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Unexpected Inspiration by Christine Goss

Pavement heartThis is the walkway to the door of my office at the Youth Center – after every rainfall a perfect heart forms in the same spot on the path. When it is not raining there is no noticeable difference in the paved walkaway. I have wondered on other occasions what causes the heart to form… but in the rush to get on with my work day and with many things on my mind, I never really let the gift of the puddle heart sink in, until this morning.

Today, in the warmth of the glorious sun, I stopped and appreciated the puddle heart. I felt an overwhelming sense of love, purpose, direction. I felt unexpected inspiration.

My puddle encounter immediately called to mind the times in my life that I have been accused of “wearing my heart on my sleeve”. I always found that to be a strange thing to be “accused” of. I never understood why it would be perceived as a bad thing to be: loving, open to others, compassionate, willing to risk a bit of damage to my exposed self if that was what another person needed of me. I know how that my heart on my sleeve is part of who I am, and in many ways what called me into Ministry with the Church.

I like being available and honest with the teens I minister to and with. I like them to see me in my authentic, Catholic truth… tears, frustration, anger, love, joy… all of it. As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that much of “accusation” is based in fear – fear of being hurt, fear of being wronged, fear of being alone. I believe that being in true relationship with others, with yourself, with God requires the risk of putting your heart out there front and center and right in the middle of the path. Just like the puddle heart.

I peaked back out at the walkway, just a little while later and the puddle heart was completely gone. No sign of it at all, just a normal blacktop path between the driveway and the steps and God’s message was clear. Every day we have a choice. I have a choice. I can choose to be Christ’s love in the paths of those that I encounter or I can choose to be an ordinary concrete path. It doesn’t matter if most days people step around love, ignore love, are blind to love, because if I continue to be love, I am doing all that God has called me to do.

I know it is not easy. Some days are hard, miserable, really. But today, my prayer for you is that you are unexpectedly inspired to be LOVE.  (This piece was written by our Youth Minister and Young Adult leader, Christine Goss.)

Faith, Doubt, Life

Living+by+Faith,+Dwelling+in+DoubtThis is no doubt in my mind that Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle Cupp, (Loyola Press, 120pp, #13.95) is an excellent book. This however, is not a book review – just a warning. The review will come soon.

In full disclosure, I have known Kyle online for a number of years. First from his posts at Vox Nova, which caught my eye and engaged my heart and mind. Later, we became Facebook friends and I began to follow his other blog. He’s a pretty smart guy; I can’t claim to always understand him, but I always want to read what he posts.

Back to the book. I get lots of books, which I am deeply grateful for. There are piles of them in the spare room, on tables in various other rooms of the house. Some live in my car for awhile, or I bring them to work. Publishers often send me a review copy, asking me to host a blog tour stop. This book did come to me in advance, in the form of a gift, but not as a review copy. (Most of the books I receive are never reviewed.Sorry!)

But – this is not a book review!

So what the heck is this post about? I am planning my unsolicited review of Kyle’s book, which will be pretty glowing. I just want to give you some advance warning! Plus I have not finished the book yet, so I can’t review it.

Fine, but why write this post today? Forget the advance warning, I really just want to tell you that this book about faith and doubt is, *ahem-clears throat*, no doubt one of the best books I have read about my favorite co-existing topics of faith and doubt.

It’s a slim volume, why haven’t you finished it yet? Good question! I am reading Kyle’s book with painstaking slowness. I read a chapter or two, I pick it up a few days later, reread a bit, and then add another chapter. Short does not mean the book should be rushed through.

How do we know the rest of us will like it? There is no certainty that the rest of you will like this book. In fact, there are elements that are going to make some people uncomfortable. It could be because Kyle speaks freely about the depth of his faith, the elements of doubt, and questions of certainty that will cause some to challenge what he writes about faith itself. Others will shrink back from some of the personal stories that Kyle shares, because they have the potential to make one uncomfortable.

Why would we read a book about faith that makes us uncomfortable? Aren’t books about faith, the Bible included, have the potential for discomfort? They should make us uncomfortable; if not, we might have a problem. Shouldn’t our faith journeys cause us discomfort?

Enough questions for today. The only thing that I can add – without a doubt – is that this is a compelling little volume and I hope that you read it.

