St. Francis in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 26 Event

St. Francis, Sacramento

I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note that Penny at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, CA, sent to her friends and parish staff who attend the noon Mass:

Dear Friends,

I will not be at noon mass this Sunday, 09/26/10. I am abstaining from mass in solidarity with other Catholic women-the women of Ireland, who are stunned by the pervasiveness of the abuse in Ireland; the women who minister in other parishes throughout the world who are not valued and respected as we are at St Francis; the sisters who are investigated because of their implementation of the gospels and loyalty to Christ above rules; and, the women who hear the call to priesthood and are vilified by the hierarchy and equated with sexual abusers.

I have spent significant time in prayer to discern whether i would participate in this symbolic action. My decision to join in solidarity with these women has nothing to do with my respect and appreciation of  … the staff at St Francis. I love each of them for who they are and the gifts they so generously share with us. It is because of the many ways they acknowledge the wisdom and sincerity of the feminine that I feel a strong need to stand strong and straight (because its impossible for me to stand tall) with the oppressed women of the Catholic church.

I will be praying with and for all of you on Sunday. Please remember me in your prayers, also.

Thanks, Penny. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.

Interview with Jennifer Sleeman, Catalyst for Sept 26: “A Sunday Without Women”

Jennifer Sleeman, Cork, Ireland

Jennifer Sleeman’s call for Sept. 26 to be “A Sunday Without Women” on behalf of justice for women in the Catholic church, is picking up steam around the world. Sleeman, an 80-year-old Catholic convert from Clonakilty in Cork, Ireland, is an active member of her Catholic church. She is also the person mainly responsible for Clonakilty becoming the first Fair Trade town in Ireland and has received an award from the Cork Environmental Forum, in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to sustainability in Cork city and county through partnership and participation in the promotion of environmental care.”  I interviewed her last week over email.

Rose: What was the context for you suggesting the Mass-boycott day? What prompted you and why did the media pick it up?

Jennifer: Rose, I’m delighted to answer your questions. It is so exciting seeing the idea traveling world wide! I was aware that a lot of individuals and groups have been campaigning for equal rights in the Catholic Church and the idea of Boycott was to pull it all together. I was greatly encouraged and helped by friend who had a mailing list. It never crossed my mind that Sept.  26th is just after the Pope’s visit to England. I have been wondering a lot why I decided to risk it and why now — is there a spirit at work?

Rose: Other than the media, who has responded to your call?

Jennifer: I have had the most fantastic support from both women and men. Letters (proper ones on paper!), cards, emails, phone calls. 99.9% positive.

Rose: What are your plans for Sept. 26? Will you gather with others?

Jennifer: I don’t know what I will do on the 26th.

Rose: Is there any message you’d like to send to Catholic women around the world?

Jennifer: We are the majority. Together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews will be noticed. I would love the focus to go away from me and onto all women and men who see the great need for change in the Church. If people have ideas to gently reinforce the message, go for it.

The movement to “boycott Mass” for justice for women in the Catholic church may not be the perfect instrument. But in the language of social movements it would be considered a “weapon of the weak” — a nonviolent way that a subordinate class wields power over a a dominant power structure that purports absolute control (See James Scott and Karl Gaspar). Sleeman’s call is not only for justice for women but fits in a stream of actions and speeches that are geared to confronting the “restorationist” movement happening within the institutional hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

South African Catholic bishop Kevin Dowling described it this way:

“Restorationism: the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the ‘opening of the windows’ of Vatican II — in order to ‘restore’ a previous, or more controllable model of church through an increasingly centralized power structure; a structure which now controls everything in the life of the church through a network of Vatican congregations led by cardinals who ensure strict compliance with what is deemed by them to be ‘orthodox.’ Those who do not comply face censure and punishment, e.g. theologians who are forbidden to teach in Catholic faculties.

Lest we do not highlight sufficiently this important fact. Vatican II was an ecumenical council, i.e., a solemn exercise of the magisterium of the church, i.e. the college of bishops gathered together with the bishop of Rome and exercising a teaching function for the whole church. In other words, its vision, its principles and the direction it gave are to be followed and implemented by all, from the pope to the peasant farmer in the fields of Honduras.”

