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May 30, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Stemming the Exodus: College Graduates and the Church

esteem 2017

Close to half a million Catholics in the United States have just graduated from college, and almost as soon as they did their participation in the church plummeted.

For decades, leaders of the U.S. church have observed that many young-adult Catholics enjoy a positive experience of the church while they are in college, either because they attend a Catholic university or because they attend a secular university with a vibrant Catholic campus ministry. Catholic students note the exceptional liturgies, relevant homilies, student participation, opportunities for service and attention to helping them develop a mature faith that is both cognitive and affective. So why does the church lose these active participants when they graduate?

The prognosis has always been the same: College graduates drift away from the church for a period of time. They move to new cities, start new jobs and encounter neighborhood parishes with few single young adults. We know that the church risks losing them for a time, but they will come back when they get married, have a child or experience a personal crisis.

I have heard this all my life. Geoff Boisi, founding chair of Leadership Roundtable, and Father Bob Beloin, Catholic chaplain at Yale University, were the first to point out, “That is not a good strategic plan.” And they set about finding a solution.

Their first observation was that the prediction was no longer true, if it ever had been. Young-adult Catholics are not coming back to the church. For one thing, they are not necessarily marrying other Catholics or raising their children Catholic. The long-term impact is that the church is losing its best-educated generation.

From a leadership perspective, this is a human-resource challenge of enormous consequence. From a campus-ministry perspective, this is a disheartening reality. How can we prepare college students for active engagement in the church and ensure that the church would be welcoming to young adults once they graduated?

One answer came through harnessing the vibrancy of the Catholic center at Yale and the problem-solving capabilities of Leadership Roundtable to create a curriculum and framework for preparing college students for leadership in the church after graduation. Leaders from across the country with expertise in young adult ministry, campus ministry, human-resource development, leadership development, theology, canon law, ecclesiology and sociology were convened.

A young-adult leadership formation program was created called ESTEEM, Engaging Students to Enliven the Ecclesial Mission. Piloted on 12 campuses from Stanford to Yale, and now in its seventh year, campus ministers invite “the best and brightest” young-adult Catholics to participate in the yearlong program. Through retreats, seminars and guest lectures, students are immersed in ecclesiology, canon law, Catholic social teaching, intellectual, sacramental and liturgical life and leadership formation. The program culminates in a national capstone conference, which this year took place in Chicago.

Each student is paired with a mentor, a local leader whose field of expertise most closely aligns with the professional aspirations of the student. Mentors are on hand throughout the year for informal discussion on the role of faith in professional life, in vocational discernment and in leadership. The most significant aim of ESTEEM, however, is to equip the student participants for meaningful leadership after graduation: by being appointed to a parish pastoral council, a diocesan finance council or the board of trustees of a Catholic nonprofit.

ESTEEM’s vision is to have two young adults in leadership in every parish, diocesan office and Catholic charity, from Loyola University Chicago to the local soup kitchen. If young adults see other young adults in meaningful positions of leadership they know that their voice and perspective matter. Young adults serving on boards will learn from older, more experienced trustees, offer their own perspective on ways to strengthen mission and attract a new generation.

Young adults are ready to serve as leaders in the church. How ready are we to welcome them to such leadership?

–  Kerry Alys Robinson

This column was written for and published in Chicago Catholic.

May 10, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Imagining Abundance & Choosing Joy

Commencement Address, Emory & Henry, May 6, 2017

Kerry Alys Robinson

E & H commencment

Congratulations Class of 2017!

“Nothing is more endangered in the modern world than the powerful combination of hard work toward meaningful goals joined with an exuberant embrace of the present moment.”

You have worked very hard and deserve to heed Tom Morris’ advice. Exuberantly embrace this present moment and regard this momentous day with immense gratitude.

When you arrived on campus for the first time, did you imagine this day? Here you are at the commencement ceremonies surrounded by professors, parents, grandparents, siblings and classmates – some of who will be your close friends for the rest of your lives. Your remarkable and inspiring president, Jake Schrum and all who are assembled here are so very proud of you. And the truth is you are loved beyond measure. You have a right to be proud of your accomplishments and we celebrate you today. But no one is solely responsible for his or her success. So many people here- your family, friends, teachers and staff at Emory & Henry have positively impacted you, championed you, and contributed to your accomplishments, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. Remember to be grateful to them and for them. Remember to express that gratitude, especially to your family members who made it possible for you to be where you are today.

