Staying Active in the Holy Spirit

493px-peace_dove-svgWe learn in high school English class the significance of the birth metaphor: something important has taken place, our hero has crossed the threshold to a new level, and they will never again be the person that they used to be. The feast of Pentecost is full of birth imagery. It’s no accident that it’s referred to as the birthday of the church, for it represents the moment when Jesus’s disciples were transformed from scared followers asking “now what” to bold preachers willing to spread the good news at all costs. The description of Pentecost in John (“After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy spirit.’” 20:22, The Inclusive Bible) echoes the second creation story, the birth of humanity, where “YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, The Inclusive Bible). Recall, too, the presence of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’s baptism, his spiritual rebirth: “the Holy Spirit descended on the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove” (Luke 3:22, The Inclusive Bible).

The birth metaphor, with its images of life and breath, reveals another fact about the Holy Spirit: she is associated with action and movement. The appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Acts reading for Pentecost is accompanied by “what sounded like a violent, rushing wind” (Acts 2:2, The Inclusive Bible). The disciples present act on the spirit’s urgings by preaching in a multitude of different languages. The breath mentioned in the John passage above is an image of movement, too – we can feel the rush of air! In modern English, I only have to use the phrase “spirited debate” for your brain to be filled with images of animated people gesturing wildly and perhaps moving about the room in order to make their point. The word spirit carries energy.

Unfortunately, the feast of Pentecost shares a fatal flaw with the other major appearance of the Holy Spirit: the Sacrament of Confirmation. With both celebrations, the story too often ends right then and there. For some, the Sacrament of Confirmation marks the end of regular visits to Church for the foreseeable future.  In the case of Pentecost, it can feel like the last stop before our brains kick into summer mode. (This is culturally reinforced: school lets out, vacations begin, and the church choir is on hiatus.) We may still be there physically for the summer months, but our spiritual development stagnates.

How do we face spiritual stagnation head on? At the MCC church, one way we do this is to declare the season after Pentecost to be Pridetide: in this time of gay pride parades and festivals, we take time to reflect on our place in the celebration and show up, claiming our own place among the groups. In this active spirit of Pentecost and Pridetide, my summer goal is to continue my spiritual growth. During Lent, I developed the habit of asking, “What do you want me to hear?” Now I’m asking, “What do you want me to do?” If I am successful, Advent will not only mean beginning again; it will be a new beginning.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

“We like it here”

I’ve always had an interest in architectural oddities, so when news of the Metrodome roof collapse hit the airwaves in 2010, I became obsessed with finding out all about this unusual building.  One of the articles that I stumbled across, part of an old ESPN review of every stadium in baseball, mentioned a sign that used to hang there that said “METRODOME – Minneapolis ‘We like it here.'”  The article goes on to express the true meaning:

Yeah, you people from New York, California and Florida might think our weather is cold and miserable and that our stadium sucks, but we don’t care — WE like it and that’s all that matters. And is it loud enough in here for you, then?

metrodome_with_new_roofIn thinking about why I stay Catholic, I think some of the same logic applies.  Those who have left the church or who are proud of their own faith tradition will see the “cold and miserable weather” that we’ve gone through as Catholics (the sexual abuse scandal, bishops and Cardinals getting in the news for being unwilling to welcome LGBTQ Catholics, etc.) and ask us, “why stay Catholic?”  And the best answer I can give them is that “we like it here.”  If that’s the case, I thought, I’d better seek to understand why I like it here.  This lead me to decide that what I should “give up” for Lent this year was negativity.  In other words, I sought to focus on the positive this Lent.  And it turned out that my pastor was right there with me — part of his prescription for Lent was to spend ten minutes a day counting our blessings.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive person, but I found that the goal of “giving up” negativity demanded effort.  It is easy to get sucked in with others when they talk about shortcomings of religious leaders or the undeniable mess that is politics in the United States.  I kept coming back to the question of “What good can I say?”  What good can I say of Pope Francis when my progressive Catholic friends point out that he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging LGBT Catholics as much as we had hoped?  What good can I say of President Obama when I am confronted with a list of things that he has failed to accomplish?

Fr. Tim’s wish that I count my blessings didn’t prove as easy as I would have thought, either.  My thought process often went something like family, good weather … gotta finish that report at work, gotta talk to my boyfriend about Easter plans … people that love me ….  I couldn’t even list 10 things without being distracted by everything I “needed” to get done.

But if I can count one big blessing, it’s that I feel that this Lent really has been different.  I have made progress in my Lenten goals, if imperfect.  And I have gotten to take advantage of three Sacraments: Eucharist, of course, but also Healing and Confession.  I didn’t get the opportunity to go to much of our parish mission in person, but I’m taking advantage of the YouTube recordings to slowly experience it on my own.

