Always in Hope and Prayer

Our_Mother_is_CryingAfter witnessing another round of Washington gridlock wherein all too many of the players jock only for their own personal best position, it is all too easy to lose hope.

All too easy to give up the fight when so many are aligned in an evil dance of pointing the finger at each other rather than at ourselves.

Our selfishness, our greed, our pride, our self-righteousness, our ambitions all serve to pit one against the other in an endless dance of death where neither can let go for fear of being dealt the final death-blow, and yet we slowly bleed  each other to death.

People are really suffering in our world, and people are really afraid. The two often don’t coincide. Those who live in fear, fear the one’s who are suffering and clutch all the more tightly those miserable things they have acquired, all the while attempting to build a fortress to contain these things from being taken.

Those who suffer do so in great silence, too weary from the struggle to just exist. The pain in their eyes echoes but one question: how can you let me die? Worse how can you let my innocent child die?

We argue over whether a human has the RIGHT to food, to shelter, to health care, as if it were a real question and not one created by forces that control the means of food, shelter and health and want only to exact a price for them in order to afford yet another jet, or condo, or island for their pleasure. It is all too awful at times, all to hard to fathom.

We were created in the image of God, yet we have distorted it by all the ugliness we continue to hold within us. Worse, we look at ourselves and see through this distortion our God become like us. How unnatural, how grotesque!

Yet there is this:

JUST ONE

I ask for just one miracle this weekend:
that I will no longer believe the impossible is.

That I will find the faith to believe
that liberation will come
for those who are imprisoned by their own
– or another’s –
fear and judgement.

That I will find the faith to believe
that the most intractable minds can be changed
– even my own.

That i will find the faith to believe
a different world will be born
from the empty hells of this one.

That I won’t stop living for the end
of all that would destroy us.

From Hold This Space

And from this praying upon unholy knees, we rise again to continue on, learning, teaching, reaching upward in love, in goodness, in equality, in justice, crying forth for a miracle of salvation for the human race.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.Well, he doesn’t wear a mask, but he wears a white cossack. Along with the other wardrobe symbols of the papacy of Rome,  they denominate him as Pontiff. Yet, he is so much more than the God’s representative on Earth. He is a man and he has his own ideas.

It is often said that many a president has nominated and had confirmed a supreme court justice who later turned out to be quite a bit different than was anticipated. That certainly happened where Dwight David Eisenhower and Earl Warren were concerned. Eisenhower became quite unhappy with the liberal turn of the Chief Justice. Similarly, after Chief Justice Roberts became the deciding vote that upheld “Obamacare” many a Republican rued the day that Bush selected him for the top job.

One wonders are some cardinals (so many of whom are arch conservatives chosen by JPII and his successor Benedict XVI to continue the conservative imprimatur they put in place, now wondering what they have wrought in the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to St. Peter’s Chair. Surely I am in no position to know.

But many on the outside are scratching their collective heads and wondering just who this man is. He was thought to be  fairly conservative from a doctrinal point of view, with great humility and great concern for the poor. Yet, today, he is at least giving reason for those Progressive Catholics to hope that change may be in the air. It seems that every few weeks he grants another interview and says tantalizing things that suggest that he is rethinking things thought by conservative Catholics to be set in stone.

As I said, I am no one to reach a conclusion on these issues. I find it unlikely that there will be a major change in doctrine, but I could see that Francis might adopt the position that it is wrong to deny the full sacramental life of the church to those who are in “dissent”, being practicing homosexuals, divorced and remarried, those seeking contraceptive care and so forth. That would be the most I believe we could expect.

I am told, certainly by the ultra conservative Catholics, that no such thing will happen, and they are ruthless in pointing out emphatically that this Pope is offering no light at the end of the tunnel as it were, but merely the victim of “poor word choice”. Such poor choosing of words seems, alas to happen again and again, and the rising frantic denials of the uber Right suggest that they are pretty darn scared that change of some sort is coming.

Several, in fact, on the very conservative “Catholic Answers” admit to being “troubled” and “uneasy” with this Pope. They tell each other, that all the “other” Catholics will surely misinterpret the interviews and think it’s now “alright to abort babies” and use birth control. They, of course, being so much wiser and capable in dissecting papal announcements are very sure that no such encouragement is warranted.

