Is the Church an Image of Compassion and Mercy?May 13th, 2013
Recently I had the opportunity to meet a courageous and good woman and mom. A single parent of 4 children, she desires to raise her children to be adults with good morals, with an education to be productive citizens and independent, and she asks the Church to help her. I shared with her the statics that show “faith is good for kids.” Studies show that families, who pray together in the home, attend Church services together and have relationships with other members of their Church community usually become adults with faith. These adults with faith generally have a higher level of education, a higher level of income and a healthier state of mind than those young adults who do not have faith.
I said, “It sounds like you are on the right track seeking membership in the Church for your children.”
I asked, “What about you?”
She looked at me as said, “I am not worthy.”
My immediate response was, “You are worthy!”
Her response was, “You do not know what I have done.”
I said, “I do not care. You are here today. There is forgiveness in the Church.”
She began to sob. My heart ached with her. We continued our conversation and ended with a commitment from her to participate with her children in the Church’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process. Through this process, she will gain an understanding of the Church’s mercy and love, tools to live the example of Christ mercy and love in her family and in the world. The process will invite all 5 members of the family to join the Church, celebrating the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. She will be invited to join a community of believers that will help her and her children live the Christian life.
After she left, I was overwhelmed with emotion and humbled by the opportunity to offer this young mom hope. I was deeply saddened that she felt she was not good enough to belong to the Catholic Church. What is wrong with the image our Church projects if people feel they are not good enough to belong? We have a lot of work to do in welcoming the broken-hearted! I have much work to do to heal relationships one person and one family at a time. I am so grateful for this powerful conversation.Read More
1/168th: Another Way of Looking at Sunday MassMay 11th, 2013
When we think of our duty to worship God on Sundays, we probably consider the time we are “giving” to Him. Sunday Mass takes on average about an hour – some places less, some places more – or approximately 1/168th of our week.
Even so, this minimum requirement of the Church to worship God each Sunday is not so minimal to some (we know that less than 25% of baptized Catholics in the U.S. attend Mass every week). And while it is true that many make sacrifices to attend Mass in the midst of the busyness of life, I suspect that more would go to Mass to fulfill their obligation if they thought of that hour as something that was already His.
I was struck by the words of Fr. Leo Trese in his book, The Faith Explained:
All of our times belongs to God – as we ourselves belong to God. But God and his Church are very generous with us. They give us for our own use six days out of every seven – a total of 144 hours in which to work and recreate and sleep.
And even on Sundays, the Church asks minimally for only one hour to be set aside for worship, obliging us “to reserve for God’s very own only one hour out of the weekly 168 hours which He has given us.”
Do we view Sunday Mass as “giving” God an hour each week? Or, do we recognize that all time is a gift from Him? – and our Creator and Redeemer in justice deserves our singular attention at least one of the 168 hours he gives us each week of our lives.Read More
Messy BeautyApril 24th, 2013
I discovered something about myself this week. I learned that I have no problems with hearing that my closets are a wreck (they are!) and my filing system is ridiculously inept (it is). But, I don’t react with such calm when told my gardens are messy….
Filing systems and even closets are at least in large part associated primarily with efficiency. Can you find your necessary paperwork or shoes easily? In contrast, although we do want a garden to be productive – to produce a reasonable amount of fruit or flowers or vegetables, hopefully we all realize that it is about more than efficiency and productivity. In large part a garden exists simply to be …. a source of comfort, joy, and yes, beauty.
Consider God’s Garden – our regional food pantry garden. For me, so focused on living in harmony of the earth, it is essential that an attractive, successful garden be cared for organically. This means that the use of broad spectrum insecticides and herbicides isn’t going to happen. Straight, tilled rows and fumigated plants will be minimal, mulch at a max. Fertilizer is natural – manure and compost. A diversity of plants, including cover crops, will companion each other, attracting beneficial insects and birds. The intermingled colors and textures are splendid, but a more fundamental beauty is implicit in this working harmony.
God’s Garden also includes flowers – flowers that feed the soul and the spirit, if not the belly. Flowers attract wanderers – bees and birds AND people. They encourage us to stop, reflect and be grateful. Flowers occasion prayer.
