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

Does being a public figure make you a public target? Pity the poor bishops.

My family is one of those expansive, Irish Catholic clans which has been richly enhanced by the presence of priests, nuns, brothers, and in far larger supplies, devout (but down to earth, not syrupy sweet) lay folks.  Spanning several categories, we have church workers, theologians, dedicated volunteers and others involved in a wide array of church activity and leadership.

Over the years, I had the chance to meet a lot of “leaders” of various types, and by association, hear about others who had a bigger presence still.  What surprised me very much as a teen was to learn how rudely some bishops, in particular, would be treated while out in public – it’s as if they had a big target on them!  (And this was long before the pedophilia scandal broke.)  Why is it that if someone is especially visible, total strangers feel entitled to accost them and say terrible things to them? We know that it happens to celebrities, so I suppose it shouldn’t be so much of a shock that it happens on a lesser scale to those who are likewise in the spotlight to a lesser degree, such as bishops and probably also priests, theologians and others.

I’m no church leader, and no star either, but because I do a lot of marketing (in my case writing on my many blogs) for my real estate practice, and do some public speaking on social media and realty related things, I’m somewhere on the low end of that continuum of being at least a little bit in the spotlight. It is sometimes odd to be out in public and find someone staring at me.  Jim, my husband, will reassure me that I don’t look bad or funny, it’s probably that someone recognizes me and is trying to figure out how they might know me.  Ok, that is not so awful, if a little weird sometimes. But recently I experienced one of the negative side effects of being known, so I wanted to mull it over here today, now that I’ve processed it a bit, and by extension, connect it to the faithful harassing church leaders because of their public position. (more…)

The Pact of the Catacombs, and understanding Pope Francis better

Pact of the CatacombsPope Francis seems to be the spirit of Vatican II personified.  In the couple of months in which he’s been our pontiff, we have experienced one new breath of fresh air after the next.

Can you boil down his message, as a person, to a phrase or two?  I’m not sure that it would do him or his charism justice, but what pops out the most to me is the word simplify.

Simplify the way to live.  (He’s at the Vatican guest house, Casa Marta, not the papal palace. Forget the ermine laced cape, the red shoes, the gold cross – take all of it down quite a bit to a more ordinary level.)

Simplify the paths to holiness. (A homily this week talked about “removing obstacles” which some in the church put in place between the people of God and the sacraments; on a somewhat similar vein, he spoke of meeting non-believers and atheists in the place of “doing good”, and that Christ has redeemed all of us.)

Simplify the faithful’s access to him. (The popemobile is without bullet proof glass. He says Mass for the employees of the Vatican – they do not have to “get tickets” like everyone else.  He drives his security detail crazy by mingling with people.)

There is much more, of course. But the simple approach is in line with his “poor church, for the poor” spirituality.  And it is 100% in line with the Pact of the Catacombs, signed by a few dozen bishops and theologians near the close of Vatican II.

To better understand the Pact of the Catacombs, I commend to you an article from 2010 – please read all of it, but here’s a helpful, brief excerpt:

On November 16, 1965, just days before the close of the Council, about 40 conciliar fathers celebrated a Mass in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. They prayed to “be faithful to the spirit of Jesus,” and at the end of the celebration signed what they called “the pact of the catacombs”.

The “pact” is a challenge to the “brother bishops” to live a “life of poverty” and to be a “poor and servant” Church as John XXIII wanted. The signatories, including many Latin Americans and Brazilians, who were later joined by others, agreed to live in poverty, reject all symbols and privileges of power, and place the poor at the center of their pastoral ministry. The text would have a strong influence on the theology of liberation that sprouted up several years later.

Does this sound familiar? It should.  What we see in Pope Francis, and what was visible in him previously as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is this “life of poverty”.  The cardinals who elected the former Cardinal Bergoglio knew exactly what they were doing – inviting in the spirit of poverty and the spirit of service where in all of recent memory we’ve instead had the spirit of ruling monarch.  Here we have “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” lived beautifully.  The Pact of the Catacombs was signed almost 50 years ago, but we are seeing it alive in our day.  How fortunate we are to witness it.

Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we celebrate The Last Supper and also the sacrament of ordination and the priesthood.  Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily this morning on anointing, and that priests are to go out and find the needy, in essence, so that they can bring God’s love to them.  He tells his listeners:

We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. . . .It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord. . . (but instead) in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others

This was addressed to the ordained, but we Catholics are baptized as joining in Christ’s mission as prophet, priest and king  – all of us – so it applies well to the laity also.  (We do speak of “the priesthood of all believers”.) Where do we find God?  How are we to be in the world? Pope Francis says we should not only do self-help courses and be introspective.  We are to look outward and be people for others (very Ignatian), looking for those with the most need.  Or as in the Prayer of St. Francis, rather than look internally for what we ourselves might need, we are to look outwardly and see what God would have us do.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

We are not all ordained deacons and priests, but we can all look outwardly to see where there is need around us.  Sometimes the need is material, at others it’s emotional or physical – someone may need a lift to the store or to church, someone else may need company, reconciliation, an encouraging word or time to talk (or sit in silence).  All of us are called to be instruments of God’s grace, that is, to bring the transforming love of God’s presence to others.

