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Monday Musing

Well, here it is Monday, and I feel like I have nothing to muse about! I spent most of the weekend working on writing projects. Yesterday I posted some thoughts about the Eucharist, so if you haven’t read that, have a look.

I guess if I have to say something, I would say this today… There are so many sources of division around us. While we tend to focus on evil most typically in the form of sex and sexuality, I am not sure that I agree. Make no mistake – there are many sins of the body, but I am as worried about gluttony as I am sex. I am also as worried about the cult of the body made “perfect” through diet and exercise. I am worried about a culture in which the poor are obese and starved for nourishment and the rich pay exorbitant amounts of money for trainers, special foods and plastic surgery.

I worry about other things too… Back to division, we seem to all be cordoning ourselves off behind tall, impenetrable fences. Those who say that they belong to the right and to the left, those who claim orthodoxy and those who claim to be progressive. We have some who say that all the old ways were best and that we should go back to that, and others who say that no, the old ways need to be dispensed with, and we need to find a totally new way.

Hmmm, I guess that I *am* musing, after all.

As someone who often gets told that she is too far to the left or progressive, for the right or the orthodox, as someone who gets told that she is far too conservative by the more liberal, too far to the right, I have to stop and scratch my head.

For me it goes back to yesterday’s post and feast – Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.

We are ONE body, made whole in ONE bread. When I self-define, I start with Catholic. Before I am an American, before I am a Republican or Democrat, before I am progressive or conservative, before I am anything, I am Catholic. All of our labels are ultimately divisive and not helpful if you ask me. Once somebody states their political affiliation or other designation, one of two things tend to happen… People want to sidle up next to them and be part of their cohort, or people want to flee. The labels make for easy pickings. Trust me – I know, I have done the picking many times (mea culpa!) myself. I still catch myself all the time.

In the end there are no divisions. We are Catholic, one body, one bread… One Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I don’t think that I am all that smart, but I do believe this with every fiber of my being, we must focus on our catholicity, our being Catholic. Now that is easier said than done. It is not “my Catholic,” nor “your Catholic.” We are one, the very word, as we know, means universal.

So I guess that I feel very frustrated and I worry when I look at the state of the country, the world and certainly the church.

I wish that I could be more upbeat, but this is on my mind – how could it not be in the midst of a Eucharistic church?

And I am ever reminded of something from Anne Lamott, that seems to strike at the heart of what’s wrong with the gang-up mentality of sub-division. She was writing about writing in her book, Bird by Bird when , in a moment of reflection and self-criticism, she quoted her friend Tom, a priest: (emphasis mine)

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”

We are all created in God’s image, we are all called to be One. This is not something nice to do, it is the Gospel imperative. Don’t look at me, I tend to stink at it, even though I am obsessed with the thought and write about it all the time.

I guess the image that comes to mind is that of a rope. It seems that we are often in a giant tug of war, each pulling on our end of the rope. If everyone on one side of the rope let go, so that they might join the other side, what would happen to the rope? It would go slack.

A certain amount of pulling is necessary to live in the tension, but is the rope fraying? I do not know and if it breaks, we are all to blame. And never, ever forget, Jesus’ arms are opened wide. Are we pulling on the rope or on the Lord?

Well that sure is a lot from someone who felt like they had nothing to say!

What do you think? And is it possible to comment on this without pointing the finger of blame to “the other guys?”

Got Bread? Some thoughts on the Eucharist.

I am sharing this post here today, but it was written for my personal blog, which is called, There Will be Bread, which is published at the Times Union.

Well, you would think that bread would be found here… after all, the name of the blog clearly states that “there will be bread.” That is no accident of course, as I am take the Eucharist very seriously, I believe that the bread is the body… wait, I mean that the Bread is the Body. It is all about the Eucharist for me, and about living eucharistically. So here we are on this day when we as Church celebrate The Body and Blood of Christ, with lots to talk about.

The other day I read Continue reading

A month of Marian posts – Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today, during this Marian month of May, we look to the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here is some information from the Saint of the Day page at American Catholic.

The feast in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the sixteenth century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story.

A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.

He was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared and within it a young Native American maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.

Eventually the bishop told Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Diego to try to avoid the lady. The lady found Diego, nevertheless, assured him that his uncle would recover and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma.

When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground and the bishop sank to his knees. On Juan Diego’s tilma appeared an image of Mary as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. It was December 12, 1531

Comment:

Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego as one of his people is a powerful reminder that Mary and the God who sent her accept all peoples. In the context of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the apparition was a rebuke to the Spaniards and an event of vast significance for Native Americans. While a number of them had converted before this incident, they now came in droves. According to a contemporary chronicler, nine million Indians became Catholic in a very short time. In these days when we hear so much about God’s preferential option for the poor, Our Lady of Guadalupe cries out to us that God’s love for and identification with the poor is an age-old truth that stems from the Gospel itself.

