You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Catholicism’ tag.

My friend Marilyn, at age 83, is afraid of changes in the Catholic Church. Not because the Church is moving forward, but back — to pre-Vatican II thinking and acting. She doesn’t want to go back. Neither do I.

I don’t remember the Church pre-Vatican II; it was over before I was born. But I know the Church of my childhood, and it is the Church I love: open, welcoming, modern. Enough with the pomp and circumstance! Let the people be a true part of the celebration of their faith! Primacy of conscience! Right to legitimate dissent! Sensus fidelium!

Many parishes, alas, are regressing. There is a patina of lost glory around things like Latin masses, altar boys in red cassocks with censors and incense, and the clergy being elevated to a pedestal unreachable to the rest of us. Funnily enough, this pining for the old days occurs less in older people — who remember those days well — than in younger people, particularly younger priests. They like the idea of being cloaked in mystery, of being above and beyond the people of God. It makes them more important.

I read some comments by a German nun this week questioning, again, the regulation against women priests. (Here’s a hint: It basically comes down to “the wrong plumbing.”) You should have read the responses on Facebook from the so-called faithful! “Your job is not to doubt; it is to obey.” “The bishops and cardinals know best.” Do they? Is it? Primacy of conscience. Right to legitimate dissent. Sensus fidelium. All of these things back the nun, not the Facebook commenters. Is no one being taught the lessons of Vatican II?

I am hoping this regression to the “good old days” will lapse into obscurity. Just as the ‘80s brought back the ‘50s — and then promptly forgot them — I hope that the shine will come off the apple of the pre-Vatican II church and that the precepts of Vatican II will come back into the spotlight again. Because going backward has never been the answer, in any human endeavor. We can only move ahead. Even if that means leaving some people behind.

Advertisements

Spoiler alert: If you’re looking for declarative answers, this is not your lucky day. Because no one has them. Yes, all Christians believe in a “triune” God — one God composed of three persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. But to try to make a triune God fit in a square box would be nothing but an exercise in futility. God is not so easily defined.

But let’s try. The three persons of God are God fully present in each of God’s roles: As God our Father in Heaven; as Jesus, God’s son; and as The Holy Spirit, who operates as a sort of bridge between Father and Son and between God and us. Think of it like water, which can assume three forms: ice, liquid and steam, yet remains one chemical compound, H2O. Three unique embodiments, one unified composition.

If you’re not satisfied with that explanation, I understand. It’s tricky. But therein lies the beauty of the Holy Trinity, and of Catholicism. See, us Catholics perceive the Holy Trinity (and other difficult concepts) as a mystery of the church. In other words, it’s okay to be confused. The church, in a beautifully zen move, admits that not everything can be neatly defined. Some things are not explicable. And that’s okay.

We live our lives in tension with mystery: How exactly does gravity work? How can something exist if I can’t see or touch it? How does an egg and a sperm become a human being? Nobody has all the answers, even if they very much want to. The Holy Trinity is like that.

I think one of the greatest chores of our lives is to give in to mystery, to admit that we don’t know and that not knowing is acceptable. I pray to God in all three persons, as a father who creates, loves and cares for me; as Jesus, my brother and friend, who lived a human life like mine; and as the Holy Spirit, who enlightens and empowers and transmits the grace that allows me to grapple with the great mysteries of life. Yet there is only one God. This isn’t the Pep Brothers or Donald Duck’s nephews — three guys who are always seen together. This is one indivisible God in three unique persons.

And, of course, God isn’t a guy at all. Or a gal. But that’s an entirely different mystery. Let’s save that one for another day.

If there’s one thing you ought to know about me by now, it’s that I’m a Catholic. And if there’s one thing that you ought to know about Catholics, it’s that we love Mary. No, we do NOT worship her. We do NOT pray to her. We ask for her intercession because she is the one human being in all of history to have had an intimate relationship with God in all three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No one knows God better. No one is closer to God.

