There are so many strands of life within the church.  These are not always visible to the casual observer who might find a single thread and imagine that completes the portrait.  But the church is a multi-dimensional reality,  something that takes root in hearts and lives and is manifest in daily experience.

This does not deny  the reality of a male dominated institutional hierarchy.  But it is an acknowledgment  of those many facets that actually animate the rest of the structure.  There are layers of  cultures and subcultures within the whole.  These are rich and multi-faceted and represent essential facets of that Catholic identity. ,

For example,  a Franciscan priest and a cloistered Poor Clare nun were videoed at a conference.  He represented the First Order, the ordained.  She represented the Second, the vowed monastic.  They both represented a distinct tradition within the church based on the life of Francis.  Their topic was prayer.  She gently pointed out that prayer was not to be confined to the Second Order and, in fact, the Second Order was getting pretty tired of carrying the First Order in that area.   Their exchange won laughter from a receptive audience, but it evidenced the reality of various cultures within the whole.

Those traditions may be tied to Benedictine or Augustianian roots; there might be an apostolic focus, a specific mission, even a distinguishing devotion.   There are symbols and dress, a variety of norms that accompany all those religious groups.  A parish may be named for a particular Saint, house an ethnic group, and the flavor of all that comes alive in the uniqueness of that group.  There are the countless and far less visible faithful Catholics who finger rosaries or retreat to Mass with fidelity.  Each of these are merely examples of pieces of the whole, separate strands.  Together, each one is part of the greater whole, and prayer in all its multiple forms, is the most common denominator.

So while there are churches and services and rituals, cardinals and pectoral crosses, the life of the church resides in those other layers and strands.  There are the hearts that find and create a home, the lives that explore and investigate the sublime mysteries, that are invested in relationships through the reality of prayer.  And the broader institution merely houses the wonders discovered in each of those lives.







Power exudes a seductive aura, entices even the most reluctant to indulge in its use and exercise.  History overflows with examples: militarists, politicians, industrialists, popes and monarchs.  And personal lives are fraught with examples: controlling partners, demanding spouses, manipulative family members and insensitive bosses. That relentless exercise of power produces intended goals and unexpected consequences as well.  The latter can include compromised values, tainted integrity, and broken trust.  And yet, a secular world defines success as acquisition of power of some sort: financial, political, economic, emotional or psychological.  In this scheme, there are victors and there are victims.  But there are also outliers, those who choose not to participate in the process.  History provides examples of those as well.

Medieval icons Francis and Clare fit right there.  Over 800 years ago,  they provided lifestyle models for the rejection of power.  Francis’ narrative winds through his knighthood and business failures, his call at the foot of the San Damiano cross and then a life of simplicity and poverty.  Joined by friends, bound by a love of poverty and simplicity, he found the reality of God in the experience of life and relationships rather than the acquisition of power.

Clare, intrigued by Francis’ teachings, found herself embracing that same poverty and simplicity.  Like Francis, she sees the significance of personal relationships and actually pioneers a new form of communal lving for women.  Their relationship was enhanced by their common bonds and by the recognition of the unique individualized spiritual experiences.  Each carved daily space for prayer; each rejected power as it is was conventionally designed.

Power, it turned out, was not all about the materialism of a consumer society.  Power was not about commanding armies or building factories.  Instead, power was about finding the reality of God in the world.  Centuries have passed, and there are still men and women who commit themselves to the rejection of power, the embrace of simplicity and the reality of poverty.  There is a message there for all the rest of us, for the decades to come.  Therein lies our hope.





Catholic and catholic

The sentences are succinct, determined.  “There are too many rules in Catholicism.”  “Women are second class citizens in the Carholic church.”  “Priests are hypocrites and perverts.”  “Catholics are prejudiced and ignorant.”  Each highlights perception, hints at stigma and reveals some aspect of truth.  Somehow the word “Catholic” with a small “c”, with the meaning “universal”, opens up a deeper understanding.  It’s very nature embraces the breadth of humanity with all its strengths and all its imperfections.

Rules are articles of custom, of social and generational norms; different than laws and separate from legalities, rules are guidelines to nurture what is most essential in a life of faith.  The “rules” understood by one may be the guidelines for another; in some way, the rules represent the culmination of learning, of hope, of digesting human experienc in a particular age.  To be bound by rules may be the perception, and there certainly are groups within Catholicism that live by strict rules in communal settings with common goals.  But there is also the more common reality that the most essential factor is faith itself, finding footing and community in common expression…through liturgy and sacraments, holidays and seasons. There is flexibility and so there is hope.

