Tag Archives: religion

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?

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.

Can I Trust You?

My hair hurts.

I’ve been spending a lot of time these days thinking about trust. And I’ve got to say, I’ve got nothing.

I can honestly tell you I currently trust a total of seven people. Two are 10 and under.  And if homework is involved, there can be lapses there.

But that’s not the kind of trust I’m really talking about. Kids are going to fib if they think they’re headed for trouble. I’m talking about the kind of trust you base life decisions on – the kind you build your foundation on and take refuge in.

For many years, since childhood until my 30s, I trusted freely. I believed in people, and I believed those who I spent time with, worked with and for, and knew me in my community, if they claimed to like me, accepted me for who I was. We may not have agreed on everything, but I thought my inside person – the part of me that loves, hates, likes, dislikes, thinks etc – was safe with them. I rarely held back my feelings on anything, even if I changed them, or they led to what I considered an “agree to disagree” situation.

Much has changed. A few years ago, I lost the woman who had been my best friend since high school. In a somewhat heated discussion in front of all of our other friends, suffering with serious depression, I told her I didn’t think our relationship was reciprocal – and that it had been a long time since it had been, if it ever was. After over 25 years, in which we always said “friends can tell each other anything,” she kicked me out of her house. I apologized – in writing no less – at least three times. She has yet to accept. 

I’m sure we don’t know each other at all any longer. Nor do I know the others who were there that night any more, even those who promised to support me but have now even unfriended me on Facebook.  Sadly, I couldn’t even say I’d trust any of them now if I had to.

I’ve tried to keep up and “fix it” – I have sent Christmas cards, gifts for my God child. Tried to find out what’s happening through other sources. I pray daily I’m forgiven. I pray for my friend, our friends, their children, their parents. Heck, I even tried to die once of a heart attack. I got a delivery of rotten pineapple and cantaloupe from four couples who were once my foundation. No calls, no cards. To this day, it’s the most painful part of that experience – I truly was sick of a broken heart.

But I digress. Recent turns in the world have me realizing that beyond my tight circle, I’m really not sure who or what there is to trust in.  Obviously not age-old friends who’ve abandoned me. I have relatives I cannot trust, who have literally stolen or attempt to steal from me when I’ve showed them kindness. I had colleagues who destroyed my confidence and eventually my career because I put my children above my job. Not doctors who can’t seem to comfort or heal me. I love my country – yet the very president shows contempt for my religion, my race and my upbringing.

I’m confused also about my Church. As an adult, I’ve finally gained an understanding of what it stands for, what its traditional teachings show. While I’m busy striving to be God’s servant and falling on my face in the process like any real Catholic, our clerics are giving the impression that perhaps THEY no longer trust the Word of God.

In this world, I find love only in my family and my dogs. I hide from most of the rest for fear my heart cannot take any more loss. And I’ve come to understand those who say God is their light. Not the God wrapped in the majesty of the Church. Not the superhero one we look for when something awful happens and we wonder why he allows it. But the one who’s strong hand I can feel on my shoulder at night when I open my Bible and allow him to lead me to the right passage to heal my anger and fear. The one who gently shows me each day, through my beautiful daughters, that the world might be ok after all. The one who trusts ME to raise them. The one who gives me the ability to share my often unpopular ideas here with you.

I’ve found through my recent thinking, in our world so full of lies, he is the one I trust most of all.

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.