sparse indeed. Francis asks the important question,

“Is sharing the Lord’s Supper the end of a path or is it the viaticum for walking together?”

no black and white answers for black and white evil

News of the horrific attacks in Paris yesterday left me stunned. Without words.

And, yet…

If you follow world news, you know that suicide bombers and deadly attacks on innocent people happen almost daily in war torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. The headlines are so frequent that we become immune to them.

Attacks on a western country slap us out of our apathy. We want the world to see the injustice done to us. We expect others to rally around us and help us to bear the burden of our pain.  We scream for retaliation.

We quickly point fingers of blame…Our security systems failed us. Someone must be held accountable.

Worse, we feel vindicated for our ethnic, cultural and religious bigotry. See? We knew they are evil.

ISIS and other terror groups live in a black and white world. Their existence, their mandate, their actions are all based on simplistic thinking. We are the righteous ones. There is no need to discern the subtleties of peaceful co-existence. There is no need for dialogue. There is no need for seeking common ground with the other. The other does not even have a right to exist.

How do we respond?

Hawks are already demanding swift and complete retaliation. An eye for an eye…and more.

Doves are calling for peace, mercy, understanding and tolerance.

There are no black and white answers.  The dove in my mind and heart wants to believe that violence can be stopped without more violence.  I continue to hope for an answer that lies somewhere in the grey in-between; between destructive acts of war and ineffective words of peace.

Do I have an answer? No.

So…I pray for Paris.

I pray for the world.

I pray for peace.

And, I pray for wise, strong leaders who can look beyond the anger of the moment. Leaders who will not react impulsively. Leaders who will not feed the existing divisions among peoples by playing to populist mentalities of “us and them”.  Leaders who can, together, ponder and discern the right response to such horrific evil.