Tag Archives: faith

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.

 

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?

Golden Evangelism

Rio de Janiero is, quite literally, a city watched over by God. The remarkable monument of Christ the Redeemer, completed in 1931 and renovated in 2010, looks over the rich and poor, Rio’s infamous festivals and parties, and, this summer, the Olympic Games.

All of my life, I’ve loved the Olympics. I have wonderful memories of watching. I still remember my father, who lived in Romania before emigrating to the United States, telling me someday he’d show me the country where Nadia Commanichi grew up. Watching Mary Lou Retton score a perfect 10 with my childhood best friend. The Miracle on Ice. Greg Louganis, Flo-Jo, Carl Lewis, Tommy Moe, Shaun White.

More recently, I’d lost, my enthusiasm for the Games. Watching pros decimate small countries in basketball wasn’t my thing. I was sick of doping scandals, host country bashing, trash talking, and whining. Considering the media beating Rio took before the Games even opened, I was very uninterested in this year’s Olympics. I knew we would be watching in some form, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

But then something happened that hasn’t happened in a long time, if it ever really had. God came down off that mountain in Brazil, and became part of the Games. Like I did as a child, my girls, and countless young people around the world, we’re watching. And the very heroes of the hour – the BIG names – started thanking God, talking about their faith, and, in the way only they can, began inspiring people to trust in the Lord.

The first story I saw on this was about gymnast Simone Biles finding time to attend Mass in Rio amid an absolutely crazy schedule of practice, competition, interviews and events. I was impressed – I know I myself haven’t always been as diligent on my travels. Initially I chalked it up to her mother. But by the second week, Biles had me chuckling with delight. When Bob Costas asked her after winning her fifth gold medal what she was going to do in Rio with gymnastics competition wrapped up, she enthusiastically told him she was going to eat junk food and visit Christ the Redeemer. Like a true American journalist, Costas couldn’t shut her up fast enough about her religion. He was outmatched.

Michael Phelps himself spent a lot of time talking in his interviews about how he found God in the midst of severe depression, which allowed him to return to the Olympics once again and add even more medals to his incredible collection. Watching him kiss his infant child poolside after one race was an incredible moment. I often thought of him before as a swimming machine – someone with a singular purpose in life. I wasn’t even sure I liked him – he didn’t even seem to have a personality. Amazing in his greatest success, he has become an evangelist to the extent of God’s love for His people.

And who could forget Simone Manuel’s surprise at winning her first Olympic gold, and exclaiming “God is great!” Katie Ledecky looking back over the pool for her competitors. Or African track and field runners carrying pictures of the Virgin Mary? Or decorated beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings proclaiming she was born to play volleyball and have babies? Then there were American synchronized diving silver medalists David Boudia and Steele Johnson declaring their Christian identity, and Usain Bolt carrying his Miraculous Medal. Add in Gabby Douglas traveling with her Bible, her teammate Lori Hernandez, gold medal swimmer Maya DiRado and track and field superstars Allyson Felix and English Gardner (my favorite name of the Games this year!) and children everywhere must be learning about and witnessing the power of faith.

When has that happened recently in such a high profile venue, with so many human role models putting their clout behind God? I can’t recall a time in my life.

Granted the entire Rio games have not been about goodness and the power of God. When athletes stunt their own dreams so they do not have to compete against a person from an “enemy country” or trash players on another team because that team unexpectedly upset their chances at a medal, the world still has a long way to go.

But when truly famous people who will spend a good deal of their time in the near future entertaining proposals to sponsor products and services, are not afraid to speak their minds and hearts about their personal faith in God, something is going right in the world. Even if Bob Costas would rather talk French fries and Zac Efron.

Thank you Simone, Michael, Simone, Kerri, Allyson, Usain, David, Steele, Gabby, Maya and so many other incredible athletes for inspiring children not only to excel physically, but spiritually. You are all truly Golden. God bless.

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.

