The world is exploding with genius, with innovation and intentionality and vision.  There are incredible moments of coherence in the smallest pockets of persons, invisible to the eye in community churches, in the interactions at day care and coffee shops,  post offices and universities; in short, anywhere there are people, good happens.  We are not always aware or even interested; the negative, that which generates fear and anger, appeals so much more compellingly.  And yet, the good is actively sought and nurtured, and what we seek is aligned with the decades that contextualize the human life span.

To actively celebrate humanity, to know the good, experience the promise, and build the future, it is inevitable to meet suffering, explore confusion and investigate the past.  All of that occurs within the broad context of community life, the intense interdependence of persons one on the other, layer after layer.   It is multi-faceted; there is economic interdependence, social and cultural connections, even the threads of political intertwining.

For a Catholic, the universality of the Church enhances that sense.  There is a certain peculiar comfort in kneeling in a church in Tokyo and realizing somewhere in Australia or Italy or South Africa, there are others kneeling and praying.   There is a richness in the idea that what is filling a heart or torturing a soul is not confined to one life, to one family.  Somewhere, there is a food pantry overflowing, a visiting nurse locating patients,  a volunteer making calls.  Somewhere, there is someone waiting for the Midnight Run or looking for the arrival of assistance.  Humanity knows common elements, an identity that transcends uniqueness while virtually reinforcing it at the same time.

Humility rests in that final idea, in the awareness that it is not all about one, but somehow about all.   Humility implies a realistic perception of self, not a subservience to a higher power.  Humility notices, relishes, the touch of divine and the human, their lingering  and then their dance. There is an enthralling  magic to that dance,  and it is sustained through the quiet and sometimes the rough house, the dryness, of prayer.  It is re-discovered in the communal experience of the Mass, the Eucharist, and it is waiting in the quiet of personal prayer, in the repetition of the familiar mantras of the Hail Mary and the Our Father and the sincerest of personal conversations.

In a sense, those most familiar words wrap up the human experience as one of connections, relationships, hopes and realities.  Perhaps that points to the wisdom of centuries past, to the meeting of the psychological need for belonging that Maslow so clearly defined.

None of this can deny the raw realities of what can and does go wrong in Catholicism.  There is no denying that fact just as there is no denying the complexity of human behavior, the processes of human development, ethical conflict, mental illness and psychological or emotional breakdowns.   There is still a lot that has gone  right with Catholicism, with the persons who actively work and practice, and especially with those who embrace the brokenness and the gifts that are part of being human.  What has gone wrong in Catholicism and what will go wrong can be addressed by what is right.  There is Teresa of Avila’s emphasis on self-knowledge and relationship with God; there is Mother Teresa’s conviction that humility is knowing who you are.  Both the institutional church and the ordinary person can learn from mistakes and continue to move forward, to dance to the rhythm of the divine.




This past week, the grand jury report on the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania came out.  Lists of accused clergy were published, and the policy of transferring and protecting the priests from criminal charges was painfully visible.  The agony this causes, the memories it evokes, the disillusionment and disappointment it generates cannot be underestimated.  Moments like this make it painfully challenging to be a Catholic.

Anger abounds and disgust with the clergy is inevitable.  Charges of hypocrisy and are well-placed, and the erosion of trust in authority becomes even more  corrosive.  Mental illness or distorted perceptions may have been responsible, but the authority structure in the late twentieth century, such as it was, failed to address the issues effectively.  Decades later, it seems as if the choices that were made were designed to perpetuate the behaviors and protect perpetrators at the cost of the victims.

The suffering of victims is compounded by the powerful effect predators had on whole families.  Faith was shattered, relationships disrupted and many not restored. For victims, there was the agony of denied credibility, the shame of disclosure and the label itself a burden.  Healing was elusive, decades in the making if it happened at all, and acknowledgment from the authority structure lacking.

The actions of these representatives of the hierarchy stain every church door.  Believers struggle with swallowing these realities in light of the church’s teaching.  Non-believers wonder why any one could ascribe to a religion with what seems to be pervasive moral turpitude in the leadership.

It is heartbreaking to see all that is positive or good within Catholicism be obscured by the actions of these members of the church.   It is heartbreaking to experience the shame and suffering, to know how victims and families suffer.  It is heartbreaking to know that the perpetrators were allowed to survive and that the victims’ lives were irreparably changed, and all shared the same beliefs.  Those beliefs clearly did not sanction those behaviors.

While there is fury against the hierarchy, the reality is that the hierarchy does not embody the whole church.  The church itself is made up of the most ordinary of people, and they far outnumber the ordained.  The message of faith is not confined to those who wear collars.  Faith is gifted from parent to child, friend to friend, and it is not mediated by the hierarchy alone.  It is more than monolithic buildings and greater than the scandals which historically haunt that authority structure.  The simplicity of faith and so the truth of Catholicism rests with those very ordinary persons who can point the hierarchy in the right direction by truly practicing the faith in the very ordinary circumstances of life.

It is heartbreaking to know such excruciating failure within the church.   No excuse will ever be adequate and no apology will ever be sufficient.  It is time for the church to embrace the goodness of the ordinary people and the sincerity of their practice and belief in God and the Eucharist.  They are the true standard-bearers of faith and their breaking hearts deserve the tenderest response.

Very Catholic

As church attendance declines and religious affiliation becomes less socially acceptable, the label “Catholic” is often tantamount to stigma.  There are a plethora of assumptions, often faulty, attached to that.  While apologists might attempt to clarification, other realities  are often obscured by the assumption.  And there are underlying constructs that make it very possible to be very Catholic even in the 21st century Western world.

