Pope Francis: What Is Your Capacity to Cry?

Lachrymae - tear vials
Lachrymae – tear vials

Pope Francis’ press conference on the plane returning from the Philippines was lively as usual. Regarding the Charlie Hebdo murders, he elaborated on the nuances of “freedom of expression” tempered by the virtue of prudence. He also expanded his comments on “responsible parenthood” and what it means for Catholics today. As always, he set the “birth control” issue in the wider context of certain prevailing spirits of the age, in this case Neo-Malthusianism (whaaaa?): population control that is enforced or overly encouraged by governments or corporations.

However, what jumped out to me was his response to a question by La Nacion’s Elisabetta Pique:

Elisabetta Pique (La Nacion): … This was a moving voyage for everyone. We saw people crying the entire time in Tacloban [Philippines site of the Supertyphoon Haiyan], even we journalists cried. Yesterday you said, the world needs to cry. … What was for you the most moving moment, because the mass in Tacloban was such a moment and also yesterday when the little girl started to cry?

Pope Francis: For me the Mass in Tacloban was very moving. Very moving. To see all of God’s people standing still, praying, after this catastrophe, thinking of my sins and those people, it was moving, a very moving moment. In the moment of the mass there, I felt as though I was annihilated (“wiped out”) [devastated], I almost couldn’t speak. …

The other thing is the weeping. One of the things that is lost when there is too much wealth or when values are misunderstood or we have become accustomed to injustice, to this culture of waste, is the capacity to cry.

This is a grace we must ask for. There is a beautiful prayer in the ancient missal, for crying. It went more or less like this: Lord, you who have made it so that Moses with his cane could make water flow from a stone, make it so that from the rock that is my heart, the water of tears may flow.

It’s a beautiful prayer. We Christians must ask for the grace to cry, especially well-to-do Christians. And cry about injustice and cry about sins. Because crying opens you to understand new realities, or new dimensions to realities. This is what the girl said, what I said to her. She was the only one to ask that question to which there is no answer, why do children suffer?

The great Dostoyevsky asked himself this, and he could not answer. Why do children suffer? She, with her weeping, a woman who was weeping. When I say it is important that women be held in higher consideration in the church, it’s not just to give them a function as the secretary of a dicastery, though this could be ok too. No, it’s so that they may tell us how they feel and view reality. Because women view things from a different richness, a larger one.

Another thing I would like to underscore is what I said to the last young man (at the meeting with young people), who truly works well, he gives and gives and gives, he organizes to help the poor. But don’t forget that we too need to be beggars, from them, from the poor. Because the poor evangelize us. If we take the poor away from the Gospel, we cannot understand Jesus’ message. The poor evangelize us. I go to evangelize the poor, yes, but let you be evangelized by them. Because they have values that you do not.”

The prayer Pope Francis refers to is from the Missa ad petendam compunctionem cordis, for begging compunction of the heart, or a Mass for the Gift of Tears (1962 Roman Missal). The prayer says:

Almighty and most merciful God, who, to quench the thirst of your people, drew a fountain of living water out of a rock, draw from our stony hearts tears of compunction, that we may be able to mourn for our sins and win forgiveness for them by your mercy.

But see how he sets this moving and eloquent prayer as a jewel in the crown of justice and compassion!

Catholic Sisters are Redefining Leadership

TurkeyCartoonBy Rose Marie Berger

A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.

In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.

Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes. ….(Sojourners, Sept-Oct 2014)

Read the rest here or subscribe.

Joan Chittister: God Doesn’t Want to Hold Women Back

chittisterWith the release of the new Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, we learned that “if women received pay equal to their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income.”

On FaithStreet, Sr. Joan Chittister also put out a great short essay on why God doesn’t want to hold women back and never has wanted to. It’s our human sin that keeps us from humility before God and equality among humanity.

“Don’t believe what they’re saying. The world is not in upheaval in our era because radical feminism has gotten out of hand.