I Don’t Know Everything

I’m what people would call a cradle Catholic. I was baptized as an infant, and attended Catholic school first grade through graduate school. I go to Mass regularly and am raising my children Catholic.
As an adult, like many other Catholics I know, I’ve had my beliefs challenged and discredited. I’ve gone through periods where I doubted God, and others where I decided to be angry with Him. But each time, I’ve come back to my faith stronger than before.
I once had a friend, who I would have to describe as an atheist, ask me point blank why I went to church and believed in Jesus Christ, especially as a Catholic. This was at a time when many priests were being outed as pedophiles.
I couldn’t answer the question immediately. Afterall, I just believe. But that wasn’t going to do it for him.
He was wondering particularly if my belief was more cultural than religious. (Was I just Catholic because my parents were?) He himself saw Catholicism as a collection of “fairy tales.” He was a science mind, someone who thinks modern science has answered the question of “Does God exist?” He found me to be an intelligent, thoughtful person, and could not understand my insistence on believing in make-believe.
I admitted that in my case there was likely some cultural pull involved – as I grew up, I thought most people were Catholic. Religion was an important part of my family life. And my religious instruction was definitely more comprehensive than that most people have received.
But the question made me realize two things. First, many people don’t have a true understanding or use of the word “faith.” Second, most people base their belief or disbelief in God on human factors.
The answer to my friend’s question IS “faith.”
I think of what Jesus said to St. Thomas. “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe.”
I do not pretend to understand everything nor do I think there are other people who understand the entire universe. I believe a force greater than people, God, exists. I believe what people see as inconsistencies and breaks in the Jesus/religion story are things people may not comprehend. I see arrogance in how humans, with all of their faults, can believe they are all knowing of the universe.
“I don’t know” is a hard thing for us these days. We’re so accustomed to being duped, conned or taken, that we have trouble trusting almost anyone or anything. We think there’s an explanation for everything. We’re nobody’s fool. Not even God’s.
Yet if we look and listen more carefully, we see things happen that we don’t understand. We miraculously emerge from accidents unscathed. We escape disaster by minutes and seconds. Diseases with no cures heal themselves. Miracles happen everyday. We’ve seen prayer truly save. If you have not had an experience that is inexplicable, you are probably not alive.
Like many others, I find the world, the universe, to be beautiful and amazing. I cannot believe its wonders are “accidents” of evolution. Considering all humans can do, I can’t believe people are just what happens when cells adapt and keep dividing. I think the real answers to these kinds of questions are beyond us. I respect, understand and actually believe in science, yet I have faith that God is still involved, slowly revealing a puzzle, untangling a knot, before our very eyes.
Many who will tell you they don’t believe in God, actually don’t believe in religion. There’s a difference. Because we are all human, including clergy, we mess things up. We act like people, not God. So if people tell you they don’t believe in God because of the Catholic abuse scandal, or the Crusades or the Inquisition, or the Borgias, that’s kind of a cop out. God didn’t abuse, kill, or manipulate anyone. Humans did. Don’t pray anymore because your pastor or congregation is corrupt? Also not God’s fault.
You cannot blame the bad actions of others for a personal lack of faith in God. You also can’t blame God if you don’t believe in Him. That’s all on you. Do you know all there is to know about the universe? No one does, and likely won’t anytime soon (sorry scientific know-it-alls). So how does God get ruled out?
Having “faith” allows people to let go — to relieve ourselves of the stress of feeling we need to know and understand everything.
It’s hard. Doubt works it’s way among even the most faithful among us. We would not be human beings if we did not doubt. If we were not flawed. It’s unsettling to not have an answer. But it’s also freeing.
Faith is not something to laugh at or ridicule. Faithful people are not stupid. Faith is the ability to see mystery in life, and to accept the fact that we may never know everything. For those of us who have it, “faith” is a gift that makes humans of all kinds easier to live with, even if we don’t understand them.

Ok, bring on the comments. I’m sure to hear about this one. Be gentle.