Monday, December 30, 2013

Update: Ugh

Weird.  I did not know that the idea of Christ's homelessness at his birth was in some way controversial or political.  Sigh.

So anyway, I'm going to have to disagree that the Holy Family finding no room at the inn is theologically equivalent to "if you found all the hotels booked on your next vacation." 

Fr. Denis Lemieux has posted a lovely poem by G.K. Chesterton, that bastion of the liberal agenda, along with a reflection that says the rest.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Even after the ten minute walk from a cozy coffee shop to my warm and comfortable office this morning, I was panting with the cold.  Whenever the temperatures reach these extremes, I find myself thinking a lot about people without protection from the cold, who spent last night sleeping on top of heating vents or curled up in the back pews at my church downtown.

About 60% to 70% of Milwaukee's homeless population lives in my neighborhood, and part of the reason I choose to live in the city is that it makes it just a little bit more difficult to forget them.  Of course I can spend all kinds of time being "aware" without doing the slightest good to anyone, which is why "awareness" campaigns of various kinds always strike me as a bit pointless.  Thinking has to lead to action - for me, the thinking part comes easily, and the action is a little more difficult.  But I'm going to keep trying, and I thank God for the voices in the Church speaking out against complacency.

We are challenged to see Christ in the poor, in the prisoner, in the sick, in the desperate.  An artist recently created a powerful image of Christ as a homeless man.  Of course, every time we pass a nativity scene, we're seeing a depiction of a homeless Christ.  Maybe at this very moment on the day before his birth, Mary and Joseph were walking the streets of Bethlehem exhausted and without resources, with nowhere to sleep and with night approaching. Mary's contractions were getting closer together and Joseph was close to panic.  Maybe one of the innkeepers told them that they should have thought ahead, and that their poor planning was hardly his problem.  Another inkeeper could have seen the market potential of the sudden influx of visitors for the census, and taken the opportunity for a little price gouging that put the cost of a room outside of the Family's limited budget.

The scene at the manger is one of sublime beauty and grace, of course, but it's worth remembering that this feast is a celebration of the Emmanuel: the God-with-us.  Christ isn't just spiritually or symbolically united with our neediness and want and cold and hunger and desperation.  He came to us in the weakness of a human body precisely so that he could live all of these things with us, as one of us.  If we are to be his continued presence in the world, as he calls us to be, it can be in that way and no other.

Friday, December 20, 2013


"It is a scandal that God came to be one of us. It is a scandal that he died on a cross. It is a scandal: the scandal of the Cross. The Cross continues to provoke scandal. But it is the one sure path, the path of the Cross, the path of Jesus, the path of the Incarnation of Jesus. Please, do not water down your faith in Jesus Christ. We dilute fruit drinks – orange, apple, or banana juice, but please do not drink a diluted form of faith. Faith is whole and entire, not something that you water down. It is faith in Jesus. It is faith in the Son of God made man, who loved me and who died for me."

-- Pope Francis

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Catholic Thing

"What is the Catholic thing? What makes Catholicism, among all of the competing philosophies, ideologies, and religions of the world, distinctive? I stand with John Henry Newman who said that the great principle of Catholicism is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God. What do I mean by this? I mean, the Word of God—the mind by which the whole universe came to be—did not remain sequestered in heaven but rather entered into this ordinary world of bodies, this grubby arena of history, this compromised and tear-stained human condition of ours...

...And the incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into flesh so that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could ever appear. No philosophical or political or religious program in history—neither Greek or Renaissance or Marxist humanism—has ever made a claim about human destiny as extravagant as Christianity’s. We are called, not simply to moral perfection or artistic self-expression, or economic liberation, but rather to what the eastern fathers called theiosis, transformation into God...

...Essential to the Catholic mind is what I would characterize as a keen sense of the prolongation of the Incarnation throughout space and time, an extension of it precisely through the mystery of the church. Catholics see God’s continued enfleshment in the oil, water, bread, imposed hands, wine, and salt of the sacraments; they appreciate it in the gestures, movements, incensations, and songs of the liturgy; they savor it in texts, arguments, and debates of the theologians; they sense it in the graced governance of Popes and bishops, they love it in the struggles and missions of the saints; they know it in the writings of Catholic poets and in the cathedrals crafted by Catholic architects. In short, all of this discloses to the Catholic eye and mind the ongoing presence of the Word made flesh, namely Christ."

--Fr. Robert Barron

More here.  

