Who are you: Creator, Restorer, Messenger, Destroyer, or Bystander?
These actions for most of us require no evangelization, no debate or apologetics regarding religion, or public display of religiosity. Our message is simply how we live our lives and how we treat others in all we do. If we are living a spiritually coherent life we will naturally be great messengers of the faith without ever even uttering God’s name.
We are all messengers. How many of us are restorers? People who naturally or with great effort live the faith and help others to restore their lives in some “detail,” large or small, that brings them in closer proximity to God?
This question came to me a few days ago during spiritual reflection. A large emphasis of active Christianity is to be a messenger of the faith by first and foremost living the faith through everyday actions – not by evangelization.
Some of us may even be called to be creators in our own way to add to great gifts of inspiration for believers and unbelievers alike to get a glimpse of holiness or the way to holier lives. These are very special individuals with immense talent. Artist, Scientist, Writers, Priest, and people from all vocations adding master pieces of achievement that transcend human expectation and simultaneously ignite spiritual wonder. They are a rare breed.
Hopefully, if you are reading this post, very little of our time is spent being destroyers or idle bystanders. No doubt we are collectively guilty of both but hopefully, more often than not, moving towards divine living rather than away.
In my faith, we believe the days of prophets ended with Jesus Christ, the last Prophet, who was both man and God in one. Without anymore messiahs coming until the end of time – the refreshing and terrifying thought is, we are each one of us individually responsible to be messengers and restorers of Christianity, again, not by preaching, but by living lives that demonstrate spiritual cohesion without any expectation of return. Christianity (believers and a higher power) and transcendent human relationships are not transactional equations.
Just who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow and your remaining days? What do you have to do to be who you want to be now and forever….
We often here the word transcendent in relation to spirituality. In our humanity we are limited to transcending by courageous acts of love, selflessness, compassion, humility, and in rare cases greatness that exceeds the imagination. We transcend by how we treat each other, in good times and bad, over and over again, for whatever span of days we have the gift of breath.
I am, in my own mind, a little bit messenger and restorer with occasional weakness for bystander (idle) or even destroyer – living even in the smallest way, contrary to ideal divine life. If not always moving towards divine life we are moving away. The sad contradiction is moving towards a holy life need not be austere or be a terrible sacrifice. It should be joyful and inspiring with perhaps challenges of austerity and sacrifice when required. It is still not an easy road. We tend to want what we desire immediately and sometimes fail to examine the impulse for the new set shiny thing or the next desired accomplishment we have been pursuing. Neither desires may be bad in and of themselves, but often their priority is improperly ordered above other priorities more deserving of our attention.
A little contemplation and discussion with another may provide wisdom beyond measure.
I would like to believe I have had moments of transcending my humanness and rose above the fray of our collective ego driven consciousness. It does not take much to ignite my competitiveness or my fears, to summon my desire to win or desire to protect.
The challenge of balancing and integrating our instinctual drives and our collectivity humanity is on display everyday. What roles do we play to infuse our collective consciousness to be spiritually coherent? What role do you play at home, at work, at the voting booth, in the community, and at play?
Who are you anyway?
Where spirituality and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy meet at the cross roads of a psychiatric crisis change can be miraculous.
This brave college student shared a deep experience of being “broken” by several life pressures. Quickly, in mental health speak concepts like adjustment disorder, cultural acclimation challenge, anxiety disorders, and perhaps major depression single episode come to mind. Diagnostically none of the words matter – the treatment and interventions are key. This kid found three elements for recovery or answers for his trial with life: family, therapy, and spirituality.
All too often we need a crisis before we consider the value of all three of these elements that can promote good health, healthy relationships, and internal peace.
His story is below. A short read with only superficial mention of the road to recovery. I imagine it was not easy and involved many steps, some deep and insightful. Others just ritual and developing muscle memory for the ego and for the soul.
If your suffering out there, seek help now. If you can’t find it, message me a zip code and type of mental health crisis you are facing. No promises, but I will look for resources. Of course, if you are thinking of harming yourself now, call the nearest crisis hotline near you, 911, or go to a hospital. God will be with you all along – you can seek him once the risk of self-harm is addressed.
Four thousand non-violent federal prisoners were sent to home confinement due to COVID emergency. The simple math is emergency ends – they go back. The legal analysis says the same. Social justice advocates see this as an opportunity to broadly commit to action reducing arbitrary or unjust prison sentences.
The Biden Administration has no clear path to do that legally or even case by case reviewing broad use (or abuse of clemency): https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/19/us/politics/biden-prisoners-covid.html?referringSource=articleShare. None of the above hits the nail on the head…early release should be defined as achieving some measure of restoration by the offender and a responsibility by the criminal justice system to provide incarceration programming that promotes reconciliation with the victims and the community while also addressing any debilitating issues the inmate arrived it with that might impede release.
There is some very dedicated prison staff and programs, great volunteer organizations, tons of scattered partnerships that vary by county or state. On the flip side there are courageous prisoners that have made the most of their tie in prison despite the odds. They deserve our praise. However it is piece meal and a relative “Hail Mary” pass that a convict going in will come out better prepared to not reoffend.
Restorative justice implies time spent in jail is not solely measured by the crime committed, it is measured by true rehabilitation and genuine character change. Hanging the individual alone is only part of the journey. On re-entry having supports and a purpose that promote human dignity and life is vital.
In my view, the primal cause of crime is directly related to how disconnected the person is from the “social contract” of our society. Individuals that are abused or neglected by families, the educational system, religion, or other systems will not value our social contract laws. People without a strong sense of a lived morality or spirituality where they are treated humanely will have little value in our rules other than passing time. Sending them back out to conditions that were the same or worse than when they went in is terrible policy and extremely costly. Exclude the minority antisocial or “privileged” criminals who had no apparent need to be criminals for a moment. Most prisoners in our jail system have been victims themselves of trauma, abuse, or other deprivations.