When children fall and hurt themselves, they run to their mother. So do Catholics. Our “falls” might be physical, mental or spiritual. But when we hurt, we reach out to Mary for comfort. She is our advocate.

The quintessential Marian prayer is the “Hail Mary.” It is taken partly from the words of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth when she saw Mary coming to visit her and recognized what was happening to her — Mary was carrying the Savior in her womb. Here’s how it goes:

Hail Mary, full of grace!
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Hail Mary is the most basic prayer needed to pray the rosary. There are a few others — the Our Father, the Glory Be, the Apostles’ Creed — but the Hail Mary is the foundation.

Why so much talk about Mary? Call it passing on the words of my people. My own relationship with Our Lady has brought peace to my life, and I think it could help you, too. The single thing necessary for building a relationship with Mary is simply the desire to do so. Just open the door. Talk to your Mother. What, you’re too busy? Don’t worry about it. Start with the Hail Mary. Let it lead you home. Mary can become your confidante and prayer partner. After all, Mother knows best.

How I love our Pope! Did anyone expect such a firebrand? He stands with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. He stands with our Mother Earth. And this week, he made a pronouncement that’s sure to send conservatives into a lather: He said, essentially, that it is better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic.

What’s a hypocritical Catholic? Let’s speculate. Perhaps it is a person who claims to follow Christ but does not welcome him in the form of immigrants. Perhaps it is a person who vows to respect all life, but doesn’t believe in providing help to those in need or protecting our planet from those who seek to plunder it for profit. Heck, maybe it’s me — I’m far from perfect. Whoever or whatever the hypocritical Catholic is, the Pope’s words are a challenge to us: Put your money where your mouth is. If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. If you want to truly follow Christ, you better leave your ivory tower or diamond-encrusted cage and get down in the dirt with the least of God’s children.

I know several atheists. They are good people. They do good not because they believe in a theological or religious system, but because doing good makes sense to them. Because they want the world to be a better place. Even the most embittered atheists have to make moral choices. That they would make positive ones, without any spiritual model to back them up, is nothing short of wonderful.

And yet, supposedly Christian and Catholic people make bad choices all the time. I can think of several Catholics in government positions who think cutting health care, Medicare and assistance to the poor is a sound fiscal and moral idea. Sure, our country was founded on the separation of church and state. But if being a Christian Catholic is who you are at your core, it ought to drive everything you do, right?

Jesus was known for calling people out on uncomfortable realities. It seems Pope Francis is walking in his footsteps. That’s a very good thing.

I got a funny response to one of my posts once. It was litany of reasons (tagged “an interesting read”) why Catholicism is wrong, wrong, completely wrong. I ignored it. Not because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks (I am neither terribly aged nor canine), but because Catholicism is ingrained in me. It is woven into my being like a fine silk thread. Once, someone asked me if I was “a cradle Catholic.” I responded that I had been born five weeks early — my mother had gone into labor during Mass on Christmas Day — and that I’d been born in a Catholic hospital and named after a priest. (Fr. Lawrence Smith, devotee of his namesake, St. Lawrence, and who himself is surely a saint now.) You don’t get more cradle-y than that.

One of complaints in the aforementioned litany concerned the sacrament of Reconciliation. Having just experienced the sacrament’s sweeping beauty just last night, I thought there no better time than the present to explicate it further. My detractor noted, “Only God can forgive sins.” Yes. Of course. A priest does so as a representative of God. Jesus himself told the apostles that whose sins they forgave in His name would be forgiven in heaven. Sweeping aside the notion that priests (as vowed disciples of Christ) are the successors to the apostles — I can’t sweep it aside, but maybe someone else can — there is more to the story than merely this.

All sin is public. You may think that diatribe you utter in the privacy of your own home has no ripple effect in the larger world, but you’d be wrong. All sin affects others because it causes you to be estranged from the Church; and, as we know, the Church is made up of the people of God. What I do wrong hurts you. It changes the air between us. It warps all of my relationships on a molecular level. The priest, as the representative of the Church, extends mercy to me on behalf of those I’ve wounded. I can’t apologize to all of you, but I can apologize to the person who shepherds our local flock.

