To my Church, in a time of crisis

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In recent months, I’ve been retreating periodically from Facebook as it grows steadily more toxic. But I have never before seen the level of toxicity that I have seen this week.

I got on this morning, after a two-day (mostly) social media rest, and I shared the video linked below without comment. But then I realized: I need to comment. I need to share what I am feeling about all this.

I am feeling bruised, nauseous, sleepless, grief-stricken, very close to hopeless. And although those feelings definitely apply to what has happened in my Church, which I love, they are equally a response to the way people within my Church are treating each other over it. The things that are being said; the conspiracy theories, the way everyone is lining up according to political leanings and convincing themselves that God is on THEIR side, not on the side of those OTHER, less worthy, less Catholic Catholics.

In fact, yesterday morning when the daily readings turned their attention for the first time this liturgical year to the end times–for those who don’t follow the daily Lectionary, this happens every year at this time, but this year it felt different to me–I thought of the heartbreak I am feeling as I see my fellow faithful rush to condemn and blame and point fingers at each other, and more particularly, at whichever flavor of clergy they don’t like, rather than try to work together to fix what is so clearly broken, and which so many of us have been too silent about for far too long.

And as I listened to that “be ready, you don’t know when it’s coming” Gospel, I thought for the first time in my life: I think I’m about ready for a second coming, Jesus, because I don’t think I can stand to see the world get any worse than it is right now.

I thought about all those times in the Church’s history when there has been upheaval. We look back from our comfy 21st century vantage point and say, “Oh yeah, this heresy in this century, this abuse in this one, and then they fixed it at this point.” I’ve never before thought about what it means to live through that. It’s awful. I have to believe that the Spirit will see us through, but that does not help much right now.

To my fellow Catholics I say: We are all hurting. We are like wounded wild animals, lashing out. But we’ve got to find a better way. As Bishop Barron says in the video below, this is the time we have to fight for our Church–and this does not mean reclaiming it from the “homosexual agenda” or the “reactionary fill-in-the-blanks.” Those are human divisions, human constructs, and when we get focused in on those, we make idols of our own agendas. We have got to start acting like Jesus and listen to each other with open hearts. We have got to set aside our secular agendas and picking and choosing which leaders we give credibility to and which we don’t, based on how well they reflect our own particular flavor of political ideology. We have got to stop rushing to judgment about motivations and who’s guilty and who’s not, simply based on which person we WANT to be guilty or not guilty.

We have built some serious idols in our Church, and it’s time to stop trying to prop them up. It’s time to take an honest look at what is broken and recognize that no one side can claim righteousness. There are major, painful days ahead, and the more we fling vitriol, call names and place blame, the more deeply we are allowing Satan to get in and split us apart.

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Mercy In The Age of Facebook

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Because the spiritual works of mercy have always been a little tough to pin down, I offer this today:

The Spiritual Works of Mercy – in the Age of Facebook

Mark Piper

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Image by mkhmarketing, via Flickr

🔶 To Give Counsel to the Doubtful, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation

🔶 To Instruct the uneducated, including oneself, and to recognize ones lack of knowledge and to refrain from instruction when necessary.

🔶 To Advise Wrongdoers, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation, and to use prudential judgement to know when not to offer advice.

🔶 To Comfort the Afflicted, in person, in prayer, in silence

🔶 To Forgive Offenders, your offenders, when the time is appropriate and to do so with intimacy not anonymity

🔶 To bear patiently the troublesome, employing silence often, and avoiding trite exchanges online.

🔶 To Pray for the living and the dead recognizing that clicking like on a prayer does nothing for your soul or the well being of the deceased. Take time to unplug and simply be.

Most importantly, avoid hate. One cannot always avoid anger, but anger can be constructive, hate however, blocks fraternity, charity, and love.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters named anger & courage; anger at the way things are, courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” – St. Augustine

Author: Mark Piper, Director of Lay Association, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, West Midwest Community

For more “Mercy on a Monday” posts, click here.

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Merchants In The Temple

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51vghvyv-el-_sx327_bo1204203200_When I was offered a copy of Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ Secret Battle Against Corruption In The Vatican, I was hesitant to accept it. But I decided that if there was something about my Church I ought to know, then I shouldn’t bury my head in the sand.

It is no stretch for me to believe that the administrative arm of my Church needs reform. My whole life I have wondered why administrative posts are filled by ordained men when the local parishes are so short of priests. It’s always seemed to me that it would make far more sense to have lay people run the administrative business of the Church and let the ordained focus on passing on the faith. (Although a priest friend of ours recently argued that in order to make sure money is handled both wisely and from a Christian world view, you need both perspectives.)