It might sound platitudinous, even in your early twenties, but there is no more meaningful path to a joyful life than gratitude. Its so easy to focus on what is lacking, on the imperfect, on the negative, to be tempted by cynicism, to be genuinely anxious, or resentful. In some ways we have done a very poor job with your inheritance: unprecedented political divisiveness and acrimony at home and abroad. Poor care of our common home, a growing disparity between the rich and poor, age old sicknesses of racism and sexism, forced migration and burgeoning refugee camps where some young adults your age have lived their entire lives. Famine and the risk of starvation affecting 20 million people in Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria right now. The threat of violence and terrorism worldwide. Always being a click away from vitriol, or evidence of the pathology of a culture of indifference. But you don’t have to succumb to a despairing worldview. You don’t have to be coopted by insidious cynicism, abandon your idealism, your hope in the future, or your compassion in the face of another’s suffering.

“To whom much is given much is expected.” And you have been given much. Today you receive your diploma from college, from this college, Emory & Henry, the oldest institution of higher learning in Southwest Virginia. With Methodist roots, you have been formed in the ethos of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

The truth is no one can promise you an easy life, assure you of material comfort, longevity, health, or further accomplishments, a life free of sorrow or tragedy, or hardship. Generations of philosophers, theologians and thought leaders have tried to make sense of human suffering. I have come to believe that we may never understand why bad things happen to good people, we may never understand the reason for suffering or tragedy, but we can always find profound meaning in our response to suffering- our own, the suffering of those close to us, and the suffering of a broken world.

Be aware. Pay attention. Be present. Don’t rush by any part of your one wild and precious life. Remember that you cannot protect yourself from sorrow without also protecting yourself from joy. Cultivate a merciful heart. Encounter people who are different than you. Accompany people who are in far greater need than you. Let your heart break by this beautiful world and our common humanity.

March 8th is International Women’s Day and for the past four years – as incongruous as this may sound- I have celebrated it in the heart of the Vatican. This year I moderated a panel of exceptionally wise and accomplished women leaders from three continents as part of Voices of Faith. One of the panelists, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Scilla Elworthy, posed two simple questions: “What breaks your heart? And what are you good at?” Her advice is that knowing the answers to these questions and connecting those answers will set you on a life of meaning, purpose and fulfillment.

I can’t help but marvel that she is speaking directly to you, Emory & Henry Class of 2017. You were here when the Ampersand Institute was created and dedicated. No other college has such an institute, as its director Tracy Lauder asserts, to empower students to connect what you care about to what you are learning so you can design and implement projects that contribute to our community and our world.

In fact this very college was founded on the principles of vital faith and civic engagement. The transformative academic community at Emory & Henry allows for your education to be distinguished by advancement toward expanded potential and civic responsibility. Emory & Henry has been preparing you for the sweet spot of meaningful work: the perfect combination of what you are passionate about combined with what you are good at, coupled with being paid for it, in response to what the world needs. What a legacy and what formation you have had in your four years on this beautiful campus.

It might seem strange to think about one’s legacy at the age of 21 or 22 but it is a worthwhile exercise. At the end of your life, what would you like people to say about you? Now, what do you need to do today, and tomorrow, and next week and next year to ensure that is your legacy?

John Raskob is my great-grandfather; he died before I was born.

He dreamed of creating the world’s tallest building and imagined how high it could be without falling over. In the late 1920s he called a press conference to announce that he would build and finance what would become the Empire State Building in New York City. Almost immediately after his bold announcement in 1929, the market crashed. No one expected John Raskob to keep his plans but it was a matter of integrity and prescience to him. The building project continued—but now thousands of people were employed to provide as much opportunity for work as possible. Multiple records were broken as the skyscraper rose.

Today it is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. But here is the little known fact: It took forty years before the building reached full occupancy. Most people scoffed at the folly of his imagination and conviction. But John Raskob was a remarkable leader of profound vision. He knew that he did not need to live to see the results of his vision and hard work for it to have value for others.

It has been said that the greater the leader, the farther out extends the leader’s vision. While many of us are looking toward the end of the week in anticipation of Friday, a great leader is looking out 40 or 50 years to anticipate a future. A necessary corollary is courage and tenacity, the ability to stick to one’s vision and conviction when everything else is conspiring to dissuade you of that vision.

