Dan Haley recently described a New World article in which Cardinal George chastised those who would “disrupt the peace” of faithful Catholics by using political tactics [Ascension walks afoul of Catholic establishment, Nov. 3]. Cardinal George explained that sacraments are gifts, not rights. The Cardinal quoted the gospel of Luke in explaining that those who do not fully accept Christ’s gifts thereby reject him. He ended his column by implying that those who claim they are Catholic yet question some of the church’s teachings lack “personal integrity.”

The article seemed to be written, at least in part, in order to chastise Oak Park’s Father Larry McNally, who had supported his own parishioners in voicing their genuine concerns. I would like to reply to the Cardinal with an open heart. I am a 59-year old practicing Catholic. My husband and I attend weekly Mass. Together, we have 38 years of Catholic education. Our four children chose to be confirmed.

I loved the fact that the Cardinal reminded us that everything we have is a gift. When we receive gifts, we do need to accept unreservedly with a generous spirit and grateful heart. Since I live in a diverse community, I often find myself trying to explain why I am a religious person. The Cardinal’s reminder that everything is a gift is a wonderful description of faith. Part of the reason I practice my religion is that it helps me see everything in my life as a gift. Gathering weekly with others and repeating the spiritual, mental and psychological exercise of dwelling in gratitude for each of life’s moments changes individuals and groups over time, as demonstrated in many traditions.

Two of the greatest gifts we have are the gifts of intelligence and education. Whole-hearted acceptance of these gifts requires that we use them. Many respected Catholic and other Christian scholars have studied scripture and church history and asked questions about the women of the gospels who were among Christ’s most faithful disciples, and the eight women mentioned in the Epistles and Acts of the Apostles as church leaders.

The Cardinal quoted church catechism and scripture. Catechism is not infallible and unchangeable. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, leaders have changed canon law, liturgical law, catechism and our understanding of scripture. I would ask the Cardinal how he understands the gifts of the women we find in St. Paul’s Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. How does he understand texts describing women as hosting house churches? Why does he think that Priscilla is mentioned before her husband is named? How does he understand the role of Phoebe as deacon? What did the apostle Junia do in Rome? Why does the catechism knowingly avoid evidence of gifted women in ministry?

This year, the Catholic Church gave hope to the laity by beatifying England’s John Cardinal Newman, who insisted that the Spirit is expressed in the consensus of the faithful and maintained that the laity may preserve important truths even when bishops fail. Mother McKillop, named this year as Australia’s first saint, was excommunicated by Bishop Laurence Sheil for insisting that he investigate abuse by a local priest. Like many faithful dissenters who have gone before them, these two holy people differed with bishops of their time.

I would also ask Cardinal George why, as the church recognizes Newman and McKillop, he thinks that silencing the voices of the faithful and questioning their integrity is a pastoral approach to his flock.

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