I am naturally suspicious of sensational language like battles between good and evil, but I was willing to keep an open mind and process the information in the book slowly and thoughtfully.

Unfortunately, for large portions of the book, I couldn’t follow the information presented well enough to understand what the author was trying to communicate, much less summon any outrage.

In part, that is because the cast of characters and organizations is so sprawling that I simply couldn’t keep track. On the other hand, Nuzzi artificially inflates that cast of characters. For instance, on page 47, in the middle of several paragraphs addressing the size of apartments inhabited by cardinals, there is this sentence: “The former archbishop of Lubljana, he” (Slovenian Cardinal Frank Rode) “had been a personal friend of Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, who had been suspended from the ministry for pedophilia.” I waited for that aside to be shown as relevant to the discussion at hand, but I waited in vain.

In places, like the first part of the real estate chapter, the threads were well unified and the implications clear. In another chapter, Nuzzi does a good job of showing the discrepancy between stockpiles of goods sold in Vatican gift shops versus what is claimed on balance sheets. (To me, this suggests inept management, but not evil.)

But a great deal of the time, I felt like I was reading numbers upon numbers without the necessary context for analysis. For example, he talks about a farm that falls under the Holy See’s domain, but I never saw anything in the text that indicated mismanagement. Eventually there was something about a money transfer to a diocese, but I read the section four times without ever understanding what was problematic about it.

In the end, then, my impression was this: yes, there are problems within the Curia. Yes, there is great resistance to change, and a fairly appalling amount of un-Christlike behavior. But change is happening, albeit slowly. It’s been a mere 2 1/2 years since Francis was elected. How much revolutionary change can reasonably be expected in such a short period of time? A big ship turns slowly. It would be nice if it was otherwise, but that’s reality.

Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of Merchants in the Temple by the publisher, for purposes of review. When I accepted it I was very clear that my opinion would be honest and given through the lens of my Catholic faith.

Why was I excited for the papal encyclical? The challenge of Laudato Si (Reblog)

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I’ve been following blogger Margaret Felice for quite some time, and when I read the following post late last week, I felt as if it was written just for me. I admit I have not had time to dig into Laudato Si yet, but I officially downloaded it onto my computer for an upcoming road trip. In the meantime, I give you Margaret:

The first point at which I thought the Pope might be laughing at me was paragraph 55.

55. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.

I can almost see him writing “smh” in the margin, shaking his zuchettoed head. Those Americans and their air-conditioning.

Pope_Francis_South_Korea_2014_(1)There was no air conditioner going in our house on the morning the encyclical dropped, but I was basking in the breeze of our overhead fans as I scrutinized the document Thursday morning. I hunched over my laptop until moments before I had to leave for an appointment, ignoring my husband (except when he brought me an english muffin, God bless him) and ignoring my visiting brother (except to show him where the eggs and frying pan were – breakfast is an important thing in our house). I was so excited to read Laudato Si.

I should admit, I was expecting my lifelong environmentalism to be vindicated, and it was. And if I’m being honest, I should admit what I was not expecting: to also be admonished.  I suppose I knew dispassionately that such criticism was likely, but it still stung when it came.

111. Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.

203. Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”.[144] This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends.

The encyclical contains a lot of hope, and some practical solutions which I hope to share in a later post. But what has stuck with me more than the suggestions and the exhortations is the realization that I’m not perfect, either. After running out the door to get to the first of that day’s appointments, I made this admission on Twitter:

I recycle and don’t use air-conditioning in the house and hang my clothes outside and grow food and eat locally and teach my students that care for the environment is care for people.

One can do good things and still have more good things to do. 

Read the rest here.

Applause In Church Is Not Always A Bad Thing

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If there is one thing you can get both sides to agree on in the liturgy wars, it is that applause in church is a bad thing. I heard the argument made once that any time there is applause in church, it is a sign that the liturgy has been derailed. Applause is for performances; the liturgy is not a performance; ergo, applause = bad.

In general I think that’s reasonable, but it’s not 100%.

There are many reasons why people applaud, and most of them have nothing to do with praise for a performance. Applause is a sign of support, of solidarity, of affirmation, of appreciation. We applaud when kids receive their first Communion, when families celebrate a baptism, when a priest announces he is being reassigned (and not because we’re glad to see him go!). One on one, there are many other ways to express these sentiments, but as a community, applause speaks love and fellowship most simply and effectively.

