There Will Be Alms

Portrait of the Almoner

Portrait of the Almoner

When I read this in the Times Union today, I started to cry. Some folks are sick of the papal mania that so many of us are experiencing, some are grateful, more cautious. I admit it, I am in pretty deep with Pope Francis.

The office of almoner is being put into a more full effect than in the past. I think of what this could mean around the globe, as we all take Pope Francis’ words to heart when he says, Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor,” The new almoner is Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.

The Vatican Almoner

The Vatican Almoner

To which I say – praise God. Or in more Ignatian terms, Pope Francis was formed as a Jesuit after all, AMDG!

This is not just about helping the poor, although reaching out to those in need is essential. I am struck by how this helps those of us who are spiritually impoverished. What a gift of grace for the world.

And with the admonition to go out, not “wait for people to come ringing!” With that, we are all instructed with what to do.

So today – there will be alms. And may there be alms, every day.


Liturgy, incarnation and other messes of love

mess4I am posting daily over at Catholic Sensibility, which is such a liturgy blog, and I have said so little about liturgy. I’m in way over my head talking about liturgy over there! Make no mistake, I have the heart of a liturgist, but I feel a bit out of my league. After all, I’m an amateur liturgist. Don’t forget that amateur means one who does something out of love, not someone who can’t cut it.

Liturgist and musician, Rory Cooney put a post up on his blog this past Tuesday — it was called Liturgy and the mess of incarnation. I want to cut and paste some sections of it here, just to give you a flavor of why I am writing about it here today, but the whole post is so good, I do not know where to begin.

This could have been me at that age, pondering God. And wondering why I could not be an altar boy!

This could have been me at that age, pondering God. And wondering why I could not be an altar boy!

The post has Rory ruminating about liturgy, looking a the expansion of permission to use the Tridentine rite. I know that I have more than one friend with a deep affection for this liturgy, so allow me to be clear that I am not mocking this rite, or any Latin liturgy. Also allow me to be clear that I personally do not wish to return to this form of liturgy. (Note: I did love mass as a child, weirdly church-nerdy child that I was!)

In his post, Rory quotes a friend who speaks about the transcendent nature of the Tridentine rite as a means of rejecting the messy business of incarnation.

hocuspocus1Hmmmm…. I do kind of get that.

Rory goes on to talk about all manner of things, about bad presiders, annoying congregants, and all the rest. If you are a presider, a musician or a liturgist, even if you do not long for that Tridentine rite, you know what it means to live in the messy business of mass. People who can’t sing. People who let their cell phones ring. People who are looking at their phones. Crying babies. Snoring sleepers. Careless cantors. Lousy lectors. And of course – poor presiders, horrible homilists are part of it as well.

sleep-in-churchWhat a mess! Why bother?

Well, I will let you go back to Rory’s to read about that. The whole post got me thinking about how much happens at and around church and liturgy in the realm of the “I-can’t-stand-you” mode. It can be such a huge mess.

Rory, with the input of his friend, continues to ruminate, bringing forth losers and lowlifes, like ourselves!

And if that wasn’t enough, my friend insists that God continues to become flesh in losers and lowlifes to the present day, presumably including even me and my exaggerated opinion of myself, along with all the folks whose insouciance I lament and who drive me nuts Sunday after Sunday. It is in this world, in these people, the God is become flesh. That just about ought to stop me in my tracks, and make me think a little bit, right?

Those words have settled in my heart since Tuesday.  “God becomes flesh in losers and lowlifes “- which includes all of us.

I'm a loser. Which in this case is great news!

I’m a loser.

As someone who is more oriented to a horizontal style of liturgy, there is so much to think about. I am drawn to two points of view about the whole thing.

