Tag Archives: christianity

Be Real, People

There’s been a lot said lately by people more qualified than me about the current state of the Catholic Church. That its archaic. That it must change to keep people engaged. That the conventional wisdom of modern people is stronger than the doctrine of an institution that has survived thousands of years of in spite of the human brokenness of its members and leaders.

I honestly don’t have answers for any of the Churches critics, internal or external. I do know that I have made a conscious decision to follow Christ through the Catholic Church and to raise my children within it. Of all the adventures I have embarked upon in my life, this has by far been the most challenging.

When I began blogging and sharing how Christianity collides – sometimes rather harshly – with the daily life of my family, I truly believed I had found my role in the “new evangelization” the Church was talking so much about. I thought it was a great way to use the amazing technology God had given us to make the world a better place in my own little way.

I soon found that trying to navigate the intersection between adult life and Christian morality was not so easy. The more I explore, the more I realize how flawed I am as a Christian and Catholic.  I believe in decency, goodness and, as corny as it sounds, brotherhood. Even when, as I am currently, struggling to find these things within me.

I have been very blessed over the course of my life – for many years, I was one of those people who was hated by others, including my friends, because things often seemed to go my way. I got good grades from elementary through graduate school. I had wonderful family and friends. I was in good health, was motivated and innocent to a large degree of the harsh realities of living. I did not know how fortunate I was. The last ten years or so have brought me many challenges and battles for which I was morally unprepared.

A writer at heart, I thought sharing those struggles as I reconciled them with my faith would offer support and motivation to others facing personal hardships like mine.

May be it does.

But its done something else as well. Its made me more reluctant to wear my heart on my sleeve about my beliefs and experiences. We live in a world that wants conformity and homogeneity when it demands diversity. My most powerful stories of God in my life amidst my own numerous failings are ones I could never share here. Not because people might label me a religious fanatic. Heck, I get that by just going to Church on Sunday and being pro-life.

No. I can’t truly share because I must also live for the future in some sense. In many ways, I’ve already hindered myself through my writing. I’ve given the world reason to exclude me from social groups, employment opportunities, friendships, even family circles. It’s not because I’m trying to be Catholic – it’s because I share my un-perfectness in a world that demands flawless living. Funny concept for someone like me who spent my professional life “selling” businesses and ideas, and “putting the right spin” on straightforward things.

St. Paul faced great danger in his desire to spread the Gospel and God’s Word. Today, sharing our spiritual experiences in life can lead us to isolation. I often feel I have contracted Jerry McQuire syndrome, if you remember the old movie.  I know I have something to share, and my blogs do come from my heart. I just wish it was easier to know what’s right and get on with it like Jerry did in the movie. Or like Paul did in the New Testament.

I also hope I’m able to continue as Paul did in the face of adversity. Perhaps like he, I can learn to be happy with fewer friends and even fewer true companions on my journey.  Maybe I can learn when its best to keep quiet and best to share my life loudly. But more importantly, perhaps I can encourage others that the goal of life is not to be what society sees as perfect and acceptable. Perhaps we can never truly heal our own brokenness until we’re home with the Lord. But we can help one another cope through honesty and understanding.

 

Lent with My Dogs

For Lent this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

Now before any of you very serious traditional Catholics run for the Rosary beads, hear me out. I’m not talking about eating out of a dish on the floor, barking to go outside or visiting all of the other dogs in the neighborhood like my Great Pyrenees does. No. What I’m talking about is learning from my dogs about some of the amazing things they do that people seem incapable of doing.

People who know me well know I spend an inordinate amount of time with two very white dogs – the aforementioned Pyr, and an aging, yet very playful, West Highland White Terrier. If you don’t know me well, you might guess this from the fact I’m constantly covered in white fur.

I like them better than I like most people. Even when the Pyr drools all over my leg for a pretzel or the  Westie erupts into peels of high pitched barking every time the washing machine switches cycles. Its not because they’re cute and furry, although that does help (especially when one of them just ate an entire birthday cake or switched the gas on the stove on trying to get to an apple pie).

It’s because dogs know how to love unconditionally.

I’ve been observing them now for some time and I’m really not sure exactly how they do this. I know they don’t forget things – like when they’re punished, or dog shamed, or where the treats are. And I know they aren’t stupid – the Pyr can open doors with knobs and the Westie can hide his toys successfully from the Pyr. And I saw a lab on tv last week open an armoire refrigerator and find the peanut butter.

