Nourished by the Church

Are you feeling nourished by the Church? There are some wonderful parishes and priests out there. Right now, one of the silver linings to Covid is that we can live stream Mass from anywhere in the world. If your own immediate parish situation is not good for you, I would like to suggest changing parishes or getting nourished by the Church online if nothing else immediate can do the trick.

Catholic means universal not uniform

If you’ve been reading this blog, you may have noticed that one of the central concerns I have is in the area of alienation and belonging with the Church (two sides of the same coin). In other words, what helps people to stay Catholic when the going gets rough? And what motivates people to leave when they just cannot take it anymore?

To me, these are core questions. How can we help to stem the alienation and increase the welcoming and belonging which are central to having a Christian community?

We want to be nourished by the Church and to also be nourishing to others in that setting or community. But not every parish will be a good fit for each of us. (I can hear someone screaming “cafeteria Catholic!”, but please bear with me and keep reading.)

Ecumenism is important. Jesus didn’t want us as Christians to splinter into a million denominations. Just as important, though, is not alienating believers by the harm that we do as individuals, people, or Church leaders. If we cannot change the parish (or perhaps the priest) to stop doing harm, the best thing may be to move on. But hopefully not out of the Catholic Church!

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Scandalized by the Church

Scandalized by the Church - person prayingThe abuse crisis has caused many Catholics to be scandalized by the Church. The irony is that Catholic leaders hid what was happening precisely because they did not want to scandalize the faithful – among other reasons, of course.

Like many people, I have family and friends who stopped attending Mass or even ceased  considering themselves Catholic at all because of the way that bishops and other religious leaders concealed the abuse and protected the abusers. They should have been focusing on the children and vulnerable adults who were hurt. They should have turned the abusers over to law enforcement.

While most of the sexual abuse happened before reforms were instituted 20+ years ago, the stories just keep coming here and around the world. And now there are other scandals involving Catholic boarding schools for indigenous children and mass, unmarked graves in Canada and the U.S.

“They have no business telling me how I should behave”, said one of my relatives recently.

The outrage that we Catholics collectively feel is not aimed at the whole Church, but at the hierarchy and superiors of religious orders who are guilty of the abuse personally, or  who covered it up, protected the abusers, and did not care sufficiently about the welfare of the injured.

The hierarchy does not equal the Church, though. We are all the Church.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, a prolific theologian, wrote a compelling book entitled “Models of the Church“. (Click on the link to learn more about these models.) When I read it in college, there were five models, or ways of understanding the Church. He later added one more.

They are the Church as:

  • Institution
  • Mystical Communion
  • Sacrament
  • Herald
  • Servant
  • Community of Disciples

I found it very useful to think about the Church in a broader way then the top-down version I was taught as a child. Today it may be helpful for the many alienated and hurt Catholics to look beyond just the institution when considering their relationship with the Church. Continue reading

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Live stream Mass

Live stream Mass - Holy Spirit Catholic Church in San Jose CAHoly Spirit parish in the Diocese of San Jose provides a live stream Mass for anyone desiring to view or participate remotely. While this has been available for a long time, I thought it would be good to help spread the word so that those impacted by the flu or Covid-19 might benefit.

New public health guidelines

Earlier this week, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department issued new guidelines to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (and influenza). It reminds the public that most people who contract the new coronavirus will have mild cases, but for some it won’t go so well.  From the county:

Who is at higher risk?
Information about risk factors for COVID-19 infection is evolving, but the best evidence currently available makes clear that risk of severe illness begins to increase at age 50 for those who contract COVID-19, and increases with age (i.e., an 80-year-old person is at greater risk than a 70-year-old person). The highest risk group are persons age 80 and over.

Persons with underlying medical problems also are likely at higher risk for severe disease, including persons with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those who are immunocompromised.

For those who are at higher risk (age 50+ or / and with a number of health issues), the advice from the health department is to avoid “avoid mass gatherings such as parades, sporting events, and concerts where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another.”

That last section – being within arm’s length of one another – seems to be most of our Sunday Masses, at least where my family and I participate.

One of my relatives raised a very good point: if the person who’s at high risk stays in isolation, but other family members are out in public and returning home, it’s possible that the healthy family members could bring the virus home (it is very contagious), and they might never know they were carriers if they had few or no symptoms.