Quote:

Mary to Juan Diego: “My dearest son, I am the eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, Author of Life, Creator of all and Lord of the Heavens and of the Earth…and it is my desire that a church be built here in this place for me, where, as your most merciful Mother and that of all your people, I may show my loving clemency and the compassion that I bear to the Indians, and to those who love and seek me…” (from an ancient chronicle).

This is really an extraordinary story, and one of the most beautiful in our church. I have spent a lot of time reading and studying this particular apparition, and I always moved by this chapter of our Mother Mary’s presence.

To understand the power of the story, one must enter into that time. The Spaniards were in serious conquest mode, and the indigenous people were really being pushed to convert to Catholicism. This was not a time to be proud of evangelizing efforts – the Spaniards thought of the natives as savages, and were not very charitable towards them in general.

Some, like Saint Juan Diego were converted, or at least baptized. Many of the local people felt the pressure of being under the foot of the Spanish, and were slow to follow. Many baptisms were done under this kind of duress. It does appear, that Saint Juan Diego was indeed a prayerful man, who had been converted in his heart. All that was about to change, illustrating to one and all, that conversion is an on-going process of faith for everyone, without exception.

It is what happens next that changes everything. Our Lady of Guadalupe does not appear to the Bishop or a priest, not to the men in all their finery, with their educations, and their books, and their words; the men with their extraordinary vestments and who were building churches. Nor does she does not appear to any of the Spanish Conquistadors, who have taken over the land as their own. She does not appear to Aztecs who were of a higher class than Juan Diego.

No, when Our Lady chooses, she chooses this Juan Diego, a “nobody” in his own words, a class below the classes. A simple man, a poor man, a humble man.

That is the story, like so much of what we find in Sacred Scripture, the story is inverted. God is forever using the outsider, the one on the edge, the one with no power or position, no real place at the table. It is an important reminder to us all – and it is a most beautiful thing as well.

After they first meet, Our Lady sends Juan Diego on a mission, which he does not succeed at. Then, as Juan Diego tries to avoid her, Mary finds him anyway. I love that part of the story and it brings to mind the great Annie Dillard line from The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

The Guadalupe story is so much about how beauty and grace are ever present in the sacramental invitation to embrace all that is offered to us, with great and loving persistence by our God. God is calling to a certain type of person…. The ultimate outsider. The real shock is the the ultimate outsider is always ourselves.

And then – only when this ultimate outsider is called – then that is when the people open their hearts and change, be transformed and move more deeply into a life of faith. This life is a process, going on for all time.

Another story that comes to mind as I consider this is from the Gospel of John – the Samaritan Woman, at the Well. Jesus makes sense to her and to her compatriots, they are so far out that they have no place to go but in.

And those on the inside, they often remain confused and unconverted.

Like us.

It is a provocative thought for us to sit and pray, isn’t it? How are we the outsider? How are we the complacent insider? How are we proud? How are we humble? And how willing are we to change?

That is Mary, the Mother of God at work. Calling to us, loving us, bringing us forth. If, that is – we are willing to go. And she always goes to great lengths to find us.

Saturday Bonus – Spring Enrichment featuring James Martin, SJ

Each year our diocese hosts a large scale catechetical event, Spring Enrichment. This year’s theme is the Heart of Christ. I remember the first time that I attended Spring Enrichment in 2008, I could not believe it! There was (and is!) such a wide breadth of courses, seminars and speakers to choose from. Since that time, I have not missed a year, and I have been privileged to be an instructor, as well as involved with the planning of events.

This year we have a very major keynote speaker, Father James Martin, SJ. Father Jim has written numerous books, is often seen on television, has a pronounced presence on the internet and is also an editor at America magazine, the national Catholic weekly. A great list of Martin’s books has been compiled by my friend, Brother Daniel Horan, OFM and can be seen here.

Fr. Jim and I spent a little time on the phone recently and I wrote this column about him in today’s Times Union. (No subscription or registration required.) If you attend the evening event, you can support a wonderful charity, The Sister Maureen Joyce Center, which will benefit from ticket sales proceeds.

I’ve got all my sisters and me…

(There has been a lot of news, and a lot of noise about women religious and the Vatican lately. James Martin, SJ has launched a Twitter campaign, #WhatSistersMeanToMe and I offer this as my contribution to the effort.)*

If you are in, near or around a Catholic parish in April or May, you are likely to encounter the sacrament of First Eucharist. It was some time in May, 1966, that I made my (what was then called) First Holy Communion, a special time and memory for me.

