Silicon Valley Catholic
Reflections on faith and the Church by a Silicon Valley Catholic
Thank you for visiting Silicon Valley Catholic, my blog for occasionally sharing religious thoughts, ideas, observations, and reflections. My hope is that this will be helpful to those struggling with their faith, parish, or the Church at large.
There 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. read more…
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.
Today is Holy Thursday, the day we celebrate The Last Supper and also the sacrament of ordination and the priesthood. Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily this morning on anointing, and that priests are to go out and find the needy, in essence, so that they can bring God’s love to them. He tells his listeners:
We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. . . .It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord. . . (but instead) in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others
This was addressed to the ordained, but we Catholics are baptized as joining in Christ’s mission as prophet, priest and king – all of us – so it applies well to the laity also. (We do speak of “the priesthood of all believers”.) Where do we find God? How are we to be in the world? Pope Francis says we should not only do self-help courses and be introspective. We are to look outward and be people for others (very Ignatian), looking for those with the most need. Or as in the Prayer of St. Francis, rather than look internally for what we ourselves might need, we are to look outwardly and see what God would have us do.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
We are not all ordained deacons and priests, but we can all look outwardly to see where there is need around us. Sometimes the need is material, at others it’s emotional or physical – someone may need a lift to the store or to church, someone else may need company, reconciliation, an encouraging word or time to talk (or sit in silence). All of us are called to be instruments of God’s grace, that is, to bring the transforming love of God’s presence to others.
In Silicon Valley, there are so many opportunities to attend Mass that it’s very easy to drift from Mass to Mass and yet never feel a sense of belonging to the particular group with whom you are worshiping. This is a large metropolitan area. What can you do to forge a sense of belonging? It will take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.
Just like any other community, such as a neighborhood or work environment, relationships with people don’t just happen. Here are a few tips for Catholics wanting to feel more “at home” in their parish community – especially for those who’ve just moved to the South Bay.
- Find your best fit. Initially, you may do some “parish shopping” to find a community that feels most comfortable to you and your own spirituality. Here we have Mass and community in many languages, for instance. Seek out where you will be able to thrive and give. It’s ideal if you don’t have to travel far but no matter what, put some intentionality into finding the match and then decide to become an active member of that parish, attending Mass and functions there frequently.
- Be a regular. Try to go to the same Mass each week, make a point of meeting people (and write their names down if you want to). When you begin to call people by name, it will do a lot to increase both your and their sense of belonging! (Many Catholics in our diocese only go to Mass once a month. To feel that sense of being a part of the community, I encourage you to go weekly. In our hectic lives it is a struggle sometimes but well worth it on many levels, for many reasons.)
- Don’t pray & run. Ever notice how many people are present when Mass begins, at the homily, and after communion? Some folks run in after it starts and run out before it’s over. That’s a poor idea for many reasons, but one of them is that it makes a sense of belonging hard to achieve. Arrive a little early, say hello to a few people. Linger after, especially if there are refreshments which are there to encourage community building. Friendships take time – to feel that sense of belonging, you will need to slow down a little and meet people and cultivate friendships.
- Volunteer, join a group, get involved. If you can volunteer, you will meet people quickly. Not much time? Become a greeter. You may only need to be at the church 15 minutes before and after Mass, so this is easy if you are alone especially. Most parishes want someone at every door to welcome people to Mass. In some places, these are the ushers – and I have found that in a few parishes these are almost exclusively men. But give it a try. You will start to recognize others and be recognized by them too. And that is the beginning.If you have kids or a somewhat reluctant spouse or friend in tow who don’t really want to go to Mass early, consider some sort of involvement outside of Mass times. Many parishes have a wide variety of groups for spiritual growth, for ministry to others or just helping out at the parish grounds. My grandmother was a member of the altar society at her parish in Santa Cruz as my grandfather had over 100 rose bushes (a retirement hobby) and they could be put to very good use at the church. There are classes too, some of which are occasional and others which may run for a few weeks. I have seen many “mom & me” groups at churches too. Find at least one group, class, committee etc. and dive in!
One of the best ways to feel loved is to be loving. So too with parish communities – spiritual leaders are sometimes drafted, but more often step up, on their own, to do a job that needs doing. Want to feel welcome? Find a role where you can provide that to others. You’ll be surprised at how fast you will feel as though you belong.
Have a great parish where you felt really welcomed? Or a success story of making newcomers feel at home fast? I’d love to hear the stories here!
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph, the seat of the Diocese of San Jose, hosts an annual free musical concert series, “The Season of Hope”, each year in the church. The December 2011 schedule begins on Dec. 12th and runs nightly through the 23rd with performances from 7:30pm to 8:30pm. Each year, different groups and individuals are showcased, so there’s lots of variety.
