A Joyous 2022 – An Invitation

Last year presented insidious challenges to our collective well-being. We suffered significant losses to the original COVID variant and an explosion of the Omnicron variant, deaths unrelated to COVID, ongoing “populism” politics spurning unhealthy anxiety and hate, economic hardships, and the not-so-hidden repercussions of global warming.

These external challenges are in addition to whatever personal demons (metaphorically speaking) we each individually carry on our shoulders. Past traumas, personal failures, relationship difficulties, disabilities, medical issues, and personal challenges are common baggage we all carry on our shoulders.

Is it normal to feel this exhausted all the time? Drawing. | Alien  drawings, Drawings, Tire art

The continuous and unrelenting nature of suffering in its multifarious presentations can be overwhelming, depressing, and draining. Pervasive tiredness can overcome the strongest among us. For some, this can even leap over into clinical depression or other mental health or physical manifestations requiring professional medical interventions.

A Tzu Chi USA described the Buddhist handling of the term suffering – referred to as dukkha in Pali and duhkha in Sanskrit – as indescribably with a single English word either. According to Buddhist sutras (scriptures), three root sufferings and three cravings contribute to suffering. Pain, anxiety, stress, distress, discomfort, frustration, and “unsatisfactoriness” are words used to capture suffering. If interested in knowing your “enemy” of peace and joy well – the Buddhist traditions provide a pretty good road map.

My own faith has an apostolic letter devoted to suffering by Pope John Paul II called “Salvific Doloris” which, in part, concludes, “Suffering is certainly part of the mystery of man. Perhaps suffering is not wrapped up as much as man is by this mystery, which is an especially impenetrable one.”  Despite this open-ended answer to the question of suffering, the Pontiff within this letter also prescribes spiritual answers for facing immense suffering. Its teachings help me attribute meaning to my trials and provide me, at times, deep consolation spiritually in my times of darkness.

The Beauty of Suffering: Salvifici Doloris « Catholic Insight

The pontiff points out where in scripture suffering is referenced: “Sacred Scripture is a great book about suffering. I would be lying to you if I did not own that sometimes great spiritual aridity leaves me feeling alone with today’s problems. These times, I am challenged to double down on my faith and persevere in faith. The Pontiff quotes from the books of the Old Testament a few examples of situations which bear the signs of suffering, and above all moral suffering: the danger of death(5), the death of one’s own children(6), and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son(7); and then too: the lack of offspring(8), nostalgia for the homeland(9), persecution and hostility of the environment(10), mockery and scorn of the one who suffers(11), loneliness and abandonment(12); and again: the remorse of conscience(13), the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer(14), the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours(15); and finally: the misfortunes of one’s own nation(16).” Do these sound familiar to you today?

Why am I spending so much space on suffering on a blog on a Joyous 2022? I know joy will not be possible for us if we do not accept the reality of suffering and the potentiality for its destructive force in our lives going forward. Understanding suffering, preparing for suffering, and perhaps even maturely embracing suffering (for the spiritually transcendent few among us) is what both religious traditions above teach. Both of those paths are long paths of contemplation and significant commitment – which I encourage.

In the meantime, however, I recommend a lighter path today or preferably simultaneously with one of the above paths.

“Gratitude, thankfulness or gratefulness, from the Latin word gratus “pleasing, thankful,” is a feeling of appreciation felt by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, to the giver of said gifts. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions.” (What post is complete without a Wikipedia quote?)

However, achieving this feeling is not my recommendation for a joyous 2022, though I hope you

have these feelings often! Transforming these feelings into action consistently and progressively throughout 2022 will profoundly increase your joy. If done so with a genuine and humble spirit, it may synergetically have a profound impact on those around you. USC University of Southern California noted that spiritual or philosophical gratitude has its roots throughout history. Not a USC fan, how about “Harvard Health Medical School: Giving thanks can make you happier” or “Healthline: The Benefits of Gratitude and How to Get Started.”

The 12 step self-help community also relies heavily on the nurturing of gratitude and service (action) all throughout the program, but especially in the 12th step. Click here for an audio story of one of the founding members of Alcohol Anonymous entitled “Gratitude in Action.” Epidemiologic studies, as well as studies in treatment-seeking populations, converge to support the finding that

Groan. Groan. Not Another Gratitude Meeting – AA Beyond Belief

early-life trauma is common in people with alcohol dependence. Battling alcoholism or any other addiction in addition to healing from early childhood trauma is not easy. This is not surprising. The 12 step self-help community, although not a religious group, does espouse a spiritual foundation that culminates with the 12th step: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. In this step, people in recovery get to most practice gratitude in action in a humble manner. Some A.A. groups devote an entire weekly meeting to the topic of gratitude alone. Look at Cleveland Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland article – Gratitude in Early Recovery. If alcoholics and addicts recover using Gratitude in part as medicine – it can work for everybody. There is no condition or ailment they have not experienced or faced in their fellowship.

Practicing Gratitude is so easy and so accessible to everyone. It is a great starting point to a new you and a more positive future. It may lead you to have enough strength and motivation to take other challenging steps as well – with things on your “to-do” list you have put off or never thought was possible.

