Called to Change our Minds

Last Sunday, I arrived at Mass feeling a little less-than-enthusiastic. I was in the midst of reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, in which she writes about moving from traditional Christianity into a more woman-centered spirituality. There wasn’t a whole lot in the book that was “new” to me, but it did make me extra sensitive to the patriarchal nature of the established church and the liberal use of “He” and “Father” as God and “men” as people. So I was going through my own internal dance that is familiar to me and probably familiar to many who write for and read this blog: Why do I really stay here? Is this really my faith?

I should have expected what happened next because it’s happened to me so many times before. I was called to reconsider.

When the priest reflected on the Gospel reading about Jesus and the Canaanite woman, he talked about how, in the reading, we see Jesus “change his mind.” His initial response to the woman was that his mission was to save the Jewish people, but she convinced him that his mission was to minister to all people. The idea of Jesus being convinced of his path through another human or the idea of Jesus changing his mind at all are intriguing concepts in and of themselves, but I’m not going to dwell there. Because what really spoke to me was what came next: the profession that over time, things change. The priest said, “In fact, over time, even religion changes. As we learn more, we’ve been called to change. And there are lots of people who think the Church should change, and perhaps, like Jesus, we’re being called to change our minds rather than called to keep upholding the past.” It didn’t hurt that the priest went on to say that if he were designing a new church, he’d put a statue of the Canaanite woman at the entrance to remind parishioners that Jesus came for everyone.

And in that short homily, I once more got the answer about why I stay: Because, despite the way it sometime feels, I’m really not alone, even within the more organized Church.

I was still thinking about the homily throughout the rest of Sunday. Of course, I had plenty of ideas for what could change! I thought, “Ah, he’s talking about ordination! Birth control! The dignity of GLBTQI people!” But because he was vague (which is the way of this particular priest, to be quietly revolutionary in a way that heartens hungry souls like mine but doesn’t alienate the more conservative among us), I’m left pondering what things I might be called to “change my mind” about, or at least to re-examine. I’m left wondering what the others in the congregation assumed the “changes” the priest referred to were: the translations to bring the Mass closer to the Latin form? (which I’m still against, but had to to chew on a bit nonetheless). And perhaps what was beautiful about it was the fact that it could have meant something different to each of us without ever ringing false. Because change is part of life, and our Church is a life-giving, life-sustaining Church. It’s just the how and what of the changes that are debatable. I think I will stick around for that debate.

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10 thoughts on “Called to Change our Minds

  1. I like this interpretation of that Gospel! And the priest’s message is a good one, no matter how individuals understand it. If we all understand that the Church does change constantly throughout history, more of us might come to accept that just because we’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

  2. I don’t get it. You stay in the Church because it’s wrong and you think that it might change someday and be right? I stay in the Church because it’s right and hasn’t changed that much in 2000 years.

    You probably haven’t read the bible if you think that the Church will change its position on GBLTQI.

    Has it ever occurred to you that if the Church does change, then the things that you love about may also change? There’s not a lot of security in that.

    Now, I’m not advocating that you leave, but I am advocating that you take a deeper look at things. Have you considered that there might be a REASON that the Church takes some of the stands that She does? And maybe, just maybe, 2000 years experience plus Divine Revelation might be right.

    I’ll just address one issues really quickly – women ordination. I reject the notion that women have to act like men in order to garner respect. Women are unique and gifted by nature, so they don’t have to act like a man in order to be powerful or influential. I think women will only be fulfilled by embracing their greatness – as women.

  3. “I’ll just address one issues really quickly – women ordination. I reject the notion that women have to act like men in order to garner respect. Women are unique and gifted by nature, so they don’t have to act like a man in order to be powerful or influential. I think women will only be fulfilled by embracing their greatness – as women.”

    The problem with this line of thinking, especially for women of my (millennial) generation is that the idea that men and women have a special “nature” which prevents each from engaging in various tasks or roles is that we have seen in our lives that it simply isn’t true. Gender expression and behavior is in large part socially constructed. I totally agree that women shouldn’t have to ape our society’s construction of “maleness” in order to gain respect. In fact, I don’t think MEN should have to act on socially-constructed gender norms in order to garner respect. But we’ve seen women doing formerly male-only things our whole lives, and men engaging in formerly female-only roles as well. Arguing that priesthood is simply a male role comes off sounding like saying being a chef, lawyer, soldier, or actuary is an inherently “male” role, or that teaching or caring for children or tending relationships is inherently “feminine,” when I watch my husband engage in these roles quite easily, and enjoy it. It simply won’t hold up as a strong enough argument to bar women from the priesthood. Perhaps that’s a part of the reason so few accept the Church’s teaching – when it is presented as such, it rings extremely hollow and comes off as painfully out of touch with the reality of Catholics’ lives.

