Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What just happened in Ireland?

    On May 22, 2015, the people of Ireland voted 62% in favor of including the following words in the Irish Constitution: that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” The turnout for the vote was 60% of registered Irish voters. The result was therefore not a squeaker. Moreover, the census of 2011 shows that Catholics make up 84% of the Irish population. This means that many many Catholics voted in favor of the constitutional amendment.

    Polls taken prior to the referendum suggested that the amendment was going to carry. Nonetheless, I have to say that I was very surprised at the outcome.

    As I grappled with a way to make sense of it, I recalled being in Ireland in 2012 for a tour of the country and to attend the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. Hanging over the Congress was the ugly specter of the history of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy over many years. Also hanging in the air and producing palpable anger in the Irish people was the realization that the abuse had been denied, that priests had been moved, and that documents had been withheld from investigators.

    Given that history, which remains fresh in the minds of people, I was certain that the outcome of the referendum was an act of revenge against what was perceived to be an autocratic ecclesiastical authority. Moreover, it appeared to be a repudiation of the Catholic Church itself.

    It seems that I could not have been more wrong.

    We had a gathering of our local Deacon support group at our house last night. We always have a topic for discussion, chosen by the hosts. The referendum seemed both timely and urgent, so I started to read up on it, confining myself to the Irish secular press. The most prominent headlines tended to focus on Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s comment that the Church needed a reality check in the wake of these results, “… A reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people’?”

    In an article titled ‘All churches in Ireland in need of ‘reality check’‘, Patsy McGarry, a writer with the Irish Times said the following: “It’s not just young people. The people who voted for this referendum included tens of thousands of practising older Catholics in the cities, towns and country side of Ireland. People who will continue to practice their faith but who no longer accept that their gay sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, even their gay parents, are “objectively disordered” with a tendency to evil, as their Church teaches. Rather, by voting Yes last Friday, they embraced their gay minority and trumpeted to the world “You are my son, you’re my daughter you are my brother, you are my sister, you are my grandchild you are my mother, you are my father, you are my equal in law whatever the church may teach. It is an irony that those who opposed the referendum out of concern for the family were defeated by the family. The difference being that the No family was a concept, whereas last Friday’s Yes families were flesh and blood, living, breathing, flawed, impossible, loving humanity.”

    The writer goes on: “where our major church is concerned, the facts are stark and indicate that the Catholic Church as it was throughout the 150 years from the mid-19th century until the 1990s is gone.… Yet, there is hope. It rests with those priests who listen to and remain close to their people; those men in parishes throughout Ireland without whom the church would have been washed in the tsunami of scandals. It is such priests who bring solace and comfort to gay people in their congregations as they discover their identities and who then help ease families into accommodating that identity.”

    The take away from this and several other articles I read, is that Ireland voted to keep their gay children, relatives, and friends, in the family, with all the meanings of the word family. The tone is not at all about revenge on the clergy or on the church in general. The interesting thing, though, is that the Irish Catholic Church more than anywhere else in the world, will now be challenged to make this meaningful within the life of the Church. It will be the first real proving ground of everything Pope Francis has been saying about welcoming everyone. The tension of course will be that Church teaching has to dialogue with the pastoral mission of the Church. Where does all this go? I do not know the answer to that, but I am pleased in the end that this is happening in Ireland and not in North America.  Over here it would have been framed entirely along the lines of ‘my rights’ with an aggressively anti-religious overtone, perhaps. In Ireland, the faithful will remain faithful. The Church is going to grow up in a way it had not anticipated.

    I can’t help but think that the Holy Spirit is really up to something here.   

Friday, March 6, 2015

Patch Adams: not the movie

I had the great pleasure of hearing and seeing Patch Adams for the first time, on February 20 at the Ontario Psychological Association Annual Conference where he was a keynote speaker.(Remember the movie? Here's a correction for you: the person who was murdered was not a girl, but a buddy of his. "Hollywood took some liberties.") He talked for an hour and a half with no notes. Partly because he has talked to groups all over the world, and knows his message very well. He dressed in clown get-up, and he showed two short clips of his work. One was a breathtaking scene in Peru in which he got down to face level with a young girl with cerebral palsy and whose head was in her hands on her wheelchair. He literally brought her to life.

He is funny, but he is very serious. He says he has been at this since he was a medical school renegade in the mid-60's. He will never burn out because it is not possible when you love people so much and have such great joy being with them. Hospitals are not happy places, he says, because they do not teach medical students compassion, and those students land in the treatment world full of themselves (he used harsher language than that). Well, make of that what you will, he is the embodiment of something different, that is for sure. 

A few quotes:

"Care is the verbing of love."

 "There is no treatment prescription in the Diagnostic Manual that says, "Could use more love."  

"Caring is the chance to be enthusiastic."