For all of these cases, a live stream Mass might be very helpful, both in helping to prevent the spread of the disease, but also, of course, for spiritually nourishing those who need to either be home or simply stay out of crowds.

I commend Holy Spirit Parish for providing this live stream Mass service, and I would encourage other parishes in other dioceses to follow suit.

There is another site offering Mass view-able on TV, CatholicTV.org.

Finally, I know that many senior or at-risk Catholics will feel uncomfortable missing Mass when they feel fine. I’m not in a position to offer dispensations myself, but I do know that the church does not want us going to Mass when we are sick or contagious, so it seems a small extension that the church would likewise ask us to assess the situation, create an informed conscience, and then decide.

I am hoping that the bishops around the world will make statements so that the faithful do not feel torn between their desire to attend Mass and the obligation to do so on Sundays as opposed to what the health departments are advising for everyone’s safety.

In the meantime, if you are ill or unable to attend Mass in person, I do suggest you check out the live stream Mass from Holy Spirit. Let’s pray that this very contagious coronavirus does not continue to spread and claim lives.

Holy Spirit Parish website

HOLY SPIRIT PARISH MASS TIMES

Monday – Friday: 8:30am
Saturday: 5:00pm
Sunday: 8:00am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 6:00pm
Holy Day: 8:30am, 7:00pm

Live Stream of Mass

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Staying awake during homiles

Homilist - how to help with Staying awake during homilesOn January 21st, the Valley Catholic ran an article here in the Diocese of San Jose on the laity staying awake during  homilies. I can understand the need for this, and have seen people doze off during the sermon, too. There were some good points, but it didn’t go far enough, as it didn’t touch on what the priest ought to do to hold the congregation’s attention. This is, of course, a two-way street.

What preachers can do to  help the community with staying away during homilies

  • There can be too much of a good thing, so please keep your homilies short. Even the most ardent listener is contending with multiple distractions in Mass – people fidgeting, kids making noises, whatever it might be. Wisely, Pope Francis came out two years ago and said to limit preaching to 10 minutes. ( https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-tells-priests-to-keep-homilies-brief-no-more-than-10-minutes-10753 )
  • Please make sure that you can be heard and understood and that your speaking style is not a problem. Some of this is tech support with microphones. Some of it is intonation (don’t monotone!) and projection. Sometimes, though, there’s a problem with accents. This latter issue is absolutely a pastoral one and it can be addressed with some time and effort, but is worth it so that your thoughtful message can be grasped. When the People of God cannot understand you, or cannot hear you, their minds will drift.
  • The congregants appreciate absorbing more than what they just heard in the readings, so please don’t re-read the gospel, etc., unless it is just a tiny snippet of your homily. What is helpful is hearing what we don’t know about the context of the reading, and some way to apply it to our daily lives.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of common sense: don’t overdo the jokes, don’t use puppets or props, and please no gimmicks (e.g., do not sing your homily, repeat the same phrase multiple times in a short period, flap your arms wildly). While theatrics may keep people from falling asleep, it won’t nourish them the way a well prepared, well delivered, and concise homily will do.

And finally, thank you too all of the homilists who prepare and preach thoughtfully and prayerfully week in and week out. Once in awhile, a person or two may fall asleep no matter how good your homily is. Chalk it up to infirmity, lack of sleep, or other issues having nothing to do with you or your preaching. You do your best to preach well and concisely, and the vast majority of the people in the pews will be listening to every word.

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Rebuild My Church

Imagine praying intently while all alone, and then hearing something – not a little voice in your head or heart, a but one outside of you which you hear with your ears. This happened to St. Francis many centuries ago. He was praying in the dilapidated church at San Damiano when he heard physically God ask him to rebuild and repair his church.

Image: Today, it is clericalism, abuse, and secrecy which are choking the church like a giant python. At first, he took this command literally, thinking that God meant that he needed to repair the church building there. In time, he realized that the invitation was far bigger, and probably a lot scarier, than taking on a religious building in ruins. It was to help bring about reform in the church at large.

Today, we need to also hear that same call to create reform, as our church is now in ruins from one abuse scandal after the next. In St. Francis’ time, there was no small share of corruption that he was intent on taking on, though it was of a different kind.  Today, it is clericalism, abuse, and secrecy which are choking the church like a giant python.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been letters and homilies in response to the current wave of abuse crisis news. Pope Francis issued a letter, made a number of statements during his trip to Ireland, and included, in one Mass, petitions that were specific to abuse.