Read Bishop Dowling’s entire talk here. And let me know if you are taking action for women on Sept. 26. I’ll add you to the map.

Irish Woman Calls on Catholics to Boycott Mass on Sept. 26 For Greater Inclusion of Women

Jennifer Sleeman, an 80-year-old Catholic convert from Clonakilty in Cork, Ireland, is calling on Catholic women to “join your sisters on Sunday, September 26th. On that one day, boycott Mass. Stay at home and pray for change. We are the majority. We may have been protesting individually but unremarked on, but together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews, will be noticed.”

Men are also welcome to participate in the boycott, she said. “It’s not just about Mná na h-Éireann [Women of Ireland]. But it’s for them, because they are frustrated.” This invitation is now being spread to the faithful women of the Catholic church across the world.

(If you want to learn about the map of women boycotting on Sunday, Sept. 26, then go here.)

I love the fact that she uses the Gaelic phrase Mná na h-Éireann. It’s a phrase that carries great cultural weight referencing the critical role of women in the Irish liberation struggle.

Sleemen notes: “I am not a cradle Catholic. I chose to join as an adult [54 years ago] helped by meeting a wonderful priest … but I now wonder did I do the right thing? … Somehow I have grown up but the church has not.”

Here’s an excerpt from the news article:

“Whatever change you long for, recognition, ordination, the end of celibacy, which is another means of keeping women out, join with your sisters and let the hierarchy know by your absence that the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.”

Of the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, she said: “I find I belong to an organization that seems caught in a time warp, run by old celibate men divorced from the realities of life, with a lonely priesthood struggling with the burden of celibacy where rules and regulations have more weight than the original message of community and love.”

She said: “Some of the grandchildren go through the rites of sacraments, but seldom, if ever, visit a church afterwards. Some of my children are actively looking for a meaningful spiritual life, but they do not find it in the Catholic Church — I must except my eldest son who is a monk in Glenstal Abbey, another place that helps me keep some shreds of faith.”

You can read the whole article here. Or the article in the Irish Times here. There were two comments posted on the article that I particularly liked:

Well, hats off to Granny. It’s true women are treated as second class citizens. More women should support Jennifer & boycott Sunday Mass for a few weeks. Maybe it will wake up the Vatican to start doing the right thing instead of giving lip service. Come on Ladies show the church your not just a bunch of dumb sheep. The church seems to forget God created Women also. Ladies – hit them in the pocketbook. that’s where it will hurt!! Time to weed the chaff from the wheat.

Why not go back to the HEDGEROW MASS, when we had to endure anti-Catholicism by the Brits.

I think “hedgerow Masses” are a great idea! This is the equivalent of the house-church movement in the United States or the base community movement in Latin America and SE Asia. Are there priests who are willing to serve these communities? My guess is that there are.

Tokyo Drips With Sweet Honey

I’m fascinated with honey bees. I’m thrilled by the recent rise in urban beekeeping and glad to see that Washington, D.C’s, local beekeeping laws are finally becoming more amenable to this venerable tradition.

One of the earliest extensive treatises on beekeeping was written by Virgil in 29 BC (Virgil’s Georgic IV):

Of air-born honey, gift of heaven, I now
Take up the tale….
The others shine forth and flash with lightning-gleam,
Their backs all blazoned with bright drops of gold
Symmetric: this the likelier breed; from these,
When heaven brings round the season, thou shalt strain
Sweet honey, nor yet so sweet as passing clear,
And mellowing on the tongue the wine-god’s fire.

And the bee as Christian symbol was well-known in Europe. The honey bee has historically been a symbol of Christ’s attributes due to its honey and sting. The honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice and the cross. Bees are also a symbol of the resurrection. The three winter months when bees hibernate reminds Christians of the three days Christ spent in the tomb before rising.

The organization of life in the bees community, with perfectly delineated relationships and its dependence upon and service to the queen bee, also came to reflect an ideal of Christian virtues. Additionally, bees and beehives symbolize eloquence, and are represented with the three known holy orators called doctores melliflui (scholars sweet as honey): St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom. (See more on ancient Christian symbols.)

There’s also St. Gobnait of County Cork in Ireland who is the patron saint of bees. There’s even a contemporary Christian mission group in Uganda called Beekeepers for Christ.

