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To Norway with Love: Toward the Kindom of God

This series of letters began with a note from Erna Beck, a new subscriber to Vatican2 from Norway. Over the following few hours it became obvious, just how deeply many of us care about the Church. I've edited out the headers (except for the date and time stamp) and e-mail addresses, but I've left in URLs (which are already on the Web). I've also corrected a few typos. We have agreed to put these letters on the Web because they represent a spontaneous outpouring which reflects our global cyber community in all its variety. It is also a living example of what being Church--being Christ for each other--is all about! The Spirit blows where S/He wills while God's Kingdom is gradually evolving into God's Kindom, as Gaurav reminds us, intentionally or accidentally, in the final letter of this cycle.

Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 00:18:48 +0100

Dear Friends !

(First : Pardon my English (!), I'm not used to writing in your language !)

I need your friendly advice. For some time now, I have been interested in the (Roman Catholic) Church for many reasons, and I have discovered many values in the Church; I love to go to mass etc. (Background information : Like most Norwegians (and Scandinavians), I was born into the (State) Lutheran Church, but I left that church when I was 17 or 18 years old, I considered myself to be an atheist. Since then I have experienced that Christ has been more interested me than I have been in him (!), and for the last years I have felt that I have been "guided" towards the Roman Catholic Church. (I feel almost that I have a "vocation" to become a Catholic.)

My problem : I am beginning to love the (Roman Catholic) Church, but sometimes I read things that make me question my wish to join the Church. An example from the news :

Pope Criticizes Women's Ordination

Thursday, October 23, 1997

VATICAN CITY -- Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England suffered an "apparent setback" because of the Protestants' decision to ordain women, Pope John Paul II told visiting British Catholic bishops Thursday.

The Roman Catholic Church argues it cannot change a fundamental tradition that stems from Christ's maleness and his desire for priests to be male. But the pope said it is the clerics' duty to explain the church's ban on the practice.

"The faithful should be helped to see that does not discriminate against women, since the priesthood is not a 'right' or a 'privilege,' but a 'vocation' that comes when God calls, John Paul said . . ."

(I do not want to become a priest, but I feel deeply with other women who have that vocation).

Friends, do you think that I should convert even if I do not agree with what the Pope said in the quotation (and with his views on a few other issues) ?

Pax et bonum, Erna. 
Erna Beck 


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 18:30:34 EST

Dear Erna,

The Catholic Church and tradition is MUCH greater than any single person, including the pope. In my opinion, the present pope is a very good emissary of Jesus of Nazareth when he speaks and acts in favor of human rights in the secular world. He is quite good at plucking the large slivers of wood in the eyes of civil society, but quite blind to the huge logjam he has in his own eyes.

Never mind him. It's the community and tradition that are the real gems of Catholicism. Keep your eye on them.

As to the question of the status of women in the Catholic Church, including ordination, be assured by history and the path this issue is on--women will be given their proper due, including ordination, in the 21st century. There has been such an immense progress in the depth and openness of Catholicism in my own lifetime, that I can predict the above, and much more, with total assurance based on the empirical data of the trajectory and rate of acceleration of progress.

So, come on in, the water is fine!

Pax tibi! Len

Religion Department, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122
Tel: 215-204-7251             215-204-7251      (off.); 477-1080 (home); FAX: 477-5928 or 204-4569
WEB: http://blue.temple.edu/~dialogue
Leonard Swidler, Prof. of Catholic Thought & Interreligious Dialogue

Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 15:51:44 +0000


Dear Erna

There will be other voices on this list that will say it much better than I but you would be so welcomed by those of us who love our Church and yet disagree or have difficulty with many things that have been part of our Church for so long. So, the call you sense in desiring to become Catholic, I would hope you follow it and become another fervent voice in how you think of Church.

I enjoyed your message and will be happy to see the different messages you will receive from the others. They are extraordinary people and I'm learning much from them.