Our bishop in the  Diocese of San Jose, Patrick McGrath, published a statement on the DSJ website which you can find here. While it conveys our communal sense of horror and grief and it calls for prayer, it falls short in that it does not promise transparency, which is sorely needed. The diocese here, like everywhere in the U.S., needs to open up its files and make known all credible accusations. (Note: the diocese later provided a list of those credibly accused.)

As a diocese, we can and must do more than say words of commiseration. We must act. Continue reading

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When dreams die: a religious perspective

GraveyardMost of us experience the loss of dreams gone unrealized at some point, if not at many times in our lives.  Sometimes it’s a college application that got a rejection, a career that didn’t pan out, or a relationship that didn’t work.  Perhaps it’s ending up single or childless when you wanted to be married with kids.  Or maybe it was having an unexpected death or illness rob you of what you thought you would be doing or experiencing.

Significant loss, whether it’s a relationship, work, health, financial stability, or anything else, can tend to rock us to the core.  We know it can happen.  No one is immune from terminal illness, car accidents, layoffs, divorce, infertility or a host of other unhappy occurrences. Sometimes life isn’t fair.

And yet, we see a huge range of responses to these situations, these times when dreams die.  That is what I would like to focus on today. Continue reading

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The alienation of elderly Catholics

Growing Old Is Not For Sissies“Growing old is not for sissies,” my grandmother used to quip.  She would know as she lived to be just 2 days shy of her 100th birthday.

As people age, they tend to suffer a series of losses:

  • loss of the senses – hearing, sight, taste
  • loss of friends and relatives whom they outlive
  • loss of work or a sense of purpose (in many cases)
  • loss of driving and the freedom & independence that brings
  • loss of control over life generally with increased medical problems, doctor visits, perhaps where the senior needs to live for health or financial reasons
  • loss of a social life (with the living situation & end of driving)
  • loss of memory for many (or general confusion in some cases)

All of these can be a source for feeling left out and alienated.  But as they start stacking up, these mounting losses can pave the way for depression and at times leave the individual pining for death and remove the desire to go to church or feel like a part of the community.

What can be done to help regarding alienation, the elderly, and the church?

Some elderly people stop going to church or religious services even though in the past it was life-giving for them because the effort has become so great and once they get there, the acoustics may not be good for them to hear what is going on (and in many cases they may not be able to see what is happening either).  In a large place of worship, they may be too far away to be able to follow, so attending may be an exercise in frustration for them. They are surrounded by others but definitely feel alone. Continue reading

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Does being a public figure make you a public target? Pity the poor bishops.

My family is one of those expansive, Irish Catholic clans which has been richly enhanced by the presence of priests, nuns, brothers, and in far larger supplies, devout (but down to earth, not syrupy sweet) lay folks.  Spanning several categories, we have church workers, theologians, dedicated volunteers and others involved in a wide array of church activity and leadership.

Over the years, I had the chance to meet a lot of “leaders” of various types, and by association, hear about others who had a bigger presence still.  What surprised me very much as a teen was to learn how rudely some bishops, in particular, would be treated while out in public – it’s as if they had a big target on them!  (And this was long before the pedophilia scandal broke.)  Why is it that if someone is especially visible, total strangers feel entitled to accost them and say terrible things to them? We know that it happens to celebrities, so I suppose it shouldn’t be so much of a shock that it happens on a lesser scale to those who are likewise in the spotlight to a lesser degree, such as bishops and probably also priests, theologians and others.

I’m no church leader, and no star either, but because I do a lot of marketing (in my case writing on my many blogs) for my real estate practice, and do some public speaking on social media and realty related things, I’m somewhere on the low end of that continuum of being at least a little bit in the spotlight. It is sometimes odd to be out in public and find someone staring at me.  Jim, my husband, will reassure me that I don’t look bad or funny, it’s probably that someone recognizes me and is trying to figure out how they might know me.  Ok, that is not so awful, if a little weird sometimes. But recently I experienced one of the negative side effects of being known, so I wanted to mull it over here today, now that I’ve processed it a bit, and by extension, connect it to the faithful harassing church leaders because of their public position. Continue reading

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The Spirituality of Showing Up

Stone stepsThere are lots of quotes about the importance of showing up in life, in relationships, or in business.  But do we ever consider it in the context of spirituality?  I think it’s a worthwhile vantage point, and it’s something I’ve been working on myself.

