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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.

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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.

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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.

December 19, 2016 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Wonder

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Our family was enjoying dinner on Christmas Eve before bundling up for midnight Mass at Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel at Yale University. Christopher and Sophie were tiny but precocious. Advent had been full of lengthy discussions during which their innately inquisitive small selves delved ever more deeply into the practicalities of Santa Claus and his primary, global responsibility. On this night in particular, our tenacious children wanted to know how, exactly, Santa would manage to visit the homes of all of the world’s children before dawn.

I give my husband a lot of credit. He is a scientist by profession and has always had trouble suspending disbelief. Skepticism was in the air; Michael held his ground. And then, in the midst of mounting doubt, a miracle happened. Christopher bit into a homemade gingerbread Christmas cookie and lost his tooth.

Shouts of congratulations ensued! Great care was taken to examine the tooth and the beautiful toothless smile. After asking to be excused from the table, Christopher ran upstairs to place the prized possession under his pillow. All conversations about chimneys, reindeer and time zones were mercifully suspended.

It wasn’t much easier to have conversations that Advent with my closest friend, a Catholic priest. He was fascinated by how parents help their children make the transition to understanding the truth about Santa Claus without risking their disbelief in God. Neither of us had easy answers.

I marveled at the seriousness with which everyone was safeguarding against disillusionment. To be jaded was to side with the Grinch. A premium was placed on wonder and marvel and awe. Trying to explain mystery is taxing and ultimately futile, and yet we can’t help but try, just as a child can’t help but probe the implications of Santa’s monumental task.

At Mass with my family beside me, enveloped in a community of faith, inspired by exquisite music and a homily on the light and truth of hope, I give in to wonder and mystery, grateful beyond measure for all that I know to be true but can not explain. Grace. Being in love. Redemption. Transcendence. Forgiveness. Beauty. A parent’s devotion to her child. God becoming human because of love.

At Yale’s Catholic Chapel, intellectually brilliant students and professors and their families gather to worship God and support each other in faith. It is a wonder to behold.

Our children fall asleep and have to be carried to the car after Mass. In the morning they will rise early, too early, and burst into our room with irrepressible joy and anticipation. They know they cannot see the tree until their sleepy parents are awake.

At dawn, the four of us make our way to the living room and it is clear that Santa has been here. The kids race around the room examining everything with unfettered joy. Santa drank all of the bourbon and ate one macaroon. The stockings are full. Presents are under the tree. But this year there is something different. We stop when we see it, a note for Christopher. It reads,

Christopher,

I have waited my whole life to meet Santa Claus. Thanks to you and your perfectly timed lost tooth, I finally did. Imagine our great surprise when we arrived at your home on the same night at the same moment in order to attend to our respective tasks. We can’t thank you enough, Christopher, for setting the stage for this joyous meeting to occur at long last.

Santa and I want to convey our encouragement to you to continue to be the very best person you are intended to be. The world needs you and needs you to be kind and thoughtful and merciful. Remember what your parents have always told you: You can be anything as long as you contribute to and bless the lives of others. Be good to your mom and dad and sister. And don’t forget to floss!

Merry Christmas. Love, The Tooth Fairy

PS I know your dad thinks this is an exorbitant amount for a tooth, but I couldn’t resist! Don’t spend the whole dollar. Give some to charity. You will be in awe of what generosity can accomplish in the world.

I see it in Christopher’s eyes, a mix of euphoria and incredulity. He thinks the handwriting is familiar, the coincidence equivocal, but is overjoyed at the idea of such a momentous meeting in his home. Skepticism yields to marvel. He is close to figuring it all out, which makes his cooperation with delight and creativity and mystery and love, the attributes of God, all the more wonderful.

October 26, 2016 / Kerry Alys Robinson

I thank my God every time I remember you.

preachingWomen of the Church: Strength of the Past. Hope for Tomorrow. A Catholic Leadership Conference

Opening liturgy, Monastery Immaculate Conception, Ferdinand, Indiana

October 7, 2016

 

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

 

Gratitude. Prayer. Joy. Partnership. Perseverance. Trust. Love.

These are the powerful currents of this exquisite passage.

And what perfect words for us to hear – in new, challenging, contemporary and fortifying ways – as we gather to celebrate women’s leadership in the Church.

The theme of our gathering “Women of the Church: Strength of the Past. Hope for Tomorrow. A Catholic Leadership Conference” entreats us to hold in tandem the past, the present and the future. This is also what Scripture, if we allow it, is designed to do.