The Gift of Faith

i-have-learned-that-faith-means-trusting-in-advanceToday’s Gospel from Matthew, chapter 9, verses 18-26, although short, is full of action, and a real economy of language. We hear three things that we have heard in other places at other times, but they are compacted for us here.

In the space of 8 verses we hear about an official asking for Jesus’ help with his ailing daughter, a woman suffering from hemorrhages touching Jesus and being cured, and then Jesus gets to the official’s house where he encounters a crowd acting as if the girl is dead. He dispels that notion, and they mock him. That did not deter Jesus, and he entered the house, curing the girl.

Got FaithThe undercurrent of the entire matter is faith, which is coincidentally the essence of the new papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Faith – the essence of what we need, and yet, not something that we can understand with our intellect or with reason.

Which brings me back to today’s Gospel – full of action, and not so many words. Yet, we read, we ponder, we pray, we study. I started the encyclical, but I’m going slowly. In the meantime, how do we have faith? There is a question for the ages. Yet, some of us do. I think of mine as a gift, for which I am grateful.

What about you?

Taking a leap of doubt – a reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter

doubtPoor doubt, I feel kind of sorry for it. Doubt takes such a beating in our culture, and I think that is rather unfortunate. Where would faith be, if not for doubt? Like night and day, like good and evil, like joy and sorrow… well, like so many other opposite points, the space between them is where all the real action is found. How can we so carelessly toss doubt aside, as if it negates everything? For me, the deepest anchors of faith are not dropped in surety and certitude, but deep in the ocean of doubt.

Is our faith more about making leaps of doubt, rather than leaps of faith alone? Can one exist without the other?

Somewhere around 2005 I heard a radio program on the topic of doubt and I was hooked on doubt as a topic to explore. “A History of Doubt” first aired on what was then called “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett,” in 2003. Tippett’s program, and now podcast, is know known as “On Being,” and “A History of Doubt” continues to find an audience. The program features Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has made doubt a field of study and exploration.

Today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar, even to those who do not follow the Gospel, is about “doubting Thomas.” When I was a kid, I used to think badly of Thomas. Was my point of view informed by my faith education? Probably. I don’t have any specific recollection of hearing this – or any other Gospel – as a child, but my “religious instruction” classes, I do remember. Please know that I was spared any “mean” priests or nuns, so none of this is couched in that. What I do remember is that we were instructed that is that doubt was the opposite of faith. It seemed reasonable enough to me, so I went along with it… when I was 10.

Today I have no such vision. What about you? I can only speak for myself when I say that my faith, something that is so real, so powerful, at the heart of my being, is infused with the on-going scent of doubt. Are you shocked or scandalized to hear this?

Not too long ago, I wrote about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, calling him a dangerous man. One of the images that I was holding at that point, was that of the certitude of some of the Pharisees who not only doubted Jesus, but who used that doubt to plot the death of Jesus.

This is one of the challenges of doubt, at least from where I am. Perhaps it is not doubt that comes first, but what comes first is a certain “knowing.” Doesn’t such certitude, such absolutism, say that there is little room for God? What does such certainty do, when God in fact, can never conform to our limited capacity for knowing God?

So what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? Thomas certainly knew Jesus, didn’t he? But did Thomas know Christ? No – not until that moment of encounter. Go ahead, says Jesus, stick your hand in there, this is for real.

Crooked Kisses and Other WoundsHere is something that I have no doubt of… If Jesus were standing before me, I might faint before I stuck my hand inside of his wound! And perhaps this is where this Gospel leads us to…

What are we so sure of? Do we really love Jesus as much as we say that we do? I mean really, think about it… are you ready to thrust your hand deep into the wound of anyone, even those you love most? Isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do?

imagesLoving Jesus with such hard-core certitude and thinking about how that smarty pants Thomas should have thought twice before questioning God is one thing. It would seem that another way of seeing this is that Thomas offers us a gift… Jesus asks us to enter into the wounds of all. I’m sorry, but that makes me queasy when I think of physical wounds, and overwhelmed when I think of all the other wounds, the ones we can’t see, but that are present in all of us. Thomas, seemingly undaunted, leads the way.

Suddenly certainty has dispersed like fog in the midday sun. We can be so “certain” of so many things, but can we place ourselves inside of the bloody wound? And how can we live Christian lives of sacrifice and service unless we do precisely that – literally and figuratively?

