Mary Pope-Handy 408 204-7673 mary@popehandy.com

Scandalized by the Church

Scandalized by the Church - person prayingThe abuse crisis has caused many Catholics to be scandalized by the Church. The irony is that Catholic leaders hid what was happening precisely because they did not want to scandalize the faithful – among other reasons, of course.

Like many people, I have family and friends who stopped attending Mass or even ceased  considering themselves Catholic at all because of the way that bishops and other religious leaders concealed the abuse and protected the abusers. They should have been focusing on the children and vulnerable adults who were hurt. They should have turned the abusers over to law enforcement.

While most of the sexual abuse happened before reforms were instituted 20+ years ago, the stories just keep coming here and around the world. And now there are other scandals involving Catholic boarding schools for indigenous children and mass, unmarked graves in Canada and the U.S.

“They have no business telling me how I should behave”, said one of my relatives recently.

The outrage that we Catholics collectively feel is not aimed at the whole Church, but at the hierarchy and superiors of religious orders who are guilty of the abuse personally, or  who covered it up, protected the abusers, and did not care sufficiently about the welfare of the injured.

The hierarchy does not equal the Church, though. We are all the Church.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, a prolific theologian, wrote a compelling book entitled “Models of the Church“. (Click on the link to learn more about these models.) When I read it in college, there were five models, or ways of understanding the Church. He later added one more.

They are the Church as:

  • Institution
  • Mystical Communion
  • Sacrament
  • Herald
  • Servant
  • Community of Disciples

I found it very useful to think about the Church in a broader way then the top-down version I was taught as a child. Today it may be helpful for the many alienated and hurt Catholics to look beyond just the institution when considering their relationship with the Church. (more…)

Staying awake during homiles

Homilist - how to help with Staying awake during homilesOn January 21st, the Valley Catholic ran an article here in the Diocese of San Jose on the laity staying awake during  homilies. I can understand the need for this, and have seen people doze off during the sermon, too. There were some good points, but it didn’t go far enough, as it didn’t touch on what the priest ought to do to hold the congregation’s attention. This is, of course, a two-way street.

What preachers can do to  help the community with staying away during homilies

  • There can be too much of a good thing, so please keep your homilies short. Even the most ardent listener is contending with multiple distractions in Mass – people fidgeting, kids making noises, whatever it might be. Wisely, Pope Francis came out two years ago and said to limit preaching to 10 minutes. ( https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-tells-priests-to-keep-homilies-brief-no-more-than-10-minutes-10753 )
  • Please make sure that you can be heard and understood and that your speaking style is not a problem. Some of this is tech support with microphones. Some of it is intonation (don’t monotone!) and projection. Sometimes, though, there’s a problem with accents. This latter issue is absolutely a pastoral one and it can be addressed with some time and effort, but is worth it so that your thoughtful message can be grasped. When the People of God cannot understand you, or cannot hear you, their minds will drift.
  • The congregants appreciate absorbing more than what they just heard in the readings, so please don’t re-read the gospel, etc., unless it is just a tiny snippet of your homily. What is helpful is hearing what we don’t know about the context of the reading, and some way to apply it to our daily lives.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of common sense: don’t overdo the jokes, don’t use puppets or props, and please no gimmicks (e.g., do not sing your homily, repeat the same phrase multiple times in a short period, flap your arms wildly). While theatrics may keep people from falling asleep, it won’t nourish them the way a well prepared, well delivered, and concise homily will do.

And finally, thank you too all of the homilists who prepare and preach thoughtfully and prayerfully week in and week out. Once in awhile, a person or two may fall asleep no matter how good your homily is. Chalk it up to infirmity, lack of sleep, or other issues having nothing to do with you or your preaching. You do your best to preach well and concisely, and the vast majority of the people in the pews will be listening to every word.

Rebuild My Church

Imagine praying intently while all alone, and then hearing something – not a little voice in your head or heart, a but one outside of you which you hear with your ears. This happened to St. Francis many centuries ago. He was praying in the dilapidated church at San Damiano when he heard physically God ask him to rebuild and repair his church.

Image: Today, it is clericalism, abuse, and secrecy which are choking the church like a giant python. At first, he took this command literally, thinking that God meant that he needed to repair the church building there. In time, he realized that the invitation was far bigger, and probably a lot scarier, than taking on a religious building in ruins. It was to help bring about reform in the church at large.

Today, we need to also hear that same call to create reform, as our church is now in ruins from one abuse scandal after the next. In St. Francis’ time, there was no small share of corruption that he was intent on taking on, though it was of a different kind.  Today, it is clericalism, abuse, and secrecy which are choking the church like a giant python.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been letters and homilies in response to the current wave of abuse crisis news. Pope Francis issued a letter, made a number of statements during his trip to Ireland, and included, in one Mass, petitions that were specific to abuse.

Our bishop in the  Diocese of San Jose, Patrick McGrath, published a statement on the DSJ website which you can find here. While it conveys our communal sense of horror and grief and it calls for prayer, it falls short in that it does not promise transparency, which is sorely needed. The diocese here, like everywhere in the U.S., needs to open up its files and make known all credible accusations. (Note: the diocese later provided a list of those credibly accused.)

As a diocese, we can and must do more than say words of commiseration. We must act. (more…)

When dreams die: a religious perspective

GraveyardMost of us experience the loss of dreams gone unrealized at some point, if not at many times in our lives.  Sometimes it’s a college application that got a rejection, a career that didn’t pan out, or a relationship that didn’t work.  Perhaps it’s ending up single or childless when you wanted to be married with kids.  Or maybe it was having an unexpected death or illness rob you of what you thought you would be doing or experiencing.

Significant loss, whether it’s a relationship, work, health, financial stability, or anything else, can tend to rock us to the core.  We know it can happen.  No one is immune from terminal illness, car accidents, layoffs, divorce, infertility or a host of other unhappy occurrences. Sometimes life isn’t fair.

And yet, we see a huge range of responses to these situations, these times when dreams die.  That is what I would like to focus on today. (more…)

The alienation of elderly Catholics

Growing Old Is Not For Sissies“Growing old is not for sissies,” my grandmother used to quip.  She would know as she lived to be just 2 days shy of her 100th birthday.

As people age, they tend to suffer a series of losses:

  • loss of the senses – hearing, sight, taste
  • loss of friends and relatives whom they outlive
  • loss of work or a sense of purpose (in many cases)
  • loss of driving and the freedom & independence that brings
  • loss of control over life generally with increased medical problems, doctor visits, perhaps where the senior needs to live for health or financial reasons
  • loss of a social life (with the living situation & end of driving)
  • loss of memory for many (or general confusion in some cases)

All of these can be a source for feeling left out and alienated.  But as they start stacking up, these mounting losses can pave the way for depression and at times leave the individual pining for death and remove the desire to go to church or feel like a part of the community.

What can be done to help regarding alienation, the elderly, and the church?

Some elderly people stop going to church or religious services even though in the past it was life-giving for them because the effort has become so great and once they get there, the acoustics may not be good for them to hear what is going on (and in many cases they may not be able to see what is happening either).  In a large place of worship, they may be too far away to be able to follow, so attending may be an exercise in frustration for them. They are surrounded by others but definitely feel alone. (more…)