Tag Archives: Catholic

Go Where God Leads

In 1980, when I was eight years old, I stood in a beautiful Catholic Church watching tears pool in my mother’s eyes and slowly run down her cheeks. She did not wipe them away. It was one of the first times I remember seeing her cry. The church she grew up in, in which she married my father, was closing to make way for a new interstate highway.

A few years later, as a journalism intern, I wrote my first major published story on the closing of another church in that same neighborhood – this time it was the lovely Italian church down the street. It was during a first wave of Catholic Church closings and diocesan reorganization in Pittsburgh. It was 1992.

No matter the reason, watching bishops and priests decide to shutter churches and disperse parishes can be particularly painful for Catholics. Often parishioners of closing churches studied in the church school. Families celebrated cherished milestones – Baptisms, First Holy Communions, Confirmations, weddings and funerals – beneath the church’s rafters. There are memories of Midnight Christmas Masses, Easter Vigils and myriad community events and gatherings. Parishes are real, living communities, often centered around a few buildings, a courtyard and lawn.

Like so many dioceses around the United States, Pittsburgh is again slogging through a reorganization of resources and assets. This time not only to address a dwindling and relocating number of practicing Catholics, but to brace for a loss of Catholic priests to lead its flock. The plan calls for closing churches and schools, combining other churches and schools, re-imagining the distribution of priests, growing the role of deacons and selling off superfluous real estate. As anyone would imagine, the effort is being met with anger, bewilderment and resistance on all fronts.

No one wants their parish to close – emotions are high, especially where Pittsburgh’s landmark churches are concerned. There are fears about what might happen to those sacred buildings – in recent memory, one cathedral sold into private hands became a micro brew and restaurant, the brew works itself taking the place of the altar. Another was purchased by the SSPX for its Masses. Others for swanky, unique apartments and lofts. The one my mother cried over in 1980 is now a venue for weddings and corporate parties, the rectory a serene city inn (the highway planned changed, and the building was never demolished).

This time, though, there’s much more at stake than beautiful landmark churches in urban  neighborhoods. The Diocese needs to consolidate. Its retiring the old parish K-8 school model in favor of regional elementary/middle schools and kindergarten/preschools. Some parish school buildings will host the early elementary schools, others 1-8. No one seems to be happy at all with the decisions made to date – kids from one school don’t want to go to the others building, parents are complaining about additional driving distance, and alumni are more than upset that long-held sports rivalries will end.

We’ve only really worked through one section of the Diocese so far. Everyone seems to be worried about something. And everyone seems to have forgotten about the real reason parishes and Churches exist at all – to worship God.

We are human beings living in a human world. Things within the Catholic Church in the United States are changing, and sadly not for the better. Only about half of those who call themselves Catholics attend Mass regularly. Fewer give regularly in the weekly collection basket. Commitments to the priesthood are low, and it seems younger priests often reconsider their oaths after being ordained. Priests are needed in administrative capacity as well as for pastors – our parish priest is retired, but was appointed administrator when our pastor took a leave of absence.  When he developed a back problem this week, he had to call more than eight priests just to find a substitute for one Sunday Mass. Fewer and fewer families are sending their kids to parish schools.  American Catholicism is shrinking.

In many ways, the necessity of reorganization in all dioceses is a problem we Catholics made ourselves. We want the Church to be there for us, but we don’t want to be there for it. We bellyache about fundraisers, complain when asked to volunteer, we don’t support the religious staff, and carry on about how the Church needs to get with the times. I’m amazed sometimes that there still is a Catholic Church in the United States.

But it comes down to this – being Catholic is NOT about what building you worship in. It’s not about not liking the priest assigned to your parish, or not being able to carry on a basketball rivalry with the school across town. It’s about GOD. it’s about respecting the teachings of Catholicism and being active in spreading God’s love within our human world.