Peace and appreciation, Fran


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 19:02:12 -0600

Dear Erna,

Keep in mind what is attracting you to our church to begin with. Probably not papal pronouncements! Our church is so much more than doctrines, rules, and prohibitions. Our church is people loving people and in that love, loving God and bringing God's love into the world. Catholics somehow know in their very bones that the world and everything in it is God's gift, is, theologically speaking, sacrament. And this "knowledge" is not new. It goes back to the very root of our faith, back to a time before the Greeks introduced the world-spirit split and St. Augustine obsessed on Original Sin. It is the Good News of God's unconditional love, a love that embraces the runaway kid who has blown all his money and ended up in a hog pen; a love that is ours simply because we are; a love that accepts us body and soul and wants us to laugh, not weep. St. Francis knew that love when he kissed the leper's hand and "'crying said to Jesus: "I love the sun, I love the stars, I love Clara and the Sisters, I love human hearts, I love all the beautiful things. Oh my Lord, I must excuse myself, for I should love you alone." Smiling, the Lord responded to him thus: "I love the sun, I love the stars, I love Clara and the Sisters, I love human hearts, I love all the beautiful things. Oh my Francis, cry no more, for I love what you love.'" It's an Italian folk song which for me captures what being Catholic means.

That's what we are about, or, maybe I should say, that's what we can be about. Now, the Catholic Church is a vast canopy, and there are Catholics of many different stripes. I bet you can find a community that's right for you.

God bless, Ingrid 


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 21:02:51 -0500

In a message dated 97-10-27 18:33:08 EST, beck@* writes:

Friends, do you think that I should convert even if I do not agree with what the Pope said in the quotation (and with his views on a few other issues) ? 
Erna, a warm welcome to you. Whatever your decision, your thoughts and questions are welcome here. And your English is excellent.

Many of us - nearly all on this particular list - don't accept what has been said about ordination of women, or of married persons. And question or reject other statements. You must understand that it is well and good to hold official statements in esteem, to probe their wisdom - but only God never fails. Humans make mistakes; humans can even know truth but fail to express it well. And humans can yield to sin, speaking from a desire to dominate, a greed for dominating power, rather than from the love and justice of God.

Jesus - God - does indeed care about us more than we can care in return. But is never farther from us than our own deepest spirits.

May the Spirit guide your quest.

Peace, Ginny


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 21:39:59 -0600


The Catholic Church is older than our present Pope. Come on in. The water might be a little chilly, when it comes to issues like the ordination of women, but chilly water can also be invigorating.

We need you! Actually, we need all the help we can get. 

Bill Bogel


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 19:47:59 +0000

This is what is so wonderful and beautiful. Each one expressing truth in one's own unique way and I am grateful for each of you on the list.

With appreciation, Fran


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 23:25:02 -0500

At 10:39 pm -0500 27/10/97, Bill wrote: 

Erna: The Catholic Church is older than our present Pope. Come on in. The water might be a little chilly, when it comes to issues like the ordination of women, but chilly water can also be invigorating. We need you! Actually, we need all the help we can get. Bill Bogel
Erna, Bill and all,

Something what strikes me from time to time on this list, is that in spite of the critical remarks and sometimes the bickering (and critical comments) regarding the faults in our Church, there are times, like now, when people rally to speak of their love and wonder about our Church.

This positive outpouring to encourage Erna to seriously consider joining, is a good measure of how it is possible to love the Church enough to also want it to be as "perfect" as possible.

I too am quite critical of some things that should and (as Len so cheerfully expounded!) WILL change in our Church!

The more I studied about our Church, the more I discovered how imperfect it is (being manned by weak humans just like any of us) -- that made me very critical at times. It can also be very depressing!

However, with time, I also discovered how rich and varied is its history and Tradition. It is in fact so rich that it can encompass the variety that we find in human beings. To me that is a mark of "truth", and also proof of the miracle of the action of the Spirit. It is a real "jewel" in spite of all the faults of its members -- that is the miracle!

The Catholic Church does not at this time possess the whole truth, however we know that in time all Christian Churches will come together and each bring their own contribution to the whole truth.

At this time, I deeply feel that the place for "me" is in the Roman Catholic Church. This is the Church in which I was born. However, it is after much questioning that I have realized in the depth of my soul that this is where "my home" is and where I must remain.

Thank you Erna for posing the question. It helps me, and I believe all of us, to realize how much we love and believe in our Church.

May the Lord light up your path so that you also may feel "at home", wherever He leads you.

God bless.

Jacques Therrien Ottawa, Ontario Canada


Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 10:33:08 +0100

Dear Friends !

I'm so grateful to you all ! By Easter next year I'll be a Catholic too, and I'll be proud to be member of the same Church as you beautiful people are !

Thanks, and God bless you all !

Pax et bonum, Erna.

Erna Beck 


Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 08:03:05 -0600

At 12:18 AM 10/28/97 +0100, you wrote:

Hello Erna,

May God bless you in your journey.

