Simply Spirit

Christine Schenk's column is a regular feature of National Catholic Reporter.

Francis: A prophet who gets things done

Last Saturday I returned from visiting friends in Philadelphia where city officials just announced massive new security measures for Pope Francis' late September visit. A new fence is being constructed that will surround large swaths of central city venues where the Pope will appear. No automobiles are permitted, causing major inconvenience to residents and restaurant workers alike. Public transit tickets are only available by lottery and attendees are being warned to expect long walks and electronic screenings. All city schools and government offices will be closed.

Celebrating a contemporary 'mother of the church'

Commentary - I am among those 60-something nuns blessed to accompany our 80-something sisters as they gently weave the final golden threads into the rich tapestries of their lives. Today, I honor one of my personal "sheros," Notre Dame Sr. Mary Louise Trivison, whose wake service and funeral were celebrated in Chardon, Ohio, last week. I knew Mary Lou because she is the sister of late FutureChurch co-founder Fr. Louis J. Trivison (aka "Father Louie").

Moral leadership is essential in the police brutality quagmire

It is a confusing, bittersweet time for my city. On May 26, Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson and the U.S. Justice Department announced a sweeping agreement to reform the Cleveland Police Department. That evening, our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Division basketball championship. The next morning's Cleveland Plain Dealer carried the oddest front page I have seen in 37 years of living here. Predictably, in this crazy-for-sports-town, the Cavs had the biggest headline: ON TO THE FINALS! Directly beneath, in smaller type, I read: DEAL SEEKS SWEEPING REFORMS.

For U.S. sisters, ordinary Catholics made a way where there was no way

I'm so thankful for the mid-April resolution of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's mandate against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Alongside December's positive apostolic visitation report, this is a second win-win for U.S. sisters and for Pope Francis, who successfully de-escalated the troubling (not to say scandalous) situation he inherited.

Are things looking up for women in the church?

A plethora of conferences about women have popped up all over Rome in the last three months. The Vatican's former hard-line freeze on discussing women's roles may at last be thawing out. The Pontifical Council for Culture's controversial February event, "Women's Cultures: Equality and Difference," was the first to break the ice. A month later, Voices of Faith hosted a searingly honest discussion by female theologians and activists from inside Vatican walls.

In India, a truly outstanding road map for creating gender equality

In my March 12 column, I promised to revisit the creative gender policy approved by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI). This 2010 document has the ambitious goal of integrating gender justice into societal structures at every level of the Indian church, from the parish to the bishops' conference itself. An important objective is "to stimulate reflection in the Church on its mission to form a discipleship of equals," with "the ultimate goal [being] to achieve gender equality."

'It was the women who stayed'

The  feast of the Annunciation marks the beginning of Jesus' earthly sojourn. On Palm Sunday, we commence a weeklong journey remembering Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. And truly, as Sr. Helen Brancato's painting (above) eloquently reminds us, "it was the women who stayed." Yet Jesus' female disciples are all but invisible to most Christians. Often no more painfully so than during Holy Week, when preachers commonly emphasize that Jesus was "abandoned by everyone." Everyone, that is, but the women, whose presence must have meant a great deal to Jesus, if to no one else.

At-home retreat brings Scripture, spirituality to seniors

Because I had two really great great-aunts, I always enjoyed working with "the elderly" in my nursing career and thereafter. I admired their kindly wisdom and secretly envied such steady patience in the face of adversity. So I was intrigued to learn about a retired nurse's creative at-home spiritual companioning outreach to seniors.

Will science prove there is a heaven?

I recently sat with a good friend as she received yet another round of chemo for reoccurring cancer. Our visit was a tender time of connecting and conversing about what really matters. My friend, a longtime spiritual seeker in the Catholic tradition, confessed that she doesn't really know for sure whether there is an afterlife. The notion that her body's molecules will melt into the "great-all" of the universe isn't so very attractive. This idea seems to be an extant theme in contemporary scientific-cosmological explanations about where we've come from and where we are going. From the perspective of pure biology, it seems quite correct.