None of this is easy – focusing on God and trying to truly be a good Catholic is not easy. Neither is guiding a diocese of churches, schools, hospitals, monasteries, cemeteries, community centers, shelters, etc., with many human issues – economics, logistics, funding, facilities management, public relations, municipal relations, regulations, and so on.

But these are all human problems and concerns. We too often confuse the human part of the Church with God himself. I can’t understand the stories I’ve been hearing of families taking their children out of Catholic school and enrolling them in public because the reorganization of their parish didn’t turn out quite as they expected.  Of others church hopping because their beloved pastor was moved somewhere his help was needed more. Or even others who refuse to go to Mass at a different church building because of some old grade school rivalry where we didn’t talk to the people from such and such parish.

Catholicism is about GOD. It’s about this Holy Week we just began, and the sacrifice Jesus Christ made to save us from ourselves. How can we tell Jesus, who suffered the ultimate fate, that we aren’t willing to move to a new church building, welcome a new priest, or send our children to a better equipped school facility? Church reorganization is inevitable. With fewer Catholics, and fewer religious, we must re-evaluate our sustainability and act accordingly.

It’s not about our feelings of loss, our inability to understand “why did they do it that way?,” or our annoyance at the overall process and its demands on our personal comfort. It’s about running a Godly institution in an unGodly world. If we don’t understand that, or refuse to understand that, perhaps we should reflect on why we are Catholic. Is it for God or is it for our own comfort?

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And a Little Child will Lead Them

Everyday, I continue to be amazed by what I learn from my children.

A few days ago, one of my girls told me, rather matter of factly, that for over a few weeks now, she’s been “sitting alone” at lunch. From that, I understand sitting with other kids, yet relatively invisible to them. Apparently, she moved to the other end of the table from the girl she once felt her BFF to see if the girl would notice she was gone. The girl apparently, without even noticing herself, had stopped talking to my daughter at lunch sometime ago, in favor of talking to someone else.

Big deal right? Right. Don’t feel sorry for her. My child, strangely, doesn’t seem to have an issue with this at all. When I asked her who she sat with now, she calmly laughed and said, “no one.” I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. Most mothers probably would, too. After all, what’s worse than being a tween with no true triends? Not much – I’d been there done that. She wanted to know why I cared so much when she really didn’t.

My daughter is something of a rare bird. Unlike nearly everyone I know, at 11 years old she knows who she is. Other kids aren’t interested in what she’s interested in. But she doesn’t care. Her thoughts, ideas and activities may not be “cool” with the other kids, but she keeps at them. She doesn’t need to engage in “attention getting” antics. She’s moving out of what’s supposed to be “cool” to doing stuff she’s good at. To a point where she is becoming amazingly talented. 

I’m in my mid-forties, and only now am I learning to live without caring what others think. I’m trying to do this by basing my life on my Catholic faith. I suck at it. But I keep trying, using my 20 years of Catholic education and a recent return to the study of my religion, to keep me going.  Ironically, I feel outcast among the very Catholics and faith community I grew up in. I’ve been labeled judgemental for reminding people what our religion says and requires of us. At the same time, I’m being terribly honest about my own sinfulness. (Want to know something? Just ask.) NOT a good mix. 

My 11-year-old daughter is my role model. It seems she was able to hear what I was telling her when we talked about not fitting in. She heard “Do what makes you happy.” “Know what you won’t accept.” Yet I never heard myself telling her. My other child, who has taken more than her turn in the barrel of bullies, gets what the older one has done. Now, she’s healing.

It’s mom who is struggling to put her faith in God and trust him. It’s all part of that dying to self thing I blog about so often. I made a life out of pleasing people – being an apologetic for corporations and organizations and anyone with a public relations “issue.” It’s funny to think that back in college when I started that career path, I promised God I would use my powers of persuasion to do his work. Be careful what you promise! It seems these days, the only one less popular than me is God himself.