True, priests are not perfect. There are a few bad apples, just as there are bad doctors, bad politicians and bad truck drivers. This imperfection — and I promise you, most of the men I’ve known as priests strive hard to avoid imperfection — does not make a priest incapable of being the conduit of forgiveness. If a baby were dying before my eyes, I could baptize it — and I’m not even a priest. Sinner that I am, God can still use me to do God’s work.

We used to call this sacrament “Confession.” The Church updated its language more than 30 years ago to reflect the fact that it is so much more. The sacrament is greater than just a personal unburdening of sin. It is a celebration of mutual healing: I am healed, and the community I’ve wounded is healed as well. What a lovely two-way street it is!

Reconciliation is a beautiful thing, especially at this time of year. Advent calls us to walk together to that place where we behold the Son of God in all His humanity, in all His glory. I can’t walk with you if we are estranged from one another. Even if you think Catholicism is wrong, wrong, completely wrong, you must admit: Anything that brings us together must be a good thing.

Of late, the popularity of Pope Francis has plummeted, particularly in the U.S. I guess some people (particularly Conservatives) don’t like what he has to say. Which is really funny when you think about it — because there’s nothing that Francis is saying that hasn’t been said before, by Jesus himself.

Feed the poor? Check. The rich man will not get into heaven unless he changes his ways? Check. Blessed are the suffering and outcast? Yep, that too. Honestly, you’d think the Pope was saying something radical. Anyone who’s read the Gospels knows who the real radical was and is. It’s why Jesus was put to death: Instead of leading an army against the Romans, He took the side of the marginalized. He wasn’t what the people of the time expected from a savior. Nor is Francis what you might expect from a Pope. He eschews pomp and circumstance for humility and simplicity. He doesn’t try to be popular.

Just as Jesus riled up the powers-that-be, Francis disconcerts the mighty. As well he should. Who said being a Christian was going to be easy? Anyone who thinks so is barking up the wrong tree (in the medieval sense, where “tree” meant “cross”). It is the Pope’s job to disconcert. That is how change occurs.

And, as ever, we need to change. Thousands and thousands of years post-Christ and what have we learned? We still choose war over peace, division over communion, and money over just about everything else. We still lack in love. We would still crucify Jesus for not being what we want.

If Christ came back tomorrow, I daresay he would be even less popular than Francis, especially in America, a country that many (especially those in power) call “Christian,” a country that claims to be “one nation under God.” Which begs the question: Do we really know what being Christian means?

Look to Francis for answers. And if you don’t like those answers, feel free to be disconcerted. You should be.

The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming! Already he is in the Americas, being besieged everywhere he goes by happy, hopeful people. Our Papa is a ray of sunshine after a very long stretch of darkness. I’ve lived half a century, and Francis is the first Pope that has prompted optimism in my soul. No, the Church isn’t actually changing much, but even hearing words of acceptance, possibility and radical positioning with the poor and marginalized causes me ineffable joy. As it does in many others. This is where the Church should be going.

Alas, Francis has hinted that his papacy may be short-lived. While I sympathize and understand — being Pope must be the most exhausting position possible — I hope it will not be so. The Church needs the breath of fresh air Francis brings, and I fear that if he steps down (or God forbid, dies), the Cardinals will waste no time in reacting with a swift slamming of the door, almost certainly installing a Pope more reactionary and conservative than even Francis’ predecessors. While Francis is certainly loved, he is also feared by those who would keep the Church immured in the Middle Ages.

What else is in the news? Reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage, that’s what. Already some people are nervously squawking about religious freedom being breached. Don’t worry, chickens! The Church is not changing. Yes, civic marriage is legal for homosexuals. But they cannot receive the sacrament of marriage from the Catholic Church. The Church decides who receives which sacraments (and why). They cannot be made to change by anyone outside of the Church.

