Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope and His Good P.R.

Pope Francis and his visit to the United States is something the Catholic church in America desperately needs. His visit and all the positive public attention that is going along with it is energizing folks that have felt ignored and disenfranchised from their belief system. Pope Francis is sending a message of inclusion and forgiveness.
Let’s talk about this pope.
He’s the product of immigrant parents, raised in a middle-class family. That is the same background of most people I know. My own parents were the product of immigrant parents, also middle class backgrounds.
Biographical publications say the Pope was a pretty normal kid who felt the pull of a religious calling in his late teens, to which his mother was adamantly opposed to his pursuit of such a calling. As a parent her concerns were mostly that he was too young to commit to a life long vocation such as the priesthood, and she wanted him to be a doctor.
Before he joined the seminary, he experienced lay life. To me, that sounds like a pretty practical and thoughtful thing to do.
That is my take on Pope Francis. He is practical and really good P.R. Afterall, he was on the cover The Rolling Stone!
Pope Francis has not radically changed any doctrine. The sacraments are still the same sacraments. Sin is still sin. Catholic priests are still only male.
But this pope is a practical man who has appeared to have taken a practical stance on modern life. People don’t live the same lifestyles as when the church became established over 2,000 years ago. He also acknowledged that some very bad things have been swept under the rug, with the hubris that the Mother Church is untouchable and must remain pristine and infallible.
In sending messages to the catholic priests, he has urged them to be like “Shepherds that smell of the sheep”. That is a pretty deep message and one that I hope runs through the ranks of clergy, starting with the Vatican hierarchy, because in my opinion, what few parish priests and nuns we have left today, already ‘smell’ like the rest of us.  During a diocesan re-organization, our home church was absorbed with another church, to create a new parish. The nuns of our church lost their convent residence and had to pool resources to buy their own convent residence outside of the newly formed parish. I thought that was pretty lousy.
I was raised Roman Catholic. The pomp and ceremony celebrating the liturgy was enchanting. The Latin Mass was melodic. I remember the difficult transition that many folks had with finally understanding what the priest said during mass. Some of the mystery had been stripped away.   In my adult years I’ve held on to spirituality in music during Mass as it enhances the liturgy, which is one of the reasons I was an active member in music ministry. My music participation helped me appreciate the message in the scriptures, but I parted ways, in thought, with the Church as some of the homilies began to take on tones that just didn’t ‘feel right’ to me.
Old Style Latin Mass
Everything was turned around, literally. The altar was turned around and now the priest celebrating the Eucharist faced the congregation and was speaking their native language. I was always in a choir and part of a generation that learned to sing in Latin and then some of those same hymns in English.

During my years at Little Flower High School, a catholic school for girls, I enjoyed some forward thinking nuns and a few priests, young and old, who did not hesitate to intuit that a strong opinion of dissent was not necessarily disobedience. I am grateful for that kind of teaching.
I want to believe that the message that Pope Francis is teaching is that we can disagree and still not be damned to eternal suffering. That has not been the Roman Catholic message for long time.
Organized religions have evolved with differences over generations. The common thread through most religions is we acknowledge a divine higher power in a supreme being and as human beings that we are to be kind, we are to be charitable and respectful to each other. That’s a pretty simple tenet, but organized religion has expanded with a whole bunch of rules and regulations that were originally implemented to maintain order and obedience, not necessarily in the name of a divine higher power.  
Change is uncomfortable. Pope Francis is teaching change but not in Catholic doctrine. I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.
I believe his message is that we should all be a shepherd, in one way or another, and be among the flock in a respectful and accepting way.
Sisters of Guadalupanas Eucaristicas del Padre Celestial
 in Philadelphia before Pope Francis' visit.
I pray this message is embraced by the Vatican hierarchy and the rest of the flock.