    I guess I don’t understand how that argument would necessarily exclude women from the priesthood anyway … priests often engage in stereotypically feminine roles, such as preparing the meal, bathing, caring for the sick, and reading stories … :)

    The feminist gender-studies nerd withdraws … back to your originally scheduled comment thread.

    -Johanna

  4. I have to agree with you that you don’t really get it; you made several incorrect assumptions about me and what I was saying with my post.

    1. I stay in the Church because it’s where I came to know God. Because it’s my spiritual home, and though I’ve wandered, it always brings me back. Because I DO believe there IS truth here. However, I also know that the Church is not infallible; anyone who knows a little bit about history knows that. And some of the Church’s current policies are incredibly oppressive. You might not feel that if you aren’t on the receiving side of that oppression. That doesn’t make it any less real. And yes, I do believe that when the Church oppresses its members, it is in error. And that’s what I want to see change.

    2. I think the Church may have changed more than you think in the last 2000 years. For one thing, women WERE priests in the first 300 years of the Church. Clergy were married until the middle ages. And the Church isn’t selling indulgences anymore, is it? The Church has always been slow to change, but change it certainly has.

    3. Your assumption that I haven’t read the Bible is both hurtful and inaccurate. I have. I’ve read every passage about homosexuality, and I’ve gone further than that, far enough to know those passages have been taken grossly out of context to fulfill some sick human need for a scapegoat. Everyplace where homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible is in the context of cultural laws and norms, many of which we’ve acknowledged are no longer relevant. Do we consider it sinful to eat shrimp? Are we sinning if we don’t plant our trees facing in a certain direction? What about if we women don’t hole ourselves up for seven days after we have our periods? No, because people have been able to let go of rules and laws that have become irrelevant. If you’re interested in going deeper on this subject, I’d refer you to someone who’s done deeper study than I have: http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-gay-christian

    4. Your question that I “take a deeper look,” is also deeply hurtful. Believe me, I think about these issues, study these issues, and pray about these issues. Although I don’t have formal theological training, not a day goes by when I’m not looking deeply into what God is asking of me. I understand the reasons behind most of the Church’s teachings. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with them. It’s this deep looking that’s led me to know I have to disagree with the Church’s stance on some things, not the other way around.

    5. How interesting that you think, in supporting the ordination of women, that I’m saying that women need to act like men to garner respect! I’m saying nothing of the sort. I’m saying that the entire Church could benefit from the gifts that *women* bring to the priesthood, as women. I’m not advocating that women act like men in order to be ordained — far from it! I don’t think you’d say a woman was “acting like a man” if she was called to be a doctor, nor that a man was “acting like a woman” if he were called to be a teacher. We’re all given gifts by our Creator, and we’re all called to use those gifts in different ways. And as far as I’m concerned, the institutional Church has NO RIGHT to stand between anyone and his/her call from God. You won’t convince me differently, and you’re certainly not the first one who’s tried.

  5. Maybe we need to add something to the conversation guidelines about not questioning one’s intelligence or engagement with prayer, church teaching and reading. I would have thought that was a given, but I guess not. Why would someone be writing on this blog of he or she hasn’t studied church teaching, for instance? Either formally or informally.

    Lacy, I appreciate your reflections. And you pointing out the wisdom of the priest who was intentionally vague for probably many reasons-one of which is allowing people to dream, and not alienating some. I too wonder what others thought he was referring to when he advocated change. The ideas are as vast as they number there I’m sure. Thanks again.