And yes, gardens are a place of sacrifice also! It takes sweat and effort and sometimes sore muscles to create this place of splendor. In the case of God’s Garden, the sacrificial giving of hours for those less fortunate is substantial. Yet in that sacrifice is beauty of a very special kind.
The great twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in Love Alone is Credible, wrote extensively about beauty. Beauty, he claimed, is what draws us to God. Beauty IS God. The sacrificial giving of Jesus through the Incarnation, therefore, is lovely. Even more beautiful was Jesus’ death on the cross. We look at the crucifixion scene, and most likely don’t think of beauty. And yet, there, in that messy place of blood and tears and aggression and loss, we find the ultimate beauty, the ultimate love.
In God’s Garden especially at the end of the summer, sometimes the weeds get ahead of us. The sunflowers droop, the tomatoes die. But there, in the sacrificial messy giving of both plants and people, beauty thrives. God’s creation thrives. God’s kingdom lives.
So, if anyone wants to call that garden messy, realize it is a sacred, messy beauty. An essential, messy beauty, focused on God’s work, not our own. Can we dare to believe in, to live with that kind of beauty?
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it.
Sue is founder and co-director of God’s Garden of Eatin’, a regional community food pantry garden, located at St. Paul Parish, Englewood.Read More
Homophobia?April 10th, 2013
Recently, in a Midwestern Catholic High School, two young boys did what young boys too often do. They belittled and demeaned another one of the classmates with cruel words. He was skinny, his voice cracked, and his gradual pubescent development gave him qualities that struck them as effeminate. So they made fun of him. Though he never heard the awful things they said behind his back (Thank God), it in no way excuses the appalling quality of their actions. Primary among their harsh comments was the suggestion that this third boy was gay.
They quietly laughed and ridiculed him for over five minutes, thinking no harm could come from their mutual derision of another human being. Then, as though a psychological key had been turned, boy number one said, “Yeah, he’s really gay… not that there is anything wrong with being gay, of course.”
Boy number two objected. “Well, yes there is. Our faith teaches men and women were created for union with each other.”
Boy number one retorted, “Oh, you are just homophobe!”
I am certain that I don’t need to clarify the absurdity of both of these boys’ actions, because they are no doubt already evident to you. I would, however, like to make a few observations from them, because I think they speak to the double edged struggle the Catholic Church is facing today on an albeit complicated issue.
Many Americans behave with an attitude that is degrading towards the personal dignity of individuals who struggle with homosexual inclinations. This prejudice is present across geographical, demographical, ethnic, and generational lines. It is unacceptable. And frankly, it muddies the waters regarding rights and fairness. Because of this attitude, homosexuals are correct when they stand up and say that they are suffering injustice. It is gravely unfortunate, however, that so many people see the only solution to this injustice in overturning the institutions of marriage and family upon which all of civilization has been built since the beginning of time.
Society is like a family that wants to axe down the walls of its own home because it has found some mice inside. This is the double edged struggle that the Church faces. At one and the same time, we need to be chasing down the mice of prejudice while holding back the axe from the walls of our home: traditional marriage. If we ignore the mice, they will become an infestation. If we ignore the axe, society is certain to crumble without its most fundamental institution.
Fortunately, the Church is perfectly capable of engaging in this two-fold struggle if only its members are only willing to be courageous. None of us can focus solely on the axe or solely on the mice. In order to be authentic and effective, it is essential that we ground ourselves in Christ’s entire cohesive teaching about human dignity and human sexuality. We all need to familiarize ourselves with the teaching of the catechism 2357-2359. We need to reach out with charity through programs like Courage and Encourage. If we are experiencing homosexuality on a daily basis, we should study documents like Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination and Always Our Children.
Second, we need to better a job explaining the case to other people of good will regarding why “gay marriage” is detrimental to children, families, and society as a whole. We need to patiently and charitably explain how this concern has nothing to do with homophobia. There is some benefit in reviewing the statistical data and serious marriage scholarship that is out there. More compelling still, we can affirm the testimony of the homosexuals themselves who oppose “gay marriage.” Lastly, we need to be unabashed about communicating both of these messages to the other people in our lives.
