Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice

On Saturday, May 3, 2008, over 125 people gathered at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley, Minnesota for the Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice.

Sponsored by a coalition of progressive Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal, Pax Christi Twin Cities, Catholic Rainbow Parents, and Dignity Twin Cities, this year’s prayer breakfast was entitled “Here Comes Everybody: Democratizing Catholicism in Challenging Times,” and featured Robert McClory, award-winning journalist and author of Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church and As It Was In the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.

McClory spoke powerfully and eloquently on how the Catholic tradition develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit, and, as the Second Vatican Council document Dei Verbum reminds us, “through the intimate understanding of spiritual things [that believers] experience.” In this way the Church “constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth.”

In outlining the history of faithful dissent in the Church, and the criteria for responsible or conscientious dissent, McClory drew on the works of noted Catholic theologians Francis Sullivan (author of Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church), Richard McCormick, SJ, and Edward Schillebeeckx, OP (whom Robert and his wife Margaret met recently during a visit to the Netherlands).

In light of the highly authoritarian approach of John Nienstedt, the new archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, the following two quotes by Francis Sullivan particularly resonated with those in attendance at yesterday’s prayer breakfast:

It would be inconsistent for the magisterium to propose a moral norm as a requirement of the natural law . . . and not offer convincing reasons that would appeal to the intelligence of those to whom this teaching is directed. . . . It would be a mistake to rely too heavily on merely formal authority in proposing it for acceptance by thinking people.

. . . If, in a particular instance, Catholics have offered their religious submission of mind and will to the authority of the magisterium by making an honest and sustained effort to achieve internal assent to its teaching, and still find that doubts about its truths remain so strong in their minds that they cannot actually give their sincere intellectual assent to it, I do not see how one could judge such non-assent to involve any lack of obedience to the magisterium.

Sullivan, Francis A., “Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church” Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002

In a future Wild Reed post I’ll share more of Bob McClory’s May 3 talk. Today, I’d simply like to share the two readings that were used as part of the prayer breakfast’s Liturgy of Word and Eucharist, and the words that introduced this same liturgy’s “Ritual of Letting Go.” This liturgy preceded Robert McClory’s presentation.

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 10, Verses 43-45)

Jesus said to his disciples: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be servant of all.”

A Reading from the Writings of Robert McClory

What kind of legacy did Jesus leave and how did he want his community to operate? The Gospels report such an abundance of scenes in which Jesus makes clear his abhorrence for the established top-down system of government in both church and state that it’s impossible, I believe, to think he supported it or was indifferent to it. Jesus reproaches the disciples whenever they misinterpret his intentions regarding superiority and inferiority in relationships. He wants them to comprehend something that is crystal clear to him, and they don’t get it. For the most part, we don’t either. . . . Whatever form the Kingdom of God will take, its pattern of authority should not resemble that in the governments of this world; in fact, it must operate in a fashion contradictory to the worldly model. . . . In [numerous texts] Jesus uses strong language and examples to communicate how his disciples are to operate, among themselves and in their dealings with others. Certainly, it seems, they are to be leaders, but their leadership is not to be authoritarian, autocratic, or despotic. They are to function as servants, and this surely means openness to those they serve, especially since these others are also recipients of the Holy Spirit.

A Ritual of Letting Go

Reader 1: Friends, we would all agree that our Church is in crisis. I doubt we’d be here this morning if we thought otherwise.

We’ve just heard the wise words of Robert McClory reminding us that our Church leaders should function as servants, and that such servant-leadership means that they are called to be open to those they serve, especially since “these others are also recipients of the Holy Spirit.”

Reader 2: Sadly, those of us who planned this prayer breakfast do not observe this openness on the part of our leadership. We do not sense that this leadership recognizes, let alone celebrates, others as recipients of the Holy Spirit.