In one sense, when Christ came, he severed church and state cleanly. Let Rome do what Rome must do to run the world – but know eternal justice awaits. If we abuse our power as wielders of the justice system we will be judged no differently than those behind bars.
I have a sneaky suspicion that some behind bars right now will attain greater proximity to living a holy life before their death warrant card is called than many of us who have been spared incarceration. We all have a death warrant on our heads. We just don’t know what malady or tragedy will take us out.
I pray here for the social justice activist, prisoners, victims of crime, and the jailers themselves (and their overseers) for hope, vision, and courage to move our criminal justice system to a better place. There are better options proven in other developed countries. My prayers are not enough.
Christianity espouses theologically that we have a true restorative justice system. How we achieve that puts more accountability on us than the convict. As a society we are not willing to acknowledge that responsibility.
The National Shrine of Divine Mercy is always a stop for me if I am in the area of Stockbridge, Ma. The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, which receives tens of thousands of visitors a year who seek spiritual renewal through the sacraments. I wandered there a few weeks ago while visiting family in nearby N. Egremont. Two prayer services, one confession, one mass, and a visit to the book store later I was gifted an unplanned spiritual retreat.
I can be very cynical about the dangers of religious Icons, rituals, fraternal communities, and organizations just like the Marians. A recognized Catholic organization currently publishers of St. Faustina’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, in many languages. The organization presses produce religious artwork, pamphlets, magazines, prayer cards, books, and appeals – some 50 million pieces of literature and images a year – which are sent out to a world yearning for meaning, mercy, and healing. St. Faustina is, by historical accounts, a relatively new Saint, canonized April 30, of 2000.
Much of the National Shrines work and message revolves around the theme that St. Faustina was a prophet as evidenced by the following words in her diary: “I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people. Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart.” (Diary, 1588). A little theological contradiction here, the prophet lineage ended with Christ in Christianity – so technically not a prophet per se, but certainly an example of a person who lived a life entirely focused on communion with God.
How do we give reverence to people who model spiritual living without idolizing individuals who may or may not represent a genuine spiritual calling by the eternal absolute divine source of all created things? Catholicism is rich with reverence for fathers of the church, saints, religous symbols and rituals. There is always a danger of the immediate visual imagery or ritual practices supplanting or distorting our understanding of the one true God (accepting monotheism for simplicity sake). Who among the world’s established monotheistic religions believes their institution has not fallen victim to human hubris in their claims for spiritual supremacy over other religions?
There is not a faith today or historically that is not guilty of hypocrisy or discordance with its own scriptural text, never mind God’s will. The off shoot quasi Catholic/Political arms of conservative Catholicism (like the Church Militant) who claim to be guardians of the faith – even opposed to Papal authority when it suits them are an example of spirituality gone wrong. The latter and other represents the greatest threat to my identify as a Catholic. There is a culture of extremist using Catholicism for political, personal, and cultural gain – or at least ability to maintain certain privileges’ currently in their possession as a majority class of people. Carefully picked Catholic issues championed not for real change – but for hate and fear politics. Even at the highest levels Church Authorities like the US Stated Bishops have lost their way by allowing political influence to dictate poorly defined theological positions and public statements that perpetuate division and alienation.
And still, Catholicism and all its off-shoot traditions, churches, artwork, rituals, and contradictions holds a special place in my heart. It is not the beauty and glamour of the Papacy, the theological density of the church writings, or the physicality of the great cathedrals that grab my attention.
The building above itself, while authentically beautiful, is not the inspiration. The people I encountered and witnessed in prayer and adoration that day were, in my view, the “A Team” of the faithful. They travelled from near and far to celebrate Mass at this chapel and their collective interior prayer immersed in collective adoration and ritual was and is very powerful. Life, however, for all but a few of us, is lived in the communities, not within the Shrine’s walls.
The test of any faith is what happens when we return to the community. Is our actions and our felt presence of the creator as strong or even stronger than when we are on our knees before the cross?
Pope Francis recently made a decision to limit the Latin Mass. The decision has drawn worldwide media coverage including the Times article below. Why is such a decision controversial when roughly only 1% of the world’s population speak Latin! The logically inclined can see that he withdrew approval as the ritual was serving division rather than unity, man rather than God. American Media has an article by a believer who loved the Latin mass, but after reflection, arrived at this sentiment. The moment our spiritual practices or rituals are serving man’s desires rather than Gods we have gone astray.
There is a place and a context for spiritual art, music, ritual, and other forms of worship. It always goes back to intention. Are we serving God and all Gods people when we worship, when we pray, when we act on our spiritual beliefs? If not, we are disrespecting generations of faithful who have carried the message of Christ for 2000 years and ignoring the essence of the “Trinity.”
The faithful get glimpses of this essence in worship, in Catholic traditions and sacraments, and in the physical structures of our shrines and cathedrals. The essence of our beliefs, however, are lived and experienced through the expression of our souls as stamped by the Trinity and expressed through our thoughts and actions. All the cathedrals in the world and rituals performed are worth nothing if believers are not able to strive for living a divine life where we are living examples of spiritual living in everything we do and everything we nurture.
St. Augustine I am told preached that God became man so that we could become divine. Our divinity is not expressed by achieving religous dominance by clever rhetoric, flashy buildings and and rich symbolism, or cleaving to political power to project our influence. It is simple, pure, and straight forward spiritual living that rightly orders our affections and desires in accordance with higher spiritual principles. These principles can be found in our church traditions, in our sacred text, and the life of Jesus Christ. In the blink of any eye, however, they can evaporate before our eyes and mind and be used to serve disordered selfish affections and desires rather than the greater good.