Friday, December 13, 2013


An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man builds a snowman on Friday in Jerusalem. 
There's a huge snowstorm hitting parts of the Middle East right now - obviously highly unusual for the area.  Apparently it snows on average about once every 7 years in Jerusalem.

The picture above fills me with a weird joy.  It makes me think about how we are called have the hearts of children: playing at our Father's feet, filled with pure delight at this strange and beautiful world He has created out of His extravagant love for us.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Global Wave of Prayer to End Hunger

O God, you entrusted to us the fruits of all creation so that we might care for the earth and be nourished with its bounty.
You sent us your Son to share our very flesh and blood and to teach us your Law of Love.  
Through His death and resurrection, we have been formed into one human family.  
Jesus showed great concern for those who had no food – even transforming five loaves and two fish into a banquet that served five thousand and many more.  
We come before you, O God, conscious of our faults and failures, but full of hope, to share food with all members in this global family.  
Through your wisdom, inspire leaders of government and of business, as well as all the world’s citizens, to find just, and charitable solutions to end hunger by assuring that all people enjoy the right to food.  
Thus we pray, O God, that when we present ourselves for Divine Judgment, we can proclaim ourselves as “One Human Family” with “Food for All." Amen.
More here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

An Explanation

There were a few different reasons I stopped blogging for a while.  A lot of it had to do with life and moving and new jobs and such.  However, there was another reason as well.  It's been hard for me to write about it, but I think I'm going to try.

When Pope Benedict announced his resignation back in February, I felt it very personally.  At the time, I wrote:

"I would never say that I experienced the fatherhood of Pope Benedict more deeply than the fatherhood of Blessed JPII - his death affected me like few things have, and I specifically had the experience of losing a father. But he was certainly the father-hero: when he spoke you felt united with the universal Church, like you were suddenly swept up into the grandeur of salvation history, with banners and trumpets. With Pope Benedict, it is as though he just quietly sits down next to you, almost without you noticing, and starts talking to you one-on-one, and you suddenly become of aware of God's love and challenge for you not just as part of the Church but as an individual. That's why he is Papa Benedict. Both have shown us different aspects of God's fatherhood, I think. Those of us who lived during both papacies sure have been incredibly, undeservedly blessed."

So there was a very strong sense of loss for me, the loss of a spiritual father.  However, as the next few weeks unfolded, I began to have a strong sense that, for a man as holy and in touch with God's will as my Papa to have taken such an unexpected and dramatic step, there must be a reason.  If the Lord had decided to take away such a dear and wise shepherd, he must have something specific in mind.

I don't tend to trust myself when it comes to an awareness of God's will or actions in my life.  My struggles with my faith in college and after arose from the perception that what I had experienced as God moving and speaking in my life was a sham or self-deception.  But this wasn't just my life - this was the life of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit seemed unmistakable to me.

On the second day of the Conclave when the white smoke went up, I was at work.  I've never been happier to work for a Catholic organization - I ran to the multi-purpose room and put the coverage up on the big screen, then had the front desk make an announcement over the PA to invite residents to come down and meet our new Pope.  The room was soon crowded and I sat towards the back.  My husband and I texted back and forth, alternating between excitement and a bit of eye-rolling at some of the coverage.

Finally Cardinal Tauran came out on the balcony, and made the announcement.  I didn't understand what he'd said, but a banner immediately appeared at the bottom of the screen with a name: "Bergoglio."  The announcers had some details: a Jesuit from Latin America, two firsts.  I remembered a little bit about him from John Allen's profile - he was the one who rode a bus to work.

When our new Holy Father stepped into view, my tears were flowing freely.  He stood for a long time, looking out at the crowd.  Then he greeted us, and asked for our blessing, and led the whole Church in prayer to Our Lady.

I felt like I could almost see the pieces falling into place, and felt such a serene joy in the loving actions of the Lord to bring hope and strength to a hurting Church.  It seemed to me so clear that He had sent this man to us to guide His Church towards healing, to bridge the ever widening gaps between north and south, left and right.

As the next few weeks unfolded, I continued to be excited by how I saw the Lord acting through him.  I knew that in some circles that overlap slightly with mine there was some grumbling, mostly surrounding his lack of emphasis on certain liturgical preferences.  But that in my mind was part of the healing process.  It seemed clear to me that, on both so-called ends of the so-called spectrum, we'd lost our focus, and that Pope Francis was the one to remind us about what - or rather Who - is the source and summit of every teaching and tradition.

Then came that one interview.  You remember the one, right?  The Holy Father said things like this:
The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.
I'm not going to be able to describe very well what this interview meant to me.  I read the whole thing straight through, at work, cried at my desk, emailed my husband, read it some more.