Often believed to hypocritically assume the higher moral ground, Catholicism actually assumes the brokenness and weakness of individuals, the flawed nature of persons and the inconsistent nature of human choices, the tension between ideals and the reality of behavior.  That was present from the outset, recorded in Gospel stories and in the traditions of the Church.  Peter, for instance, is both the rock on whom the church is built and the Satan that Jesus urges to get behind him.  Enacting human hopes is complicated; choosing to do the right thing takes both wisdom and courage in many instances.  Catholicism welcomes the diversity in human nature and in persons.

The sacraments represent the chance to make amends for human  flaws, and there is always the possibility to attempt to do it better.  It provides constant reminders that there are options, choices, and ways to improve along with the reality of consequences for the unacceptable behaviors.  It urges the acceptance and practice of personal responsibility and consciousness of the collective good.  Personal reflection and prayer are key tools for all that.   The church invites individuals to personal scrutiny, to re-evaluating and assessing behavior and choices.  There are patterns of prayer for that embedded in the liturgy of the Mass, in  the Divine Office, even in recitation of the rosary.  And personal practice around that is welcome as well.  The point is that progress, growth, is not attainable without levels of awareness.  Catholicism provides those tools for those who would be seeking them.

Going through hard times is a reality for all human beings.  The Church provides help there, too, for those who are seeking it.  That varies a great deal in local groups and communities, but it is not clergy-based.  It is a keen recognition that there is something greater than self, and participating in a Mass, visiting a church, stopping to say the Hail Mary links persons to that greater group of believers.  There are a wide variety of options, even the practice of the deep silence that invariably connects the rhythms of earth to the very act of breathing.

And, too, there is the Eucharist.  It is not a charade or a performance; instead, it is linking to a chain that has existed for over two thousand years, a chain of human beings seeking to be better, trusting in connections among generations and philosophy.

There is no doubt that through the years there have been serious and even criminal activities by Catholics and by the institutional church.  But there is equally no doubt that the practice of Catholicism is so much more than the actions of some members of the Church.

Catholicsm provides intellectual challenge and emotional comfort, a ritual that can engage and moments that can challenge.  It seeks, on the most idealistic of levels, the betterment of others and the improvement of self.  It deals with, on the most realistic of levels, the aberrations and brokenness of human beings.

Catholicism embodies and enshrines the struggles of human existence, offers the stories of those who came before, and opens up the chance to begin each day anew.  It is the reminder that none of us have all the answers, and all of us have some of the   challenges of human existence.  In other words, Catholicism is not so much about membership and rules as it is about process and Journey, failure and promise.

Catholicism in personal practice makes it possible to be very Catholic in the 21st century.  It is simple on that personal level, an independent act of personal empowerment.  It is not about what the clergy thinks or says; it is about minding what matters in what each one of us says and does.  It is living the recognition of our uniqueness and brokenness and embracing the human journey.  In a world of hurt and stigma, where blame and labels and lashing out are standard forms of behavior, where derision and mockery empower the rejection of traditional structures, investigating what Catholicism offers and means may actually be worth the time.










The liturgical calendar is full of holy days and feast days, marks the seasons and commemorates the heroes.  This weekend brings the Feast of St. Clare of Assisi,  and that opens up so many possibilities.  She was more than a medieval Italian matriarch, and she left her mark on the church as a testimony to the many other women who miraculously did the same in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  She exemplifies today’s ideals of mindfulness and simplicity, and she had the wherewithal to support the dreams of others while conscientiously pursuing her own call.

She asked of herself, and of others, the courage to put God first in life.  She heard the Gospel message and embraced it in her own world, the historical context of her own life.  In doing that, she invites women of this century to do the same.  While she worked within the parameters of an established system and unique time period, she pushed the envelope in creative and challenging ways.

She  trusted the movement of the Spirit in Francis of Assisi and his life, and she was able to share the depth of her faith and vision with a community.  In other words, she was incredibly attentive to the presence of God in the world and sensitive to the whisper of his presence.  She was able to make radical choices without judging others or demanding the same of them.  She was confident and unafraid, and she was able to be both confide and be confidant in sharing all that.  She exemplified the importance of community living.

She focused on the reality of the Eucharist and famously held the monstrance in defense of her sisters.  In that, she wordlessly invites the world to the quiet moment, the time apart the restless busy-ness of the world.  She centered her life on what truly mattered for her.  She sought simplicity and dependence on God and pursued that relentlessly with the deep assurance that it was simply the right thing to do.  Her conscientious pursuit of all that was rewarded with papal approbation on her deathbed.   All that encourages fidelity to the search for meaning in life.

Her writings are short and to the point, letters which linked her to those who were so precious to her and by extension, to those who take the time to read them. She speaks of attentiveness, of fidelity and simplicity with strength and conviction. In a sense, she draws back the curtain and reveals that it is possible to live life fully aware of something so much greater than self.

Her tiny habit, preserved in Assisi and on display in Santa Chiara, seems almost child-size.  It belies the person, the woman she was and the woman she remains in the life of the church.  She is an example, a model for the 21st century.  Living her faith in her own time, she invites the same for today.   Practicing prayer on a daily basis, she encourages the building of meaningful relationship with God and with others.  Living simply, she shows what can be done in the life of one person.  And over the centuries, she is reminding new generations of what is possible.