One thought is that if we are to get to the place of the transcendent divine, perhaps we do need a more, dare I say, formal liturgy? Oriented outside of ourselves? Literally – facing away?  (Did I really just say this?)

picture-17The other however, brings me right back where I stood in the first place. God entered the world as flesh, humanity, as it is. How does that place the transcendent divine right in our midst? And with that, a liturgy that celebrates the ordinary and extraordinary nature of it all? One that orients us outside of our own selves, but into others. You know, into the losers and lowlifes, which we are a part of. And once oriented so, finding Christ in the messy midst of it all.

This is why I tend to come down where I do. I happen to find God more in the mess that is all of us,  and it is as holy and divine as it can be.

As all of this rambled around my head and heart for two days, I did not get to write about it. And what did I find on Rory’s blog today? A guest post response from a priest friend of Rory’s.

So interesting. Read some of what his friend wrote:

Evangelical churches have made great headway here in Guatemala- mainly due to the funding send from the US and former governments here to lure people away from the Catholic Church (the government didn’t like the Catholics siding with the poor, and wanted to dilute Catholics’ influence by attracting its members into other churches that focused more on personal spiritual experience). From what I have read about the Church in Brazil, it seems that they have had some success holding onto members by switching to a more theatrical style of liturgy, drawing out emotions with a particular style of music and preaching. It will be interesting to see if this does the trick.

gps_god_personal_savior_bumper_stickers-r4343fc927ec6481083e25e7610a77594_v9wht_8byvr_512The loss of Catholics to spirituality which promises a more personal relationship to Jesus breaks my heart.  The loss of Catholics to worship that is more theatrical also hurts me. It is not just about “Jesus ‘n me.” It is about Jesus and me – but, there is more.  In the heart of liturgy, the heart of the Eucharist is all of us. Horizontal and vertical. And that is why we are liturgists, musicians, lay ecclesial ministers – it is about Christ and about all of us as one in Christ.

Anyway, maybe you will go read read Rory’s posts and think about what he and his friends say. Also think about the big messy mess of a mess that is life, and think about the work of the people, that is, the liturgy. It is beautiful and it can be a mess, but in Christ, the mess is transformed. Amen to that.

And yet here we are, so many of us in love with this, not knowing any other way to be.

What a mess.

My empty word file mocks me and other tales of writing (updated)

tumblr_inline_mjpyglF4VQ1qz4rgpLately I have been at many events where writing comes up, and people say things like, “tell me about your blog?” *sigh* My ego happily grabs my business cards from my purse and tosses them like a spray of confetti on New Year’s Eve. Simultaneously my seemingly unstoppable jaw flaps with phrases like “Oh, I just write about faith and real life, that kind of thing.”

Except for when I don’t. You see, I haven’t written too much lately. Kind of like one of my favorite anti-heroes Peter Gibbons, from the movie Office Space, I stare at my computer a lot, along with all my notes, and it might look like I’m working. But I am not.

If you are a regular reader, you know this. If you are among those who picked up the confetti, you will quickly notice this. And I have been struggling with this off and on for some time now. Oh, the writer’s life!

First it was finishing up that last semester. Then it was graduation. Now it is… well, it is… I have a very big deadline approaching. Things were going along, and then thought I was there, but then I started to revisit and edit. So, about being there? Maybe not so much.tumblr_m1tmz8sgIp1r82bbmo1_500I do have things that I want to write about and I will be back. Hope versus optimism, a thought I got from a post written by Bridget at Women In Theology. Other thoughts focus on the catholicity of being a Catholic Christian, which got a boost from this post by Jana Bennett at Catholic Moral Theology, inspired by an editorial from Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America Magazine. There are a lot of short scriptural reflections on my mind, but never on paper these days.

BPA0305RF1238-MAnd what about the sacraments that I want to write about? There is a big draft about baptism that I have been wrestling with. Wisely or not, I would like to write about LGBT issues in the Church, and that is rolling around in the back of my brain. Pope Francis provides me with endless fodder, including the recent flap about who gets saved.  (Updating by adding this link from Stephen Colbert.) And my desires to write about Holy Orders, or how we might be church going forward, and why the Eucharist matters, are far greater than my ability to do so, as of this moment. The list goes on and on.