The second is a reflection of a male-dominated hierarchical structure which allows women limited access to the corridors of church politics and power. There is undeniable truth in that, but it is not the whole story.  Women were active and present from the outset.  In some cases, they were trapped by historical context ; in some, women made history.  Women carved kindness and spirituality into daily practice, pioneered movements of commitment, became sources of wisdom.  Bypassing the power structure did not leave them powerless and does not leave them ineffective.  But it is true that women live in the church in a different way than men.

Scandal after scandal has proven that some priests and members of the hierarchy are hypocrites.  And, yes, some are perverts.  In a wide institutional structure made up of human beings, what else could be expected? In the current atmosphere of transparency and technology, how could it be different? And in the light of history, such exposure has offered opportunities for change and growth.  However, the reality of scandal means that therefore also priests who are not hypocrites but humans struggling like the rest of us even with the grace of ordination. It also means that there are good, emotionally and mentally healthy people being maligned by the scandals.  So they are harder to find, challenging to trust, and ultimately learning like everyone else.

Lastly, the charges of prejudice and ignorance are tossed at Catholics in subtle and serious modes.  These points are often attached to politically volatile topics and controversial public issues, viewed as sound bytes without substance and widely accepted by the secularized world.  There is a certain irony in that.  Exploring it, looking carefully, means a much deeper journey of learning is necessary.

Any of the four bears a validity, but each can also be a dismissal of great possibility.  To look further into what Catholicism is actually about, to look at the why and the how and the vision and purpose, the generations past and the lessons learned may actually be worth it.  The cost of not questioning four statements like that can be hefty.  And yet, the weight of personal experience with Catholics and the Church may be the very reason for their inception.  Bad experiences seed those moments an d lead to those choices.

So for each Catholic, each person, remembering what it means to be both Catholic and catholic, means that who and how we are matters, how we interact and communicate and live makes a differnce to self and others.  And for that, it is the words of Teresa of Avila in the music of John Michael Talbot that are most fitting: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands,, no feet on earth but yours…”


Tranistion and Faith

Transitions are part of life, weave days and decades into comprehensible patterns and become the stuff of memories.  Transitions are sometimes subtle and endearing; other times,  mercilessly abrupt and gut-wrenching.  Toddlers discover movement and  conversation; youngsters sprout into young adults, into partners and lovers, new families.  Seasons roll one into another and storms disrupt the landscape.   Individuals explore strengths and locate weaknesses, meet failure and know success, realign goals and rediscover purpose.  It happens every day for each of us as the compartments of time slip by.  Nothing remains the same, and yet there is that which transcends the change.

In a world wrapped in almost incomprehensible transition, there is something deeper, something abiding within, that sustains through the changes.  It can be found in the quiet, in the rich reservoir of soul, in the Faith of living.  There is the gift that needs no explanation, that exists beyond the criticism of the cynical, the skeptical, the life worn.

Those moments of transitional spaces are mediated by an awareness of that which is greater than self.  To find that space is to acknowledge the sacred in the  ordinary, to begin to trust in something that exists beyond the transitions.  Technological innovation,  failing institutions, shifting customs and shattered norms have shaped a century steeped in change for cultures and persons.  And in the midst of all these transitions, there is the possibility of stability in choosing sacred space, a time to celebrate and sometimes to mourn. Faith offers that.

Catholicism offers many avenues to that sacred space, to the reservoir of soul.   Faith with its complications is manifest in the promises of earth.   There are centuries of testimony, of pathways, of patterns, and there are new ones evolving everyday.  Art and music stretch through generations creating the  wonder of a Gregorian chant or the inspiration of a Sistine Chapel.  Both are proofs of the paths that have allured and challenged human beings and brought new awarenesses  and understandings to their lives, opened doorways to faith through transitions.   There is the dramatic simplicity  of the cross and the intricate splendor of mosaic, efforts to capture what is unchanging in century after century of life transitions and civilizations’  unflagging progress and inevitable failures.  There are literally acres of texts, treatises and books crafted with the same  intention: hints for pathways to the most sacred of spaces.  The possibilities are virtually endless, and yet the purpose, the promise, is the same:  there is something beyond the transitions observed in life, something that is unchanging and can be trusted for sustenance and support: Faith.

In a quiet way, Catholicism, in its chapels and churches and cathedrals and its rituals and holidays and practices, offers a chance to find meaning and purpose within  transition.  There is a paradoxical consistency to transitions just as there is a timelessness to the soul.  There is a rhythm to transitions just as there is resilience to the soul.  There is personal and communal growth  through transitions just as there is life-deepening in nurturing the soul.

That richness makes the scary transitions less frightful and the joyful more meaningful.  Catholicsm’s narrative is the assurance that transitions are simply part of the human experience; and there is always a sacred sustaining space for navigating the transitions. Faith.