About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.

Organic Thanksgiving, organic joy

Gratitude EDIT large Oct 20 2016 well worn pathWith Thanksgiving arriving this week, I have had gratitude on my mind. In general, gratitude is like a annoying presence that I could not get rid of – although for many years I tried to do just that, but my anger was no match for it.  Ultimately I surrendered and now I am glad, well – grateful – that I did so.

Joy is also a constant companion. Happiness and joy are not the same at all. Once I got that message, I realized that joy was ever present, even in the midst of sorrow. Joy was like a less annoying presence, in fact almost invisible, until opened the door of my heart to usher in gratitude. It all sounds so hackneyed, so cheesy, but it is true. Now I am far from being little Miss Sunshine, if you know me in real life you know that I am easily irritated and typically irascible. Yet, bubbling away on a kettle within me is the ridiculous concoction of joy and gratitude that often steams its way out of me.

It is a mystery to me, but this week, I would like to talk about it more because it all distills down to one thing… We choose both gratitude and joy, no matter what order you experience them, but making those choices are not always easy.

Holidays are often opportunities for manufactured versions of both things… and ticking time bombs of distress as a result, given the family and/or social situations of many of us. May both gratitude and joy be yours this week, in the most profoundly organic way possible, found in the most unexpected places.

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Los martires – ¡Presente!

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On this day in 1989 a group of Jesuits and two women who worked with them were martyred in their home in El Salvador. They are known today as the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador.

Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Ignacio Martín-Baro, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., Amando López, S.J., Joaquin López y López, S.J., Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., Elba Ramos, and Celina Ramos were all brutally murdered by gunmen who stealthily snuck into their compound under the cover of darkness.

You can read more about the incident from this link, a from The Jesuit Post in 2017. Below you will find a video that also goes into their story. As will all those who have gone before us, may their memory forever be a blessing. As with all martyrs, especially those from El Salvador in the 1980’s, we say ¡presente! after their names because as ever, they are present, they are with us, they remind us to press on in the name of justice that can only come through the peace of the Gospel. Their lights shine on, may we always keep those flames burning, passing the light to others with every action in our lives.

Sister Thea Bowman

sr_thea_bowman[1]In the midst of all the awful church news, good news prevails. I’m not trying to sugar coat the horror of the on-going revelation of sexual abuse and the even more on-going revelation of church obfuscation and cover up. That is all pretty bad. Yet that is not all that church is – even if it seems that way.

The US Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) is currently meeting in Baltimore and something important and good happened – so I am sharing it here. Good things at a USCCB meeting ought not to be an “event” but… somehow it is. What is this great thing? Well Sister Thea Bowman’s cause for sainthood is finally taking a step forward! Thanks be to God! This is just the beginning, but Continue reading

Breaking glass

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Eighty years ago, on November 9-10, 1938 the lives of many were shattered. Like shards flying every which way, the existence of Jewish people of Germany was splintered in ways we have yet to recover from. This is the anniversary of the time of evil known as Kristallnacht. The night of breaking glass. Although they may age, and their numbers dwindle, there are those still alive who witnessed these events, such as Ruth Winkelmann and Jill Pauly.

In an almost spontaneous moment this explosive event turned the course of anti-Semitism, creating momentum that would spin out of control. – Of course, the moment was anything but spontaneous if you study the history of that time. Which also signifies the need to pay attention to the current events (like this or this) of our lives. There are so many more, many that we do not even know about.

This short post serves to remind us of how forceful the power of hatred and division is; we are living it right now.  The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh two short weeks ago, the rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017 are simply two incidents of the rise in anti-Semitism. As for prejudice against people of color, the evidence is so voluminous I hardly know where to begin. The rejection of people of other faiths, especially Muslims is ever present. As for people from other lands who seek a better life in the United States, often arriving on foot seeking refuge and asylum from extreme violence and poverty, there has been an abominable welcome. The list goes on and on, unfurling like a ribbon of infinity unraveling from a spool over all time.

Often the rejection of others is justified in tidy legalistic terms by people of faith. What dissonance this reveals, given that Jesus Christ pretty much spent his entire time of public ministry reaching out to those unwanted ones at the margins, and was himself rejected by the standards of the day. If one claims him as their God I am not sure how one reconciles this belief. I’m not here to judge, but I am curious as I cannot understand how one can believe in that fashion. God does not love white people, Christians, or any one other person more than another.

Ironically the readings for tomorrow (Sunday, November 12) are rooted in what it means to give not from your surplus, but from your very need. This can mean giving away your last bit of food to a stranger, or donating the smallest coin, knowing that your own livelihood may be imperiled by such an act. It can also mean that we are to give of our hearts in ways we simply cannot imagine.

One example of that might be something like stretching the door to our hearts, forcing ourselves to open a bit wider, in pursuit of our God. This could mean starting to see “the other” in a more loving light. Love could be a big leap, so let’s start with seeing “the stranger” at least as someone who is not a threat. That too is part of giving out of your life, not from the surplus. It is what we are called to do, at least those of us who are Christians. We must be transformed through, with, and in Christ. That is hard work, but so far Jesus has not given up on us, so maybe we should not give up so easily either. Just a thought. And trust me, I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone who reads this.  My own struggles with rejecting the other have less to do with race, color, creed, but coalesce around ideology. I’m always trying to keep that heart-door open, but man, does it stick a lot. Where is the WD-40 of grace that I need to lubricate the hinges that will enable the transformation that I myself require?