Paul wrote to the Philippians centuries ago, but Scripture speaks to us today. Paul begins, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Look at the women and men assembled here in this sacred space. Friends. Colleagues. Role models. Sisters and brothers in the faith. Let Paul’s words speak directly to us in this moment. Hear the enormous gratitude for your faith, and for your partnership in the Gospel. Allow your heart to respond to the deep joy and great love evinced by this letter. Paul is expressing the joy that finds itself in community, gives rise to perseverance, inspires and replenishes and sustains us – even in often hostile, imperfect, uninformed, prejudiced and sexist environments.

These words of joy and gratitude, entreating us to love even more deeply, are the foundation of true Christian community. Paul’s confidence is that the fruit of such dedication is discernment, sanctity, a stronger community in Christ, a community of faith held accountable to one another and to the Gospel.

This is a love letter to a community that has remained steadfast, despite great odds and often persecution.

That it expresses so much joy and gratitude makes it all the more remarkable that Paul is writing this letter from prison. Prison could be the loneliest and most despairing of all places. But Paul experiences and expresses the opposite of desolation. He lives with access to the transcendent and a deep appreciation for community. In spite of his physical isolation, God is at the very center of his life and at the center of the community of disciples to whom he writes. Christ is the tie that binds.

For our purposes this weekend, the historical context in which this letter was written is especially elegant. When Paul arrived in Philippi, there were no Christians, but his message soon caught the attention of a small group of mostly women who would gather by the river to pray. Prominent in this group was a successful businesswoman, Lydia. Lydia was deeply moved by Paul’s words, came to believe in the Gospel and opened her home in lavish generosity to the small and growing early Christian community.

We stand on the shoulders of great heroines. We belong to a long line of strong and inspiring women who showed remarkable leadership in the Church from its very beginning and throughout its long arc of history. We are connected to Lydia, the leader of the small Christian community to whom Paul is writing. As Paul entreats the Philippians, so Scripture entreats us: let gratitude, prayer, joy and love lead to a strengthening of our faith community, a deeper knowledge and discernment, the better to equip all of us to be partners in the Gospel.

When Andrea Hattler Bramson, Betty Anne Donnelly, Deborah Rose-Milavec, Chantal Gotz and I were preparing with our women colleagues in Catholic philanthropy to meet with cardinals in Rome about the role of women in the Church we were quite literally sustained by the prayers, faith and love of the wider community to which we belong. Women religious told us that they would be utilizing their formidable social networks to get the word out and hold us in prayer while we were in Rome. Men who had been ordained Catholic priests for decades filled with tears of solidarity upon hearing about our conversations. Our daughters and our friends’ daughters and our friends’ friends’ daughters hesitated in their seeming exodus.

To be clear our mission and conversations with the cardinals of the Roman Curia over this past decade has never been predominantly about what women deserve, but about what the Church deserves and what the proclamation of the Gospel to an often suffering and broken world – requires. We develop relationships of trust, offer concrete recommendations, serve to challenge and inspire. And progress is being made. There is a reason for hope. But like Paul, without a commitment to Christ at the center of our lives, without recourse to the wider community of breathtakingly holy and courageous women and men, without joy (and considerable humor), and without love, all of our work particularly on behalf of young Catholic women, on behalf of children and on behalf of generations not yet born, might well have been in vain.

This passage from Scripture is normally proclaimed during the Season of Advent. There is a component of longing, of yearning, of anticipation befitting such a season. But aren’t we always in an Advent of sorts, desirous of new life, eagerly awaiting a more just world, a more welcoming and effective Church. In the midst of this longing, there can be great joy when we realize that by virtue of our baptism we are all called to advance the Reign of God.

God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement, never discouragement.

This passage is full of encouragement, encouragement to sustain us in our collective effort to promote the leadership of women in the Church.

Like many mothers, I have worried about my own daughter and where and how she will live out her faith in the Church and in the world. Her story is unfinished. I wait in joyful anticipation. She was born in Advent, I have been waiting in joyful anticipation from the moment of her birth. Will she inherit a community of joy and solidarity and welcome? Will she be able to contribute her full capabilities to strengthen the Church? Will she hear the words of encouragement or discouragement when it comes to exercising her own leadership?

Her story is unfolding but what I know to be true is that faith is not developed apart from community. And faith is not nurtured apart from joy. And prayer is a remarkable force for good because it changes the one praying and allows us to see with new perspective.

