Nov 27, 2009

Advent is Here and BustedHalo® wants to know...

What Are You Waiting For? The BustedHalo® Daily Jolt Advent Calendar has arrived and is chock full of great advent quotes surrounding the theme of waiting.

The reality for most of us however is that Advent simply becomes the anxious weeks of shopping and holiday planning that precede Christmas Day. In the bustle of the holiday season, it is usually difficult to keep in mind what we are actually waiting for before Christmas. While many of us won’t be able to completely avoid the Christmas onslaught, it is still possible to maintain some connection to the spiritual foundation of the season. Our 2009 Advent Surprise Calendar is based on our popular Daily Jolt feature in which we offer readers a small bit of contemplation/inspiration and couple it with a “microChallenge” that encourages them to put these spiritual moments into action in their daily lives.

In traditional Advent Calendars, children open different calendar windows throughout the season to reveal special surprises. Busted Halo’s® Advent Calendar combines that sense of surprise with the opportunity for reflection and action found in our Daily Jolt feature the rest of the year.

Daily reflection, action and prizes
Each day of Advent, the calendar will open a new link to a chance at winning a great prize, an opportunity for reflection and a microChallenge. Like our Daily Jolt, the reflections chosen for the Advent Calendar come from some very unlikely sources, and the microChallenges help you to act on your spiritual inspiration in simple — usually very small — ways you’d probably never considered.

So check it out and come back each day to try to win something great.

Nov 25, 2009

Counting Your Blessings?

I want to scream every time someone uses the terms "we've been blessed" or suggests that one "counts their blessings." Often this leads people into believing that God favors one group or individual over another. A friend said one day that "If God shows his blessings to those of us who have much, what about those who are in devastating poverty?' A fair point.

Jesus seems to rail against this idea of divine retribution. That God doesn't show his favoritism to the rich and powerful nor does God smite sinners with illness or poverty. It seems to me that "counting our blessings" may actually be a sinful act of pride: We think that God loves us more than anyone else.

So then what the heck is the point of Thanksgiving?

Perhaps the point is to simply realize that we are not always in control.

That the gift of life itself is enough to be thankful to God. That God everlasting forgiveness, a free gift to all, is even more of a thankful moment for us all.

And for those of us who have been born into good circumstances, by the mere randomness of the world (with a nod to those in the scientific community), today should not merely be a day to take stock of our bank accounts, jobs, houses and cars and to say like the Pharisee, "Whew! I'm glad i was not born into such poverty." Rather, when we realize that God shows love to all the world and that we are called into that same kind of love by Jesus through his own gift of self, we too, have an obligation and an opportunity for self-giving.

Often those of us who have little or nothing are indeed the most generous. But even in our own communities, families, or dare I say churches, are we truly generous with our time, our funds, our gifts? Do we offer what we have for the world in need or do we simply store up for a rainy day?

So how will we spend Thanksgiving? Is it a day that we simply gorge ourselves on a bountiful harvest that pilgrims and indians believed incorrectly were signs of God's favor, or are we more sophisticated in our belief in God?

Some initial thoughts for an "alternative Thanksgiving":

1) Simply volunteer some time at a local shelter or soup kitchen.

2) Invite people over who indeed are needy...perhaps emotionally rather than financially even.

3) For many, spending time with family or friends that they don't often see or that they may even neglect might be a nice mindful way to engage with the holiday.

4) How about a Thanksgiving fast? To think about what we consume at great lengths and then to mindfully consume less?

5) What can we do to renew the earth's resources? Can we consume less, use better products, buy organic, support local businesses?

6) Planning a Thanksgiving Day mission trip to a poor part of the world might indeed be a larger scale event.

Indeed, I also will suggest that I'm not trying to be the Thanksgiving Scrooge. Have your turkey with all the fixins! Enjoy it. But also be mindful of those who don't have anything and to consider what role we play in giving what we have in our bounty to those who have none.

Nov 24, 2009

Light Blogging is Very Possible This Week

Tending to some matters of family importance over the next few days until the day of the Turkey.

So blogging indeed may be lighter than usual. Apologies. It must take precedence. Indeed I will attempt to do something special for Thanksgiving.

Nov 23, 2009

Ignatius and the World

I've been thinking much about how strange it must have been to be an early follower of St. Ignatius. Being a "contemplative" engaged with the needs of the world was a new mindset, different from old school monasticism which didn't fiddle with the machinations of living and praying within monestary walls.

Much like ourselves, these folks found that the needs of the world left them little time for prayer, so Ignatius encouraged the use of his examen at least once per day. Seeing God in all things gets easier if you try to do that daily. The spiritual life is about mindfulness and seeing beyond sensory experience to find God lurking there.

This past week I had the pleasure if hearing the stories of several students during an imaginative prayer meditation and the deep sharing that followed. It gave me confidence that God indeed continues to lead me to places that I will find much fertile ground with which to serve.

At the same time the search for those who are healthy and who have much to give to leadership is taking precedence. I imagine Ignatius must have faced similar challenges but also saw similar rewards.

Today pray that good things continue to happen and that we can see God in all things.

Mobile Blogging from here.

This Advent be the Cross in the Classroom (and elsewhere)

Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher - "Fr. Pat" to those of us at the University of Buffalo had a great line in his homily referring to those of us who are Catholic on "secular campuses. He stated that on a Catholic campus there are crosses in each classroom (well, most campuses anyway). I would add to his comments that while outward signs of catholicity are important, sometimes they serve to be the only sign of Jesus on the campus at all.

