Monday, February 11, 2013

A new pope? Does it really matter?

For those of you who have been following my infrequent (or all-too-frequent) ramblings about church and faith and spirituality in this space, I thought I would post my thoughts and feelings about Pope Benedict's decision to retire. I have a few thoughts, but I'm not really feeling anything. I'm just deeply weary.

Today there are many Catholics who are singing the praises of the man who has led the church for these past almost eight years. I wish I was one of them. I'm sure Pope Benedict brought about some good things during his papacy, but the past eight years have probably been the toughest I've ever known as a Catholic, simply because it has become pretty much impossible for me to convincingly convey to my family the beauty and strength and value of life lived in Catholic Christian community.

Why? Because it's feeling like the Catholic Church has closed its windows in so many ways, regressing rather than progressing when it comes to reaching out to humankind as a whole. I don't know about you, but when I find myself in a stale environment, I step outside for fresh air -- and I really can't blame the many good people I know who have left the Church. Lately, everything I read on the subject of where the Church is heading seems to indicate that it is in a fearful self-preservation mode rather than living any sort of broad, compassionate generosity that captures the hearts and minds of us in the pews and calls us to reach out to the world with Jesus' love. But perhaps I'm not seeing the whole picture.

What has really taken the wind out of my sails is that getting my teen-aged daughters to come to church has become a real struggle. This week, one of them announced her decision to take a sabbatical from Sunday mass because for her, it is meaningless. I'm tired of arguing with my girls because I know that my own point of view, forged through lifelong relationship with the Holy Trinity and the Real Presence in community Eucharist, is somehow beyond their understanding. Faith is caught, not taught... and they just don't get what going to church has to do with any of it. It's like I'm speaking a foreign language rather than their mother tongue.

I feel as though I've failed my girls somehow... but I also know that I've done everything I could to try to show them the rich beauty in being a follower of Jesus. Together, we've participated in Children's Liturgy, taken sacramental classes, and been part of Children's Choir and family music ministry. We've had our favourite priests to supper, volunteered in the inner city, and worked on spiritual literacy by reading inspirational books. I've shared stories of God from my life and the lives of others, I've been honest about my own faith struggles, and I've lived my conviction that it's important to stay rooted in Christian community in spite of those struggles.

My girls are intelligent -- they see through hypocrisy, they think for themselves, and they know their own minds. In spite of everything, the Church isn't making much sense to them. They see a community, mostly devoid of people their age, that doesn't reach out to them in any way that they can understand -- or maybe it's more that they don't care to try to understand because they're feeling completely ignored at liturgies that are dogmatically and liturgically correct but somehow don't touch their hearts or fire their imaginations. And I've run out of steam for coaxing and cajoling. Forcing them to come along -- or guilting them into it -- would be cruel and counterproductive, especially if I want to be like Jesus, who didn't force anything on anyone. And I probably carry enough Catholic guilt for our whole family.

First world problem? Of course. But it leaves me too weary to feel much of anything, and I don't know what to do next. I should feel hope -- but I have a feeling that the next pope will be more of the same, determined to concentrate power in the Vatican rather than empowering the people of God. I guess you could say that right now I'm in a space where I need less pope and more Jesus. The only way a change of pope will matter to me is if the man who takes St. Peter's chair after Benedict can find a way to leave dogma out of it and reconnect -- with our youth, with the poor and the marginalized, with women, with people who think for themselves, with the world -- by reintroducing Catholics of all ages not to scholarly writings, rules, and regulations, but to the real Jesus, the reason we do what we do. The new pope needs to light our hearts on fire with the kind of love Jesus showed us when he said,
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11. 28-30, NRSV)
Or, in the words of a more contemporary translation of scripture known as The Message:
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me -- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Jesus, my hope is in you. Come, Holy Spirit, and bring the people of God a pope who will make a difference. God, bless Benedict in his retirement, and bless us all...


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