One gentle evening, relatives and friends gathered in familiar pose and conversation on our porch. The subject turned rather suddenly to the best way to die. The question was specific in its intensity. “How would you like to experience your own death?”

Over bottles of wine and candlelight we took turns articulating the pros and cons of the myriad ways any one of us might experience our own death. It was not entirely morbid. One friend suggested that she would like to die suddenly and quickly, without warning, ideally after a spectacularly joyful celebration. Another suggested that he would prefer to have as much time as possible with the knowledge of a terminal illness in order to make amends, to thank his friends and family, and to be intentional about giving away everything he possessed. Another was certain that dying in her sleep, peacefully, at the end of a long life is the most desirable. And so the conversation ensued until the oldest at the table, my father, turned to the youngest at the table, my thirteen-year-old daughter.

“Sophie, you have been very quiet and very attentive, but you have not yet volunteered an answer. Do you have an opinion on the way you would most like to die?”

Everything became still and silent. I held my breath. Too late I wondered if she was too young for such deep, existential, potentially distressing discourse. Perhaps she had never seriously considered the matter.

Now at the center of everyone’s attention, aware that a response was being asked of her, she replied very simply, “Yes. I hope I die saving someone else’s life.”

I love the Church and I want the Church to benefit from the faith and leadership of young women.

I invite you to enter deeply, prayerfully and joyfully in the importance of our gathering tonight and throughout the weekend. Be challenged. See with new perspective. Be replenished by the example of those gathered here, on your left and on your right. Be sustained by membership in this community of faith, so that you can bear witness to what it means to be Christ-like in our age. Do so with great love, a commitment to prayer, a tenacious grounding in the Gospel. Know that you are never alone. As women and men who advocate for the leadership of women in the Church sometimes at great personal cost, draw strength from those who have gone before us and those who are present to us and those who will come after us. Let Christ be the tie that binds. And let us enter fully into this experience so that when we bid farewell to one another and return to our respective ministries we can serve as examples of prophetic witness. Let us lives our lives, demonstrate our faith through leadership, exude joy and love in such a way that everyone whose lives we affect by our ministry and by our presence might say, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

April 24, 2016 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Choosing Joy: Celebrating the Life of Mary Ann Wasil (May 7, 1964 – April 15, 2016)

Mary Ann Wasil

Mary Ann did not just choose the Scriptural readings for today, she lived them. Every day. With intention.

Years ago Fr. Bob Beloin and I went to Greenwich Hospital to visit Mary Ann. She had been admitted in preparation for a bilateral mastectomy, one of hundreds of informed health decisions she would make in order to extend her vibrant, joyful, meaningful life and to spend as much time with the three people she most cherished, her children, Betsy, Mary, and Eddy. Despite the occasion, she lit up when we entered her hospital room – as though it were one in a string of celebrations the universe had arranged for her. At her request, we prayed with her and blessed her. She beckoned us closer and conspiratorially told us that she had written a note for her surgeon and the surgical team. She wanted us to read the note. Only with Mary Ann’s quintessential flair for the dramatic and penchant for the unconventional, her note, in ink, was written across her magnificent torso. [Well, in fairness, it was an effective way to get her message across!] With characteristic aplomb, she opened her hospital gown so that we could read the note. It said, “For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.”

Absolutely central to this extraordinary woman and the inescapably positive effect she had on people (her closest friends and random passersby alike) was her faith. She really believed in the Good News. The good news of Scripture and the Eucharist. The good news of God’s abundant love for humankind. The good news of hope as a living, force of nature. The good news of serving and loving others. The good news of endless miracles in everyday, common, ordinary life.

“For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.” This was a life motto for Mary Ann. Like St. Paul, she understood this as surrendering to God all that was beyond her control, rendering herself entirely vulnerable before God in order to draw strength, and confidence, and peace from that primary, loving, relationship.

She would often tell me, “I know I can get through this, Kerry, as long as I don’t take my eyes off of the cross.” This was a hallmark of her faith, a way of being in the world well before any health challenge. She looked outward at the world – with eyes wide open – and genuinely anguished over the suffering of others. She had enormous compassion and solidarity for those bearing the effects of war, gun violence, poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, illness, and loss. Her heart broke a hundred times a week at the privation and sorrows of people around her and around the globe.

But she put her entire trust in that cross. She tied our suffering and her suffering to God’s suffering.

And that was the source of her irrepressible joy.

