irish laity and priests call for dialogue on church

There is something brewing in Ireland, and it brings this blogger as much gleeful anticipation as the freshly drawn pint of Guinness I enjoyed in Dublin a few years ago. (Yes, the Guinness tastes best in Dublin. And, yes, I had more than one pint.)

The Association of Catholic priests (representing about 25% of priests in Ireland) sponsored an event to gather lay and ordained to vision together for the church in Ireland. Two hundred participants were expected. One thousand showed up. Michael Kelly, deputy editor of The Irish Catholic, an independent, lay-owned weekly newspaper, reported on yesterday’s events, Ireland assembly of religious and laypeople calls for open church, re-evaluation.

Speaker after speaker at the event called the hierarchy to open up structures of dialogue with lay Catholics about the future of the church.

Fr. Gerry O’Hanlon, a former Jesuit provincial, said the clerical child sexual abuse crisis and its serious mishandling by church leaders has revealed wider and deeper fault lines in the national and universal church.

He described the event as a “wonderful sign of hope” for the future of the church in Ireland. He said the event was “trying to get a group together who really feel strongly about the crisis in the church and want to offer constructive hope and help.

“It’s about looking to a new church where the voice of the faithful, the voice of the laity, is heard more clearly as the Second Vatican Council wanted to happen,” O’Hanlon said.

An assembly of the entire church in Ireland took one step closer Monday with an overflow meeting that saw more than 1,000 priests, religious and laypeople gather to discuss the future of the church.

Of course, this is not the first time that Catholics have gathered in support of dialogue and reform in our church. We are Church is an international reform movement representing the “voice of the people in the pews”. Call to Action and The Voice of the Faithful are just two examples of similar organization in North America that promote dialogue at the grass-roots level.

Promoting a more inclusive church, visioning new models of church and her leadership, respecting individual conscience, speaking out for justice and equality, often puts you on the wrong side of the doctrinal divide. Promoting dialogue can be a dangerous business when questioning and challenging voices are increasingly silenced. This should not be.

This blog promotes dialogue. It is based on the belief that open hearts and open minds are needed to bridge the present ideological divides in our church and in our world. The energy stirring in Ireland is a sign that God’s people give a damn. They give a damn because their faith and their church mean something to them. I hope that the powers that be will sit up and listen to their voices. For listening is the first step to dialogue.

holy thursday foot washing

(This post was first published on April 21, 2011)

The Holy Thursday liturgy is rich with symbols and rituals. We commemorate the Passover meal, which was to be the last supper before Jesus`s death. Several themes are present: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the ordained priesthood, and the call to humble service. Which theme is highlighted and how the liturgy is celebrated can tell a lot about the theological leanings of the pastor and parish.

Here is one view from the pew…

Let us celebrate the Eucharist as the great sacrament of unity – a unity that transcends place and time. Holy Communion is healing food for us sinners. It is a source of energy on our spiritual journey. It should not be used as a tool of power or division.

In this scandal-ridden time of sadness and confusion, many of us are struggling with the exclusive and hierarchical nature of ordination. If Holy Thursday is a time to commemorate the institution of the priesthood, then we need to prayerfully ponder the meaning of priesthood for today.

The symbolic ritual of foot washing is too often a well-orchestrated spectacle. Many of us in the pews are immersed in the reality and messiness of service. We wash and care for our loved ones, from the wee babes to our elders. We teach and nurse. We serve and protect. We save and heal. We do this daily, without solemn processions and choirs singing. And, when we do, we aren`t surrounded by ministers and assistants carrying beautiful jugs, basins and fluffy white towels.

Rituals only have meaning if they are a sign of a deeper reality. Our church and our world are in need of true servant leaders. We are in need of men and women willing, like Jesus, to humbly bend before the feet of those they are called to serve.

many spiritualities…one church

Contrary to what some think, or would like to see, there is no such thing as a one-size fits all Catholic spirituality. There is one faith, but many and diverse ways to express it.

Throughout the centuries, holy women and men were inspired by the signs of their times to focus on a specific aspect of our faith and sought ways to live out that focus more deeply. For St. Francis, it was gospel poverty and simplicity. For St. Benedict, it was to follow the rhythm of prayer and work within the nitty-gritty of monastic life. For St. Dominic, it was to devote oneself to serious theological study in order to defend the faith. For St. Teresa of Avila, it was to plumb the depths of interior prayer. For Mother Teresa of Calcutta, it was to seek Christ in the face of the poorest of the poor, those rejected by society.

Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, the Missionaries of Charity all have a special gospel focus or charism; an inspired gift of the Holy Spirit. And out of that focus, comes a specific mission or apostolate. This mission is nurtured and formed by its way of thinking, doing, and praying; a specific spirituality.

To paraphrase the great St. Teresa of Avila, there are many rooms in the mansion that is the Church. There is room for Gregorian chanting traditionalists and for guitar strumming liberals. There is room for introverted hermits and outgoing evangelizers. There is room for the simply pious, and for intellectually soaring minds. And, there is a spirituality to fit just about anyone. The key is to find the right fit.

I found my fit over thirty years ago as a university student. I joined a small faith group that was being formed by some local Marianist priests and brothers. We met weekly to discuss various faith issues with the zeal (and all-knowing wisdom!) of young adults. We were encouraged to question, ponder and dialogue. We celebrated liturgies together. Our prayers soared with music provided by the gifted musicians among us. We prayed and we played together. Our favorite times were retreat weekends at the Brothers’ wilderness cabin. Some of the communities and friendships that were formed those many years ago still exist today. Several of those friendships turned into marriages; including our own.

Today, these communities are called Marianist Lay Communities and are part of a community of communities around the world. I just wrote a column for the Prairie Messenger called An example of community: the Marianist tradition. It gives a wee bit of a back-ground to the spirituality that I have embraced; embraced because it fits.