The Latin Mass, for example, can provide great beauty and spiritual egotism when practiced by a select few. Two contradictory truths in one ritual (sacrament). The choreography of the Latin Mass with its focus of prayer directly at the alter rather than the people has an air of mysticism and beauty that can move you like no other mass. Latin language, music, robes, and intricate priestly ritual performance of the mass passed down from 1570 to 1962 was no small change in our church’s practices. The Tridentine mass is a thing of beauty. However, if only one percent of the world speaks Latin is this the right vehicle for God’s message? The practice of this mass has devolved into something that is no longer relevant. Our society has evolved to warrant people being participatory and responsible for their own salvation. The pews no longer filled with illiterate people. People demand now more than bells, whistles, candles, huge edifices, and great works of art or music. They demand spiritual coherency.
Any religous institution that purports to carry out divine will must have internal and external spiritual coherency both within the institution structure and with the believers that represent the faith. When an institution wanders off the path of holiness – the believers will find themselves divided and in a state of great spiritual angst from which many disordered thoughts actions will be given license to create further disharmony. Acrimony and hostilities aimed at both Catholics with a different theological base and others (all of secular society or other faiths). Disillusionment and confusion with the idea of spirituality maturation requires change and discomfort. Hopelessness and numbness at the ineptitude of leadership to protect us from controversy or inconvenient truths that shake our spiritual foundations. It is a powder keg of misery when individuals have gave up their individual responsibility to a religous (or political) entity.
These institutions are bound to make grave errors as they are led by men, often many men, that fall prey to the misuse and abuse of the power they hold. We own their failures by willing consent – when we remain loyal when loyalty is not deserved.
The priest I met while at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy recommended I practice first Fridays. The spiritual rewards he implied on the surface seemed overly simplistic and ritualistic. However, I stood on-line with the “A Team” on that first Friday a few weeks ago for confession. Most were clearly practitioners of first Fridays. Some, who I judged to be clearly more holier than myself, spent a shockingly great amount of time in that confessional booth. The serenity and peacefulness radiating from most of the “A Team” including the priest said something about First Fridays. Keep in mind the “A Team” and the priest are not to be set up in my mind as idols – they represent fellow believers who have found a ritual that feeds their souls and hopefully ability to live a holy life outside the church. Inside the church is the practice field – outside the church is the real game!
It is a shame that Latin is a dead language. Nobody would argue that certain languages and text are more beautiful or powerful as they are prior to translation. However, if we were purist, we would all be speaking Greek – the language of the first century Christians!
Recently my Catholic grammar school along with 20 others were formerly announced to be closing. Catholicism in the west is in a death spiral. Christianity is in a similar spiral while attempting to align itself with republican extremism known as Trumpism – which is a highly driven nationalism party with some very unchristian ideals.
Political parties aside, this article above in American magazine points out Catholicism must not wed itself to nations to enforce its beliefs by use of force held by nation states: “its alignment with government establishment or nationalism is problematic in Hungary and other countries, where religious leaders, appealing to a Christian national heritage, struggle to pass laws that would bring their secularizing societies back to their Christian roots. This top-down approach is not effective or sustainable in our current globalized world, and it overlooks the tremendous opportunities for revival and transformation from the ground up.“
Christ did not appeal to Rome for power or status. He appealed directly to the people. At some point after his resurrection the succession of Papal authority intermingled with nation states and the church has never been the same. It seems impossible and implausible to disentangle the varied forms political religious alliances that we see today.
Their is hope. The article makes a plea for the church to return to its roots. The one line here missing is the church needs Catholics to lead – you to lead. As an institution it struggles to change direction even when fallibility is evident.
“The church can be a transformative force by standing with the powerless and vulnerable today as it did during the fall of Communism.”
— Read on http://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2021/07/15/catholic-church-west-nationalism-241053
Our brains have become re-wired by years of futile conflict, and there is no obvious way out. We are simply habituated to react, and it would take tremendous energy and time to change, both of which we lack.
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/06/21/bishop-us-church-communion-wars-240902
Too tired to write…and this article explains why. Catholicism sees a member of the faith become president and chooses, rather than focus on his faith, to hold him to a different standard and create theology specifically for a sitting president.
I withdraw to prayer and solitude. My voice and my thoughts, not the brightest nor the least important, painfully have little influence on the American landscape.
I must tend to my interior garden, sure up by exterior love for those around me, and leave the rest for God and perhaps, people possessing the strength and wisdom to alter Catholicism’s course, and with it perhaps, the fate and faith of many.
It has been a long time since my Dad has walked this earth as a men among men and a proud father of seven. He died at 45 as I was finding my way in early elementary school. Nevertheless he gave me life, love, and other intangibles that are hard to define from an early age. On top of those were layered legends of who he was and additions of other lay fatherly presences within and outside the family. Thank you Dad and all of you who helped fill his void.
Father’s Day has taken on a festive occasion as children or adult children (or their mothers) take the opportunity to make it a special day and give thanks to Dad. From the thoughtful card, to the practical tool, or on the humorous side ridiculous socks or ties, fathers are acknowledged today. Most of the time there is nothing Kids can give a father that is greater then what they already have. As a Father all we want is for each of our children to be physically and spiritually flourishing – in body and soul. The rest, including their calling in life, trials and successes, and other mortal concerns will with Gods grace sort themselves out.
If there is nothing my children could give me greater than just the gift of fatherhood, what could we possibly give the creator of all, Abba the Father?
I imagine he would want the same form us as we want from our kids: take care of your health and your spirituality (soul) and the rest will take care of itself. In good health (and sometimes in bad) the well developed spiritually centered son or daughter of God will always treat others kindly, live a just and moral life, and be thankful for all their blessings. Today, Father’s Day, will be like every other, with some time set aside to be present with God, in adoration, contemplation, and dialogue. Humbly we give thanks to the unknowable universal being that we cannot on earth even agree on our Fathers name.
