As a Catholic, the Kavanaugh hearings have been eye-opening.  Ignorance of the judicial system, of the Courts and the Constitution seem rampant in public debate.  The passion of pithy tweets has obscured the lessons of civics, and the multi-faceted nature of the debates has pointed to the passion of the American people for justice.  The realities of historical context, the importance of personal responsibility and the scientific research that is available about memory have been largely ignored.  All of this comprises an invitation to look seriously at issues  and how society and Catholics can move forward.

Catholics have suffered the tragedy of the abuse scandals for over 30 years.  Scrutiny of past abuses is important, but what is past cannot be changed.  Research has pointed to the reasons and causes of this, the systemic issues and the personal flaws.   In the public sphere, entertainment and politics, the same has occurred.  Power and gratification were tied to sexual behaviors and choices.  Maybe the invitation going forward is to articulate standards of sexual behaviors that are appropriate for all.  This necessitates the acknowledgement of persons as sexual beings with needs, desires, purposes.  The boundaries and practice of sexual behavior demand clarity to avoid the agonizing pain of previous generations.  Ambiguity has been costly for all. A clear understanding of sexuality for public and religious institutions is increasingly necessary.

Catholicism places a strong emphasis on personal responsibility.  In a world where the onus of responsibility rests with other rather than self, there is a guarantee of continued difficulty.  For instance, is it feasible that a drunk girl can accuse a perpetrator of taking advantage of her?  Is drunkenness of a woman any different than that of a male in terms of responsibility for sexual activity? Is individual responsible for what is consumed?  Or how much is consumed?  In celebrating the rights of persons, can personal responsibility be considered again as a point of discussion?

Brain science and research has made startling progress over the last years.  Memories, like persons, are re-shaped by time and experience.  Eye witness accounts are often not credible, and yet can cause deep personal wounds of the psyche.  There is so much data available that it might be time to seriously consider how that impacts contemporary understandings of the accusations and allegations that are steadily leveled at one another.

Catholicism in practice provides tools and a history of re-examination over the centuries.  There is no excuse for the agonies that are visited one upon another in terms of behavior.  But there is a moment when it is possible to take a deep breath and look more deeply at what is happening.  There are remedies for ignorance, for mistrust and dysfunction.  Taking the step to actually do something may be the real invitation that rests before all.




Increments of time

Life is lived in increments, measured by moments, events,  experiences.  Shaped by the wariness of clocks and the dancing of digital frameworks, increments of time set boundaries and determine pace, provide real evidence that life is not a solitary experience.  Gift and burden, increments of time demand attention.

There are the 15 -minute increments of a dental office, the forty minute classes of a school teacher, the pacing of a postal worker’s delivery.  There are the lazy mornings of a retiree’s encounter with the morning news, and there is the nursing home patient’s wait for attention.  There is a child’s clamor for breakfast and the maintenance worker’s goal to complete a project.  And there are the clashes of increments:  a driver’s schedule and a re-scheduled event; emergency room overflows and tragic weather occurrences.  We are all marching through increments of time, ourselves and everyone else’s, often seamlessly unaware and sometimes stressfully conscious of every second.

Within that is the heartbeat of the sacred, that hint of the divine that exists in all those spaces, in every increment.  In essence, it is that breath of life that sustains  a vision of the whole, enables the sense that  each life is somehow woven into both past and future.  To be able to see and touch and breathe the wonder of that, is both a gift and a skill.

The gift is born in awareness that the increments are temporary, evidence of the rigor of human structures and a resilient dedication to goals.  Complementing that is the sense that there is something greater than self, some sense of humanity that is common ground among the created.

The skill is the discipline of breathing deeply and consciously recognizing the vast milieu in which all people and time exist.  It is the place where people see, and think and wonder, need and want and become.  It is based on the ability to realize the finiteness of self and the possibilities of deep truth in the experiences and lives of others.  Skill comes into play with the purposeful practice of such an awareness.

For me, as a Catholic, that space is in prayer.  It is in the quiet and in the collective, in the richness of silence and the bold notes of music.  It is in the rhythm of beaches and the stillness of a chapel.  Prayer is the space where increments of time drift into a bigger pattern, a broader, deeper space.  Prayer provides the spiral of discovering what is deeper and most meaningful.