I have marveled my whole life at the tenacity of visionaries who work toward a more just and charitable world. It is activity not for the faint of heart. To be committed is to be committed for the long haul. My best friend quips that “if you need to see the immediate results of your work, paint houses.”Imagine all that can be brought to fruition by leaders who possess this particular constellation of qualities: vision, courage, tenacity and a radical commitment to making this a better, more just and joyous world.

What broke John Raskob’s heart was witnessing potential being squandered usually because of the fear of failure. What he was good at was thinking big, charting a course of action, ensuring his intentions were sound, acting on his convictions and never giving up.

My beautiful friend Mary Ann Wasil was forty when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Rather than give in to the heavy weight of sorrow and anxiety that her cancer presented in her life – the worst thing that had happened to her – she was able to take the experience of her diagnosis and convert it to be a blessing for others. Mary Ann founded the Get in Touch Foundation to change the world one girl at a time and advance breast health advocacy. She had an insatiable belief in the importance of girls and women to be informed and strong. And she believed that service was the pathway to joy and purpose. She would be delighted and proud that the chair of Emory & Henry’s board – who is with us today – is Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

What broke Mary Ann’s heart was knowing one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. What she was good at was offering hope to women and men affected by cancer, speaking with breathtaking passion, and advocating for women and girls.

When most of you were still in high school, preparing to come to Emory & Henry, the world was preparing for the birth of the 7 billionth person. My super creative and talented friend, Valerie Belanger, conceived of a global art installation centered on one question: “What would you say to the 7 billionth person?

The answers, in a variety of media, fell along a spectrum: alarming, anxious prognostication about the dire state of the world into which this child would be born on one end and heartfelt, hopeful joy for a child we have been waiting to welcome on the other.

Where would your response fall?

People of faith, people of good will, are instructed to bear joy and to bear witness to joy even in the midst of oppression, suffering, poverty and broken-heartedness. This is not facile joy, but joy that comes from faith, faith in God and faith in something larger than oneself. It is a spiritual discipline to cultivate. Faith that it is possible to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Faith that it is possible to correct unjust structures. Faith that it is possible to eliminate extreme poverty and inequality. Faith that it is possible to ensure potable water and food for all people. Faith that peace can be achieved, that reconciliation can be effected, that forgiveness can be extended.

How in the midst of communal and personal suffering can one access joy, let alone radiate it? It seems incongruous, if not impossible.

I understand, therefore, why some of the submissions for my friend’s art installation depicted scenes of violence, hunger, toxicity, human trafficking and genocide, alerting the 7 billionth person to the kind of world she or he will find.

Life does not have to be perfect for us to find reasons to be grateful. In the midst of tremendous human suffering there can be found compassion, mercy, altruism and love. Be aware of such grace and human kindness. It is everywhere, even and especially when there is concomitant human anguish and loss. Rejoice in this. Gratitude begets gratitude. Blessings multiply. And the fruit of the habit of gratitude is that soon one experiences blessing where before one experienced only lament.

When we bear witness to joy we offer hope to a broken world. And the world needs hope.

So my favorite submissions centered on welcoming the 7th billion person as a celebration of wonderful news, with open arms and love. “Welcome! You are the one we have been waiting for. We are so glad you have come.”

In a surprise appearance by video at the TED talks last month in Vancouver, Pope Francis said, “The future [has] a name, and its name is hope. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’

What breaks Pope Francis heart is a culture of indifference in the face of human suffering, especially the suffering of the poor, the imprisoned, refugees, and victims of violence. What he is good at is having his actions match his words, of restoring our faith in the goodness of humankind, of embodying mercy.

What breaks your heart? What are you good at? As you discover the answers to those questions, as you prepare to take leave of this beautiful campus with greater knowledge and deep friendships remember what contributes to a life of meaning, purpose and joy:

  • Be grateful.
  • Be aware.
  • Pay attention
  • Serve others by being a beneficial presence in their lives.
  • Notice and acknowledge even small details that brings you joy.
  • Laugh often and well.
  • Don’t waste one minute of your time being anything other than fully alive.
  • Think big.
  • Be generous.
  • Extend the benefit of the doubt to others.
  • Surround yourself with people who ennoble your spirit.
  • Be the biggest, best version of yourself.
  • Know your priorities.
  • Begin each day with a little awe and enthusiasm.
  • Resist cynicism.
  • Celebrate what is right in order to find the energy to fix what is wrong.
  • Tell the people you love how much you love them. Show them how much you love them.
  • Be the reason for someone’s hope each day.
  • Imagine abundance.
  • And every day, every single day, choose joy.

