The Promises I Make

Dear Fellow Workers for Church Reform,

As you know, I have spent the last 5 weeks, discerning, dreaming, and scheming and I promised I would share the outcome and the process that led to the outcome with you.

I hope that all of you have had the chance to watch the video that I shared with you of the talk given by Cecilia González-Andrieu. Her beautiful message served as a framework for our workshop as we focused on her 4 important points: ask why, accompany la realidad, imagine expansively, act with power.

Through prayer, reflection, writing and sharing with both a large and more focused small group, I was able to name my gifts and identify what has sparked my passion for working for justice and the reform of the church. I am a part of the hippie generation and spent my young adult years participating in many protests and demonstrations, so that fire is not new to me. When it comes to my history in the church, though, I realized that I had been deeply hurt on more than one occasion by someone I loved or highly respected acting according to their beliefs about what it meant to be Catholic. I left the church for a while and came back when I realized that the church is the Body of Christ and that body has weak parts. No body is perfect, but I wanted to heal myself and help heal that body.

The gifts I feel I bring are the ability to listen to others without judgment and a particular ability to relate well with the young. I spent a good part of my career working with children and adolescents and I was so energized by the many young participants in this workshop. They gave me such hope for the future.

The resistance I feel in myself relates to my age and knowing that I will not see the church I dream of in my lifetime, but if I could help move the church to a place where it speaks to the young and welcomes them, I would feel satisfied. I will commit to work for that in finding venues to reach young people and speak to the issues that are important to them. Much as we learn to understand and build community with people of different cultural backgrounds, I believe that happens when we go to their communities and walk in their shoes, participate with them in events that are important and engaging for them.

I come back to this committee with the resolve to expand our reach and our power in the way that Cecilia talked about power, as a verb, not a noun. We have worked as a committee for almost 2 years now and we have expanded our collaboration and created meaningful dialogue and documents in support of reform around the issue of the sexual abuse crisis in the church. Our parish community made it clear that they felt our job was to work for reform in the structure of the church, which is what led to the sexual abuse crisis. My goal is to continue to persevere in the effort to recognize the power of the women in the church and to sanctify it. When the church recognizes the value of all its people, as Christ did, it will more faithfully spread Christ’s message.

As Richard Rohr shared in one of his recent meditations “Francis and Clare showed us it is possible to change the system not by negative attacks (which tend to inflate the ego), but simply by quietly moving to the side and doing it better!” Maybe that is what we need to do.

5 thoughts on “The Promises I Make

  1. Pat, I appreciate your reflection. I appreciate your naming the resistance of knowing that the church you dream of will not be seen in your lifetime. There is a lament in that. I have found solace in Thomas Cahill’s book, The Gift of the Jews. Moses teaches us that some goals are much bigger than what can be accompished in our lifetimes. He wanders the desert for 40 years and gets to see the Promised Land, but doesn’t get to pass into it. He does all that holy work for his descendents. I often think of my nieces as I imagine the good I hope that comes from the ministry I do. I’m glad you have a special connection with young people as they surely benefit from your gifts and will carry it forth. How might knowing this more deeply help you to overcome your resistance, discover greater meaning in the present, and trust in the impact of your work on the future?

    1. It took me a long time to realize that I may not see the church I long for, the church I have been fighting for, in my lifetime. When I read about what the “rules” are for a deacon, I thought “why should I keep fighting? Even if it happens tomorrow, I am already too old.” In this year of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, I have been doing a lot of reading about the fight for women’s enfranchisement. Many of those women did not live to vote. Moses did not live to enter the Promised Land. But we all benefit from their “poder.” Thank you for reminding me that our call may be to fight for our children and grandchildren, for those who will come after us. When my kids were little and we would go camping, I would tell them to “leave the place better than they found it.” Maybe that is what we are called to do in this misguided church that we love.

  2. Pat! I re-read all your posts and am renewed by your life and witness.

    You helped to birth this workshop — just by saying “yes – I’d be interested!”
    Your lived experience of another way of being in a parish was a POWERFUL witness for me of what is already happening (which you shared back in March!)

    It sounds like you, and your parish, and priest — are well positioned to help the wider church learn what it means to share leadership, to collaborate — to walk this “synodal way” we hear Pope Francis going on and on about.

    Has your local bishop considered having a local (diocesan) synod?
    Could you be a leader on the planning team?
    Would that be in your interest? Why or why not? How could it be a way to incarnate the vision you have of church? (even to share stories of lament / loss from those who have left, such as your children)
    How would that be a way to meaningfully re-build the network you want to activate again?
    What are dangers of the process being co-opted? How can it truly be a time of sacred, holy listening? What will you have to let go of to enter into such an endeavor?

    I was so struck at how your faith community was navigating this pandemic times — the way your pastor is refraining from eucharist, inviting those praying at home to have a physical symbol with them and inviting them into the sacramentality of the faith. People are hungry for that kind of experience of church, and I don’t think it’s an accident that the deep history and legacy of your work, your vision for church, and the sharing of that in a lived parish — means you all have more to draw from to support each other and find nourishment to be church even as our worship life has been upended.

    You have lived the changes and the hopes for Vatican II, you’ve suffered the failures and laments — you have wisdom to offer those of us who are hoping to carry the baton forward and more fully embrace the reforms the Council ushered in (by building on them!)

    Archbishop Hebda in the twin cities is in the midst of a diocesan synod; I’m not sure of what other dioceses have jumped on board. I do strongly recommend the Deville book to your reading (and perhaps, your team) – as it might offer further encouragement for how to advance the commitment to transparency and accountability — while also opening a crack in the conversation around seeing all the women God has already called to the diaconate and who are revealing Christ’s face in their lives and ministry, but without the grace of holy orders or recognition of the Church they serve (aka – this could all be very “by the book” but no less powerful for being that way!)

    I am of course, breaking my own rules here about comments. But it’s just to say – I think you have good news to share, and to build on, and I’m inspired to be crossing paths. Let’s keep scheming!!!

    1. Casey, thank you so much for what you have done for us all in this space and thank you for your thoughtful feedback on my posts. I just have to share with you that just after our workshop concluded, I got the agenda for our next reform group meeting. On the agenda were the following items:

      V. David Haas – Is “Patriarchy” or “Clericalism” a better description of the problem at the root of the Church’s troubles?

      VI. Should we advocate a United States Synod?

      VII. Choosing a narrowly defined, measurable, achievable task for the coming year

      These were not topics that had come up at our last meeting. Coincidence or the Spirit?

      I feel like everything is falling into place and I am so energized right now.

  3. It has been a pleasure to journey with you, Pat. And even though you may not (none of us may) live to see the Church we dream of, you are *embodying* the Church today. I can see it.

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