Today is not a day to wrestle with good and evil, with the past or the future. It is simple a day to be present and give thanks to the Fathers you know and “the Father that knows all.” Gifts optional!
Today I start a mini-retreat hidden within the folds of everyday activities and life. Visit https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/centers/iajs.html.
Two items may support you taking and at home retreat. The first is an at home 12 week Ignatious guided retreat app available free (bottom left) of page. The second is the free portal containing a mini library of Jesuit material.
Or for a more intense experience with a nominal cost try: https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/centers/iajs/programs/retreat.html. This online 12 week retreat offers three introductory online retreats next week and follow up meetings throughout the 12 weeks plus the guide you purchase. If you sign up – see you there! Message me so we can connect!
Reading some of my previous post one might draw a conclusion that I am anti-Catholicism and perhaps even sliding towards leaving the faith.
The truth is I will not leave Catholicism – unless an unmistakable divine revelation visited me with an alternative path. That does not mean Catholicism will not leave me or reject me for my dissenting voice regarding contemporary application of Christ teaching.
When one hears the word Catholicism they picture the Pope, the Vatican, and sadly a legacy of priest and Catholic institutions that falied to protect the people they served. All three of these entities, which essentially carry the doctrinal message from one generation to the next, are at the end of the day as fallible as the lay public that fills the church pews.
All Catholics comprise Catholicism and its ever reforming “one body” defies a clean definition at any given point in time. Take the divergent positions within the church hierarchy, the multi-cultural base of believers, and the mystery of the Holy Spirit as intermingled forces that define Catholicism. Catholicism is changing every second for two thousand years now.
My own personal objections and disillusionment with specific actions of the priestly caste, or doctrinal rigidity of the Curia, or hypocrisy of believers is not a reason to leave – but a reason to stay.
For dissenting voices to leave the faith would leave the faith increasingly isolated and perhaps tilt its spiritual evolution away from Christ-Centric teachings. Don’t let anyone tell you the church’s teachings are static and don’t change. The church has been changing every moment that passed since Christ death. The changes that emerge over time are often driven by persistent ‘bottom currents” of this silent majority. Like oceanographers, we only have a minimal understanding of the currents that drive spiritual evolution and sentimental events in church history. We do not see what lay beneath the surface with great accuracy.
My influence alone is one tear drop in an ocean of hope and faith. The Catholic faith as a whole continues to evolve towards embracing a way of living that “God” would approve as genuinely holy and divinely inspired. The invisible Catholics (active and lapsed) that carry out the principles of the Beatitudes without the self-righteous proclamation of absolute moral authority are the accelerants for institutional changes in the church. Much as deep marine tidal currents contributions to tsunami events or overall ocean health, this silent majorities impact is steady overtime but barely seen in times of calm or crisis.
You know genuine holiness when you see it. You can feel it radiate from the individual. You can see it in their humble and graceful actions all the time, in adversity and in good times. They are free somehow of judging others, of seeking validation or personal gain, and of becoming entangled in self-serving human desires for themselves or for other institutions.
You know it even quicker when the motivation is disingenuous or misguided. Sometimes we do not want to recognize it – as acknowledging disingenuous actions committed by our friends, family, church, or nation comes with a price. The greatest danger to Catholicism and humanity is when we ignore these “whispers or outright screams” by being silent or otherwise complicit.
I have bought these whispers forward to priest in different parishes. Sometimes I was on target with theologically driven content, other times the limits imposed on the church to put out there Catholic idealism as the bar, not watered down messages was clear. The same applies to political parties.
These days it is a good day for me when I can treat everyone I meet with kindness and love in my heart, without judgement for their circumstance, and without malice or impatience when their views or actions are opposed to my conceptions of what is right. Perhaps one person at a time, one blog post at a time, one prayer at a time, one tear drop at a time – I can alter the direction and the face of Catholicism to be more Christ like in action everyday, every moment. However the outcome is not mine to control – only the intent and the actions within my sphere of influence.
Pope Francis, as an example, is taking small steps within his sphere of influence, to change the direction of the church. Many of his actions are seen as anti-clericalism. That is a pure Christ like stance similar to Christ criticisms of the elite religious caste of his time. His newest reformation is aimed at the Curia. An article in American magazine is not hopeful about the obstacles the church faces at reform: https://www.americamagazine.org/id/newsletters. The results of our faiths stances on current issues impacts other institutions and peoples rights all over the world.
The Supreme Court is reviewing a case right now where Catholic Foster Care agencies are seeking access to a) being a foster care provider and b) ability to screen out LGBTQ foster parent applicants: www.nytimes.com/2021/06/05/opinion/Supreme-Court-LGBTQ-foster.html. LGBTQ young people represent 24 to 34 percent of children in the foster care system. Think about that for a moment. How can a Catholic foster care agency appropriately serve a third of the populace when the bulk of its clergy and staff are ill-equipped to fully grasp the complexity and incoherent teachings the church has on LGBTQ issues and their application? Or a firm grasp on the sociological and biological sciences in this area?
Imagine a 14 year old adolescent with LGBTQ identity in the system perhaps driven by his parents lack of acceptance of their child’s identity then placed with an agency that labels him/her morally disordered and as part of their screening process rules out a segment of potential foster care parents that would be best suited for this individual? It makes me wonder if the Catholic church should be seeking or accepting secular public tax dollars for the business of education, foster care, healthcare, and other social services agencies at all if there are legitimate non-religious entities above to use the public dollar to do the same? Should not our aim be truly spiritual and in the community at large, amorphous in action, winning converts by attraction – rather then controlling access and provision of specific tax funded services agencies?
