What do we Catholics do now?

By the time I’m done writing this, there will be a new crop of sad or enraging or just plain bizarre headlines about who did what, who knew what, who claims he never knew, who didn’t act and why that was someone else’s fault, and why we should all just relax and trust the hierarchy to do the right thing, starting any minute now.

And of course more and more of our fellow Catholics will burrow even more deeply into their comforting narratives of blame, to shelter them. When we’re confronted with calamity, the easiest thing in the world is to cry, “This is all their fault!” — “they” being the ones whose fault it always is and always has been. This response is worse than useless, but it’s understandable. We want coherence and intelligibility, but right now, it’s so hard to see, in this dim light of calamity. What to do?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

But what if I don’t love God?

They really, really loved God, enough to willingly die for Him, enough to renounce their families for Him, enough to cheerfully surrender their riches and beauty and power for Him, enough to praise Him with their last dying breaths.

And I? I didn’t love God. I didn’t even like Him.

That worried me.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Red Hot Divine Marshmallow Mercy Squirters!

When we demand that every last little thing be calibrated to our aesthetic liking, we run the risk of worshipping aesthetics, rather than the Lord they’re meant to honor. So, yes, make adjustments when necessary. If a better translation is available, by all means use it! But don’t be such a precious butterfly that you simply can’t abide to alight on something that tickles you this way instead of that way. Keep on fluttering, and you’ll never get to the nectar.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Mary and her darlings

“I once saw a lady on a train,” said John Paul I, “Who put her baby to sleep in a baggage holder [a net above the seat]. When the little one woke up, he saw from above his mother sitting facing him so that she could watch over him. ‘Mamma,’ he would say to her.

“‘Darling,’ she replied, and for a long time the dialogue between the two did not change. ‘Mamma,’ from above, ‘Darling’ from below. There was no need for other words. ”

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Giveaway: Two coupon codes for Magnificat Lenten app

Still looking for a Lenten devotion? I have two codes for the Magnificat Lenten Companion app to give away. I’ll choose the winners on Friday.

More about Magnificat:

Lent is a time to refocus our hearts and revive our love of the Lord and one another

A Companion for the Forty Days of Lent (from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday)

Designed in a convenient, easy-to-use format:
– Inspiring reflections from some of the most gifted Catholic writers for each day
– Faith-filled essays
– Prayers, poetry, and devotions
– Meditations for the Way of the Cross
– A treasury of spiritual insights

By spending a few moments meditating on the inspiring daily reflections and the short prayers that follow them, you will discover all that is true, good, and beautiful about the Catholic Faith.

Let the profound yet practical insights you will find in this little spiritual treasury form and focus your spiritual life, filling it with new conviction and purpose.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter form below (or click on the link that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway,” if the form doesn’t show up). I’ll choose two names at random, and will announce the winners on Friday. Winners may choose a code for iOS or Android.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Give up your enemies for Lent.

Even if you’re overall a friendly, open person, and even if there’s no one you’re openly warring with or frostily snubbing, there are people whose name makes a shadow cross over your sky. Whether it’s their fault or yours – or, most likely, some combination of the two – these are people with whom you are not at peace. When they are around, your peace is disturbed. You know who I mean.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by hobvias sudoneighm via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A lot to ask from a baby

Listen, world.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

When we’re mad at God because we’ve sinned

The other night, I was having a mild panic attack in the middle of the night, and I dealt with it this way: I breathed in while thinking, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” and then breathed out while thinking, “But I place my trust in Jesus.” I accepted my ignorance and my uncertainty, and I reclaimed my knowledge of the one true thing that will always be true, which is Jesus Himself.

It got me through that one bad night. But there has not been a single second in my life when that was not an appropriate prayer.