As you head into Holy week, I invite you to consider the blessing that this week and this season is for you.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Why I needed a retreat (and you might too!)

pause-303651_640Chalk it up to nature or nurture, but I tend to rejoice in what I have rather than lament what I don’t.  In the Catholic world, I celebrate that I’ve been given access to the Sacrament of the Sick before being at death’s door and that I’ve been on plenty of retreats, rather than believing that “retreats are for really holy people.”  Before college, retreats were just built in to my education.  There was 8th Grade Retreat, Freshman Retreat, Sophomore Retreat, Kairos, and yes even Les Miserables Cast and Crew Retreat.  While retreats didn’t force their way into my life in college, they were readily available, and I took advantage of two that I can remember.  Then I spent a year in the Norbertine Volunteer Community and was on no less than 6 retreats.  My time in the NVC wrapped up in July 2010 and then … Nothing.  For five years I went without the beloved retreat.  How did this happen?  I’ve got no good excuse.  But I finally broke my streak on September 18th when I went on my parish’s men’s retreat.

Where’s the power in a retreat?  It’s simple … or rather simplicity.  Life is stripped down to its essence.  There was a whole list of don’ts for me that weekend in September, each one empowering:

  • Don’t worry about a thing (your parents or your boyfriend will call the emergency phone if something happens in the world that you really need to know about)
  • Don’t check your email (good luck getting Internet anyway)
  • Don’t worry about a daily routine
  • Don’t worry about getting anything done
  • Don’t worry about food (one weekend without your diet won’t kill you)
  • Don’t hesitate to take some alone time
  • Don’t cut yourself off from the group
  • Don’t worry about what time it is

Even without the talks, this “stripping down” should help you to disassemble and reconstruct your life.  Even if all the pieces go back in, at least you know that they really needed to be there.  Ideally the talks supplement this.  One thing that Fr. Tim said that really stuck in my mind is the acronym T.U.B.E.D. – tired, used, bored, envious, depressed.  The point, of course, is to recognize the signs of this in your life (one telltale sign: going through the motions of life events, like Sunday Mass, and not really getting anything out of them) and take steps to combat it.  I was definitely feeling pretty tired and maybe a little used up, and so I found a scrap of paper and wrote “Anti-TUBED plan” across the top and reflected:

  • What’s taking up all my time?
  • What has to happen first?
  • Can I have one day a week where I’m not trying to just get as much done as possible?

I had already been splitting up my homework among the days between classes on my calendar; now I decided that I should probably get my homework done for the day and then clear out email rather than clear out email and then get to my homework.  I resolved to stop trying to use the computer and eat meals at the same time. I chose Saturday as a day to just do one thing at a time rather than always trying to get two things done at once.  I can’t say that I’m doing a great job sticking to this plan or that I became an expert time manager — I’m squeezing in this post about a September retreat more than a little after the fact, for example!  But on the good days, my busy scurrying seems more meaningful.  And I’ve become less afraid to turn down invites to good things that just don’t fit in right now.

I’m looking forward to my next retreat!

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Sensus Fidelium and the question of women’s leadership

The scene is familiar, one that has been recreated many times in parish social halls across the country: One wall is lined with a long table laden with cookies, cut vegetables and dip, cheese and crackers. The walls are decorated with banners from past parish missions and a crucifix adorned with a woven palm branch. The faint smell of oil from last Friday’s Lenten fish fry hangs in the air.

Parishioners from a three-parish cluster come in, are welcomed and encouraged to sign in at card tables by the door. They smile as they recognize the faces of friends across the hall. There are the requisite hugs and handshakes; people asked after each other’s family members, commented about sports, local politics, and the cold winter weather.

The pastoral associate called us to order, offered a brief opening prayer, and introduced the speaker, a representative of the diocesan office, who is to speak about Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. After a power point presentation highlighting themes from the apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” about being missionary disciples and some anecdotes about applying Francis’ words, we were given time for discussion at our tables. Each table was to discuss “what the church needs to leave behind” and “what the church needs to carry forward” and then share insights with the large group.

At our table the ten of us looked at each other expectantly. A metal chair squeaked when the woman beside me shifted her weight. Her husband beside her flipped through his copy of “The Joy of the Gospel.” The woman next to him took a bite of her cookie. We heard the murmur of conversations from neighboring tables.

“We’re going to need to give a report back soon,” someone said, frowning slightly.

“So,” I said, jumping into facilitator mode and pulling out a notebook and pen, “let’s start with the first question: what does the church need to leave behind?”

There was a thoughtful pause.

“Well,” ventured one woman, “what about the position of women in the church?”

Our formerly quiet and unengaged group of ten became instantly animated around this question and I jotted down notes as quickly as I could so as not to lose any threads of the conversation. Several people at the table remembered the post-Vatican II energy when it seemed to them women’s ordination to the diaconate and priesthood was a distinct possibility. One man spoke about examples from the New Testament of women in leadership roles in the early church. Someone else pointed out Pope Francis’ words in Evangelii Gaudium about a “more incisive female presence” in the church. I mentioned a recent article by Mary Ann Walsh, RSM in America magazine which gave concrete examples of ways women could assume more leadership in the church even without engaging the question of the ordination of women.