Yes, that's me!

I did not go to Catholic school, but received my religious education, at what was then… (continue reading at the Times Union…)

Monday Musing – Faith, Doubt, Doctrine, Dogma… and Respect for Office

(I apologize if this is too long… I had a lot on my mind!)

This morning I woke up, not at all sure what I would write about. I was sick for most of the weekend, so I did not begin this sooner, as I typically try (emphasis – try!) to do.  My morning routine includes prayer and some reading and I came across this paragraph, in a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, and it has really struck me…

So where does that place good Catholic people who, after prayer and consultation with spouses, partners, friends and pastoral leaders, honestly doubt the certainty of some doctrines taught by their religion? Note for the Blog: Dissent against a dogma of the church is impossible for a Catholic.  [5]

5 McBrien, Richard. Catholicism: Study Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1981. See pages 67 ff.

I realize that many people have strong feelings about the priest who offered this homily, Fr. Richard Vosko. I have known Fr. Vosko for four years, and he has been a friend and mentor to me. Do I always agree with him? No, I do not. Do I respect him? Yes, I do. Do I have respect for his office, as an ordained priest in good standing, of the Roman Catholic Church? Yes I do. More on that in a minute…

One of the reasons that I really liked reading his homily is because I appreciate how he elucidated the difference between dissent from doctrine and from dogma. Dogma, if you read that snippet above, is impossible for a Catholic. (I included Vosko’s footnote in case anyone wants to go look it up.) Doctrine is to be obeyed as well, but many of us wrestle with various doctrines.

If you ask me, I will happily and clearly tell you that my faith, which is a great gift from God, is filled with questions. Are those questions doubts? Sometimes, yes they are. For me – how else can I dive deeper into and discover the great gift of faith?

As I have written before, obedience is based in deep, authentic listening, and therefore it can take time. If we just march in lockstep, without engaging our hearts and minds, that is not obedience at all, but something else. God is forever asking us to be in relationship, not bondage! It is bondage that God seeks to free us from.

This Sunday we did hear about how Thomas very boldly doubted Jesus. And if he had not done so, would he have gone further in his faith? Who knows? But he did doubt and he expressed it and this is part of the Gospel  and we are invited into our own doubt – and faith – as a result! (I wrote about yesterday’s Gospel at my TU blog, if you wish to read it; no subscription or registration required.)

In any case, we can all get into some fine arguments about who is a “good Catholic,” but I am pretty sure that we all dissent on something. For me, I try to be honest about that, engage in good faith and pray, study and strive for a deeper and more committed life as in this Body.

If we can’t doubt, if we can’t – like Thomas – ask questions, then we are lost. The questions can and should be asked, because the answers are there. Believe it! There are many issues that we are asked to submit to… issues about life, which include positions about abortion, contraception, torture, war, the death penalty, euthanasia, and health care, which are not as easily adhered to as one might think. And health care is especially contentious, because while we have challenges with what is mandated, we must also understand that the Holy Father calls for universal health care. In the linked article it reads,  “Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.(Which many Catholics, good Catholics, would disagree with.) This is all very challenging ground, so we should respect our doubts, explore them, find priests and others that we can talk to about these things, but also understand what the Truth and the truth are.

So what about respect for office?

As someone who considers social media part of their ministerial call, I read a lot of blogs, Facebook posts and Tweets from Twitter. It is getting uglier and uglier out there; in politics and in church talk.

If we are going to speak about obedience, we must be obedient – if it means struggling and disagreeing. If we have to hold our dissent in tension with our disobedience, then so be it.  A life of faith is not a destination, although it leads us to a destination; it is a constant journey. And a journey that makes great demands of us!

If you think that Fr. Vosko, or any other priest for that matter, is an apostate, that is yours to work out. However, I do believe that Fr. Vosko, Fr. Jerry for that matter, Bishop Hubbard – or any validly ordained person for that matter, deserves the respect of that office.

Recently I saw a video going around, of Glenn Beck telling us that if we don’t like what’s going on in our churches, to tell the priest. If you don’t like what the priest says, then he more or less said, go to the bishop. If you don’t like what the bishop said, then go to the top, write to Rome. (I am not linking to this video because it was so personally offensive and deeply un-Catholic to me. If you really want to see it, I suggest the wonders of the Google search.)

While I would not rule out such activity, I would reserve such things for the very gravest matters. It is actually apostasy to say or do otherwise, and I think that Mr. Beck is treading a dangerous path…. and encouraging Catholics to do the same.  The Church does not stand for our personal “likes” and “dislikes,” but is the actual re-membering (think, opposite of dismembering) of the Body of Christ.