This practice of both opposing “gay marriage” and opposing “prejudice against homosexuals” does not divide or undermine the Church’s message. On the contrary, her authenticity gives her a credibility that allows her to be more clearly understood by all people of good will. It is also the only proper response to the question, “Is the church suffering from homophobia?” Would it be easier to just ignore the issue and pretend it is not even there? Absolutely, but if we do, either the mice or the axe is going to take society down.
And as for our Midwestern Catholic high school boys who started us out… I think they both need a good scolding for acting like bullies. Then, they need some formal instruction on the Church’s teaching of the Theology of the Body.
Photo credit: Images from the Public DomainRead More
Your MISSION….. Go!March 18th, 2013
For Lent this year our pastoral region created a new form of parish mission. It was in large part the result (or the fault, depending on your viewpoint!) of the diocesan Christ at the Center conference held early last October. Rather than a traditional preaching mission, we presented a participatory, organic, intergenerational and regional event spread across four Sunday evenings, focusing on the Stations of the Cross, and utilizing the talents of our parishes. Each evening involved prayer, music, scripture, dramatization, presentations, reflection and small group sharing – as well as supper. Those planning recognized that the time for passive reception of the Good News is past. A mission, we determined, should not be simply entertaining or thought-provoking. It is, like the Eucharist itself, meant to inspire, to transform, to evangelize and to be a catalyst for the evangelization of others who did not attend.
Although the overwhelming later consensus was that the evening was successful, there were a few sticky moments. Yep, it was discouraging to hear the comments, when reflection booklets and pens were placed in the hands of attendees, of What?! We have to write?” “Is this school?” And when the prayer leader urged attendees to share some of their reflections with those sitting around them, and the response was …. dead silence…. I know I wasn’t the only one concerned!
Later we heard from a few attendees the oft repeated argument that their faith is “private,” and that they aren’t comfortable sharing. Well…I get this. At some level your faith IS private, as are all relationships. As Catholics we SHOULD have a personal relationship with God. However, Catholicism is not at its heart a private faith. After Jesus’ death the disciples didn’t go off on their own with their private recollections. Instead, they gathered together, told stories, and communally lived the life he taught them to live.
Yes, many over the age of forty grew up only with that “private faith.” We didn’t talk about our Catholicism – we just lived it! Numerous historical and political reasons exist for this. But as our Popes and bishops have repeatedly stated in documents like The New Evangelization, if we do not share our faith, if we do not speak of it, in fifty years or less we won’t have a Catholic Church. The task of sharing does not lie just with our few remaining priests, or even with lay leaders. Is there not an irony in that so many “good Catholics” who attend Mass faithfully are also terrified to use the word “God” in a sentence of their own creation?
Sure, we all prefer to remain in our comfort zone. But comfort without growth is death, and our God is the God of life. Jesus came to push us toward growth, to shake us up, to move us on out, to send us to the rest of the world – not just to sit on our rear ends.
Remember, the root word for both “mission” and “Mass” means “sent.” Get moving! Go!Read More
Prayer for Pope FrancisMarch 14th, 2013
make Pope Francis
an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let him sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that he may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that he receives; it is in pardoning that he is pardoned; and it is in dying that he is born to eternal life.
Originally Posted on the With Open Doors BlogRead More
Exorcisms and “Extra Stuff” this LentMarch 10th, 2013
You may have noticed some “extra stuff” at Mass this Lent. Rest assured there will be more “extra stuff” this Sunday as well. While some may still hear the regular Cycle C Readings this Sunday, many (if not most) will notice that the Readings will come from Cycle A. Fr. Satish has written a wonderful reflection for the Cycle A Gospel Reading about the “Man Born Blind” (John 9: 1-41). Many of you will also have the privilege to experience the 2nd RCIA Scrutiny which is based on the story of the Man Born Blind. Colleen Vermeulen gives a wonderful explanation of the RCIA Scrutinies over at www.newevangelizers.com. Here she explains what some of this “extra stuff” really is:
Contrary to popular Hollywood portrayals, the season of exorcisms isn’t centered on Halloween—it’s right now, happening at a parish near you, this Lent.