Congratulations Class of 2017. Thank you for the exquisite privilege of being with you to celebrate and honor you.

April 18, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

From Dread to Generosity

generosity

I detect it among religious leaders whenever I speak to them about fundraising – theological ambivalence about money. Is wealth holy or is it sinful? If it is holy, is it so only under prescribed circumstances? Or perhaps money is neutral, and what is sinful or holy is the degree to which we are attached to it and how we use it?

Like the famous deadly sins, there are seven primary obstacles to successful faith-based fundraising and the power of generosity. Theological ambivalence about wealth is one of them.

At Leadership Roundtable, we speak to faith groups about financial best practices, including raising money for their parish communities or other ministries. These are usually faith leaders – very accomplished people, gifted practitioners, thinkers, pastoral healers. Yet on matters of money, they bring fear, ambivalence, cognitive dissonance, resistance – in short, obstacles that stand in the way.

At workshops on fundraising we often begin by posing a single question. We ask them what thought or feeling stirs when they are told, “As ministers, priests, religious and lay leaders of faith-based nonprofits you are responsible for the financial health of your community, parish, ministry, hospital, school or nonprofit organization. Even if you have the luxury of a professional director of development, you are responsible for raising money to advance the mission of your organization.”

The answers are overwhelmingly fraught with anxiety and dread. “I know I have to do it, but I regard it as a necessary evil.” “I am more of a people person, so I really don’t enjoy raising money or even discussing it.” “I feel panic, a sense of futility.” “I really hate having to ask people for money.” “I worry that I will never be able to raise enough money, fast enough, and people will be disappointed.” “It makes me feel like I am using people, people I respect and would prefer to have as friends, not donors.” “Terrified!”

If the first obstacle is theological ambivalence toward money, the second obstacle is the false belief that fundraising is not real ministry. I’ve heard many men and women confide that they did not discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life to make people uncomfortable by bringing up the unpleasant subject of money. They discerned their vocation to bring solace to others, bring the good news to others, bring Christ to others. Intellectually they know they need to succeed at fundraising if their ministries are to thrive, but it feels like a contradiction to their real ministry.

A third obstacle is related: inadequate preparation around finance. Many otherwise skilled and influential faith leaders have received very little training in management and human resources – even less in fundraising, financial accountability, and planning. It’s hard to embrace responsibilities for which we have not been trained.

A fourth obstacle is language. Consider these familiar phrases: “Hit him up for money.” “Put the squeeze on her.” “Strong arm him.” “Target them.” This is the language of violence and violation, not ministry and service. Some people cavalierly equate fundraising with begging – the language of scarcity. This places the fund seeker in a position of seeking alms. If, on the other hand, the fund seeker grasps the potential of a financial gift – how much an investment would matter to the beneficiary and the benefactor – then the request for financial support is no longer begging or violation but a form of invitation. Eliciting generosity and responding generously deserve reverence, not disparagement.

A fifth obstacle sees fundraising as asking for a personal favor. Even though the financial donation is used to support a ministry or a parish community that touches hundreds or thousands of people, the assumption lingers that one is asking for a personal favor of the donor. It can be tremendously unsettling and uncomfortable to think you somehow now owe the donor. Hoping to avoid this, the unfortunate temptation is to frame the donation as an obligation, pushing the donor to give out of guilt, rather than regard it as an invitation to be generous.

A sixth obstacle reinforces the suspicion many people have that fundraising is slightly manipulative work, not fully transparent, somewhat deceiving or sycophantic. Treating affluent and powerful people with greater respect and dignity than those you calculate can do nothing for you is not only a poor development practice, it is unfaithful and boorish. Integrity can never be sacrificed for development efficiency.

The seventh obstacle is perhaps the most pervasive and insidious: fear, a gripping fear of rejection and failure. What if the donor says no? Is that a rejection of my ministry, my priesthood, and my leadership? Is that a rejection of me?

Fear is the antithesis of faith. “Fear not” is a central Scriptural tenant. The task of raising money—any amount of money—can seem so arduous, so impossible, that it’s rare to find a leader or development officer who is unafraid. Reflect on the nature of the fear. What specifically is feeding the anxiety? I’ve heard many answers: “I am afraid that I will offend someone by asking for too much, or not enough.” “I am afraid of the magnitude of responsibility.” “I am afraid that I will have only one chance to make the ask and if I screw it up, I will have ruined the opportunity forever.”