Which is not to say that homosexuals cannot receive sacraments. Clearly, they already do. Still, it’s safe to say that whether you (or anyone) is “good enough” to receive one sacrament but not another is an assessment that only the Church in its infinite mystery is allowed to make. Women, for instance, cannot receive Holy Orders. In fact, only a man can hope to attain all seven sacraments. The rest of us are excluded not by unfitness so much (though many in the Church hierarchy might argue this point) as because of things we cannot control. Because we were born women. Or gay.

Is this fair? I don’t think so. But I don’t make the rules. However, I believe I can state (as our pastor did) that the Church will not be performing gay weddings anytime soon. On the other hand, our pastor also warned me not to express the opinion I just expressed at the top of this paragraph. I will continue to do so. Because what has sustained me though all of the dark nights of the Church is my right to dissent.

Sometimes prayers are answered when you least suspect them. Francis is proof of that. Let us pray for many more open doors.

There is a very real temptation to constantly focus on what the Catholic Church does wrong. And wrongness in the Church does abound: from statements of non-inclusivity by those who ought to know better to crimes against innocent children. But there are heroes, many heroes, whose praises ought to be sung. Let’s let the rafters shake:

  • For the religious men and women of India, the Middle East and Africa. It takes tenacious bravery to live your faith in regions of the world where 71-year-old nuns are raped and their convents ransacked. There is nothing on earth that can rationalize such acts. God be with these courageous men and women.
  • For our Pope, Francis, who continues to speak with boldness on subjects such as mercy and acceptance and social justice, going so far as to call failure to provide living wages a mortal sin. I am proud that Francis is my Papa.
  • For all the men and women who will become Catholics at the Easter Vigil this year. There are more than 200 of them in the Wichita area alone. My husband is one of them. It takes guts to choose, with open eyes, a faith tradition with such a rich history, both good and bad. Catholicism has been celebrated and deeply maligned, even through the first half of the 20th century, when Catholics were not allowed to teach at public schools, when crosses were burnt on the lawns of Catholics by hate groups, when riots by Lutherans targeted Catholics in major cities across America. The same anti-Christian bias continues around the world. These men and women are taking a real chance in walking away from their previous lives and into the Church: One of the women in my husband’s group is being shunned by her family, who are all Mormons. Additionally, members of our parish have taken significant time out of their lives to act as sponsors to these candidates — my husband’s sponsor is an amazing example of faith in action, deeply involved in parish life and a busy husband and father to boot. This change, this decision to enter the Church, has called for a heavy investment of time and spiritual energy by the RCIA candidates. This is not something entered into lightly. I am so proud of them. While I am eternally grateful to be a “cradle Catholic,” I cannot imagine the fortitude and faith required to take this leap as an adult.
  • To all the good shepherds out there, including our own pastor, who deal daily with budget shortfalls and the pressing needs of their sheep with good humor and holiness. There are an awful lot of them out there. You don’t hear news stories about them. They are unsung heroes.
  •  To all the faithful who struggle with the Church’s teachings yet hang on, hoping for change. To all of us who keep the ship sailing ahead with our work in ministries large and small. And to all people of faith, everywhere, who accept one another and celebrate the diversity of faith around the world and in our own country without prejudice or the arrogance of supposed superiority. Let’s all pray together for a better world. Amen!

 

As my friend Mary-Claire would say, “Open mouth, insert foot, turn sideways.” Cardinal Raymond Burke, who would be laughable if he didn’t have adherents, recently delivered the following opinion on today’s Church: It’s too girly. This from a man who celebrates Mass in lace, satin, gloves and jewelry. (Clearly, he doesn’t mind womanliness when it comes to looking FABUUULLOUUUS!) Specifically, all those women up on the altar (female altar servers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers) are “turning off” men from becoming involved in the Church — and worse, from becoming priests. This “feminization” of the Church, Burke claims, has repelled men who “respond to rigor and precision and excellence.” (What do women respond to, you may ask? Apparently, slovenliness, imprecision and a sense of “meh, it’s good enough.” Maybe we’re just cranky because we’re on our cycles.) He also says men are afraid to marry because: Feminism.