The reality is Catholicism falls short being Catholic. We are imperfect messengers of a faith and must do better, not by fiat, but by internal church reformation, individual internal spiritual maturity, and modeling true Christian actions without expectation of others to do the same. Our history of “good works” as institutional agencies is equally filled with works of beauty as it is with works marred by faulty application of church theology imposed on service users or actual outright abuse and criminal activities.
Our Pope and the visible church hierarchy are hedged in by thousands of years of traditions and deeply imbedded interpretations. These interpretations contain beautiful roses of spiritual truth and weeds of mistruths. Telling them apart is tedious as they are centuries old and embedded. Any attempt at change is often seen as a threat to Catholicism itself (Budworms for example) rather then natural self-correction (pruning), and when necessary nutrients and extra care when the spirit is in crisis (fertilizer or other gardening interventions). The integrity of the church itself is threatened by how to prune its traditions and evolve without losing its Christ-Centric identity.
It is a humbling and treacherous task for a human institution filled with toxic religous camps and influenced in an outsized manner by financial and political influencers. My opinion is the church must withdraw from its overextensions in many areas of public debate as well as withdraw from controlling all and being overtly involved in the secular disputes of the day.
The church must downsize theologically, financially, politically, and as an institution (clerically). Our own house must address the theological and practical incoherencies where our clergy and our believers are in a state of constant hypocrisy. Where we are doing harm to people “not like us” we must withdraw our self-righteousness and look deeply inside our own house first for spiritual reckoning and renewal.
This requires for the institution and for each of us an active process to pivot or lean into a change process. It does not mean withdrawing from social justice issues or acts of good faith. It does mean revising our purpose to be closer to our core like values, increase our ability to embrace change (have options to redress institutional error), and proactivity in our personal and collective spiritual lives.
What the hell does this all mean? What do we need to do now? We often as Catholics mention pray in times of crisis, humility, and action. Catholicism does not have the absolute answers for today’s problems. Here is some of what I try to practice (very imperfectly):
Pray: Before acting seek out spiritual grounding. Easier said then done as prayer comes in many forms: known prays, readings, conversations, meditation, seeking true understanding of the depth of the problem, spiritual discernment on what our role and sphere of influence is, and requesting our higher powers assistance with finding the right path forward. Perhaps these four basic forms of prayer capture intentional purpose of prayer time for Catholics: https://www.cathedralstm.org/about-our-catholic-faith/expressing-our-faith/four-basic-forms-prayer/
Humility: We may not have the answer(s) and should own that outright. We do not own the market on understanding and explaining human suffering and misery, human behavior, and divine providence. We have individual experience and personal knowledge as to how we have faced troubling issues and perhaps we have additional expertise in some areas (solution-based recommendations that are evidence driven) that may be offered as suggestions.
Action: After proper application of Prayer and Humility we maybe in the position to act personally. What is our intent of acting and are we the best person to act on any given task. Will our actions help not only the immediate issue but support long term change. Are our actions driven by what is best for everybody or negatively influenced by our own desires for personal gain (hero pride, personal wealth or status acquisition, intellectual or spiritual self-righteousness). You may be surprised where the spirit takes you if you follow it.
A Father Altman created this smooth political infomercial in 2020. The proclamation that took off was if you vote Democrat, your not Catholic. Worse, your going to hell. The video is here:
I am, by his definition, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, according to Altman, I am not Catholic. I apparently have a lot of company – any democrat (lay person or clergy) is not Catholic! I have by reciprocity without authority to do so dropped his title. If you research his statements on women, clergy, and politics you will see he is priest who has lost his way.
Now, several months later his Bishop is seeking to remove Altman from his post. Father Altman doubled down with another media creation: Re: https://youtu.be/yVt10eZMN1M. Who is the wolf now! Probably neither of us – but there are wolves in waiting ready to use holy words to their advantage, or even clergy like Altman.
The reality today is the church has lost many Catholics who proudly call themselves ex-Catholics or even Recovering Catholics! They still believe in God, but left the church due to the hypocritical and incoherent spiritual teachings of priest like Father Altman, or worse, those that have abused their position of trust in the most abhorrent ways (sex abuse scandal, orphanages scandal, crusades, and other atrocities).
That does not mean the participation in a democracy does not sully our souls. The Republican and Democrat platforms have huge spiritual deficits built into their popular platforms. Using Altman’s litmus test anybody who voted is not Catholic.
The Democrats lose hands down on the abortion issue by Catholic fiat despite most do not support abortion, they support not criminalizing access to abortion or the women who make that complicated moral choice. Democrat Catholics are by and large pained by the number of abortions performed worldwide. They would counsel, if asked, about the moral consequences, physical consequences, and life ending finality abortion presents. They would also be attuned to the traumatic experience that abortion presents to the mother. They tend to be more focused on fighting abortion by providing true access to a dignified life for women and the unborn child by improving access to education, food, healthcare, housing, meaningful employment, and cultural riches of our society. They intuitively know criminalizing abortion is a superficial moral get of jail card that simply puts the blame on the most vulnerable people (mother and unborn child) without addressing the larger issue.
The Republican Party, especially Trumpism, loses hands down on caring for the poor in the areas of education, housing, healthcare, taxes, and fair wages. Hands down on support of death penalty. Hands down on immigration. Hands down on global participation in defending human rights globally and fighting world poverty. Hands down the Republican Party is built on (these days) a selfish credo of “America First” and “American” being defined by a minority of Americans (loyal to a perverted definition of nationalism).
Of course this high level criticism of Democrat and Republican Catholics does not accurately define all Democrats and all Republicans as to their intensity of political beliefs along the continuum – however each member belongs to the whole party and is responsible for the policy and party outcomes.
