Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Election

   Catholics around the world are watching the lead-up to the election of a new Pope. It will be a pivotal moment, as the movement for new openness meets the urgent need for tradition, conservation of values, and maintenance of all the authority of the office whose origins are with Peter 2000 years ago.

   If you find yourself in the latter group, it appears you will be happy with Cardinal Ouellet, the more so since he is Canadian. I am not sure who would be open to renewal and openness, maybe him? No-one was prepared for what Pope John XXIII did when he called Vatican II in the early 1960's. Perhaps it is not about the person's track record as much as it is about his ability to 'read the signs of the times', as Pope John XXIII said back then. We Catholics believe that the Pope above all needs to be a person who is open to the movements of the Holy Spirit about things like that.

   So what are the signs of the times? Two articles in the February 24, 2013, Toronto Star - New York Times section - caught my eye. The news and viewpoints in them are quite negative. But they report disturbing trends. One, 'Church Faces Test in Brazil' notes that the Catholic population of that country has shrunk from 90% in 1970, to 65% in 2010. Evangelical Protestant churches are becoming popular as people want more expressive forms of worship. Priests who provide Catholic liturgies with such a flavor, bring in larger congregations. Perhaps more importantly, though, the number of people who say they are not affiliated with any religion, is growing. From that perspective, secularism, not other Christian churches, is the problem there. The author's point: a continuation of the same conservative stances in the next Pope will continue these trends. Is this true?

   The second article, an opinion piece, is titled 'The Pope's Muffled Voice.' Author Frank Bruni speaks of the Catholic Church in the U.S., and notes that American Catholics "don't feel bound by the pope's interpretation of doctrine or moral commands...... A 2011 survey published in the National Catholic Reporter showed that while 73% of American Catholics described their belief in Jesus' resurrection as "very important' to them, only 30% described the teaching authority of the Vatican that way, and only 21 percent  characterized an all male, celibate priesthood in those terms."

   The Church will never be run by polls the way U.S. elected officials run their government. You actually have to stand for something. And the Catholic Church does and always will.

   However. Presentation runs a close second to substance, in importance. I know this so well from working with families. Authoritarian or authoritative. You do not want the former, you will do anything for the latter. Authoritarian parents/ leaders give the impression they are full of the importance/ legitimacy/ entitlement of their role or office. With such an air about them, the validity of their message gets lost because their children/ subjects/ employees tune them out. It is not enough to have a good message, your people have to be open and teachable. Like it or not, you make them that way. Think of the teachers you loved. You know they loved you and wanted the best for you and would bend over backwards for you. You in turn would absorb anything they taught you, and you would do anything for them.

   Authoritative parents/ leaders convey that they know who they are, but at the same time convey that you and everything about you matters to them personally. That means they will always listen. They will always be open to doing things differently when dialogue with you persuades them to do so. With that kind of fairness and openness established, they can draw limits on the same process and you will accept those limits.

   Over and over I am hearing the issue of the validity of Catholic teachings being confused with the issue of how the Church presents itself. It is precisely at this juncture that Pope John XXIII heard the movement of the Holy Spirit and responded with the brilliant idea that we know as Vatican II. John XXIII clearly knew who he was. A leader like that gives away nothing by opening up the process. If our next Pope reads articles like the ones I have cited, or generally catches that kind of news and sentiment from around the world - if he tunes into that and becomes afraid things are getting away, he may very well act in a way that ensures they do get away: authoritarian.

   While we wait, important that we get our heads around all this. Time to throw open the windows, as John XXIII said. It is not only about what is inside, it is about letting people see inside. It is about looking out also, and at least puzzling over what it all means in God's great creation. The last thing we need is someone who is afraid of what is happening. The last thing we need is someone who will not puzzle about what they are taking to prayer. At this pivotal juncture in history, pray for an authoritative Pope.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope's resignation - some reflections

I must say I had mixed feelings over this huge news.

But they were at least mixed. Unlike when I heard the news of his election in 2005. Then, I was nothing but stunned. After John Paul II, we were clearly going to go in reverse.

And we did. The most egregious evidence of this was the turn to the ethos of the past which had above all the imperative to avoid scandal to the faithful. Fair enough in its original intention, but it clearly morphed over the years into hiding culprits, then hiding them again, then refusing to admit that you hid them, and refusing to release documents that would show everything. I am thinking especially of Ireland where we know all that happened, because Archbishop Martin released 60,000 documents after he was appointed. It was clear to us when we visited Ireland that the abuse was not the biggest irritant for the people, bad as it was. The cover-up sucked the life out of them. And around the world, the message now is, avoidance of scandal involves better selection of candidates for the priesthood, better nourishment of them during their priestly life. Things like that. NOT cover-ups.

