Encountering others

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In my upcoming book on living the Beatitudes in this day and age, in this place and time, I talk at one point about the risk of living in a bubble. We worry about perceived “bad influences” and thus cut off exposure to people whose experiences are different than ours. This can be true around religion, around politics, but it’s especially noticeable with race. How many of us actually have friends, by which I mean people we hang out with on a regular basis, of a different color skin?

 

 

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!

Fulfillment of human dignity

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Happy Memorial Day to my U.S. readership! It’s been a crazy May for me, so if I take a hiatus next week, bear with me. I have a lot of catchup to do, and now the kids are out of school–time to get some healthy summer habits set up!

On that topic…Yesterday, some friends and I were chatting about what it takes to get our children to really connect the faith with the real world. There was discussion about whether working at the soup kitchen might be just as effective as formal religious education. Perhaps not a substitute, but definitely food for thought as summer break begins and parents have a little time to breathe, to live intentionally with our families…

If goodness wants to spread, why do I harden my heart to others?

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One of the hardest things about harvesting quotes from Church documents is that, taken out of context, we don’t always appreciate the magnitude of what we’re reading. This quote, for instance, is in the middle of a passage on goodness. Goodness, Pope Francis says, spreads outward by its very nature. What goodness we receive wants to expand out to others.

Is this really how we receive goodness? Do we desire to take what has filled us and spill it over to others? If so, what does that mean for the way we interact with others?

Yesterday morning my son and I took a bike ride along a trail near our house. Along the way we crossed paths with two people, one of whom I think was homeless and the other I’m sure of. I said hello and waved as I do with everyone I encounter on the trails, but where most people respond with “beautiful morning!” or “good morning!” these two men appeared guarded. I got to thinking about how we, the with-homes crowd, react to homeless people. I can list off a series of things I’ve heard or thought myself, and none of them are charitable. All of them focus on the fact that the homeless are an inconvenience, they make us uncomfortable, or they got themselves into their own messes and thus they are Not Our Problem.

These people, who are not beneficiaries of the good things you and I have, have to know that this is how they’re viewed. No wonder they feel a need to be on the defensive whenever they cross paths with us. They’re probably bracing for being reported to the police and kicked out, when they have nowhere to go.

Where is the evidence, in these instances, that goodness desires to spread outward? If we are truly receiving goodness–in other words, if we are cognizant of it, if we are truly grateful for all we have been given–why do we default to judging those less fortunate based on assumptions about their situations? Are we truly free from sin? Because if we are, shouldn’t we be more willing to acknowledge and responsive to–not just individually but as a society–the needs of others?

 

A thousand conditions

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I’ll be happy when…

…I get away from this job.

…I get a literary agent.

…school’s out.

…this stressful life item is over.

…I graduate.

…so-and-so gets his/her life straightened out.

(And so on, and so on.)

They’re all lies, and deep down, we all know that, but we all say them. I’ve been working on this in myself for years.

#joy #evangeliigaudium #intentionalcatholic #humandignity #realfaithrealworld #faithinaction #catholic #theologyofthebody

Joy = Transcendence

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One thing that brings me joy

“We focus too much on fun, and not enough on joy.”

I heard these words from a man receiving an honorary degree at my local university this weekend. And I thought, “Well, God, when you have a lesson you want me to learn, you are not subtle, are you?”

This man, a Methodist pastor, has spent his life practicing the corporal works of mercy, and he’s been amazingly successful at it. So when he uttered that sentiment, my whole weary, under-rested body sat up straight. Because I wanted to know how this man, who insisted that “the world is getting better all the time,” when I see the opposite, defined joy.

He talked about spending a week on a Habitat for Humanity build, and the fun the team had together–but joy, he said? Joy came when, at the end of the week, he saw the reaction of the family as he helped them move in.

Maybe that’s the key to the question, “What is joy?” Maybe joy is in the elevation of ordinary life. Maybe joy is what happens when I go beyond temporal pleasure to a focus on something bigger than myself.

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Like flowers. Easy to appreciate at a superficial level, but they are joy to the eye and the soul.

That resonates, doesn’t it? When I think of the moments in my life when I’ve felt what I know to be joy, I go immediately to the feeling of being in a hospital room in the middle of the night with my newborn baby. And all the many beautiful night nursings that followed. I was doing something practical in those moments—something that had to be done; there was no choice in the matter. Yet they didn’t feel like practical moments. They were moments when my soul could see the bigger picture, when I felt connected to God and all the billions of women who had gone before me, and recognized that I was joining a group that was so much bigger than this one mother, nursing a baby in the corner of one room on one night.