On a higher level, our Quasi-Capitalist system promotes wealth distribution in a manner that is fundamentally anti-Christ teaching. We have not witnessed a government or economic system that puts Christ teachings first with regard to sound economic principles that provide for the dignity of life of all – though several developed nations are doing much better then America today. As Americans, we prefer to put on blinders regarding other countries successes with human rights issues and equality issues.
Perhaps being American today is anti-Catholic. There is no doubt that our western beliefs of individualism, excessive wealth attainment, greedy materialism, national pride and hubris, and systemic social class and racial divisions is contrary to Christ teachings.
To be even a little Catholic today genuinely is a radical task if we were to truly live a Christ centric life. Instead I fear we cling to aspects of Christianity that serve us well – and disregard or ignore the rest.
That begs the question…am I still a Catholic? Are you still a Catholic? And does it matter?
To be Catholic is to be imperfect. No one to my knowledge today has lived a Christ-like life. Apparently it is not an easy road to officially not be Catholic once you have been baptized: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/11/how-do-you-become-formally-not-a-catholic-you-take-the-law-into-your-own-hands.
Sebastian T. attempted to deregister his belonging and sent a 5 page letter condemning the church as “cruel on abortion, euthanasia and suicide; as malign on contraception; recalcitrant on women; degenerate and prurient on gays and sex; and as criminal on child sex abuse.” He met with resistance but eventually had his baptismal certificate amended with a statement that he no longer considers himself Catholic.
I would think that such a letter would be grounds to ex-communicate a baptized Catholic. Why the word game of responding with noting “desire to leave” rather then renounced, left, or officially ex-communicated? “Today, a Catholic who lapses to the extent of becoming an apostate, a heretic or a schismatic is automatically excommunicated, and, until the excommunication is lifted, is forbidden to have any ministerial part in the celebration of Mass or other worship ceremonies, to celebrate or receive the sacraments or to exercise any Church functions. This is an obligation that binds the excommunicated person.” But they are still Catholic!
How weak is the Catholic Church today? How many Catholics living are in a state of ex-communication, renounced the faith, or simply are lapsed Catholics (not practicing Catholicism)? Of those left in the pews how many are practicing their beliefs outside the church? How many of those disagree vehemently with one or more of Catholic teachings today? Of those that are left standing strong on Catholic idealism and practice, are they confident the Church itself has not taken a position in error?
One can see very quickly how Altman’s position is untenable as a declarative statement. As much as we Catholics hate relativism we are left at the end of the day weighing human decisions and actions through very human lenses, often corrupted by all too human motivations.
I have not renounced my Catholic faith, though I did renounce my belonging to the Knights of Columbus. Both institutions are represented by many very devout and holy people. Both have people that fall way short of the bar to be able to call themselves sincere followers of Christ.
When does an institution itself become irrelevant or unworthy of carrying the Cross? Did not Christ come to deliver a new covenant to replace or build a new church on top of the Judaic institution? What is next if Catholicism fails it’s role in humanities spiritual evolution?
Catholicism is not dead, but it faces a reckoning within itself to find spiritual coherence or face yet again another schism or continued decline in influence and world relevance. These days when you see a church in America you cannot be sure if it is still a church. I have seen churches converted into apartments, restaurants, and even a nightclub.
Between 2000 and 2017 Catholic Churches have disappeared by 11 percent. Between 1970 and 2010, the number of Catholic schools in the US dropped by 37%. Church attendance across Catholic Western Europe and the United States has been in steep decline for the last 60 years. Still Catholicism as a whole is growing: “Catholicism is now confronted with a new world demography. In the 20th century, Catholics, like most Christian denominations, made huge strides in both Africa and Asia. Between 1900 and 2000 about half the population of Africa converted from primal religions to either Christianity (40 percent) or Islam (10 percent).” The cynical among us will see is as predatory religion – winning converts in underdeveloped nations where poverty and suffering is high.
Pope Francis has consistently guided avoidance of extremes (politics, religion, or economics) and focused on humanness and godliness. He has also struck conciliatory tones on issues mentioned by Sebastian T., but shy of the kind of radical action that might be required to restore a church to a humble institution that leads by attraction and action-oriented love of all people – as opposed to its 2000 year legacy of traditions and enormous wealth. The Vatican’s wealth in 2019 was about 4 billion euros. Local churches however continue to struggle.
Without change the Catholic Church itself maybe subject to being called a “primal religion” or perhaps to a lesser extent, weakened by yet another schism or continued decline in world recognition. This evokes anger and blame among typical dividing lines in the church. Believers and the clergy themselves feel threatened by loss of status as well as perhaps, an inability to explain seemingly incoherent church positions.
It does matter that I am Catholic – though not as much as it matters that I treat people with mercy, compassion, and love. When my church ignores this precept – I must be a dissenting voice, even if I am labeled a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Sadly we pick on the wolf family to make our points here while we are the real villains’ of this story. Especially the Grey Wolf:
- The grey wolf has been the notorious villain of fables and fairy stories for centuries, yet this highly intelligent and sociable animal has done little to warrant its terrifying reputation.
- Once widespread throughout North America, Europe and the Far East, the grey wolf is, sadly, now only found in large numbers in specific parts of the USSR, North America and Eastern Europe.
- The grey wolf has always been feared by man and has probably been persecuted more than any other animal. Did you know that centuries ago, wolves were ‘tried’ by people and burnt at the stake? However its intelligence and flexibility have saved it from extinction.
Environmental groups recently sued the Trump administration for delisting this family of wolves from the protected species list. Love them or hate them – we really treat these wolves poorly literary wise in fables and literally with bullets. We even hide in camouflaged clothing with hunting guides and sophisticated weapons – who is really the sheep in wolves clothing?