The Church has always known terrible priests, bishops and even popes; a glance at Church history reveals that clearly. Yet the Church prevails, even in the darkest hours. Sometimes we might be engaged in the worst struggle of our lives, but no single one of us owns the truth.

If you really think that it is OK to go against the priests, bishops or even popes that you do not like, what prevents others – others who may have a different point of view than you do – from doing the same?

Please respect the office of those who stand in persona Christi. Trust me, there are plenty of priests, bishops and even popes, that I could really challenge, but I actively choose not to do so publicly. What I struggle in my heart with, I offer in prayer.(Please see this link to the Vatican’s Catechism pages for more.)

One thing that you should never doubt is this… the Church is neither democracy – or anarchy, based on personal preference. Doubt in and of itself is a vehicle for greater faith, but like all things of great power, it should be applied wisely.

The donkey and the dreams, a Palm Sunday relfection

(This was originally published at my Times Union blog and is reprinted here)
Palm Sunday… The Donkey, a poem by G.K. Chesterton is a reminder of the place occupied by the donkey, and the dreams. Ah, the humility of the lowly creature that carried the Lord Jesus on its back, as the people flung and waved their palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” Ah, the need to be mindful of, and listen to our dreams, no matter where they may lead.

To remember that this donkey, called a colt in the Scriptures, but a donkey, an ass, is simply meant for carting and carrying goods. Such a lowly creature, a humble one, carrying the Lord Jesus, himself humble. To remember the role that dreams played in getting Jesus onto that donkey.

I think of the donkey that ferried Mary to Bethlehem. Another donkey probably was pressed into service when Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus fled from Herod’s clutch. And yet another likely brought them back to Nazareth from Egypt, after Joseph was informed in a yet another dream, that it was safe to return.

It was not safe to return to Jerusalem Continue reading

A Reflection on John 5:1-16

(This is the text of a reflection that I offered at Lenten Tuesday Evening Prayer at St. Edward the Confessor. I am reflecting on Tuesday’s Gospel, John 5:1-16.)

The Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem, November 2004. Photo by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

The words stung as I read them; he wrote: “It’s kinda like this… Many cripples were left waiting at the Pool of Bethesda. I doubt their pain would be mollified by your words. After listening to you talk about the free response that is love, a Deuteronomistic view of the world, and Job 39 – and after you and Jesus walk away with the cheering admirers – they’d still be crippled, in pain, and left behind at the Pool.”

* Ouch *

Those words came to me in the form of a recent blog comment. Ironically it came in response to a blog post that I had written about how lovely evening prayer, and our community at St. Edward’s was. This person had already left a few comments at the blog, appearing like a peaceful, unbelieving, and wistful interloper, but in retrospect, he seemed somewhat hurt and angry. My concern for him was countered with knowing that there were probably no words that I could offer to him. It was not lost on me that the last line of his comment referred to the very Gospel I would be here to talk about tonight.

This is where I Continue reading

Monday Musing

Uh-oh… it has happened again. Monday is here and no musing is to be found. After a busy week at work and some other matters, I ran out of time. And I ran out of steam.

Mea culpa!

If you did not already read it, here is yesterday’s piece.

I shall return! Thank you so much for reading and walking with us on this faith journey.

 

About those tables… Some thoughts on today’s Gospel

(This was also published at the Times Union website today.)

Recently I heard a priest tell a story about when he was growing up. This man is probably about 6 or 8 years younger than I am. He is younger, this I know to be true. He is very gregarious and very funny, but like so many funny people, he is actually saying something serious almost all the time. He was telling us that when he was a kid, sometimes it seemed that all he ever learned was that Jesus handed out daisies. Oh that image, Hippy Jesus, nice all the time and always feeling kind of groovy, mellow and cool.

Forgive me if you find me irreverent, but that is how the image pops up for me. And frankly, it is an image of Christ that I am not too fond of.

While we are at it, I find that the idea that Jesus is judging us with suspicion all the time, and making sure that we behave, is not helpful either. Oh Jesus help us! Jesus holding our hands and giving out daisies is not helpful; Jesus smacking us down. Is this the best we can do?

Why must we project all this on the Lord? OK, OK – for the record, I have spent time in both camps; Tough Love Jesus and Hippy Jesus. At least in my own discernment, I found that those images had a lot more to do with me and where I was at that time, than with Jesus. On knowing God, St. Augustine said, “Si comprehendis, non est Deus.” (If you think that you understand God, that is not God.) Quite simply, God is Continue reading

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