Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine asked parishioners to donate to the Maine “marriage restoration” campaign. Officials said the donations were to help pay for television ads aimed at overturning a state law legislators passed last spring recognizing same-sex unions as “marriage.”

                                                          ~Catholic News Agency, 9/14/09

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine accounted for 81% of in-state fund-raising to fight Equal Marriage.

                                                  ~EqualityAmerica on Twitter, 11/4/09

…thank the people of Maine for protecting and reaffirming their support for marriage as it has been understood for millenia by civilizations and religions around the world…

While the Catholic Church will continue its commitment to work for the basic human rights to which all people are entitled, it remains devoted to preserving and strengthening the precious gift of marriage.

          ~Bishop Richard Malone, Diocese of Maine, Catholic News Agency

Dear Bishop Malone,

When I was a girl sitting in Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Albuquerque, my dad always let me drop the tithing envelope he prepared every Sunday into the basket. I watched my knock-knees bob as I swung my legs, waiting for the usher to get to our pew. Ours was always the same usher, lanky and worn and with a thin mustache. He would stretch with the basket-on-a-stick to reach me. In the envelope went, with pennies, quarters, and bills from other parishioners.

Dad also gave to the Maryknoll nuns, and each month I leafed through the small magazine that came, showing what Catholics did in the world to help the poor. I saw pictures of round-bellied toddlers in Africa and sad-looking orphans in Guatemala. We had bake sales outside our church, and the little Spanish-speaking mothers and grandmothers who’d lived in the neighborhood for generations came together to work for those in need.

I couldn’t imagine being a girl in a church today and having my father give me money to put into the basket. What does a parent say to the child in one of your churches?

“Oh, that twenty dollar bill? It’s going to pay for a television ad that will tell the world what a sin it will be if gays and lesbians get married like us.”

“But, Mama, why can’t they get married?”

“Because, marriage is our precious gift. God only gave it to heterosexual men and women.”

Almost a third of individuals in the US who were raised within the Catholic faith leave the Church, and those who leave outnumber those who join. This means that Catholicism in the U.S. is a religion in decline. Moreoever, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among religions that experience a loss of members due to changes in affliations, Catholicism has experienced the greatest net loss.

And it’s not just the parishioners that you have failed to inspire. It is those who are supposed to do the inspiring. Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate statistics show that in 1965, there were 8,325 graduate-level seminarians in the U.S., almost a thousand ordinations, and more than 58,000 Catholic priests. By 2009, the number of seminarians is down to just over 3,300, only 472 ordinations, and just above 40,000 priests.

All over the nation, Catholic churches are closing or merging. There is a lack of Catholic chaplains in the military. The Vatican even announced last month its desire to bring on Anglican priests disgruntled over their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops.

Is this what the Catholic Church has become—a haven for those who cannot tolerate equality? Don’t want to see women stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men? Join the Catholic Church! Don’t think that homosexuals are fit to be spiritual leaders? Join the Catholic Church! Want to keep loving and committed gays and lesbians away from the ritual of marriage? The Catholic Church wants YOU!

In my family, a priest was the best thing a boy could grow up to become. My father was altar boy in two masses each Sunday, and his cousin went into the seminary. But Father Tony, as we called Dad’s cousin, was gay. He left his parish not long after becoming a priest. Much later, stricken with AIDS, he was reinstated and allowed to give mass one last time before he died. That was two decades ago—during a kinder, gentler Catholicism.

You and your fellow leaders are the opposite of what I understood Jesus Christ to be, one who walked among those rejected by the rest of society, who advocated on their behalf, who protected the marginalized. Without havng children yourselves, you instruct us on family planning. You are celibate and unmarried, yet you claim to understand love, intimacy, and the precious gift of marriage? What conceit.

Instead of trying to protect this gift, why not work at bettering men who abuse women and make marriage untenable, or heterosexuals who step in and out of the ritual as if it were a coat? Maybe those denied the right to marry for so long will treat it as the precious gift you say it is.

My father still goes to church and still tithes. He is frail now, and sometimes he watches mass on TV. Most Sundays, my sister or brother take him. They walk him slowly to the spot he likes, in the middle of the church. Not so close as to appear overly eager, but not so far away as to seem laggardly. He left Our Lady of Guadalupe after 35 years in 2004, when the priest told him who to vote for. This latest parish has thus far not meddled in places it has no business being.

I used to be sad about the direction of the Catholic Church. But now I am ashamed and angry.

Read Full Post »

Chickens at Market, three chickens for sale in the open air market of Hoi An, Vietnam, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved

Chickens at Market, four chickens for sale in the open air market of Hoi An, Vietnam, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

It just dawned on me that Jim thawed a whole chicken to roast for dinner tonight, which means we’ll being eating meat on Ash Wednesday.

Not that I observe Ash Wednesday. I didn’t go receive ashes today at mass, and I usually don’t give up anything for Lent. Yet, a little voice inside my head did admonish me for not having saved the fresh cod I bought last week so that we might eat fish tacos tonight instead of roasted chicken.

Growing up we always ate fish on Ash Wednesday and other holy days. Usually in our house that meant we ate fish sticks that Mom pulled out of the freezer and cooked on a baking sheet in the oven. We ate our fish sticks with tartar sauce and maybe a salad and potatoes. Being as how fish sticks were one of my favorite foods, I always looked forward to holy days. (I even kind of liked getting the little black cross of ashes on my forehead.)

And why fish but not chicken? Why doesn’t the Catholic Church, or other Chrisitian religions that observe the law of abstinence, interpret the law in the same way that Jim and I interpret our own meat rule?—which is that when we say meat, we really mean red meat.