Here are some additional tools if you do not know where to start or need more motivation:

Life Hack: 4o simple ways to practice gratitude.

Positive Psychology: 7 Best Gratitude Apps to increase your well being

The above links may lead to sponsored or “pay for apps” as well. Gratitude and peaceful living are in high demand and are big business. If they help you get started or keep going – they may be worth the investment. Regardless of how to get started and keep going – discipline is required to actually “do” rather than just read, understand, and feel gratitude.

Everything you need is in this post or one of the links provided for alternative ideas. Your local library also has free resources.

I acknowledge you may be suffering; I know I cannot fully grasp your situation or enduring pain. I invite you to seek Joy anyway in 2022 by practicing the action of Gratitude every day in whatever form you decide.

Sincerely if you managed to read this entire blog and are committed to at least five minutes a day – please leave a comment now with that commitment on my blog and report back later!

Regardless, may peace, joy and health follow you in 2022!

Regards,

P.S. I made a small contribution to Tzu Chi USA while writing this post in gratitude for their detailed description of the suffering and the work they do….gratitude in action. I have no affiliation with this group.

Pope Francis responds to attacks from EWTN, other church critics: ‘They are the work of the devil.’ | America Magazine

There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.” He said: “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/09/21/pope-francis-ewtn-critics-241472

A Pope who strives to be pastoral and Christlike recognizes EWTN and a large faction of the flock has been coopted by non-Christian ideology and pseudo religion.

Historically, nation states and powerful people have attempted to use religious institutions to consolidate, preserve, or acquire power. EWTN has fallen into being an acquired voice of ultra right political conservatism. Look up it’s donor base and it’s mega commercial off-shoots. It has become a political communication tool equal to or greater than the cooperation of Evangelical Christianity by the far right (or by money and building funds).

Popes throughout the centuries have come into disfavor when standing in the way of the rich and powerful. Pope Francis is no exception. His vocal condemnation of economic exploitation, environmental negligence, and superficial religiosity has earned the ire of Catholics who have fallen prey to secular comforts and identity with a privileged class.

A man with one lung is standing up to inverted Catholicism – where religion is serving a privileged group rather than serving God and all his creation.

Motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out. | America Magazine

So much is transient: our physical beauty and strength, our mental capacity, our relationships, our ability to care for the people we love. Our capacity to fix problems. It will run out. It is a relief that it will run out. What I gave, I gave. What I accomplished, I accomplished. What I failed, I failed. No doubt I am only at a plateau, and soon enough the mindless panic and distress will set in again.
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/09/03/motherhood-birth-rebirth-jesus-241281

The author above was addressing the experience of motherhood – a calling where nothing is left on the table, an utterly emptying of oneself until nothing is left.

As men we may choose this path as well with sports, work, or family. We leave “nothing on the table” for reserve when we are all-in. The elite among us can apply that same vigorous love demonstrated by motherhood to walking a humble, spiritual path.

The latter is quite a contradiction, as it is difficult to at once we be “all-in” with an athletes competitiveness or a warriors mentality while remaining genuinely humble and spiritual, living a holy life one breath at a time. Our downfall can be swift and merciless or beguilingly slow. Grand missteps for all to see or perhaps even more treacherous, small transgressions that we never even notice the road of spiritual descent.

The article nails motherhood and spirituality. The quote above nails the challenge we all have to just be good human beings. It can be tiresome and selfless living a moral and ethical life. Navigating our desires, our instinctual survival skills, and our collective shared needs creates explosive collisions of “individual self-will run riot.” We are called often and frequently to leave nothing on the table. Our mortality gives us only 1 lifetime to live with no promise or certainty of an afterlife or second run. We will, most of us anyway, hit a final apex point before descending towards deaths door.

Whatever you put your mind today…leave nothing on the table! The outcomes and results will be what they will be. Imagine if we applied the archetypical mother loves to everything we did collectively? Certainly our moral and ethical bar for societal expectations would rise dramatically.

The author goes a several steps father for an example by closing with the archetype “Son of God,” Jesus Christ, who emptied himself (Kenosis) – gave his self-will up was receptive to and accepted God’s divine will including a gruesome and painful death.

Who among us is ready for this type of sacrifice?

Contemplating life? Who are you anyway?

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?

Restorative Justice and Christianity

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.

First Fridays

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!

Dominus vobiscum!

The church in the West is in decline—and nationalism won’t save it | America Magazine

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

Pivot with Ignatius

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!

Forever Catholic

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.

OCEAN 515 Ocean Circulation Observations

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.

My Rose jungle is infested with Trumpet Vine
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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.

Big Things in Small Churches – First Church of God Panama City

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.

15 Customer Service Skills & How to Improve (Step-by-Step)

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.

Missionary Opportunities - archden.org

Institutional and Personal Failure

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:

https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/Orphans-and-Orphanages

St. Josephs

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.

It is not a binary choice

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.

https://www.charitynavigator.org/

Or perhaps this resource – the Lazy Mans guide to saving the world is for you:

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/takeaction/

You can improve a kids life from anywhere in the world!

Lazy people illustration Free Vector

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.

Givelight Foundation Is Partnering With TCF To Give 200 Orphans A Brighter  Future | TCF - USA | The Citizens Foundation

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