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This quote is remarkably appropriate pretty much every single day.

For this Catholic, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht reminds me that Jesus (who was in fact born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew – just saying) is forever knocking at the door of our collective hearts.  I’m trying to go open mine – what will you do with yours? One need not be Christian to open the heart, but must be human. When we get to that point, the Kingdom will truly be here.  In the meantime, the only glass to break is that surrounding our own hearts.

Possessed by possessions and positions

imagesJesus is very clear about one thing in today’s Gospel and if I am honest, it makes me super anxious. I wrote a reflection about this in the current Give Us This Day, but honestly, I just reread the Gospel and it has me in a twist all over again.

We must renounce all of our possessions. I look around our house and think about how much stuff I would love to get rid of, but then I am very slow to actually do so. Sure, I read the articles and books that tell me to spend 15 minutes a day doing one thing. 15 minutes? Are you joking? It would take me a lot more than 15 minutes to figure out where to begin. While I have ditched many an object over the past few years, including letting go of a ton of books, I still have too much stuff. It is a slow work in progress.

Then I think about what Jesus might want me to renounce along with the multitude of books, tchotchkes, and more. What can I declutter from my soul itself? What thoughts, feelings, and more possess me, making no space for Christ himself? That will be the much more difficult portion of renouncing, that much I already know.

This of course is the greatest challenge, to let go of what possesses us both in soul and spirit as well as in our material lives. What a work in progress this is, one I will wrestle with forever. When I think about it I can see clearly that all I need is God, but when I look around I see that I have a lot of baggage that grew out of my wants. Until I dislodge the possessions of obsession, inaction, and distraction, this is going to be a difficult journey…

Into thin air

Ginkunu_kapines_2010_velines_02On the Feast of All Hallows Eve
the air around us changes,
making the space between
this world and the next
so very thin.

On the Feast of All Saints
the air around us glistens,
making the space between
this world and the next
so very rich.

On the Feast of All Souls
the air around us shimmers,
making the space between
this world and the next
a luminescent reality.

On the Feasts of these days
the air around us is clear,
making the space between
this world and the next
invisible.

©Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

#WhyIDidntReport

whyididn-treportsquare-1537552076Moved by the #whyididntreport hashtag, an old friend reached out to me today. They asked if I would publish what you see below – but anonymously on their behalf.  Typically (and if you know me this is not news to you) I am very against anonymous things, but in this case I support their decision to remain as such. Plus I do know the person well enough to trust this account. It is a difficult story, but an important one that should be widely read and shared.

If you actually believe that most girls and women would report a sexual assault, you might wish to rethink that. I know I never reported anything.  Lots of people didn’t. My dear friend who is a journalist recently wrote about her own rape – it happened when she was a young reporter covering a police beat. So please do not ask why if someone does not report.

Anyway, it has been awhile since I have blogged, but today I am posting this, and hope to be back with other content soon.

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From my friend… Two years ago my daughter was raped. She was 15. The boy was one of her very best friends. She had attempted suicide about six months before, and he was the one person who could walk her back from the edge when the depression and anxiety were overwhelming her. We were so grateful that he was in her life. About a year before the rape, she came out as gay to us. She told us the boy – let’s call him Jeff – was also gay. Made sense that her tightest circle would be made up of LGBTQ kids.

When we went on vacation we let each of our daughters bring a friend. Jeff was hers. We let our guard down because we thought he had no sexual interest in girls. They were buddies. What could go wrong? One day we left the two of them alone at the cabin when we went out on the lake. That’s when it happened. I had no idea.

Later in the summer I was at an event making jokes to a friend that one of the best things about my daughter being gay was that I wouldn’t have to worry about teen pregnancy. It is no lie that an hour later when I was at home, my daughter came to me and told me she was pregnant. When I asked how that was even possible, she told me about the rape. Had it not resulted in pregnancy, I doubt she would have told me – a fact that kills me as much as just about anything in this story.

I begged her to let me call the police, call the parents, call the school. Anything the adult in the room should have done. She begged me not to. When you have a child with a predilection toward suicide you favor her life over justice. You can judge me for that, if you choose. I hope you never have the same experience to be able to understand the choice. In any case, I’m not the one who would have to navigate the hallways of a very hostile school in which an extremely popular boy was put on trial based on the scant evidence of just her word.

She was in therapy for her depression/anxiety. We told her therapist about the rape hoping to begin a healing process. State law required the therapist to inform the police. When the police contacted us, we would not give them his last name, we refused to press charges. It went away.

On occasion, I see this boy’s face on mutual friends Facebook posts. I see his mom in town. Sometimes I see him. It always makes me sick. My daughter still has to go to school with him. I cannot fathom her feelings.

This is a popular talented boy. It’s possible that one day he could become quite famous. And I promise you that though I am quiet today, if he should ever be in the position of being one of the 10 most powerful people in the world, I will destroy my own life and leave it in smoldering ruins to tell this little monster’s story.

This is #whyIdidntreport