Especially here in Silicon Valley, there’s an ethos of hurrying up, of being time efficient, of getting things done.  Showing up – and therefore spending time – is in many ways opposed to that fast pace of life that we have.

Spirituality refers to our relationship with God, most often experienced through one another, both those close to us and those not so close (sometimes even strangers). As with any relationship, time & effort are needed to nurture and grow spiritually. This can happen in terms of prayer, but also through action.  Ideally, of course, Christian spirituality should include both time spent in prayer and time given to good work or deeds.  (One spirituality writer notes that if our spiritual life is balanced, we should all crave time spent in prayer – a concept I understand, because we can all crave a good relationship with those whom we love,  but suspect is not often experienced among the faithful.)

The balance between action & contemplation, or good deeds and prayer, is a much bigger topic than this blog can tackle, but let’s focus on action and specifically acts of “showing up”.

Showing up doesn’t have to be enormous.  It doesn’t require weeklong service projects abroad.  Those are fabulous ideas, and efforts, but what I’m suggesting is something more bite-sized.  Here are a few ideas.

Funerals: Attend funerals, not just of your loved ones, but the funerals where those you love are mourning.  Did your friend or neighbor just lose a parent, sibling, or best friend?  Show up as support for your friend, even if you never met her deceased loved one. Attending will signal your support, and that you were willing to spend the time for her. Funerals are hard, they often rip open our own old wounds, so many people avoid them. Go anyway, even if it’s difficult for you.  (And continue to be present long after the services are over, too.) Not only will you be supporting your friend, neighbor or co-worker, but your attendance will signal everyone else who’s mourning that they do not do so alone.  How different it is to attend a packed funeral versus an empty one! Showing up speaks volumes, and on many levels. Continue reading

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The Pact of the Catacombs, and understanding Pope Francis better

Pact of the CatacombsPope Francis seems to be the spirit of Vatican II personified.  In the couple of months in which he’s been our pontiff, we have experienced one new breath of fresh air after the next.

Can you boil down his message, as a person, to a phrase or two?  I’m not sure that it would do him or his charism justice, but what pops out the most to me is the word simplify.

Simplify the way to live.  (He’s at the Vatican guest house, Casa Marta, not the papal palace. Forget the ermine laced cape, the red shoes, the gold cross – take all of it down quite a bit to a more ordinary level.)

Simplify the paths to holiness. (A homily this week talked about “removing obstacles” which some in the church put in place between the people of God and the sacraments; on a somewhat similar vein, he spoke of meeting non-believers and atheists in the place of “doing good”, and that Christ has redeemed all of us.)

Simplify the faithful’s access to him. (The popemobile is without bullet proof glass. He says Mass for the employees of the Vatican – they do not have to “get tickets” like everyone else.  He drives his security detail crazy by mingling with people.)

There is much more, of course. But the simple approach is in line with his “poor church, for the poor” spirituality.  And it is 100% in line with the Pact of the Catacombs, signed by a few dozen bishops and theologians near the close of Vatican II.

To better understand the Pact of the Catacombs, I commend to you an article from 2010 – please read all of it, but here’s a helpful, brief excerpt:

On November 16, 1965, just days before the close of the Council, about 40 conciliar fathers celebrated a Mass in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. They prayed to “be faithful to the spirit of Jesus,” and at the end of the celebration signed what they called “the pact of the catacombs”.

The “pact” is a challenge to the “brother bishops” to live a “life of poverty” and to be a “poor and servant” Church as John XXIII wanted. The signatories, including many Latin Americans and Brazilians, who were later joined by others, agreed to live in poverty, reject all symbols and privileges of power, and place the poor at the center of their pastoral ministry. The text would have a strong influence on the theology of liberation that sprouted up several years later.

Does this sound familiar? It should.  What we see in Pope Francis, and what was visible in him previously as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is this “life of poverty”.  The cardinals who elected the former Cardinal Bergoglio knew exactly what they were doing – inviting in the spirit of poverty and the spirit of service where in all of recent memory we’ve instead had the spirit of ruling monarch.  Here we have “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” lived beautifully.  The Pact of the Catacombs was signed almost 50 years ago, but we are seeing it alive in our day.  How fortunate we are to witness it.

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