Tag Archives: community

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.

 

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.

Bless the Little Children

Much has been made recently of a Pew report illustrating a decline in Christianity in America, Catholicism particularly. 

The idea that six Catholics leave the Church for every one who joins it troubles me. However, yesterday I experienced something that gave me more than the hope I needed to realize that the Catholic Church I love so dearly will survive well into the future.

I have two daughters that attend a local Catholic school. My oldest was invited to participate in something called the “Living Rosary,” in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Neither of them had been involved in this activity previously, and because the event is held during the school day, my husband and I had never attended before. How I wish we had.

In the “Living Rosary” children from first through eighth grade serve as the jewels on the Rosary, one for each prayer. Assembled around the Church in the form of a Rosary with a student holding a crucifix at the head, each child starts the prayer they stand for, and the congregation of their classmates, teachers, parents and other parishioners answer back. Older children mark each of the holy mysteries of each decade.

It’s quite simple. There are no costumes, no special decor. No musicians, only two girls beautifully singing “Mary, Gentle Woman” acapella. (They reminded me of two girls in my grade school class who often cantered school Masses. They sang so beautifully. I always dreamed to sing with them, but had no such talent!) Just 200 or so Catholic school children leading prayer. 

I’ve been to Mass with these same kids. And they are kids at Mass. They can’t resist chatting with each other, they zone out, some fall asleep, and at least one is usually escorted out for whatever infraction. Yet yesterday, in our quiet, dimly lit Church, they were attentive, engaged and alert. Many held flowers they had brought to adorn a new statue of the Virgin outside the Church in our parish garden. 

With school coming to an end, I couldn’t help but see the growth these children had experienced through the year. Watching the prayers of the Rosary flow from soon-to-graduate eighth graders to just-beginning first graders was a powerful symbol of how we Catholics are obliged to pass our spiritual traditions on to our children, and they to one another.

They’re all kinds of children. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian. Boys and girls. Princesses and tomboys. Athletes and bookworms. Skinny ones, chubby ones. Ones with glasses, some with various spring injuries, others missing a tooth. A few who forgot to wear their special uniform blue polo.  A reminder that God welcomes us all, no matter our differences, to unite in worship. Such a simple thought. Yet so powerful through the example of these children. 

 As the members of the Rosary and their classmates proceeded from Church to the courtyard to honor Mary with a crown of beautiful spring blossoms, they sang “Hail Holy Queen” with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sports and recess. One by one, class by class they laid their flowers before the Mother of God. Picked from gardens, bought from local stores, pruned from flowering trees. It was an amazing bouquet, fit for a Queen.

There are certainly dynamics working on the population of Catholics in the United States. The faithful come and go, often leaving the Church for purely human reasons – relocation of priests, something said at the pulpit, sour grapes over who’s who in the parish. Yet in so many places, these gems – the Catholic elementary schools that welcome all children to learn – still stand strong. 

These children give me hope. I see their understanding of the basis of Catholicism – they know how to love one another, and how to forgive. As they grow into the adults who will lead the Church, I know Catholicism will live on.

Catholic Schools are Community Jewels

Recently, a team of professors from the law school at the University of Notre Dame released a study suggesting that neighborhoods lose more than economics when a Catholic school closes.
That price, the researchers say, is community vitality.
Ok, I thought, but there’s a lot more to community erosion than closing Catholic schools. And then I had an experience where the reality of that study smacked me right in the face.
I grew up in the Catholic school system. Grade school, high school, college. Even grad school. My two beautiful girls are now enrolled in a Catholic school. My experiences have not been horrible as so many attest. No nuns ever beat me with a board, no priests or brothers abused me. Of course like anything, Catholic school isn’t perfect. But there is one thing that makes it different.
If you are part of any Catholic school, particularly elementary school or high school, it’s because you WANT to be. Not because it’s where you were “assigned.”
Parents, including parents who are not Catholic, send their children to Catholic school because they want an educational experience for their children that’s more than 123s and ABCs. And, dare I say, one that’s even more than catechism.
Parents who send their kids to Catholic school know it’s reality. It’s an investment financially, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It’s tuition, fundraising, time commitments, more fundraising, countless donations, and trust. It’s teaching by example.
It’s cliche, but it really is like a family, the way modern people think of it : You spend a lot of money and time to be with people you may not want to be with for the sake of your children and your own roots.
And that’s the rub right there – what the researchers may have been driving at. Community is not about candy and roses and everyone loves one another. It’s more about bearing with one another, no matter how you feel about them, for something worthwhile.
That’s what happens in Catholic schools. Case in point, sports and activities. In this fashion, Catholic schools have changed since my day. Many reasons have taken programs like football and cheerleading out of some schools. Mostly, however, schools don’t have the number of kids necessary to field two football teams and cheerleading squads anymore.
But kids and parents still want the opportunity to play. In our area, parents from various schools in the region (north, east, west, south) took the responsibility to pull interested players and cheerleaders from multiple schools into teams, chose volunteers to manage the teams and squads, manage and man concessions and administration, and built programs stronger than many of the old single school groups.
Parents did this. Parents who work day jobs, who have kids in other activities, who have babies at home, who care for ailing parents, who may not always want to spend time together, may not even know one another, do it so their kids can thrive and discover their talents. The ones who understand that community begins with strong confident kids say “why not?” instead of “do I have to?” or “I don’t have the time.”
Big deal, right? It’s football. But grade school football programs are also community engines. There are local photographers hired to take team pictures, local screen printers who do t-shirts and hoodies, vendors who provide concessions, venues that hold games, social events and banquets. Our team even offers space to a woman who makes jewelry in team colors. And it’s parents showing kids that they are important, and that everyone in the community has something to offer.
Community isn’t about having everything you want and liking everyone where you live. It’s much more about doing things you’d rather not on a rainy Saturday afternoon out of a sense of responsibility and necessity. It’s about forking over another $20 for candy or candles or wrapping paper so your child’s class can have a Thanksgiving play. It’s about hauling three cases of bottled water to a cross country meet because it’s your turn and sweating in the heat until that last kid crosses the finish line on a 90 degree afternoon.
It’s about giving kids something to do after school or on a weekend so they don’t have to find something questionable with which to occupy their time. It’s about sacrificing some personal pursuits to teach a future generation how people come together and strengthen one another. It can be about swallowing pride in front of your kids to show its important to find ways to work with one another.
This may happen in other institutions. But Catholics are particularly good at it. Like families, we certainly have dysfunction amongst ourselves. But our gift lies in pushing forward regardless of how problematic our inner differences maybe, and sacrificing when we’d rather not.
Kids – who in modern society so often get pushed aside, abused or overlooked – keep our communities vibrant and growing. Supporting and striving for the future of Catholic education is about more than economics. It’s about teaching another generation how to build a community people want to be part of.