But even if we focus on applause that is a response to the music, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as it seems. Applause speaks of emotion, and music evokes an emotional response. A few weeks ago, we finished Mass with “Amazing Grace.” The congregation sang its heart out, and afterward, they applauded. If you asked why, most people probably would say something that invokes a good performance, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. What they’re responding to is the fact that something touched their hearts and evoked an emotional response.

The prevalence of emotional manipulation in a lot of modern religious rhetoric tends to make Catholics suspicious of emotional response to religion. We often see Catholicism as strong because it isn’t emotionally manipulative; it doesn’t rely on gimmicks and flashy trends to reach people. Instead, it rests on a fathomless tradition of study, prayer, and big-T Tradition. This is true, but none of that negates emotion. Emotion is part of who we are as human beings, and if we try to pretend that it has no place in our worship, we’re not being true to how were created.

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton talks a lot about transparency and its close relationship to humility. A truly humble person, like Mary, is like a pristinely clear window offering a view of God. The view you see through that window is what receives the praise, not the window itself, which is nothing more than a conduit for the view.

Most of us, including me, are not pristine windows. Our pride and vanity smudge the glass, and all that praise catches on the surface instead of passing through to its proper destination. So we’re always going to have to wrestle with this issue. But I think our preoccupation with the topic reveals more about our own sins than it does about reality.

Guest Post: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness (Week 4, This Little Light Blog Tour)

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Chapter 4, “Blessed are They Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness,” focuses that hunger and thirst on the liturgy. Today’s guest post comes from Bill Harper, who I have gotten to know because and my husband were involved in music ministry together in his childhood parish. Below, Bill shares some thoughts on the liturgy as a way to help us find structure when life seems unsettled and uncomfortable.

The Natural Order of Things

Bill Harper.Have you ever been in a situation where you felt ill at ease or unsettled? Or perhaps a situation where things just didn’t feel right and you couldn’t quite put your finger on the problem? I’ve experienced that many times. But one of the most revealing examples in my life was watching it happen to someone else.

4th grader, Hannah, was serving mass for the very first time. She was doing an excellent job in exercising her ministry. I‘ve experienced her as a loving, sincere child in the classroom, the lunch room and on the playground.

John is 80 plus years old. He is a lifelong parishioner and his health is failing. He attends mass weekly, in a wheel chair, with the help of a health care professional. He suffers from early stage Alzheimer’s and has bouts of involuntary vocalizations. Mostly they are sounds, more than words or sentences.

During the consecration John began moaning loudly. Hannah immediately snapped her head around towards John as if to ask, “Are you okay?” And then, she looked at the congregation for some indication that everything was alright. She snapped her head back and forth two or three times; from John to the congregation and back again. I don’t know if anyone else noticed. The congregation was prayerfully engaged in the special moment at the altar. I wanted to walk up to Hannah and whisper that everything was okay.

Finally her eyes settled on mine. I smiled and nodded with as much reassurance as I could muster. That soothed her anxiety and she returned her focus to the mass. I think the congregation’s lack of response to John’s outburst may have aided in calming Hannah, as well.

Does Hannah’s reaction remind you of instances in your life when you were taken aback by a new situation? Unsure of what response is required? Like little Hannah, our heads look to our earthly situation –to God – and back again; looking to God for the reassurance that everything and everyone is alright. But isn’t it the image of the congregation, respectfully showing the way, which is to be our beacon; not getting distracted by extraneous details, but instead focusing on the task at hand?

It’s a struggle, isn’t it? We are bombarded by news and information which distracts us from the work we need to do to find our eternal peace. It is imperative that we maintain that focus so that we might fulfill the promise of the covenant; to join in God’s salvation.

Physics teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Astronomers, chemists and social scientists all struggle to find order in the chaos of our history and present day life. For the most part, we are all reconstructionists and deconstructionists in our desire to create order out of our lives. Have you ever spent time going over and over a situation, trying to find resolution to a seemingly insurmountable problem? Or trying to make sense out of another person’s perspective which makes absolutely no sense to you? In those times, it is prayer which is the work we must do.

Did you know there is a science dedicated to finding the orderliness in chaos? Perhaps you’ve heard of chaos theory. We must find order, we are driven to it. Even the primary books of our faith, the Bible and the Lectionary, are subject to our “orderedness.” And our liturgical year is structured to help us make sense of the life of Christ and the Church. But the purpose of those structures is to free us to see God in the Word and in our liturgies.

Our every move seems preordained, but must we follow?

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverWe have seasons of the year to describe the various effects of the earths’ rotation, clocks and calendars of various sizes, styles and purposes; all designed to promote order. I remember my 13 years living in California and the uncomfortable lack of distinct seasons. I hated the brown barren hills. I missed thunderstorms and the greenery of Southern Illinois and the Fall leaf displays. It’s that same unsure feeling that deters us from staying on God’s path.

