So many times, in a world suffering so much hurt and so much pain,  the need for healing and comfort seems overwhelming.  And in a highly secularized world, the traditions and strategies of Catholicism can seem simultaneously quaint and irrelevant.  Still, the emphasis on self-awareness and mindfulness seem echoes of practices a thousand years old.

At the conclusion of each afternoon in our NYC Catholic school, students and faculty would rise for the announcements.  There was a quiet moment for examination of conscience when not a pin drop was heard in the crowded classrooms. And, then, together the recitation of the Act of Contrition, a public acknowledgment of the personal need to improve.

Living authentically demands a deep sense of integrity and a real acknowledgment of others, of the persons who inhabit our lives.  It means realizing that the world, that life, is not about self, and in fact, as a person, each has responsibilities to others. The practice of examination of conscience actually enables an individual to get in touch with the successes and failures of a day, to identify goals and direction for the future and to be conscious of the impact of one person upon others.  That sort of reflection, long imbedded in Catholic tradition, is an invitation to process the rigors of daily life and to perceive the nuances of self and other.  It invites a deeper understanding of busy lives and suggests the possibilities that there can be, and are, better ways to live, better choices to make.

Rather than wallowing in the oft-mentioned “Catholic guilt”, it is possible to move forward with the practice to simply live more attentively to  life itself.   Examination of conscience encourages and empowers an individual to make different choices, to forgive self and others, and to see the personal journey as one deeply embedded in the mainstream of humanity.  It is with the kiss of acknowledgment rather than the curse of judgment, something crafted to enable gracious growth on the journey of life, something that imparts the age-old wisdom that learning is lifelong and no one, nothing, is perfect.

There are moments now when vigorous living consumes every bit of time and energy.  Catholicism’s  invitation to examine life is like putting things on pause for a moment, like taking a deep breath, like remembering for a moment who and why we are really here. And that is one of the great treasures of being at home.


Franciscans wear floor length brown robes with wide sleeves and well defined hoods (which double as handy storage containers).  These are usually belted with a knotted rope that dangles to knee length.  While there is a similarity in garb, there is a remarkable diversity in personality, gifts and activities of the individuals.  And that diversity promotes an energy that empowers and enriches the whole, an animation that goes beyond Franciscanism into the wider church and the world.

The first known victim of Sept. 11th was a Franciscan.  He wore the simple robes.  He was a unique individual who found a home in Catholicism, shared his convictions and values and took action where he could.  He was, after all, the FDNY chaplain and resided at 31st St. , Franciscan shorthand for the church and center that served the community.

Mychal Judge was gregarious and white-haired, hospitable and quick to laugh.  We met a few times, and each time, I was impressed by his strong handshake, the attentiveness of his gaze and the gracious way he quietly embraced small and not-so-small challenges.  Most importantly, in my experience, his was a humble and modest approach to life rooted in integrity.

There are so many Francsicans, so many Catholics, whose names will not live on  as Mychal’s does.  But that sense, the importance of doing the right thing, of grappling hand-to-hand with issues of integrity, of addressing the needs of the poor and broken with a deep sense that poverty and brokenness are something we all share, that lives on in each of us.  Every  act of kindness matters.

Catholicism helps me realize that there are moments when, as Mychal did, it is my turn to offer kindness, a gentle word, a stronger hand.  And too, there are other moments, when relying on the kindness of others, trusting the gentle word, and clinging to the stronger hand is all that is needed.


Juliet’s Gift


We met in a waiting room.  She sported a stylish bun and a multi-colored tutu with, as she quickly pointed out, a matching necklace.  Her dark eyes were serious at first, but her exuberant spirit broke through in a toothy grin.  In short, Juliet was an adorable 6 year old about to start first grade. And she had secrets to tell.

Pressing a forefinger to a dimpled cheek, she lowered her voice in confidence.  “Do you know something? Right now, right now, God is taking care of us.  That is what God does, and he is doing it right now.”

She leaned back with a wise smile, and looked up at her mom.  I reiterated what she confided, and her astounded mom drew her close in a hug.  “I am so proud of you!”

And there is was: the simplicity of faith and a consciousness of presence.

Faith and a consciousness of God’s presence are integral to the practice of Catholicism, to finding a home.  Complementing that simplicity there is a rich and textured intellectual tradition in Cahtolicism, complicated and layered, academic and scholarly.  It is wrapped around historical context and establishes a framework for theological exploration.    It has generated debate and argument since it’s very inception, a reflection of the nature of human beings.

But there is so much more to the Catholic experience.  Living faith is far more than following rules or mastering theological arguments.  It bears a simplicity that defies arrogance and a trust that bonds deeply. It is an openness to the possibility of the moment. It is about being.   Just like Juliet.

The Eucharist, raised for all to see during the Liturgy, invites a moment of awe if allowed.  There is a tenderness in presence, in the consciousness of the divine binding generations and still connecting one to the other. There is the mystery of relationship, one and all.  There is the chance to experience gift with an open heart and mind.

That was Juliet’s gift, the one that allows for the miracle of the divine, for a sense of Presence.