My Church~ on the Eve of St. Patrick’s Day

My Church~ On the Eve of St. Patrick’s Day

Pope Francis I

Pope Francis I

Photo credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters New York Times

The question is asked in so many of the quarters of my life.  “What’s happening to my Church?”  They don’t really mean the Universal Church. They don’t mean the people of God.  They don’t think of the Church as the dedicated community of men, women and youth who dedicate their lives to the call of Jesus in service of justice and compassion.  By the Church they mean the Vatican, the Pope and the scarlet robed hierarchy.

When I’m asked, “What’s happening to my Church?” my first answer is, “I have no idea!  I’m watching this drama with you; but I do believe the Holy Spirit is in charge.”

That is an accurate answer, but not completely honest.  With the exception of Pope Benedict’s untimely withdrawal, nothing else surprises me.  Although in retrospect, I see his Sede Vacante as part of his plan.  The Holy Father Benedict spent his pontificate doing what he does best, writing theology.  Benedict XVI is an exceptional theologian and I am in awe of his insights.

He left the chair of Peter, Pope Benedict said, because he lacked “strength of mind and body.”  The only other Pontiff to abandon his chair was the hermit, St. Celestine V, who in 1294 left his office due to overwhelming Vatican corruption. Like our own Holy Father Benedict, Celestine abandoned his office to commit to a life of prayer. This was the same Celestine, whom Dante recognized in the abyss. The cowardice of this Great Refusal placed him –in Dante’s fantasy-in the deepest hell in his Inferno.

I saw and recognized the shade of him
Who by his cowardice made the great refusal.

Inferno III, 59–60

        In 2009, Benedict XVI proclaimed a worldwide year of St. Celestine.  Surely, his Holiness saw the actions of Celestine as not only moral, but honorable.  It is with the greatest humility and magnanimous courage that the Holy Father released his power and authority.

I hear Jesus saying “Blessed are the Meek, Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  So I bless Pope Benedict in his journey into sanctuary, to pray, reflect, and wait for sister death to lead him into eternity.  With him I trust that Divino Afflante Spiritu will lead Mother Church.

With that said the nightmare of priest scandals, and the Vatican’s full fledged attempt to sinkhole the world’s chronology back a few centuries is beyond disappointing. It’s actually heart-wrenching. I’m a dedicated fan of Vatican II and believe that it was the Lord who called us to reform and enter the Modern Age. And my people have been Christians since before St. Patrick who interestingly was sent to Ireland by  Pope Celestine I.

I hear people say that we have lost credibility, our shepherd  left his post.   Yet I’m proud of our fragile old Pope who lived through Nazi Germany, wars, famines, upheavals too many to name.  I couldn’t miss the theatrics as we watched as our pope ascended out of the Vatican Gardens (in a helicopter).  He’s gone, but I know that our tabernacle is not empty.

I’m a realist. On one hand my expectations on an organization that is more than 2,000 years old and represents some 1.2 billion of the earth’s population, is that it’s human.  Yet in my soul I know that we as church are called to be the people of Christ, to be Christ to the world.   Yet, as I ponder the plague that has struck both my personal and ecclesial family, I also see the healing.  I see this reversal of tradition as a call to conversion.

And now we welcome the pontificate of Cardinal Bergoglio, the Jesuit from Argentina, His Holiness Pope Francis I.  There is new hope, revived trust that we as a family of faith will face the mounting stress of the 21st-century’s issues together.

Yes, Pope Francis is a conservative in his theological and doctrinal positions as well as his thoughts on orders of discipline, but he is outrageously passionate about his commitment to the disenfranchised.  I love his radical humility.     When he called for all of us to bless him before he spoke, I wept.  When he chose the Our Father and the Hail Mary for his opening message, I wept.  But then of course, I am Jesuit educated and have committed myself to incarnating the Gospel in all my activities -my commitment to academics, my art, in my relationship with my friends, students, my role as wife, mother, sister, aunt and grandmother.  In style and vocation I am Dominican- Third Order territory actually since 78, but in essence most simply, I am a follower of Jesus and his Mum.

I prefer to stand in the light, to celebrate this man’s refusal to play royalty. I’ve heard that in his directives to his cardinals, he ordered them to come to his meetings in “black cassocks, and not red with white lace surplices”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love embroidery and lace.  I love wearing great fabrics, but outside of Mass and official activities, I think our church men could follow the example of our Sisters and dress in ways that make us feel like family.

In times of confusion, fear and disappointment, I hold the words of Jesus close as he promised, “I am with you always, (Matthew 28:20).  And almost daily, I think of St. Peter when so many of the followers had run away from Jesus in fear. In essence our first Holy Father Peter said, “Where would I go Lord, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68)?

So I say, let’s welcome this new Pontiff. Let’s commit to changing the world one day at a time, one person at a time, starting with ourselves.

I invite you to clink onto the link to The New York Times.  They offer a most informative article.

  1. Thank you for the wonderful reflection on the changing of the guard. Your words give me much to consider as I too retired this past year and now have the time to consider more closely what work God wants for me. As God has granted me health, I am now able to work more effectively in His vineyard and hope that His ministry to elders will continue to grow.
    Blessings and thank you again for your reflection. Blessings!

  2. Thank you kind readers. Please join me in praying for Pope Francis I. May his tenure bring the healing and joy the family of Christ deserves.

    • Sheila, your words of hope are so beautiful. Pope Francis may bring inspiration to the whole world, not just the Catholic Church, because conscious, integrated, authentic humility is rare, and witnessing it in a person entrusted with his position is really quite exciting. It makes me want to watch what he’ll do next. I agree with you that the Holy Spirit moves through these significant moments of history. Pope Francis’ deep and heartfelt devotion to the poor and marginalized will proclaim the Gospel and shines a light on its beauty.

    • Sheila, I love your perspective. I see traits of Christ within this new Pope, notably his incredibly rare and refreshingly genuine humility. He has such a deep understanding of the dignity of the poor and marginalized, and the sick, and his mission to include and embrace them, and tend to their human needs will shine a light on what the Gospel is really all about. Along with you, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  3. Thankyou for sending this. I didn’t know you had this blog and will love reading it.HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY! Love, Eve

  4. As I read your blog about the Pope leaving office, I understand, to an extent, you must toe the line because of your employer, but do you really believe that the Pope left with “greatest humility and magnanimous courage”? I can’t stop believing that he wanted to escape the fire storm.
    I do hear what you are saying when you said “I hear Jesus saying “Blessed are the Meek, Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “ But should the Pope be Meek and Poor in Spirit?
    And I do have hope that this change will reignite faith in “The Church” again within the people. Not faith in God; I don’t believe that has been shaken. But the failings of Man, all the way up to, and including the Pope, has done great damage. Much of which I don’t think anything less than standing at his beautiful balcony and spilling all will heal.

  5. I am not a Catholic but the leaving of Pope Benedict inspired me. This was a Divine act of Consciousness of which we all can learn from. He did not abandon his duty but he was honest and soul-searchingly authentic to his faith. In so many ways, at many times, The Catholic Church has given me the courage to stand up to my own beliefs and my love for Christ. ~Julie—

  6. Both insightful and moving, Sheila. As a non-Catholic, I look for that viewpoint which is devoted to loving the Catholic Church yet with the informed perspective to critique it; and which also loves the world beyond the Catholic Church, enough to critique the Church — and you are one of that rare breed. Thank you to Kevin, for forwarding this on to our class — Lola

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