It seems that when they greet me with uncontrolled enthusiasm at the door, watch over me when I’m sick, snuggle with me at night and try to sit on my lap (the big one, not the little one), its truly because they love me and are happy in my presence.

I don’t know a human, even those who I love and love me most, who has never been angry with me, showed me distain, let me down or felt unloving toward me at some point. I have a way of torquing everyone I know off at some point. That’s just me. And I’ve paid for it in human relationships (hence my preference for animals).

But Max and Penny, those white furry angels, forgive me anything – unnecessary vet trips, tripping over them, buying the wrong treats, staying out too long, etc, etc. Sure they’ll show annoyance, but they’ll be back in no time for an ear or belly scratch, or in the Pyr’s case, a full body hug, like nothing ever happened.

I wonder often in their presence about this amazing trait. From what other dog lovers tell me, this is a hardwired thing in almost all breeds. They know how to forgive and forget. They KNOW nothing in life is more important than the power of love. No wonder dogs are man’s best friend. Its too bad we’re not more like them. Or learn more from them. Incredible were the masters.

So, my Lenten promise to be more like my dogs. I will be making more concerted efforts to love people without conditions or limits. To forget about the things that rub me wrong and remember that I myself am broken. To spend more time out of my house and my yard and with other human beings. And to learn more about my own shortcomings in loving other people for who they are – the image of God in a crazy world.

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.

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.

No Catholic is Perfect

I have something to own up to. It seems, through all of the soul searching it takes to blog about finding God in your life and your family, I’ve discovered one very important thing. And that is that I’m not exactly a good Catholic.

The thing is, you probably aren’t either.  You might be like me. I thought I was a pretty good Catholic when I started this blog. And I don’t exactly think I am or was ever a “bad” person. I get the big things right : I haven’t killed anyone; I don’t steal or cheat; I always say I’m sorry; I pray; I give generously to charity; and I work hard to put the needs of others before my own. 

But when you get down to the nuances…there’s where things get a little fuzzy. For instance, God doesn’t want us to harm ourselves. I’m not exactly out there engaging in risky behaviors. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, have never done drugs, don’t bungy jump, jump out of air planes; or sign up for one-way tickets to Mars. But. I’m a diabetic. And I’m not exactly good at that. It’s not that I like sweets; I do, but those things can be controlled. I’m just not exactly a big exerciser, sometimes I forget my insulin, and sometimes I actually don’t eat enough. I don’t have a lot of structure in my life. That can be problematic – and maybe it’s sinful, too. After all, I did end up in the cardio unit not so long ago due to my inability to care about my health.

Once upon a time, I used to be really good at celebrating birthdays, milestones, special events. I kept Hallmark running. I sent people gifts and flowers. Sometimes for no reason other than I wanted them to be happy. I still often remember those dates. But I can’t remember the last time I sent a card. I miss parties, cancel plans, etc. Sin? Probably not. But those habits certainly keep me from experiencing joy and sharing it with others. Mostly because of laziness. I think that’s one of the seven deadly, isn’t it? The Church calls it sloth.

It seems when it comes to spreading Catholicism, we all have this idea that were supposed to be pointing out the logs in one another’s eyes, instead of discovering where we go wrong ourselves. If you don’t believe me, get a Twitter account, and start following anyone who says they’re a Catholic. Then sit back and watch them fight with each other (me included) over how much more they know about God, religion and sin. If you don’t think there are schisms in the making within the Church, you soon won’t know how it survived this long after a few tweets.

Jesus tells us all the time in the Bible and at Mass – we are all sinners. Even Pope Francis admits it. WE ALL HAVE DEMONS. Sins we fight to resist. Which means none of us are better than any other. I have issues with anger. I have friends and family who have trouble with lust, greed, gluttony, and jealousy. It’s the same struggle to be a better person under different circumstances. We should be embracing one another, differences aside, recognizing we fight the same evil in different forms.

Yet were too busy telling other Catholics their kids are too loud in Church, that they don’t give enough in the collection, or that they shouldn’t wear certain clothing to Mass. Perhaps if we took that time to look inside, we just might discover just how far we ourselves are from God.

In the last year or so, I’ve started reading my Bible, exploring Catholic literature, and referencing the Catholic Catechism. I’ve learned quite a bit. Stuff I thought I would have known after 18 years of solid Catholic education. I started making connections to my life I never made. I’ve even started saying the Rosary, which I’ve never done before.

The closer I get to God, the less important my own idiosyncrasies seem. The more I realize others have their own extenuating circumstances that may make them late, crabby, or particular about something. The more I realize that being Catholic, or the best Catholic I can be, is downright HARD!