It allows the increments to become a mosaic that speaks not of just one moment but of the whole journey of human life experiences.   As critical as the personal choices and experiences are,  increments of time are reminders that ours is a  world  of collective experience,  good,  challenge.  And so we breathe and the seconds pass and slip into moments and minutes, and the increments continue.

Prayer and Practice

Today, the pastor’s  Sunday morning homily was a sharing of confidence.  He talked about prayer first, and then the practical application of going beyond duty in the practice of faith.  There was the Eucharist, the Mass, the Rosary.  Then there was keeping in touch with younger priests, checking in to see how they are doing.  And teaching which is beyond the scope of his job description.  Most strikingly of all, he spoke about what happens if no one does anything.   The church held the rich, full silence of listening.

It reminded me of something from the late 1980’s when New York was caught up in the first wave of clerical abuse scandal.   A diminutive contemplative nun was discreet in her reaction to the unfolding events, but profound in her comments about it.  “We must pray for priests.  Theirs is a life, a call, we can hardly comprehend.  It holds challenges  that we cannot imagine, and they are subject to influences and expectations…like the people who think priests  must be perfect, and their own delusions that they are…”

At the time, I had no idea that she was a spiritual director for some priests, a confidant to others.  But over time, her comments seem increasingly relevant.  The morning homily somehow made all that more than clear.  This priest was vulnerable, confident, clear.  And he was not asking for prayer for himself as much as encouraging people to find their own way in prayer and practice of faith.

Essentially, he was reminding us that as companions on the journey of life, every person bears responsibility for both prayer and practice.  Instead of exploiting the power of the hierarchy, he was literally sharing the journey, the little things that make a difference to him and for him…and for others.

Catholicism is about that:  finding a home in the space of a journey, nurturing it in prayer and sharing it in practice.  The upheaval of government subpoenas, apologies by bishops and public shaming of the institutional church can easily bury the idea of a shared human journey, the need for prayer and the importance of practice, and the opportunities that can provide.  Keeping an eye on the prize as Scripture urges means weathering the storms, but it is also an invitation to the simplicity of prayer and practice.  After all, the ground-breaking in Catholicism comes from the grass-roots movements, from the ordinary persons who have the courage to become companions on the journey, and to companion others as well.

Companionship on the journey of life is a treasure, and the practice of faith makes that even more meaningful.  Confiding in one another about the trials of  jobs and relationships, birth of children,  loss of a spouse, the tsunami of life conflicts and the slow resolution of these makes life manageable.  It also reveals the compassion of God.  It affirms Teresa of Avila’s sense that we are the hands and heart of Christ for one another.  Sharing those moments of kneeling together before a coffin, of holding a child being baptized, of watching a First Communicant or even saying grace before meals are sacramental, broad and deep.  Without the steady, purposeful and very real practice of faith and sharing on a daily basis,  ritual is proforma rather than transformative.  In a very real way, prayer and practice make us companions on the journey.










In this age of transparency, of welcoming new social norms and celebrating  acceptance of one another, the very instruments which ushered in this era have replicated the public shaming that belonged to our ancestors.  The colonial stocks were, after all, the predecessor of  social media shaming.  For me, the haunting question is around mercy.    What has happened to compassion?  To forgiveness?  In championing individual freedom and expression, has the understanding and expression  of mercy been lost?  Is it  time to focus on forgiveness, to learn and live mercy?

Mercy belongs to each of us, colors and empowers us as unique individuals.  Mercy invites us to place ourselves in one another’s positions, to utilize imagination and spirit for the discovery of what binds us together rather than what divides us.  Mercy suggests that wrongs occur, cause pain and suffering, and that healing is possible.  Mercy lives in recognition of remorse, of responsibility, of righteousness.  Mercy celebrates the complicated process of living with possibility.  Mercy takes us further than what seems inevitable.

Mercy is a choice.  It transcends justice, and represents kindness in its most visible form.  It is not subservience.  It is not blind to wrongdoing.  It is not forced.  It is not mere compliance.

Mercy is the choice that heals the brokenness of both souls:  the aggressor and the victim.  Mercy is the soothing gift that comes after the fury, after the grief.  Mercy taps into the reservoir of the divine that exists within every breathing person.  Mercy finds its peace in the reality of human need.