I am the Director of RCIA in my parish. Becoming Catholic is a journey. Being Catholic is a journey. It is an act of faith that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus through his apostles. For me, being Catholic is an act of faith that the Holy Spirit will ultimately triumph over anything or anybody in the Church who is not doing God's will.

I assure you that every Catholic and everybody considering becoming Catholic has questions such as yours. We find our answers through prayer. For some, that means choosing to become or remain Catholic even though we have personal issues with the Church. We somehow find ways to work through these issues or live with them. For others, it means that they cannot in good conscience join the Church.

The ultimate question is: Do you believe God is calling you to explore Catholicism?

Please continue to seek the truth, whether it leads you to the Catholic Church or not. If you are drawn to the Church, go ahead and check us out more thoroughly. I've seen many people who have major issues with Catholicism resolve them through their own prayer and the prayer of others.

Do not join the Catholic Church thinking you will always have answers to any questions of faith. You will not. Spiritual growth means struggle. I believe that to my dying day I will have doubts. We are not meant to be certain. We honor God through our struggle.

Mary Walker


Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 08:36:46 PST

Hi. I'm one of the usually silent ones. Well, the papacy abides but popes come and go like the rest of us. There is no single pope whose views and governing style are mandatory for all the rest of world history. Until around 1056 the papacy was a court of last appeal during dogmatic quarrels. Eventually, popes felt that they had to name every Catholic bishop (in communion with them) throughout the world. This is not a one-way street. I would urge you in your search to read a lot of history. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are OLD traditions. The more you know about the past, the better you understand where these branches of THE Church could go in the future. Some declare: Trent or Vatican I and nothing else. No development since then is legitimate. But you can't do this with Vatican II, either. Fortunately, Catholicism is rich with all sorts of (legitimate) traditions, not all of which are in official favor today. Take, for example, that of married priests. Those who are always harping about orthodoxy think that it is a narrow line to which you must cling. Actually, it's a fresh, vibrant river and it is in motion, there is development of teaching (dogma). Good luck on your search with the rest of us. Even popes cannot name their successors. The next is bound to have his own style and personality. Some today seem to think that there is only ONE pope and ONE kind of papacy from now to eternity. That shows they don't understand history. Jim.

James McClellan


Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 10:58:30 -0500

Dear Erna, I was only 14 years old when I came to realize that I had a "vocation" to be Roman Catholic. I had been born and raised Methodist/Presbyterian. Many things attracted that young kid to this church: the deep reverence I saw for Jesus's presence with us in the Eucharist, the love and place of honor given to Mary, the recognition given to all the saints who labored to bring God's kingdom to the world, the pure love, and worship, and gratitude given to the Trinity in the richness of liturgical celebrations. The Pope -- Pius XII, at that time -- was of very little concern to me. Ah! The simplicity of youth . . . No wonder Jesus said that we need to come to him like little children, in trust and in love!

As I grew up in the 60s and 70s, I started to pay attention when John XXIII opened up new windows into our faith. I was also starting to come to grips with what it meant to be a woman -- in the world and in the church I had embraced. And many times I wondered what had happened to that first love I'd felt when my vocation to serve God in the church, in positions of leadership, was squelched. But I never doubted that my first vocation had been to serve God in this church, come what may. To stand up for what I felt was right, to walk humbly with my God, and to work for justice and truth in the midst of blindness and rejection.

I always keep in mind that to be a Christian, and especially a Roman Catholic Christian is very simple. LOVE God above all else; LOVE neighbor as we love ourselves; GIVE all we can to the poor and needy; FOLLOW Jesus in simplicity of trust and faith, LIVE a Gospel life. All the rest is added baggage that we may or may not want to burden ourselves with, but that we definitely should never try to burden our brothers and sisters with.

With this cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, men and women of all races and nations, we welcome you to this Church which, far from being an unspotted Bride, needs, especially at this time in its history, all her children to rally around her with clear and open minds, to walk together in freedom into this new millennium God is bringing us to.

May God's Spirit guide you, Erna, into God's perfect will for your life. 

Pax et Bonum!



Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 11:41:07 -0500

I want to encourage Erna in her quest for truth (or, even "Truth") and to encourage her in her faith-journey. What has been said, especially so eloquently by Ingrid, is very important. Let me add my perspective as well.

