Perennial Hope

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I had the opportunity this past week to attend a lecture given by Dr. Phyllis Zagano. In fact, it was her last public appearance before leaving for Rome in November to serve on the papal commission convened to examine, yet again, the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate. She will not speak publicly again until the commission’s work is concluded.

Dr. Zagano spoke in great detail about the history of women in the diaconate. This has been her passion and her life’s work and, as she quipped, every word is not only researched but footnoted. She spoke of rights, of justice, and of mercy. She stressed repeatedly that no one, male or female, has the right to be ordained. Thus, ordaining women to the diaconate is not about a woman’s right to be ordained. There is no such thing. Rather it is about the right of the community to be ministered to by women who have been called to serve.

In addition to preaching, baptizing and officiating at weddings, women ordained to the diaconate would be able to serve in offices reserved for those in the clerical state. It is the right of parishes, dioceses, and the entire Church to be ministered to by women in these ways, women who bring with them the unique gifts and perspectives of womanhood. This isn’t just about positions in the Curia, but also about looking much closer to home where it could mean women serving as an canonical judges. Under the new guidelines for annulments, a single judge may issue a decision without the need for a second trial. While women currently serve on tribunals as canon lawyers and judges, their work is overseen by ordained men and cases overseen by a single judge must be decided by clerics. Ordained women would be able to fill this role.

She spoke of justice in the Church and how that carries out into the world. One of the arguments that has long been championed as the central reason for the all-male clergy is the maleness of Jesus. This flawed line of reasoning holds that women don’t match Christ’s image. This carries an implication that women, simply based on their gender, cannot image Christ or do so in away that is fundamentally flawed. It runs counter to the understanding that all people are made in the image of Christ. That is an injustice and one that radiates out into the world. Indeed, the long history of the subjugation of women is based entirely on the view of women as being less than a man. The Church has the opportunity and the responsibility to correct that worldview.

Finally, she spoke of mercy and the role of the Church to recognize and touch the suffering within the community. Women within their communities are often willing and able to be ministers of mercy but are limited by the roles they are currently permitted to hold. Whether that means a woman serving as a deacon in Latin America, traveling to the remote villages where the priest can rarely visit or a woman serving as a deacon in a suburban parish down the street, preaching the gospel and touching the lives of those around her in service and charity.

Ultimately, there is a wealth of historical evidence, including rites of ordination, that women served as deacons. The topic of reviving this role for women was raised at the Second Vatican Council and at the close of the council, it was slated as a topic that warranted further study but was largely neglected. In 1997, a commission studied all of the evidence and created a detailed report which concluded that yes, women could be ordained to the diaconate. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time served as President of the International Theological Commission, refused to sign it. In 2002, a new commission was convened to study the same question. It subsumed the entire 1997 report into its own 78-page report, which concluded that there was no conclusion. Dr. Zagano summed up the discussions of the last 50 years in one succinct statement: They know they can’t say no, but they really don’t want to say yes.

They know they can’t say no, but they really don’t want to say yes. 


Now, Pope Francis has handpicked a new commission made up of twelve highly respected scholars. There are six men and six women. Dr. Zagano said she has no idea what the outcome will be. And she refused to entertain questions on women serving in the priesthood. She did, however, state that Benedict XVI defined the diaconate as a ministry entirely separate from the presbyteriate and the episcopacy.  In simple English, ordaining women to the diaconate poses no theological challenge to maintaining an all-male priesthood. There are some who argue that the diaconate, presbyteriate, and episcopacy are inextricably entwined.  If that were ever determined to be an inviolable theological truth, then women would have to be ordained to the priesthood based in the historical evidence of women serving in the diaconate for many centuries in the early Church. But that is not the role of the current commission to determine nor to consider. Their role is solely to determine whether women can be ordained to the diaconate. Dr. Zagano plainly stated that all of her work leads to a clear yes, they can. They were in the past and should be again.

The sheer volume of historical evidence she traced out for us was nearly overwhelming. And for me, just being in that space, surrounded mostly by women of a certain age, women who really know how far we have come, was an amazing experience in and of itself. There was an air of excitement and hope, not optimism or wishful thinking but a true, deeply held, rarely displayed, soul level hope. It was the kind of perennial hope only progressives, and maybe lifelong Cubs fans, would truly understand. Maybe this is our time. The Cubs finally had their year. Will we?