Even though I grew up going to Mass every Sunday, by the time I was in high school I still had no idea what was going on up there near the altar with all this “extra stuff” during Lent. All I knew was that it had something to do with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and it seemed to make Mass last longer (something people liked to complain about).
But, oh was I missing out! These extra prayers and fuss were all part of the period of purification and enlightenment for the elect—those preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil.
This period includes scrutinies, solemnly celebrated on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies, which include the rite of exorcism, are designed to aid in uncovering, and then healing, “all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect,” and at the same time strengthen and promote “all that is upright, strong, and good,” deepening the commitment of the elect to “hold fast to Christ and carry out their decision to love God above all” (RCIA, no. 141).
I know what you’re thinking (or at least what the high-school version of me would have been thinking), “That’s nice for the elect,” but what about me?
Read the rest of the article to find out exactly how the RCIA Scrutinies apply to you!
Picture Attribution/ConvictedRead More
Was Blind, But Now I SeeMarch 10th, 2013
Based on the Gospel Reading for the 2nd Scrutiny.
I remember this as clearly as the day I first saw light – my parents had taken me to a wise man in my village. I was so nervous. Even my parents were afraid. His voice was gruff. He did not even ask my name. He seemed distant. I could feel the coldness of his hands… and his heart. He touched my eyes and mumbled. His touch felt like dry wood. “It a punishment for sin,” he said. “But we are good people,” my parents protested. “We follow the law and the prophets.” “Go your way, now!” he said, dismissing us. “God does not do this to righteous people. If you did not sin then your ancestors probably did. Don’t waste your time over this blind boy. Sit him down in the market place to beg. May be someone will have mercy on him. And remember to make him look more miserable than he is. He will have a better chance.”
Now you know why I said that I remember that day as clearly as the day I first saw light. The man’s words hit me like a death sentence. They call him the wise guy but I know in my heart that he was wrong. He only saw my eyes but did not look into it. He did not see my heart. “It is a punishment for sin,” he had said. That is what dumb people say when they cannot explain things.
I have no idea what my parents face looked like when the sentence was passed. I wish I could have. I felt my mother’s arms pull me to herself. I felt my back touch her comforting body. I know she hurt. She was trembling. It was as if she did not want to surrender me to fate. But I also sensed her absolute helplessness. I could sense it as her grip loosened.
Not a word was spoken on the way back home. I felt my mother’s hands. I think was quietly crying. “We start tomorrow,” I heard my father say. “No! We cannot do that,” my mother fought back. But I felt her voice waver. I knew that starting tomorrow I would be a beggar.
Hmmm… The life of a beggar! Let me tell you what that is like. You get dropped at the market place in the morning. And then you sit there all day yelling at the top of your voice till someone picks you in the evening. There are other people yelling too, you see. There are the lame, the mute, the deaf, all competing for the same leftover coins. It is pure luck. No one gives you money because they care. They do it because it will fulfill their own righteousness. The wise man was right in one thing. The more miserable you look the better chances you have. And here is something I do not understand. Why cannot they bend down and put the coin into my bowl? Most of the times, the coin bounces off the then I have frantically find it – that is if the lame guy who can see has not picked it before me. I dislike that guy. I think he sits next to me so that he can get my coins.
Here is the bright side of my work. I get to hear all the local gossip. People think that because I am blind, I cannot hear. You should hear the ‘big guys’ talk. They talk about how they get seats of honor at public functions and how they fast and pray and help other people. There is also a man they talk about often. His name is Jesus. The ‘big guys’ make fun of him. They say he blasphemes. They ridicule him because he claims that he is the son of God. Hey! I have an idea, if he really wants to prove that he is the son of God he could come and give me my sight. Then everybody will believe in him.