Because for Mary Ann, the cross was never the end of the story. For Christianity, Christ’s suffering and death is never the final chapter but the herald to the Resurrection and God’s promise of new life.

This faith-filled way of living in the world for nearly 40 years was the reason she was able to take the news of her breast cancer 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, as the Gospel reading illuminated, that service was the pathway to joy, purpose, and eternal life.

This way of being in the world was why the cancer center, the most incongruous of places, became the locus for sacred encounter. Her healing team bore witness to the way – in the company of courageous, diverse women with whom she shared a health solidarity that was breathtaking – she turned treatments into occasions of compassion, irreverence, shared tears, uproarious laughter, and sacramental grace. And make no mistake, she was the great priestess.

Mary Ann died during the Easter Season – a liturgical season signified by 50 days of joyful celebration. Its almost as though she scripted it! We talked about her funeral on occasion over the years and each time she said, “I want it to be about joy.” Vibrant colors, fabulous shoes, exquisite music, grace, style, laughter in reminiscence. I begged her to allow for the possibility of some tears. Mercifully, she relented on that point. And then she said, “I know there might be tears. Just remind people that I want them to choose joy when they think of me.”

She had a wild affection for Catholic nuns. Sr. Simone Campbell, of Nuns on the Bus fame, described Mary Ann as “a great missionary for truth and joy.” Mary Ann loved this title and said it was her favorite way to be described…except for one other title: Mom.

With her children, she prayed before every meal, grateful for those who grew the food and who prepared the food. She would always pray for you – her most fortunate dining companion. Always other-centered, she would pray for the concerns of those in want or pain, or those whose dignity in any way was being compromised. And for the last eight and three years, respectively, every single blessing ended with, “And God bless the Obama family and Pope Francis.”

Mary Ann’s favorite line in her favorite musical, Les Miserable, is “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Each one of you present today and the thousands of others all over the world who were positively impacted by her are the reason Mary Ann saw the face of God every single day of her life. How familiar to her must God’s face be when at last their mutual gaze is unceasing.

So what are we to do, we who in this moment bear so much heartache and longing to be in her physical presence again? How can we honor her memory, invoke her spirit, extend her legacy, console each other?

She would suggest that the catalogue of her full and beautiful life is filled with images and memories to make us smile and laugh. We can choose joy when we think of:

Her passion and enthusiasm for her children as she raised them into three of the most remarkable and self-possessed young adults the world has known.

The way she commanded a stage and a microphone.

How she navigated a flying trapeze, literally and successfully, with stage four metastatic cancer, wisely asking for forgiveness rather than permission from her oncologist.

Mary Ann as the most gorgeous cop on the set of All My Children.

Mary Ann as the most gorgeous cop on the streets of Connecticut.

Her passion for food, music, Netflix, travel, her wonderful friends and long soulful walks on the beach.

Her devotion to her dad and her care for him when he was sick.

How pretty she was in pink.

The special bond she had – has -with her sister Diane. Bibi.

Perhaps it will bring us joy to recall how mischievous, eccentric, larger-than-life she was. Political activist and proud feminist. She lit up a room with her smile, her presence, her laughter, her opinions, her shoes. The sheer embodiment of style, grace, radiance and hope.

Once fortified with these and hundreds of personal memories and images each of you has of Mary Ann, take to heart a few of her life’s maxims:

  • Hope Lives
  • Be grateful.
  • Serve others.
  • Never, ever let a great pair of shoes pass you by.
  • Have ice cream for breakfast.
  • Laugh with your whole being.
  • Hug completely and for a few seconds longer than you think is wise or polite.
  • Marvel at your children and light up in their presence.
  • Don’t waste one minute of your time being anything other than fully alive.
  • Smile radiantly.
  • Think big.
  • Be generous.
  • Surround yourself with people who ennoble your spirit.
  • Never complain about getting old. It is a luxury.
  • Be the biggest, best version of yourself.
  • Thank a nun!
  • Know your priorities.
  • Celebrate what is right in order to find the energy to fix what is wrong.
  • Tell the person you love how much you love him or her. Show them how much you love them. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • Every day, every single day, choose joy.

And finally, after exhausting the images and maxims of our beautiful Mary Ann, let what she has written, in her own words, take root in our own lives that we might have the faith, the truth and the joy she evinced so effectively and well.

It is a beautiful thing to give of yourself to someone you want nothing from in return.  When their peace of mind, their comfort, or their joy is the only thing that matters to you…you are treading upon life giving and holy ground.

