Primary Motivator

The readings this weekend were all about money. Amos was talking about the dishonesty of those with money–how they were so focused on their own profits that they didn’t really care what happened to the “have not”s of the world. And Jesus said, “Guess what? How you use your money matters.”

Listening yesterday at Mass, it really struck me how those readings should skewer America. The obvious application is the question of income inequality: how many of the huge profits made by companies are held by those at the top of the food chain, how little is actually shared with those down the ranks.

But you know, so much of what we talk about in America centers on money. Many would like to believe we’re a Christian nation, but money–capitalism–is the primary thing that preoccupies our social and political discourse, even among Christians. So many things come back to money: health care and social programs would require more taxes, and we can’t possibly suggest raising taxes. Immigrants are perceived as a threat to American jobs, so again–it comes back to money. The question of whether a president deserves re-election is always about the economy. We’re having all these discussions about China and intellectual property and trade fairness, but nowhere on anyone’s radar is the question of just wages for labor, which is–let’s face it–the only reason manufacturing went overseas in the first place. It went overseas because we, the rank and file Americans, aren’t willing to pay what it would cost to make a product while paying a just wage to the laborer who made it.

We have a lot to answer for, and I don’t pretend to have a pat solution. I personally try to take a step back from the consumer culture by starting with secondhand clothing purchases as much as possible. But those clothes, too, were made by cheap labor overseas, and I order from Amazon just like every other red-blooded American. What do I think God will say to me when it comes time for me to answer for my choices? I don’t like pondering that question any more than anyone else.

In any case, when I was looking through the possibilities for things to share today, this quote from my Beatitudes book seemed to dovetail with what we heard at church yesterday. Because what if? What if, instead of money, we made God’s will, God’s kingdom, God’s priorities, the central principle that guided every other choice?

Blessed Are the Meek

I’ve written about the Beatitudes twice now –one book for families with young children, and now the new book, aimed at helping adult Catholics examine our lives in concrete ways, using the Beatitudes as a guide. Both times, it’s required me to rethink how I look at certain words. “Meek,” for instance, is not a quality any of us particularly prizes. As a woman, striving to find my voice in this world in a both/and rather than an either/or way (professional AND mother-wife), I’m acutely conscious of my own tendency to avoid asserting myself–to give way to others. And then to be bitter and resentful about how others’ voices are amplified above my own.

It’s something women talk about a lot when we discuss how difficult it is to make a dent in the world: how we feel a need to subordinate our own priorities and skills and voices in favor of others. Men don’t feel this compulsion nearly as much as we do. My husband often wants me to be more assertive in professional situations. It is a constant struggle.

And so, as a woman, my first reaction to the word “meek” is to put up my claws and hiss. I don’t need any more of that, thank you very much.

But in praying about how to write this section of The Beatitudes, The Spirit whispered the bit of wisdom contained above. That nugget shaped the section of the book on meekness, framing it in a whole new way, free of the baggage I attach to it naturally.

I realize now that meekness–real meekness, not some pale, distorted earthly version–is a trait I will spend the rest of my life trying to master.

Do something

This insight was a really monumental shift for me in my faith. I knew the truth of it, at least as it related to particular issues of importance, of course. But it was a big deal to realize that whatever ignites my righteous anger, makes me squirm, or breaks my heart in the news–those things are, in fact, a call to action from God, speaking through my conscience.

I recognize them now, though I’m far from perfect about the “doing something” part. Writing “The Beatitudes” reminded me of that every time I sat down to work on it.

New Book

My book, “The Beatitudes,” is now available from Our Sunday Visitor’s Companions in Faith series. If you’re not familiar with this series, they’re small books meant to be compact–to get right to the point, because we all know nobody has time to waste. “The Beatitudes” looks at the nitty-gritty issues of real life through the lens of these statements, which encapsulate the Christian faith.

I loved this idea from the moment OSV approached me about it. We hear the Beatitudes so often, it’s easy for them to lose their punch. They sort of roll over our heads without really impacting. This book uses them as a way to examine our attitudes and actions and discern where God might be calling us to grow. You can read a section in about three minutes and spend the next several days mulling over and praying about it. Sounds about perfect for modern life! (Where are the emojis when you need them?)