At times, it seems that we’re all scurrying around like the White Rabbit, in Alice in Wonderland, one eye on our watch and crying out, “I’m late! I’m late!” We have built machines to assist us in maintaining structure. Corporations invest thousands of dollars training employees to be more efficient and organized. Our whole lives are spent running around trying to create order out of chaos, which only creates more chaos in our lives. “Schedules…and deadlines…and lists…Oh, my! – Schedules…and deadlines…and lists…Oh, my!” We spend our earthly time rushing from one scheduled activity to the next. “Hey, stop the world and let me off! I’m tired of goin’ round and round!”

Won’t it be wonderful when we reach the joy of our eternal seventh day of rest; when we can let go of our desperate attempts to order even heaven to our humanly understanding; when we can stop being the White Rabbit; when all this self created hysteria will be rendered meaningless? Let us all pray that we are not distracted to the mission to which we are called. That sounds like the ultimate reward. God calls us to the joy of our eternal rest. Amen.

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As pastoral associate at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marion, Illinois, Bill Harper performs a variety of ministerial and administrative functions, including liturgy and overseeing religious instruction. A 2008 graduate of the Aquinas Institute of Theology, he has a Masters
degree in Pastoral Studies with an emphasis on Liturgy. In his “spare” time he is a professional solo singer/guitarist who has produced eight CDs.

Small-Town Sunday

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By the time we pull into the parking lot on Sunday morning, the sun is well on its way to turning a cool morning into another hot August afternoon. We take the last half-shady spot beneath a giant oak and start toward the red brick church, its spire pointing an entire Southern Illinois town toward Heaven. In the half-dozen years since we last stepped inside the scrolled-red doors of my husband’s boyhood church, the building seems to have morphed inward. We step into a glassed-off vestibule, and I’m startled into exclaiming, “But it’s so small! I don’t remember it being this small!”

I don’t remember it being this noisy, either. We’re used to a community of 700 who filter in, whispering, buzzing, getting children settled, but we’re not prepared for the noise that two hundred people can make.

A woman in white wheezes in to the church, and I’m tempted to rush forward and grab her by the elbow, she seems so close to collapse. It sounds almost, but not quite, like the noise my daughter makes, the one that sends us scurrying to the ER. But she perches on a stool just inside the doorway and greets the next five newcomers in a voice that could summon the dead, stopping every few words for a breath that sounds downright painful. “Where is your inhaler?” demands a round woman, putting her hands on her hips.

“In my purse,” she responds.

“Well, get it out!” They laugh; the breathing is settling down now.

We head into church to sit with our friends near the back (everything else is already full). Beneath the sun-streamed windows across the aisle, a man with a khaki sport coat and pointed gray beard leans over the pew behind him, dropping a line of wallet photos with pride for the benefit of someone in the next pew.

On the near side of the church, three men sit domino-style in the center of three pews. From front to back, their bald spots are a perfect match except that one tried to hide it with a comb-over, which now bisects it.

The four of us exchange bemusement; none of us have ever heard this much noise before Mass. I think of individuals in my home parish who would have a thing or two to say on the subject of disturbed prayer, and I can’t help laughing, for this is small town community at its finest.

The deacon comes forward and begins with prayer intentions by way of an introduction. They go on for fully three minutes: the sick, the dead, the government, the military, and so on, lists of names I don’t recognize. My eyes wander to a window depicting the fourth joyful mystery, the presentation in the temple. The vivid colors gleam in the sunlight, but I can only see the bottom half of Mary and a hint of the blankets in her arms, because the choir loft lops off the center of the window.

At last, the deacon concludes: “Please stand and greet one another.”

As if they needed any encouragement. Now the crowd noise vaults to stadium levels. Faintly, because I’m a musician and they’ve proven that musicians can pick individual sounds out of chaos when others can’t, I hear the muffled plink of the electric keyboard introducing “Gather Us In.” We try to sing, but considering the continuing din of conversation, it feels very strange. The passage of the priest, deacon, lector and servers mutes the din by about a third. For the first verse, we are a choir of four in the penultimate row, but by the time verse two begins, about 75 percent of the conversations have stopped, and people have begun to sing. Mass has replaced chat time at last.

And although many would fuss about the disruption of individual prayer, though some might suggest that this is an example of community usurping worship, I find my heart swelling with gratitude. Gratitude for a place where the community of believers is so strong that they can’t seem to stop reinforcing it. Gratitude for the reminder that underneath my acquired big-parish snobbery, I’m still a small-town girl at heart.

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