Letters to Pope Francis

LetterstoPopeFrancis-cover-224x359One might start with the premise that this book, written by a former priest and Dominican to the Roman Catholic Church’s new pope, Francis, and about what is wrong with the institutional church, would appeal only to Catholics. One would be wrong, quite simply.

Matthew Fox delves into the rot at the center of the Catholic Church with the precision of a surgeon, and cuts out the cancer with deft sure hands. Yet what he speaks of, with slight alteration can be laid at the doorstep of much of Christendom. If I were more familiar with other faith systems, no doubt his criticisms would also find purchase.

Fox starts with charging that the two previous papacies, that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were schismatic. He makes this claim since both quite obviously tried to roll back the progress of Vatican II, and as he rightly suggests, “a council takes precedence over papal directives.” In other words, to the degree that both worked to ignore or undue reforms of the Second Vatican Council, their work was illegal and should be ignored.

Fox goes on from there, and he leaves no area of the church’s dirty little secrets left unaired. From the utterly disgusting coverup by church hierarchy of the pedophilia scandal, to the Vatican bank, to the vile treatment of religious women under Benedict, they are all unmasked. Curia members buy “sainthood” and known fascists find canonization while true martyrs of the church such as Oscar Romero are “held up” due to false charges of Marxism.

Matthew Fox who is now deeply involved in his own spiritual enterprise of bringing people to the Cosmic Jesus, urges Pope Francis to return theology to true theologians, replace suspect organizations such as Opus Dei from their powerful positions, stop the war on women, end required celibacy, and the simple end of Catholic obsession with sexual matters. It is a call to recognize the basic intelligence of lay people. It is a recognition that if the Church is losing adherents at an astounding pace, it is largely because the church is failing to be relevant to today’s problems and the needs of its people.

With tenderness but with firmness, Fox employs the Pope’s own words and is relentless in drawing the parallel between today and the Pope’s chosen namesake, Francis of Assisi, who, Fox makes out the case, would dismiss the great wealth of the Vatican, converting it to food for the poor, and would speak out loudly and insistently on issues of income inequality, working conditions for workers, and our rape of the environment.

He offers real solutions, the obvious and those which deal more with the inner workings of the Vatican, a subject that many lay persons are unfamiliar with. Indeed, it is these revelations that so shake the reader. How could such evil and behavior be tolerated in the Church?

This is a call to justice. It is a call to the Pope and the Church to return to its beginnings. It is a call to return to Jesus. Relentlessly, Fox recounts that Jesus was about the poor. He was about justice. He was about speaking truth to power. He indicts the Church as becoming the very things that Jesus gave his life for, and that if we can drop the mantra of individual salvation and return to demands for justice, work for justice, this church and others like it can be saved.

This a call to recognize that religion is the not same thing as faith. Fox sees faith as alive and well, and it is religion that has lost its way. It has become part of the ruling portion of humanity. It no longer serves people. Moreover he makes it quite clear that the only way for religion to continue must come through a recognition that ecumenism is the solution. We must get off this crazy notion that there is only One way to salvation, which each and every (or most) faith traditions claiming that they are that ONE.

This is a disheartening book if you are a Catholic, but refreshing too, as we recognize that the movement to re-vision what it means to be “church” is being led, not by hierarchies within institutional structures, but among common every day people. They are the true leadership and those institutionalized “leaders” had best get on board, or be left behind to burnish their gold and buff their Prada slippers in empty cathedrals everywhere.

Read this. Read it and join the growing legions who seek Jesus and His Way, the one that was intended.

Why I Am What I Am

Some of you have read my spiritual autobiography over at AFeatherAdrift. For those unaware, it’s under my autobiography and is the last 10 or so posts.

I yearned to be a Roman Catholic since youth, and but did not fulfill my desire until I was 43. Once Catholic, I expected never to waiver from my decision.

I did, as some of you know. I visited a number of other denominations, specifically UU and Unity. I thought I had found a home in the Episcopal Church, and for some time, felt emotionally happy there.

But, in reality, I never left my Catholic “roots”, if such could be said of a late convert to Mother Church. I merely tried to sing louder, pray longer, and otherwise quiet the tiny voice that never relented from calling me home.