I love the Church. I love it for Her Sacramentality, especially in the Eucharist, and in Her rootedness and acceptance of things that are seen and those which are unseen. In other words, the Church accepts the goodness of all created matter and spirit. I love the fellowship, the brotherhood and sisterhood of the people. I love the understanding way in which people strive to make sense out of those things which seem so contradictory at times. But I love most of all that the Church seeks to be intimate with Jesus and through Him to know and love the Triune God.

God is real to me, and I thank the Church for conveying that, and I thank my sainted mother who made a journey of faith in 1929 to become a Catholic and to let us know that Methodists (what she was raised in), and Episcopalians or Baptists or Lutherans . . . were all within God's grace. She conveyed truth and honesty and love. She loved gathering around the Table of the Lord as a Meal and a Sacrifice. She felt that in these moments she was participating in Redemption itself and that her life and calling was to live it in her daily life.

But it was all done within the community of the Catholic faith.

Yes, the Pope says things and does things which are perhaps mistaken, and some which are so right on to the truth of things, that I feel that he is a brother on a journey as well.

So, to Erna . . . welcome to the journey in a Church that touches our being (senses and spirit).

Don Muench


Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 14:54:55 -0500

Dear Erna:

In a few months, when Cardinal Martini is elected Pope William the First, I will rejoice to once again join the Catholics around the eucharistic table since he will instantly make anges (if he consults me): in church I'll find both men and women leading the eucharistic memorial, sometimes together; I'll hear Rory Cooney music there and join in the dancing; we'll be remembering the precious Messiah who, purely human, nonetheless incarnates the Divine Mystery in all its compassion, inclusivity and preferential love of the oppressed; from that church's ministers (who are everyone) I'll celebrate the Sacraments of Jesus-in-us-all, forgiveness and being forgiven, water to wash away illusions, the oil of gladness when I'm ill, the holy ecstasy of God's presence in sexual union; I'll hear no more of domination in the name of God and plenty of sisterly and motherly caring; no one will be allowed to talk unless they are elected to somehow, and no gets a ring kissed or wears a big hat unless its something we all love to have happen; no one speaks of sexuality who knows nothing about it, and we entrust to women all decisions about pregnancy; the real estate will be given back to the people who paid for it; love, especially innocent sexual love, will be encouraged and reverenced regardless of gender; the single life will be as honored as the married life, and divorce will sometimes be a part of that; simplicity of lifestyle and wealth will be fundamental, and the Vatican will give its museum to the United Nations; small faith communities will be considered fully recognized ecclesiolas along with those sometimes called "protestant"; and a new church council (Geneva One) will be announced, stressing the distress of Mother Earth and our call to save her at all costs. Meet me in Geneva. 

Bill Cleary


Date: 97-10-28 13:17:47 EST

Dear Erna: BY ALL MEANS join the Roman Catholic Church. WE are anxious to welcome you. We're the most enormous family on earth, the Creed that binds us together will soon become your greatest source of pride and confidence in your own self decision making, and your friend the Holy Spirit will never let you down.

God Bless you, lucky lady.

John Leicht


Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 01:02:10 -0500

What beautiful responses to Erna's original question! Once again I feel so lucky and glad to be part of an online-community such as Vatican2!

Why am I part of the Church? What can I say but that I love it! I find Catholicism to be liberating and life-giving. It is through the Church that I first encountered the wonderful all-loving God of the Gospels, and continue to do so. A God madly and passionately in love with God's creation. A God that lurks in every atom and fibre (and pixel!), in the joys and highs and terrors and sorrows and muck of life, in the least expected, darkest corners! A God that is with us, through it all!

I found Catholicism to be life-giving quite really and literally as well. Growing up when I discovered, with increasing terror, my "deviant" sexuality, in a culture that had no word for it, it was the image of Jesus, crucified, his arms outstretched in eternal embrace and his Mother, cradling her child at her breast, fiercely protective -- it was these images that gave me hope and strength and courage, and kept me from the brink of self-destruction and suicide.

How else could I respond to God's amazing awesome love, but to join the Church and follow the great commandment to love self and neighbour and to witness to this great love of God?

Certainly, there is much in the institution that is a very direct counter-witness to the kindom ... but I trust and believe that God's Spirit is with the Church as a whole (and certainly, very much in operation outside the Church as well!). As to the Pope, I like to paraphrase the Rabbi's blessing for the Tsar in "Fiddler on the Roof". "May God bless and keep the Pope ... far away from us!" :-)

Welcome, Erna ...



Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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Last revised 30 October 1997
Copyright © 1997 Ingrid Shafer
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