So perhaps joy is about transcendence. It is about recognizing the holy in the mundane moments of life: in the way the sun breaks through the clouds, or the smell of wild honeysuckle, or the feel of a little boy’s kiss. Erasing some (not all; that’s too much to expect of mere mortals) of the distraction and logistical brouhaha and simply being more present in my own life.

And as I think about what it would be like to live with transcendence in the everyday situations of life…yes, this could be revolutionary. It really could change everything. For everyone.

“With Open Hearts”

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Returning to Open Wide Our Hearts for a day or two, as the subject of immigration comes back up in the national news. This quote really stuck out at me when I first read it, because so much of our national discourse these days involves firing shots over opponents’ shoulders, without ever actually pausing to listen “with open hearts,” as the US Bishops said. The obvious application of this quote is to black-white race relations. How often do we dismiss the experiences of our African American brothers and sisters, thinking, whether we admit it out loud or not, that they’re overreacting, or reading into situations things that aren’t there? Open hearts, indeed.

But black-white relations aren’t the only instance where this quote applies. How much of the immigration debate these days is framed around the belief that people coming from south of the border are out to get us? Whole swaths of the country have bought, hook, line, and sinker, the idea that most of those seeking entry to the U.S. are criminals, even though research shows the opposite to be true.

The other thing we aren’t talking about, nationally, is the fact that the violence that is causing the mass migration that has created a crisis at the border came from the U.S. in the first place. MS-13 originated in Los Angeles. (Given the above paragraph, I take a moment to acknowledge this example of crime within the immigrant community, but also–it has to be seen within the larger context; the gang came into being to protect the immigrant community from gang violence from American-born criminals. So hey, Americans taught immigrants to be criminals.) This 2005 article from the L.A. Times illustrates that the seeds of the current crisis were sown by our own failures decades earlier.

And yet now, we choose to ignore our own role in this crisis, and try to blame others?

Open hearts, indeed.

The problems at the border are real. The questions are real–the ones posed by people on both sides of the debate. But the hysteria and demonizing done on both sides does not reflect the heart of Christ. How are we supposed to bring people to Christ if we’re not even reflecting him?

For further reflection, here’s a homily Archbishop Chaput gave on the topic.

Whatever’s Inside Eventually Comes Out

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Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to visit a relative in the nursing home. I must have been pretty small, because I don’t remember much except this: we were walking down the hallway and passed an old woman in a wheelchair—a complete stranger—who looked up at my mom and cussed her out.

Mostly, I remember the shock. Seeing my reaction, my mom said, in some verbiage appropriate enough to lodge a grain of wisdom in a small child, “We have to guard our thoughts, because when we get old, whatever we think is going to come out of our mouths, even if we know it’s wrong. Even if we always controlled it before.”

In recent weeks, as I’ve been pondering joy (and whether I have it), this truth has been working its way up through my memory. Challenging me to examine my present in light of its implications for the future. What kind of person I will be in another twenty or thirty years, if I spend these hours and days and years shadowboxing real and imaginary opponents? To do so is to nurture anger and bitterness, and in my twilight years, that is what I will do: view the world through a lens of everything that irritates me about it. To skip right over the beauty and unity and look instead for opportunities to pick fights with anything (possibly important, but more likely petty) that annoys me.

This is not what I want. I want the unfiltered version of me to be one that doesn’t evoke winces, deep breaths, or gritted teeth from those around me. To be joyful.

So what have I learned about seeking joy?

Honestly? Not much, yet. My spiritual director asked me, “Have you asked God to give you joy?” I took a breath to answer and what came out was:

“Um….”

gnarled treeSo lesson #1 is, relying on myself to find joy is futile. A chase after wind. Just like every other hard thing in life, it is beyond me. It is a gift of God, and I have to ask for it.

Lesson #2 is that whether it feels like it or not, I have a choice about how I react to things. You know that cliche, “pick your battles”? In recent years, I’ve been picking them all. A few months ago, I identified one major battle in my life that I was not winning, while other people were having better success. I realized that meant it was time to let them take over the fight.

In the past few days, I discovered that where another battle is concerned, I’m simply done fighting. The wound hasn’t changed, my convictions haven’t changed, but I’ve expended all the emotional energy I’m willing to expend. It’s time to seek open doors instead of banging on the one that’s closed. Shake the dust from my feet. Move on.

Lesson #3 is that being out of sync in my closest relationships is an unnecessary stress that robs joy from all of life.

Lesson #4 is that getting stretched too thin causes me to be out of sync in my closest relationships.

Lesson #5 is the one I already knew: that equilibrium in my life comes from spending time alone with God in nature. Weather, family obligations, and my husband’s lack of freedom to do the same all complicate that seemingly simple truth, but I’m trying to work with it.

That’s what I’ve got so far. What about you, readers? What have you learned about seeking joy?