Now, beekeeping is also taking wing in urban Japan! Here’s an excerpt from a recent article:

Eleven stories above the heart of the Tokyo concrete jungle — with its beehive office partitions and swarms of suit-clad worker-bees — enthusiasts have stacked up beehives dripping with golden honey.

“Let’s enjoy the harvest, but be careful you don’t have an accident,” urban beekeeper-in-chief Kazuo Takayasu tells his fellow volunteers from behind the protective fine-mesh net covering his face.

Clad in white body suits, the crew gets to work, squeezing out the glistening syrup using a simple centrifugal machine they crank by hand as a cloud of bees breaks free from the honeycombs. …

The honey is largely organic, he said, because pesticide use has been banned in Tokyo city parks and gardens including the Imperial Palace, about one mile away, where the bees collect much of their nectar. …

Read Beekeepers Add Buzz To Japan Urban Jungle.

Video: Theo Dorgan reads “Visitors”

I’m reading the new collection of poems by Irish poet Theo Dorgan. It’s titled Greek (Daedelus Press, 2010). I heard Theo read some of his Greek pieces when I was in Ireland in 2008. Stunning! Here’s a video of Theo reading “Visitors.” I’m not sure where this is shot, but it probably somewhere outside Dublin. This collection is a great one for reading aloud around the dinner table or while doing the dishes.

Claire Keegan: Ireland’s Leading Short Story Writer

claire keeganI was lucky enough to attend a seminar a few years ago with the amazing Irish short story writer Claire Keegan. While I was studying in Ireland, she gave our group a crash course on “timing” in short story writing. It was the most brilliant and concise teaching I’ve ever received.

When we concluded the day, she left us with a great encouragement. “Meet all kinds of people,” she said. “It really does have a civilizing effect because people will tell you things about yourself from their perspective. It’s an act of love, really.”

Claire, author of the collections Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields, has a short story in the most recent New Yorker. “Foster” won the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009. Read a slice of it below:

Early on a Sunday, after first Mass in Clonegal, my father, instead of taking me home, drives deep into Wexford toward the coast, where my mother’s people came from. It is a hot August day, bright, with patches of shade and greenish sudden light along the road. We pass through the village of Shillelagh, where my father lost our red shorthorn in a game of forty-five, and on past the mart in Carnew, where the man who won her sold her not long afterward. My father throws his hat on the passenger seat, winds down the window, and smokes. I shake the plaits out of my hair and lie flat on the back seat, looking up through the rear window. I wonder what it will be like, this place belonging to the Kinsellas. I see a tall woman standing over me, making me drink milk still hot from the cow. I see another, less likely version of her, in an apron, pouring pancake batter into a frying pan, asking would I like another, the way my mother sometimes does when she is in good humor. The man will be her size. He will take me to town on the tractor and buy me red lemonade and crisps. Or he’ll make me clean out sheds and pick stones and pull ragweed and docks out of the fields. I wonder if they live in an old farmhouse or a new bungalow, whether they will have an outhouse or an indoor bathroom, with a toilet and running water.

An age, it seems, passes before the car slows and turns in to a tarred, narrow lane, then slams over the metal bars of a cattle grid. On either side, thick hedges are trimmed square. At the end of the lane, there’s a white house with trees whose limbs are trailing the ground.

“Da,” I say. “The trees.”

“What about them?”

“They’re sick,” I say.

“They’re weeping willows,” he says, and clears his throat.

Read Foster by Claire Keegan (The New Yorker, 15 February 2010)

Fishing in Deeper Waters

fish-chowder-trailer-2-howthNice to have a note from Dublin psychotherapist Coinneach Shanks on the symbolism of fish. This in response to  my Ireland photo (right) of the Tram Chowder in Howth with its “Fish is Life” slogan.

Coinneach blogs at Psychotherapy in Dublin and has some beautiful photos and lovely reflections on the deeper symbolism of our everyday world. Here’s part of his comment on the symbolism of fish:

Fish are water symbols and are as the vendor correctly suggests, symbols of life. Fish and reproduction are well known companions. They make many, many eggs and are considered almost universally as prosperous and fertile. But Howth is a fishing place and the myths of casting the net and hauling fish from the depths are also cross cultural. Peter was the Fisher of Men, catching the souls for conversion and thus saving them from damnation. For psychoanalysts – well, we fish all the time. We are looking for material from the unconscious, which can be compared to the sea. By allowing spontaneous forces to operate, hidden material of great value may be brought to the surface.

