Sandra Prather says renewal and reform are still possible in the church.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Sandra Prather says renewal and reform are still possible in the church.

April 29, 2013
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

For Sandra Prather, when we talk about honouring and engaging the spirit of Vatican II we are thinking about an open Church, a welcoming Church, a Church engaged in the world.

That Church is possible, the local theologian said at the annual meeting of the archdiocesan Council of Women Religious at Providence Renewal Centre.

To illustrate her point, Prather quoted an Indian activist at the world social forum in Brazil saying, "A new world is not only possible but it's on its way. And on a quiet day I can hear her breathing."

Prather said there is a hunger to have the spirit of Vatican II be alive and present in the world.

She said Paul's words to the Thessalonians, "Do not quench the Spirit," are an invitation that everyone needs to hear.

More than 80 women religious and associates representing 31 religious congregations from across the archdiocese attended the conference.

In her talk, Prather said the reception of the teachings and the spirit of Vatican II has been ambiguous. "We have seen many things embraced," including the renewal of the liturgy, the call for social justice and the Church being present in a pastoral way in the word.

"But also there have been some of the teachings that we have not yet brought fully where the Spirit is leading us."

Pope Francis has talked about the spirit of reform of the council, implying we have not yet gone far enough in living that out, Prather said.

She quoted several Church leaders talking about the general disappointment Church members are feeling when "there seem to be a shutting down of new initiatives and there is a preaching of balance, stability and orthodoxy and there seems to be no newness being allowed."

But Prather said change, renewal and reform are possible in the Church.

Authentic reform will always be guided by the Spirit and we have to be attentive to where the Spirit is leading, Prather said. "We are not perfect and neither is the Church."

Sometimes it seems we are going backwards but that's the way it has always been. What we have to do is to accept our reality and process our pain and our anger with the institutional Church.

We must also manage our idealism. "We have such great hopes, such great expectations and then we are faced with the harsh realities and we are faced with the pain of failure and we are faced with the barriers and the blocks," Prather said.

"We can't do everything; we have a limited amount of authority. We have a limited amount of influence. But we have some (and we have to use it wisely)."

Prather also called her audience to maintain an attitude of care and vigilance. It is too easy to stifle the Spirit, to quench the Spirit in others because of our cynicism, because of our feeling that nothing will change.

"We need to maintain an attitude of caring and an attitude of vigilance that the Spirit is still out there."

Prather said reform and renewal must happen in every area of the Church's life, including the exercise of authority within the Church, the moral conduct of the ministers within the Church, and even the development of the doctrine and how express that and understand it.

To be faithful to our own calling, "we need to heed the spirit of reform and of change," Prather said. "Start anywhere no matter how big or how small. Heed the Spirit. Have an attitude of care, be attentive, don't get cynical, don't despair, the Spirit is bigger than we are."