Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Francis, Catholic Identity, Sex, Mercy & All The Things I Wish I Would Have Said

The Pope is one day away from landing in the United States, and Popemania is well afoot. From bobbleheads, to t-shirts, the merchandise is ready for the selling! While I'm not able to go, and my dread of large crowds is a big factor keeping me away, I am among the millions who are excited for this visit and eagerly anticipating what this beloved Pope will have to say.

Pope Francis has had an interesting effect on American Catholics. On the one hand, there are those who have been away from the Church but are returning (or contemplating a return) thanks to his candid style and mercy-focused message. On the other hand, more traditional Catholics fear that Pope Francis is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and risks compromising doctrine. In American Catholicism, you can scarce escape the influence of political partisanship, which leaves its mark on the faithful. "Conservative" Catholics are concerned about what they believe to be the socialist tendencies of the Pope. "Liberal" Catholics are eagerly hoping the Pope will roll back what they believe to be "repressive" doctrines, but are dismayed when the Pope curiously remains steadfastly Catholic.

Last week, thanks to a friend, I was invited to sit on a panel of local Catholics for a prime-time special being aired by our local NBC affiliate, WDIV Detroit, "Pope Francis: Calling On America." Devin Scillian (a news anchor) sat down with three others - Nalani Miller, Clark Durant, and Stephen Henderson - and me to discuss our views on Pope Francis, the impact he is having on American Catholicism, and what the impact of his visit may mean. (The show is available online in five installments here - I highly recommend checking it out. The panel is the 4th installment and linked above.)

L-R: Devin Scillian, Nalani Miller, myself, Clark Durant.
Not pictured: Stephen Henderson (he had to leave immediately after taping)
The whole experience was fantastic. My introverted self was beyond nervous that I didn't know the questions ahead of time, but I said a little prayer to the Holy Spirit and just let it fly. Devin Scillian did an excellent job of asking the required questions (do you want to see change in the Church, what about the teaching on birth control, etc.), but remaining perfectly respectful even amid clear disagreement. I can say from experience that not all journalists afford Catholics the same respect. I am deeply thankful for his professionalism and openness to hear the answers I had to give, even if they were not what he was expecting, particularly on birth control. It always comes down to sex in the end, doesn't it? ;) 

Naturally, ever since the taping, I have been replaying the questions in my head and thinking about the answers I could have and should have given. Having now seen the segment, I think I did okay, but I think I missed some key opportunities to share some beautiful truths about what Catholics believe and teach, even if the world would rather not hear it. Granted, I was one of four on a panel that had all of about 10 minutes, so I couldn't say it all.

First up, is being Catholic an all or nothing thing? Do you have to believe everything to call yourself Catholic?

To give a little context, this question was based on a conversation about the Archbishop's statement that those who advocate for positions contrary to Catholic doctrine should not receive communion. It is hard to go into the theology behind what we believe as Catholics about the Eucharist in 30 seconds, especially when the question didn't directly ask. Very quickly, we believe that the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ - body, blood, soul, and divinity. We believe that when we receive the Eucharist, we are by our action admitting our full union with Him and His Church. The response upon receiving is, "Amen" or "I believe." So, there is that.

Getting back to the "all or nothing question," I personally think the difference in identity comes from the disposition of our heart. There is a difference between saying "Jesus . . . Church . . . y'all crazy wrong, and I am going to believe what I want, how I want, when I want,"  and "Lord, I don't believe - help my unbelief." Both people disbelieve. Both are struggling through a teaching or doctrine. One gives God the assent to change their hearts. The other does not. At the end of the day, the answers lie with the person, God, and their confessors as to whether they were of clear conscience when they received Jesus in the Eucharist. We are none of us truly at a point where we give our all, so praise God for His mercy that He gives us infinite chances to try again. Being Catholic isn't an all or nothing thing as long as we are seeking the face of Christ and His mercy when we fall short.

Next up . . . birth control - part one. Could the Church do MORE good in poorer nations if we simply lifted the restriction on birth control? 

I was definitely taken aback by this question. What do you mean more good with birth control? The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world - we just don't really market it - but more good with birth control?? The simple answer is no, and I gave that for very good reason. However, there is a longer answer to this. The first part of that is that once again, we are boiling everything down to sex and the creation of children. Do we value money or children more? Do we view children as a blessing or a burden? In countries with high infant mortality rates, is having FEWER children a solution to their problems? In countries facing AIDS epidemics, is providing the means for a false sense of security the means to teaching responsibility?  Does rich America coming in to tell poor Africa that the answer is to stop having babies seem a little, I don't know...elitist and arrogant? Has having wide access to contraception helped our own poor? Leaving the philosophical issues behind, my friend Tara who served as a missionary in central America had this to say: 
In my experience living in the third world, most of the women don't want birth control. Then there's the logistics of even basic health care or clean water, access to clinics (many of our clinic patients walked for hours or days to reach us...) Oh, and teaching the women how to read their own fertility signs cost nothing, was not something they had to wash or store properly, and was something they didn't have to know how to read in order to manage.
I have heard similar stories out of India as well. Pope Francis goes so far as to call it "ideological colonization." 
"Gender ideologies from the wealthy Western world are being imposed on developing nations by tying them to foreign aid and education, in a form of “ideological colonization.”
Let's move on to birth control - part two. Rampant use objectifies, sure . . . but what about between married couples? 