No, our world is being shaken to the core and will never again be the same because its old systems are being challenged, its old certainties being rethought.

The political world has had to give up its reliance on the securities of the old geography. The social world has had to give up its notions of the natural privileges of class. The White West has had to give up its ideas of racial preeminence. And men are having to give up the old theology of male superiority.

In that old world, whole classes of people could be underdeveloped, abused, enslaved, oppressed, and disenfranchised — all with impunity. Unknown and unchallenged, local potentates, all male, declared their autocracy, and all-male institutions of every system institutionalized it. It was a world of nobles over peons, the powerful over the powerless, freemen over slaves, men over women. And all of them insisting to the oppressed that such stratified systems were, ironically, for their own good.

Most serious of all, religious people argued that God wanted it that way.

In the West, they said that the Judeo-Christian creation story taught that God designed, defined and created a hierarchical world that developed from one stage to another, from the dust of the earth to the crown of creation, Adam, the male agent of a male God.

In this world, women were not “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” equal partners in the human enterprise, as those words imply. Instead, women were labeled “help-mates” rather than, as David Freedman points out, ”a power equal to,” as the corresponding Hebrew term is translated in other places in scripture. …”–Joan Chittister, OSB  Read the rest.

Video: Breaking the Habits of Machismo with Michelle Gonzalez and Jim Wallis

Prof. Michelle Gonzalez wrote an awesome article for the January 2014 issue of Sojourners (“if you don’t get it, you don’t get it”).

January.2014.cover_The title is Breaking the Habits of Machismo. When Pope Francis said we need a new theology of women, I asked Michelle to write an article in response.

We followed up yesterday with Sojourners’ first 50-minute Google Hangout. I moderated and Jim Wallis and Michelle Gonzalez led the discussion. We had about 70 people join us for the live portion and lots more are watching the video. Check it out.

PS. If you are looking for adult Sunday school material, then show this video and lead a discussion about it.

Joan Chittister: Women and Their Stories

St. Scholastica by Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506)
St. Scholastica by Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506)

“February 10 is the feast day of Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict. She’s the patron saint of women’s Benedictine contemplative communities.

Saint Benedict had a sister named Scholastica who also dedicated her life to the pursuit of God. She, too, founded monasteries and became an abbatial figure. The only story we have of Scholastica is told when Benedict was already an abbot of renown. The incident demonstrates clearly that the brother and sister were emotionally close and a spiritual influence on each other till the time of her death.

During one of their annual visits, Scholastica, inspired by the depth of their conversation, asked Benedict to remain overnight in the place where they were meeting in order to continue their talk and reflection on spiritual things. Benedict wouldn’t even think of it. It was getting dark; it was time to get back to the monastery; it was time to get on with the regular routine of the spiritual life. Unable to persuade him with words, Scholastica put her head down on the table in deep prayer. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a great storm brought with it flash floods and Benedict realized that he could not possibly return to the monastery that night. And the Dialogues say, “he complained bitterly.” He said, “God forgive you, sister! What have you done?” Scholastica answered simply, “I asked you for a favor and your refused. I asked my God and I got it.”

The story is a vein worth mining for a lifetime.
• It tells us that law is never greater than love
• It tells us to be intent on pursuing the values of the life, not simply its rules
• It tells us that discipline is necessary in the spiritual life but that religious discipline is not enough, that depth is a process and that depth costs
• It tells us that God lurks in strange places. And waits for us. And puts in our paths just what we need in order to become what we are meant to be
• It reminds us that a woman has as much power in the eyes of God as any man and that we must recognize women, too, as spiritual guides.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press)

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) in the ‘Republic of Conscience’

The Beautiful Irish Woman, 1866, by Gustave Courbet
The Beautiful Irish Woman, 1866, by Gustave Courbet

Seamus Heaney,74,  one of the greatest living poets writing in the “English” language, died today at a clinic in Ireland.

