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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When Forgiveness Seems Impossible

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No Easy AnswersThere are offenses that we as a culture consider unforgivable. Murder, child molestation, adultery: These are the three that come to mind right now. Crimes that seem to absolve us from the responsibility of offering forgiveness and reconciliation.

How do we apply “mercy” in these situations?

I’m not going to pretend I have a pat answer. I don’t. But too often our society as a whole or individuals within it make clear, by their words and actions, that some violations of human dignity place the offender irrevocably beyond redemption. And if we as Christians, and Catholics in particular, are going to be serious about this extraordinary jubilee year of mercy, we have to wrestle with the reality that this isn’t how God would have us approach life’s hardest questions.

1: Capital Punishment.

The language of capital punishment is couched in “justice,” but it’s certainly not a Christlike vision of justice. Execution doesn’t bring a murder victim back; it only satisfies human desire for revenge. There are all the practical arguments about the gargantuan expense of automatic appeals, and then there is this:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

2. Sexual Abuse.

Child molestation is a hard case, and especially so within the Church, where we’ve seen abuse of power by some priests, and a tendency by the hierarchy to prioritize protecting its own over protecting the vulnerable. But don’t forget that molestation happens just as often, maybe more, within families, schools and other community organizations. In all these cases, a sincere desire to do good has gotten twisted into something ugly and damaging to both victim and perpetrator. But how did that twisting take place? People don’t become abusers in a vacuum. We reserve all our mercy for the children and act as if the perpetrator deserves none, even though many of them were themselves victims at one point. Are they not also in need of our mercy?

Mercy Monday small3. Infidelity.

And then there’s adultery—considered by many as the one deal-breaker in a marriage, the only offense a spouse doesn’t have to forgive. Yet the vows we offer when we marry don’t include asterisks. It’s frighteningly easy for marriages to get clogged up with resentments, demands, and failures to communicate. Those inevitably flow in both directions, and they can drive people to betray the one they love most. In the aftermath of infidelity, there’s a hard choice to be made: Do you just throw away the years you’ve spent together, the love you have shared? Or do you try to address the problems and make a new start? It’s hard, painful work to reclaim a marriage, but I’ve seen it done, and it begins with mercy.

Mercy posts, I am discovering, almost inevitably double as “No Easy Answers” posts. Mercy issues a huge challenge to our human sense of justice. We don’t want to see gray areas. We want to classify people as bad guys and good guys, and see the good guys rewarded while the bad guys are punished. But if we are to be followers of Christ, we have to strive to see the world as he did, not as we would.

Find more “Mercy on a Monday” posts here.

7 Quick Takes, vol. 129

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What time zone do they use in Antarctica? I mean, think about it, every time zone in the world intersects there. Which one would you pick?

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Can anyone explain to me the logic behind a two year old who sees a hat on the floor and thinks he must go out of his way to step on it?

Yes, I am aware that two year olds are not strong on logic. But nobody, not even a two-year-old, does things without some sort of purpose. The brain directs them. Why does it default to “must crush anything I can put my little feet on”????

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I read a very interesting book recently. It’s called The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris. It is a series of reflections on life as it relates to monastic life, written by a non-Catholic woman who was so drawn by liturgy that she became a Benedictine oblate. The real value in this book is that it is written by someone not steeped in all the Catholic terminology and world view, and thus reflects on it with a certain objectivity. It’s not a Catholic book, but it gave me a lot of spiritual food for thought.

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For instance: she quotes a Benedictine sister as saying: “So much of Catholic moral teaching has to do with knowledge, intention, and consent of the will.” It really struck me because that’s exactly right. The quote is in the context of a discussion of celibacy, and how it relates to sexual expression. She doesn’t pull back from observations that some who practice celibacy try to turn off their sexuality, pretend it isn’t there–always with disastrous results. But she doesn’t buy the idea that celibacy itself is the problem. Celibacy, she argues, for those who have integrated it properly into their self-image and sexuality, frees them to love everyone, to extend hospitality to all, to an extent that those of us who commit to a single person can’t reach, simply by virtue of our commitment.

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And of course, she won me over by calling sex an idol in modern life, and talking about how it makes women available all the time, turning them into objects instead of people. Right there I knew this woman had her head on straight. 🙂

Incidentally, the book was not all about matters of sexual expression. Not by a long shot. That was just the part that struck me so forcefully that I had to share it.

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Changing topics: Julianna is really pushing the edge of beginning to talk. She has quite a few proto-words now…they just don’t sound like normal kids’ proto-words. Her brain is more or less beyond the repeat-syllable stage. For her it’s all about trying to get those dratted muscles in her mouth and lips to work together. But she says–and means–blue, ball, moon, and several others. But for all who have been saying, “I can’t wait for you to talk so we know what you’re trying to tell us!” be warned: you’re still not going to know what she’s trying to tell you. Communication with Julianna will involve deep thought and interpretation for quite some time after she begins talking for real.

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Children's Miracle Network, founded 1983 with ...

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Speaking of Julianna, her picture is up at a cash register at Wal Mart on a donate-a-dollar card for the Children’s Miracle Network. I had forgotten I had given permission for them to use her picture however they wanted. People have been calling and stopping us all week, saying, “I saw her picture and I HAD to give!” 🙂

Have a great weekend, everyone!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 129)