Am I toxic and/or part of a toxic religion?

Blog by Sr. Cathy Arnold, OP

Recently I was in Denver for the Dominican Sisters of Peace West Mission Group meeting.  Sisters Pat Dual, June Fitzgerald and I presented a session on intercultural living to our Sisters there.  Since we had an extra day on Sunday, Pat and I went with Sister Adeline for a drive in the mountains where we also stopped to eat at a locally owned restaurant.  As we entered the restaurant, the owner came over to greet us at our table, curious to know who we were since the restaurant is off the beaten path and his most frequent customers were likely the folks in the area plus motorcycle riders out for a Sunday ride.  When Pat told him that we were Catholic Sisters, he said, “I am non-religious, but I try to watch people, see what they need and treat them well. “  He said again, “I try to treat people well.  The only problem I have is with toxic religions which damage people.”  We talked a little more with him and then as he left our table, he asked the waitress to give us soup and salad on the house.

His words stayed with me.  Am I toxic in my zeal to preach the living and loving God?  Do I offer to others the love, mercy, and forgiveness which I hope to receive from God and from others?  Am I part of a religion which is toxic to certain groups of people, divorced and remarried Catholics, women, LGBTQ+, Blacks, Muslims, those economically challenged?  Some of our teachings ostracize people, some of our practices keep people from sharing their gifts and talents to their full potential, some of our practices keep people at a distance because of how they look, and sometimes, issues like racism are not treated with the urgency required at this time.

And while, as a religious group Catholic Christians are some of the most generous, work consistently for justice, work to break down walls, and help to provide economic opportunities for those living in poverty, we have to continue to grow in our understanding of people who are different from ourselves and what we have always known and believed.  We are challenged to listen anew to the many different needs of the many different people in our world so that we are not toxic to anyone in our teachings and practices.

Earlier this week on Tuesday, we heard the story of the martyrdom of Stephen in our liturgy.  Stephen proclaimed Jesus as the Son of Man who was seated at the right hand of God.  Stephen, like the One he followed, died for his proclamation and beliefs.  The people covered their ears and rushed upon him to throw him out of the city and to stone him.  How often do I close my ears and try to shut out what is challenging to my beliefs, practices, and values?  How open am I to hear the new, to look for the true bread that gives life to the world, true bread which might take the form of a restaurant owner in the Rockies?

We are reminded in our Easter season readings that Jesus is our Bread of Life.  In Jesus we will never hunger or thirst, but will be given what we need to live in love.  As we become bread of life with Christ and with each other – willing to be blessed and broken—may we, too, become true bread for the life of the world.  May the Holy Spirit lead and guide us.

If you are interested in pondering questions related to mission, service, prayer, and justice, you might want to check out the opportunity “Pray, Serve, Reflect” from May 18-21, 2017 in Columbus, Ohio with our vocations team.  Click here for more information and to register.

Click here for a few photos of the Rocky foothills close to Denver!

Posted in God Calling?

6 responses to “Am I toxic and/or part of a toxic religion?

  1. Why don’t we do what Jesus did, welcome the other. If God can accept me and my sins, then I can accept the other person not like me. How bout that now?

  2. Thanks, Cathy! I needed to hear and reflect on your message. I love the mountains, too!

  3. Cathy – thank you for the reflection. May we truly follow Christ’s example of acceptance of others and openness to our differences.

  4. Thank you Cathy for this honest, forthright reflection – sadly, many people feel the way the restaurant owner does about religion – he certainly acted with gospel values in his generosity. It has been my experience that the Dominican Sisters witness in a way that is nourishing not toxic!

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