Keeping Faith

4 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Michael W. May

Photo via Flickr user Michael W. May

My memories of the notorious sixties are not the free love and abandon of the sexual revolution but the incredible revival of the Catholic Church at Vatican II and the civil rights marches upending Jim Crow.  In that decade we experienced finding a way where there is no way.  The impossible can come to be.

The Second Vatican Council proved to be a crack that let the light of the modern world into the Church and let the Church loose in the world to do the work of justice and mercy.  The most revolutionary document of Vatican II called the people of God to solidarity with the least among us—“the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of this world especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of God” (Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #1).

Many Catholics have learned to put their faith into action and do the works of mercy and justice that Gaudium et Spes calls forth.  Liberation theologies arose in Latin America and spread as ways to give voice to people at the base of society and work with them for justice.  Pope Francis deliberately set the Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8, the golden anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which passed at the very end of the Council.  Pope Francis wants Vatican II to live and evolve.

I hoped the Synod on the Family might turn out to be a mini-Vatican II.  It met in October for three weeks after meeting for its first session in fall 2014.  After the first session Pope Francis called for consultation and listening sessions with the people of God in dioceses throughout the world.  Although the official consultation questions proved unusable, people found ways to communicate their insights and family issues to their bishops and Rome.

At the synod Pope Francis called for bold and frank talk.  He had bishops work in small groups to interact more.  The heads of religious orders auditing the synod ceded three of their six seats to women, so their three minutes each are in the record.

The 270 bishops who gathered aren’t exactly family men.  Some note they hear about family problems in hearing confessions.  Perhaps some have carried the smell of the dirty diapers or a baby’s spit-up from helping out with nieces and nephews or friends’ children.  Perhaps they have stood in for grandparents or aunts and uncles, corralled two year olds, lived their drama with adolescents, and scrounged rent when a boss cut back work hours.  Perhaps they have paid the rent for a person at the backdoor of the parish house.

I hoped that 270 bishops would bless remarried couples.  Pope Francis sped up annulments. The synod kept the door open by urging pastors to work with couples case by case and respect their consciences.  I hoped the 270 bishops could hear the sensus fidelium on the issue of contraception and pronounce the time of death.  The people of God have widely exercised their consciences on this issue.  I hoped the 270 bishops could accept that moms and moms and dads and dads can love and commit to each other and raise children.  But that would have been a surprise and – shock in some African countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Perhaps for a bishop it is hard to go forward without making past judgments seem fallible.  But in an evolutionary cosmos God comes to us from the future, urging us to all we can become, not just from the past.  The Holy Spirit has been at work in our world, making it new from the beginning.  The gospel has been at work for 2000 years, teaching us to keep the two great commandments.  We keep on.

These are the hopes of an educated white woman in North America.  I’m not a widow in Kenya who wonders what will become of the ten AIDs orphans she has taken in, nor am I a dad carrying a child on his back on the walk from Syria to safety in Germany.

Many cannot imagine marriage or civil union between same sex couples.  Since the seventies I have wondered why the Church and society doesn’t expect fidelity of same sex couples just as we do of men and women.  This is happening now that GBLTQ relationships are more out and public.  Partners I know reveal everyday they can love each other, their children, their parents, their friends.  The word is out they can keep the two great commandments of Jesus in the gospels.  We of the Church need to work at realigning moral law with biological science, Jesus’ gospel message, and people’s lives today.

“We discover the possible from the real.”  Karl Rahner

Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Gospel Reflection for November 8, 2015, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time

3 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Tiger Pixel

Photo via Flickr user Tiger Pixel

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 17.10-16; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44

“I want you to observe that this poor widow gave more to the treasury than all the others.”

(Mark 12.43)

Widows and orphans were among the poorest people in ancient Israel. The law made care of widows and orphans the measure of Israel’s commitment to keeping the covenant. Like ourselves people throughout history have found forgetting the vulnerable easy and taking advantage of them tempting. The widow is the person in the story most like Jesus; she gives wholeheartedly all she has.

The widow in Sunday’s first reading also gives her all. She uses her last bit of flour and oil to make cakes for the prophet Elijah. She takes Elijah at his word and finds her jar of flour never goes empty and her jar of oil never runs dry.

What is the measure of your generosity?