Let me tell you who I like. Her name is Maggie. She is the local prostitute. I hear them say nasty things about her too. But I know she is kind. She likes me, I think. She gets me an occasional pastry. I am sure she steals them from the rich guy’s house after they are drunk and asleep. She smells good. If I ever get my sight, I would marry her. “Keep dreaming.” I say to myself. Dreams are all I’ve got.
See, I dream that one day someone will come by, take me by my hand, and make me see. Hey! I hear people coming this way! I’ve got to get some attention before the other guys do. “Help me! Help me! I am blind from my birth, Help me! They are coming this way. I am going to strike it rich today. I hear them talk. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” “I can answer that!” I said to them. “When I was a kid my parents took me to this wise man who told me that my ancestors may have sinned. I thought that he was wrong.” And then I heard a voice that was different from all the other voices that I had ever heard. It said, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” See, I knew I was right! “Hey! Who are you? I like you. You must a prophet. Tell them. Tell them that I have not done anything wrong.”
And then for the first time in all my begging history someone did not throw a coin at me. Hands that did not feel like dry wood lifted me up to my feet. I felt his hands. They were moist… like my mother’s hands after the wise man had told her to send me begging. I think he was crying. I hear someone spitting. “You are not spitting at me are you?” And then I felt his hands over my eyes. He was putting something over my eyes. Gosh! It smells like spit… and dirt “Did you just eat fish?” It smells fishy. He asked me to go the pool of Siloam, wash my eyes and come back. I wanted to rush to the pool. If nothing else I needed to get this fishy smelling dirt off my face. Fortunately, Maggie was around. She took me to the pool and helped me wash up. And then… I could not believe my eyes! The world opened itself to me! Is this a dream? I rubbed my eyes and looked at Maggie. Gosh, she was beautiful. “Maggie, I can see!” I could not believe it. I sunk into her arms and wept. I could not control myself. I am glad Maggie was there.
I need to go back to him. He asked me to. I saw the ‘big guys’ on the way back. “What’s up?” I said. They did not like the new bounce in my steps. “Gosh, they look as weird as they sound,” I said to myself. I got back to the place where I used to beg and this man was still waiting there. I asked his name. “Jesus of Nazareth,” he said. “I have heard about you. They say you are crazy because you claim you are the son of God. Look what you did to me! Now they should believe, right? I’ve got to go and tell my parents. Wait till my mother sees me. “Maggie, will you go with me? I want my parents to meet you.”
“Where are you going, you blind idiot!” I heard some people say, “Don’t call me idiot! I was blind but I was not an idiot. But now I am not blind anymore and I am not an idiot. I know what you guys do to Maggie.” “You can explain that to the big guys. Come with us.” The ‘big guys’ said, “Is this a joke? How can you now see? “Jesus did it for me. He is a good man. If he gave me my sight back, he could be the Son of God, right?” “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath,” they argued. I have heard that kind of coldness before. Maggie had more sense than them. She said, ““How can a sinful man do such signs?”
Even though I hated it, they came with me to my parents. My parents could not believe the miracle but they were marvelously relieved. My mother held me and cried endlessly. Even my father was excited. He called all my neighbors. The ‘big guys’ were clearly mad. They said that Jesus was a sinner. I told them, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” They would not listen to me. They cut me off from the faith of my fathers. They called it excommunication. I also heard them say that they wanted to kill Jesus. Are they blind? They’ve got to be blind.
“What? He is looking for me? Jesus is looking for me? Mom and dad, I will be back later. I’ve got to go. He is calling me.”
You know what the best thing was? Even though Maggie was there, I could go on my own. I could see him. When I got to him, he looked into my eyes. Gosh, his eyes. They could look right through my innermost self. “Do you believe?” he asked. “How could I not? You healed me. You set me free.” I barely whispered.
And them something over took me. I know he lifted me up. But now I’ve got to fall on my knees. “I know and I believe that you are indeed the Savior of the World.” I cannot explain this feeling but it was like the moment I made that confession I could see more, better. I saw Jesus but I also saw salvation. Yes, I see… but I am also free… and also saved.Read More
The Culture “Wars”March 6th, 2013
Recently, I came across a phrase that captures nearly perfectly for me where I am in the religious/political discussions of these days.