I really shouldn’t dignify this guy with any more attention than he’s already received. (Although can’t you just picture Burke as Yosemite Sam, shooting indiscriminately and bellowing, “Dadgum wimmin! What with their fooferalls and lady parts!” While nearby, Bugs Bunny chuckles, “What a maroon”?) There are some (few) folks who’d like to turn the Church into the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, complete with a sign on the Vatican that says, “No Girls Allowed” (only the “S” in “Girls” is backwards because awww…who can stay mad at those mischievous scamps?). Well, Ray (can I call you Ray?), I hate to tell you, but women in the Catholic Church are here to stay.

Who do you think gets the kids to come to Mass on Sunday? Who makes them go to Catholic school? Who keeps the local parishes up and running? Who do you see at Perpetual Adoration? In the Church Office? At the fundraisers? Without us, there would be no Church. Frankly, Raymond Burke is the best argument I’ve heard in a long time for the Catholic Church allowing women priests: Surely, we could not do worse than this.

In better, brighter news, a consortium of bishops in the state of Kansas are working to review the practices of “payday loan” shops, who so often end up victimizing the poor they claim to help. This move is right in line with Pope Francis’ message: We must tend to the disenfranchised, the marginal, the oppressed. That is what God wants from us and what Jesus came to do. Good for them! This is what the Church should be up to.

Finally, I’d like to express my sadness over the recent terrorist attack in France. And I want to say this: My God can take a joke. If yours can’t, maybe you have the wrong god. Consider it.

 

Have you heard? The synod of bishops (basically a “sampling” of bishops from all over the world, plus some other folks) is meeting at the Vatican to discuss “Family.” I could make a joke here about a large group of celibate men discussing marriage and family, but I won’t, because some very serious issues are on the table, including, divorce, annulment, gay marriage and more. The bishops are talking. People are talking.

Will the Church change? Can the Church change? Hope abounds, even as the Supreme Court has begun striking down laws that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Are we on the brink of a new awareness, a new embrace of people who have been marginalized for years? I surely wish it so.

The Catholic Church moves more slowly than the rest of the world, and understandably so. We must be cautious that we are not undermining the rich, deep and beautiful foundations of our faith. I completely understand trepidation. I do not, however, understand excluding people from the life of the Church based on marital status or inborn characteristics such as sexual preference.

My sister was married for more than 20 years. Then, one day, her husband came home and announced that he didn’t love her and never had. What does one do with a declaration like that? She is divorced now, but if she were to meet and marry a good, loving man, she would — as things currently stand — be denied access to the Eucharist, the very life-giving heart of Catholic life.

Of course, it is less likely that a person would be shunned for being remarried than for being gay. Many of us have heard about the two men who recently got married and were asked to leave their parish (of which they were active members) unless — and this is a big unless — they promptly got divorced and signed a paper saying that marriage is only right, honorable and sacramental between a man and a woman. That’s not a choice; it’s blackmail.

Some of the comments I read regarding this case made me angry. Some merely bemused me. “So leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian!” wrote several observers. Don’t they understand that people like me, whose Catholicism is in their blood and bones and woven so tightly into the fabric of their lives that it is quite inextricable, cannot leave the Church? Will not? Must not? “If you don’t like it, leave,” has never been a cogent argument to me. I am Catholic. I am the Church, the Body of Christ. I can no more leave Catholicism than I could tell my arm to drop off my body and onto the ground. And why should I — or anybody — have to?

I pray that the synod of bishops will hear what faithful Catholics are saying to them. I pray that they will work to include those who have been excluded, to fold them back into the fold. The world changes. Family changes. So too must our thinking — and the Catholic Church’s.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: