Why I’ve Been Quiet

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I’ve been pretty quiet lately. First of all, this summer has been something like… I don’t know… imagine that a glitter bomb went off on your lawn and you HAD to pick up every individual piece of glitter. You wouldn’t have much mental space for, well, anything else.

That’s how I feel lately. But that’s not the whole reason I’ve been quiet. A few weeks ago, Claire Swinarski posted to Substack a piece called “Maybe Jesus Shouldn’t Be Your Job.” Intentional Catholic is definitely not a job. Let’s be frank: Barely anybody even reads this. I certainly don’t make money off it.

But a comment she made in that link really pierced my conscience. She said it’s way easier to write a lyrical, poetic spiritual blast that goes to 10,000 people* than it is to witness Jesus to your family, friends, and children. (*Liberally reworded.)

I thought: Ouch. That is SO true. And it is SO me.

And then I thought: Maybe I need to focus on witnessing Jesus to my children for a little while.

My youngest two children are in that stage of life where they pick at each other all.the.time. In the immediate wake of this revelation, I learned a new response to it. As things are escalating, I say to each of them, “Even now, even in this moment, you are called to be a follower of Jesus.” I need to work on how to make the line clearer. Subtlety is not a hallmark of teen and almost-tween boys. But it’s awkward simply to say that.

So that, in addition to “picking up glitter,” is where I have been lately. But I have laid out a few posts, so I should be back to semi-regular posting.

https://thecatholicfeminist.substack.com/p/maybe-jesus-shouldnt-be-your-job

Dorothy Day: both/and and the power of money to corrupt

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When I began reading “All the Way To Heaven,” the letters of Dorothy Day, I was shocked by how flamboyant and… earthy… she was as a young woman. Of course, before her conversion she was very worldly—divorced in a time before that was common; living with another man; having had an abortion. But to see her sensuality, her sass, etc. in black and white was really quite something. The early letters were way more… INTERESTING… than I expected the writings of a saint-in-progress to be.

The turn was abrupt when she found God. But once I made the adjustment to the totally different writing style, it was more spiritually edifying. 🙂

One of the gems I highlighted actually came from Robert Ellsberg’s introduction. It synthesizes a great deal of what’s in the book, so I’ll share it here. It’s in the context of how her ministry was founded on Matthew 25 (“when I was hungry, you gave me food…”). He says: “For Day, that meant not just practicing the works of mercy—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless in her house of hospitality—but also protesting and resisting the social structures and values that were responsible for so much suffering and need. The Catholic Worker movement was not intended to resolve the problems of poverty and violence in the world, but to provide a model of what it might look like if Christians truly lived out their faith in response to the challenges of history and the needs of their neighbors.” (Emphasis mine.)

To synthesize: her example demonstrates that true discipleship is not an “either/or” prospect, but a “both/and.” It is personal charity and work directly with those in need… AND a commitment to work to change systemic structures that underlie, facilitate, and even cause poverty, inequality, injustice, and (to extrapolate into today’s terms) natural disasters.

So many of our conflicts in the Church happen because we choose to ally with one side or another of worldly divisions, thus abandoning huge portions of the Gospel mandate. It’s EITHER abortion OR the death penalty. EITHER abortion OR taking on the structures that enable injustice and inequality.

And too many times, Church leaders who see the fracturing of the Gospel mandate are afraid to speak too pointedly, for fear of alienating The Money.

One of Dorothy Day’s letters was addressed to the bishops of California during a worker protest where she got arrested. The editor says they’re not sure whether it was ever sent or not. But in it, she was absolutely flaying the bishops for being afraid to stand with the workers, because of a fear of losing contributions from the wealthy who supported corporations over workers. She was saying, “How much better off would we be if the Church would get rid of all its properties and just depend on God to provide what is needed, when it’s needed?”

Not that this is ever going to happen, but it was shocking to read, because she’s right. When you’re worried about pissing people off and having them take their money and walk, you’re afraid to call them out when they need to be called out. This has been the case for years in the Church, as we have swung farther and farther toward “abortion is the only issue that matters” at the expense of the rest of the Church’s social teaching.

(Money really does corrupt, doesn’t it???? I am pointing all manner of fingers at myself here… just recognizing a reality!)

I have one last post to write on Dorothy Day, but to wrap this one up, here’s one last gem from her on money, in response to “a priest critic.”

“I do not think, however, that we are guilty of envy or begrudging a rich man his wealth if we point out the abuses of the capitalist system which allows one man to accumulate the most of the world’s goods while other families suffer year after year, the aching pinch of poverty if not of actual destitution. St. Jerome and many many Fathers of the Church, and our Leader Himself condemned the rich and no one would dare breathe the word of envy in connection with them.”

No bootstraps here

I love Thomas Merton, and when this landed in my email yesterday via the Center for Contemplation and Action, I thought, “Yes–yes–this!” (And then I thought, “I need to make time to read some Merton…”)

It is a holy thing to acknowledge publicly those who came before us, and how they have influenced us. That’s the reason for Mother’s and Father’s Day, for one thing. And why we have acknowledgments pages in books. And a host of other things. There’s something built into our souls that wants to draw the connection points, to express gratitude. There’s also something cathartic about telling the stories of bad influences–traumas and abuses that had just as profound an impact as the positive ones. By processing the things that made us who we are, we better understand ourselves. And self-understanding feeds growth in holiness, because self-delusional holiness is how we get hypocrisy in religion.

Given how universal this compulsion to connect our present to our past, I’m often puzzled (and frustrated) that so many people remain attached to that American false god, “rugged individualism.” It’s so clear that no one has ever stood on his or her own or pulled one’s self up by his or her own bootstraps. For better or for worse, we are what those who came before made us–woven in with our own choices, to be sure. But always dependent on those who nurtured us and gave us our start in life, out of love and generosity. And also dependent on those who wounded us. And on the structures that shape our culture and society. We stand on the shoulders of others. Always. We know this is true at an individual level. And if there, then also at the societal and global level, too.

Being Prolife in a Post-Roe America

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For several weeks I’ve been wrestling with what to say about the expected court decision overturning Roe. It took me several days after the decision to get my thoughts to coalesce. Truthfully, as raw as this issue is right now in our country, I don’t really want to wade into the conversation at all.

But given that I grew up in the pro-life movement and have been fairly opinionated on what being pro-life ACTUALLY means (as opposed to what it has been made into), I feel I should.

I am glad this day has come. Life IS precious. The unborn ARE human beings whose dignity we, as Christians, are obligated to protect.

But beyond that foundational level, I worry. Why? Because the methods undertaken in the political sphere to achieve this good end demonstrate a belief that a worthy end justifies any means, no matter how far from Gospel values.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about something we used to say when we were teaching NFP for the Couple to Couple League: a morally upright goal does not justify immoral means. This was how we explained the difference between NFP and contraception. Wanting to provide for one’s family is praiseworthy. Robbing a bank to do it is wrong. Period. Planning a family is a holy thing, but it matters how.

The problem around abortion is that the “pro-life” party has been, for more than two years, enthusiastically and willfully embracing outright lies about stolen elections. It has been dismissing the violent attempt to overthrow the fundamental basis of our country—the peaceful transfer of power. It has been tossing out false equivalences and red herrings (like CRT) to avoid facing up to real injustices that have been baked into our system and left lasting ripple effects that cannot be dealt with without governmental intervention. It has been prioritizing wealth and money (i.e. low taxes, corporate interests, and deregulation) above caring for our neighbor. To say nothing of guns (how can any person claim to be pro-life while placing gun ownership above human life?)

The problem we have is that all this has been winked at–and in many cases, vehemently and rabidly defended–by good people. The most acknowledgment we’ve gotten is, “Yes, but without life, none of that matters!”

But it does.

It all matters. If the measuring stick is Jesus–and of course it is–it ALL matters. Uncomfortable truths are still true.

On the other hand, I’ve been equally baffled and appalled by the rhetoric from pro-choice people—especially those who claim to be Christians. I understand and affirm the desire to advocate for women in impossible situations. But to do so while blindly—is it willful blindness?—ignoring the uncomfortable truth of the life of the human being sacrificed in abortion? I can’t understand that, either. We live in an age where we can see inside the womb. How can we doubt that those children are human beings with dignity equal to that of the marginalized, discriminated against, or suffering?

And yet.

Some of my pro-choice friends have shared things in the past few days that I think carry truths that we, pro-life Christians, need to have the courage to face up to honestly. Here is one (click here to see the whole post, as this is only a partial screen shot):

I have maintained for years that we were going about this fight in the wrong order. There are valid concerns put forward by abortion rights advocates. Abortion is the wrong answer, but the problems are real: poverty, inequality of education and opportunity, health care that is not, no matter what anyone says, the best in the world (at least in our way of accessing it–and I have more right to have an opinion on that matter than most, given our family’s medical history–the insurance system serves Mammon, not people). If we had been willing to address those problems, I don’t think we’d have reached this point of poisonous, toxic division over this issue. Now that we’ve done it in the wrong order—at the very least, it should have been done concurrently—the pro choice advocates are right. We ARE responsible to step in on these issues.

The trouble is, abortion was easy to oppose, because criminalizing abortion costs US nothing. We don’t have to bear the burden. And yes, I use the word “burden” without apology. Pregnancy and parenthood IS a burden. No one who complains about parenting, ever, has any right to suggest otherwise. Which means none of us get to deny the word, because all of us complain. All of us feel the burden. It’s a joyful burden, a burden that sanctifies and gives as much as it asks of us—but it IS a burden, nonetheless.

So the quote below, which has been shared a lot, also resonates uncomfortably. It’s not perfect, but there is truth in it, and we have an obligation to examine our consciences.

Finally, this (pro-life) article, from Christianity Today, came closest to expressing what I have felt. A quick excerpt:

“(Pro-life Christians) inhabit the ambivalence of this moment, embracing a multitude of responses. … We must also admit that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Because just as was true for the women of Jerusalem, the destruction of children is too often the result of larger, collective sins.”

Reflecting on Dorothy Day (part 1)

This weekend, I finally finished reading Dorothy Day’s letters. My overarching takeaway is: This woman is not who you think she was. She defies categorization.

I highlighted so many passages in my e-book. So many things to reflect upon. There’s one particular facet I want to reflect upon in depth, but I think I need to address the big picture first, and give that one particular aspect its own post.

My whole life, I have assumed that Dorothy Day would take a certain approach to everything. I believed this in the years when I was a staunch political conservative and thought she represented everything that was wrong with the world. And I still believed this when I began reading this book as a person who has embraced as Godly many things I once thought misguided.

But she is way, way more complex than the general narrative about her allows her to be.

In many ways, she was shockingly conservative. In her younger years it wasn’t so obvious, because the world was still conservative surrounding matters of sexuality. In those years, her conservatism manifested as repeated acknowledgment of the Church’s (and specifically Church leadership’s) authority over her, and a repeated commitment to cease her work if she was ever told to do so. Of course, that never happened. There were many, many priests and bishops supporting her work… because it was CATHOLIC.

But as soon as the sexual revolution started, she started railing against it all. She was not a happy camper in the last couple decades of her life. She was kind of a grumpy old lady, in fact, often unhappy about the depravity of the young and the sorry state of the future. (And she didn’t like the post-V2 Mass. Although in her defense, she was complaining about it in the time just after the change, when everyone was still figuring it out and a lot of things were done badly.) She talks about how the government is not the ideal provider of services to the poor—that it’s necessary at times, but that ideally this work would be done by the Church. (Not individual Christians. The CHURCH.)

On the other hand, she had a moral code that demanded social justice, and she was absolutely, 100% rigid in following it. She participated in protests for peace, spent time in jail, stood with workers against corporations, and lived in abject poverty her whole life—never kept any of her earnings.

A big part of her code was pacifism. She opposed Vietnam, of course (rightly so). But she also opposed World War 2. I found that shocking—downright disturbing, actually. If ever there were a just war, that was it.

Her commitment to pacifism was so unshakable, she wouldn’t take honorary degrees from Catholic universities because they had ROTC programs and took government grants that largely benefited the military industrial complex.

She also raised holy hell when she found out her publisher was going to take funds from Rockefeller and Ford foundations to help archive her stuff. She flatly refused permission as long as they were involved. In part that was b/c she believed in personal responsibility (a tick in the conservative chart), but in part it was also that the Rockefellers, in her words, had a lot to answer for (a jab at corporate abuse of workers, a tick in the progressive chart).

What I hope I’m laying out here clearly is that she was CATHOLIC. Not progressive Catholic, not conservative Catholic, just CATHOLIC. Because sometimes Catholic IS progressive. And sometimes it’s conservative. And virtually all of us try to separate those two, and in so doing, do violence to the Gospel.

I begin to suspect that I have more than one more post to write about Dorothy Day… but I’ll stop there for right now.

Ho Hum, Another School Shooting

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I know this post will make no difference. Some people will react with cheers and the rest will rear up in defense of guns. They’ll use every worldly argument and not one Godly one, because there is no Godly argument for placing guns above human life.

In the larger world someone, probably multiple someones, will say we shouldn’t politicize this tragedy, therefore neatly sidestepping the glaring call to examine our collective conscience… yet again.

Many Christians will insist, again, that the gun isn’t the problem, it’s mental health—but won’t support public funds to address that problem, either. They’ll change the subject using whatever excuse they can find to bury the fact that the only places in the world with more gun violence than us are places riddled with gangs. To bury the fact that no one else in the developed world has as many guns in people’s hands as we do, or as many people dying from guns.

And nothing will change.

And yet, I will say it anyway, because it needs to be said:

Guns are an idol.

I’m not even angry. Just disgusted that Catholics who fight so hard for the innocent unborn, who believe themselves to be pro-life, can act as if guns are more important than the lives of innocent school children. Can go to bat looking for reasons to oppose the legislation that the U.S. bishops have been urging for years.

That’s all I have to say.

The Point Isn’t To Win

For a change, I don’t have much to say. This was quoted in one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s daily reflection this week, and it struck me as deeply relevant to my spiritual journey. Isn’t defensiveness where the “bad” anger comes from, after all? It resonates strongly with a line from Rory Cooney’s song “Do Not Fear To Hope”– “our God sees not as we see; success is not the prize”– which itself reflects Mother Teresa: “God has called us not to be successful, but to be faithful.”

The reference provided by the CAC is: Gregory Boyle, The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness (New York: Avid Reader Press, 2021), 130. Which, I think, needs to be a book I explore now…)

Systems of sin are a real thing

There are several reflections rumbling around in my brain right now—about Scripture and women, about abortion.

But I promised I’d try to get more specific about the thing I only addressed vaguely last week—about getting down in the weeds and wrestling with how to apply the faith to the current context of the world.

So I think the best thing I could share this week is a reflection by Christopher Dodson, of the diocese of Fargo, North Dakota. I found it because one of my email subscriptions last week referred to “systemic sin.”

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My faith journey in the past few years has really convicted me on the topic of systemic racism. There is so much pushback against the idea. The hullabaloo about critical race theory makes me absolutely CRAZY. The idea that we shouldn’t talk about the deep sins committed by U.S. institutions against Black and indigenous people, because it might make white people feel bad, must make God weep. One of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith, after all, is acknowledging our failures and confessing them.

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months trying to figure out how I would ask fellow whites who resist racial reckoning to think about this. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Things like redlining, lending discrimination, and the GI bill only applying to whites—to say nothing of the lack of reparations made to Blacks after abolition—have had long, long ripple effects. We, the whites, got the good side of this equation. Blacks got the bad side. The problems faced by Black communities now are direct, generational ripple effects of injustices perpetrated by systemic racism that endured for hundreds of years.

Now, none of that is my fault, or your fault, and it might not be your parents’ fault, or even your grandparents’ fault. It’s not our FAULT.

BUT.

Whose fault it is is not the issue. The point is, the consequences are here, and we, as Christians, have to deal with them.

This is not about trying to make whites feel bad. It’s just a clear-eyed, Jesus-centered, Gospel-driven, “love your neighbor as yourself” acknowledgment that I have benefited generationally from something that harmed another group of people generationally. And that still has impacts today.

And because of that, I have a responsibility to work toward fixing it.

That’s all. The hysteria surrounding critical race theory steals all the attention that needs to be on solutions, and directs it toward division and protectionism of SYSTEMS that have aided whites at the expense of Blacks. And it’s got to stop.

When I hear the words “systemic sin,” this is what I think about.

But when that term popped up in my email last week, and I knee-jerk reacted as above, I thought I’d better walk the walk and go look up the term to make sure I wasn’t imposing my own world view upon it. I wanted to see what people with more expertise had to say about it.

That’s how I found this article. Christopher Dodson is the executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, and in other articles, he addresses abortion and other subjects of importance to Catholics. He’s no radical.

This piece takes a hard look at the topic of systemic sin, specifically referencing the Catechism and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

And now I will shut up and let Dodson speak.

Many Christians, including Catholics, have difficulty understanding that “structures of sin” may exist separately from our own individual sins. I suspect that certain religious and political strains of thought in the United States that emphasize the individual as paramount contribute to this problem. The false idea that we are autonomous individuals acting in isolation prevents us from accepting and addressing the social consequences of our sins and the sins of others. (continue reading)

Christopher Dodson

Faith formed by politics, or politics informed by faith?

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I’ve developed a new morning ritual the last few months. I get up, warm my hot pack, and listen to two podcasts while doing the stretches and exercises required by a couple of chronic conditions. The two podcasts are the Bible in a Year and Evolving Faith. They’re quite different… one quite self-aware in its orthodoxy and the other quite aware of its not-orthodoxy. I think this is probably a good balance.

Sometime in my tween/teen years, I read the Bible straight through. But having it read to me as an adult is enlightening. I’m making connections I never did before. I’m understanding the relationship between different books in a new way. I appreciate Scripture on a whole new level. When you are steeped in the Lectionary, as most of us Catholics are, and liturgy people more than most, it’s really good to get a sense of the way the very familiar excerpts fit into the larger context.

The Evolving Faith podcast hits in a whole different way. More visceral, more immediate. These are people—almost entirely non-Catholics—who are wrestling with faith and the world in the same way that I am. Unlike me, many have abandoned institutional churches (though not Jesus). The podcast consists of talks from the Evolving Faith conference, which was founded by a group including Rachel Held Evans—whose work, in my mind, all Catholics should read, even though her perspective on the world came from a very different faith tradition. She has so much to offer us.

And so do the other speakers I’m hearing.

It’s a truism that faith formation is generally pretty bad… everywhere. Some blame it on Vatican 2, but I would submit that the older crowd might have known plenty ABOUT the faith, but they weren’t any better equipped to apply it to the real world. Plus, far too many quit faith formation at a certain point—graduation from Catholic school? Confirmation? etc.—so faith doesn’t always mature the way understanding does.

So then, as we interact with the world, we have head-on collisions with realities that don’t fit what our faith taught us about How Things Are Supposed To Work. At that point, a few different things can happen.

One is to deny the validity of the thing that is challenging our faith, so as to protect the faith as it stands. (I believe the focus on “Marxism” at the expense of honest examination of the ripple effects of racism is one example of this.)

Another is to admit that the faith in its current, comfortable form is woefully insufficient for said realities, and to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Which is why so many people leave organized religion, or even God.)

The third is to get down in the weeds and ask the really hard, uncomfortable questions, and deal with the doubt and turmoil and lack of clarity that come with them. To accept as your faith gets bruised and bumped. To accept the muddiness of faith in the real world, and the reality that sometimes there AREN’T pat answers. To quest, to seek, to wrestle with the hard stuff.

It’s not an easy thing to do, because basically it means you’re uncomfortable all the time. (All those fingers pointing at myself.)

But isn’t that exactly what it means to be “in the world, yet not of it?” There’s a now and not yet, a tension that human nature doesn’t like. According to one narrative I’ve been bludgeoned with a lot in recent memory, the Kingdom is Jesus, it’s not something we build. It was never meant to be on earth–only in Heaven.

But then why did Jesus tell us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”?

This weekend, two of my kids were confirmed, and the bishop said, in essence, your words about faith are not enough. People need to SEE the kingdom of God embodied in YOU.

Which means we HAVE to get our hands dirty, working the earth around those messy subjects like abortion and immigration and racism and health care and the balance of personal and social responsibility and the common good. We have to accept that neither of our political extremes has it entirely right and be willing to take a deep breath and enter into dialogue. The world is always going to try to box us into an either/or, and we’re all susceptible to picking a side and planting our flag and failing to recognize when we’ve made that flag—or money (so much of our political discourse is about our own financial self-interest!)—the center of our world view, rather than God.

All of this to introduce a quote from speaker Nish Weiseth, because when she said these words, they rang a deafening bell in my soul:

“What we see from those previously mentioned leaders is a faith that is formed by politics, and not a politics that is informed by faith.”

If I have the energy, I’ll do more specific writing on this in a day or two. We shall see.

Signposts from Augustine and Dorothy Day

It’s been a minute since I posted here, but not for lack of spiritual journeying… just struggling with how to write it publicly. God continues to place signposts in my journey to balance Godly anger and detachment. Sometimes I don’t quite know how to balance the two.

I spent Lent reading the letters of Dorothy Day, because I thought, “If anyone has figured out this balance, she’s that one.” “All The Way To Heaven” was the recommendation of a priest friend of a friend.

In the first 40% of the book she was not at all what I expected from Dorothy Day. It’s really interesting to watch her own spiritual journey unfold. Then there comes a sharp turn. I’m still only at the 46% mark (she wrote a lot of letters!) but I am thoroughly engrossed by it all. But I wasn’t finding the nugget I was looking for–the thing that showed me how to be an activist and advocate for social justice without being angry all the time.

Then, without warning: this.

Whoa.

But, because God doesn’t deal in the obvious and the clear-cut and the black-and-white–he just doesn’t–within 24 hours, I stumbled across this quote in the front of a novel I pulled from the library to read:

Okay, then.

So… I suppose the divine message here is to hold things in tension? That this struggle is real, and inevitable, and a part of the journey?