Several years ago I was part of a planning committee for the Annual Meeting of NCCL, an organization of diocesan and parish catechetical leaders. One of the names suggested for possible speakers was Cathleen Kaveny, whom I knew at the time through her columns in Commonweal magazine. I contacted her at the University of Notre Dame; we had a conversation about possible topics; I agreed to get back with her soon. Much to my disappointment she had another commitment when I did. I’ve regretted that missed opportunity ever since, especially when I saw the interview she did with Marie Griffith at religionandpolitics.org.
She has written a new book entitled Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society. In it she describes her position as being “pro-life without being pro-culture wars,” a position in find myself much in sympathy with and would use to describe myself.
One of the attitudes that disturbs me about what I read in some Catholic sources is the broad attacks on American culture and the negative judgments about those with whom we disagree. As Kaveny says, “I think the way our disputes over abortion and even euthanasia…have gone undermines our attention to what we have in common as a nation, what we do agree on…” And further on, “a culture war mentality doesn’t let us talk about those hard questions in ways that say, well, you know I can see your point even if I don’t come down in the same place. “
She mentions the role of media in setting up discussions that emphasize differences rather than attempting to dialogue to solve problems. “In my view, opposing activists tend to feed off each other and leave no room for honest, nuanced, and even anguished conversations that we need to have.”
In responding to a question about how we deal with “other citizens” [notice the commonality this description expresses] “who disagree with our premises on issues such as when life begins, or our conclusions,” Kaveny says, “As I’ve continued to teach law over the years, I’ve been so much more impressed by our American project and what we’ve managed to accomplish, what we agree on. I teach contract law at Notre Dame, in the law school, and the case law shows how we as a society peacefully handle all sorts of moral questions on a day-to-day basis: what is reasonable, what is negligent, what kind of respect do we owe each other? I see this in the Americans with Disability Act, the Civil Rights Act, this idea of an inclusive community that values the dignity of every individual.”
This attitude is one I wish that I could have in my own discussions and would like to see as a part of all our interactions with one another in both our political and moral discussions. It would be so much more constructive to recognize the values and personhood of one another in respectful sharing whose purpose is understanding, not condemnation.
(Read the entire interview here.)
(For another experience of Cathleen Kaveny see her appearance on The Daily Show)Read More
Weddings Are A Day; Marriages Are For Life.March 5th, 2013
There are scads of television shows related to weddings. In most of them, it would appear that the groom is little more than accessory—someone to provide an accent to the bride, who is the star of the show. God certainly doesn’t seem to play much of a role in these affairs. When I watch these shows I wonder how long the actual marriages last. If the entire focus is on creating one perfect day, how much attention is being given to the days, weeks, months and years that follow?
I wonder if these young couples seeking external perfection for a day ever look at the people I look at as an example of the ideal marriage. The people I look at with admiration, respect and some envy are the couples like my parents, my aunts and uncles and a number of couples I’ve met at parishes, whose marriages have lasted for over half a century. These are the people whose relationships I admire, who I wish I could emulate. These are people who experience a sacrament, not an event. God is right there in the center.
There is a tenderness evident between aging spouses that I find unutterably touching. They have an instinctive ability to read the other, built on years of interaction through the joys and sorrows of life. Every single couple I can think of has a sense of humor about each other and about life. They’ve gotten past being annoyed by the trivia of daily existence. To me, this is the kind of love that God gives us. It stands the test of time and grows deeper as we grow older and learn how to accept it without fear and hesitation, worrying that perhaps it is merely ephemeral. It is the embodiment of that Corinthians reading that so many couples use but so few seem to have actually internalized. Love is patient and kind. It’s also pretty darn challenging. Relying on God for ongoing support is truly a lifesaver in the times of stress.
Our society is so enamored of romantic love, which is often translated as physical attraction accompanied by mere infatuation. Sort of the tweet of relationships. I’d rather go for the lengthy, substantial novel—a big hefty, hardcover sort of life. That is sacramental love, an encounter with the divine that gives us courage and strength and grace. And it is a beautiful thing.Read More