My Money, My Way?

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My parish sits near the intersection of a major interchange along a major cross-country interstate. My husband and I lead a music ensemble at church, and every so often at practice on Wednesday nights, we find ourselves facing people coming in off the interstate asking for help: out of gas, out of work, broken down…

It happened last night, and it underscored how unprepared we are, both as individuals and as a parish, for such situations. We tried to find someone from St. Vincent de Paul but weren’t successful, and this gentleman eventually left, apologizing for bothering us because we clearly couldn’t help him. And though he was polite, it felt like he was pointing out the disconnect between our self-satisfied perception of ourselves as people of faith and the reality of how unprepared (unwilling?) we were to help a person in need.

Situations like this always disturb me. I find myself caught between a desire to help and a gut-level suspicion that said seeker is preying on the hearts (and guilt) of those of faith. And of course, the answering twinge of conscience, because how is that attitude compatible with a Christian world view?

For forty-plus years, every time I’ve confronted this situation, good and faithful people have responded with something like, “Hey, it’s the way of the world. This is reality. You have to be suspicious or you’ll get taken advantage of by scammers.”

But is it really okay for suspicion and world-weary jadedness to be our first, let alone our final, reaction? I mean, how are we ever actually to know whether a person is genuinely in need or being lazy/irresponsible/reaping the harvest s/he has sown? We are never actually going to know that. More importantly, is it really our business? Isn’t our call to give, and let God sort out the recipients? And if the answer to those questions has anything to do with the words “it’s my money,” then aren’t we intrinsically putting mammon ahead of God? How does it damage me in the slightest to give the benefit of the doubt to those asking for aid, even if I do end up supporting the occasional scammer?

This morning, Bishop Barron’s Gospel reflection zeroed right in on this same issue: “God is not pleased with this kind of economic inequality, and he burns with a passion to set things right. …Even though it makes us uncomfortable—and God knows it does, especially those of us who live in the most affluent society in the world—we can’t avoid it because it’s everywhere in the Bible.”

It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone would come into a church at night, put themselves in the face of such humiliation, if they didn’t actually need help.

So today, this is the puzzle I’m wrestling: What is the right and proper balance of prudence with Christian charity? How do I keep from twisting the faith, in situations like these, to make it more comfortably align with worldly values—like, for instance, the attachment to the idea of “my money, my way”? Isn’t it just as likely that we react with suspicion because it absolves us of the responsibility to respond to the face of Christ in people who come to us for help?


Open Wide - Extreme nationalist-xenophobia

Read the entire pastoral letter here.

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Soul Corruption

It’s easy to see the effect of racism on the victims, but it damages the oppressor spiritually too.

Open Wide - Racism causes harm, corrupts

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This quote struck me with particular force because so often the idea of formal apologies to the black community for enslavement, discrimination, and segregation evokes such strong negative reactions among whites. Like, Why should we have to apologize for something we had no part in? Reading this document is an examination of conscience, inviting me to recognize that this is a cultural and generational problem–that it is not, in fact, a problem relegated to the past, but something very real today. And for that reason, it is my problem.

Open Wide - racism festers

Read the whole document here.

Why “Intentional Catholic?”

IC thumbnailWhy “intentional Catholic”?

To answer this question, I need to go back: far back, to me as a little girl, running around church parking lots on the first Sunday in November, slipping prolife flyers under windshield wipers. To a little girl who went to Confession and said, “But Father, I don’t feel anything,” and was told, “If a person is cold because they have no coat, do they need you to feel something, or do they need you to give them a coat?”

NAB Mt. 25, 35-36

I was a super-analytical kid growing up in the midst of a large and extended family of opinionated German Catholics who spent too much time arguing right and wrong in the context of American politics. As a college freshman, I accidentally landed in an honors English course focusing on Darwin. Confronted by atheism, I dug in my heels and recommitted to conservative politics, convinced that in every position thereof lay God’s will for the universe, clearly laid out in black and white. I was called “super Catholic” by my older sister, and not only did my husband and I practice NFP right out of the gate, we taught it for seventeen years.

But then this other thing happened to me. I gave birth to a child with a disability, and my world turned upside down. Not all at once. But turn it did.

The first blow to my neat and tidy view of the universe came when, in my self-analysis, I realized I’d been skirting an unpleasant truth through years of infertility: I was not open to “whatever God sends,” because I was not open to having a child with Down syndrome. At all. Those first days in the hospital with my second-born, I had a bruising collision with my own inadequacy as a disciple of Christ.

But as that old saying goes, the cracks are where the light gets in.

As I fell in love with my daughter and became a passionate advocate for her right to a place in the world, I began to see that my pat definition of “prolife” was woefully myopic. It wasn’t enough to say that people with disabilities are a gift and they have a right to be born. I had a front row seat to the steep cost of this gift—and don’t get me wrong, she is a gift. But there were surgeries. ICU stays $5000 orthotics. Five therapy appointments a week. We are lucky—we live in a place that is held up as a model of what can be done for people with disabilities, and between the services offered here and fantastic (and publicly-funded) health insurance through my husband’s university job, we’ve had a pretty easy time of it.

But what about those without the supports we have?

I realized it’s not enough to say that people like my daughter have a right to be born. Disability imposes a burden on families—a joyful, beautiful, rich burden, but a burden nonetheless. If we truly want to build a culture of life, we cannot tell those families the kids are a blessing to society, but the burden is Not Our Problem. Such a position is the opposite of prolife.

And with that one brick, the neatly-constructed wall–the one that protected me from seeing how complex and nuanced the intersection of faith and the real world really is–began to crumble.

Now, I live in a mess, with problems to wrestle on every side. Every hot-button topic in modern America has been revealed, in light of this new understanding, to be a rat’s nest of complications. But I wouldn’t give it up, because the quest to become the woman God is calling me to be is more real, more meaningful, more enlightening, and altogether precious to me because of the mess.

How does one live the Catholic faith in the real world? By being open to the mess. By considering, pondering, wrestling, and praying for God to make his will known in the specific circumstances, the practical, concrete realities of daily existence. Even when the answers don’t line up in neat black and white categories. Even when they challenge biases and reorder priorities.

How does one live the Catholic faith in the real world?

By being intentional about it.

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Whatsoever You Do…

I start here, because this is the heart of the Gospel:

NAB Mt. 25, 35-36

We spend a lot of our emotional energy as Christians on how often we go to church, on what style we sing when we get there, on how to dress for church, on the right to pray in public, and so on. It’s not that any of these are not important, but if we go back to the Gospel, this is what Jesus told us is the measure of discipleship. Read it full here.

#intentionalcatholic #realfaithrealworld #faithinaction #socialjustice #humandignity  #goldenrule #theologyofthebody