Racism is a prolife issue

Open Wide - prolife

This quote may seem shocking, but it speaks to the larger prolife issue. To be truly pro-life, we have to be thinking beyond the legality of abortion; we need to think about the larger issues that exert societal pressures. Why is the abortion rate so much higher among black women, do you think?

I have a lot of thoughts on the current state of the debates around abortion, but I will leave this for now and hope that it encourages many to click through and read the whole pastoral letter.

“Consider the dignity of others”

Open Wide - jokes

I think all of us intend to do as the US Bishops urge in this quote. I think, in fact, that all of us think we *are* doing it. This is one of those areas in which I believe it will benefit us all to simply be more intentional–more self-analytical–to pull off the blinders and recognize when we aren’t, in fact, keeping the human dignity of others front and center…when we brush aside their protests because to take them seriously would require us to make uncomfortable changes. It’s certainly not a problem that’s isolated to issues of race, but it’s a place to start.

Encountering others

Open Wide - peripheries

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

EG 9 - dignified and fulfilling - resize

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?

EG 9 - profound liberation.jpg

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?

 

Whatever’s Inside Eventually Comes Out

joy painting brush
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?

About Joy (or: Is it possible to care TOO much?)

JoyI’ve spent a lot of the last few years feeling angry and unsettled. Reading Evangelii Gaudium last fall really convicted me. I don’t mean that in the sense of “courage of my convictions.” I mean it like judge and jury.

I don’t think I am joyful, you see. I see too much in the world that is not as it should be. Things besides the sound bites that most often preoccupy Christians. Things that most Christians don’t even recognize as out of sync with the Gospel. Things that strike me with particular force because it hasn’t been that long since I didn’t recognize them, either.

I struggle with how resistant we Christians are, collectively, to acknowledge injustice and to dig into the messy, challenging work of fixing it. People can disagree about solutions to problems, but too often, the go-to response is to act as if it’s all an overreaction. That actually, there’s nothing to fix.

For example: how we deal with race. Or the way certain quarters of Christianity have vilified people traveling at great personal cost from Central America, labeling them criminals even though the vast majority are asylum seekers fleeing violence at home. Why are we so resistant to accepting the word of minorities and hopeful immigrants about what they’ve experienced? What does it say about us? How does it reflect a belief that Jesus’ presence is in each human being, and that therefore each one’s human dignity is sacred?

Ignatius-favorable interpretation

Why is it so difficult to recognize when we aren’t following this exhortation from St. Ignatius of Loyola?

I can’t help feeling that by focusing too narrowly on one issue to the exclusion of many, many other things Jesus called out by name in the Gospels, we weaken the Church. We weaken our credibility as representatives of Christ on Earth, and we weaken our ability to evangelize.

This makes me angry. Which weakens my ability to evangelize. Because how does an angry person invite others in? Why would they want anything to do with a Christianity that, on the one hand, applies the value of human dignity unevenly, and on the other, spits fire about it?

Which makes me wonder: is it possible to care too much? Am I too focused on the here and now, when I know full well that the kingdom is never going to be fully realized on earth?

I did not intend to tour two of Pope Francis’ writings in a row. I intended to look backward, to Paul VI or the Council. But this question of passion for the justice of God versus resting in the joy of salvation is really potent in my life right now. I spend far too much of my inner life shadowboxing the Bad Stuff of the world and those who support it.

Rachel Held Evans passed away this weekend. She wasn’t Catholic, but I think it’s safe to say most Catholic bloggers know her work. Stretched thin as I am, I didn’t always click through, but when I did I never failed to be inspired and challenged—even before I understood why her words resonated so deeply. If you aren’t on Facebook with Intentional Catholic, you might have missed this post of hers, which I shared yesterday. What leaps out at me in her writing is that she doesn’t pull punches, yet she doesn’t sound angry.

I long for this gift. It is a gift I intend to pursue, because I’m weary of being angry. Are you? Will you join me in pursuing joy? Might joy itself be the answer to all that ails us in this polarized, toxic time?

Assuming the best

Ignatius-favorable interpretation

Words that should skewer us all in these polarized times…they certainly made me squirm. This quote reminds me of the adage “assume the best of the other.” I believe this passionately, yet so often, I do the opposite.