But Fr Pat provided the "wake up call" for me this week when he said, "On this Campus, WE are the cross in the classroom."

Whoa. An awesome image. And never a truer statement was said.

Because if other people don't see us as the cross then we have truly lost what it means to be Catholic and not one outward symbol can help us spread the word of the gospel.

St Francis has been attributed to the phrase: "Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words." Actions indeed speak louder than words. In the past few years actions indeed have spoken quite loudly when it comes to Catholics. The clergy sexual abuse crisis placed our priests in a precarious position. Several of my good friends who are priests reported not wanting to wear their collars in public. One even said that a mother pushed her child to the other side of the sidewalk when she saw him coming the other way. Economic scandals in parishes and dioceses have often hit the headlines and recently the story of a priest who fathered a child out of wedlock was one of the top NY Times stories.

Actions indeed speak louder to those around us than words do.

So what's a Catholic to do? It seems to me that the time has come for all of us to reclaim what it means to be Catholic. At one point being Catholic was far more associated with people who did good works than it is today. Today in fact, being Catholic seems to be associated with being backwards, or some kind of sexual misfit or some kind of right wing religious zealot.

I don't want to be associated with those things, in fact, I don't think any of that is what our faith is about. And yet, a lot of people will say it is so. Image is indeed everything.

However, I DO want people to know that I'm Catholic despite all this. And I sense that perhaps you do too. Because we indeed have much to offer the world. We have a God who gives others second chances no matter what they do. We have a God who dares to become less than He is, so that we all might become what He is. We have a God who has a boundless love that death can no longer hold. We have a tradition of 2 millennia that for better or for worse has produced far more good than evil in the world.

But we cannot afford to be silent about this. This advent, I'd like to invite you to simply identify your Catholicism in the following way:

I'd like you to think about doing something for someone else each day. It need not be grand or sweeping, just simple. Whether it's serving the poor at a shelter or doing grocery shopping for the little old lady next door or even simply offering a service to the community at no charge...whatever you choose. When you have your task completed you then have one final thing to add.

Tell those you serve that you are Catholic. Moreover, tell them that you pray for them or that your faith influences your decisions. Now this can't be a note of condescension to others, but rather one of humbleness and service to others and to your faith.

Because grandness is not our moniker. The cross is. And the bottom line is that if we become the cross in the classroom and everywhere else we go in the world, then that means we are called into suffering with the world. Indeed we are brave enough to face suffering for another because we know that our God can indeed defeat that suffering with the cross that we become.

And in the end we become so much more--we transcend that suffering so that the cross becomes not an implement of destruction but one of power--the power that defeats death.

And the power that can reclaim Catholicism as a religion that is immersed in the world's suffering and works to defeat it with our love. Sure we'll break a sweat for justice and we'll make sure we leave a mark on the world in a positive way,

What will you do this Advent? Share it with us here.

Nov 22, 2009

Word of the Year: Unfriend

Fran pointed me to this on Facebook:

"Unfriend" has been named the word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, chosen from a list of finalists with a tech-savvy bent.
Unfriend was defined as a verb that means to remove someone as a "friend" on a social networking site such as Facebook.
"It has both currency and potential longevity," said Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford's U.S. dictionary program, in a statement.
"In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year."

Fran also points out that God never "unfriends" us. No matter what we do, how far away we may turn from God we are always in God's news feed.

I'm also reminded that we are also called to stay connected to one another--no matter what and no matter what someone else may do. Besides being at the heart of marriage, it is also at the heart of our concern for the least of those amongst us--as well as those close to us, who sometimes we are all too ready to chuck to the curb when they annoy us "for the last time." We're called to stay in the network, to hash out our differences, to forgive 70 times 7 times.

Not an easy task for any of us. But it's all-too-easy to give up hope. It's easy to simply hit "unfriend" and move on. And moreover, it's harder to tell when those around us who have abused their power or our trust can no longer remain in our networks for our own safety and perhaps even harder to let that person go because they are really the ones who hit "unfriend" first.

It seems to me that this is all about relationship and our own need for control. We want to control our decisions in who we associate ourselves with and who we don't. And there's wisdom there but there's also the shadow side of alienating those who we dismiss too easily or superficially.

Who can depend on you staying in their network when the chips are down? Who knows that you'll keep those lines open when they are in their darkest moments? And when you are in trouble, know that Jesus is always there pointing you towards someone in your network who might remind you that God indeed is never far away.

God is always in connection...we always have access and grace allows us to know that the lines of communication are never down.

It's what we call prayer. Simply put, it is staying in the conversation with God. Talking but also staying still and listening with God. It is noticing what is all around us and how God has a hand in all of it. And often we think that God doesn't answer our prayers, that requests go unanswered. Grandparents still die, children lose limbs, our children don't kick the drug habit despite our constant prayers. So some would ask why we should stay in connection?

God indeed doesn't always give us what we think we want in prayer, but as anyone who prays knows deeply: God may not give us what we WANT but he always gives us what we NEED. A kind word, a helping hand, the knowledge that we are not alone, the gentle caress of our spouse or the warm embrace of a child. Even the loyalty of a good dog can somehow be enough for us. It is the pleasures of simple gestures that really get us through the tough times. Those are what we always remember most.

And they all spring from a one word plan: love.