And what about the posts about hearing three great theologians in recent times? From Elizabeth Johnson CSJ in April, to Anthony Gittins C.S.Sp.,  and Richard Gaillardetz PhD in May, I am awash in thought about all of them.

Family_Guy_Get_Me_Started_Black_Shirt_POPPlus, the Fortnight for Freedom is coming, and I have promised to submit two pieces to Catholic Sensibility during those dates. No – not about the Fortnight for Freedom, which you do not want to get me started about – but for the Two Weeks of Worthy Women series that blog host Todd Flowerday initiated during the first Fortnight for Freedom. Last year I wrote about Thea Bowman and Gertrude of Helfta. This year… well, you will have to wait and see.

And I do have a family, the desire to spend time with them, as well as read books, garden, walk my dog, and sleep. Let’s not forget the full time employment either!

So that’s where I’m at. If you are a reader, I beg your patience. If you are new, maybe you will poke around and see what I have said before. Things like this, or this, or maybe this?

Chris Haw Blog Tour – an excerpt and book giveway

Today it is my great pleasure to host the blog tour for Chris Haw’s new book, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism. We will have three posts today; a video intro that went up earlier, this excerpt, and a book review. If you want to win a book, please go to the Times Union to read the excerpt, and please leave a comment to have your name entered for a drawing.

Leaning Into The Heart of God – A Reflection on John 13

I offered a reflection on John 13:21-38 at Taize Evening Prayer tonight. It was our last Taize prayer for Lent. These weeks have been a real gift. Plus tonight, my boss was able to attend and he proclaimed the Gospel for me; that was really special. The church may be a giant CF (sorry!) in some ways but it, like Rolheiser points out is also the dwelling place of saints. And those saints might be you or me.

Anyway our Evening Prayer is beautiful – the music is so sublime – you just melt into it. In fact, as I was preparing this post, I realized that is what I talked about and that is what the Taize chant invites you to do… Lean deeply into the heart of God.

The environment is lovely too and I am sorry that this photo does not do this scene justice.  My friend Chris has such a gift for environment and I stand in awe of her talent. The glass bowl containing stones and light also has some sand in the top where we have a charcoal burning; incense is put on and it is gorgeous. 

This was my typed text from last night. It was a bit shorter (although still too long- *sigh*) and I did not read it but spoke from notes, so it was a bit different. So it was not what you see here, but this is close enough and I can’t rewrite it!

Holy week – it was a tough week for Jesus. It is a tough week for us Catholics in the present moment. We need to pray and act, but that is not what I am here to talk about tonight. However, when preparing for this, I did come across this quote in reference to the current situation. It is from Ronald Rolheiser, Catholic Priest and author who writes in his book “The Holy Longing”:

“To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every description.

It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul of every time, country, race, and gender.

To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves.” – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

I have been reading about Ingatian spirituality lately – the Spiritual exercises. One is encouraged to read Scripture and enter into each of the parts of the story. From where I sit, it is a lot more attractive to want to be the disciple that Jesus loved rather than to be Peter or Judas in today’s Gospel.

However, I can tell you that I don’t have to study the lines in order to be Peter or Judas however – I have a lot of practice.

In any event, we must enter into the story over and over and at some point, and meet God and ourselves in all of them.

We spent all that time in the desert and have returned to Jerusalem. It would seem a relief to be out of the dry and desiccated landscape and back into life. We leave behind the barren landscape and re-enter the lively city. However, Jerusalem is not just any city and to enter it is to know you will not leave it the same person you arrived.

Jesus gets this – the poor apostles, not so much. Have you listened to them? Jockeying for who gets to be the most important? Peter swearing that he would never deny Jesus – something we know he does in a few short hours. Judas thinking about his 30 pieces of silver and whatever else might have attracted him to betray the Lord.