A crucial characteristic of a leader or development director is a palpable confidence and unshakeable faith that the potential can be brought to fruition. This joyful expectation, this determination, will be tested at every turn, definitely at the beginning, most certainly when the campaign in fact begins to be successful, and especially when the stakes get higher after so much time, effort and financial resources have been invested in the effort.

To religious leaders and other people of faith who are responsible for raising money: It will be paramount that you attend daily to prayer and reflection, examining anew the soundness of your intentions, your motivations for working so hard toward the goal and a vision of the future. Stay focused on mission. Hold the future beneficiaries – people you may never meet – in your mind’s eye. Be as other-centered and noble of purpose as possible. Reflect, pray, surrender, and ask for the grace to remain faithful to the task at hand. Hold the end – where the whole effort is heading – in mind. Think big.

And please know this: What you already possess – your particular religious formation, the spiritual disciplines you practice routinely, the desire for meaning and aspiration to be a blessing in the world – these are the very fundamentals of success in financial development. Faith, spiritual maturity, mercy, a commitment to the dignity of the human person, a zest for life and all that life has to offer, a belief in transcendence, access to hope, tenacity, humility, awe, generosity of spirit, the divine ability to imagine abundance – these are all hallmarks of your success in fundraising.

Keep an eye on your biases about money. See donors as subjects, not objects. Understand development as a ministry to donors. Believe that generosity is humankind’s birthright. Bring your faith to bear on the responsibility of fundraising. Be joyful. Be confident in the future. Invite everyone to be part of a life-giving, other-centered, faith-filled vision of all that God intends.

Kerry Alys Robinson, Published in Reflections – Yale Divinity School, Spring 2017

April 7, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

A Priest for All Seasons

Introduction of Fr. Bob Beloin, Chaplain at Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University, honored during the Spring Fling Gala to benefit St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven, CT by Kerry Alys Robinson

Kerry Bob

What a spectacular evening. Wonderful setting, full house, tremendously important mission, flawless preparation over many months by the spring fling committee, our friend Michael Morand lined up to be auctioneer, generosity is in the room and in our hearts, and we have an irresistible, profoundly inspiring honoree in Fr. Bob Beloin.

Fr. Bob’s many dear friends and colleagues present this evening will likely understand the hesitation I detected in his countenance when he realized I was being handed the mike to say a few words about him tonight. I can think of only one thing that would cause him to be more trepidatious: if this otherwise perfect evening had happened to fall on April 1st rather than April 6th. Providence is on your side, Fr. Beloin, as I am bound by the rules of April Fools to be truthful and trustworthy on all remaining days of the calendar. So no Nicole Kidman with us tonight. No call from Pope Francis to your cell phone. No sudden transfer to Harvard’s Catholic Chaplaincy. No New Haven boulevard named after you. Just the truth.

And the truth is Fr. Bob is the consummate priest, prototypical pastor and quintessential chaplain. There is never a day or hour when he is not on call to be present to someone in need – in need of encouragement, of forgiveness, of inspiration, of insight, of mercy. Conversely, he quips that he has never worked a day in his life, so fulfilling is his vocation. An exquisite homilist, he makes preaching look effortless, but dedicates hours and hours of prayer, exegesis and preparation. Why? It’s not because he has world renowned Scripture scholars and theologians in his Sunday assembly, which he does, every week. It is because the Eucharist is core to who he is and whose he is. He understands that the Eucharist matters and should be celebrated with the highest levels of care and commitment.

Fr. Bob is generous; I have never in twenty years seen him walk by a person asking for money without reaching into his pocket, handing over bills and asking, “What’s your name?” Fr. Bob is humble. He absolutely loathes being the center of attention like this. This intro is killing him!!!! Although, I believe I am doing a pretty good job of reading it exactly as he wrote it! He truly had to be talked into being the honoree tonight. And it was only because of his own personal philanthropic passion for the school and the students that he consented. Of course, even the holiest among us are complicated beings, and after agreeing to be honored, upon finding out that there was the competitive prospect of breaking all prior spring fling fundraising goals this evening, he was ALL IN. He is accomplished and prolific. Yale bestowed on him its highest honor, the Association of Yale Alumni Medal. And yet he has an innate ability to laugh at himself. Happily he has boundless opportunity to exercise that particular virtue.