Find Your Voice


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. ELCA’s presiding bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, released a video calling on people find their voice and to use their voice to make a difference. She pointed congregants and pastors alike to the ELCA Social Message on Gender Based Violence, an open, honest and pragmatic seventeen page document intended to shape the way communities address these situations. I wish I could say the same about the Catholic bishops but here we are mid-month and I have yet to see any sort of statement from them. Although I did notice there was plenty to say about who was in and who was out when Pope Francis named the new cardinals. Now, don’t get me wrong. The US bishops do have a statement about domestic violence. It dates back to 2002 and it’s on their website, if you go looking for it.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” and his bragging about forcing himself on women just because he can. There’s been a lot of talk that Bill Clinton’s behavior was no better. There was Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire where she talked about what it’s like to be woman in a world when some men feel like this behavior is acceptable. So clearly, everybody is talking about respecting women, demeaning women, what constitutes sexual assault, why consent matters and defining rape culture. And I have to wonder, with this topic of violence against women so high on the national radar, why is it that the my Catholic bishop is silent, despite having an active and engaging social media account and an existing church document to point to? And why is it that my Lutheran bishop has not only pointed to an existing church document but also taken the time to create a short video for social media specifically to highlight it? Is it simply because 49% of those ordained in the ELCA are women? And perhaps having women’s voices at all levels changes the way a church approaches ministry? Could it be that having an all-male clergy colors the way violence against women is perceived and dealt with in the Catholic Church? I want to say no. I really, really want to say no. But my experiences say otherwise.

So I throw out a question to my ordained Catholic brothers: when was the last time you preached about domestic violence? Really preached about it, not just some passing comment in a ten minute homily on the sanctity of marriage? When was the last time you preached about the dignity of women as human beings in their own right, married or not, and not just used a woman’s dignity as a launching point into a homily about abortion? When was the last time you held Jesus up as an example of treating women with decency and respect regardless of her social status? When was the last time you told the women in your congregation that they deserved a man who would treat them as Jesus would, with respect, kindness, gentleness and compassion? When was the last time you used the authority given to you by the Church to hold the men in your congregations accountable, calling for an end to off-color comments and boys-will-be-boys attitudes?

What are you waiting for? God knows we all need to hear it.



Translation: I Love You


So here I am, six full weeks after injuring my foot and I am still using crutches 90% of the time. Perhaps, suggests my Mom, it would have been less time if I hadn’t walked around on the fracture for a solid week before going to the doctor. Perhaps, suggest I, she should shush and leave me be.

Yesterday, I managed, with a lot of padding in my shoe, to hobble around the kitchen sans crutches long enough to bake a batch of molasses cookies and clean up the kitchen afterwards in my usual cookie meditation methods. But this batch had less to do with my desire to bring order from chaos and a lot more to do with stalling. The inspiration for this post came a week ago and I have been stalling about writing it ever since. I was secretly rather pleased with myself yesterday when I sat down with my tea and a warm cookie and noted that it was rather late in the day to start writing. At precisely that moment, I got the following text message: Listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.

No, I am not even kidding. All the times I have joked about how I wish God would just text me suddenly came around to give me a swift kick in the ass. Moral to that story: be careful what you wish for. And yes, I know I’m still stalling.

Last week, I drove my mom to the grocery story and waited in the car with a book for an hour while she picked up a few odds and ends. When she came out with the cart half-full with groceries, I got out of the car to help her load them in the trunk.

Mom: ‘Get your butt back in that car.’

Me: ‘Yes Ma’am.’ I obediently plopped myself back in the car and waited for her.

We got home and I parked with the trunk of my car literally six inches from the back stoop. I open the trunk and reached for a bag to help her unload the groceries onto the stoop.

Mom: ‘And just what do you think you’re doing?’

Me: ‘I’m helping you. I can walk a little bit.’

Mom: ‘Good. Go walk yourself into the house. You’re in my way.’