So I’m turning my eyes again to my daughter – the one I prayed for when God didn’t see fit to bless me with a child. The one I begged for over five long years. The one who showed me anything is possible with God. Is it any wonder she’s named “Sara?” It’ll be hard, and I’ll likely keep losing friends as he uses me, and I’ll continue to cry, and pray for those who reject me and him. 

But as my beautiful Sara reminds me, who else do I truly need approval from but him?

Yes, Virginia there is a Hell

Like many others, I’ve been having a hard time lately dealing with human behavior.

We seem to have developed excuses for everything we once agreed was unacceptable – things like murder, rape, theft, infidelity, character assassination, child abuse, etc. – and decided to live in a world where everyone can do whatever they want. We have even decided that its ok do things that are completely stupid and degrading because “we should be able to do anything we want to without the fear of (fill in the blank.)”

A few weeks ago at my Church’s annual carnival, I picked up a priceless copy of some essays by the Archbishop Fulton Sheen at the white elephant sale for a mere twenty-five cents. Its an old musty paperback from the late 60s, but its topics and messages are as contemporary as any bestseller on Amazon today. In particular, as they relate to human relationships.

One essay in particular has captured my imagination. Strangely enough, its about the existence of hell. Sheen assures us in the piece that, yes, indeed there is a hell. After all, doesn’t there have to be in order for there to be a heaven? Anyway, what’s really compelling to me is how Sheen describes hell. He doesn’t talk fire and roasting pits and blast furnace temperatures. No horns, pitchforks and spikey tails. Sheen describes hell as the absence of love.

At the same time I was reading Sheen, cops were being shot in the street, Jihadis were attacking France and Germany, Iran and North Korea were developing nuclear weapons, Christians were under siege in the Middle East, anti-Semitism was making a comeback, and every American was arguing with another over what could possibly be the two worst Presidential candidates in history. I was also lamenting my own personal loneliness, feeling out of touch with friends and family, and reeling somewhat from the unexpected resignation of our Church pastor.

I suppose the world was making me feel rather unloved. But I knew God was there with me, as I often imagine Him, standing behind me with His strong hand on my shoulder, gently reminding me that He’s given me the strength to push ahead. And then I thought of Sheen’s words – Hell is eternity without love.

There was a time, quite recently, when I could not see or feel God’s love in my life if I could not feel the love of other people. Both kinds of love – that of others and of God – were both there, but though the imbalances of depression, I was unable to know either. Quite clearly, it was the worst time of my life. Real or not, I felt the absence of love. Sheen’s description of hell.

Putting all of that together, the idea of hell came alive for me. I cannot imagine for a moment, let alone an eternity, living that way again. I remembered how I often felt I had fallen into a deep hole, the people I love happily living life above me, without me, within earshot. I had no hope that God or anyone else would throw me a line and pull me out. I wanted to die, but thought perhaps I already had.

Sheen’s words made me think harder. I thought of all the people diagnosed with depression or a mental health malady. I thought of the people I couldn’t save from suicide with my own love. Then, of those around the world who certainly live lives of greater despair than I will ever. I thought of those hungry, thirsty, homeless, poverty-stricken, put-down, disrespected, and forgotten. I thought of those who are Godless.

More and more everyday, our world seems to have less love in it. Perhaps its because we truly do not extend love to one another. Or perhaps, we’ve become so accustomed to pain that we cannot recognize love when it is there, often because of our clumsy ways of expressing it. Maybe we’re even beyond that. Maybe we’re so pessimistic about the good in our world that we make it a point, consciously or unconsciously, to look for hate. Maybe we expect it to be there because we’ve been hurt, and when we find reality is more complicated than our own experience, we feel the need to invent it.

Sheen described hell in his essay – but he never did say exactly where it is. If we don’t come to our senses, it indeed may be right here with us. On Earth. If it isn’t already.

 

 

 

 

Pop Quiz

Jay Leno often did a schtick on the Tonight Show where he would have someone go out into the streets, read something from the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights, and tell people the government was thinking of implementing whatever it was. Most of the subjects would be outraged, or amazed, often remarking the excerpt was way too extreme.