So, for good or bad, I am home again. It has so far, seemed right. I am comfortable, yet of course, uncomfortable. Only a Catholic perhaps can understand that. It’s a bit like a family. You may objectively find your relatives obnoxious and overbearing, petty and self-absorbed, gigantically stubborn and denialistic in more ways than one. But, in the end, they are family.

It is always a surprise to me, (even though I did so myself, and know so many who did as well) when I find people who have left the Church in search of a more compatible spiritual experience. But that may only because I learned that divorce was not possible. At least for me.

I have concluded, at least for me again, that tension and abrasion are fine foils and necessary ones. It keeps my spiritual journey alive and fresh. It whets my desire to understand and to know. For better or worse I am tied to this Church, this Mother of all Mothers. It condemns me on paper, but it offers solace at the same time. I am sinner, sinned upon, and forgiving and forgiven. I am resurrected as I cry out in anguish at times: YOU PHARISEES!

I can not be complacent, and I’ve come to believe that we, as believers, never can be complacent, in anything. We can never stop trying to make the Church more of what she should be, any more than we can be complacent in a world that is less than it should be. Any more than I can allow myself to be less than I can be. It is a constant struggle. It is, I believe, why we strive, and why we grow in every way.

I was thinking of what the world might be like sans faith in God. And I’m not sure if we would have left the caves. I’m not sure that we would not have been content to make do with our short span on this bit of turf. Faith gives us something to strive for it seems. I’m not sure if we can do without it, or could.

God could, of course, have made all this clear to us. But what would that have looked like? Generations of sycophants, perfect creations, acting perfectly, feeling perfectly, believing perfectly. What indeed would be the point? No, I see worlds throughout the universe, life reaching upward, sentience reached, here and there, the thought occurring finally: Who, why, how? And then the conscious journey to know. Are you not in awe?

Yet, Mother Church is perhaps a poor example of that journey. I cannot know. I can only know that she is ingrained in me as if my DNA were inscribed with her blessing.

I shall, I suspect, always be in this dance of push-pull with her. I shall desire her, and despise her, perhaps at the same time. I read this a few weeks ago, and kept it. It describes in some ways, my own feelings. It is not perfect, but nothing is. It gives a sense of what my words are too poor to convey.

How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more that I owe anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.

Then too – where should I go?
To build another church?

But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects.

And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church.
No, I am old enough. I know better!

It is by Carlo Carretto, and I read it via Enlightened Catholicism. It is perhaps a bit too dramatic, a bit too intense, but it in some ways speaks as I would.

Heresy or Walking in the Steps of Jesus?

I’ve been mulling over an article I read in NCR the other day. I was filled with, shall we call it, righteous anger, and knew that I best let it sit a while before commenting.

As is often the case, another bit of teaching came my way today, that pretty much foundationed my thoughts.

I was reading EFM material on year two, the New Testament. In particular I was examining the various means by which we decide what was said, and what was meant. Various types of criticism were explained.

Over against this, it was noted that some folks (the far right) chooses to find all this simply wrong; they prefer a non-intellectual approach to the bible. We, as believers are to obey, not thinking but rather accepting God’s word as given.

And, as I read, I could see rather plainly what was going on in my Church. Confused? Let me explain.

It seems that two theologians at Creighton University, a Jesuit-run institution, have been severely rebuked by the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, for straying from Catholic teaching on a number of social-ethical issues. This is not something new of course, but happens with some regularity within the Church, as various scriptural experts and theologians beg to differ with the Church on matters of interpretation and faith.

It remains, always to me, utterly sad. Moreover, Saltzman and Lawler’s 2008 book, The Sexual Person: Towards a Renewed Catholic Anthropology, although critically acclaimed by many, was claimed to contain “serious error and not authentic Catholic teaching.”

As I said, this is an old tradition within the Church, one that arose almost from its beginnings, and indeed it could be argued, that the Church itself coalesced around its victories over various “heresies” in the early centuries. It is much like might makes right, and to the victor belongs the right to write history.