You all know that too. That’s where people – all people – trying to live a Catholic life are special. We embrace the difficulty of life as Catholic – we don’t turn away from God because what he asks is challenging. But we are not perfect, not even one of us. It’s our job to be harder on ourselves, not on one another. There are enough people out in the world who are hard on Catholics. 

We must take an even harder road – embrace one another, differences and personal demons included, and realize we too are imperfect. And together present a united front to the world that questions our faith.

If Your Bored, Your Doing It Wrong

A writer at the Blaze today echoed the voices of teenagers everywhere when it comes to religion. In reference to the already infamous Pew poll that came out yesterday showing Christianity to be in decline, he declared, somewhat in jest, the reason for this to be “Christianity is boring.”

One of the commentors to his post hit the nail on the head. “If it’s boring,” she writes, “you’re doing it wrong.”

Religion, prayers, Sunday services, Mass, etc do not exist to entertain us. They exist to help us come closer to God, to re-energize our resolve to follow His plan, to come together in communion with other believers and to allow us to grow into good, decent people. In case you missed it, Christianity, Catholicism in particular, is HARD. 

Mass is to Catholics what meetings are to alcoholics. Ever heard of rocking AV displays, dancing girls and mind-enhancing music at an AA meeting?  Me either. If you think Mass or whatever kind of Sunday service you go to, if you go to any, should be designed to entertain you, maybe you should leave organized religion. Maybe you are, or should be, one of the six people who have left the Catholic Church for every one who has joined it in recent years.

The Catholic Mass, like other Christian services, is designed to encourage reflection, worship, repentance and many other exercises that help us evaluate and advance our relationship with The Lord. I love a good homilest and engaging priest as much as anyone. When I was in college at the University of Dayton, our provost not only gave a moving homily, he recited the Gospel dramatically. From memory. His Masses were packed to the gills on parents weekends and often held in the field house instead of the chapel.

Yes, he was entertaining, if you want to call it that. “The best priest I ever saw,” my dad used to tell people. But Father was also thought-provoking, challenging and integral in faith formation at UD at that time. He was the priest everyone would want at their parish. But not every parish can have a Father Heft. All priests have gifts to share, but not all are great speakers. At many moments in a lifetime of Masses, we must deal with a variety of priests – the rambler who forgets it’s a 1 p.m. Steeler kick-off, the one who just asks for money, the one who has stage fright, the one who wants to talk lofty theology instead of relate Jesus to parishioners, and so forth.

What makes Mass moving and “entertaining” if you will, is us. When we trust in the sacredness of the Mass, when we allow ourselves to engage in ceremony, to assess our relationship with God, to move past all the other things on our minds and focus on why we’re there in the first place, WE make the Mass meaningful for ourselves. A vibrant priest helps. But theatrics are not the necessary element to finding fulfillment.

The fact that we find Christianity “boring” says a lot more about us than it does about the Church, or about God. His lessons are not easy. We don’t want to hear about the un-Christian things we expose our children to. No one wants to hear about the need to condemn abortion, abuse, gossip, pride and gluttony. We don’t want to feel “uncomfortable” in relationships with gay friends and family because were Catholic. We don’t want to necessarily share our wealth with the poor. We’d rather accept the expertise of pseudo-scholars who tell us God is dead and the ways of the Church, which have challenged believers for millennia, are archaic. But really, what’s old fashioned about listening to your parents, not taking things that aren’t yours, and not sleeping with your neighbor’s husband? Yet we still haven’t conquered these temptations in all our modernness. 

Truly, if entertainment  is really what your looking for, Sunday services actually have it all. Betrayal, sex, incest, murder, war, barbarism, fire and brimstone. And that’s just in the first chapter of the Bible. I had a great high school religion teacher who used to call out verse numbers and make some unsuspecting kid in his class read them aloud. He loved the part where Lot’s daughters decide to seduce their drunk father to ensure that they’ll have children, now that their hometown of Sodom has burned to the ground. 

I wonder what those who declare this boringness would think of those I recently wrote about who would bring all Catholics back to pre-Vatican II Masses where the priest prayed, in Latin, with his back to the congregation. Imagine the disconnection they would feel not being able to understand a single word of the service!

No, people don’t leave the church today because Christianity is boring. They leave it because it’s easier and more fun to follow the crowd on its way to eternal damnation.

Will The Real Catholics Please Stand Up?

Late last week, I had an interesting conversation on Twitter with some Catholic and raised-Catholic millennials. We were discussing our perceptions about God being either a warm fatherly figure or a strict disciplinarian. 