I don’t know, and time will tell.

I have thought  that at the very least this Pope is telling his fellow priests to stop beating up on people for their sins and start helping them to be more loving Christians. After all, what is confessed is not grounds for denial of Eucharist unless the sinner is open and public in their sin. Few are. Perhaps we are headed for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the RCC.

In any event, I haven’t seriously thought about going back. That is not because I’m waiting for a more explicit statement, but rather that more and more, I find organized religion to be a hornet’s nest in every direction. It seems that almost everywhere I look, I find dissension within churches and within congregations. Some if it pains me deeply. I have no desire to become embroiled and I have found being a “backbencher” a detachment that doesn’t work either.

So I remain outside.

Yet, I continue to feel a vitality in that.

People call themselves, “spiritual but not religious”. I have never cared much for that self-designation and have considered that most who use it aren’t much of anything. Basically I have seen them as people who rarely think about God, and have a knee-jerk “of course I believe in God” reaction when asked. Beyond that, they are too busy.

That surely is not fair, although it may fairly define a good many people. Yet many people are spiritual but like me find religiosity increasingly confining and unfulfilling. I have heard a new term and I rather like it. It’s called being a “spiritual creative”.

What this means, at least to me, is that one picks and chooses those practices, rituals, and behaviors from a broad range of varying religious traditions. One feeds oneself with those things that seem to help create a God-space within which a loving God can move within, helping one be shaped to His will. In other words, I have become a jack-of-all-religions. Well, not all, really, but I draw from different traditions. I may, for instance decide to combine lectionary readings every day, with meditation, praying at set times during the day, practicing mindfulness, reading spiritual books or deeper thoelogical and scholarly writings. I might celebrate other holy days that only Christian ones. I might include service to community as part of a spiritual practice. The list is as endless as are the rituals and practices of all the faith systems of the world.

This makes for some exciting possibilities, and plenty of dead ends I suspect.

But after all, it is the journey that counts, right?

Blessings, Amen.

It is worth your while to read the wonderful interview conducted by the Jesuits with His Holiness. You can find it here.

Never Judge a Book By Its, Cover, or Maybe You Should

Today I went to St. Albert the Great. It serves the NMSU and the surrounding neighborhood. I expected, (hoped?) to find a younger, more tolerant crowd. That didn’t happen, but what did was not unpleasant or disagreeable either.

I arrived a bit early. The church is in the adobe style, modern, meaning post Vatican II. It was pleasant inside although the pews were without kneelers. For those who don’t know me much, I am, good or bad, rather impressed or depressed by the physicality of a church. Some leave me flat and spiritless, others inspire. I prefer the latter.

This did inspire, until I sat down. For the next 10-15 minutes I was hailed by a variety of aged men and women, who chattered so loudly that at times I thought I was in a sports arena filling for a title bout. The usual complaints and explanations of physical ailments, treatments and medications ensued. Hardly the place where one can quiet one’s mind turn toward God. You can make the usual arguments, I’m well aware that I’m being petty.

About three minutes before Mass, the place began to fill with the families and the college fare until it was fully bursting at the seams.

The music began, part in Spanish and part in English, which I find utterly delightful, and voices rose in harmony and vigor.

So far, my experiences in New Mexican Catholic churches suggest that most homilies are left to the deacon. This one was neither especially good or bad, average, which most are. Father was attentive and friendly.

I learned that the diocese is getting a new bishop and the parish a new priest. This suggests to me a great time to schedule an appointment and go in and talk to Father about my marriage issues, and get a feel for the reception I might receive there as a permanent member. It will be a bit of drive when we move to our new house (should we get it), but still it is only 20 minutes, and frankly the only one close to our new house has an awful mass time of 11 am which I dislike. And I’m not particularly fond of Saturday evening masses, though I will surely do it at least once to give it a chance.

All in all, my first impression was bad, but my the end of the Mass I found myself quite taken with it. It was much more warm it seemed to me than the Cathedral which is no cathedral at all, and cannot even maintain a piano player for the Sunday mass.

I find all this surprising, since New Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic. I expected to find really old churches here, instead I find that most are modern and rather unappealing architecturally speaking. The one closest to our new home, looks from the outside to be a warehouse that has been converted. It’s long and low. Where are my spiraling and soaring vaults to heaven?