Read the rest of my latest from The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Max Pixel (Public Domain)

Making poor people pray

Many years ago, despite hard work, thrift, and a small family, we were poor.  As in no-heat-no-car-no-food poor.  And so I started traveling to a church which hosted weekly grocery nights, when needy people could browse over tables of expired dry goods, wilted produce, and drippy ice cream at cut-rate prices.  I remember the thrill of putting a true luxury, a box of crackers, into my bag, and feverishly calculating how many meals I could squeeze out of a single chicken breast.

That part of it was great.  But the part I didn’t like was in the beginning:  Before they opened the auditorium, they made us pray.

I hated that part.

Let me explain.  I pray.  I did pray at the time, I will always pray, and I will always be in favor of people praying, and in favor of encouraging other people to pray and to become closer to God.

But I am vehemently opposed to insisting that people suddenly start praying aloud, or giving intimate details about their spiritual life to a stranger, just because they happen to be vulnerable or in need.  Too many Christian ministries, including food pantries, crisis pregnancy centers, and homeless shelters, include mandatory prayer in their good works, and I think it ought to stop.

Well!  You may say.  Those who are vulnerable or in need are exactly the ones who need to hear about God!  Should we leave these poor souls in their misery?  Man does not live by bread alone.  Should we feed only the bodies of those in need, but leave their souls hungry?

Also:  what, should we be ashamed of our faith?  Should we hide our light under a bushel, cover over the name of Christ like those weasly Georgetown Jesuits?

The Good News is never out of place or inappropriate.  It’s always a good time to pray, and anyone who suggests otherwise is denying our Lord.

Okay, then.  How come you never insist that rich people pray?  When’s the last time you made it very clear to someone in a nice suit that he needs to start being thankful, out loud, right this minute?  Why is this on-command spirituality only standard practice for a guest who’s already on the ropes?

I know these good Christian folks had kind intentions.  They meant it like this:  we have a chance to do a corporal work of mercy—and while they’re here, we have the chance to share his glorious Good News with people.  So let’s be like the early Christians—let’s pray!  That’s all they meant.  And I was truly grateful for the food, and for the time they volunteered.

But let me tell you what messages I, as a bona fide wretched poor person, actually received:

1.  “We can see that you’re poor because of some spiritual failing, so let’s take care of that.”

2.  “Don’t you forget for a moment that we’re doing you a favor.  So before you get your dented box of Special K, let me see you bow your head.”

Now, there may have been someone at that grocery night who was smitten to the core—who needed to be there, needed to be forced to pray.  Maybe his life was changed forever by those mandatory prayers.

But I was there.  I guarantee you that thirty more people in that auditorium learned to connect the name of God with humiliation and intrusion.

Being poor means you never have a choice in anything.  Even while you’re grateful for bags of free clothes, boxes of food, and rides from volunteers, never having a choice about what to wear, what to eat, or when to come and go—it stings.  It makes you feel like crap.  Whether you’re poor because of bad luck and tough circumstances, or because of laziness and stupidity, being poor doesn’t make you sub-human.  It shouldn’t give other people an excuse to treat you like a child, even if they’re helping you.

So here is my suggestion to people who, God bless them, want to help the poor, and want to evangelize at the same time:  be quiet.  Put up lots of crosses and statues and Bible verses on the wall, wear T-shirts and medals—go nuts.  But don’t say a word, unless someone asks.  At the very most, extend an invitation:  “We are available to tell you about our faith—just let us know!” or “Don’t forget to check out our lending library, if you’re wondering why we’re here.”  Poor isn’t the same as stupid:  people notice when help always comes from someone who believes in God.

So please, never require someone to have a spiritual experience in exchange for your help.  The first thing about personal relationship, with God or with anyone else?  It’s not a quid pro quo.  It’s never mandatory.

***
Photo: Steven Depolo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The hard way

We could have done without a multitude of categories of clouds, without birds that migrate, bugs that pollinate, mint and milkweed that battle, and little girls who know something about flying. We could have been moved by fear and panic and compulsion, rather than by beauty and longing. Why is there beauty? Why is there life that delights in life?

The world gleams. But it is so untidy.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by Colin Poellot via Flickr (Creative Commons)