Of course there is the one that Jesus loved, in the endearing image that associate with something that Fr Pat said a few years ago… At rest, with his head on Jesus’ chest. ……….. It is like our opening Taize song – Be still, Be still and know that I am God.

Silent. Listening. Leaning into the heart of God.

Just saying that scares me, I think I might rather be Peter seeking affirmation by promising to be a good boy or, Judas – transactional matters like being in charge of the money is a more antiseptic place. I might like that.

The dynamics of leaning into the heart of God and having God’s heart lean back into me seems much more frightening to me because it is to know and to be known in the most intimate way. God’s love envelops us.

And when that happens, not unlike Mary’s receptivity that we recently commemorated on the Annunciation, it requires openness, transparency and a true lack of defenses.

I’m sweating now, just at the thought of it. It does not mean absenting ourselves but rather simply being who we are, in all of our integrated wholeness. It makes me shudder, can I do that?

Can’t I just go back to managing my time and productivity? Must I really surrender into becoming the person that God has loved me into being? For me, like for Peter, jockeying in my own bumbly way to be number one comes very naturally – you can ask my boss, he’s here.

For Peter, that seemed to mean promising more than he could deliver because he was not promising out of his deep center and his integrity… he was promising out of his wounded ego. I don’t know about you, but I could write a long autobiography just for my wounded ego, let alone the rest of me.

And Judas, where was he coming from? We know that John tells us that when Judas took the morsel, he went out…. Night had fallen. The darkness had come.

Going hard on Judas is easy sport. While he was the lynch pin in the operation of getting Jesus arrested and crucified, we should always remember that if he did not do so, we might not be sitting here

I once heard a story that in some places that Judas Iscariot is revered as a saint because at the moment of his death he understood just what he had done wrong and turned back to God in a moment of true transformation and metanoia. Who knows? I do like the sound of it although it was jarring at first and may sound bad to many.

Whatever happened with Peter, with Judas, with me or with you – its all the same. We get caught in this dyad of good or bad, right or wrong and with Jesus, it might mean just leaning into his chest to hear his heart.

I’m sweating again.

Whatever it is, the darkness does fall – it had to. It had to fall in Jerusalem on that night so long ago and it has to happen to us too.

I’m not suggesting we go headlong into the darkness on purpose and succumb to it, but that we might accept that the darkness comes and that we must stay with Jesus. It is the only way to be transformed.

At least that is what I am told. And if I return to the quote that I opened with and if I think about myself, if I think about so many people I know, if I think about the church at large, it makes perfect sense.

Jesus was not really throwing people out – he was simply pretty clear about how to follow him. The Samaritan woman, tax collectors, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Judas and Peter himself – there are numerous characters who represent that totally not-in crowd that Our Savior was so often seen with.

And maybe that’s because he understood that you have to have a clear understanding of who you are and how God has made you. Then when the darkness falls… and it always does and more than once, it is about integrating the darkness and not just be in or out of it.

It is a kind metanoia that stretches our imaginations and our hearts to points we might not have wanted, but that we truly need. That stretch of mind, heart and body is what the cross is about.

Of course the way to do that is to lean headlong, deep into the heart of Jesus and just listen. There you will find Light and transformation – which is what Easter is about.

Night has fallen and you can go out into it or you can stay with the Lord and be transformed.

Please – lean in.

La Semana Sancta en Andalusia, en Sevilla, Espana

While I hardly ever write about it, not sure why, I could fill volumes with tales of Holy Week or La Semana Sancta, spent in the Andalusia region of southern Spain.

Do this once and it will change your life. Twice- there are not enough prayers of gratitude for it. For me anyway.

I was there for Holy Week 2001 and again in 2004.

Every city and town has processions that last all week – Sevilla having the most extravagant of them all. And part of the procession experience is to be immersed in hearing una saeta, sung from the wrought iron balcony of a Sevillan home. Las saetas have roots in Judaism and in Islam – in the complex and compelling history of that part of the world, where la convivencia once happened, albeit briefly.