This is where Thomas leads me, and I am grateful to him, and to God, for bringing me to this place where I shrink back, recoiling perhaps in utter horror. Listen, I am VERY squeamish, the thought of such things sends me reeling. Now I can castigate myself for this, or I can see it as an invitation to change.

And is that not what our faith really is, our belief in the Risen Lord? This faith centers around a Triune God, always inviting us, always challenging us, but always welcoming us, to a kind of transformation. That transformation also means moving from doubt to faith, and the constant criss-cross of that territory, for the whole of our lives.

Doubt is nothing to be feared; I believe that doubt is to be befriended. In fact, maybe what we are called to are not only “leaps of faith,” but also of the aforementioned, “leaps of doubt.” Doubt can act as our greatest guide, the very force that leads us into the wounds of Christ and the on-going transformation that follows. I never doubt that is the way of the Lord, and I never doubt how hard it is to follow and believe in God, living as a Christian. This is no one-time decision, made in certitude and lived in certitude; it is an invitation into the mystery of our faith, a life lived in Christ Jesus. To do that we must follow and follow and follow…

search_of_certainty1Every day, in one fashion or another, propelled by my doubts, I seek to live more deeply in my faith. Yes, a good leap of doubt, taken with a heart of faith, can bring us, like it brought Thomas, closer to the Lord, without a doubt.

Pope Francis, a dangerous man?

482845_10200697918798828_1560242012_nPope Francis continues to amaze us, but I believe him to be a dangerous man. Many people, myself included, can’t quite take it all in. Is this for real? God forgive my doubt, but a part of me keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop… and I pray that it is not a red shoe. How I prefer his worn, black shoes; the shoes of a man who has actually walked.

He is a dangerous man, but I will get to that in a few minutes. This dangerous man has captured my heart indeed.

Today I walked my dog, praying this over and over in my head and heart, “Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief!” This is a twist on the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verses 23 and 24, which say:

Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Faith. Belief. Such things do not come easily or cheaply. Oh, trust me – I do believe. But sometimes it is hard to truly, deeply believe. Like right now. It is eerily like falling in love; it feels great, but you know you will get hurt at some point.

That is when it hit me – we have to put our hearts out. We have to take the risk. That is what faith and belief demand from us. That is what Jesus asks of us, all the time.

Back to Pope Francis. Today he gave an audience to the media, in which he said and did really amazing things.

Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief.

Here is a snippet of video in which we hear the Holy Father speak about how and why he chose his name.

He is a dangerous man, indeed. And for that I am grateful. If Satan is the divider, Satan has had a great, great run. So how then is Pope Francis a dangerous man?

What could possibly be more dangerous than to have the Bishop of Rome who might unite us? Very little, if you ask me. And that is an amazing thing.

How we all like to run off to our little groups, like a bunch of bitter Pharisees plotting, sneering at “the other,” and trying to exclude. And how this Holy Father might be more like Jesus, kindly finding ways to speak to all of us.

Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief. Stay dangerous, unite us – please.

What do I crave most? The Cravings blog tour stops here today

Today the Cravings blog tour stops here, and it is a privilege to host this visit. Cravings, A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God, is the latest offering from prolific local, Catholic author, Mary DeTurris Poust. She gives us a book that is personal, provocative and moving. We who are members of God’s body have very interesting and challenging relationships with our own bodies. And we as Catholics, who gather to eat at the Lord’s Table, often struggle mightily with food.

The blog tour offers you the chance to win a copy of the book, by leaving one comment on the blog per day between now and January 20th. Not only can you win a book, your name will also be added to a drawing to win a $100 Williams Sonoma gift card.

Interviewed for the book, I Continue reading

Blog Tour – a book review & book giveway

A long time ago, I was introduced to the words “action and contemplation” through reading the works of Richard Rohr, OFM, as I reluctantly reverted to the Catholicism of my youth. In what was probably the first inkling that my divided brain might do better if integrated, the two words blended in perfect harmony for me. I have tried to live this ever since – and I’m still trying to get that balance right, 22 years on.

It was with great joy that I encountered this path of action and contemplation when I opened “From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism by Chris Haw, from Ave Maria Press. Not only did I relate to those terms, but I’m a sucker for a “Catholic revert” story, especially if it does not mean eliminating your prior life or becoming too pious. What’s a Catholic revert, you ask? Well, we can’t be converts if we started out this way, no matter how far we strayed, or for how long, right? And while I have nothing against piety, piety alone may lead to the contemplation more than the action, when both are needed.

