Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pilgrimage to the Grotto and a Wet Blanket on Papal Visit: Shared Knots that Need to Be Undone

Yesterday morning, I visited the Knotted Grotto outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.  Our Presbytery, given the shared value of personal, corporate, and ecumenical prayers, participated in the project by sending in strips of written petitions to be woven into the sacred installation. 

I am sure the one from our family is located at the very top and out of reach.  Read more about the project here. 

The visit was quite overwhelming.  As I grabbed handfuls of prayers and felt strips of cloth graze my shoulders with each cool breeze, I was moved to tears. 

Prayers to overcome addiction.

Prayers to be delivered from infertility.

Prayers for those battling cancer.

Prayers for peace in war-torn nations. 

Prayers for families.

Prayers for enemies. 

Prayers of hope.

Prayers of lament.

Prayers of confession.

Prayers of thanksgiving.

Prayers in English.

Prayers in Spanish.

Prayers in Latin.

Prayers in Hebrew.

And as I walked in, around, and through the grotto, I lifted a “Presbyterian” prayer for the Catholic Church.

It is no secret, I am fond of much of Pope Francis’ words and witness, especially as he elevates the poor and all who dwell on the periphery.  Pope Francis, as a Jesuit priest, continues to awaken our theo-political conscience and religious rhetoric to the needs of the those so frequently dismissed, ignored, and oppressed.

This is indeed Good News. 

When invited to congress, the Pontiff chose to evoke the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton, each who shared an ethic of justice and compassion rooted in Christian theology- more Good News. 

When Francis preached in both New York and Philadelphia, he reminded us God is in the midst of our cities and dared us to consider our personal call and responsibility within the mission of God. The Pope even challenged the Church to be willing to move beyond the mere maintenance of old institutional structures and systems.

Good News.

When he addressed the United Nations, Francis elevated the value of the planet and proclaimed, “war is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.” 

Good News.

As he stood on Independence Mall, Pope Francis confronted globalization’s temptation to promote uniformity at the expense of cultural diversity critical to our humanity.   

Again, Good News.

I could go on...

Yet, while I want to be a boisterous Presby fan of the Pontifex, there is a bit of a wet blanket draped around pertinent public speeches in front of political figures and landmarks, televised and spontaneous embraces of marginalized persons, and broadcast visits to the incarcerated. There are shadows cast upon the Pope’s concern for those he frequently labels as “on the periphery," reminders that he is so very human.

When the Pope parades throughout our streets, small businesses are left with no choice but to close and absorb significant blows to profit margins; the homeless are driven out of the parkway to accommodate the festivities; social service agencies are shut down; nearby churches (mostly small) are closed for worship and unlikely to recoup financial offerings they depend upon to pay their bills and sustain their ministries.

Women still do not, and likely will not, have equal opportunity within the Church. The Pope has reminded us of this before. 

While commenting, "who am I to judge?," the LGBTQ community are not equally included in conversations about marriage and the family. 

There are infinite and important questions- justice questions- swirling around the Vatican’s (mis)handling of clerical child abuse. 

And moments after I walked out of the grotto, I read two articles about a supposed secret meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who conscientiously objected to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and subsequently imprisoned.  One article considers this as a cloud over the papal visit; the other cautions us of the potential publicity stunt pulled by Davis supporters and representatives

What happened to the Good News?

Trust me, I wish I could simply walk in and out of the grotto with nothing but optimism and warm feelings about the Pope’s recent visit.  But there are just too many knots woven around the religious institution and papal office that need to be undone. These issues and more cause me great pause.

Maybe that’s why I am a Presbyterian Minister.

But alas, our denomination and institutional leaders have a fair share of knots, too.  Good Lord, I have even more knots. 

This may call for a second visit to the grotto. 

There I will offer prayers for grace, humble pleas that my ordained work, missional witness, and advocacy for those on the periphery of our neighborhoods, nation, and world will not be as scrutinized as those of the Pontiff.  After all, my resume as an advocate and activist will pail in comparison to the leader of over 1 billion of my Catholic sisters and brothers.  I will also lift prayers on behalf of my church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), asking for God’s mercy in the midst of the tangled webs we have woven and the ways we have missed the mark as proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In my return to the grotto, I will also pray for Pope Francis, grateful for the Good News he continues to offer the world, aware he is praying for us Presbyterians, too. 

Maybe this is the way forward for all of us as we work towards the reconciliation of a very knotted world.