Love causes us to stay in the commitments that we are in and indeed enables us to get through the challenges that befall us. And when we think about committing to love one another we need to remember that on this last Sunday of the year where we celebrate Christ who is King, a King who went unrecognized, rejected and crucified. His love that brought him to Calvary also brought him well beyond that road.

And as we end this year and head into Advent let us remember that the God we believe in understands being unfriended and as he lies in the manger this Christmas, know that God's commitment to us is indeed that God is always amongst us. Not a click away but in the deepest stirrings of our own hearts.

And because of that commitment, when it could have been easy for God, who constantly has been unfriended by our sin, God who comes to us anyway, calls us to stay in the network with the world: connected, not loosely, but intimately with everyone.

It is His love for us that defeats death.

Staying connected...defeats death.

Showing concern...defeats death.

"Unfriend" is the word of the year they say...and I say nonsense.

Unfriend is the cop-out of eternity.

Nov 20, 2009

I Sense Hayes' Influence...

The Bishop of Buffalo Bishop Kmiec is now blogging on the Buffalo diocesan Web site.

The office of communication tells us that "several other diocesan staffers are also blogging: Youth and Young
Adult Ministry director Kathy Goller is blogging this week from the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City. Denis Coakley, director of Pro-Life Activities and Dennis Mahaney, associate director of the Office of Parish Life.

You can check them all out at

As much of an influence on the world of technology and catholicism as I might like to think I have, this one cannot be attributed to me. I have yet to meet Bishop Kmiec (pronounced Kim-Ick) but from what I hear from those around me and others who have had experiences with him, I have nothing but good things to expect. "He's an extremely down to earth kind of guy," reports one Paulist Father who was able to share living space with the good Bishop several years ago. Others in town report the same story.

As the Bishop nears retirement along with his other brother Bishops in Western NY: Bishop Matt Clark of Rochester and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany.

Nov 18, 2009

Wii Gather Together As Church

Too funny not to post:

An extremely grateful doff of the cap to Eunice Park for putting this out on facebook.

Nov 17, 2009

Cardinal George: "is it Catholic?"

David Gibson muses at Politics Daily about the recent decision of USCCB head Cardinal George's setting up of committees to determine if voices in education, media and lay groups represent Catholicism. In doing so he sets up the Bishops to be the arbiters of "all things Catholic."

In my opinion, this is something that needs to be done because, simply put, any moron can have a blog (including this moron!) and that doesn't make the moron a Catholic moron. Many people from different facets of the Catholic spectrum indeed attempt to speak with a Catholic voice but really fail miserably at representing themselves as legitimate voices. This includes not only those who would say that they support abortion rights for women but also those who would support, say capital punishment in clearly unjustifiable situations.

So why the sudden hankering from Cardinal George on the need for the watchdog group? David Gibson has some ideas:

Church officials said George's decision to establish the certifying committees reflected his frustration with the many differing Catholic voices and organizations that sprouted up during last year's presidential campaign and claimed to be representing Catholic positions, some of them in support of Barack Obama.

Many of the most prominent bishops were vocal opponents of Obama, who nonetheless won 53 percent of the key Catholic vote despite espousing pro-choice positions on abortion, which is the overriding issue for the bishops. And many of those outspoken bishops -- perhaps still a minority of the entire hierarchy, but an influential one with close ties to Rome -- were also incensed at the University of Notre Dame for inviting Obama to give its commencement address last May. The anger over that invitation, which was issued despite the opposition of the local bishop, John D'Arcy, and the rifts it exposed among the bishops and lay Catholics, still bother George, church officials said. Hence his effort to establish clear parameters on who speaks for the church and what it means to be Catholic.

But several bishops and church officials I spoke with doubted whether George's desire to implement the certifying committees would gain any traction among the bishops. For one thing, beneath the surface of civility, the bishops are as divided on many of these issues as the rest of the American church.

In addition, George played it so close to the vest in setting up the committees -- he launched the initiative over the summer -- that up until the first day of these meetings many bishops didn't know who was on the committees or how many there were. There are, it turns out, three such committees: on Catholic universities, Catholic media, and other Catholic organizations, reportedly those involved in lobbying.

I wonder if the question is really nt "Is this Catholic?" but rather "Is this Catholic ENOUGH?" and that will lead to all kinds of divisions that indeed, may need to be hashed out in some kind of forum.

Ordinarily I would agree with Gibson in that I would have doubts about how much traction this might have. But in a world where there are far too many sources, especially for unchurched seekers and the theologically uninformed, discerning truth from suggestion is indeed difficult. Is this site a Catholic one indeed is an interesting question worth looking at.

However, there's a huge issue that goes far beyond the simplicity of legitimate Catholic source material. That issue is simply media literacy. After all, there are news programs on radio but then there are opinion programs. When I was in radio for years I noticed that there was almost no discernable difference between how listeners viewed journalistic types of programs with the more opinion based meanderings of a Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, John Stewart or Keith Olbermann. The same is true in catholic circles. There's a huge difference between magazines like America or First Things, which serves to raise the level of debate and interesting conversation and catechetical resources that proclaim church teaching definitively. Those are resources that need some review as well. New Advent for example claims that the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia is the definitive source that all Catholics should use, and it's the one most used by people online. Will the Bishops' committee talk about those differences? Or will they simply focus on external debates in the blogosphere which they clearly have no chance of curtailing. The internet will continue to have opinion blogs with or without the blessing of the hierarchy and they will continue to entertain and inform.

But they don't necessarily teach. That indeed may be where the Bishops might want to regain some control.

