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.

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Celebration of Catholic Women’s Vocations: Kate Burke

At the close of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI spoke of “women impregnated by the Spirit of the Gospel,” and more recently Pope Francis has called for a “new theology of women.” There are thousands of Catholic lay women discerning how to share their gifts and responding to ministerial calls. In many cases, these women are well-trained and highly educated professionals who bring a wealth of life experience to their work in parishes, diocesan offices, and faith-based non-profit organizations. With this profile of Kate Burke and her ministry, I am launching a series of blog posts which celebrate Catholic lay women’s vocations and profile some of the many women who are enriching the life of church. If you know a woman in ministry that you think should be profiled, please email me.

– Rhonda Miska

Kate Burke - founder of New Lectio Divina ministry (photo: Michael Bailey)

Kate Burke – founder of New Lectio Divina ministry (photo: Michael Bailey)

It was a cool, rainy spring evening when I gathered with six other women for a ninety minute session of New Lectio Divina. As we trickled into the church shaking off our umbrellas, Kate Burke, our facilitator, invited us to sit in a circle of folding chairs in a corner of the church sanctuary. She informed us that half the proceeds of her ministry go to a parish in central Haiti, and then invited a few moments of silent prayer to open. Next, she passed around copies of two psalms. Psalm 130 – a psalm of penitence – which begins “out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.” And psalm 150 – a psalm of praise – with the refrain “praise the Lord!”

Well-conditioned from my scripture courses at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, I had a knee-jerk reaction to begin exegesis on the texts. What was the original Hebrew of some of the key words in each psalm? When were they written, and what do scholars speculate about the author’s intent? What would various commentaries have to say? I felt a twinge of anxiety. How could we spend ninety minutes of fourteen verses of scripture with nothing more than the words on the page?

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I’m happy to report that Catholics are not obligated to root for Notre Dame

I can’t find it anywhere in the Catechism, but we are midway through the liturgical season of Notre Dame football. At 4-2, the Fighting Irish are bound for another prominent bowl game after what appears to be a mediocre season.

Why do so many Catholics root for Notre Dame? Does the pope grant an indulgence for turning on NBC on Saturday afternoons? Unless you went there or live in the greater Chicago area, I can’t put my finger on why “I’m Catholic” is a reason to root for a program that seems to have little to do with Catholicism.

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Confession and forgiveness (even when you don’t “need” it)

“No one ought to consider himself a true servant of God who is not tried by many temptations and trials. Temptations overcome are a sort of betrothal ring God gives the soul.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Going through rough patches, it becomes easy to descend into a lazy prayer life, if prayer doesn’t halt altogether. In one such recent trough of emotional health, I caught myself heading in that direction. I missed daily mass.

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I call you friends

“Dear Ellacu: For years, I’ve thought about what I’d be saying at the Mass of your martyrdom. I’ve had the same feeling as I had about Archbishop Romero. His martyrdom was inevitable, too, and yet I never wanted to admit to myself that it would finally come. But your death was so likely that it was simply impossible for me to get the idea out of my head.” –A Letter to Ignacio Ellacuria (1990) by Jon Sobrino, S.J.

“Friendship saves. Friendship liberates.” –Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P.

Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, aged seventy-four, is not someone you immediately notice when he walks into a room. On Monday, the slight, gray-headed man in the unseasonable blue sweater tentatively crept through our classroom door. He almost whispered his “hi,” adding offhandedly that “my name is Jon.” It took me several seconds before I got it.

Sobrino is at Boston College to teach his summer course on “The Crucified People.” He warned us that his health was bad. He might get exhausted and have to leave early some days. It’s already happened a couple times. He sits at his desk, speaking softly and simply, but very intensely, while reflecting theologically on the 20th century martyrs of Latin America. To a great extent, he had to invent that theological reflection. No one before him had done it.

He keeps asking us if we understand what he is saying. We do. Sometimes he feels he does not have the right English words. So he speaks in Spanish to his co-teacher, Barry University theologian James Nickoloff, who translates for him. The first morning, someone brought Sobrino a styrofoam cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Sobrino, a Salvadoran Jesuit whose lifestyle steers clear of many consumer conveniences, looked mystified as he tried to locate the tab on a rather elaborate lid.

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Catholicism: Are You In or Out?

I just left a phenomenal gathering of activists, clergy, social workers, researchers, and other experts sponsored by the Religious Institute to put together a guidebook about how spiritual communities might provide pastoral care to bisexual people (and others who don’t easily fall within a straight/gay binary). At one point, we were asked to write down one sentiment we felt was key for the guide to address. Mine went something like this:

Someone should not have to choose between her sexual identity and her religious tradition.

As a bisexual woman, the issue of choice is a complicated one. It makes people nervous to know that, hypothetically, the world of romantic attraction is so “wide open” to someone like me. (I say hypothetically because, back when I was single, I only fell in love about once every five years — it was so rare that I was thrilled when it showed up, no matter what form it took!) Although this is less an issue with my generation and those after me than for those who came before, there’s still a subtle pressure to “pick a side.” C’mon, which one are you really? Are you gay but you want straight privilege? Are you only willing to come “half” out of the closet? Are you still “figuring things out”?

As a bisexual woman, I don’t want to be pushed into “choosing” whether to deny my attractions to women or to men, when the reality of attraction is much more complex than that. I feel equally uncomfortable when faced with pressure to “choose” whether I’m Catholic or bisexual, Catholic or feminist. Last week, I saw a bumper sticker that declared, “You can’t be pro-choice AND Catholic.”

I wanted to add a sticker that said, “YOU don’t get to decide who is Catholic.”

Unfortunately, I think a lot of progressive Catholics feel this pressure to choose sides: Where do you really stand? Are you pro-choice OR Catholic? Are you gay OR Catholic? And it doesn’t just come from Catholicism, either. It often comes from the political or personal communities we find ourselves in: “If you’re a feminist, why do you continue to align yourself with a religious tradition that oppresses women?”

But just as issues of sexuality, reproductive rights, and women’s equality are complicated and nuanced, so too is the Catholic church, including all the clergy and lay that comprise it now and throughout history. So, too, are each of our relationships to the places we call our spiritual homes. Pressuring anyone to “choose sides” when it comes to core aspects of her identity is a form of spiritual violence, and it’s not okay. So rather than go into intensely personal territory when these different aspects of identity are challenged, sometimes I’d rather just exist quietly in this inbetween space. Perhaps the next time someone asks, “How can you be both x and y,” I’ll simply respond, “Because I am.”