It’s not limited to cancer centers, my friends, find the holy ground in your life…reach out to someone in need of comfort or joy.  Share without wanting anything in return.  Bless others with all you have been blessed with.

You’ve never really lived until you do.

Hope Lives!” – Mary Ann Wasil.

 

 

December 9, 2015 / Kerry Alys Robinson

We Are So Glad You Are Here

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You walk into a church and as the liturgical celebration is about to begin, a member of the community welcomes those in attendance with the following:

“If you are a young adult, separated or divorced, newly married, unemployed, a child, a new parent, gay, struggling with faith, experiencing profound gratitude, lesbian, remarried, single, a long time member of this faith community, a visitor, lonely, experiencing health challenges, mourning, in the prime of your life, transgender, religious, widowed, ordained, materially poor, celebrating a milestone, in the company of people you love, undocumented, anxious, regretful, seeking meaning, seeking forgiveness, seeking mercy or seeking transcendence: Welcome. Welcome home. We are so glad you are here.”

A palpable atmosphere of hospitality and welcome is sacrosanct for a vibrant, flourishing faith community. People want to belong. And in their search for meaning, reconciliation, nobility of purpose, healing and inspiration, they often arrive at our churches tentative and vulnerable.

We know a thriving parish when we see one; we experience the welcoming environment. But what leads to such communities?

Fourteen years ago, the Catholic church in the U.S. was reeling from unimaginable heartache wrought from the unfolding awareness of the sexual abuse crisis. Trust was fractured and morale was at an all-time low. Deep within the Christian consciousness lies the paschal mystery, which gave rise, in the very midst of profound suffering and dying, to a commitment and hope in new life. If there was any grace emerging from those painful days it was that Catholic laity were roused out of our lethargy. Many prominent Catholics joined clergy and religious in supporting efforts to effect healing and reconciliation for victims, and for the Church writ large. Geoff Boisi, founder of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management along with Fr. Robert Beloin, chaplain at Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale, resolved to be part of the solution. Thought leaders from diverse perspectives were convened and out of their collective love for the church, they committed to address the underlying conditions that contributed to the sex abuse scandal, focusing in a particular way on church management, leaving doctrinal matters to the Magesterium.

In the ensuing years, a growing awareness of the importance of managerial excellence, ethics, accountability, lay expertise and best managerial practices in the Church has grown. Laity are less passive and more pro-active in exercising our baptismal responsibility. Pastors are being aided in their responsibility to manage people, facilities and finances and solve increasingly complex, temporal challenges. The consequence of these efforts to strengthen the Church is a constellation of practical, canonically compliant resources to strengthen the temporal affairs of the Church and promote greater engagement of talented laity. There is an elegant byproduct of Church leaders availing themselves of the intellectual, problem solving capability of the laity. And that is evangelization. One is far more likely to become fully immersed and invested in the very life of the Church if one is recognized for what she or he does best and is invited to lend that in service to the Church in a meaningful way.

As a Catholic profoundly grateful for the gift of faith, and the executive director of the Leadership Roundtable, I travel frequently and attend mass in many parishes across the country. What I have observed is a spectrum of vitality. And the most important, under-appreciated component contributing to vitality is the degree to which laity are actively engaged in their faith community. Conducting a Zagat-like survey over a period of nine months, the parishes that scored highest for flourishing were those where parishioners were welcoming and took ownership to ensure the Church to which they wanted to belong was in fact the Church to which they belonged. These parishes had systems of accountability, where mediocrity whether it was in music, homiletics, stewardship, social action, faith formation or parish management was simply not tolerated.

Stewardship is the proper care of all that has been entrusted to one and all that is at one’s disposal. Pastors of stagnant, lack-luster parishes rarely look to laity for more than financial contributions to maintain rather than to advance mission. To ignore parishioners’ considerable command of managerial expertise and problem-solving capability when it is clear this is what the community needs and can significantly benefit from is to be a poor steward of one of the most valuable assets of all.

Today there is new life for the Catholic church in the U.S. A national movement is underway fueled by the Leadership Roundtable network of ordained, religious and lay Catholic leaders committed to fostering a culture of accountability, openness, hospitality, and greater utilization of lay competencies in service to the church. The election of Pope Francis who wants to make positive managerial reform in the church a signature of his pontificate has been a further blessing.

So to all parishioners, and in particular to all who bring their considerable talents to strengthen and invigorate our faith communities: Thank you. We are so glad you are here.