I’ve seen more recent similar videos where interviewers have asked college students questions like “Which side won the Civil War?,” “Who is the Vice President?,” etc. with equally awful results.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of answers one would get if challenging Catholics with a similar pop quiz on the Bible and Catholic Catechism. My guess is that responses would be nearly if not more atrocious.

I’m not saying that to be insulting. In recent years, I’ve come to see that there is a great deal I do not know about Catholicism and what I’m supposed to believe or not believe. This is particularly distressing to me having attended Catholic school from first grade through graduate school, received instruction for five of the Seven Sacraments, trained as a Eucharistic Minister, written for a Catholic newspaper, read various books on Catholicism, attended numerous retreats and so on and so forth.

There always seems to be more to learn. Considering the many resources I’ve had over the course of my life, I wonder what Catholics who have not attended Catholic elementary, intermediate, secondary, college and graduate school do to learn about “being Catholic.” Although I must admit, I have a number of friends who are converts, who, much like naturalized Americans do about the U.S., know more about the history and rules than most lifelong Catholics I know.

While those believers out there who want to show us all how much they know about God and Catholicism would probably disagree, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that many, if not most, Catholics have more to learn about their faith. Unlike our Protestant friends, Catholics are less known to be big Bible readers. And if you’ve ever seen a print version of the Catholic Catechism, you might feel more comfortable picking up a copy of War & Peace.

The Bible, as one of my high school religion teachers liked to remind us, is far from boring reading. He loved picking out more risqué passages and asking an unsuspecting student to read them allowed. He particularly liked the story of Lot and his daughters after fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah. Also, David and Bathsheeba. Or Sampson and Delilah. You get the point. I’ve been reading my copy more these days. It comes in handy when people tell you “that’s not in the Bible.” Often, it is.

In recent years, when I lost two very special people to suicide, and was teetering on the brink of depression myself, I turned to the Catechism for clarity. I was comforted to know the Church recognizes mental health issues can indeed lead us to a type of distress that can only be quieted in death. I was under the impression that suicide was always mortal sin. Some may be surprised that in regard to homosexuals, the Catchism clearly states “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

We Catholics who are not theological or moral specialists might also want to consider reading and studying other Catjolic documents of importance – Humana Vite, anyone? How about Amoris Latetia? Do we know what the Church really says about infallibility? I used to think if the Pope said it, God said it. It’s much more complicated than that.

Catholicism is a living, breathing faith. Just like our relationships with people, we must attend to our relationship with God. What we hear and learn at Mass simply isn’t enough in a day and age when there is such challenge to our tradition and freedom to practice it. I forget this a lot. My children are learning more about Catholicism at Catholic school today than I believe I did as an elementary school student. They challenge me to know more and be more devout. And know the answers to their Catholic questions.

I challenge you, my fellow Catholics, to refresh your knowledge of our faith. It’s one thing to know the rules – yet we should know where our rules come from. We should recognize both the good and bad of our history, and realize that the humanity of Church leaders can lead them to sin just like the rest of us. We must know what conventional wisdom about Catholicism is correct, and what has been exaggerated to discredit our beliefs and values, should we be called on to defend God.

Catholicism is good and can be shared in love and with respect among lapsed and non- believers. Study up for those more and more frequent pop quizzes. Evangelize, don’t hide.

Surprise! No Big Surprises

Well, he did it. Many were afraid he would not, but he did.

Today, with the much anticipated release of his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis confirmed the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, pre-marital sex, and just about every other sex-related issue facing families.

It seems there may still be a tussle over divorced Catholics receiving the Eucharist at Mass, but that situation may be resolved by some changes to administration of the annulment process.

But there is a bigger picture to Amoris Laetitia it seems. Some would say it focuses on mercy to sinners, and with that, it could be a lessening of what is sinful and what isn’t.