Again, I know, the place is not important. But frankly it is to me. This has always been the case and frankly I don’t think I’ll be changing now.

Anyway, it was a good Pentecost.

Amen.

Well, I’ll Be!

There are four Catholic churches that I have designated as “possible” given my location. I went to the third on my list today.

I was expecting that it would be hands down my favorite. It is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Linn County, Iowa. The present building was built well before the 60’s.

It has the most beautiful old stained glass you can imagine. Gorgeous windows, some round, most in the traditional oval tops. They are pictures of various saints. I sat opposite St. Rose of Lima.

The pews are old, too short, so one is never quite comfortable. The altar was pulled off the original back wall and moved forward with lovely marble pillars arching behind and alongside it. The sanctuary actually is in the church, something that is rare these days.

There are actual statues gracing either side. It is thoroughly Marian, given its name, Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was dark. 

It was in a word, just my cup of tea.

But.

I felt no welcoming when I entered. It seemed cold and withdraw as did its occupants. A rosary was being prayed, which was a plus, but I noted that many seemed to sit in sullen silence. The folks in front of me discarded phones and earphones on the seat to either side of them. Their teenage daughter stood with her foot perched upon the seat, looking as bored as any 14-year-old can be, being forced to be where she clearly did not want to be.

I was still hopeful of course, since I love this type of  old church so much and usually feel my heart soaring to God upon my entrance. Yet this didn’t happen. I waited.

Things began, and I looked about and realized that this 9 am mass was the “white” mass. A mass at 12 noon was most certainly the Hispanic one – obvious since it was conducted in Spanish by the literature. Still, I expected more mixing and there was precious little.

Father is an exceptionally young man, looking at odds in such old surroundings. The parishioners are decidedly more elderly than young as well. This looks for all its worth as a parish that is in transition, the Anglos  a dying out bunch, the Hispanics clearly in the ascendency.

All went as expected until the homily. Then I realized that this Church and I were probably not destined to know one another well. I suspected of course, given its Hispanic influence, that it would be fairly conservative. That has been my experience before in a Hispanic parish in Michigan.

There, at Our Lady of Guadalupe, I had been warmly welcomed, and had fallen in quickly. I was put to work serving coffee after Mass by the second visit, and I enjoyed a lively conversation with the priest there, who was native to Cuba. It was odd, him serving a largely Mexican heritage congregation. But all seemed happy there.

This conservatism was not of ritual however. That I expected. It had to do with what Father said. And it was that all of us fine church goers should be lively in our faith, and vote, calling our state to a Constitutional Convention, where  we could enact a new amendment to “preserve traditional marriage.”

Quite a stretch in a homily devoted to how strangers turned out to be more faithful than the faithful.

No wine was served at communion, something I have never experienced before. There were no altar girls, but one woman served as a Eucharistic minister. A Catholic nun spoke for a few minutes encouraging everyone to support Birthright, an organization devoted to helping women with unwanted pregnancies, want them.

More than the usual number of folks received communion and kept on walking out the doors. Singing was lacklustre at best, and only one verse was sung of the exiting hymn.

It struck me mostly, as a lot of folks who have been going to mass for so many years that they frankly don’t think about it any more. They just do it. I felt no sense of awe, or Spirit within the building.

I, of course, don’t mean to speak for anyone there. What was going on in their hearts is between themselves and God.

I walked to my car with the strong conviction that I would not likely return, unless my “schedule” somehow made it easier to stop in there than elsewhere. They are the only church in town that holds a mass every day at noon. During Lent, they may have some choices of times that others don’t which might entice me there again. But it will be for convenience, and not because I feel “in God” while there.

I felt, decidedly as if I had missed a date with God today.

I found that odd.

Mostly I found it a shock. I guess ritual and building are a good deal less than I had thought.

What of the Sabbath?

As I contemplate tomorrow, the Sabbath, and my determination to visit a number of Catholic parishes before making a final decision, I got to thinking about what “going to church” actually means.

Surely, it has changed in meaning over the centuries. Surely, it seems to me, it was meant to be something rather different back in the early days after the crucifixion and resurrection, than it came to mean.

