Tag Archives: life

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?

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.

Living a God-Centered Life Includes Loving Everyone

I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded person. But a lot of people would wonder if I told them I am in agreement with the religious freedom laws that have been implemented, and debated ad nauseum, around the country. 

I grew up Catholic, obviously, and I continue to practice my faith. I am in no way what I would call a good Catholic. I struggle. Hard. But I try to be true to Catholicism to the best of my ability, as does my husband, and we raise our children in the faith.

It was not until adulthood that I truly understood that Catholics were looked down upon by others. I had heard we were, but I really didn’t get it or see it. The crux of my personal faith has always been to love others, do good, and confess when I screwed up. Who could argue with that?

I’ve been shocked this past week to see just how scandalously Catholics and other Christians are talked about by others. I understand feelings on religious freedom are volatile. Everyone thinks they’re right. But somehow it seems no one is being tolerant with anyone.

I do not believe that religious freedom laws are about gay vs. straight. I believe they are designed to allow people to live by their religious convictions without retribution. And yes, I realize this becomes complicated when we start talking radical Islam. But as we have seen more and more in the last decade, an odd desire to make people homogenous has trumped our uniquely American right to religious expression.

Since it’s hanging out there allowing some to defame good people with no cause, I think it’s important to remind both Catholics and non-Catholics what we are supposed to believe when it comes to gays and same-sex marriage.

Catholics are NOT called to hate and discriminate against gays. Period. It’s written as such in the Catholic Catechism. We ARE called to believe in the sanctity of life. The only way God creates human life on Earth is through the union of a man and a woman. When He calls a man and a woman to commit to His plan through their love, we call it marriage.

Yes, life can be created outside of such a relationship, either by sexual relations between an uncommitted man and woman, or in a laboratory, in various ways. Yet for Catholics, the creation of life is meant to be God-centered, something He alone does, naturally, through the complimentary bodies of men and women. Catholic doctrine discourages the creation of life outside of God’s natural law, be it by hetero couples unprepared for parenthood, or by gays who use biochemical methods to achieve family. (Yet Catholics are called to love the children who result from these unions as they love any child.)

Many Catholics don’t feel gays, who cannot create life through their union without supernatural means, meet the definition of “married.” Yet we find ourselves in situations where people we love and care for are involved in same sex marriages and relationships. We DON’T stop loving people who engage in gay marriage. Our Catholicism requires us to leave judgement of their decision in God’s hands. We truly love them, even if our faith does not affirm their union as true “marriage.”

Catholics, like everyone else, are not perfect. I know Catholics who react viciously to gays. I know others who want to see the Church change it’s centuries-old definition of marriage because the world’s acceptance of same-sex marriage demands it. I’m sure neither approach makes God happy. But I know He would extend love to all people, as should we.

As Catholics, we are called to live God-centered lives. Marriage is about God creating life. Even though some couples will never conceive, the potential for God to use spouses to create life must exist in marriage, no matter how remote.

Religious freedom laws aren’t about gay discrimination. They are about being able to hold your belief or non-belief in God at the center of your being, without being forced to violate your conscience. Even if you yourself are a “sinner,” as we all are.

Our gay friends, family, neighbors and fellow Catholics bring a beautiful color to our world, and offer experiences and gifts like no others. Their value to society is priceless. But the beliefs and God-centered living of religious people are as well. One must not suffer at the gain of the other. 

If Catholics follow the catechism and welcome gays openly as God demands, and gays allow for Catholics to celebrate their life-focused marriages, we can all live without prejudice, and continue in our beloved traditions.

Your Number’s Up

75. It’s the perfect age to die, according to of the creators of Obamacare. He’s actually thought this through, and figures 75 is the time we all start our final decline, start feeling bad more often than good, start to lose control of our faculties, etc.
He’s apparently never met Leon.
I met Leon last Saturday morning, standing in line at a supermarket pharmacy, waiting for a refill on one of those countless prescriptions I take for one of my countless health issues.
Leon thought that he and I should break open the box of donuts I was holding while we were waiting. Instead, he lightheartedly complained about drug store stuff. Then he told me about his service in World War II, and how afterward he worked at “190 feet” on the launch pads at Cape Canaveral, no doubt where he obtained his dark, leathery tan.
Leon didn’t have the greatest set of teeth I’d ever seen, but he was the most vibrant, alive person I had met in a while. He is certainly in better health than I am. He just turned 97.
People like Leon are national treasures. They are walking history – people who have been there, done that, and can tell us exactly how it all went down. And judging from the news, there are more and more people living longer all the time, which should be giving us more and more practical knowledge of the past than we’ve ever had.
I worry about influential people in national healthcare talking about “the optimal age to die.” Society’s lack of respect for the older ones among us is problematic to begin with. Am I to take such statements as an indication that we’ll be denying healthcare to seniors at some point because it won’t be “cost-effective” to provide? Will I watch my own parents suffer until they die at some time in the future? For that matter, I’m a diabetic. Will I eventually be left to deteriorate and pass because the government would rather spend its money on something more important than my insignificant life?
It sounds like a science fiction novel, like that Ethan Hawk movie Gattaka. Do we really want government deciding who’s life has value and who’s does not? The last time I checked, the choice between life and death was in God’s purview, not ours. Tragic suicide aside, we die when God is ready for us to join His Kingdom. Not when a bureaucrat decides caring for you no longer offers the optimal return on investment.
I’d hate to see the world lose Leon before his time comes, just as I fear for the many people over the age of 75 who still have great things to offer the world. (How about Clint Eastwood, former President Geo. H.W. Bush, Betty White, William Shatner, Bill Cosby? Your parents or grandparents?)
Life is sacred in whatever form it comes, young, old, beautiful, ugly, healthy, sick, rich, poor, and so on. We all have something to offer no matter the circumstances of our life. Sometimes, it’s those more unfortunate circumstances that allow us to make a difference. The life given anyone by God cannot be devalued because sustaining it is expensive, or because numerous lives put a strain on the environment, or because life requires us to reexamine our own ways.
God, and only God should be making the decisions on when we die. All life has value in His plan.