Feeling like you belong at Church

In Silicon Valley, there are so many opportunities to attend Mass that it’s very easy to drift from Mass to Mass and yet never feel a sense of belonging to the particular group with whom you are worshiping. This is a large metropolitan area.  What can you do to forge a sense of belonging?  It will take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

Just like any other community, such as a neighborhood or work environment, relationships with people don’t just happen.  Here are a few tips for Catholics wanting to feel more “at home” in their parish community – especially for those who’ve just moved to the South Bay.

  1. Find your best fit. Initially, you may do some “parish shopping” to find a community that feels most comfortable to you and your own spirituality.  Here we have Mass and community in many languages, for instance.  Seek out where you will be able to thrive and give.  It’s ideal if you don’t have to travel far but no matter what, put some intentionality into finding the match and then decide to become an active member of that parish, attending Mass and functions there frequently.
  2. Be a regular. Try to go to the same Mass each week, make a point of meeting people (and write their names down if you want to).  When you begin to call people by name, it will do a lot to increase both your and their sense of belonging! (Many Catholics in our diocese only go to Mass once a month.  To feel that sense of being a part of the community, I encourage you to go weekly.  In our hectic lives it is a struggle sometimes but well worth it on many levels, for many reasons.)
  3. Don’t pray & run. Ever notice how many people are present when Mass begins, at the homily, and after communion?  Some folks run in after it starts and run out before it’s over.  That’s a poor idea for many reasons, but one of them is that it makes a sense of belonging hard to achieve.  Arrive a little early, say hello to a few people.  Linger after, especially if there are refreshments which are there to encourage community building.  Friendships take time – to feel that sense of belonging, you will need to slow down a little and meet people and cultivate friendships.
  4. Volunteer, join a group, get involved. If you can volunteer, you will meet people quickly.  Not much time?  Become a greeter.  You may only need to be at the church 15 minutes before and after Mass, so this is easy if you are alone especially. Most parishes want someone at every door to welcome people to Mass.  In some places, these are the ushers – and I have found that in a few parishes these are almost exclusively men.  But give it a try.  You will start to recognize others and be recognized by them too.  And that is the beginning.If you have kids or a somewhat reluctant spouse or friend in tow who don’t really want to go to Mass early, consider some sort of involvement outside of Mass times. Many parishes have a wide variety of groups for spiritual growth, for ministry to others or just helping out at the parish grounds.  My grandmother was a member of the altar society at her parish in Santa Cruz as my grandfather had over 100 rose bushes (a retirement hobby) and they could be put to very good use at the church.    There are classes too, some of which are occasional and others which may run for a few weeks.  I have seen many “mom & me” groups at churches too.  Find at least one group, class, committee etc. and dive in!

One of the best ways to feel loved is to be loving. So too with parish communities – spiritual leaders are sometimes drafted, but more often step up, on their own, to do a job that needs doing.  Want to feel welcome? Find a role where you can provide that to others.  You’ll be surprised at how fast you will feel as though you belong.

Have a great parish where you felt really welcomed?  Or a success story of making newcomers feel at home fast?  I’d love to hear the stories here!

Introduction of new liturgical changes

kudosAlthough the changes to prayers and songs at Mass aren’t officially required until the beginning of Advent this year, many parishes and other Catholic communities (such as at Mission Santa Clara) in the Diocese of San Jose have already begun introducing some of the new music or wording to help Catholics adjust more easily.

I think this is a very good idea.  While the history of the Church includes a good deal of “history of change”, it’s almost always a challenge for Catholics when they are in the midst of it.  With the massive changes after Vatican II, some Catholics never accepted the modifications and sought solace in breakaway or schismatic groups where the Latin Mass was still the norm.  Changes can cause alienation and I think we have learned that we need to be sensitive to the upset and introduce any alterations carefully.

Kudos to our bishop, and others, who wisely understand the need for the gradual adaption by the faithful.

When Bad Homilies Happen (to Good Catholics)

Everyone’s a critic.  When it comes to preaching and to homilies, it has got to be tough to get up in front of the community and be inspiring and insightful if you’re under-slept, overworked, rushed or maybe even going through a rough time yourself.  But this aspect of a priest or deacon’s life is so very important that it can seriously help or hinder the faith life of those present to hear it.

You can’t say that about committee meetings.

We expect so much of our clergy, whether diocesan or religious.  There are a thousand important things to do.  I would assert, though, that preaching (which comes with its own requirements such as preparing ahead of time and prayer) probably should go pretty high up on the priorities list.

I have been very fortunate to hear some truly exceptionally wonderful homilies.  There are some priests who are extremely gifted (and probably work hard at it too) and who manage to crowd the church with people who just want to hear them expound on the readings of the day.  At my parish we had a visiting priest, a Jesuit named Fr. John Murphy, SJ, who used to come out to say Mass sometimes.  His preaching was so profound and remarkable that you could hear people in church whisper that what they were hearing was amazing. One relative of mine would bring a tape recorder to the church so she could play the homily back later.   (How many people in the pews want to hear the same homily a second time?)

Unfortunately, sometimes – albeit very rarely – homilies are not just bad, but they are destructive.  Luckily this is very very seldom the case, but if it happens to you it’s not a small deal.  It can be a very big deal and it can risk alienating one from the faith. (more…)