In my “other” life, part of what I do is writing and composing for the Church. Recently I found out that my newest song from WLP, “Show Us Your Face,” was named as a finalist in the Association of Catholic Publishers’ “Excellence in Publishing” awards for 2019. You can hear it on the “listen” tab at this link.
Two other songs are in the running, both of them fierce competition:
Rise Again, written by my friend Christian Cosas; and Struggler, by Brother Isaiah and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Hope you’ll listen to all three!
Of everything we heard yesterday at Mass on Palm Sunday, these are the words that leaped out at me. If Jesus’ life and message were so threatening when he was living and breathing and working wonders (“when the wood is green”) that they could hand him over to one of the most brutal forms of execution ever known, then what we’re experiencing today, “when it is dry,” shouldn’t be a surprise.
We’ve been talking about a Church in crisis for so long, I think we’ve tuned it out. And it’s not just a crisis within the Church; it’s a crisis that consumes the entire world. The stark division between U.S. political parties is mirrored within the Church, with people on both sides picking and choosing what issues matter and which ones to pretend are irrelevant–as if doing so is not, inherently, an offense against God Who makes no such distinctions. The one thing we all agree on is the horror of the abuse crisis, but we’re so busy pointing fingers at scapegoats (Vatican II! Homosexuals! Clericalism!) that we substitute outrage for action.
When we look back at Church history, we hear about the antipopes and Catherine of Siena scolding the Pope to get back to Rome where he belonged. We hear about the Reformation. But not until the last few months have I begun to consider what it must have been like to live through those earlier existential crisis moments within the Church.
We’re living one now. And it’s awful. The strength of our Church–its apostolic hierarchy, which protects us from the human fickleness–is working against us, because the system is stacked against the lay people. What power do we have? How can we actually impact anything?
Catholics are not accustomed to speaking out to our leadership. To saying, “This is wrong. This is not the Gospel.” We were taught that they knew the Gospel and could be trusted to lead us in it. All we had to do was keep our mouths shut and do as we’re told.
But you know what? That facile approach to faith is a cop-out, because we, too, are called by our baptism to be “priest, prophet, and king.” We can’t just show up on Sundays and trust that it’ll all work out. We have to stand up and speak. And not just about the travesty of the abuse scandal, either.
But saying that terrifies me, because I was taught to respect the call of the priesthood. Which I do. I have known a number of good, holy men over the years whose commitment and realism have helped me grow in my faith. Since day one, I have been praying for God to call one of my children.
But respect does not mean blind, unquestioning obedience. Look where that got us! We, the laity, enabled the crisis by putting priests on a pedestal, acting as if their vocation is better and holier and more important than ours. By separating them, isolating them, and viewing ourselves as second class citizens in our own Church.
I don’t know what the solution is. All I know is we can’t just keep going to our prolife meetings and choir practices and pretending like the problems will go away if we just ignore them. We need to recognize that some within the Church are using this as an excuse to further their own pet agendas (high church and scapegoating of gays, to name a couple).
This is not okay. We need to stand up and do something.
Pope Francis quoted St. John Paul II in Laudato Si’. This is how I feel about creation. Yesterday I spent two hours hiking four miles in a local state park. I set off anxious, my brain buzzing; I returned to the car with painful toes and a peaceful spirit and quiet mind. To be in nature is to spend time with God.
When I read this, all I could think was: wow! How much food goes to waste in the United States, again? A third of what’s available? Even today, years after first reading this quote and making changes to make sure we waste as little as possible, there is a bag of lettuce going bad in my refrigerator. Stolen from the poor, indeed.
This is the first of many places where this encyclical challenges us to examine our habits and make changes, because stewardship of creation goes hand in hand with care for “the least of these.”
It’s a been quite a weekendweektwo weeksmonth life lately. I’m working on a novel revision which I intended to have finished the middle of last week, but between spring break, meetings, presentations, kids’ events, and so on, I missed my self-imposed deadline.
I don’t like missing deadlines.
At the same time, I was wrestling with what to do about a very specific item that was causing me great anguish. The kind that keeps you from taking deep breaths. The kind that keeps you awake for three hours in the middle of the night.
I knew God had a solution, but I couldn’t find it. I kept asking. But I didn’t have time to be quiet and still to let him talk, and when I did have thirty seconds, I couldn’t find the quiet center that would allow me to hear anything. Whatever course of action I took, I could see potential disasters.
The good news is that when you seek sincerely, God will get through eventually, one way or another. And by the time I took off on an all-day-and-evening field trip with my daughter on Friday, I had found an course of action that eased my mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Somewhat.
That day, as we walked around Kansas City, the sculpture pictured above stuck out at me. Often, I’ll look at art and be struck by it, but not really know why it resonates. This one made its meaning instantly clear. Look at those people–grim-faced, heads down, leaning into a maelstrom of overwhelming stress. Weighed down. Completely checked out of their own lives. They are prisoners of modern life.
It resonated because it was precisely how I’d been feeling: trapped, powerless, entirely in survival mode–and resentful about it. The weather was beautiful, the earth coming back to life, and I was struggling just to breathe. I couldn’t look up to see–really see–the birds twittering and the baby leaves on the weeping willow. I couldn’t hear the hum of the earth going through its yearly resurrection.
I think we all know that when we’re weighed down and all of life feels burdensome, we miss the goodness of God all around us. But that sculpture reminded me that what I lack most in those times is guidance. I am always, always willing to do whatever God asks of me, however difficult–I just need to know what God’s will is! But when my eyes are staring at internal blackness, my brain wrapped in thick chains of stress and busy work instead of resting in God…
Well, at those times I’m short-tempered, easily offended, easily goaded into fighting, more judgmental, and generally a dim reflection of God’s presence in the world. Worse: at those time, I can’t hear God telling me His will for this moment and this situation and this question.
We were not meant to live like this, in a constant race around a pointless hamster wheel. We were made for better things. Made to live in a peace and calm that allows us to recognize the whisper of God’s voice in our minds, telling us the answer to our quandaries, and God’s hand on our back, nudging us toward His will in all the complexities of modern life.
We were not meant to live like this. The question is, are we looking for a way out?
This is where society sometimes gets it wrong: assuming that simply cutting the number of children will fix the problem. The “issues” Pope Francis lays out in Laudato Si’ should make us all squirm. Our entire culture is built on convenience (which is to say, disposability) and consumption–the more, the better.
In my neighborhood every week, the amount of trash and recycling that goes out in households with 2-3 people is often three to four times larger than what we, as a family of 6, put out. Sustainable living is a value that parents have to prioritize in our own lives and intentionally pass on to our children–just like respect for life and the centrality of the Eucharist. Two kids raised in an atmosphere that is cavalier or thoughtless about consumption will do as much or more damage to God’s creation as six kids raised with a heart of environmental stewardship.