Well at least we know one thing: My book Googling God will make the cut. After all, Cardinal George is holding it here with me.

Nov 15, 2009

If you're thinking about doing service...

then I'd like to introduce you to the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service. They are fantabulous (that's a combo of fantastic and fabulous)! I go to a lot of conferences and I'm pretty hard to impress, but from the quality of the speakers, to the dedication that they all collectively have in working for the needs of the poor, to the resolve they have in connecting young people to the many organizations they work is all amazing.

I was honored to be asked by them to be a keynote speaker on the last day of their national gathering, mostly because a good deal of the people there represent organizations that I greatly admire. From the acclaimed Jesuit Volunteer Corps, to Vincentian Volunteers, to Catholics on Call...I was somewhat intimidated and wondered if anything I could say to them would be valuable. I think I succeeded simply by sharing with them the stories of many people who have been part of service experiences that I've met over my years in ministry and then highlighting the spiritual longing that they hoped providing service would awaken or embolden. "After all," I said at one point, "Young people are choosing to do service with a religious organization rather than Americorps or the Peace Corps because of that spiritual element." So my message was to build their organizations to be more particularly spiritual in nature, as much as possible--to point them to Jesus and to tradition and to Catholic Social Teaching.

I got the biggest laugh I've gotten in awhile when we discussed the ecumenical and interfaith aspects of young people participating in service--which was a great question posed by the Rev. Michael Wilker of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps who was also gracious enough to join me for lunch later. My response was varied but I wanted to express that most often people aren't even choosing between denominations anymore--rather they choose between spiritual and atheism, mostly because they become 'spiritual tinkerers" as Robert Wuthnow of Princeton notes in his acclaimed book After the Baby Boomers.

The laugh came when I offered the following: "And look, we Catholics have all we can do to not argue with one another! Never mind a bunch of other denominations. Heck, if the Franciscans could just stick together and stop breaking themselves up into little groups, they'd probably rule the world!"

Note to self: Tell that one again.

So I'd like to encourage anyone who is considering doing a year long service program or who's thinking about doing some kind of service experience to do so--but to be aware of where Jesus is showing himself to you in that experience and to talk about that and to let the fine people from these amazing organizations mentor you spiritually.

You can check out all of the service organizations that there are to choose from on the CNVS website.

And be sure you tell them that you heard about them from me. A special word of thanks to Jim Lindsay, CNVS' Executive Director, Nikki Rohlng the Associate Director and to Alyssa Sickle their events coordinator for all their hospitality and for the invitation. Keep up the good work!

Nov 12, 2009

Off to Raleigh

I'm speaking at the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service conference. Mostly on the use of technology within social justice ministries. Right now Raleigh looks like it is undergoing a monsoon, so I'm not sure if I even get there on time. But I'm flying through NYC so I can think of worse places to get stuck. Delays mean I'll have more to blog. So that could be an interesting time of spiritual reflection.

Nov 11, 2009

Lest We Forget...All Soldiers Should Not Be Decorated Today

Especially this idiot...

From and a h/t to Al Swingle for pointing me to this one...

Alexios Marakis, a Greek Orthodox priest visiting the U.S., got lost in Tampa and tried to stop and ask directions from Marine reservist Jasen D. Bruce. But instead of offering help, “Bruce struck the priest on the head with a tire iron.” The reservist believed Marakis, who spoke limited English, was an Arab terrorist. Bruce chased the priest for three blocks, “and even called 911 to say that an Arabic man tried to rob him.” According to a news release:

“During the chase, the suspect called 911 and claimed an Arabic male attempted to rob him and he was going to take him into custody,” a Tampa Police Department news release states. “When officers arrived, the suspect claimed the man was a terrorist.”

Way to give us something NOT to celebrate today, Marine.

Two can play at this game

A group called SLAP (Survivors of Liturgical Abuse in Parishes) decided to post a cranky song parody to the tune of the hymn Gather Us In.

Gather Us In [ the tune of, that is!]

Here in this place, our comfortable parish,
All of the statues carried away,
See in each face a vacuous visage,
Brought here by guilt or by R.C.I.A.

Gather us in, by Beemer or Hummer,
Gather us in, so we can feel good,
Come to us now in this barren Zen temple,
With only a shrub and an altar of wood.

We are the young, our morals a mystery,
We are the old, who couldn’t care less,
We have been warned throughout all of history,
But we enjoy this liturgical mess.

Gather us in, our radical pastor,
Gather us in, our unveiled nun,
Call to us now, with guitars and bongos,
Hang up your cellphones and join in the fun!

OK, now I don't agree with most of the above, but it did give me a chuckle. In the comments section of this blog a reader added:

Here we will take some wine and some water,
Whether it changes, we really don’t care.
But when the Sign of Peace comes, our pastor,
Jumps from the altar and hugs like a bear.

Gather us in, uncatechized masses,
Gather us in, the liberal elite,
Help us to form our personal Credo,
Give us a choice between white bread and wheat.

OK the "hug like a bear" comment made me snort milk out my nose.

Sue me.

But as you know, dear readers, I'm not bad at the whole song parody thing too.

To the tune of "O Sacred Head Surrounded" (Which I won't point out also fits into the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas)

It's boring in my parish
And the organist can't sing
My pastor preaches anger
There is no joy to bring

I wonder why he's cranky
And he yelled at my blue jeans
Yet, he's also kind of creepy
When 'ere he's around teens

The poor are shooed away here
From off the parish steps
The statues anticeptic
Devoid of life or breath

The preaching's bland and simple
Not challenging at all
We wonder why young people
Have failed to hear God's call?