Many would argue of course that any church has the right to defend itself against what it considers false doctrine which can mislead the flock. However, let’s face it, only a small percentage of believers ever involve themselves in theological matters let alone fine biblical exegetical points.

I think the Creighton smack down bespeaks a greater error however. And it is this: if what you believe is true, that it will stand against falsity. . .it cannot be suppressed. History is replete with this lesson. All the attempts to quash Christianity failed, because the message contained great truth. Attempts to muzzle other points of view merely suggests that perhaps you don’t feel yourself to be on very firm ground.

Worse, it defies the very scriptures that it seeks to protect. The history of Judaism is that of a people who continually argue and test scripture for meaning. Midrash is but one means by which rabbis and other Judaic teachers have mulled over, studied, and teased out the truths of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Indeed, the history of the New Testament also makes it clear that interpretation is an ongoing process. Are not the Gospels and letters attempts to re-interpret the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Paul interprets the events of Sinai and Moses as happening for out benefit and as a lesson to us. (1Cor 10:1-11) And in Gal 4:21-31, Paul interprets the stories of Sarah and Hagar as to the  Jerusalem of his day and the new Jerusalem (Sarah) born through the Spirit.

We save the best for last, for it is without question that Christ Himself interpreted scripture continuously. He interprets the commandments, he interprets Isaiah, he explains. He stood as the One who was telling his church that it was teaching falsely, without true understanding. And we know where that got Him.

Dissent goes back, indeed to Abraham himself, who felt free to question God’s decision to destroy Sodom. He argues with God!

And yet, the Church claims that dissent is inappropriate and is error. In essence, it would claim that we are to obey, leaving to them the too difficult for us, task of interpreting. They reserve the right to make the decisions about what is true and right.

Finally, Peter speaks most eloquently in 2Pet 1:20-21:

At the same time, we must recognize that the interpretation of spiritual prophesy is never a matter for the individual. For no prophesy ever came from human initiative. When people spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them. (NJB) (italicize mine)

To decree that only the Church is moved by the Holy Spirit to speak truth about scripture and the will of God, is to deny that each and every person is imbued with the Spirit upon baptism. Indeed, who are we to say that only the baptized carry the Spirit within? And we each have a solemn duty to express truth as we see it.

In the history of humanity, those ideas and beliefs that ring true, survive over time, and flourish. Those that are erroneous or weak fall by the wayside. It seems to me that if these dissident voices are finding purchase in the minds of significant numbers of the faithful, then the Vatican would do well in humility to listen carefully.


A significant portion of my thoughts are derived from Education for Ministry, Year II, The New Testament, Chapter 6, pgs. 58-59. (EFM is an Episcopal Church offering, consisting of a 4-year course, open to all.  For more information see: http://www.sewanee.edu/EFM/

Sophia Wisdom


Sophia Wisdom


I have been giving much thought in the last few weeks to the question: Who can know the mind of God?

It is an important one to be sure for everyone at all times, but more so for me at this time of transition in my life.

How can I know God’s intentions, his plans, more, his desires for me? If I wish to follow, then this is critically important.

My life, to this point would suggest that I have discerned the Spirit poorly, flitting from Catholicism, the religious community, away, and then to the Episcopal Church and now turning back homeward.

But I wonder, does it really?

Today’s first reading poses the question more starkly perhaps than anywhere in the Hebrew Testament.

What human being indeed can know the intentions of God?
And who can comprehend the will of the Lord?
For the reasoning of mortals is inadequate,
our attitudes of mind unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares.
It is hard enough to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
And who could ever have known your will, had you not given Wisdom
and sent your holy Spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and people have been taught what pleases you,
and have been saved, by Wisdom. (Wis. 9: 13-18)

These words of Solomon echo in my heart as well. How, how Lord can I understand what I am to do?

I am cautioned not to rely on reason. Paul and many prophets have said as much. We are to be fools for Christ, meaning that the way of the cross is in direct contradiction to right reason. Through utter humiliation, salvation and the right path lies. We are to turn the other cheek, repay evil with good, all unreasonable, yet true.

Does this mean that our minds are worthless?

I think not. I think those who wish to contain God in a book would like to think so. The fundamentalist makes fun of learning and education, pointing to all the passages that warn of intellectual knowing. They are desperate to understand God by simple reading of the text.

