Ecclesial Twister

The Vatican is a long way from Kansas City.  But what is happening there impacts us here.  This semester, I have the privilege to work at two local Catholic universities, Rockhurst and Avila.  On the campuses, I witness tremendous diversity.  Students that are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic or of other Christian religions, move alongside those that claim to be agnostic or atheist—all are searching.  Co-eds are from Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, or Far East, bringing forth various languages and a myriad of cultural traditions and creeds.  At the same time, I am working at two inner city parishes that focus on the social mission of the church, especially among minority and marginalized citizens.  This landscape seems to mirror last month’s Vatican synod where, according to reports, participants adopted a mission of solidarity with other religions, other cultures, and other convictions, so that the church can honor our one God and all creation in ways that are more sensitive or adaptive to global values and virtues.

“Catholic” means universal.  The pope, who is Bishop of Rome and universal pontiff, has a seemingly impossible task.  “Bishop” (from the Greek “episcopus”) means overseer; “pontiff” means bridgebuilder.  As Francis oversees international ways, seeking to bring unity and harmony to our diversity, he does so by building bridges among continents, cultures, and religious viewpoints.  It seems to me that the October Synod anchors us in worldwide principles that Jesus expressed in the Beatitudes and Mary sang in her Magnificat to guide communities around the globe.  Her prayer was to lift up the lowly, much like He lifted up the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the meek, the merciful, and other marginalized people who hunger and thirst for what is good and right.  The Synod suggests that at the core of Catholicism is care for the poor, respect for indigenous people, and help to refugee migrants; the universal task at hand is to right the ecclesial ship after abuse by church officials; by standing together against terrorism, racism, clericalism, human trafficking, acts of violence against women, and other atrocities that erode our church and society, we will walk together as People of God, in spite of different religious views, cultures, and convictions.

At the two colleges and two parishes where I work, it sometimes feels like a game of Twister: right foot red, left hand yellow, left foot green, right hand blue.  But rather than spreading myself thin, getting twisted up, or becoming imbalanced, I benefit from having my hands and feet in a few different church apostolates so I can better understand the diversity of our ecclesial body and the hopes of its members and associates.  University personnel or impoverished urban dwellers may not identify much with the corporate, hierarchical, bureaucratic church, yet they embrace aspects of the faith, such as Catholic Social Teachings, Catholic Intellectual Tradition, Ignatian spirituality, or charisms of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  In this, I share a small part of the challenge that is central to the universal church, supreme pontiff, and Vatican synod, which calls each of us to honor the dignity of every human person by being particularly mindful of Jesus’ Beatitudes and Mary’s Magnificat.

With a right hand combatting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a left foot walking with migrant refugees from Africa and Latin America who seek better lives in the north, a right foot standing in solidarity with victims of Hamas’ terrorism in Gaza, and a left hand dealing with extremists within our own church, the pope’s job seems impossible.  Yet nothing is impossible for God who guides His servants.  In our own communities, we can advance the pope’s work to oversee diverse universal ways and build bridges that link us together for the greater glory of God.