The other turn back to the past was the new translation of the Mass. Made it clear that the Mass is clerical. Not for the people, just ask them. People do not talk that language, they want a language they speak every day, and with which they can make a joyful noise, or whatever. But Benedict chided the Church for that very thing in his address to the world at the end of the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. Great opportunities have been missed to welcome people to our beautiful liturgies.

So from this vantage point it has not been great. But you know, in spite of it all I have developed a fondness for the Pope. What gets me is his deep deep love of Jesus that manages to come through even his most scholarly of scholarly writings.

That is a take-away for me, and I thank him for it.  And I have mixed feelings as he departs.

So now I nominate Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin as the new Pope. Won't happen. But please God the Cardinals listen to the Holy Spirit, and please God they are led to a really new era that begins as Benedict leaves. And if the new Pope wants to go back a bit, he can go back to Pope John XXIII who somewhere around 1962 before Vatican II said:  "I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."

The windows have been closed for the last many years. The world is waiting for them to open again.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Great questions and living well

St. Paul the Apostle parish here in Kingston has a thriving Youth Ministry, thanks to the vision of pastor Fr. Leo Byrne, and the indomitable energy of the Youth Coordinator Nadia Gundert - along with her husband Mike and a great support group of Team Leaders. There are actually two programs: LifeTeen (for high school kids), and EDGE (for grades 5 to 8). I try to be a resource to both, and I am constantly amazed at the energy and the 'buy in' of what appear to me to be pretty ordinary kids. The LifeTeen meeting leads in to the 730pm Mass on Sunday. Something you will never see anywhere else happens here after Mass: parents are waiting in the gathering area of the Church while their kids are hanging out IN the church yakking with each other. Wasn't it always the other way around?

Activities I like in both groups are the question and answer sessions that go with certain of the meetings. Questions are always stimulating, challenging, thought-provoking and even tricky! The other night at EDGE it was about the last line of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe in ..... the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting." Having to do with judgement and eternity! Heavy duty! Big questions about resurrected bodies, about Jesus' body after his resurrection, and how his friends did not even recognize him at first. The whole judgement thing. And why does it say Jesus "descended into hell"? Then this, my favourite of the evening: Will we have an idea in this life if we are going to heaven or hell? 

I answered that one with the image of a grown-up friend - might be a teacher or grandparent or adult whom you have come to know really well - who is crazy about you, and wants you and all kinds of other people to come over to their house. Promising you a wonderful time with people you love. Promising your safety. Promising you no-one will ever hurt you, and you cannot get sick there. Then one day this friend sees you outside the house, but you are throwing eggs at the house. You are beating up on other people (s)he has invited. You have a rock ready to throw. You have a can of spray paint ready. When he comes to ask you if you really want to come in to all he has promised, what are you going to say? Sounds like the answer might be 'nahhhh.' And you already know that. On the other hand if he sees you waving at him, if he sees you taking care of the other people he has invited - then when he comes out and asks you if you really want to come in, sounds like the answer is 'yessss!!!' And you will already know that too. So the judgement thing really has to do with how we live now, how we are already answering God's invitation in our hearts, how we are taking care of all his other friends - how we are loving, just as God loves us.

Later, after the meeting, I came across something on Twitter. It was a statement made by Bishop Brendan Leahy on Jan 10 2013, on the occasion of his ordination as Bishop in Ireland. The full text included the following paragraph:

The day a new bishop is announced in a diocese is an opportunity for the person concerned but perhaps also for the whole diocese to “begin again” in faith, hope and love. A few days ago, I attended the funeral of the father of a friend of mine. As we walked through the graveyard, we were noticing the headstones with people’s dates of death. Suddenly, I came across one that had “Brendan Leahy” written on it in bold letters and the deceased had died at 52 years of age – my own age! I did check I was still alive! But I also felt it was as if God wanted to remind me – we only have one life. It’s important to live it well.

Well said. I guess that is part of the answer to that kid`s question. It is not about doing the right thing all the time, we drive ourselves crazy with that. It implies that perfection is the minimum, and it is not. But we do need to remember that we will one day have a headstone. Awareness of that reality brings us back to the relationship we have with our God who loves us so desperately.  `Living well` involves having at all times a mindset of `yes` as our answer to the invitation to `come home` to God. Remembering that `yes`especially when we do not do well on a given day, and making things right. It starts with our desire. With it before our minds guiding all we do, we surely will have an idea where we are going in the next life. It is not a roll of the dice. Great question!