Healing.  It's something I've begged God for throughout my adult life, for myself and for the Church.  The interview felt like Christ personally reaching out to me through the words on my screen, offering me that healing.  I was so grateful.

Then the backlash came.  I'm sure you remember that, too.  And again, I'm not going to be able to describe very well how it affected me, except to say that each time someone attacked the Pope, questioned his orthodoxy, doubted his prudence, undermined his authority, spoke of him with condescension, it was like a physical blow.

The fact that many of these comments came from those who, despite my disagreement with some of their methods or emphases, I had always understood to represent fidelity to Holy Church made me feel betrayed and alienated.  I had to fight against a feeling of shame - for what?  For seeing the Holy Father as a teacher and myself as a student?  For thinking the Vicar of Christ, elected by the College of Cardinals after a life of service to the Church, probably had more prudence in his little finger than the entire Catholic blogosphere?  For drawing inspiration and joy from his words, for feeling re-invigorated in my faith and in my striving towards a life of virtue?

I never wanted to be part of the vitriol and mud-slinging and vicious divisiveness that seems to characterize so much of Catholic new media, and I still don't.

But my hurt on the Holy Father's behalf, my feelings of betrayal, were too strong to allow for any calm and reasoned arguments.  Either I could jump into the ugliness, or I could step away.

So I stepped away.

Why am I coming back now?  I'm not sure exactly.  I like writing, for one thing.  I like writing about the Church, which I love more than my life.  I like writing about other, related things too, like books and music and art.

It's not like things have changed.  We've now reached a place where someone who considers himself a faithful Catholic thinks he is living according to that description when he says that our Holy Father will "prove a disaster for the Catholic Church," "shows a terrifying naivety," that he "panders to enemies" and "swipes at practicing Catholics," that "Francis thinks by talking vacuously about the poor, he will be respected," that he has "insulted, and severely damaged the work of, pro-life and pro-marriage groups," that we "elected the wrong guy."

We've reached a place where a priest who preaches "hard identity Catholicism," rather than praising the decision of a Catholic media organization to take immediate action to end this person's employment, questions it.

I'm still angry, and I'm still not sure what to do about it.  But I still want this blog to be a place to talk about what's good and beautiful in the world, not a place to spit and hiss and build higher walls.  I think I've calmed my emotional response enough now to be able to continue with that effort.

P.S.  I thought I'd like to end with a quote from the Pope, so I went back to my RSS feed intending to look through some of his old homilies.  Instead I found this, right at the top of my feed, from today:
The announcement [of the Gospel] requires authentic human relationships and leads along the path to a personal encounter with the Lord...Therefore, the internet is not enough; technology is not enough...This, however, does not mean that the Church’s presence online is useless; on the contrary, it is essential to be present, always in an evangelical way, in what, for many, especially young people, has become a sort of living environment; to awaken the irrepressible questions of the heart about the meaning of existence; and to show the way that leads to Him who is the answer, the Divine Mercy made flesh, the Lord Jesus.

-- Pope Francis

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


So apparently I stepped away from the blog for a while.  It wasn't really planned, but there were some other things that needed my attention (like moving).  I think the summer finally caught up to me as well, leaving me profoundly drained, both physically and creatively.

I think I'll be back to posting with some regularity fairly soon.  In the meanwhile, it's Advent, and that means thinking about waiting.  It's hard to wait for God's timing in your life - I've always been just absolutely terrible at it, and right now is no exception.  So I appreciated what Simcha Fisher had to say in an interview with Jennifer Fulwiler:
"There is an awful lot of outside pressure to get things right the first time. From the secular world, 'getting things right' may look like having a super duper body, and fireworks in the bedroom every night, and maybe having one or two perfectly timed children who nicely complement your career. From the religious world, 'getting things right' may look like being visibly joyful all the time, and having a respectful, decorous flock of children who just lurve to pray and volunteer and do their chores. Either way, you’re supposed to be a catalogue-ready example of that lifestyle within six weeks, and hold that pose indefinitely. And this is nuts. Dangerously nuts.

Whenever people write to me for advice, the one thing I always include is a reminder to be patient — with themselves, and with each other. Human nature changes so slowly, cell by cell by cell. We may have epiphanies and breakthroughs, but thing that really matters most is making those slow, slow improvements. My husband reminds me of this all the time: Let’s just take care of what we can take care of today. This is true when you’re getting to know each other, or building a life together, or raising kids, or nurturing a sexual relationship, or building a relationship with God. Be patient!"