I missed my Manic Momday blog, chalk it up to Fibromyalgia flares – which is a train of thought to derail perhaps later this week, however I feel like there’s something to be said about today’s “white smoke” moment and the election of a new Pope to lead the Catholic church.
My family has been Catholic for so many generations it’s impossible to count. My parents, grandparents, and great grand parents were married in the same church I was baptised in. I was active in church as a child, singing solos in the children’s choir (I could nail the “Our Father.” I only went to catholic school for a semester (the same my mother, grandfather, and other family attended) between my dad being stationed in Utah and Germany. I used to use Ritz crackers and grape juice to serve mass to my sister and cousins. For a while I was an “altar girl” until the hierarchy canned the practice. And I traveled with my family and our friends to Luxembourg to attend a mass held by Pope John Paul II. I hate to think so, but knowing how much he supported the youth as the future of the church, I’m sure he’s been spinning in his grave at the inaction of his successor.
Some of my best friends to this day, I met in high school as part of the base CYO. I was nominated for deanery rep to the Diocesean Youth Council and went on several faith-based retreats. I chose to go to a Jesuit college.
And that’s where I started to lose not so much my devotion to the basic principles of the faith, but to the hierarchy and patriarchy. Not because of my alma mater – but because as a liberal arts Jesuit institution, it opened my mind and heart more to what belief in God means, and to question how the church itself applies social justice.
The Rev. Martin Luther King recognized my school, Spring Hill College, in deeply southern Mobile, Alabama, as a beacon of hope in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” for early 20th century integration. We had a non-clergy theology professor who was as “queer as a three dollar bill” and nobody cared. More than 20 years ago. Theology and Philosophy courses were required for any bachelor’s degree. And it was in Fr. Bobby Rimes’ class that I did a research paper on the role of women in the Catholic church – opening with a line from a comedienne I’d once heard: “What’s the highest rank a woman can achieve in the Catholic church? Nun.”
I’d go to mass back home (and this is what finally did it for me) and consecutive Christmas and Mother’s Day homilies were not about Christ, or mothers, but about how members of the congregation should get out and be militant protestors against abortion clinics. I went to mass to find peace, and found myself getting angrier and angrier with the 16th century belief structure that seemed to contradict Christ’s basic teachings.
So today when I was driving my four-year-old home from her school, I was listening with skepticism and hope to the announcement of Pope Francis I. From a symbolic standpoint, he seems poised to bring the church into the 20th century. I realize the 21st may be too big a leap for a 2000+ year-old entrenched and ritualistic, patriarchal society.
Choosing the name Francis, shows humility and a devotion to Christ’s basic teachings of poverty, feeding the soul as well as the body. As a Jesuit, he is a member of a more “liberal” (in my experience) order, focused on social justice. This makes me optimistic, based on reports he eschews the typical papal trappings associated with Benedict – Prada shoes and fancy cars.
He’s also the first non-European pope. EVER. Which is double-edged blade, as while Latin Americans make up more than 25% of the church now, and that’s where the most growth is — it’s also the most anti-woman and anti-gay region of the church.
I wonder how Pope Francis will deal with melding St. Francis’ teachings, the philosophy of the Jesuits, and the current extremely conservative and “anti” policies of the Church. Based on reports of his missives in Argentina, I’m skeptical, especially when it comes to civil rights of LGBT marriage, women in the clergy, or even married clergy. I also worry that he may continue to sweep the entrenched pedophilia under the rug, allowing the abusers to remain cloaked in the confessional.
I think it is time for the church to hold a Vatican III, address these issues as the church did in my parents’ youth. I realize change comes slowly, but the church is at a tipping point. For many years there’s been talk of another great schism. I hope, and pray, that Francis can be a “uniter, not a divider.”