In any case, I’m very excited about this book. It is perhaps the most compact, focused way I’ve been able to lay out what I mean by the words “intentional Catholic.” So over the next week or two, I’ll share a few quotes from the book off and on. I hope you’ll check it out!

The Beatitudes (Companions in Faith Series), by Kathleen M. Basi, Our Sunday Visitor 2019

The fruit of the Spirit

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about false prophets and urges us not to trust too easily. “By their fruits you will know them,” he says. Bishop Barron’s accompanying reflection referred that back to the fruit of the spirit. (Item: an editor once pointed out that it’s not “fruits,” plural, but “fruit,” as in: a single fruit with all these facets. I had never noticed that before.)

What struck me this morning was that it sounds great to say “by their fruits you will know them,” but discernment is harder than it looks. We all produce fruit both good and bad. We can be incredibly generous in certain situations (natural disasters) and appallingly stingy in others (homeless people at intersections). We can be generous in thought, giving the benefit of the doubt to some (many within our close sphere of influence), and yet we leap instantly and irrevocably to the worst conclusions about whole groups of people (the assumption that asylum seekers are freeloaders and/or criminals; the assumption that immigration opponents are racists).

The fruit of the spirit is distinctly lacking in our public discourse today, and I don’t just mean the leadership. It’s on us, too. Is there a single one of those facets that we do not see violated daily on both sides of every debate? There are real problems in the world, real things to be angry about, but when we indulge the worst that is within us, we dump fuel on the fire instead of working toward the Kingdom. (This is one of the topics I discuss in my new Beatitudes book.)

Today’s reading is a reminder that a prophet who does not seek to manifest the fruit of the Spirit can and will be dismissed, no matter how true the message. It’s a personal challenge to each of us to shape up, and an equally difficult one: not to give our leaders a pass, either.

My New Book

Yesterday, my teenage son’s friend asked me, “So…do you actually do anything, like, for a living?”

I thought: “It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor!”

I’ve said for years that doing religious writing is like living an examination of conscience…every moment, all day long. Every time I sit down at the computer to work—every time I take a walk to brainstorm—matters of the faith are on my mind. My Google history is heavy on Catholic and Scriptural searches. I turn to the Holy Spirit again and again throughout the day, asking, “Teach me how to respond to this problem/need/online comment.” Or “I can’t figure out this plotting or structural problem. Help?” Or, “What about this, Holy Spirit? Am I wrong? If I’m wrong, please show me.”

So when Our Sunday Visitor approached me about writing an examination of conscience based on the Beatitudes, it seemed like the natural and inevitable end of what I’ve been doing for years.

The Beatitudes, part of OSV’s Companions in Faith series, is not a standard examination of conscience, with a thousand questions that cause your brain shut down. (I’m not the only one who reacts to traditional examinations of conscience this way, am I?)

I wanted to invite readers to journey into what it means to live these “blessed attitudes” in a real-life, workaday world. How do—or should—these simple statements ripple out into our practical lives?

This short booklet represents the best distillation of what I mean when I say “living the Catholic faith intentionally in the real world.” It dives deeply into challenging topics. What “things of the world” are most tempting to me? In what areas of my life do I cling to control, refusing God access? What does it mean to be a peacemaker in this world of bitter division? And so on.

Writing this booklet also challenged me deeply: to discern my own biases and speak past them. To find words that can resonate with people from across the spectrum of experiences and philosophies, and bring all of us together in what it means to be a Catholic in the real world.

The road to starting Intentional Catholic has been a long one, as I said in my very first post. Spiritual awakening has not been comfortable, but it has enriched my life and made me a better human being—which is to say, a better image of God in the world. I’ve heard it said that the mark of conversion is the desire to help others experience what you’ve experienced. That’s certainly been the case with me. My prayer every day, every time I feel frustrated by some example of what is not Godly in the world, is, “Lord, please help me make a difference.”

The Beatitudes, part of OSV’s Companion’s in Faith series, is now available for preorder. I’ll be on OSV’s webcast on Thursday, June 13th, talking more about the project. I hope you can join us!