Blinded by a Suicide Bomber, Soldier Forgives

A huge h/t to Tony Rossi of The Christophers for this Veteran's Day special.

Given short notice that he could go on leave from his tour in Iraq on April 2, 2005, Captain Scott Smiley decided to delay that leave by one month. On April 6, while on patrol with his platoon, a suicide bomber exploded a car bomb that sent shrapnel and debris into Captain Smiley's eyes and brain permanently destroying his vision.

Captain Smiley was "crushed" by the news he would never see again. Despite coming from a Christian family, he admits, "I definitely questioned God, whether He really existed." Also, hatred for the bomber led Captain Smiley into months of depression.
He was moved toward forgiveness by contemplating the Biblical mandate to "love your brother as yourself...Until I made that conscious effort to forgive him and realize he may have been lost, he may have been tricked or duped into doing what he did - that's when I was able to move out of depression and begin to...really start taking a positive step forward."

Scott Smiley had now climbed Mt. Rainer with the help of other soldiers and lives a full life claiming the scriptural platitude: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." More importantly, Smiley did not let hatred or anger define his future, he moved well beyond those emotions with the help of others in his recovery from depression.

See what happens when soldiers get the help they need?

Hear the entire interview here

Shamelessly Stealing Deacon Greg's Headline: E.T. Phone Rome

The Vatican is close to admitting that life may indeed be present on other planets/galaxies.

Catholic News Service has the scoop. I dare the NY Times to run this on page one without being condescending. I double dog dare Sean Hannity to talk about it on Fox.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Dozens of scientists gathered at a Vatican-sponsored meeting to fit together emerging pieces of a puzzle still waiting to be solved: whether there is life on other planets.

If finding extraterrestrial life is like "a detective chase, a crime to be solved, we're getting very close to the answer," said Chris Impey, head of the Steward Observatory and the University of Arizona's department of astronomy in Tucson, Ariz.

Impey was one of 30 high-level scientists attending a Nov. 6-10 study week on astrobiology sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He and others spoke at a Vatican press conference Nov. 10.

The astronomer said it is widely believed that life needs three basic ingredients: carbon-based material, energy provided by stars, and water, "which is one of the most common molecules in the universe."

"These three elements have already been found in a lot of places in galaxies," he said.

"The universe, if it's like a table, the table is set for dinner. Everything is there, all the ingredients are there" to welcome and support life, Impey added.

Until 1995, no one knew whether there were planets circling some of the billions of stars in the universe.

Advancements in planet detection have since led scientists to discover more than 400 planets outside of the solar system and dozens more are found each year, he said.

Jonathan Lunine, professor of planetary science and physics at the University of Arizona, said three or four worlds within the solar system also have conditions where life may be found.

More research into how the Earth and earthly life evolved is helpful in understanding what habitable worlds may look like, he said.

Read more here but scientists need to rejoice today because here is a clear example where the Church is stating that science and faith are not mutually exclusive.

And since this is a far cry from what the church used to regard as valid scientific theory, I thought I'd pull out one of my old favorites from the Indigo Girls:

Nov 10, 2009

California Bishops Announce Public Support for Women Religious--UPDATED

As the Vatican continues their investigation into the religious communities of women, the Bishops of California decided to write the nuns a letter of support. Cardinal Roger Mahoney made that letter public and the National Catholic Reporter printed it recently:

“Dear Sisters, We are all aware of the special anxieties which surround our women religious these days,” wrote Mahony, “and I am writing to offer you my prayers of gratitude and my support for all of your members. The bishops of California met last week and passed a statement of support for all of you, and I am pleased to send a copy of that statement to you.”

He praises “the historical presence” of women religious in California beginning back in the 1800s. “I can honestly state that there would not exist our Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service outreach apostolates without you.”

The cardinal goes on to write that women religious in Los Angeles “opened the first hospital, established the first schools, and provided the first social services to those most in need.” He added that our “church’s history of outreach after the example of Jesus Christ and the Gospels would not exist today without your initiatives and creativity.”

He ended his letter reassuring women religious “of my continuing prayers and support.”

The Vatican announced its investigation, officially callend an apostolic visitation, of U.S. women religious last January, saying the intention is to find out why the numbers of women religious have decreased during the past 40 years, and to look at “the quality of life” in the communities.

Nicely done. And right on the mark. Women's religious have, simply put been the "operations directors" for our church--meaning they have organized and got the work done on the ground level, in the trenches. Without them we'd all be the worse for wear.

However, their numbers have indeed rapidly declined. Why is that? Some would cite a visibility issue--nuns don't wear formal habits anymore for the most part (and those that do report an uptick in their numbers) so they are harder to spot in a crowd of people doing social justice work or running parishes or whatever.

But I think the reason goes far beyond a simple visibility issue. Women's rights have given women more opportunities since the days of the blossoming numbers in women's religious communities. Years ago these communities provided opportunities for women that did not always exist in secular life. What woman would be able to run a hospital if she were not a nun in the 1950s? Sister wielded great power in both the emergency rooms of hospitals and parish schools. If you messed up, Sister was going to hear about it and then you were in deep trouble.

Those positions of power are now readily available for women in the corporate board room as well as in all walks of life.

