Thursday, November 10, 2011

Feeding Hope: Jamie Manson on Louise Lears's Story and the Sacramental Power of the People of God

After writing today about Joe Paterno, and writing constantly about the Catholic bishops in recent days, I feel a sharp need for spiritual sustenance.  To feed hope inside myself and others.  

And I find that sustenance in abundance in the address that Jamie Manson made several days ago to the Call to Action conference.  National Catholic Reporter has helpfully uploaded the text of the address to their website, and has also published a report by Zoe Ryan commenting on the address.

I'd like to excerpt a section of the text (every bit of which is wonderful) that I find particularly inspiring, as a balance to the struggle-heavy pieces I've been posting here in recent days:  

On the first Sunday after she was placed under interdict, Louise Lears decided to attend Mass. The experience with Burke left her wounded and isolated. Naturally, she wanted to be with her beloved parish community. She did not plan to receive communion because she did not wish to jeopardize the parish any further. But this was her community and she wanted at least to be physically present with this body of Christ. 
Her 85-year old mother was at her side at Mass. When her mother went forward for communion, she told Louise to follow her. Louise did not ask to receive communion, but simply walked by her mother’s side. Louise’s mother took Communion, she broke it, turned around and gave it to her daughter. After witnessing this, Sr. Louise’s sister went and did the same. Seeing what was going on, many other parishioners, one by one, also broke their bread and gave it to Louise. 
By the end of communion, Louise’s hands were filled with fragments of the Eucharist. After the Mass was over, as the family was standing in the back, Louise’s mother said to her daughter, “I was the first person to feed you, and I will feed you now.” 
Our stories define us as a community. They recall paradigmatic people. They are vehicles for the sacred. 
In that moment, Louise Lears’ 85 year-old mother revealed more about the love of God, more about living the Gospel of love, more about what makes a true church, than the entire hierarchy seems to have been able to reveal in quite some time.
And she figured out that secret that the hierarchy doesn’t want any of us to know: lay people have extraordinary sacramental power. 
She cut right through this very serious case of magical thinking that our hierarchy seems to suffer from. Psychologists define “magical thinking” as the belief that one’s thoughts, words, or actions can exert more power or influence over events than one actually has. With their interdicts, and denials of communion and excommunications, the hierarchy seems to believe that they can magically separate the children of God from the table of God. That they can separate whomever they wish from the love of God. That God Godself is subject to their rules.
Though the institutional church may attempt deprive us, the Eucharist, the body of Christ, will always rise out of the people. This is what Louise Lears’ mother saw so clearly. This truth grounded her courage. This love poured out of her and inspired all of those around her. In that moment she understood that true presence, true Communion becomes real not by the will of church authorities, but only through the loving will of God. The power belongs to God and God alone. That power emerges whenever we live the Gospel of love. 
There is so much I love about that story. But what I take away most is this one particular truth. It took being on the margins for Louise’s mother and her parish family to realize that the power of God was working sacramentally through them. It took being marginalized to recognize the church that they already were, regardless of the hierarchy’s vain attempts to starve Louise of the body of Christ.

As Jamie Manson notes, all of this happened shortly after then archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, put Sister Louise Lears of the Sisters of Charity under an interdict after she was found guilty of four "delicts" (don't you love it? more language from Caesar that is never found anywhere in Jesus's mouth) for her support of women's ordination.  Burke was then brought to Rome, given a position of great power and comfort, and made a cardinal.

(Later the same day: what Jamie Manson has to say in the preceding passage parallels valuable recent commentary of Jayden Cameron at his Gay Mystic site, which focuses on a decision some members of the Austrian We Are Church movement to have lay Catholics celebrate the Eucharist in priestess parishes.)

The posting is a picture of a person passing bread through a grate set up to keep person from person--from a posting by Rev. John Fanestil at the No Border Wall blog, reporting on the attempt of the U.S. Border Patrol to halt a communion service at Friendship Park on the U.S.-Mexico border early in 2009.

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