These are the days that I call her Miss Daisy, because the only right answer is: Yes Ma’am. I was giggling over this with some old friends and one of them said, ‘You’re in my way. Translation: I love you.’ Now anybody who speaks Mommish knows that is precisely the proper translation.

While I laughed about it, it really got to me. Ever since that morning when the bees invaded my quiet prayer time, I have been entirely thrown off my groove. I’m so tired of sitting around with my foot up and doing nothing that I’m twitchy even when I really, really want to be still. I had nice little rhythm to my days, especially my time alone in the mornings. And for five of the last six weeks, I looked at this annoyingly twitchy space I’m in as God’s way of saying, ‘Suck it up, Buttercup.’ Like somehow it was up to me to overcome the twitchyness all by my lonesome so I could be still and pray in the manner in which I had been comfortable. But this last week, the words that kept coming back to me weren’t lines from scripture or the various prayers of my rosary or some other bit of inspirational writing. No, the words that kept coming back are: You’re in my way.  So, while I’m a little huffy about it, I’ve stopped trying to be not twitchy. I’ve let myself be this restless mess that I am right now. I baked when I should’ve rested. I set up my fantasy football team when I should’ve been reading. I still went to the beach every morning but I talked to the seagull who sits on my car when I should’ve been talking to God. And somehow all of that was okay because I stopped trying to do what I couldn’t do and I got out of the way and somehow I’m a little less twitchy. I don’t what God is up to right now but something is up and for now I’m okay with letting God do God’s thing because You’re in my way translates to I love you. 

That being said, I kinda hope God hurries up because I don’t know how long I can keep this stay-out-of -the-way thing going.

My Way Isn’t Working


Patience is a virtue. It isn’t one of mine. Now if stubbornness were a virtue, I’d be golden. Don’t be misled, I don’t mean the never-give-up type of perseverance that has brought me through some really rough times. I mean the hard-headed, I-got-my-Irish-up stupid type of stubborn that has a tendency to land me in trouble. Yeah, there’s no spiritual reward in that kind of stubborn. Trust me on that one.

Still nursing my injured foot, I lasted five whole days on the crutches before I did anything overly stupid. Then I decided I could cook dinner and hobbled around the kitchen on one crutch to do it. Not only did I make the foot incredibly sore but I also burned my hand in the process. Given another four days, I decided to walk the half mile from my lousy commuter student parking space to my sociology class using only one crutch, not taking into account the fact that I had to then walk back. I was in tears by the time I got back to my car. That was three days ago and as of this very moment, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, with my foot iced and elevated, crutches by my side, sipping on a cup of strong Irish tea and pondering ways to bake a batch of snickerdoodles without putting weight on my foot – or if there is any way I can get away with putting just a little weight on it.

My younger son watched me get up yesterday and head into the kitchen on one crutch and called after me, “Uh, Mom, should you be using TWO crutches. You’re never going to get off them if you keep this up.”

Darn kid. Why did I ever teach that one to talk? But he makes a valid point. I know if I use both crutches and stay off my foot as much as possible, it doesn’t hurt and the swelling goes down considerably. So why do I keep trying to do what I usually do? Because I can’t stand not being able to do things for myself and in my own way. Because I can’t stand having to ask for help. Because the only way for this foot to heal is to be still and wait.

Be still and wait. I’m perfectly fine with being still. Sometimes. At times of my choosing. For finite amounts of time. Oh alright, I’m okay with being still when it’s on my own terms. And waiting – also, for finite amounts of time and on my own terms.

How many times have I needed God’s help and wouldn’t ask? How many times did I decide to limp along and make things worse rather than be still and wait for the healing or answers or guidance that I needed? How many times am I going to charge ahead with only half of what I need? How many times am I going to let my stupid pride trip me up, both spiritually and physically? What’s going to take to get through this thick head of mine?

Maybe spending a third week on crutches will get me to sit still and ponder these questions. Maybe after a batch of cookies…Hey, this office chair has wheels, I’m sure I can manage on my own.

Okay. Okay. I’ll admit it. I can’t stand being laid up because I can’t stand not being in control because not being in control scares the shit out of me. But I also have to admit, my way isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to let go, be still and wait.

Swearing at God

These last two weeks have decidedly not gone at all well. To fully appreciate this post you have to know three things: I have serious fear of bees. When I get hurt, it is always in the weirdest of ways. Patience is a virtue, but it isn’t one of mine.