My very short answer was that even in marriage, birth control threatens to become an impediment to the marriage. I so wish I would have kept talking so I could share why I believe that. I wish I could have said to Devin and whoever was watching, that the reason birth control becomes an impediment to marriage is because in marriage, I give myself wholly unto my spouse through God. Wholly. All of me. One flesh. Not 7/8. Not divorcing my fertility from the rest of me. When contraception enters into the equation, suddenly there is no longer one flesh, but a coming together of two partial people. When we stop our bodies from functioning as they should, we do not truthfully give ourselves to the other. 

This in no way means that all Catholic families are called to have a football team of children, as is the common stereotype. It simply means that we are called to never divorce the procreative (child making) aspect of sex with the unitive (the emotional, pleasurable part). El fin.

Let me be clear. I understand that I am in the minority, not only of the population, but also of the Catholic population. Every person and couple has to discern these things for themselves. My hope is simply that people will remain open to what God might have to say about it all, and not be blinded by societal norms. 

Last, but not least, let's talk about the "thou shalt not"s versus the "blessed are you"s. 

This little phrase popped into my head, and it has struck a chord with many friends who commented on the segment. Why is that? 

I was certainly not intending to say that the Commandments are not important. They were given out of love by God to his people to keep us out of harm's way. Just as we do with our own children, God gives His children boundaries to keep them safe. 

But. seems like all the Catholic Church is known for these days are our boundaries. That breaks my heart. At its core, the Church is not about its rules and teachings. The Catholic Church is about sharing the real live person of Jesus Christ - His love, His mercy, His joy, His hope. If people can no longer see that, then we have to change our approach. We cannot simply keep doing what we are doing and say "they" just don't want to get it. As Nalani said on the segment, we have to open ourselves and take the message out to the people - not wait for them to come to us. 

This was the message of St. John Paul II who gave breath to the new evangelization. This was the message of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who pleaded with us to share the Gospel (GOOD NEWS) in love. LOVE, not condemnation. This is now the call of Pope Francis. Stop debating. Stop talking. Start doing. Love one another. Lift up one another out of the depths of despair. The world is hurting. Give them Jesus so He can shoulder their burdens THROUGH YOU. Break out of your political mindsets and begin to try to think as Christ would have you think, not as any ideology would have you mimic. Stop making ideology an idol of itself. Stop making holiness an idol of itself. We are all sinners. Let's get ourselves to Christ - together. 

Thanks Vickie Figueroa for thinking of me and passing along my name to Channel 4, and thanks to the other panelists for a great conversation! Thank you, Ro Coppola and Devin Scillian and all the guys back in the production booth for letting me be a part of this special. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, and yes - 11 minutes went by at very quickly!

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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  1. I always do the same thing whenever anyone asks me about my faith. I spend no time thinking before answering and then hours toiling over what I did say vs what I SHOULD have said... ugh. You did a fabulous job both on air and in this post. What a cool opportunity!

    1. I know, right?!? I always kick myself when the perfect response comes to me as I'm walking away. Eh. It's all up to the Holy Spirit anyway. ;) And thank you. :)

  2. I am very shocked by Devin Scillian support. He help Rakhi put with her first answer and then even made that last.minute counter argument to change in the church. Is he catholic? Him aside lets talk about Rakhi. Well Done! You had a slightly rocky start (pun intended) but you picked up quickly and became my favorite on the panel.

    I read your blog post first and mabe that is why i think you did such a good job explaining our faitb given such little time on the panel.

    1. THanks, friend. He is not Catholic, but he respects the Church and the need to stay constant. As a reporter who also knows many Catholics don't always agree with the teachings, he also has to ask. It's just the questions of the times we are in. Like I said above, I was very impressed with his professionalism and kindness. He wasn't out to get the Church or just have a bunch of people on air who would say it's time to get with the times. Much respect for that!

  3. Girl. You did an AWESOME job...when Devin brought up the birth control and asked you I was like, "Oh no he didn't!?!?!?"
    Isn't neat to see yourself on T.V.?? Sad you and lil G can't come on our trip