From what I have seen and read so far, I see it to be about humanity. The Pope is not so much saying we should accept sin, or deem some sins to be less harmful. What he’s saying is that human beings are not perfect creatures. We are predestined to sin, like it or not, and when it comes to matters of family, those sins often lead to some odd and untraditional situations, i.e., single-parent families, abortion, child and spousal abuse, children being raised by grandparents, gender confusion in young children, and so on.

Francis stresses that ALL people are welcome within the Church. This is also stressed in the Chatechism – and it should not surprise anyone, especially not Catholics. We welcome homosexuals within the Church. Catholics do not believe same-sex marriage fits our definition of marriage. But just like someone who struggles with sins like fornication, gluttony or envy, those who face homosexuality are welcome to be active Church participants.

All people who are part of the Catholic Church face challenges when it comes to following Gods word. That goes for priests, nuns, bishops, etc. We all sin. God knows that we will and he allows us the prerogative to do so if we wish. What he does not allow is for us to decide something is not sinful because it’s become popular, or considered to be hard to resist.

What God offers us is forgiveness, if we are truly attempting to live as his children, and are truly sorry for our transgressions. Just as God can and will forgive sins like fornication, adultry, homosexual sex, divorce, abortion and abuse, we also must accept all sinners into the Church fold to allow them to repent and grow in Gods love. If God does not judge, nor should we, who are also imperfect by His design.

God welcomes all types of families into His Church. He realizes that in our imperfect world, miracles and goodness can rise from our mistakes and missteps – much the way children who grow into loving adults, can come from unusual relationships.

The Catholic Church has “rules” which have purpose and reason. As Francis has shown, no matter how much the secular world demands, they will not change. They are rooted in love. But we imperfect humans must take into account the reality of humanity in order for those rules to work in all lives.

Give Me Your Huddled Masses….

When I was a kid, I thought being “good” was pretty easy. You just had to be nice, do nice things and not swear.

But, as I discovered, things get more complicated as you get older.

Currently, I’m finding myself torn on a big issue. Immigration.

Let me say first that I am horrified for people, Christian or not, trying to escape the nightmare of ISIS. Or any other terror group. I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up daily wondering if you’ll be the next to die. If I should acquiesce to save my family. If I should work to help others escape, heal, hide. These cannot be easy decisions under the circumstances.

As Pope Francis says, so many are truly in need of our help. I want to help those in true need, and I want others to help them as well.

But I don’t want to help those using this situation as a way to spread evil as a by product of my charity. And, again, I’ll be honest. I do truly believe there are terrorists posing as refugees to spread fear to the global community. Based on what we’ve seen since 9/11, this is classic terror strategy.

None of us want to be “chumps,” playing into the hands of those who would destroy our culture, religion and traditions while forwarding a type of living that enslaves the people of the world to madness. We’ve heard what’s happening in Germany. We’re watching other Western countries battle between their beliefs and the safety of their own. Let’s be honest : all Ameticans should be fearful if they aren’t already.

But perhaps not as fearful as those living in the midst of pure evil. I don’t blame the refugees for running. Even the so called able bodied men – there are certainly some who are not terrorists. But I do wish we could some how look into their hearts to see their true intentions. How do you determine need from a desire to destroy liberty? No one has the resources to interview every refugee effectively enough to quell the threat. How do we show compassion without sacrificing other innocents to death?

I wonder sometimes if our ancestors and grandparents felt this way during other mass waves of immigration. Did Americans feel their country would lose its identity as floods of Germans, Slavs, Irish and Italians “invaded” in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

I think about my father’s family, many of who immigrated to the US following World War II. My grandfather, separated from his family, got here from Germany first. I can’t imagine what Americans thought of Germans -they probably called them Nazis- coming here. My father, grandmother and aunt came 16 years later, after finally receiving a visa from Communist Romania, where they had been trapped. 