Rather quickly, our topic turned toward what we’ll call “traditional” Catholicism. I talk to lots of Catholics online, and I champion Roman Catholic values and teachings. I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic institutions through graduate school — all post Vatican II. Yet I never really realized, until a local organization of the Society of St. Pious the X (SSPX) “reopened” a closed Catholic church building in my city, just how divided “Catholicism” really is.

There are lots of quotation marks in this post, mostly because I don’t know what to call some of the organizations and groups I’m going to talk about. In my upbringing, those who do not follow the Church in Rome are not “Catholic,” let alone “Roman Catholic.” But, last week, I was shocked when a religious person told me David Zubik, Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh and a very holy man, was not a “true Catholic.”

I had read an article about the SSPX reopening the old St. James church building on Pittsburgh’s West End for regular “traditional” Catholic Mass, or the Latin, pre-Vatican II, Mass. Lots of people have been heralding the beauty of the Latin Mass lately, even actor Michael Keaton, so I thought this was some “Catholic” group I didn’t have knowledge of. But I knew the Diocese of Pittsburgh offered Latin Masses regularly around the city, so it seemed a bit odd they would dedicate one building to Latin Mass.

Later in the story, Bishop Zubik was quoted reminding Roman Catholics that the SSPX was not a sanctioned part of the Roman Catholic Church, and that His flock should be sure to avoid Mass at St. James.  When a blogger I follow on Twitter posted pictures of the church reopening, I dropped him a tweet to let him know about this, and posted the news story. That’s when I heard from SSPX connected “Catholics” that neither I nor my Bishop were “true Catholics.”

So I read a little more about SSPX. They were once part of the Roman Church. A French archbishop started a group with papal encouragement to preserve the Latin Mass after Vatican II. The archbishop wasn’t specifically against Vatican II changes – he voted to move forward with many of them, including the new Mass. But as time wore on, however, his followers developed more and more ideas outside of Roman Catholic teaching. The archbishop eventually became estranged from Rome and was excommunicated by Saint John Paul II for ordaining SSPX bishops to succeed him without papal governance and approval.

Yet some of my Twitter friends seem to think SSPX members are the “real Catholics.” They do have churches and schools across the country, and as a lifelong Catholic, I was surprised by the size of this….”schismatic group” I hadn’t known existed.  I’m sure many of my Roman Catholic friends have never even heard of them, either. And even after research, other than the fact that they attend Latin Mass and don’t follow Rome, I’m not finding a lot of differences – or rather the reasons why they’ve separated themselves from the pope. They just seem to be really conservative “Catholics.”

Yesterday, I was reading about a so-called Catholic parish that ordained a group of female priests. As a lifelong Catholic, I know this is not Rome’s teaching, and is likely to get someone, or someones, excommunicated. These woman are obviously not Roman Catholics or priests, even if they identify themselves as such. I couldn’t help but wonder what SSPX would think of a move like this. This is probably the kind of “church liberalism” that generated their schism in the first place.

But really, in the end, I don’t get either of these groups. Christians, especially Catholics, are under fire across the globe. If we’re honest with ourselves, each Catholic likely has some disagreement with what comes from Rome. Some rule we don’t like or think needs fixing, theologians we all no doubt are. But we’re not all running off to start our own religions because there are both liberal and conservative schools of thought within the church. We hold fast to the tradition and community we love.

For Catholicism to weather the storm it has found itself in, we Catholics should be searching for unity, not dividing ourselves over who agrees or disagrees with what part of the “doctrine.” We believe in the same loving God the Father. We all believe in spreading the good news of his son Jesus Christ. We need to be tolerant of one another, remember we are all sinners and respect the different ways Catholics choose to worship within the rules. Creating the rules is not our place.

Catholics need to redevelop trust in the papacy and the Vatican. But we also need to realize that those leading our Church are still human beings. They make mistakes. They sin. But they are also faced with managing an ancient religion across the cultural, economic, and social divides of the world. If they aren’t moving fast enough, or are moving too fast on whatever our issue might be, we need to be patient in the process, and trust God will inspire.

In the end, we all have our personal relationship with God. We know in our minds that no religion, can meet the ideals of every individual among the millions of its members. But we also know it’s not up to God to agree with what we want Him to be. It’s up to us to change our lives to be what He needs us to be. 

At this point in history, what we need, what Catholicism needs, and what a God needs is for us to focus on what we have in common, and work together to solidify our Catholic faith and preserve the many facets of its history for centuries to come.