A second reason for this decline is the opposite effect. Despite the fact that women do indeed much of the work of the church--they don't get the accolades for it and are not known to really be in positions of power in the Catholic Church and that has to be unattractive to most women today who can indeed rise ahead of men in other vocations in life. Women will never be Pope or Cardinal or even pastor (at least canonically).

So the Vatican indeed should do a hefty investigation and I support their work here. Why? Because they need to see the work that women have contributed to the church and understand the importance of it. They are indeed beacons on a hill that cannot be hidden. It is my prayer today that this investigation will result in further support for women's roles in the church and will not further limit or return them to a more "humble station" in life.

And just for the record, the following religious women need a brief shout out from me:

1) Sr Caroline, who taught CCD to me as a 2nd grader and who always supported me as an altar server (I remember her saying to be "You're getting really good at serving mass now when I was 9!).

2) Sr Manuela Tino, my 8th grade teacher who was strict, but loving.

3) Sr Julie, who played guitar in our parish and who always had a kind word (she was the cool young nun!)

4) Sr Anne Walsh, who ran liturgies at Campus Ministry at Fordham and whose Irish lit is always a joy to hear.

5) Sr Jeanne Hamilton, OSU, who stayed up too many late nights with me at Fordham convincing me of my worth and simply being a great friend.

6) Sr Christine Wilcox, OP who is simply awesome and who makes me more sensitive to others and who makes my work better.

7) Sr Bernadette Reis, who gives the Daughters of St Paul a great gift of understanding young people and is a woman of deep prayer.

8) Sr Francesca Thompson, who has been a voice for black women for years.

9) Sister Maura Clarke, M.M, Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., Sister Ita Ford, M.M., and lay missioner Jean Donovan -- who were killed in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980.

and finally, Sr Jeremy Midura, who runs our parish here in Buffalo (sorry Fr jack, but she does!) like a Swiss Watch....

To all of you....Thank You. Thank You. Thank you.. for inspiring a young man all of his life to be a better person and to simply be a witness to Jesus working through you, to change the lives of all those you touch.

And lastly let's not forget that the person who Catholics cite most often as the person who has been the face of Catholicism for the last 50 years or so is a simple little nun who served the poor in streets of Calcutta. And she soon will be a saint. Blessed Teresa indeed had given all women religious much respect from the general public. And so we place a picture of her religious community here today on this blog.

And by the way...if there's a Sister in your life that you'd like to thank--you should go to and do so today.



You're five minutes late already.

Nov 9, 2009

Out of the Haze returns: In Video

The first of many video reflections begins with this one from Sunday on the Widow's Mite.

Nov 7, 2009

Nothing Compares to the Promise I Have ...In You

A brief musical reflection from some time back from American Idol:

Investing in UB's Campus Ministry

We had a great fund raising evening last night at St Joseph's University parish for the UB South Campus Ministry. The evening was a tasting event that included wine, beer, food, desserts, cider and a whole lot more. Many items were up for auction as well. I even scored a pair of prime Buffalo Sabres seats for a not-so hefty sum.

It's impressive that the "regular parishioners" have made such a huge commitment to Campus Ministry. They bring in a lot of donors and the entire parish comes to the event to support students that many of them don't even know. They've also entrusted that money to me, in a way, to do programming that would be worth the investment that they have made. It's humbling and a huge challenge.

In 1991, the diocese asked the parish to become a University Parish and it would have been very easy for the parish to balk at that prospect. But they didn't. They took on the challenge of that merge extremely well and made a commitment to be part of something bigger.

Their commitment shows. Now my job begins with the search for new and better student leadership and further engagement with different programming for the students.

Special thanks goes to Marianna Moffitt and her family for not merely taking the lead in putting this fund raiser together but for making it an elegant event and doing all of the work to pull it off. She is a dynamo and we are thankful to have someone so generous with her time and resources working for the needs of the students.

Today let us pray for all of those benefactors who serve the needs of ministry and often go unseen. We need you. We need your talent and your time and yes, we need your dollars too.

Think about donating to your favorite ministry today...

And then go do it.

Nov 6, 2009

Today's Headlines will suggest Jihad but should they scream War Trauma?

After reading about the tragic shooting at Ft. Hood yesterday, I couldn't help but react with sadness and frustration at another random act of violence in our country. CBS News reports on the shooter:

A law enforcement official identified the shooting suspect as Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. It was unclear what the motive was, though it appeared he was upset about a scheduled deployment. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said the Army major was about to deploy overseas, though it was unclear if he was headed to Iraq or Afghanistan and when he was scheduled to leave. Hutchison said she was told about the upcoming deployment by generals based at Fort Hood.

Faizul Khan, a former imam at a mosque Hasan attended in Silver Spring, Maryland, said he spoke often with Hasan about how Hasan wanted to find a wife. Hasan was a lifelong Muslim and attended prayers regularly, often in his Army uniform, Khan said.

CBS News reports that Hasan, 39, is a licensed psychiatrist who has lived in Bethesda and Silver Spring, Md. and Roanoke, Va. A spokesman for Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison says Hasan was upset about an upcoming deployment to Iraq.

It doesn't help the anti-Muslim sentiment amongst some segments of our society that the shooter was a Muslim. I have more suspicions that perhaps he was self-medicating for depression and perhaps not effectively dealing with his own fears. Often psychiatrists only believe in the power of medication on the mind as a proper aid to help in the treatment of psychoses. Talk therapy is often also prescribed and the client would be sent to a psychologist for that additional treatment--much needed in many cases to help.