We worked together for ten years immersed in a significant fundraising effort to expand Catholic life on Yale’s campus. It was my job on his behalf to call influential Yale alumni all over the country and seek appointments. On one occasion my call was to a prominent veterinarian who agreed after much persuasion on my part, despite a very demanding schedule, to see us when we were in the greater Philadelphia area. The details were arranged and before hanging up, the veterinarian said, “Oh, one more question, ‘What kind of a horse is Father Beloin?’” Trust me, it could have been a far more specific and even more ignominious question!

The ability to laugh at one’s self points to joy. And joy is a hallmark of the Christian life and faith.

Fr. Bob, we honor you tonight and give thanks for your generosity of spirit, your joy, your priesthood, your friendship, your wisdom, your life of profound prayer and pastoral acumen. Thank you for letting us support such a compelling and life-giving cause tonight in your name and in your honor. And thank you for being, wherever the Gospel takes you, a beneficial presence bringing people closer to Christ, to meaning, to service and to love.

 

 

 

 

March 29, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Women, Leadership and the Church

Grateful to Chicago Catholic for inviting me to be a columnist. This is my second column.

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On International Women’s Day, March 8, a celebration of inspiring leaders from across the globe took place in an unlikely setting: the heart of the Vatican.

The theme of the fourth annual Voices of Faith event was peace. The format was storytelling and discussion, and the purpose was to demonstrate the crucial role women play in leadership and decision-making when it comes to peace, or any other meaningful pursuit.

Among the women featured was Marguerite Barankitse, responsible for saving the lives of 20,000 children whose parents were killed in the genocide of Burundi; Dr. Mirreille Twayigira, an orphan who excelled in her studies in a refugee camp in Malawi and was accepted at medical school in China, requiring her to learn Chinese; two sisters from Syria describing their frightening travels across the sea in a rubber boat, neither able to swim; Marie Dennis, co-president with Bishop Kevin Dowling of Pax Christi International; and Flavia Agnes, founder of Majlis Legal Center in India and legal advocate for more than 50,000 women and their children who endured physical and sexual abuse. Their personal testimony was riveting, often harrowing, but what was palpable was their irrepressible joy, a joy borne of faith, conviction and the commitment to live lives dedicated to improving the world for others.

A panel discussion revealed the beneficial impact of including women along with men at the highest levels of leadership across all sectors. Corporations with women on their boards have a better return for shareholders; female doctors are less likely to be sued for malpractice; universities, the military, the judiciary — all are strengthened by the presence of women in leadership and decision-making positions.

So it is with the urgent effort of peace-building. Scilla Elworthy, three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, articulated five characteristics of feminine intelligence (accessible to men and women) that are necessary to advance peace: compassion that results in action, inclusivity, deep listening, intuition and regeneration. Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell, executive director of Network and leader of the Nuns on the Bus movement, offered four complementary virtues for our present day: joy, holy curiosity, sacred gossip and doing one’s part.

The organizers of Voices of Faith love and respect the church and its mission. Appreciating the church as the largest global humanitarian network in the world, they recognize the enormous potential it has to address human suffering and complex global challenges.

Their concern is one of urgency: to strengthen the church’s capacity to excel at its mission. The question at the heart of the matter is: how compromised is the church by failing to include women in the highest levels of leadership and in decision-making?

Mission matters. Best practices matter. Every institution in the world has accommodated and incorporated women in leadership — often reluctantly at first — only to admit the practical, tangible value of having done so. As many women noted on March 8, the church risks being left behind if this isn’t addressed.

As the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, remarked during the Voices of Faith event: “The opposite of clericalism is collaboration, working together as baptized daughters and sons of God … but if we are honest, we acknowledge that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived. That inclusion, which would bring the gifts of resilience and collaboration even more deeply into the church, remains stymied on many fronts.”

Those who care deeply for the church’s vitality must ask: Given that young women know they can achieve the highest levels of leadership in any sector and industry, do they find role models at the highest levels of leadership in the church? Are there examples in the lectionary where women are the protagonists? Are there visible signs that women are included in decision-making within the church? How welcoming are we as a church to young women and their talents and abilities? And what do we lose if we lose them?

These are the questions our young people are asking. It’s time we started giving them some answers.

March 6, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Radical Hospitality

 

welcome to the summer

Charlie and Jo’s cardinal virtue was radical hospitality. They had fourteen children, seven of whom were adopted, three with disabilities. In addition, each time one of their children turned seventeen years of age, another seventeen-year-old from overseas was invited to live with them for a year as part of an international exchange program. Students came from Germany, the Philippines, Bolivia, Italy, the Middle East and Chile. More urgently, refugees from Hungary, Morocco and Vietnam as well as an American orphan found a safe harbor over many years in their home.