I can’t imagine what Americans thought of a Gulag survivor and her teen children who couldn’t speak a word of English, and had never known true freedom. Yet they learned English, became naturalized citizens, reunited with my grandfather, finished school, went to college, got jobs and became amazing Ametican citizens. Is it possible that potential is in these other refugees? Could it be they truly want freedom as well?

I just don’t know. Yet I realize the God I love demands my compassion. My fear likely doesn’t matter to Him at all. My desire to be practical, to separate the wheat from the chafe so to speak, is probably not in his playbook. 

It’s seems being nice isn’t as easy as I thought it was as a kid. I pray God helps me to understand this dilemma. That our leaders are wiser than they have shown to be so far. But mostly, I pray for peace. And miracles.

Divided We Fall

I’m a bit ashamed today.

People who know me well, know I love to Tweet. I use Twitter for a variety of reasons, but primarily to spread the light of Jesus Christ. I try to be positive and supportive to people I find there. It’s kind of the reason I write this blog. I want to help people find commonalities in life instead of differences. Apparently, I am not actually good at this.

When I woke up today, I happened upon a debate two people were having about Muslims. I was reading the thread, and somehow or another it turned to Catholic bashing. I let it go a few Tweets. But when it was obviously going to continue, and the Church and its people were called evil…well, as I always seem to, I opened my big mouth.

The most unbelievable stream of anti-Catholicism was unleashed on me for speaking up for my Church. I’ve been Catholic my whole life. I’ve never even heard some of this. Of course there was the whole Mary worship thing, the Catholics have too much treasure thing, the Pope is evil thing (which many Catholics seem to believe now as well), the Inquisition thing, and don’t forget the preist sex abuse thing.

But today, we jumped into the Roman Catholic Church is not the Church founded by Jesus Christ thing. You know after all, the Catholic Church is never mentioned in the Bible. Jesus apparently doesn’t name Simon Peter the rock on which he will build his Church, he’s just some Jewish guy who’s name means “rock.” In case you didn’t know, the Roman Catholic Church was founded by Constantine in Constantinople, AFTER other Christian denominations, so he could kill people in the name of religion.

Let’s forget the nuttiness of that or a moment. I’m no theologian or Church expert, but in 18 years of Catholic education and a lifetime of Masses, I heard the answers to most of the big Catholic questions. I’m also an amateur history student, and I’ve read a lot about the Byzantines, etc. I could debunk everyone of these allegations. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was a poor witness to the Church in the face of radical attackers.

Two days after Pope Francis left the United States following his amazing first visit where people swamped Philadelphia just to be near him, the anti-Catholic sentiment seems higher than ever. And I’m beginning to understand why so few Catholics take a stand for their faith. People it seems, misunderstand us on purpose. It seems futile. They just don’t get it.

Everyone who attacked me today professed in their bios to be good Christian people. People who, for all intents and purposes, are supposed to believe something very similar to what Catholics believe, sans the Pope and Eucharist. Some of them said they were formerly Catholic! 

If you are Catholic, I’ve discovered it’s very important in this day to know what it is you believe in and where it came from. If you want to disagree and still be Catholic, perhaps even more so. Our inability to articulate our religion helps to give rise to these weird Catholic myths. I mean, how could Constantine have started Catholicism when even in the current world, we see great differences between the eastern and Roman rites? And it’s more than statues and icons. There were Christians before the Catholic Church? I bet Jesus himself would be surprised at that. But it’s fair to throw stones at us because hey, we killed millions in the Inquisition and we hoarded all the world treasure and built a wall around it.

Add all of this rhetoric to the Catholics  who find fault in every aspect of the modern Church from the Pope’s so called liberalism to music to kids eating fruit snacks at Mass, and it’s no wonder people don’t understand their own religion. We are all closer than we think – there really is no need for thousands of denominations. It all comes down to us wanting to believe what makes us happy – not what has been proven historically, or what the Church has practiced for thousands of years.

It’s true what they say – all Catholics are Christians, but not all Christians are Catholics.