Sunday, September 15, 2013

A church for my girls... and everyone else

An open letter:

Dear Pope Francis and all you other bishops of the world,

I have been a baptized Catholic for all but the first seven days of my life. I grew up in a devout Catholic family, and earned my first few dollars in their Catholic church supplies store, surrounded by Catholic people when I worked there, and when I attended Catholic summer camps and Catholic youth retreats as a teen. As a young adult, I took university courses at a Catholic college, taught in a Catholic school, and eventually ended up with a Religious Education degree, going so far as to start my Masters before having a family. The long and the short of it is that you might be hard-pressed to find many lay people as steeped in Catholicism from the get-go as I am. Of late, I'm thinking I've overdone it!

Growing up just after the Second Vatican Council, I lived in a time of hope. It seemed that the church was renewing itself, broadening its point of view, becoming more up-to-date. Ecumenism! Liberation Theology! Inclusive language! Expanding roles for women, for lay people! So when my Catholic husband and I had our own family, I mistakenly thought that I could pass all this Catholic enthusiasm on to my own children by taking them to church from the time they were newborns, bundling them along to weekday mass when they were too young for school, teaching them and their peers at children's liturgy on Sundays, buying them Catholic books (from the aforementioned church supplies store), involving them in music at mass by leading a Junior Youth Choir for ages 4 to 12, helping them through their sacramental preparation for first communion, reconciliation and confirmation, and discussing all things Catholic with them whenever possible. If faith is caught, not taught, I was throwing everything I had into helping them catch it, even as the church changed tactics, reverting from a welcoming expansiveness to a more narrow exclusivity.

My girls caught the faith, but now it seems that they are rejecting Catholicism for reasons far beyond all my efforts to share its richness and beauty. The richness and beauty has paled because of a certain overzealous religion teacher who insists on emphasizing Catholic dogma and doctrine over Jesus' teachings about loving and serving one another, sharing our gifts, and being like him. The richness and beauty are being drowned out by a world that doesn't accept outdated teachings from a patriarchal hierarchy that science and common sense have proven wrong over time. My girls see a church that pays lip-service to women's participation. They see an institution that says "Pay, pray and obey," more than a community that is "justice, mercy, compassion, and mutual aid in the maintenance of life for one another," as female theologian Ivone Gebara puts it.

My daughters have faith, but they can't stomach the Church, so my husband and I are going to mass alone these days. And sometimes I wonder why we bother, because there is much there that I can't stomach either, like pompous and exclusive language, lay people being kept away from the altar, a re-emphasis on the rules and regulations that govern the celebration over Jesus' simplicity in sharing a meal, and a narrow view of who is worthy to receive. When I look around my church on a Sunday, I see the elderly, and young families, and a huge gap in the middle where families like mine should be. They've lost interest for many reasons. I am losing interest because I don't want to be part of a narrower church.

I read recently of another theologian, Victor Codina of Bolivia, who sees that the only way the Catholic Church will recover from a long downward slide is if it moves away from the ancient hierarchichal church model that dominated most of the past two millennia, beyond the Post-Vatican model of church as the People of God, straight back to Jesus' model of being church with the poor and marginalized until all are equal and all are welcomed to the table of community.

And when I look at my family, I know in the marrow of my bones that he's right. The hierarchy doesn't speak to them at all, and has definitely missed the boat with the multitude of Catholics who have left the church in my lifetime. The church as merely the worshipping People of God isn't working for my daughters either, who have never really felt connected to the community because there aren't many young people -- most of their Catholic school friends aren't churchgoers. Up until recently, our family's mass attendance was an exception to what seems like the rule -- we've always known more Catholic families who choose Sunday sports/shopping/sleep-ins than families willing to attend wordy Sunday liturgies that often don't seem to connect with life on the other six days of the week.

Dear Pope Francis and friends, since the change in the papacy last March, you have been throwing threads of hope to people like me. Now I ask, why not come up with a new version of church that is relevant to what ordinary people are actually living? How about rebuilding a church that actively invests every baptized believer with the same importance as its clergy, more like the way Jesus sent out his disciples? Could we try having a church that calls everyone to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly in the way Jesus did, without so much emphasis on all the rules and regulations associated with its structure, and with more stress on reaching out, getting to know, and being with and for the ones our church and our society shun? Can we come up with a liturgy that speaks to peoples' hearts, rather than using ancient prayer formulas that only the theologically-trained can readily understand? Can we recall that the early church was about gathering the people, telling the stories, breaking the bread and caring for each other in a much less formal way, and which was directly connected to the rest of life?

Jesus knew that we all need to be called to serve causes greater than ourselves. Lately the institutional church seems to be focused on increasing its numbers by bringing back the lapsed Catholics, but lapsed Catholics need a solid reason to return, a reason that awakens their passion for their faith, and I'm not seeing it being presented anywhere.

What is clear is that my girls -- and the rest of us -- need the kind of church that sets everybody's hearts on fire, a church that takes people past paying, praying and obeying to actually living Jesus' radical call to discipleship in the world, working and living for peace and justice in a community where everyone is valued and their gifts are celebrated and fully utilized. Jesus cared for the poor in their many guises in his corner of the world, the early Christians did the same, and so can we, if we step out of our comfort zones.

So, my brothers in the hierarchy, what can you do to build a new church to set our hearts on fire? What can we do together? I think it is time to call a New Council, invoke the Holy Spirit, and invite not mainly theologians and clergy this time, but everyone and anyone who wants to follow Christ (including those who have been turned off by the overzealous). Allow everyone to brainstorm, but most especially our youth, and let us all work together to chart a new path that will bring us all back to Jesus' way of being one with God, creation, and each other.

I keep you all in my prayers.

With hope,
Your sister in Christ,
Maria K.

2 comments:

  1. Did you send it to him directly? I really understand what you meant. You have good points of the church.I guess compared to Canada, Swiss is worse. At least I could see some young people at the church in Canada, but not in here. I met so many the young in Taize. The young need place to pray and make a fun. Your voice should raise up more and be accepted when they make a decision.

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    Replies
    1. Actually, Eunkee, I sent a shorter version of the letter, in my own handwriting, with a picture of my family. I will be interested to see if he replies.

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