Yet, I think they are wrong. God would not give us fine minds if they were not meant to be used. We are to use all our powers of discernment in finding our way in the world. We are to work with our minds to create a world in which all are free, fed, clothed, housed, attended to, as needed.

But when we seek to understand who we are and who God is, we must suspend our rational mind, because God is simply bigger than we can grasp. He is the contradiction and the paradox. We approach him with metaphor as the writers of various Biblical books did.

And where does that leave me?

I can conclude, and sometimes I do, that I am poorly translating the Spirit’s lead. I am misunderstanding somehow. But perhaps I am merely going through my learning, correcting my errors.

I am not suggesting that the Spirit directly sets us up for pain and suffering as a means to teach us lessons. No, I do not believe in a meddling God such as that.

What I do believe is that when we get some notions that are wrong, if they will become teaching moments, the Spirit remains quiet, and lets us lead ourselves into the abyss. Always ready and willing to lead us out again, to be sure, but we learn by our own willful choice.

And what have I learned? Perhaps humility. I came to Catholicism with a serious believe that it was the best and the first Church. I never let go of that. Even in ecumenical settings where I professed a belief that God reaches to people in all manner of ways, I still clung arrogantly but quietly to the smug belief that I was the better Christian by faith.

Worshiping as a Protestant and seeing things from the other side, has done much to help me to break from that ugly belief. For indeed, I do not claim any Christian faith, and certainly no non-Christian faith better than another. Only better for me, me alone, with my peculiarities and personal quirks.

I am drawn back to Catholicism because, somehow it resonates more deeply in me than any other. Not because it is the best or first. For indeed I don’t believe I could prove that if I wished to.

For those who can’t figure out why I am leaving a perfectly wonderful tradition in the Anglican Church, I can only say, that it has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with where I am called.

Unless of course, this is but another false path in my wandering journey. Then I will, with God’s grace, learn the lesson held out for me. Until then, I do my best, more humble now for sure, knowing that I don’t know, I only believe.

Somehow God assures, that is enough.

If I’m Being Led by the Spirit, One of Us Has Been Drinking

Vemeer's "The Glass of Wine"

Given my rather erratic journey of faith, one would have to conclude that the Spirit can’t really be held responsible.

As any good convert, I was more Catholic than the Pope. It was important to believe everything as told, and to do everything right.

I actually did scour the books for the “correct” version of a prayer, which version of the Bible was “Catholic” and so forth, no Protestant stuff for me.

This went on for some time. I was leery of biblical scholars and theologians who were not Roman. I couldn’t trust them you see. They might not be giving me the “official” version.

As such, I was not concerned with the issues of celibacy and women’s ordination. I assumed my Church had good reason for this. I was for and against them respectively.

Of course, today, I laugh at such things. In fact, I started moving distinctly away from “doctrine” and official dogma once I started taking a Master’s program in Pastoral Ministry at a Catholic liberal arts college in Detroit. Happily I was introduced to all the fine theologies that were and are making the rounds–liberation, black, women’s, feminist, Latina, LGBTQ–the list gets longer by the day.

Some of it cut across the niceties of what I considered acceptable. I definitely disliked James Cone‘s Black Liberation Theology for instance. I too thought some of the feminist stuff was a bit too strident.

But time changes one. At least it did me. Now I respect and love Cone, and I have a big “go sista” to the feminist Christian movement. I recently read and reviewed New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views, edited by Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu. You can read a copy of it at my other blog AFeatherAdrift (please don’t mention this one–My Episcopal friends have no idea yet of my Catholic struggles).

I read it with fervor and joy, happy to see that feminist work is continuing and broadening in terms of subject and locale. As I said, once, I looked quite askance at this. But that was before I realized by gentle but helpful teachers, that God is diminished when we construct Her in this limited way, with hierarchies of power and leadership. A good healthy dose of good biblical exegesis helped hugely as well.

One of the things I learned from the book was that there is no “women’s voice” there are many, as the name suggests. There is no Latina voice, nor lesbian voice. We do not judge each other. For some women, leaving the Roman tradition is necessary. For others, like myself, it turns out to have been a mistake.