Since I was a little kid, I have been deathly afraid of bees. So when I parked at the beach two weeks ago on a beautiful, breezy Sunday morning, planning to spend a Sunday morning as I often do, praying and writing and listening to the waves, I was horrified when three yellow jackets came into the car. They weren’t buzzing around where I could shoo them out an open window. They crawled down between the seats, into my purse and essentially settled in for a lengthy stay. I, on the hand, bailed out of the car barefoot, having kicked off my sandals when I parked. There were scores of angry, aggressive yellow jackets outside the car too. I couldn’t get in the car and I couldn’t stay outside the car. I ended up fleeing down the sidewalk, down a flight of steps and across a rocky beach to escape the little devils. I actually had to call my sister to bring a can of Raid so I could at least get back into my car.

Somehow in my escape, I managed to step wrong or miss a step or step on something. Being in a full-blown panic over the bees, I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what I did but in the end, I injured my heel and could barely stand to put weight on my foot. So naturally, knowing something was obviously very wrong, I limped around for a week hoping it would just go away. Yeah, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was explain to the family doctor that was I pretty sure I broke my foot running from a nest of angry yellow jackets. The man has already witnessed the time I sprained my knee while dressed up as the Easter Bunny and the time my dog broke my nose so I really, really didn’t want to add this little gem to my file. But after a week, I couldn’t stand the pain anymore and I went to see him. He was kind enough to keep a straight face. While it’s not all out broken, there is a hairline fracture on the heel spur and I’m to stay off my foot for a few weeks until the swelling goes down and I can put weight on it without pain and then we’ll reassess how to treat it. Yes, I, the hopeless klutz, am now on crutches. Yes, this is a disaster in the making. I never appreciated how many steps I take in a day, usually with something in my hands, until I had to use these blasted things. I am a horribly impatient patient.

When I parked at the seawall two weeks ago, I was in a pretty decent place with God. We had stuff to talk about but it was all good. But as I settled into my place and mindset of prayer, all hell broke loose. For most of the following week, every time I tried to pray, the first words out of my mouth were, “What the [expletive] was that?!?!”  Okay. Understandable. I was a little shaken and in pain. But now two weeks later, every conversation with God is prefaced with, “I’m still royally pissed off at You…”

The writing I was planning to do that day remains unwritten. And I’ve had a hard time being still. I’m frustrated beyond reason by my sudden, temporary limitation. I try to tell myself to be reasonable. I mean really, what was God supposed to do: put a bubble around my car? Send angels to carry me to safety? Smite the bees? Smiting the bees really would have been my first choice. I don’t know what I expected, but the fact that I came to a quiet place, to keep a standing date and was not only chased from it but wounded in the process really bugs me. (Pun very much intended.) If this had happened anywhere else, would I be as angry? Probably not. Was it that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? No. And have I dealt with far worse without being such a brat about it? Yes. Is there a lesson in this mess? Probably. And maybe it’s that it’s okay to honestly give God a piece of my mind now and then, even if it’s over stupid little stuff.

To The President of Sacred Heart University


To Dr. Petillo:

As a student, I am deeply disappointed, dismayed, and angered by the decision to permit Donald Trump to use the Pitt Center at Sacred Heart for a political rally. While I understand this was technically not a University sponsored event or an endorsement, the public association between the Trump campaign and Sacred Heart University has now been made and cannot be undone. Inviting or permitting figures to appear on campus who may be controversial in order to promote lively discussion and debate is indeed a noble endeavor and one which challenges those of us in the University community to examine our individual beliefs and continue to form our individual consciences. But at the same time, every speaker, every event held on campus is a statement about our collective University conscience. It reveals a part of who we are as a community.