I am short on time, so I will try to add to this later, but this morning, I leave you with a video of una saeta for La Esperanza Macarena in Sevilla.

Grace – Not A "Begrudged Mop Up Exercise"

January 2010 will go down as a time in my life when writing did not come easily to me. Part of it is time – or a lack of it. Part of it is… I don’t know. I wish I could explain it; I wish I could lean into it and keep writing. Not much comes.

Today however, I read this link from the Center for Action and Contemplation, home of my favorite Franciscan, Richard Rohr, OFM. It got me thinking about a lot of things and I will make some attempt to write about them here.

Rohr starts out with this (emphasis mine):

God fills in the gaps of human deficiency by a great act of mercy and compassion, and the word for that great act for St. Paul is “Christ.”  For him Christ is the name for God’s great compassion, God’s great plan, God’s readiness to fill in the gaps of human sin, brokenness, poverty, and failure.  It is not a begrudged mop-up exercise after the fact, but as John Duns Scotus taught us Franciscans, “Christ was the very first idea in the mind of God.”  “All was created through him and for him …and he holds all things in unity and reconciles all within himself” (Colossians 1:16-17, 20).  Christ is God’s master plan and blueprint for history!  Salvation was the plan from the beginning, and not a mere response to our mistakes.

God fills in… I love this beginning because it points to a God that loves us and so generously cares for us. This is the opposite of a meaner view of God, put forth by so many and accepted by so many. In fact, accepted by people who are not even sure that God exists!

I think this also addresses a school of religious thought that puts the focus on us as humans. If we do all this heavy lifting, from prayer to whatever actions and devotions, it is as if we were cleaning up with the Cosmic Swiffer.

Make no mistake, I think that our actions matter – but not because we are changing God! No God is always changing us, when we allow such change.

Rohr continues:

So why do we make the Gospel into a cheap worthiness contest? After all, we have all fallen short of the glory (Romans 3:23, 5:12) and all are saved by mercy (Romans 11:32-36). Even Mary proclaims it of herself (four times!) in her “Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). Popes and priests, presidents and politicians are all saved “en Cristo” and by mercy and in our undeserved state. No exceptions.

God does not love us if we change. God loves us so that we can change. These are two very different scenarios, but most of Christian history has sadly chosen the first.

Not if we can change, but rather so we can change. This isn’t a cleanup operation, it is an invitation to become the very people that God has loved into being. This is an invitation to respond to the grace that is all around us.

How this propels me on a January morning and makes the embers of my writing fire begin to glow again.

Where Would We Go Without A Pope? A Post About A Great Post by Eric Stoltz

(This is a post about a provocative piece of writing and not something written by an apologist for the Pope. Just reminding all before they begin to read… that’s all.)

Thanks to Facebook I have had the good fortune to “meet” Eric Stoltz, a Catholic deacon, (among other things) who lives in Los Angeles.  He is one of the authors of the book Ascend, which I reviewed recently.

In any case, Eric wrote a really interesting post on what would happen if the premise of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons happened. If you have not read the book or seen the film, it is about a plot to “end” the Roman Catholic Church by destroying St. Peter’s and all the cardinals.

Oh, if it would be but that simple. Church is not a building or an institution but rather the assembly of all the people. As a result, it is not so easily undone.

Eric wisely points out:

“Dan Brown, for all his ridiculous notions and silly ecclesiology, may have given us something significant to ponder. If such a catastrophe as depicted in “Angels and Demons” were to occur, it would not be the end of Christianity, but rather a new era for the disciples of Jesus.”

A new era. It is bound to happen if we are even remotely eschatalogical in nature. And like all things of God, it is likely that whatever happens will be most unlikely and beyond our imagining.

You know – kind of like the enfleshment of the Spirit that many of us have been celebrating these days.

Go ahead  and read what Eric has written by clicking here. Agree or not, you will find it thought provoking.