God in Exodus, commands the Sabbath. On that day humans shall do no work. They shall keep the day holy. To the literalists of the day, it came to be horribly specific. Rabbis spend untold hours discussing and deciding what things could and could not be done during this time without violating the “no work” rule. It became, frankly, burdensome in the extreme, and still is to those most orthodox of Jews.

Jesus was chastised a goodly number of times for his violation. He reminded the Pharisees and scribes enumerable times that doing good things for the well-being of others was not against the rules. In fact in Mark 2:27, he directly claimed that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God was enforcing a day of leisure over and against the wealthy who would command workers to work day after day without end.

We have claimed the Sabbath as a day to worship God in community. And, most would argue, that the delineating line between “practicing” Christian and Christian “in name only” is attendance at services in a church. Whether this is right or fair is deeply open to question.

Clearly no God worth being named as such needs or desires worship. That is the province of kings and dictators, emperors and demagogues. Such humans, all too worried that they have no moral right to their positions, seek the acclaim of the masses to reassure them. God needs no such thing.

Worship seems designed to remind us that God is on the job, something we are wont to forget in our busyness. Prayer is similarly, for us. Surely it is not for God. God knows our desires, our failings, our repentance, our needs, and our sorrows without us having to formally give voice to them. And we don’t have to do this in order to “activate” God’s reply. Again, prayer seeks to remind us of the cord that binds us to Him.

When I think of the early church, in those first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, I often imagine a much different event than the one we find in our Christian churches each Sunday.

I imagine a small group of folks gathering at one person’s home. This group is comprised, in those very early years, with perhaps one or two who actually saw Jesus in the flesh, heard his discourse, and was amazed at his power. They gather, bringing wine and bread, some fruit, perhaps some fish. They recite the hymns of old, the psalms that are part of their collective memory.

Those with memories of the living Jesus relate the stories once more, others perhaps relate stories they heard personally from one of the apostles, of someone who knew someone who knew. . . . The children, listen in rapt attention. A letter, copied perhaps innumerable times is read, from Paul or Peter, or James, or perhaps another long-lost to the ages.

Finally the story is told of the last supper. Quiet descends as the words are spoke. “Eat this. . .drink this. . .This is. . . .” And the bread is broken and passed around, and the wine is poured. And they eat in silence. Then the table is set, the food put forth, and everyone catches up on the week’s activities.

When the meal is concluded, and the table cleaned, they join hands, and give thanks for all their blessings in God and Jesus. They give thanks for the Holy Spirit that inhabits them. They pass around the bowl, and each contributes what they can to be given to the poor in the community. Blessings, and hugs, and goodbyes, and where they will meet the next week. And they return home.

Yet, they, I suspect were never far from remembering that day throughout the week, sharing with friends and acquaintances the Good News. Their Jewish upbringing brought them to prayer each day, probably several times a day.

Today, I sit in church, and I listen, and I look around. And I wonder. That  is all I can do. For I could not tell the “I’m just here because it’s required” and those that are there to be nourished. But I know that some are of one kind and some of the other. Some scoot into the pew after the entrance, and receive communion and continue walking to the door. Others look at watches, others moan in their heart as another stanza of the last hymn begins.

Into the parking lot, and cars are zooming for exits. Some, like me, parked at the far end, to not get caught in the tangle. Breathing free and self-satisfied are we. Having done our duty.

Some of us do daily devotions of one sort or another. Again, some realize that it is for themselves and not God that such time is offered.

Yet we flock back on Sunday. And I’m not sure we are doing it justice. Not sure we are actually doing much more than going through the motions. Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. We observe the “substance” of the ritual.

In our mega cathedrals, in our packed-in-like-sardines atmosphere, we mostly don’t know our neighbors, let alone catch up. We don’t share the Good News. We don’t pass the bread and wine. We don’t bring our offerings to share. We write a check and only know that it goes to “charity” not the poor lady down the street from us and her disabled son.

I do not chastise the “spiritual” but not “religious” person. For I do not know that they are any less faithful than I. And I know that in some cases they are certainly more than I or anyone else.

Let us remember what it is all about, this day. . . Saturday. Do that for a change, instead of leaving it all for tomorrow.

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