The Guardian agrees with me:

He was not a soldier returning from deployment in either Iraq or Afghanistan, suffering from stress or combat fatigue. Hasan, although 39 years old, he had never served in a war zone. Instead, his horror of war came second-hand. He was a psychiatrist who listened to the harrowing stories of his comrades at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, and latterly at Fort Hood, Texas.

Unusually for a soldier, Hasan appeared to have little taste for violence, at least up until yesterday. His cousin, Nader Hasan, said: "He was someone who did not enjoy going to the firing range." That may have been a consequence of the stories he had heard in the hospital wards from the returning soldiers.

Mental health is a severe issue in our country and the headlines should scream this today. But I fear that they won't--or if they do, it will merely denigrate those with mental illness instead of talking about the real tragedy--the lack of proper treatment for those who have severe mental disorders and who often go unmedicated. Secondly, all soldiers should be required to talk with a counselor, if they are not already, on a regular basis. Many won't seek help out of fear of looking weak, the worst stigma a solider can face in military circles.

The sad thing is that many of those who suffer from mental illness in our country are still stigmatized. This includes those who take their medication and receive the therapy that they need. When moments like this happen all of the mentally ill struggle because of this stigma and those that have been doing well get lumped into a package that defines them as a freak. With the expanded exposure to war in military circles I fear that the number of those soldiers who do not seek help for trauma is increasing and many are being lost in the shuffle. Our Armed services needs to address this immediately and we should be making this a top priority. Until we do, more will suffer. And that suffering will only lead to more violence, death and further stigma on all of the mentally ill in society.

Today let us pray for Ft Hood and for those who suffer from mental illness.

Nov 4, 2009

Presbyterians Embrace Dog Ministry

I told y'all this was a good idea. National Headlines and a gracious parish...


LOS ANGELES - When the Rev. Tom Eggebeen took over as interim pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church three years ago, he looked around and knew it needed a jump start.

Most of his worshippers, though devoted, were in their 60s, attendance had bottomed out and the once-vibrant church was fading as a community touchstone in its bustling neighborhood.

So Eggebeen came up with a hair-raising idea: He would turn God's house into a doghouse by offering a 30-minute service complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and an offering of dog treats. He hopes it will reinvigorate the church's connection with the community, provide solace to elderly members and, possibly, attract new worshippers who are as crazy about God as they are about their four-legged friends.

Before the first Canines at Covenant service last Sunday, Eggebeen said many Christians love their pets as much as human family members and grieve just as deeply when they suffer — but churches have been slow to recognize that love as the work of God.

"The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an 'is': That God is light and God is love. And wherever there's love, there's God in some fashion," said Eggebeen, himself a dog lover. "And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that's a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that."

The weekly dog service at Covenant Presbyterian is part of a growing trend among churches nationwide to address the spirituality of pets and the deeply felt bonds that owners form with their animals.

And if that's not enough:

The article also reports a survey "that found more than 500 blessings for animals at churches nationwide and has heard of a half-dozen congregations holding worship services like Eggebeen's, including one in a Boston suburb called Woof 'n Worship."

I think we should take a cue from these other denominations: A Pet Mass...each Sunday at 3PM. Bring your pets, take care of them and we'll purify the air afterwards for those with allergies. They might even look like my dog haze who suspiciously looks like a Friar of the Renewal in this pic.

In the Driver's Seat

So I've started to "re-learn" how to drive this week. I took Sr. Jeremy's (my colleague and the Pastoral Associate at St Joseph's University Parish where I now work full time) car around the UB Campus twice and didn't kill anyone else. My stress level didn't jump much and at worst, I was probably driving a bit too slow. I take a professional lesson this morning to get used to being in traffic and will attempt to bring Sr Jeremy's car home tonight if all goes well there. At nearly 40 years old, it's not lost on me how stupid this sounds. I mean this is something that most people learn and never have to re-learn.

So today pray for my own nerves and my own confidence with this. And pray for all driver's that they realize their responsibility on the road not merely for themselves but for their passengers, pedestrians and fellow travelers.

Our Lady of the Highways (and even of the parking lot), pray for us (and me!).

Nov 3, 2009

And congrats to Fr Jim Martin on...

I have been remiss in mentioning that Fr James Martin, SJ celebrated taking his final vows as a Jesuit on All Saints Day--how appropriate for the author of My Life With the Saints.

Fr Jim also received the Gaudium et Spes Award from Fordham University's Graduate School of Religion for his work in media and in service to the poor.

For those of you who might not be aware of Fr Jim's rising star you should check out his books: In Good Company and his acclaimed best seller,My Life with the Saints. Loyola Productions also has a great video Who Cares About the Saints? Here's a clip:

Nov 2, 2009

Fr Jim Martin, SJ on Rome and Canterbury

Welcoming the Hopeful All Souls

Death can be truly frightening even to those of us who are faithful. Today, on the Feast of All Souls I particularly remember my friend Patrick who I had the privilege to be a spiritual director for a brief time. Patrick was a writer who struggled with much in his life. He had anxieties about his sins, the things he felt kept him from God and the things that others may have told him that kept him from God--things that probably weren't sins at all, but things that nonetheless, kept him in fear, kept him from welcoming God.

As Patrick was lying sick in a hospital bed one day he longed for serenity. I giggle a bit when I recall the story he told me that day:

"Mike the other day I was walking the halls here and there was this woman who had stage four cancer! No turning back. She's going to die. She's even going to die SOON! And as I passed her room, she was SINGING! Not only was she singing but she was singing a HAPPY song! I wanted to stick my head into her room and shout: DOOM!"