According to website ZENIT, which is a news agency that covers the Catholic Church,

The law of abstinence prohibits eating the flesh, marrow and blood products of such animals and birds as constitute flesh meat.

In earlier times the law of abstinence also forbade such foods that originated from such animals, such as milk, butter, cheese, eggs, lard and sauces made from animal fat. This restriction is no longer in force in the Roman rite.

Vegetables as well as fish and similar cold-blooded animals (frogs, clams, turtles, etc.) may be eaten. Amphibians are relegated to the category to which they bear most striking resemblance.

This distinction between cold- and warm-blooded animals is probably why chicken may not replace fish on days of abstinence.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which I understand now is a season of reflection and repentance, although during my childhood it just meant it was a time to give up chocolate or fighting with my brother. Lent is observed for forty days—from Ash Wednesday to Easter, not including Sundays—and the reason we give up so-called bad things (per my layperson’s understanding) is that we try to emulate Jesus and the time He spent in the wilderness for forty days. 

In many countries, the last day before Lent (called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching) has become a last fling before the sacrifice and solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat.

The tradition of Catholics eating fish originated in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church prescribed “no meat” on at least one day a week. Of course, the eating of fish was allowed. Another explanation for the sacredness of fish as opposed to chicken (besides the fact that one is cold-blooded and the other is warm) is that during the Biblical Flood, which some Christians interpret as a punishment to mankind for its sins, fish survived; hence, fish were free of all sin. (Hello00, they also had gills.)

Anyhoo, I’ll probably be the only person in my family who eats chicken tonight. Well, me and my oldest sister, who happens to be married to a Muslim.

Let’s just hope that if this fish thing is really important to God, He will remember that I have strong associations with folks who will be dining with some cold-blooded, sin-free creatures.

Read Full Post »

Da Nang Cathedral, built for French residents in 1923 and today
serves approximately 4,000 Catholics in the city, Da Nang, Vietnam,
December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I went yesterday to get an adjustment after the holidays, and I heard Dr. L tell someone that patients help heal one another. That in the treatment room, which contained up to four of us lying on massage tables a couple of feet apart from one another, there was a sort of collective healing energy flowing from one person to the next.

Dr. L, the chiropractor, was saying this—or words to the effect—to a woman who had just left the treatment room. His words penetrated the altered state I tend to slip into the moment I settle face down on the table. I thought of the patient to my left, wondered if, like me, she was channelling all her energy into healing herself. I thought about how energy moved, uncontained, from this thing to that thing. How we were all connected whether we liked it or not.

It’s a fascinating concept, the notion of collective consciousness. I remember during both the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections receiving viral emails suggesting we all pray for our candidate to win. The idea was that our collective power could and would make a difference in the outcome.

That then reminded me of the Catholic ritual of praying the rosary whenever someone dies. How the prayers of the survivors, chanted in unison at a rosary mass, help send the deceased person’s soul to Heaven.

And so this morning when I read a New York Times article about a group of a hundred or so parishioners outside of Boston, Massachusetts, who had held vigil inside an empty Catholic Church 24/7 for over four years, I was struck by the theme of collective spirit. Collective intent. Which really translates into Faith.

In fact, that was the title of the article: “In Quiet Rebellion, Parishioners Keep Faith.” In October 2004, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston decided to close and sell dozens of churches in the area as a result of a shortage of priests, parishioners, and money. (The latter was exacerbated by a multimillion dollar settlement to victims of sexual abuse.) Parishioners at five of the churches slated for closure rebelled, setting up constant vigil in their empty churches.

The fact that parishioners from St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church were able to set up vigil is itself a testament to faith. The archdiocese changed the locks in 2004 but unintentionally left a fire door open. Since then parishioners not only keep vigil in shifts around the clock; they also conduct mass, hold rosary sessions, raise money, donate to charities, and open the church to people in need.

In the course of four years of maintaining a vigil church, this collection of parishioners has undergone a transformation. They talk of new opportunity, of the potential for lay people to be more involved in the Catholic Church, to play an active role and help offset the shortage of priests.

I cannot go back to the priest and the vestments and that, I always felt, prince-of-the-church approach. I’ll always be Catholic, but I may not be able to worship in the mainstream Catholic Church.

~Mary Dean, 61, St. Frances parishioner

The big question is, Can the hierarchy of the Catholic Church undergo its own transformation? Can the archbishop find a thread of faith inside the vigil churches that might provide answers to the problems that beleaguer the Church?

If spiritual health is one of the main pillars of a healthy human being, is there not goodness in collective healing, in people healing themselves and one another?

Da Nang from afar, view from my room (Da Nang Cathedral in the distance), December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Postscript: I started this post wanting to talk about the power of churches from a purely structural standpoint. How is it that a physical building could have such pull on individuals?

I spend hours out of any trip I take to somewhere new seeking out cathedrals, temples, and other sacred places. But what I’ve come to believe is, these places are only as sacred as the faith that sustains them. People make the place. They embue the walls and ceilings with spirituality. The NYT article I came across today hit home that point.

Above is the view from my hotel window in Da Nang, which I visited last month on a trip to Vietnam. I could see a pink steeple in the distance my first morning, and late that afternoon I went in search of the church. It was a Saturday, and there was a mass in progress—a huge funeral, it appeared, with parishioners spilling out into the entryway. I kept a respectful distance.

I think of the many faithful who have lost their places of worship. These are the places we go to be born, to live, to die, and to be born again. To lose one’s church is a profound thing.

Read Full Post »