"Caring is good for you. There are no papers in science showing the value of being serious. Or nasty, rude, or apathetic."

The whole thing is interesting not the least because he made it clear "I do not believe in any God." But then he used examples of Mother Teresa and Jesus. He asked the audience to put up their hands if they have done anything recently that was life-giving for another person. Lot of hands went up. He said, you are heroes. Then he said, when I count three, shout out "I am a hero." He mocked the effort and had us do it again. Much better. Then he said, how could you ever burn out if you are a hero and if you are Jesus? That's what Jesus wanted, isn't it? To be him to the people you meet?"

"Can you imagine going down the street saying I am a hero!"? Can you imagine going down the street and saying I am Jesus? Don't say that one near a psychiatrist!"

I was amazed. And everybody was quite moved. He talks with tremendous confidence, and he says "I cause havoc in an elevator!" But "When we go to a hospital or a home, I always look for the kid in the corner. That's the one who will be missed."

I am thinking to myself, we need this guy to fire up our evangelizing efforts. "Be Jesus to other people"? When you sign on to spend time with Patch Adams ("We have people from 3 to 88 coming to the clowning schools")  you dress in clown and you go to where people need to be cared for. He was going to be doing a visit to Sick Kids, and so the President-elect of OPA was in clown get-up to accompany him.

When we sign on to be with Jesus, to follow Jesus, do we make that kind of commitment? Most of us do not, sadly. We let other people put on the Jesus garment. We are not able to do that. We are not worthy of doing it. We make our commitment by praying. By trying to be a good person.

But BE Jesus to other people? That is ministry, that is discipleship.

There is going to be a workshop in Kingston on November 28, and it will be about intentional discipleship, the very thing Patch Adams is about, in a slightly different context. Someone I was talking to the other day lamented that it might be just another workshop with some good ideas that we go home and forget about.

We will forget about them only because we are not really taken with Jesus yet!

You can't hang around Patch Adams and not be taken with him.

BE Jesus to other people?

Oh my goodness, he's got me thinking, wheels turning. More than anything, heart turning - to Jesus. Nothing but nothing will happen if we merely like the idea of Jesus. It happens when we are engaged with, in love with, embraced by, the person of Jesus.

Thanks, Patch. Whoda ever thought?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Warm thoughts on a cold day

First, the cold. I have a small complaint for Dave Phillips, Senior Climatologist at Environment Canada. Here is what he said (CTV News) on Dec 1, 2014:

“Not as long and as brutal a winter as we had last year … for all Canadians,” said Phillips. “We won’t have to be migrating and hibernating like we did last year.” Phillips says Canadians can thank the phenomenon called El Nino. Dave, my complaint is in the form of a question: it is -14C here in Kingston as I write, with same temps forecast for the next several days. How is that milder, shorter, El Nino thing working for ya?

On a much happier note, I became aware as I was preaching at our 5 Masses this past weekend - there are a LOT of 20 and 30-somethings here! Young parents with their kids, as well as singles and other young couples. I am moved by that, in a world that touts its no-need-for-religion philosophy. I am humbled as well, because we who lead the liturgies could so easily drive them away. Is it ever nice to know that a significant group of our younger population want to be nurtured in a faith community at prayer. Pray for them, pray for us!

Finally, a note on Ste. Therese of Lisieux. I talked about her in my last posting, and how she inspires with her faith and her devotion to Jesus. No wonder she has the world-wide following she does. Before she died her agonizing death at age 24 (suffocating from the effects of tuberculosis -same disease my Dad got in 1954, and was cured of with the new drugs), she said this:

"My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death...."  "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses." Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese's signature. (Website, Society of the Little Flower)

There are thousands of people who have trusted her a lot longer than I have. I am new to this devotion, and she has come through very large in two circumstances I have prayed for. Not only that, the confirmation of the roses was present in each case.

Here is the thing I have discovered about the roses. You can't go around looking for them or doing something like putting a picture of a rose on your desktop. I have seen lots of roses and pictures of roses, and have had no reaction to them. The ones that are convincing following a prayer or novena, are the ones that you did not expect and did not see coming, but hit you in a way that you know immediately what it is. And on the two occasions I refer to, Therese was very creative. In the first, I was asked to meet a young girl who was ill. Her name was a variation on the word 'rose.' That did not evoke anything in me until I met her and saw that she was a red-head! I knew, and I just smiled. The second was actually in a dream. In the dream I was walking through our kitchen and there was a vase with two roses in it, on our island. I turned and looked at them, and said, 'How did they get here?', and kept walking. When I woke up later, the image was clear as a bell, though I could not remember anything else about the dream.

Both of these came after particular prayers. The whole business is a matter of personal faith, and the Church teaches that my experience imposes no obligation on anyone. Indeed, there are all kinds of alternate explanations, starting with the one of sheer coincidence. I used that one for years. Not any more.