I can only speak for me. I am Catholic, and that informs much about me in the end. I choose to stand and oppose my faith on issues that I discern them to be wrong. I do it perhaps because my personality is confrontational, or perhaps for some other reason. But that is the path I am on, though it no doubt looks odd and troubling to others who know me.

Catholics on the extreme right had convinced me that I had no place in the Church. They were real and I was a “cafeteria” one, barely worthy of the name. I needed to go to a church that I found that agreed with my self-serving needs. I was contemptible.

But of course I was not gay, nor did I seriously want to be ordained. I am well past child-bearing, and thus I have no personal issue with abortion or birth control. My troubles with doctrine were heart felt, and supported by serious intellectual study and reflection.

What was worse,  were the things they said about American Catholic universities and colleges (most of them that is) and about religious men and women (excluding of course ETWN). I was nothing but the product of “liberalized” nuns and priests who were never taught properly in the first place.

It is with deep sadness that I hear of the Vatican’s examination of religious men and women in the US, with a view to determining their degree of orthodoxy. It is a shame, since these men and women carry the lion’s share of the social justice work being done on behalf of Mother church. They present the Church as loving and concerned, as politically involved, and as caring for the least among us, something Jesus presented to us as our duty.

I am also deeply sad that on the Internet, there is a paucity of liberal Catholic blogging. I have searched with almost no success to find bloggers who are like myself, walking in the shadows of their faith, formally rejected, yet finding a vibrant welcome here and there. I believe with all my being that most Catholics are supportive of us.

It would be nice to be able to talk to others who struggle as I do.

The Walk I Make

I’m Catholic, Roman Catholic. Let me be very clear about that. It is who I am, in the deepest part of my soul.

And yet I am not.

If that sounds mildly crazy, well welcome to my world.

Let me back up.

I chose to be Catholic at age 43. I was baptised, confirmed and then received my first communion at the Vigil Mass in 1993.

In doing this, I fulfilled a life-long dream, I had not even been aware was possible in my teens and even into adulthood. I knew so little about religion that I thought one must be “born” into a faith.

They say you are always a Catholic once baptised or confirmed. No matter what you do. And, and I believe them. So I am Roman Catholic. Still. Even though. . . .

I have been going to an Episcopal Church for two years.

It’s a fine church, a busy, socially conscious place filled with liberal minds and open hearts, and justice working individuals. It’s clergy is excellent.

Why did I end up there?

Oh, certainly I am at odds with the Roman Church over doctrine. I find much Catholic dogma simply wrong-headed. I can explain why, and no doubt will in later posts. I am deeply appalled at the behavior of the Church over the pedophilia issue. I am shocked, saddened, and angry.

But that is not why I left.

I was rejected.

Why you ask?

Because at the age of 49, I had the unmitigated gall to marry for the first time to a man who was divorced. A man thrice divorced, actually. He was never a Catholic, and never married to one.

Yet, the Church considers me to be living in sin. Unless, at the age of 60, he is granted an  annulment of his first marriage (presuming the latter two are considered invalid already), I am not entitled to receive the sacrament of Eucharist.

Ironically, if I violate my marriage vows and leave him, even if I hurt him deeply, destroying his life, the Church would welcome me back as redeemed. Just one good confession away from being in the good graces of the Church.

How does that grab ya? How blessedly Christian is that? How is this following Christ, and practicing forgiveness, compassion, empathy, or any other fine Christian sentiments?

So I found a place where I was welcomed.

Yet, after two years, I find myself in deep pain. I miss my Church. She is mine, wrong-minded and hurtful as I find her to be. My identity has been trampled and trashed, because of an arguable, but not necessary interpretation of a few pieces of Scripture.

So I do morning and evening prayer, and my rosary, and make an act of contrition, and I pray a lot. And I seek answers.

Do I risk confessing to a priest only to be solemnly turned away? Do I go to a large metropolitan Church and lose myself in the masses? Do I seek out a progressive clergy?

These are the questions I ponder, as I walk this lonely road. I have made no decision yet. I wait, pray, and ask for guidance. Someone, somewhere will come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.


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