Rather, we look around our Church and see the experiences and insights of many people being downplayed or even dismissed outright by many within the hierarchy of the Church. Indeed, members of the hierarchy seem more invested in protecting and maintaining a feudal system of monarchical power than seeking out and listening to the voice of the Spirit throughout the people of God.

Reader 1: We are all too familiar with the painful consequences of this failure to discern the voice of the Spirit. Voices are not heard and respected. The Spirit is denied. Our Church stagnates. People are alienated and oppressed. Feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, and hopelessness multiply within people’s lives and within communities.

Reader 2: Elizabeth Stuart writes: “We are living through a very painful period.” Yet she is adamant that the Church “always moves forward through crisis,” and that “crises are times when cracks appear in the Church through which the Holy Spirit pours.” These are words of hope.

Reader 1: All of us present today long for the Church to move through and beyond this current crisis.

Reader 2: We want to respond to this crisis in hopeful and proactive ways.

Reader 1: We long to be vessels of God’s transforming love in our Church and the world.

Reader 2: Yet often the feelings of hurt and anger about how we and others have been treated prevent us from being hopeful and proactive.

Reader 1: And so we invite you to take time with those at your table to acknowledge those feelings of hurt and anger, grief and loss, and to name the issues and actions on the part of the hierarchy that have produced these feelings within us and within our communities.

Reader 2: Friends, we’ve named the actions of some within our Church that have caused feelings of grief, loss, anger, and frustration. We now invite you to let such feelings go . . . or at least to put them aside for the duration of our time together this morning. We do this because we know that such letting go is necessary if we want to move forward as the agents of transformation that we long to be.

Reader 1: As a simple yet powerfully symbolic gesture of our commitment to let go of all that holds us back from being the change we long to see in the Church, we invite one person from your table to come forward with the small unlit candle at your table, to light it from the large candle at the foot of the stage, and to return with it to your table group.

Reader 2: And as people come forward, Kathleen [Olson] will lead us in singing “Flower of Compassion.”

Flower of Compassion
(Words and music by Brett Haas)

Flower of compassion, bloom within, bloom within.
Flower of compassion, bloom within each heart.

Blossom of love, you draw us close, draw us close.
Blossom of love, you draw us close together.

Delicate fragrance, drift beyond, drift beyond.
Delicate fragrance, drift beyond all borders.

Above: The organizers of the Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice with Bob McClory and his wife Margaret. Back row (from left): Paul Fleege, Rick Notch, Michael Bayly, Bob McClory, Mary Beckfeld, and Paula Ruddy. Front row (from left): David McCaffrey, Mary Lynn Murphy, and Margaret McClory.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Here Comes Everybody!
(featuring an April 2008 interview with Robert McClory).
Ghostwriting for the Pope
(a commentary by Robert McClory).
Robert McClory’s “Prophetic Work”
(featuring two reviews of As It Was In the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church).

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Dutch Plan: Will Innovation Save the Church? - Robert McClory (National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007).
Dissent: An Honored Part of the Church's Vocation - Leonard Swidler.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


Anonymous said...

Did all participants in the prayer breakfast agree to these texts in advance? If not, how were they invited and empowered to express their own views?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Liam,

Thanks for stopping by.

Logistically, it would not have been possible to have participants agree in advance to the readings and other texts (including McClory's talk!)shared during the prayer breakfast.

To be honest, I'm not sure why one would even think to do that. I think there should be a level of trust involved in such events. Also, it's not as if those attending are not aware of the particular perspectives of the organizers and sponsoring organizations.

All that being said, there was time during the Ritual of Letting Go's "table talk" and the Q&A following McClory's presentation for people to express their views - including any contrary views to McClory and/or the organizers.

That's more that I can say for many of those who maintain and/or support the status quo within the Church or who are pushing for an authoritarian approach (see here and here).



Anonymous said...


I understand the logistics. And I also understand the reliance on trust. And the idea that the group was, to a fair degress, probably self-selecting and therefore more homogenous in viewpoint than a randomly gathered group of Catholics. But I asked in case my assumptions might have been incorrect in those regards.