In the scorching rhetoric that consumes news reports and Twitter, politics and courts,  there is room for mercy.  It is time for mercy, for a break from the shaming and the bitter discord that is shattering.   The power of mercy rests in our hearts and hands.  Mercy is waiting, and we are wanting.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall know mercy.”  Mt. 5:& 




Hierarchy and Women

The Roman Catholic Church certainly has a patriarchal institutional structure, but beneath that is an exquisite reality:  men inhabit those corridors and negotiate from perceived positions of power, but women are the conduits of faith and presence, the ones who make faith a living entity.  And for some women, this does not occur from a position of oppression or subservience, but from a place of freedom from the strictures of that structure.  Counterintuitive or not, evidence abounds.

For example, women’s religious communities operate in a world where purpose, vision, leadership and change are imagined, initiated, articulated and lead by women.  There is the factor of official recognition and sometimes affiliation with male communities, but women have operated in this sphere with remarkable integrity and success for centuries.  There was Clare of Assisi whose 13th century vision of community  lives of simplicity and poverty resulted in the birth of a worldwide organization of monastic contemplatives that has adapted through cultures and over centuries and still endures.  There are “Poor Clare” monasteries nestled in suburbs and cities and rural areas all over the world.  It is the practical wisdom of the women who committed themselves to this radical lifestyle that has generated a legacy worth investigating.

Anecdotal evidence abounds.  Gathered from  conversations and narratives of the Clares themselves, it is clear that a vowed life of poverty and enclosure did not diminish either the grasp of power dynamics within institutional structure or inherent intellectual strengths, curiosity and skepticism.  For instance, the abbess of a monastery in New York in the 1990’s shared the sisters’ perception about the complicated male power structure:  like sociologist Erving Goffman,  she detailed the idea that the structure works to preserve itself and that demands both personal relationships and actions within specific roles.  That generates an atmosphere where corruption and injustice can flourish. It does not highlight the ideals of prayer or the practice of faith.  In a sense, political jockeying for power is an inevitable consequence of the structure itself. Better leave that to the men, they would say, and let us get on with the real work.

That same sentiment existed within the apostolic religious women’s communities that proliferated in the late 20th century.  Some were worldwide apostolic groups and others were locally based.  They began with fortitude and with the understanding that centuries had demonstrated 100 year life spans for communities like these, devoted to a locale or service.  When the mission was satisfied, the community had achieved its purpose.  Often, these disappeared.  Well educated and conscientious, in pursuing a mission, these women became the architects of their own demise by educating, healing and empowering others.

Rhetoric, then,  belonged to the ordained; the actual work was in the domain of the women who were founding hospitals and schools, parish centers and social service centers.  They grappled with finances and government regulations, design and staff development, building whole new communities and maintaining fidelity to a vision while meeting the needs for educated professionals to better serve the needs of people.  In other words, they were women who learned and sacrificed and put serving others ahead of self.   They had the enormous luxury of living out faith and call with energy and enthusiasm and, in many cases, only loosely affiliated with that hierarchy and its weaknesses.

These women also recognized the realities of human failure, mental illness and the complicated terrain of personal emotional and psychological lives.  Living it community, manifestation of all this was inevitable.  Like the contemplative women, they were conscious that religious interest or commitment does not preclude the possibility of greed, arrogance, corruption, self-gratification or abuse of power or others. That acknowledgment is not in any way an endorsement of those behaviors; instead, it is a recognition that the mission of the Catholic Church in the world is complicated by the brokenness of human beings.

The palpable tension between ideal and real is an inevitable consequence of embracing what it is to be a Catholic.  For these women, the exclusion from the realms of power actually opened the doorways to freely practice the faith that allures and motivates, inspires and instructs.  Called and committed, these women stemmed the tide of poverty and injustice, and they also reflected on the errors and flaws in methods as they navigated the way between different historical contexts decades apart.

Some women, then, might argue that there is a real pathway to  freedom within the church; others seek the ordination of women as both a symbol of equality and an affirmation of existence.  Neither can argue that women have not been part of the life-blood of the church since its inception, and that in many centuries, women have been the beacons of faith in times overwhelmed by the darkness of institutional scandal.  That role may change as time evolves, and ordination and empowerment may come, but that cannot negate the contributions and the preservation of faith that has endured thanks to the women who took the risk of faith without positions of power in the institutional structure.