the holy NO!


I have a friend who is a true Martha. We all know the story of the quintessential worker-bee. Martha is busy in the kitchen making sure all will be fed while her sister, Mary, sits leisurely at the feet of Jesus, soaking in his every word. Jesus praises Mary for choosing the better path.

My friend always stood up for Martha. After all, she would say, nothing would get done if it wasn’t for the good souls who see the practical needs, roll up their sleeves, and get it done! You can’t argue with her reasoning. Sitting on a contemplative cloud doesn’t put dinner on the table.

During a recent conversation with our online faith community, my “Martha” friend said that her current goal in life is to learn to say a “Holy NO!” Knowing her busy life, we all chuckled. Then pondered. Then nodded our heads in agreement.

A Holy NO!

Why do we feel so compelled to say Yes! to tasks, favours or projects?

One reason may be due to our catholic upbringing. (Gasp!) We were raised with a theology that goes something like this. “Jesus died on the cross for you. Your life should be a continual sacrifice to honour the ultimate sacrifice made by our Lord and Saviour.”

How can you say No?

Sacrificial thinking was tied to the virtue of obedience. Unquestioning, submissive, humble obedience. In our hierarchical church, these lines of obedience were clearly laid out. Priests obeyed bishops. Bishops obeyed the pope. Laity had to obey them all. Why? Because priests, bishops and the pope spoke for God. Disobeying them was disobeying God.

Again. How can you say No?

Patriarchal thinking ruled family life also. The mother who craved time for herself was pointed towards the ever meek and mild Virgin Mary.  Women were to put aside their own needs, dreams and aspirations. They were to sacrifice all for their family.

Our time, treasure and talents are gifts given to us. Gifts made to be shared. We cannot go through life saying No! to every request made of us. That would be a selfish life indeed, and make for an awkward conversation at the pearly gates.

But, our time, treasure and talents are also limited. We need to discern carefully and wisely to whom we give these gifts. It’s a matter of balancing the Martha and the Mary in our lives.

We all need “Mary” time – with ourselves, our loved ones, with God. “Mary” time feeds the mind, heart and soul. We need to BE as much as we need to DO.

Sometimes we need to give our inner “Martha” a polite, firm, and holy NO!




diabolical is not a nice word!

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea is known for his traditionalist views of liturgy. His words often make headlines in church news circles. For example, he tried to re-install the rule that priests say Mass facing east, with their backs to the people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course,  but Cardinal Sarah is also the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. His liturgical leanings are often in stark contrast to those of his current boss.

The latest headline concerns a new book about reception of Holy Communion. Cardinal Sarah wrote the preface for the book.

“The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favouring an unsuitable manner of receiving it,” the cardinal wrote.

“Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.

“Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the inane nature of the “kneeling and on the tongue” vs “standing and in the hand” debate. Both methods are approved by the Vatican. One is not holier than the other. Kneeling piously does not guarantee reverence in the heart, as standing does not connote irreverence.

Instead, let’s look at the Cardinal’s choice of language.


church lady

This choice of words scream of judgment. Calling the simple gesture of receiving Holy Communion on the hand as “diabolical” hearkens to the days of inquisitions, when the smallest acts or words were twisted, magnified, and used as evidence of heresy. Prosecutable accusations. Yes, accusations.  A simple accusation was often all that was needed for a tortured confession and inevitable punishment.

Thankfully the bonfires are no longer. Some bishops still swing the hammer of excommunication, but their threats fall mostly on sceptical minds and hearts. More and more, these episcopal bullies are being ignored by the faithful; as so they should be. Still, it saddens me to see the outliers in the hierarchy who continue to peddle an angry, judgmental God  rather than a loving God of mercy.

Cardinal Sarah’s choice of words simply feed the divisions in our church. Instead of building bridges between progressives and traditionalists, the Cardinal fires up his followers with language of diabolical attacks on what is, in reality, a liturgical custom or tradition that has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so. In my local parish, we have some folks who kneel and receive the Eucharist on the tongue. They have the freedom to do so, while the rest of us stand and receive in the hand. No biggie!

The ultimate irony, of course, is the use of  the sacrament of COMMUNION as a weapon of division.

For more reading…

Cardinal Sarah: Communion in the hand part of ‘diabolical attack’ on Eucharist (Catholic Herald, UK)

Cardinal Sarah: Receiving Communion in the hand part of a “diabolical attack” on the faith America: the Jesuit Review



keys to the kingdom

Today, February 22, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

I’ve been to Rome many times. When you enter St. Peter’s Basilica, you can’t miss the famous “Chair of St. Peter” hanging on the far wall. The relic appears miraculously suspended in mid-air, floating among Bernini’s golden clouds and cherubs. As with many relics, the authenticity of the chair may be questioned, but the belief in the central role of Peter and his papal descendants is on clear display.

chair of st peter

Today’s gospel reading tells the story of Jesus asking Peter, “Who do YOU say I am?”

Peter replies with, “You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God.”

Jesus rewards Peter with what seems to be an over-the-top gift.

“I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (see Matthew 16)

Wow! I was lucky to get a holy card from Sister Francis for giving the right answer in catechism class. The keys to heaven is some powerful reward!

Reminders of Jesus’s gifting of the keys to Peter are all over Rome. The keys are central to the papal insignia shown below. The keys, gold and silver, represent the power to loose and bind. They are part of the Vatican flag, and are included in each pope’s individual coat of arms.papal keys


In all honesty, I struggle with this gospel reading and its interpretation over the years. The power of the keys gave popes and bishops the rationale to claim ever increasing power throughout church history. Imagine having an unscrupulous leader who was granted this kind of divine right. What could possibly go wrong?

The keys have been used as tools of intimidation, bludgeoning the faithful into submission while emptying their pockets to fill church coffers. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by richly dressed, powerful men who claimed to be judge and jury over all things earthly and divine, threatening you with eternal hell-fire and brimstone?

Peter, himself, was a sinner. Sure, he had one shining  moment of inspiration. One right answer. The gospels also show him as a doubter. A denier. A cowardly man who ran from the cross with the other disciples, fearing for his life. How many times have we heard that this is what made Peter so special? Jesus didn’t choose him because he was perfect. Jesus chose him despite his sins and imperfections.

But, why would Jesus give God-like power to one man? Was absolute power his intention? Was it his intention that this absolute power would be passed down an unbroken line of popes through the centuries, claiming unarguable validity from a couple of scripture lines? Surely, Jesus knew enough about human nature to realize that this was a recipe for disaster?

Miraculously, the church has survived centuries of popes, both sinners and saints…and there were some humdinger sinners! By the 1960’s, Vatican II focused on the collegial nature of papal power. The pope rules in union with his bishops, guided also by the sensus fidei, the sense of the faithful. You and me. The church is the Body of Christ, composed of all the people of God with Jesus as its head. WE are the church.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t need leaders. We do. We need popes, bishops, priests, religious and lay people who embrace servant leadership, not autocratic, absolutist power. We need this in our church. We need it in our world.

We need true servant leaders.

From the moment he was elected, Pope Francis showed the world that he was a different kind of pope, determined to reform church leadership from the Vatican to the parish level. He never tires of preaching about humility, faith of the heart, integrity and sincerity in word and deed.

On this feast day,  I pray that Pope Francis will lead us with his service and example for many years to come.