Read Coinneach’s whole post here.

Moneygall: The Ancestral Home of O’Bama

I wrote earlier about The Photo Not Taken as I sped through Moneygall, Ireland, birthplace of Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather a few days before the historic U.S. elections.

What do you know? Canon Stephen Neill, Anglican priest in the diocese of Limerick & Killaloe who blogs at Paddy Anglican, sent me the photo that I missed!

Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!
Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!
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Dublin: How to Pray When You Have a Desk Job

At Trinity University in Dublin, along with the Book of Kells, there were other medieval manuscripts on display. The Book of Armagh, the Book of Darrow, and (one of my favorites) the Book of Mulling were all there to ooh and aww over.

Illumination of St. John from the Book of Mulling

It is perversely comforting to find the monks and nuns of the Middle Ages wrestling over the same issues we wrestle over today. In particular, how to pray when you have a desk job.

One display case held a copy of a sermon preached at the Durham Cathedral in England sometime in the 1100s. I was really touched by the details and the craft.

Medieval Allegory of the Scribes Tools

The parchment on which we write is pure conscience;
the knife that scrapes it is the fear of God;
the pumice that smooths the skin is the discipline of heavenly desire;
the chalk that whitens it signifies an unbroken meditation of holy thoughts;
the ruler is the will of God;
the straight-edge is devotion to the holy task;
the quill, its end split in two for writing, is the love of God and of our neighbor;
the ink is humility itself;
the illuminator’s colors represent the multiform grace of heavenly wisdom;
the writing desk is tranquility of heart;
the exemplar from which a copy is made is the life of Christ;
the writing place is contempt of worldly things lifting us to a desire for heaven.

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Ireland: The Photo Not Taken

Okay, look. I was in a tiny Hyundai rental car driving on the right-hand side of the road with a right-hand steering column at 100 km/hr. It was raining. I wanted to get to Kildare to visit St. Brigid’s Cathedral. I had things on my mind, okay? Like remembering that it was okay to drive the round-abouts backwards and to all ways make “short left and long right” turns. And to avoid hitting sheep. In the middle of all this, we flashed through a town on the N7 that said Moneygall.

Yep. The birthplace of Barack Obama’s great-great-grandfather Fulmuth Kearney. There was a sign on the way into town that said: “Welcome to Obama Country.”

I should have turned around and gotten a photo. I mean, it’s historic, right? The first African-American president of the United States and I’m in the town of his ancestors days before the most important election in modern history. I should have taken the photo. I even said that out loud in the car. “I should turn around and get that photo.” I kept thinking, there’ll be another sign on the way out of town. There will be some other sign on the Moneygall main street. But it’s a town with a population of 298. And there was road construction. And did I mention the rain?

There’s a fun Washington Post article from last year outlining Obama’s connections to Moneygall.

“Sure, it’s great!” said Henry Healy, 22, a villager who said family records indicate he is distantly related to Obama. Like many Moneygall residents, he is suddenly following the U.S. presidential race more closely and rooting for his kinsman. “It would be brilliant if he won because for one thing, he is related to me, and also it would be good for the village.”

And today’s Irish Times also has a nice piece:

Residents of Moneygall, on the N7 Limerick road, are gearing up for a US election party in Ollie Hayes’s Bar in the town tomorrow night.

“There’s a huge amount of excitement in the area now that election week is finally upon us,” said Canon Neill.

“We have Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys playing their song There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama and we hope to be celebrating with early indications from the US as the night unfolds,” said Canon Neill.

“Mr Obama said he’ll visit the ‘little village’ in Ireland that has adopted him, so we hope to be able to roll out the red carpet as soon as all the votes are in.”

So … while I have three or four hundred pictures of sheep and ancient Celtic beehive huts and scones in a farmers’ market and clam chowder and friends, old and new, I missed the shot of a lifetime.

Ah well. I guess I’ll just go vote. Slainte!.