As the first grandchild born to this expansive, welcoming family, I grew up recognizing foreign as familiar, global as local, and diverse as approximating perfection.

Faith informed our familial culture and was at the heart of my grandparents’ generosity and inclusivity. Champions of racial, environmental and social justice, lavishly generous and unconditionally welcoming, it was clear to me, even as a child, that the Gospel was at the center of their lives.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

a stranger and you welcomed me,

naked and you clothed me,

ill and you cared for me,

in prison and you visited me.

We may disagree on the best policies – nationally and internationally – to provide people with access to food, clean water, housing, health care and justice but if we profess to be Christian, then we can’t abdicate our responsibility to ensure that people do have such access. The Gospel makes clear: to do nothing is to be complicit.

In the midst of acrimonious national disagreement, in the face of heightened anxiety especially for vulnerable members of our communities, in this exigent season of Lent, I am aware of the invitation at hand: to be profoundly sorry for my own complicity and culpability, to seek reconciliation, to make amends, and in gratitude for God’s mercy resolve to be more loving, more welcoming, more radically hospitable, just as the Gospel enjoins.

 

 

 

January 31, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Responsibility and the Rite of Baptism

Grateful to Chicago Catholic for inviting me to be a columnist. This is my first column.

st-peters

Full disclosure: For as long as I have been aware, I have passionately loved the church and held its potential in the highest esteem. Its explicitly religious mission has formed the person I am today. That it is the largest humanitarian network in the world renders me forever committed to its health and vitality.

This is neither blind love nor infatuation, but love borne of time and gratitude and possibility. The more I am engaged in the life of the church, the more I become aware of its history, its mission, its ministries and its capacity. The church has ennobled me, and at times broken my heart.

Seventy-two years ago, my great grandparents, John and Helena Raskob, established a private family foundation with two intentions. They wanted all of the foundation’s resources to be used exclusively to support the Catholic Church throughout the world and they wanted their children and descendants to be stewards of the foundation’s resources. All participation is voluntary, non-remunerative and understood to be a serious commitment of time, focus and engagement in the life of the church.

Today there are nearly 100 members, all descendants of John and Helena, actively engaged in the work of the Raskob Foundation. It has been an uncommon privilege to serve the church in this way, with the unanticipated, beneficial consequence of evangelization for our family.

Our faith lives are stronger because we have had the opportunity to meet, learn from and support some of the most inspiring, generous, effective people the global church has to offer. We have seen the very best of the church through the lens of their ministries.

We have also seen tremendous challenges facing the church and have been brought up to believe that we have an obligation to help solve those challenges, regardless of how difficult or seemingly insurmountable they may be.

A beloved professor, spiritual director and Sister of Mercy once advised, “Remember what it is you most love about the church and membership in it. Name what you love. Claim what you love. It will provide ballast to allow you to navigate with fidelity and focus when you are disappointed and discouraged.”

I have taken this advice to heart and highly recommend the discipline. My list is long and wide. I love our church’s rich intellectual tradition, social justice teaching, the community of saints, sacramental life and imagination, mercy, the Eucharist, the primacy of conscience, prayer and transcendence, forgiveness, the preferential option for the poor, the injunction to be Christ-like. I love that where there is human suffering, the church is at the vanguard of providing relief, promoting justice and advocating for peace.

Good catechesis allows for the appropriation and cultivation of a mature adult faith to live out one’s faith in the world, the better to transform it through service and mercy, generosity and grace. This responsibility also extends to the church itself. Lay participation, leadership, generosity and active engagement in the life of the church are vital for its own transformation and mission efficacy. Exercising baptismal responsibility means actively contributing one’s gifts and expertise to strengthen the church.

Taking responsibility for the church, calling it to greater levels of holiness, accountability, transparency and trust is a responsibility of baptism. This understanding inspired Geoff Boisi to create the Leadership Roundtable, a network of Catholic leaders whose sole mission is to help solve temporal challenges facing the church by harnessing intellectual, problem-solving capability, entrepreneurial acumen, contemporary best practices and a profound commitment to excellence and ethics.

Baptism is our gift. Exercising responsibility to ensure the church is welcoming, accountable, effective and the very best it can be is our right and our duty.