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All Souls’ Day Prayer

2 Nov
Photo via Catholic Relief Services Facebook page.

Photo via Catholic Relief Services Facebook page.


Today we remember and honor the memory of our loved ones who have passed on, as well as for those who have passed on around the world. Click here to view the full prayer from Catholic Relief Services.

Love Made Seen

30 Oct
Photo via Flickr user theoriginalhoodlum

Photo via Flickr user theoriginalhoodlum

I’m a sucker for the sacraments. They always make me cry. If done well, it really is Christ’s love made tangible in this place.

On Sunday our ninth graders got confirmed. I was asked to address them, so I had put a lot of time, into thinking about this specific group of young people and what it meant that they were affirming their baptismal promises. The fall of ninth grade is this very tender time for young people. They are thrilled about being in high school, but it still feels a bit foreign and intimidating. They are starting to cleave from their parents and find closeness with their peers. And at this particular moment, the church asks them to affirm the promises God made them in baptism. In this raw and vulnerable season of identity formation and growth, body changes and friend shifting, they acknowledge that God loves them no matter what. I looked them in the eye as I addressed them, hoping their hearts were open to hear:

Most of you probably don’t remember, but some crazy things happened at your baptism. Mainly, you were doused with water and God promised you that you’d be loved forever no matter what. With three dips in the font God whispered, “I love you. You belong. You matter.” Then the people who gathered looked at you, the one with the wet head and said, “Welcome to the family, kid.”

You showed up today. After taking another look at what God promised you in baptism, you’re here to affirm that. In a way you are saying, “Yep, I know the world thinks that what happened at my baptism was a little odd. I don’t know if I always believe all this stuff, but I’m here. I’m here for the ride because there is truth in these stories of ours and this community, this rag tag quirky community is home.

And the church is pretty smart to ask you to come back and look at these baptismal promises again right around now because, well, you are going to start needing them now maybe more than ever. The world is gonna keep telling you over and over and over again that you don’t matter unless you buy more makeup, grow taller, date the right person, graduate from the right college, make more money and above all, have a stellar following to follower ratio on Instagram. Most days the voices whisper these things again and again—you are insignificant, you are not enough. Other days the voices shout, “Be more, Be better!” It takes courage to be here, to study even the stories that don’t make sense and be critical of this human institution from the inside and commit to a life that does not put yourself at the center of the universe all the time. It is brave to believe in something. It is a risk to love. It is subversive to deny these whispering voices and stand in the truth that you are loved indeed. That you are, in fact, enough. That you do belong and you do matter.

You might be standing in the corner shaking your head and rolling your eyes internally just a little. You may be front and center singing your heart out. Maybe, like Jacob, your struggles are so visceral right now it feels like you are literally wrestling with God. Either way. God loves you like crazy whether you want God to or not. God is all wrapped up in your story. And when your story stops making sense, God will be there, and so will we.

Then they came up one by one, and their families and friends laid hands on them while they were prayed over. When else would this ever happen? And now, when the ninth graders may need it the most. For some young people, twenty others came up with them and put a hand on their head or shoulder, standing with them saying, “We love you. We are here for you.” Even thought they may be looking toward their peers for approval more so than their family, the families won’t let them forget, “You are loved. You belong. You matter.”

I sat and watched, one after another, families lay hands on the ninth graders. I cried, watching Christ’ love be made seen in this time and in this place. That’s the power of ritual, a break in the ordinary to reflect on the extraordinary love of God.

Gospel Reflection for November 1, 2015, All Saints Day

26 Oct

Sunday Readings: Revelation 7.2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of God is theirs.”

(Matthew 5.3)

When people identify the central message of Christianity, they will say loving God and neighbor or following the ten commandments. Rarely does anyone’s first response refer to the beatitudes. The thou-shalts and shalt-nots of the commandments are familiar. These actions break and erode the relationships that bind us together as the people of God.

Discerning what it means to be poor in spirit, sorrowful, merciful, pure of heart, peacemaking require more reflection. The beatitudes expand what the commandments to love God and neighbor ask of us. They challenge us to saintly living, so it makes sense to hear them as the gospel on the feast of All Saints.

Whom do you bless with your loving actions? Who blesses you?

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Extravagant Wastefulness

23 Oct

Sara Groves has a new album coming out soon. In preparation for that, she allowed a film crew to follow her around while she ran errands, and what came out spoke to me loud and clear.