I would be remiss to not offer you information on how to help save Grey Wolves: https://www.endangered.org/wolves/
Saving Catholicism will take a little more work!
Catholicism today is out of the orphanage business. Catholic Answers does a horrendous job of defining the holy calling of caring for orphans without detailing the horrific failures to protect those in their charge from abuse and unnecessarily death:
St. Joseph’s pictured above is renowned for abuse and unnecessary death. It is “estimated more than 5 million Americans passed through orphanages in the 20th century alone. At its peak in the 1930s, the American orphanage system included more than 1,600 institutions, partly supported with public funding but usually run by religious orders, including the Catholic Church.” A recent news story in Canada just unearthed mass graves: https://mol.im/a/9630875. Still, a Times article https://time.com/3194832/orphanage-study/ even makes the case Orphanages maybe better. America’s foster care system is ripe with problems.
We are an amoral world guilty of massive indifference to human life and human dignity: https://insamer.com/en/2020-orphan-report_2928.html. The 2020 Orphan report eviscerates the American Pro-Lifer narrow focus on abortion while ignoring world poverty – the typical Anti-Abortion falls into the trap of being hypocritical by failing to support human dignity after birth as evidenced by their silence on the orphan issue. The extent of their advocacy is the march with the sign, the expression of villainizing the other, seeking legalism for enforcing a religious view, and going home feeling morally superior without personal sacrifice to address the systemic societal issues pre and post birth. Who can blame them – shhhh, don’t answer that…
It is an easy reach to criminalize an impoverished women or adolescent teen then to take on world poverty, excessive capitalism, abusive dictatorships, and other systems of government and economic policy that and fail people everyday. We are willing to scapegoat the lowest denominator and stop there. Going any further requires sacrifice that as a society we are not willing to take collectively. The pro-choice movement falls short of the bar as well by ignoring the cost of abortion – physically, morally, and spiritually on women. If we could harness the energy of Pro Choice and Pro Life into fighting the social determinate issues that create the conditions that promote poverty or unwanted pregnancies – we would have sustainable change.
When the demonstration ends or the law is amended – pregnant women living in terrible circumstances are in the same position the day after the protest as they were the day before the protest. Any changed law may increase their immediate legal or medical risk – but will not improve their pre-birth, post-birth, or post-abortion life at all. As a global society we will not own world poverty and collective systems failure. We will blame the victims of indiscriminate economic violence and limit its impact on our collective consciousness by passing persecutory laws or ignoring the issues. The two issues are intrinsically linked as in both – we do not want to look at the larger picture of what our collective and personal responsibility is for the atrocities committed in our names by fiat (law), by our silence, or by our lack of action and sacrifice. Unwanted pregnancies going full-term adds another level of poverty onto the previous levels – not that this is an acceptable answer for the morality question of abortion.
This post started with the plight of orphans and the failure of Catholic orphanages in particular. The larger issue is institutions carved out of society and hidden away behind walls are bound to fail – whether run by Catholics or other well-meaning entities. They by in large are taking in victims of a larger societal issue, put on a poorly managed time out, and returned to the same communities they were in before, more often then not, more damaged then when they went into the institution.
The Catholic Faith has not walked away from its calling to be advocates for Orphans worldwide: https://crosscatholic.org/project-catalog/children/. A better focus noted in this mission is “Building homes for the poor is one of our primary missions at Cross Catholic Outreach, especially in rural areas with limited resources and following devastating natural disasters. Our housing for the poor projects build sturdy and sustainable homes in impoverished communities to help families thrive while supporting spiritual development and offering the love of Jesus Christ.” This is an idealism view built on scripture – but it is a band aid for social ills – much the way the police and the lower-level criminal pay the price for intersection violence that comes from the “haves” and the “have nots” or on a larger scale military soldiers and innocent civilians when societies clash over resources.
Before we blame the victim or the criminal, before we blame the historical institutions or current ones – it is relevant to fully understand what our role is and how we benefit or not from any recommended solutions. In the west, we are hard-wired into a scarcity model where competition and individualism reign to our detriment to live a spiritual life.
The idea of higher taxes is anathema for many Americans. The risk of a lower socio-economic state by the imposition of fair wages here in the west and globally is not discussed. Nor is the dynamic tension of poorer nations need to rise. An economic shift is needed for a “no-growth or slow growth” economy – as world population growth in Richer countries is declining and resources are being challenged. These macro forces create winners and losers – and the losers are the orphans of tomorrow. Band-Aids will be applied to the degree possible by public charity, religious missions, and governmental interventions – often weeks, months or even years to late.
When we farm out personal responsibility to political parties, religious institutions, or other governmental institutions without investment and sacrifice ourselves – we are the problem.
I personally do not have wealth to make a significant difference. I do not have the charisma to ignite or change world sentiment. I do not have the “ear” of God to talk to and demand intervention. It is seemingly a choice of hopelessness or rage.
What to do – to quell our powerlessness or handle our rage? Harness the emotions into action. Quiet the irrational and listen to the calm. Yes, for me, the first tool is prayer its many forms – despite a disquiet understanding that my desires and intentional prayer may not impact the situations for which I pray in the way I want. This step helps sort out the gap between what I can do and what is beyond my influence. After that letting go – other actions and things fall into place. What is my calling? What can I do better today? What can I do additionally after that perhaps outside my calling?
I have just sent in a few dollars to “Save the Children” via the charity navigator tool below. They do the work of rating charities so you don’t have to do it.
Or perhaps this resource – the Lazy Mans guide to saving the world is for you:
You can improve a kids life from anywhere in the world!
If you spent the time to read this blog – please spend an extra fifteen seconds and click on one of the two charity links above and give something extra today – no matter your view on the politics of poverty and the dignity of life issues. Be a part of the solutions.