I couldn't help but laugh at his negativity, but his thought probably reflected what we all fear about death. What I think I fear from time to time when doubt creeps in. We don't fear the inevitability of our human life, but rather we fear that we might be wrong about what lies beyond death. What we fear is the lack of certainty.

And that, my friends, is what we call faith. And faith is the opposite of fear. It is what conquers fear. It is the faith of the Saints we celebrated yesterday who lived lives not of quiet solitude mostly, but of fearless love. They lived, as we say in Catholic rituals, in that sure and certain hope of the mercy of God--which almost sounds like an oxymoron--we have a certain HOPE?

As I said to Patrick that day, "We hope that there is a God and we are only certain that God is not us and that whatever God may be is completely mysterious to us. And that is not always comforting. But what we cling to is our hope and I think we get closer to certainty whenever we call forth the souls of the faithful departed into our consciousness, when we feel their presence even in a small way we believe they are interceding for us, just as we are comforted by friends praying for us. I truly believe that those souls send us signs and give us messages of comfort.

For me, Patrick was someone who I learned much from while he was alive. As his director I hoped I would bring him much comfort about life. I do think I was helpful to him in facing his fears and anxieties and seeing where God indeed was working in his life. I hope in that. But when Patrick died very unexpectedly while trying to recover from cancer, something he was expected to beat, I needed hope. I went to his funeral and heard the stories of how many people's lives he touched, how he loved his family, especially his niece. I listened to how his passion for causes he believed in led others to share in caring for those who needed hope in their lives--for those he served who were dying of AIDS, for those who felt injustice, for those who often had nobody to pray for them. I left the funeral sad but hopeful.

The following day, I went to a conference at a Connecticut retreat center on the beachfront. I walked on the sandy shores with my ipod on shuffle as the sun rose. I prayed not only for Patrick, but to Patrick, asking him to pray for me. And he was my sign of hope. As the sun rose over the horizon, the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen with reds and oranges and yellows and even blues shimmering in the cool morning air I asked Patrick if it made any sense for us to hope. I prayed for some kind of sign that Patrick could not only hope but rest in the mercy of God. I hoped that Patrick's loneliness would cease and I prayed that he was no longer a lonely soul but was able to feel the accompaniment of God.

My iPod clicked from a Gregorian Chant to this song:

I laughed heartedly. I let the sun wash over me. I hoped and felt secure in that hope of God's presence and mercy. And I remembered two things:

1) Patrick and his gentle and passionate heart for others.

and 2) That I couldn't remember downloading this song at all onto my iPod. But I did remember Patrick owning it.

A miracle? A sign? A comfort?

It was that and more...not just for Patrick and I...but for All Souls.

Nov 1, 2009

Archbishop Dolan: Anti Catholicism Alive and Well... the NY Times and other places: Archbishop Tim Dolan's blog details instances of Anti-Catholic bias especially in the media.

The following article was submitted in a slightly shorter form to the New York Times as an op-ed article. The Times declined to publish it. I thought you might be interested in reading it.

By Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York

October is the month we relish the highpoint of our national pastime, especially when one of our own New York teams is in the World Series!

Sadly, America has another national pastime, this one not pleasant at all: anti-catholicism.

It is not hyperbole to call prejudice against the Catholic Church a national pastime. Scholars such as Arthur Schlesinger Sr. referred to it as “the deepest bias in the history of the American people,” while John Higham described it as “the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history.” “The anti-semitism of the left,” is how Paul Viereck reads it, and Professor Philip Jenkins sub-titles his book on the topic “the last acceptable prejudice.”

If you want recent evidence of this unfairness against the Catholic Church, look no further than a few of these following examples of occurrences over the last couple weeks:

On October 14, in the pages of the New York Times, reporter Paul Vitello exposed the sad extent of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency. Instead, an attorney is quoted urging law enforcement officials to recognize “religious sensitivities,” and no criticism was offered of the DA’s office for allowing Orthodox rabbis to settle these cases “internally.” Given the Catholic Church’s own recent horrible experience, I am hardly in any position to criticize our Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and have no wish to do so . . . but I can criticize this kind of “selective outrage.”
Of course, this selective outrage probably should not surprise us at all, as we have seen many other examples of the phenomenon in recent years when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse. To cite but two: In 2004, Professor Carol Shakeshaft documented the wide-spread problem of sexual abuse of minors in our nation’s public schools (the study can be found here). In 2007, the Associated Press issued a series of investigative reports that also showed the numerous examples of sexual abuse by educators against public school students. Both the Shakeshaft study and the AP reports were essentially ignored, as papers such as the New York Times only seem to have priests in their crosshairs.

He cites other examples as well. While it might be political suicide to slam the Times (they surely won't write anything now in favor of Catholics!), Archbishop Dolan is smart enough to point out the specifics of anti Catholic bias that the Times and others have been participating in. With an especially important nod in the cases of sexual abuse, it's not that Catholics were not supposed to be excoriated for the part they played in the sexual abuse of children, it's that other religion's clerics are not held to that same standard.

There's a larger issue of symbolism here with regards to the priesthood. Priests are visible symbols of God in a world that often misses that presence. Therefore when they violate that trust the symbol takes a huge hit. As good as some protestant clergy or even an Orthodox Rabbi might be--they don't hold that same symbol.

Today let us pray that we Catholics can live lives of not quiet dignity, but rather, enthusiastic witness.

Googling God

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