The next issue, though, is, in a group that is fairly homogenous in viewpoint, what would it take to really empower people to voice their concerns about what is said or offered on their behalf. My own experience of this has been that people tend to stifle their dissonances out of (1) a desire to be nice, and/or (2) a fear of creating disagreement, plus other related reasons. And this dynamic, oddly, increases as the group tends toward homogeneity (because what is different sticks out even MORE).

And then what happens is that differences tend to reveal themselves in more indirect and sometimes more passive aggressive ways. Which is, long term, one of the great risks for intentionally gathered communities (ask any abbot).

What I see in the texts of this prayer breakfast is an itemized agenda that may very well not speak fully on behalf of those gathered in its name. Sounds like the larger Church in an important way, doesn't it?
In any event, this is all quite relevant to the group gathered for your prayer breakfast (and groups like it) because it can help reveal why it is so difficult to attain the desired epiphany of servant-leadership-presiding-over-pluriform-and-diverse-Spirit-lead-voices et cet. in the wider church.

I mean, if your own group cannot fully model what it looks like to truly empower difficult divesity, how reasonable is it to expect the wider church to take that modelling on first?

CDE said...

I think I understand Liam's concern. The event represents an interesting co-opting of a liturgical form.

The liturgy traditionally uses a canonical text -- the Sacred Scriptures -- which is accepted by the believing assembly as God's word. The texts at this event are simply foisted upon those assembled, with the implication that they are divinely inspired. This is a liturgical power-play which makes an attempted critique of authoritarian tactics in the Church rather ironic.

Liturgy, the public worship of the assembly, is violated by transformation into a political event (as we have witnessed in so many Eucharistic celebrations since the Second Vatican Council). Liturgy is supposed to be an opportunity to receive God's word, rather than for some people with an agenda to take the microphone.

Why do people co-opt a sacred act, rather than simply holding a political rally? This is, to my mind, manifestation of a new form of clericalism...

Anonymous said...


Yes. But it's even deeper than that.

For example, I was for many many years in intentional Catholic communities that were similar to St Stephen's in ethos if not quite the same type of liturgical praxis (and that was more a function of the fact that a lot of the members had already experienced self-crafted liturgies for years elsewhere and their appetite for them had faded with prolonged exposure. But I digress.)

Anyway, when people strayed from the canonical forms in order to introduce supposedly much more meaningful content into their public liturgical life, all sorts of funny things would get revealed gradually. Like the fact that there were people who ostensibly supported XY&Z and kept their mouths shut when those agendas were pushed in their names, but actually had issues with that agenda that they only felt safe revealing indirectly or by leaving or getting passive aggressive. I watched friends gradually and silently part ways over the years, more rarely stormily.

These experiences (in more than one community) made me realize how we, with all our earnest hopefulness for change in the wider Church, ourselves embodied many of the very dysfunctions we complained of in the wider Church. No, we didn't have quite the same expression of certain things, but we simply replaced those with others more congenial to us.

For example, what would happen in your community if there were several people who openly expressed strong disagreement with the ordination of women or same-gender sexual expression? Perhaps you already have many such people (I won't assume), so I would be curious how you would include and empower such diverse voices in your liturgies and public prayers and what not.

Anonymous said...

Liam and Clayton:

I was one of the organizers of the event. Your comments are interesting, but I need a little compassion from you. There is, of course, the public liturgy of the church at which most of us join with many people who see the world differently from us. It is very important to us to hear critique of our views and to celebrate our common humanity with all people.

This event was a private gathering of people who appreciated the support of others with the same justice agendas or they would not have come. I'm sure you need that on occasion also. Do you begrudge us an annual gathering of supporters in what we believe to be the Christian faith?

We experience a lot of oppression and hatred for our differences. Are you two also among those who don't want us to exist or want us to conform to your views?

It is no problem to us that you think differently from us. I wish nothing but love and happiness for you.