  6. 1. I stay in the Catholic Church because it was divinely instituted by Jesus Christ, and being faithful to all Her teachings is the “narrow road” to eternal Life. Would parts of my life (or anyone else’s, actually) be easier if She were to change her stand on some current issues? Would I experience less suffering, less strife? Probably, but so what? For instance, if the Church became like all the Protestant denominations and changed Her teaching on artificial contraception, then that would certainly make things easier between myself and my wife, since I’m committed to following the Church’s teaching, and she’s not. But my personal happiness in this life is not as important as eternal happiness in the next. Am I suffering as a result? Sure I am – but because I trust in Christ and His Church, I am joyful – I unite my suffering with His suffering on the cross, and I my suffering becomes a joy. I trust in the Church’s teachings because I’m keeping the end goal in mind – for as St Paul wrote, and I paraphrase, all the suffering in this life is worth the joy promised in the next. I’m not going to jeapordize my salvation for temporal fleeting pleasures. Sometimes what appears as oppression is the struggle between the flesh and the spirit – we may not like what we’re being asked to sacrifice, or teachings we are called to be obedient to, but hey, that’s why their called crosses. Of course, this is all moot, because the Church cannot change doctrinal and dogmatic teaching. If She did, She would cease being Christ’s Church.

    2. Changes in the Church over the past 2000 years have to do with the disciplines, but not the doctrines and dogmas. As to the ordination of women in the first 300 years of the Church? That’s just hogwash – 1500 years from now, when future theologians and archaelogists look at pictures of the so-called ordinations that are occurring today, and unearth the remains of women who were buried wearing their “prisetly” garb (who’s to say that when these priestesses die they won’t ask to be buried wearing stoles and albs and stuff?), they will wrongly assume that the Catholic Church ordained women. And it’s my suspicion that these priestesses from the first several centuries of the Church were just the same – a breakaway dissenting sect pretending to be priests.

    3. As to homosexuality in Scripture – prove to me that Paul’s Letter to the Romans is only culturally relevant, vis a vis Chapter 1. And so what if Christ didn’t preach on the sin of homosexual behavior? He didn’t preach on contraception or abortion, either, but the Church still (and always has, as seen in the Didache) teaches that these are grave sins. He also did not give us the Bible upon his Ascension. What He did give us is The Church, and He gave The Church the authority to rightly interpret Scripture and promised to protect the Church from teaching error in issues of faith and morals through the Holy Spirit. I don’t have full protection from the Holy Spirit (if I did, I wouldn’t need the Church), despite my Baptism and Confirmation – so reliance on the Church is tantamount to living a life faithful to Christ in order to reach heaven. The person you cited, from Soulforce, doesn’t have the Holy Spirit’s protection from infallibility – so logically, who is more likely to be incorrect, him or the Church? I find it interesting when claims are made that the Church isn’t infallible on every faith and morals issue, but when an individual teaches something that is contrary to Church teaching, then that person is accorded credibility and infallibility.

    4. I’d like to think that most of us study these issues, and many many others, deeply. The difficult part is not letting our personal feelings get in the way of objective truth. The real question is, where are people looking for Truth? Reading books and listening to ‘theologians’ who already have an axe to grind with the Church is not “keeping an open mind” – especially when the result is finding issue with the Church. The result ought to be finding issue with the authors and speakers when compared to Church teaching, not the other way around. If you’re reading Pope Benedict’s Letters, or books written by people like von Hildebrand, Kreeft, Groeschel, or classics by the saints (always a good choice because they’re in heaven, after all), then you’ll be drawn deeper into the Truth and closer to Christ. If you’re reading Chittister, McBride, Mitchell, or eco/feminist/alternative spirituality/quasi-Chirstian books (I use that longish term only as a description to cover a wide range of issues, not as a slur), then you’ll be led farther away from objective Truth and will find yourself more angry, more frustrated and ultimately unhappier. And that’s not what Christ wants for any of us. He came that we might have joy, and have it more abundantly. One thing I find absent in a lot of these posts and comments is a lack of real joy – and it’s pitiable (or do I mean pitiful?). I used to be such a person, until I got whacked by a spiritual 2×4 and realized that I was wrong, the Church is right, and if I wanted to make it to heaven, I had to put aside my opinions, misconceptions and attitudes that were impeding grace. I still struggle, I still learn and I still sin, but I have joy because I’m on that narrow hard road, and it’s only by God’s grace that I found it, and it’s by the Church’s guidance, through Christ, that I stay on it (and scramble back to it when I stray!).

