Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can Pope Francis bring Catholics home?

People want  leaders who practice what they preach, and Francis seems to be doing just that. Will his charismatic charm and concern for the poor be enough to bring Catholics home?

In my last post, I mentioned that I was on vacation. I had such a relaxing vacation that I completely forgot to post my most recent column. Here it is, with a little preamble not included in print versions.

A few weeks ago, I had a call from a reader, an older gentleman of the Anglican persuasion. He expressed his admiration for Pope Francis, and his hopefulness for change within the Roman Church. We had a lively and interesting conversation, and I was grateful for both his support of my column and for his comments on Catholicism. 

I have been surprised at the amount of interest that people are showing in Francis. He seems to be touching the hearts of people, which brings us to the question of my column: "Will Pope Francis’s charismatic charm and concern for the poor be enough to bring Catholics home?"

Church attendance on the decline
Research surveys support what most people already know.  Church attendance is declining and has been for decades.  In Canada, 28% of Catholics attend Mass at least once a month, compared to 40% in 2004.  In the United States in 2012, 24% of Catholics attended Mass at least once a week compared to 47% in 1974.

While I have no idea what the stats are for Catholics in my little neck of the woods, I can certainly provide anecdotal evidence of declining church attendance.   I have sat through numerous meetings over the years grappling with dwindling finances that correlate with shrinking congregations, and listening to laments about the lack of young people in the pews.  Only a handful of children attend the after school religious education program, and a significant percentage of students enrolled in our Catholic school are non-Catholic.  Sunday after Sunday, the spaces that deceased parishioners formerly occupied remain empty; no one is rushing into fill the gaps. In the last three decades, my family has belonged to three parishes within a ten-mile radius, and our current parish church is next on the local chopping block.

The generalized lack of interest amongst baptized Catholics to practice the faith concerns bishops, priests, religious, pastoral councils, and parents alike.  Dioceses are desperately trying to turn the tide through evangelizing already baptized Catholics.  The Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, launched a sophisticated advertising campaign called “Catholics Come Home” to entice Catholics back to church.  Other dioceses are offering adult faith formation courses, and promoting youth programs modeled on the hip style of evangelical churches.

Opting out of institutional Catholicism
Catholics are opting out of institutional Catholicism for many reasons. Church teaching on sexuality, the treatment of women, and the clergy sexual abuse scandal are among the most often cited reasons for leaving the Church. 

Pope Francis has begun to address the sexual abuse scandal that so rightly outraged Catholics in North America and Europe. Although it remains to be seen how the Vatican will implement the pope’s directive to  “act decisively” to protect minors, help victims, and deal with the guilty, Francis wasted no time in making his views known.

With regard to women in the Church, Francis shocked some Catholics when he included women in the annual Holy Thursday ritual of the washing of the feet. While washing the feet of a woman in detention is a far cry from the ordination of women, Francis’s action demonstrates an inclusive attitude towards women not previously seen from the Vatican.
On matters of sexuality, Pope Francis upholds the teaching of the Church on gay marriage, birth control, divorce and remarriage. I think all that we can realistically expect from Francis in these areas is a compassionate response to individuals who, in the eyes of the Church, do not measure up to its high standards of sexual morality and holiness.

The place where I believe Francis has a real chance for making inroads with Catholics and others is in his genuine concern for the poor. People see a huge disconnect between the suffering of the poor and the wealth of the Vatican with its ostentatious pomp and ceremony. Even though thousands of religious and lay Catholics are walking with the poor, theological speeches about the poor disappoint when there is no visible action from the Vatican: the credibility of the Church suffers.

Our world needs authentic leaders. Catholic or otherwise, we want leaders who practice what they preach, and Francis seems to be doing just that.  Will it be enough to bring Catholics home? Possibly not, but it may be enough to stop the bleed.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hallmark is partially right about mothers

...I thought of my mother as springing into the world, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, ready for the action of being my mother.

This Mother's Day, I am enjoying a vacation in Sooke, BC on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  We are in a modern cottage on an expansive property overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca surrounded with beauty and quiet. The place is conducive to reflecting on blessings. My own mother  has been a blessing in my life, and I hope that I am a blessing to my children. I was also blessed in my relationship with my mother-in-law, my grandmother, and several aunts.  

Around Mother's Day, we tend to focus on the traits that we commonly associate with mothers; flowery cards abound extolling mothers for their gentleness, kindness, compassion, and lifetime support. One of the dangers of this Hallmark style of effusiveness is that we may reduce women to the biological role of child bearing and the sociological role of child rearing. While I am privileged to be a mother and am extraordinarily blessed in my children, motherhood is not the sum total of who I am, or of my contribution to the world.  

Springing fully formed, ready for action

I suspect that from an early age we quite naturally think that the primary role of a woman is to be a mother.  We literally begin life attached to our mother’s body, and in our immaturity, we think that our mother is an extension of our own self.

My mother and father 

I’m not sure when I first came to the realization that my mother had her own identity. For a good portion of my life, I thought of my mother as springing into the world, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, ready for the action of being my mother.  It just did not enter my head that my mother was once a little girl, skipping on the street; or a teenager, breaking loose from her own parents; or a young woman with dreams and aspirations for her future.

My mother's brown coat
If I were to design a Mother’s Day card, it would have two pictures: a mother in a brown, wool coat with the caption, “a generous mother”, and a mother in a navy coat with the caption, “and a talented woman”.

My mother had two such coats.  I remember the brown coat clearly. It had a beautiful fur collar and big round black buttons.  At the same time the brown coat made its way into her closet, a white faux fur coat appeared in mine.  I loved that coat; it was haute couture for a little girl, and I felt special and glamorous when I wore it.  It was a sad day when I outgrew it. I wonder if my mother felt a similar sense of sadness when she said good-bye to the brown coat.  You see, while I wore my coat for one season, my mother wore her coat for years.

The brown coat is fixed in my memory as a symbol of generosity. It never occurred to me that Mom went without so that her daughters could be well turned out.  But, it was even more than that. We enjoyed Mom’s lavish generosity on a daily basis, even if we failed to notice it. Material sacrifices, like wearing the brown coat winter after winter, meant nutritious food on the table, a roof over our heads, swimming and piano lessons, properly fitting clothes, and a university education.  With the gift of her time, she nurtured us and our dreams, while her own took a back seat. 

And her navy coat
Perhaps my mother did feel a touch of nostalgia when she got rid of her brown coat because that coat had seen us grow from children into young women. It had been with Mom through the busy years of raising four daughters and the lean years of building a business.  But more than likely, Mom was ready to put on her new navy coat as a symbolic welcome to the next phase of her life, a phase that gave her the freedom to explore new avenues of service to the community, to discover new talents, and to have some fun of her own along the way.

I have never asked Mom if she minded wearing that brown coat for so many years, but I am confident that she would look at me incredulously and reply, “No, why would I mind?”  And in that reply, lies the lavishness of a mother’s love and the generosity of a woman who graces the world with her particular talents apart from motherhood.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing?

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, Duncan Keith, made some snide comments to female reporter Karen Thomson following a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Don Cherry went on a rant about women in men's dressing rooms, and his colleague Ron McLean countered with an opinion on the CBC website.  

I have never personally understood why any reporter, male or female, needs to be in the locker room getting an "exclusive" interview with a player. Really, what earth shattering revelation hinges on how a team played or didn't play its game?  It's much ado about nothing. But, this latest sports controversy prompts the question, "What price do we put on respect? How highly do we value the dignity of each person?"

For my thoughts on this, please see "Locker room banter isn't always funny" from Troy Media.