Robert Lowell called Heaney “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Lowell didn’t live to see the full grandeur of Heaney’s accomplishments.

I’m in a bit of shock at the news.

The night I heard Seamus Heaney read his poetry at the Kennedy Center was one of the highlights of my literary life.

Most memorably he read from his own translation of Brian Merriman’s “The Midnight Court,” in which the women of Ireland put the men on trial:

‘Get up,’ she said, ‘and on your feet!’
What do you think gives you the right
To shun the crowds and the sitting court?
A court of justice, truly founded,
And not the usual, rigged charade,
But a fair and clement court of women
of the gentlest stock and regimen.
The Irish race should be grateful always
For such a bench, agreed and wise,
In session now two days and a night,
In the spacious fort on Graney Heights …

… Blame arrogant kings, blame emigration,
But it’s you and your spunkless generation–
Your a source blocked off that won’t refill.
You have failed your women, one and all.

I’ve taught Heaney’s poem “Station Island” as part of prayer and poetry retreats. I’ve written essays comparing “Station Island” with Neruda’s “The Heights of Macchu Piccu.” I’ve listened to audio of Heaney reading and lecturing simply to luxuriate in his language.

How can that singular voice be stilled? Who will answer now when I call out in the “republic of conscience”? There will be quite a céilí tonight in the celestial courts!

From The Irish Times:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the death of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney today has brought a “great sorrow to Ireland” and only the poet himself could describe the depth of his loss to the nation.

Mr Kenny said: “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people”.
Heaney died this morning at the Blackrock Clinic aged 74 after a short illness.

He was admitted to the clinic for a procedure but died prior to the operation.

President Michael D Higgins said Heaney’s contribution “to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.

“As tributes flow in from around the world, as people recall the extraordinary occasions of the readings and the lectures, we in Ireland will once again get a sense of the depth and range of the contribution of Seamus Heaney to our contemporary world, but what those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss is the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality,” he said.

Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, described Heaney as warm, humourous, caring and courteous.
“A courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world,” he said.

“Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus’ poems. Scholars all over the world will have gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience.” …

Read the rest here.

Poet Theo Dorgan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Ireland at a poetry workshop several years ago, said:

Seamus Heaney would react in “half embarrassment” at being compared to the great Irish writers such as W.B Yeats, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, but “he deserved it. He is there.” He was also a very loved poet and people “just beamed” in his presence. He had, more than any other poet he met, “genuine humility. He knew his gift was just that, a gift”. He was a supportive writer who offered “solidarity and companionship” to others aspiring to be poets, Dorgan said.

More on Seamus Heaney:

Obituary: Heaney ‘the most important Irish poet since Yeats’

Seamus Heaney, poet, dies aged 74

Video: Lana Finikin and Women Doing Serious Theater


Lana Finikin, 59, from Jamaica is an activist using theater to address violence against women. “The saying is, when women and girls are safe, then everybody else will be safe,” she says. Watch her 3-minute video above.

In 1977, Finikin co-founded the Sistren Theatre Collective, which uses performances to explore problems concerning poor women in rural and urban communities in Jamaica – issues include violence, HIV/Aids, domestic work, housing, land tenure, environment and unemployment.

Finikin uses drama as a tool to share experiences and to empower communities on a grassroots level so they can resolve their own problems. Sistren develops the stories for its plays out of people’s experiences and narrations. At a recent UN conference in New York on the status of women, Finikin showed her approach in a two-hour-long condensed workshop.

According to the UN, globally 7 out 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated in their lifetimes with most of the violence is taking place in intimate relationships.

Pope Francis Kisses Feet of Women

kisswomenFor the fourth time in two weeks Pope Francis has chosen to focus on women in the Church as part of his teachings and witness.

On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of 12 prisoners at a juvenile facility prison in Rome. Francis washed black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one. In addition to including girls and women in this service, also included were an Orthodox Christian and a young Muslim man. (The traditionalist custom has been to wash the feet of 12 retired priests in a high Mass in church.)

Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. “This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”

Holy Saturday he dedicated his Easter Vigil homily to the women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. “There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil,” he said. “The women encounter the newness of God.” On Tuesday he spoke about Mary Magdalene’s tears and how we should follow her example of faith.

On Wednesday Pope Francis expanded his reflections to the women of the world, whom he said have a special and fundamental role in the Church and the transmission of the faith. He says:

In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.

There are difficult days ahead for this pope — with the Vatican bank, the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, and the fundamental corruption that clericalism is wreaking on the church. But in the past 21 days, he has done more to restore integrity to the Catholic church than at least the previous two popes. And he is modeling Christ for the world. I intend to soak up all the healing, all the pastoral and inspiring gospel teaching and all his humble actions that he’s pouring out on the soul of the world.

What an Easter gift!

Catholics Discuss Ordination of Women: Do I Call Her ‘Father’?

In December, the National Catholic Reporter wrote an editorial calling for discussion on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. (The Vatican has forbidden this discussion to be had by anyone in the institutional church or on any church-owned properties. This means no priest can talk about it and no discussion can be had in Catholic schools, universities, or church basements.)

As any teen counselor can tell you, the best way to ensure a conversation spreads like wildfire is to drive it underground.

The National Catholic Reporter (part of the Catholic faithful, not a Vatican-affiliated institution) had such a huge response from readers to their December editorial that NCR followed it with a series of articles on the history of church authority, roles of women, and theology of ordination. (The links to the articles are below.)

I extend an invitation to non-Catholics Christians (pardon the generalization) to read these articles, as well as to Catholics. Much of the content focuses on our common Christian heritage (eg before the Reformation).

Protestants, evangelicals, and Anabaptist tend to cede history before the 1500s to Catholics. Please, don’t do that.

Contemporary Catholics need our Protestant kinfolk to fully claim the early church and the first 1500 years of our common history. (And I dare say, with the rise of “complementarianism,” not a few Protestants need to reclaim their history of women in leadership.)

Here is the NCR series:

“In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favor of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions.”–Editorial: Ordination of women would correct an injustice (12/3/12)

“The account in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6 of the apostles choosing seven men to take care of table service is usually considered the origin of the office of deacon, yet no one in the story is called diakonos and the apostles appoint them for the diakonia of the table so that the apostles can devote themselves to the diakonos of prayer and the word. All perform diakonos of different kinds.”–Early women leaders: from heads of house churches to presbyters (NCR, 1/18/13)

“The Council of Paris in 829 made it extremely clear that it was the bishops who were allowing women to minister at the altar. Women certainly did distribute Communion in the 10th, 11th and perhaps the 12th centuries. Texts for these services exist in two manuscripts of this period. All of this changed over roughly a hundred-year period between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 13th. For many different cultural reasons, women were gradually excluded from ordination. First, many roles in the church ceased to be considered as ordained — most importantly, abbots and abbesses. Powerful women in religious orders went from being ordained to laity. Second, canon lawyers and then theologians began to debate whether women could be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate.”–The meaning of ordination and how women were gradually excluded by Gary Macy (NCR, 1/16/12)

“The exercise of doctrinal authority throughout much of the first millennium presupposed several basic convictions. First, the doctrine that the bishops taught pertained to public revelation. There was no sense that bishops received some secret knowledge available only to them. Indeed such a view, known as Gnosticism, had been roundly condemned. Second, what the bishops taught was not foreign to the faith of the whole church. In apostolic service to their communities, the bishops received, verified and proclaimed the apostolic faith that all the baptized in their churches prayed and enacted. The apostolic faith consciousness of the whole people of God would eventually be referred to as the sensus fidelium.”–Richard Gaillardetz, Putting the church’s shifts in spheres of authority in historical perspective (NCR, 2/4/13)