    5. Your comment that the “institutional Church has NO RIGHT to stand between anyone and his/her call from God” needs to be corrected. She has that right because Christ gave Her the authority – “whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven; whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven.” Why have the Church at all if it’s just “me and God”? It’s the Church that has the protection of the Holy Spirit, not me as an individual (see #3 above). My discernment of God’s call can be heavily influenced by the world, the flesh and the Devil, and Christ gave us the Church to assist us in finding that narrow path. Just because I may *feel* that God is calling me to be a priest (and I don’t feel that way – just using that as an example), the fact that I’m married with children means that I’m interpreting my feelings incorrectly – so with the Church’s help, I can rightly discern what God is calling me to do beyond my primary vocation of husband and father. I’ll stop there since you’ve already made up your mind on this issue, and this post is pretty long.

    My closing thoughts: We all struggle. We all have crosses. We all have experiences where we’ve been subjected to the free will of individuals that have left us scarred, hurt and marginalized. We all have stories to tell. The thing to remember is that there is a difference between a Church member giving an opinion, and the Church holding fast to authentic objective Truth. The Church has been called a hospital for sinners, and all Her members, from the Holy Father down to little ol’ me, is in need of treatment from the Divine Physician. For me, the Church’s adherence to His prescriptions and treatments has been working for 2000 years, as witnessed by the multitudes of “cured” patients (by that I mean the saints in heaven) – so I’m going to follow their examples of humility and obedience and ‘take my medicine’ as it were, rather than dabble in alternative therapies that will most likely only make the symptoms worse.

    Lacey, from the posts you’ve put on here I sense you have a compassionate heart, a deep commitment for justice and a strong desire to follow Jesus Christ. I sense a struggle in the search for fulfillment in the Church because you know it is in the Church where the Truth resides, but you have also witnessed or experienced actions of people within the Church that are juxtaposed with Her mission. And everyone has gone through that to one degree or another – heck, even St Padre Pio was forbidden to say public Mass or hear confessions by his superior, which was a great cross for him, and may have been an unjust decision. But he was obedient, and his reward for that obedience was eternal life. Christ never said it would be easy, and He didn’t promise life would be fair. One of my favorite books to read and reflect on is “My Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis, and in Book III, Ch 30 on Divine Assistance, he writes (speaking as Christ): “As my Father has loved Me , I also have loved you” said I to My beloved disciples – whom certainly I did not send to temporal joys, but to great conflicts; not to honors, but to contempt; not to idleness, but to labors; not to rest, but to ‘bring forth much fruit in patience’.” There are two sides to every conflict, two parties when contempt is involved, and much work to do in this world – and you and I are probably on opposite sides of many issues facing the Church and the world today. Sure, we don’t know each other, and we’ll probably never meet this side of eternity. But I sense that God has great things in store for you – make sure you struggle and labor for the Church rather than against Her. You will have joy in abundance and the whole host of heaven behind you. I will be praying for you.

  7. Thank you for your post, Lacey.

    Before replying to your original post, I would like to reply to the many comments that have been posted over the past few days. It is evident through the passion conveyed by those who have posted that we are bringing up some tough issues and thus are in the midst of a difficult and complex discussion. The call to Christianity is not an easy one and there is great struggle for us as individuals, and as a community, as we seek to live for Jesus as honestly and compassionately as possible. To do this, we MUST tackle the difficult issues and as a community come to discern how we do and don’t uphold and seek to live for Christ each day. One of my good friends always likes to point out that every once in awhile we need to step back and say, “Wow! We are discussing some tough issues!” and to celebrate that we are questioning and growing as Christians, just as the Disciples did 2,000 years ago. As difficult as it is for me to read some of the ideas posted above because I disagree with them, I also am so very grateful that the discussion is occurring because discussion leads to change for ALL those involved…just as it did when Jesus had a discussion with the Canaanite woman.

    And thus, a response to your post about the story of the Canaanite woman: what a beautiful reading of this story! It is so incredible that for as many persons as there are in the world so, too, are there that many ways to read and listen to each Gospel story. What a gift from God subjectivity is! I have always loved this reading because I once took an extraordinary course “Women and the Church” and while in that course our professor taught us about the audacity and strength of the Canaanite woman, that this is the ONLY mother-daughter story in the Gospels and that this story exposes a woman who taught Jesus to see a bigger sense of his mission. She also taught us – and I will never forget this – that if there is anywhere in the Bible that Jesus laughed, it was in this story. Every time I think of the wit of the Canaanite woman who has a comeback for Jesus’ refusal to serve her, I picture Jesus throwing his head back in laughter and saying, “Oh, how right you are!” and healing her daughter. Jesus laughing and, in so doing, changing his mind, is such a beautiful image I had to share it. I hope some of you that read this might find joy in that image as well.

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