I also wish I would have seen more woman inside the Basilica instead of outside, like this nun.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Remembering Kathy: Kathy Vermitsky, Ordinary Saint, Extraordinary Mothering

This post originally appeared last year as a guest post  in Ministry and Motherhood. I miss my friend, and hope you will enjoy reading about what Kathy brought to our lives.

baby Tayler
Soon after the birth of my first grandchild, Tayler, my daughter Katie searched for childcare for her newborn baby as she was about to return to her job. She searched and interviewed several people and places and seemed to find something lacking in every person and place. This was a brand new mom looking for someone to take care of her brand new baby.
On the day she found the right person, Kathy Vermitsky, Katie phoned and excitedly asked if I would come right away to meet Kathy, who ran an in-home daycare.
“She’s perfect! You’re going to love her! She reminds me of you!” Katie gushed. While I took that as flattery, I reminded Katie that this was her decision and not ours.
“I’m already going to sign up with her–I just want you to meet her and she wants to meet you.” And so I did. That very day was the serendipity of God’s blessed plan.

Kathy and her family were very active in our church. She was a Eucharistic minister, her husband John helped run the St. Vincent DePaul society, her son was the altar server at Katie’s wedding, and Kathy’s uncle was the founding pastor of our parish, St. Jude’s.

When I met Kathy I did find her to be much like me, plain spoken and forthright. I liked that. We both had little tolerance for conversational tap dance. 
At this first meeting it was obvious that she ran a “tight ship.”
Granddaughter Tayler began daycare with Kathy the following week. 
Over the next 15 years Kathy and I also built a friendship that was based on more than the fact that she was the daycare provider for my grandchildren. She and I shared a mutual philosophy on child rearing: “love ’em and feed ’em and leave ’em alone, but give them structure and rules.”

Mike and Tayler
When my infant grandson suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, and required therapy and early intervention, I took a leave from my job. My daughter Chris found herself a single mom with a baby with special needs . . . so I stepped in so she could continue to work.
As I began to get my grandson’s therapies in place, Kathy insisted she take him in her care.“You need to go back to your job, and this is my job.”
Kathy took his therapist visits into her home and worked them into her daily routine with the other children in her care. While most children aged out of Kathy’s daycare,  she kept my grandson in her care for the next 13 years, arranging with his school bus to pick up and drop off at her home. She was essential in his progress and development.

Kathy mothered and nurtured every child who came into her care, even if she didn’t have immediate affection for the parent. When it was time to leave daycare and attend school, every child was fully prepared for kindergarten. They could read, write and recite the alphabet, print their name and recite their address and phone number. They were accustomed to structure and routine mixed with play and down time and afternoon hugs after nap time. The children had a singular love and respect for Kathy that was unique . . . different from their own Mommy, but not very different.

Kathy celebrated with us: birthday parties, christenings, communions, proms and graduations. She simply meshed in. Upon her arrival the kids would excitedly chant, “Kathy’s here, Kathy’s here!” Soon they would jockey for turns to sit on her lap or nestle under her arm. Although these events were supposed to be her day off, she would simply wave it off. “It’s fine,” she’d say and take another kid to her lap.

Kathy was a Mom’s Mom. She ran a tight ship from the comfort and security of a home where toy boxes and miniature toy kitchens lined the walls of her living room. Her back yard was peppered with trikes, bikes and wagons. Every child who passed through her loving and capable arms understood what was expected and what was accepted. 

Kathy at the Vatican
She not only mothered the children in her care, she mothered the Moms. It was more than her job. It was her vocation. When one of the young Moms would complain about some disagreement with Kathy, I reminded them, “She takes care of your children while you go to work. Do you know someone who can do it better?” And that would be the end of it. Kathy made our life easier.

Kathy’s sudden death, left a sudden vacuum that can never be filled. When she died, it was the first death and loss of a loved one that my older grandchildren actually grieved. At her funeral mass, the church of St. Jude was packed with folks she touched in her years of service to the young people she shepherded.

They are the legacy of Kathy’s unconditional love and extraordinary mothering.