We have dorms on this campus named after Pope John XXIII and Pope Francis. Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with high hopes of promoting Christian unity, fostering ecumenism, and deepening the respect for the dignity of the human person. Pope Francis has called us to embrace, welcome, and protect the poor, the marginalized, the refugees, the immigrants and the disabled. These are great men who by their words and example showed us how to be people of deep compassion, people who build Christian unity, who uphold human dignity and who foster understanding amongst all religions. This speaks to core beliefs that Sacred Heart University was founded upon.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, would ban an entire segment of our student body from even entering this country based solely on their Islamic religion, which is not only practiced by my fellow students, faculty and staff, but studied in our classrooms. To permit Mr. Trump to hold a rally on campus is a slap in the face of Islamic students and faculty advisors who have worked so very hard to promote interreligious dialogue and build understanding on this campus.

And what about our Latino and Hispanic population? Or those with disabilities? Or any of the other groups Mr. Trump has deemed worthy of his seemingly endless contempt? Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements are not isolated incidents of sarcasm or political missteps. He has, since the start of his campaign, been quite plain about who he is and what he stands for. He is more than controversial, he is divisive even within his own political party. He has shown himself to be unwilling or unable to take part in healthy, respectful dialogue and, as such, he has shown himself to be the anti-thesis of core values of this community.

Ultimately whether people choose to vote for him or not based on their individual beliefs about what would be best for this nation is immaterial when it comes to the University. We are not responsible for each individual’s conscience. We should be responsible, must be responsible, for defining who we are and what we stand for as a University community. Is our Catholic identity a deeply held conviction or a convenient slogan? Is Catholic social justice our calling and our mission or merely a marketing ploy? Is our prized Catholic Intellectual Tradition a tradition we hold sacred or a just good branding?

As Christians and Catholics we are called by Christ to be ‘in the world but not of the world.’ This decision and the lackluster explanation of it are most decidedly an example of being ‘of the world.’ The leadership of Sacred Heart University needs to do some serious soul searching and decide what matters most to this community. Are we willing to sell out all that we proclaim to be for an event fee? And if we are, do we really deserve to be called a Catholic institution?


Christine J. Pelfrey, Class of 2018, Theology and Religious Studies Major


Connect or Dig?


“One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of men one on another, a development promoted chiefly by modern technological advances. Nevertheless brotherly dialogue among men does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person. Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into man’s moral and spiritual nature.” – Gaudium et Spes (December 7, 1965)

Reading this document, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written a month or two ago. The understanding that dialogue isn’t improved by technical progress but by deeper interpersonal relationships is a frequent discussion in news articles and blog posts. In this time of text messages, emails, and social media, we can certainly say we have progressed in terms of technology but have we progressed in interpersonal relationships? I’m not so sure. I see many people who engage in monologues on social media, whether it be for political or religious purposes. People spend more time defining and defending their views than listening to others, which essentially eliminates the social from the term “social media.”

This climate of the monologue can lead people to surround themselves with only likeminded followers. The danger in this is that such behavior has the potential to amplify selfishness, racism, classism, homophobia, anti-religious attitudes and xenophobia. I’ve seen families and friendships torn apart by political arguments that started online. I’ve seen religious apologists who, rather than offer education and/or gentle repudiation of error, choose to condemn and demean those who have differing views, thereby all but guaranteeing they will win few new followers to their cause and more likely will alienate many.

At the same time, social media has the potential for good. I’ve seen GoFundMe accounts raise money for cancer treatments and other medical bills. Acts of kindness campaigns have taken off. Grass roots campaigns that would have had a much harder time spreading the word now grow overnight. I’ve also seen religious figures use social media to educate, encourage and start open discussions. The Slate Project’s #SlateSpeak is a personal favorite of mine for asking tough questions, sparking social justice discussions and encouraging action.

So how does all this digital interaction impact the dignity of the human person? It is possible to use social media to build the kind of interpersonal relationships that deepen our appreciation for other points of view and for social groups other than our own. This is the kind of deeper understanding that can overcome discrimination in all its forms. This is what can lead people to move beyond online posturing to actually working within their communities to meet the needs of the most vulnerable amongst us. Online connections can lead to in-person connections. In this way, the barriers, both real and imagined, between “us” and “them” can crumble. Granted, that is a hopeful, some would say idealistic, outlook. The same digital interaction can deepen paranoia and radical views of all types. It can spread hate and violence just as easily as love and understanding. It will depend on whether we choose to deepen the sense of brotherhood of all mankind or dig trenches for our own like social group. If we’re going to reach out to others, we have to put down our shovels first.