She speaks about how pragmatism has infected every institution, including the church. We focus on usefulness, and as a singer and songwriter, she thinks it is the artist’s job to push back on that undercurrent. Artists, in order to create, need to take up an amount of space that seems extravagant and wasteful to the rest of the world.

I have found that to be true as a writer as well. My professor would say, “If writers don’t take time to be contemplative, who will? That is our role in society, to be brave enough to do nothing. To sit and think. To go on long walks in the rain and to not speak until we have something to say.” When I went to study writing, I worked hard and fast. I was considered productive and useful. As my teacher, she pushed me to slow down, to count doing nothing and sitting and thinking as the most necessary part of the process. Writing stopped seeming like production and started feeling like art. It started to feel decadent and wonderfully extravagant. If I rushed, I could produce something, but it didn’t glow. I had to embrace the subversive parts of the creative process. I had to be wasteful with my time.

Groves reminds us that the push to be useful is so strong that when we take a break to contemplate or create or do nothing, we feel guilty. We have to carve out time to take Sabbath, to take a long walk, to let God speak to our hearts. The children, the older folks, the artists, the homeless, they are good at taking up this space. They have let go of this drive to be useful and sit in the pocket of being. They are inviting us into this extravagant wastefulness where we are not useful, we are not productive, but there is space for God to speak. There is space for beauty to be created.

Being a working mom, I am struggling to carve out that time. I want to return to it, but how? Taking a whole day off does feels extravagant and wasteful. And essential. So I am beginning as I always do, with small steps. I am going to pick a day each week to stay away from my phone and computer. I am going to let my child invite me into a whole day of extravagant play. I know, deep down, God will meet me there in that space. The space the world may call wasteful, God calls sacred.


Social Action Has Two Feet!

22 Oct


Gospel Reflection for October 25, 2015, 30th Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Oct

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.7-9; Hebrews 5.1-6; Mark 10.46-52

Bartimaeus threw of his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Teacher, I want to see again”.

(Mark 10.50-51)

Even before Jesus heals his blindness, Bartimaeus throws away his cloak, in which he probably collected the money passersby threw his way.  He accepts the call to discipleship before Jesus gives it.  His desire to see transforms Bartimaeus.  Their desire for status impedes the visions of James and John, over confident they can drink the cup Jesus drinks.  His desire for belonging keeps the rich young man from following Jesus.  The blind beggar who sees with eyes of faith becomes the model disciple.  Bartimaeus must have come to faith in Jesus through hearing others talk about him.  In that sense he is like all of us today who believe on the testimony of others.

What keeps you from throwing away your cloak?

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19 Oct

Ask-the-BeastsWe have purchased several boxes of Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s latest books – Ask the Beasts and Abounding in Kindness.  We are offering them to you at a 15% shipping discount: $3.22 shipping for one book; $3.72 shipping for two books.

In Ask The Beasts Sr. Elizabeth Johnson presents Darwin’s exquisite observations of nature and how physical matter comes to life and to consciousness. She’s on the same page as Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, putting science and religion into dialogue. Sr. Elizabeth bets that if we behold the beauty of God’s creation, we will join in it’s care. “Ask the beasts and they will tell you…God’s hand is the life of every living thing” (Job 12.7, 10).  $25.00

Abounding-In-Kindness-No-FrameAbounding in Kindness is the short course in the inspiring work of theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. The titles of the four sections summarize the topics: Patterns of Faith in a Questioning Time, Great God of Heaven and Earth, Jesus the Living One, Kindle in Us the Fire of Divine Love: Church Matters. If you have read anything of Sr. Elizabeth’s you know a treat awaits you here. If you have not, this book is a great beginning.  $20.00

Our supply is limited, so first come, first serve.  Call Rosie or Lacy at 800.232.5533 to place your order.

World Food Day 2015

16 Oct
Photo from Facebook page of Catholic Relief Services

Photo from Facebook page of Catholic Relief Services

Today is World Food Day 2015!  This day marks the founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. This year’s theme is: “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty”.  Join in solidarity against hunger, especially among the poorest people. Visit the websites of the Food and Agricultural Organization, Heifer International, and Catholic Relief Services to see how you can contribute and help make this generation a Zero Hunger Generation.


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