Pursuing the death penalty is currently in vogue for Trump oriented republican GOP. It is one issue among several that is used to promote rallying the base, getting votes, being perceived as tough, and stoking the Fire of class warfare.
Never-mind that justice of life in prison is the greater punishment. Never-mind that death penalty cases cost society more in legal resources than letting the villain rot in jail. Never mind that the families of victims suffer for years following the legal folly wars rather then swift application of life imprisonments with no parole. The in vogue GOP vote getter is let’s make a statement locally and bring back execution by firing squad:
American opinion has shifted as of 2019 with an upward trajectory:
The Republican GOP is moving in many states to eliminate ballot initiatives where the public can vote on one issue up or down. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/us/politics/republican-ballot-initiatives-democrats.html?referringSource=articleShare. They are fearful of their own base switching positions on the death penalty and other issues.
The National Association of Evangelical Christianity starts out with a neutral statement affirming conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought. The position statement then points out however, that the American system of justice is incapable of carrying out Capital punishment in a manner that is ethical or safe enough to not kill innocent people: https://www.nae.net/capital-punishment-2/ .
Economically and ethically the Death Penalty is a losing proposition. Still the GOP clings to this issue.
My faith is clearer on Capital punishment, but only recently. Pope Francis released an encyclical in 2020 finally stating capital punishment is wrong: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/death_penalty_representation/publications/project_blog/pope-francis-encyclical-death-penalty-opposition/.
Hopefully you and I will never be in the position to weigh with a prosecutor if we wish to pursue the death penalty against a villain who murdered someone we love. That gives us some objectivity for a moment. However, we are still very much by the power of our democracy responsible for Death Penalty law and application in the United States – Pro or Con.
As a follower of Catholicism I am theologically bound by the Popes Encyclical. Spiritually however, as a member of the faith, I am also bound to oppose my own faith if I come to believe we are at odds with divine law or even universal reality. The latter is a nod to Catholicism as our faith is limited to upholding the Christian ideal – not the day to day human reality of what circumstances prescribe. In the case of the death penalty however, we have the ability to oppose it theologically and as a universal reality – we have other legitimate choices for justice to be served. Seventy percent (70%) have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
It isn’t pretty aging and dying in prison: https://theappeal.org/death-by-incarceration-pennsylvania-photo-essay/. These human beings are invisible to us: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/elderly-life-sentenced-prisoners-a-forgotten-and-invisible/.
Incoherently I almost wish every life timer inmate had access to ending there life 7 days after self-request. Lock them up, toss away the key, let them decide to wait for human decay or check out sooner by state assisted suicide.
I would be dead wrong. Ultimately, in my faith there is no villain. The radical life of Christ and the radical calling of Christianity treats the villain as if he were my brother, as if he were me.
Christ modeled this by preaching the beatitudes (spiritual ideals unlocking the mystery of a holy life) and by dying on the cross (carrying the sins of all men including the very villains that crucified him).
In the gospel of Matthew (5:38) Jesus offers the following words:
The universal reality is we will not let murderers go free to murder again when we can stop the violence by using life term incarceration or the death penalty. The divine law is we will not take life when we have other alternatives.
Instinctually though, when faced with heinous crimes, we want swift and violent justice. The villain must be executed. The villain is not worthy of divine law. The villain is not of us, he/she is something other, an aberration – an animal.
We do not want to accept the villain as one of our own, as our brother, as ourselves. We do not want to turn the other cheek. We do not want to find it in our souls to treat the villain with mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and even love. We don’t want to hear we can do this while still keeping society safe. We want immediate and final justice now, not justice differed to God’s judgement. We want blood now. That emotion is what the GOP counts on to get your vote – the blood vote.
Politics aside, the GOP supporters and the Villains are my brothers in Christ. Radical Christianity calls me to absorb sin and absorb violence for the sake of the savior. There is no “other” or Villain. How can I do that in this world?
It is just as hard now as it was in Christ time. We cannot be silent. We must oppose political parties or policies that promote degrading human dignity while not harboring hatred or ill-will to those supporting the travesties of unjust governance. We must protect the public from murderers (even legal murderers) without hating the murderer.
I am far short of living this ideal in words or in actions. I am hopeful my fellow man and my God can show me mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for my hurtful words, omission of action, and other shortcomings I possess.
The assault on human dignity feels relentless to me. The humanness in us seeks heroes and villains for every issue. With that as the starting point we almost always fail to meet each other’s expectations, never mind meeting a higher ethical or spiritual bar.
We can eliminate the death penalty in the United States. One note, one conversation, one vote at a time.
You can start here regardless of your political ideology, but especially if your a red state: https://www.ncadp.org/action. Renounce the death penalty without giving up your party or demanding justice when justice is due.
Imagine a justice system designed with mercy, compassion, and rehabilitation in mind – even for lifers who will never leave the prison : https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=d7bb68ee71b5413e838a906dcd5b4124 walls. The Danish are leading the industry in services and architecture: https://www.archpaper.com/2017/12/denmark-prison-rehabilitation-architecture/.
I would rather anyone getting out of prison be exposed to humane living with dignity and respect then further indoctrination into degradation and suffering. Those experiencing the latter only come out meaner and further testify against us with more crime and violence.
Catholics have long known Prison Ministries are vital: https://www.catholicprisonministries.org/. There is a soul within all of us worthy of saving. As one body in Christ (or one collective humanity) we suffer as one and are called to carry each other’s weight when needed. Some might say we carry the collective cross of humanity on our shoulders as Christians. Others might say we are doing a terrible job of carrying our own cross, never mind that of our brothers. Both statements are true. Within each of us lies the potential for good and evil. How do we orient our words, actions, and political affiliations to seek the good above evil in all things?