Fellow revert or not, I was not sure what to expect from Haw. Willow Creek? I admit it; I was not sure where this was going, although the Sacred Heart in Camden drew me in. I know someone who lives there, and I have been quite moved by the church and the community it serves, in the heart of an impoverished area with violent crime. As the author himself admits, stereotyping church types easily proves us wrong, and any misgivings I had were lost a few pages into the book.

The author is a compelling storyteller, writing with a wisdom that belies his age in years. Without cutting off his past experiences, Haw shows us what it means to truly be transformed in Christ, in a very real and embodied way. His own transformation from being part of a mega-church community, to being part of a Catholic Church community, is a testament to how we are called to be one. Without ever rejecting his past, he lives directly into his present and future in a most powerful way. In fact, he is very clear that his foundations at Willow Creek, Eastern University, and with intentional Christian friends like Shane Claiborne, have made him into who he is.

Well schooled in theology, the easily accessible and conversant discussions of Catholics from Thomas Aquinas to G.K. Chesterton (who is frequently cited) are refreshing. Rather than the heady study of God, this book makes real the many facets of God. And beyond that, just how the theology matters in the flesh and blood world of life in Camden, a place where much blood is spilled.

If I had to call out a favorite chapter, it would be, Chapter Nine: On Becoming Part of a Terrible Organization. With startling clarity, we are lead through Haw’s experience of entering a church at a time when some of the darkest moments of the sex abuse scandal were becoming known. This all happened against the backdrop of post-9/11, and the start of the war in Iraq; a time of terrible bad news. Yet, the clutter is cleared with astounding honesty and I imagine that I will return to the pages of this particular chapter many times.

A compelling argument for becoming part of the Catholic Church is not unfamiliar in the book world. A compelling argument like Chris Haw’s is very different from most others that you will read. With all the headiness of theological rhetoric, with all the heart of the Mystical Body and with all the guts of the sacramental world, this book is one of the best that I have ever read.

WIN A BOOK: Leave a comment, long, short, good or bad (good, we hope) and your name will be entered in a drawing for a book!

Monday Musing

Every morning, as part of both my prayer and my work, I read the daily readings and reflections at Give Us This Day, and  The Magnificat. I am very blessed to be able to receive a subscription to each one of these daily devotionals currently. The readings for daily mass are the same, but the psalms for morning prayer, as well as the featured saints of the day and reflections are very different. For many reasons, I treasure both publications.

Today the thing that truly hit me came from Give Us This Day. The featured saint of the day, (not always a canonized saint at GOTD) is Bl. John Paul II, our prior pope. These particular words refer to the Gospel of Luke (5:4), and Jesus’ command to “put out into the deep.” In Latin, this is “Duc in altum.” This can be found in the Apostolic Letter, Novo Millenio Ineunte, as we see below.

Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8).

This got me to thinking about Saint Kateri, whose canonization we celebrated yesterday, and her journey from the area around Fonda, NY, near her shrine, to Canada. On Saturday I had posted two Kateri videos, and one of them has not left my mind, as I imagine her making her way, all alone, through the wildnerness.

How often do we really follow Jesus’ command to do this – Duc in altum? How often do we recall that Bl. John Paul II, and countless others in between, asked the same of us?

For the most part, it seems to me – in my life anyway – that we do all that we can to promote safety and security. Whether it is the best car, that will withstand the most impact, a home security system, fences, moving to neighborhoods that are filled with people that are like “us,” so that we will be safe from “them,” and more, we are endless seekers of the opposite, it would seem.

Now I am not taking anyone to task for this, I am front and center in this activity!

However, I must ask myself, how can I put out into this deep? Without fear?

That’s the question that I asked myself when I encountered Bl. John Paul II’s reiteration of Jesus’ command, and that question was on my heart as I read today’s Gospel.

In a life filled with the acquisition of wealth, followed by the protection of it, along with all of our possessions, just how do we “put out into the deep?”

I have no clue, but this will be my prayer today… That I take more risks, focus more on Christ, and less on my own safety and security. The shoreline feels like a nice place to be, but the deep of the sea is where we are called. How else can we become fishers of men and women? Including, catching our own souls, in the nets that are meant to overflow. Yes – our nets for Christ are meant to overflow, not our own barns, for our own use.

Does anybody but me find this a challenge?

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