“So,” I said, “based on all I’ve heard, here’s a statement: ‘in order to move forward, the church needs to leave behind the exclusion of women from particular leadership and decision-making roles.’ Do we have consensus?”

“Yes,” came the resounding agreement.

The speaker re-convened us, thanked us for our work, and started with the tables in the back of the hall. The ideas shared ranged from big-picture and abstract to nuts-and-bolts practical. One table spokesperson spoke about the need to use personal invitations and not just rely on bulletin announcements to engage parishioners. Another recommended greater collaboration in several ministries among the clustered parishes. As ideas were shared, those gathered listened and occasionally nodded in agreement.

The speaker pointed to our table. I repeated our consensus statement: “in order to move forward, the church needs to leave behind the exclusion of women from particular leadership and decision-making roles.”

No sooner had the words been spoken than the room burst into sustained, hearty, and enthusiastic applause. One guy a few tables away even let out a cheer, pumping his fist in the air. I looked around the parish hall at the about 100 Catholics – mostly lay, but several deacons and priests – continued to clap.

holy-spirit-people-in-worship

When the applause finally subsided, the speaker smiled graciously, made no comment about my statement or the community’s response, and simply invited the next group to share. I sat down and someone at a neighboring table tapped me on the shoulder, grinned and gave me a thumbs up.

Please note that this took place in a rural, economically depressed part of Western Pennsylvania and not in some left-leaning urban area. This wasn’t a group of progressive, lefty millennials or hyper-educated academics. The parish hall that night was filled with women and men who are steel workers, teachers, nurses, small business owners, retirees who are committed to their parish family and Catholic faith. I wager most of the 100 people in attendance wouldn’t self-identify as feminists or activists for church reform. It was a room full of average American 21st century Catholics, responding out of their own experience.

As I reflected on that evening’s events, I began to look at them through the lens of sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) which Pope Francis defines in Evangelii Gaudium #119 as the “instinct of faith which helps them {the People of God} to discern what is truly of God”. It’s a tricky concept, described as an “intuition” about “the right way forward” for the church. It would be an abuse of the idea to say that it turns the church into a democracy which conflates majority opinion and doctrinal teaching. On the other hand, it is problematic to claim that sensus fidelium should never be invoked to contest or challenge the teachings of the Magesterium.

According to the document Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church by the International Theological Commission, “not only do they {the laity} have the right to be heard, but their reaction to what is proposed as belonging to the faith of the Apostles must be taken very seriously, because it is by the Church as a whole that the apostolic faith is borne in the power of the Spirit.”

The document goes on to speak of “new ways for the journey…as they are sensed by the people.” I was graced to witness and articulate something which was “sensed by the people” in the social hall that night. In our little corner of Western Pennsylvania, 100 Catholics spontaneously, unanimously, and enthusiastically spoke about the need for inclusion of women in leadership and decision-making roles in the church.

What are the “new ways for the journey” to which we are being called as the Pilgrim People of God around questions of women’s leadership?

About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from Wisconsin, her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities. She is currently a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania.

Ite, missa est

Where my career on the Young Adult Catholics blog began. Big Star Restaurant, Wicker Park, Chicago. Via bigstarchicago.com.

Where my career on the Young Adult Catholics blog began. Big Star Restaurant, Wicker Park, Chicago. Via bigstarchicago.com.

“You do know the young adult group has a blog,” my friend told me.

It was an 85-degree evening in August 2010. We sat in front of a gas station in Chicago’s Wicker Park that had become a restaurant, which is the sort of thing that happens in Wicker Park. We were eating artisan tacos and drinking Goose Island, which is the sort of thing you do in Wicker Park.

A month before, I’d taken a trip to Boston. There, I’d audited a graduate course taught by liberation theology pioneer Gustavo Gutierrez. I was at a point in my life when I was stuck. Upon returning home, I felt I’d been given a huge shove to do something with my life right now, and to do it for God’s justice.

By the end of July, I had connected with Call To Action. I started volunteering there. I proceeded to announce it on Facebook. That’s where my friend saw it. She messaged that we should talk.

She had once worked for CTA. Now she was telling me about their young adult ministry, CTA 20/30. Which, she said, had a blog.

“You need to get a column on that blog,” she emphasized, apropos of nothing. We weren’t talking about writing, or my being a writer, at all. Her instruction came from thin air.  Continue reading

In memoriam: Robert McClory (1932-2015)

On Good Friday, I boarded the Metra Electric train to the Chicago Loop. There, I represented Call To Action at the annual Good Friday Walk For Justice, which is sponsored by the 8th Day Center For Justice.

The walk is a modern-day Stations of the Cross that examines contemporary social issues at each station. Each station has a different organization presenting it. With CTA program director Ellen Euclide, I read for the Fourth Station, “Helped In The Struggle.” It focused on the struggle for justice within the church.

Other Call To Action folks were there. They included our colleague, retired chapter liaison and development director Bob Heineman. As Ellen and I completed our station, near the Chicago Board of Trade, Bob looked grim. He told us he had a new message on his voice mail. He needed to check it now.  Continue reading