Find the entire lineup with details and some links on the parish website:
Sacred Heart Parish
13716 Saratoga Ave, Saratoga, CA 95070
Friday, Dec, 9, 2011
7:30 PM (dors open 6:30PM)
$15, $20 and $25 seats remaining
We Catholics tend to feel passionately about the way we pray for many reasons, including the meaning the words convey, the love of the familiar, the rote prayers, and the ability to meditate on the memorized when we pray. (We also acknowledge the truth in the saying that the way we pray is the way we believe – the law of prayer is the law of belief – “lex orandi, lex credendi”.) This is especially true at a time of crisis; in my own extended family, I’ve often recognized that the funeral Mass, with all its expected prayers and pattern, “carries us” when we are in a difficult emotion state. A book could be written on why we prefer liturgy and standardized prayers in many cases.
Every few decades, changes are made to the Mass and to the exact way in which we participate and pray. On the first Sunday of Advent this year, it was not the Mass itself which changed but the wording for the English translation which did. The intention is to make the English version closer and more true to the Latin. But it was not anticipated with much joy by the majority of Roman Catholics in America.
Some of it feels like a reversion to the 60s: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” or “it is right and just”. Some of it really is an improvement (the Nicene Creed begins with “I believe” or Credo in Latin – so it is appropriate that when we say it, it’s in the first person singular, not plural, or “we believe”). Some of it is awkward, if more theologically precise.
Given how emotionally charged the issue has been, I have to congratulate the faithful and its leaders in the U.S. – or at least in my area, the Diocese of San Jose – for handling the transition very well. Many parishes began to warm up their communities ahead of time by introducing elements, especially songs, well in advance. On the day of the beginning of the use of the new translation, it seems that presiders and people were both ready. There were tools available to make it easier for us who are so used to rote responses to adapt to the ones we didn’t yet know by heart.
Perhaps most helpful was the warm hearted understanding that it is going to take time for us to get it down. As we get to the response “and with your spirit”, it’s going to take some time for all of us to be on the same page and not revert to “and also with you”. We are an imperfect lot and it’s going to take some getting used to, some time.
Many thanks to those who encourage us and soften the transition, and kudos to the Catholic community in every area of the church for working hard to make this a gentle and easier change. Given how attached we are to what we are used to, this could have been much more difficult had it not been for great effort on many levels.
Do dogs, cats and others pets go to heaven when they die? This is a question that children (as well as some adults) ask when a beloved non-human family member passes away.
The Catholic Church doesn’t actually pronounce whether pets go to heaven or not. Sometimes, though, in a moment of pastoral insensitivity or because of a lack of proper grounding, an adult – and sometimes even an authority such as a priest or a parent – incorrectly states that according to the Church, animals do not go to heaven.
My family ran into this at our parish when the associate pastor announced to a full church of families with children that his cat had died and that “we all know that pets don’t go to heaven”. I can’t imagine how much harm he did that day from the pulpit, pretending to be authoritative on an area out of his depth. If nothing else, even had he mistakenly believed this to be Catholic teaching, there was no pastoral benefit to his statement – only harm. What was he thinking? read more…
Although the changes to prayers and songs at Mass aren’t officially required until the beginning of Advent this year, many parishes and other Catholic communities (such as at Mission Santa Clara) in the Diocese of San Jose have already begun introducing some of the new music or wording to help Catholics adjust more easily.
I think this is a very good idea. While the history of the Church includes a good deal of “history of change”, it’s almost always a challenge for Catholics when they are in the midst of it. With the massive changes after Vatican II, some Catholics never accepted the modifications and sought solace in breakaway or schismatic groups where the Latin Mass was still the norm. Changes can cause alienation and I think we have learned that we need to be sensitive to the upset and introduce any alterations carefully.
Kudos to our bishop, and others, who wisely understand the need for the gradual adaption by the faithful.
As one consequence of the ongoing shortage of priests, we are seeing the emergency of more lay leadership at the parish level. When the role of pastor cannot be held by a priest, the job title is changed to “Minster of Parish Life” and may be filled by a lay person, male or female, a deacon or member of a religious order . We are certain to see this as an increasing trend while the continuing decline in numbers of priests (both religious and diocesan) continues. (Another consequence is increased use of priests from abroad.)
In late July, the newest Minister of Parish life was appointed: Dorothy Carlson, who will serve in that role at St. Justin parish in Santa Clara. Read the full story on the Diocese of San Jose’s website.
Silicon Valley Catholic
by Mary Pope-Handy