I hadn’t thought of that exchange with my mom in years – until this past Good Friday, when Bill and I, driving home from Holy Hill’s Stations of the Cross, somehow wandered into a conversation about requirements we’d make for the church if we were pope. Interestingly, in our conversation, we didn’t remove any of the current requirements. We added more. I’m not sure why were able to have an uninterrupted 20-minute conversation in the car with all the kids, but maybe they were tired from all the walking uphill for the Stations. Or maybe they were listening and thinking that since we make up so many rules for them (no dessert if you don’t finish those vegetables), we could probably make up rules for the church, too. In any case, here’s what we came up with:
A required yearly, overnight retreat for all Catholics 16 and over (Annemarie): I love retreats. I wish someone would make me go on one. We have Sunday obligation and holy days of obligation, but the obligation is never more than an hour or so. The retreats of my high school and college years were some of the most spiritual weekends of my life, and I know many other people who feel the same.
Once we hit full adulthood, however, and actually have something to retreat from, the retreats stop for many of us. Retreats are an opportunity to hit the pause button and reflect on where God may be calling us. I’ve learned that I rarely hit pause for myself. Someone needs to hit it for me. I need a retreat mandate.
A requirement that churches must integrate sustainability into all aspects of their buildings, grounds and parishes (Bill): Pope Bill would require solar panels on church roofs, geothermal wells on their premises and native plantings in the gardens. He would also require all healthy parishioners to walk or bike to church rather than drive.
“Every parish should be a neighborhood leader in terms of sustainability,” he said. “The parish should set an example to the surrounding community about what taking care of God’s creation looks like.”
A requirement to lean harder on reconciliation (Annemarie): Reconciliation may have gotten a scary and bad rap when it was called confession and took place in a dark closet with a sliding door. Going to reconciliation should be like taking vitamins, not medicine. Call it Reconciliation Sunday once a month and offer it right before or after Mass, along with coffee and donuts while you wait. Tell parishioners not to worry about listing every single, little sin. Choose your main one and call it a day – stay focused on what is giving you grief right now.
Make going to reconciliation convenient by tying it to Sunday Mass, which is each church’s most popular hour of the week. Gas stations have the right idea by selling the optional food and beverages with the required gas. Offer the optional sacrament (reconciliation) with the required one (Eucharist).
A pilgrimage once every five years (Bill): Your choice – Rome, the Holy Land, a Marian apparition site or a week-long mission trip to serve in an impoverished area. I noted to Bill that since our family drives to church, doesn’t go on yearly retreats and has never gone as a family to any of his pilgrimage sites, we would not be meeting the requirements of being Catholic in the very church of which we were the theoretical co-popes.
This didn’t seem to bother Bill, who went on to make up a requirement for each suburban Catholic to switch homes with a central city resident for Lent. When I challenged him on this one, he threatened to ex-communicate me.
Our conversation oscillated from the practical to pie-in-the-sky idealism. We agreed that some of our comfort level with making more rules came partly from living in a neighborhood with many Orthodox Jews. Our Jewish neighbors’ commitment to a 24-hour Sabbath, keeping kosher and walking to temple in all kinds of weather is a witness to us about religious commitment that requires much more than an hour a week.
We agreed also that our rules were less about what we expected from the leadership of our church, and more about what we expected from ourselves, in terms of deepening our own faith response. It was an admission that when a law or rule surrounds something – be it going to Mass, keeping the speed limit or getting to work on time – we are more likely to do it.
Bill and I have no illusions that we’ll be moving from Glendale to Vatican City. Our names will remain Bill and Annemarie which, by the way, I like much more than Chrissy, now that I’m grown. Any change in careers that we make over our lifetime will not be announced with white smoke. But the beautiful thing about the Catholic Church is that every change that Bill and I came up with on our drive home is compatible with the rules that are already here.
Our ideas are not new or revolutionary; each one has its basis in the doctrines and teachings already established. We belong to a church that values retreats, stewardship of the earth, sacraments, pilgrimages, service and a preferential option for the poor. We belong to a church that trusts its people to define what it looks like to live these teachings and doctrine.
We belong to a church that says, pope or not, live your faith as authentically and fully as possible. We belong to a church that invites us to lead – even without that puff of white smoke.
(Scobey-Polacheck, her husband, Bill, and their children belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee, and St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay. Scobey-Polacheck welcomes dialog regarding her column. Email her at email@example.com.)