[plate clatters] [sighs]

posted by Mike on August 28th, 2018

Five years ago I went to the mass celebrating the election of this pope feeling ill over the first round of allegations against him. This weekend I went to mass feeling ill over the latest ones. In between, I’d hoped that the church would change, if not radically, then at least in that it would prioritize justice and healing for its victims. In some places [PDF], maybe this has happened. In the top ranks, apparently not so much.

Some of my Catholic friends have reminded me that we should live in hope, that maybe something really good will come from this summer’s revelations. I’m not feeling that way. Every morning I wake up feeling as disoriented as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. On bad mornings I feel as impotent, too.

Lenten gameplan, 2018

posted by Mike on February 14th, 2018

A: As Lent approaches, I am both grateful that Facebook remains the *perfect* thing to “give up,” as well as a bit concerned that what with recent Facebook timeline tweaks making it more boring, the time may soon come when giving up Facebook is as blah as giving up LinkedIn. Maybe we didn’t know how good we had it…

B: Resources. Do I want to waste either of our time pointing you to some good resources? If there’s one thing our cup overfloweth with in 2018, it is resources.

C: Elizabeth Bruenig at Harvard Feb 20: “Religion, Politics, and the Left.” The last time both Bruenigs spoke at Harvard it was not only a great lecture it drew a really fun crowd. Let’s rideshare to this Liz-only talk Worcester buds. (In her last talk she did say of the Catholic Worker movement, “While it was flourishing, it was pretty impressive.” We will overlook that.)

D: Discouraging pope news of the season. Part 1: “Despite denial, Pope Francis got Chilean abuse victim’s letter.” (But see also “Reactions after Pope Francis’s decision to send a top prosecutor to Chile.”) Part 2: “Vatican Sells Out Chinese Catacombers.” (But see also “Why the Vatican’s potential deal with China is a good thing” and John Allen’s “Explaining why the Vatican seems so eager for a deal with China.”)

posted by Mike in Items, Lent | on February 14th, 2018 | Permanent Link to “Lenten gameplan, 2018” | No Comments »

First Sunday of Advent, 2016

posted by Mike on November 27th, 2016

For it is God who has made my heart faint, the Almighty who has terrified me. --Job 23:16

Most years I’m eager to plan for Advent or Lent, to bring my own creative energy to these ancient traditions.

This year, though, that doesn’t feel quite right. It seems a better course of action would be to talking these things through with a spiritual director instead of my usual planning by brainstorming in casual conversation or on social media, with a bit of prayer.

If you shared this insight with me I’d wonder if you were depressed or perhaps unusually busy, but for me, this year, I think this instinct comes from my religious practice being in an unusually good place, and wanting my seasonal devotions to have an integrity and depth that’s going to require a wisdom and perspective other than my own.

So this Advent, I’ll be preparing for Christmas by lighting candles and saying seasonal prayers, while keeping my eyes open for the right spiritual director, who’s sure to turn up sooner than I expect. That’s how these things tend to work out.

Ona Kiser:

I had a humorous conversation on this topic with a friend the other day, regarding giving up things for Lent or Advent. If we choose what to give up, that’s not a bad thing, but there is nearly always vanity in it. Maybe we choose something heroic, so that we feel good about how tough we are. Maybe we choose something too easy, because we don’t want to feel like a failure. Either way we are protecting our pride. On the other hand, if one asks ones confessor or director what to give up, one is assigned something that may or may not be pleasing. One may think it too hard, or too easy. Being given easy tasks or renunciations is very difficult for me, for instance, because I like people to think I’m tough and capable and good at things. I want the hard task to show off how I can do it.

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posted by Mike in Advent | on November 27th, 2016 | Permanent Link to “First Sunday of Advent, 2016” | No Comments »

The Pope, To Congress, Namechecks Dorothy Day And The Catholic Worker

posted by Mike on September 24th, 2015

I follow everything Pope Francis does with interest, and so far his trip to the US has been a real treat. But I was not prepared for his address to Congress to include my great hero Dorothy Day as one of four great Americans. Nor was I prepared to hear him name the “Catholic Worker movement” that has so shaped my adult life. Via Rocco Palmo, here’s part of that speech. The mention is brief enough that I’d call it more of a namecheck than anything else.
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World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation; or, pope links and quotes

posted by Mike on September 1st, 2015

As a lifelong Catholic and environmentalist, I am happy that today Pope Francis has decided the Roman Catholic Church will join the Orthodox Church in marking the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

The big Catholic environmental news of the summer was, of course, the release of the pope’s environmental encyclical, Laudato si’ (Praise Be). It covers a wide range of environmental and theological issue, often in a depth that surprised me. I think it’s the sort of document that, if you think you’d appreciate it, you would, and if you think you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t. You don’t have to be Catholic: as Pope Francis writes, “In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.”

The letter is 45,000 words long, and there have probably been 450,000 articles published about it. Fr. James Martin’s overview is pretty good. Most of the articles I’ve seen have tried to understand it in the context of American politics. My favorite on the left is Elizabeth Bruenig’s “Pope Francis’s Vision of a Moral Ecology Will Challenge Both Republicans and Democrats: His encyclical almost dares politicians to politicize it.” My favorite on the right is Rod Dreher’s more personal “Harmony, Communion, Incarnation.” The one article that touches on theological aspects that are a bit beyond me is Mark K. Spencer’s “Pope Francis, Platonist Traditionalist.”

But before you read more than one thinkpiece, you should be sure to read the encyclical itself. It’s full of great stuff like this line from Pope John Paul II, a quote which surprised me:

[Saint John Paul II] clearly explained that “the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them”.

“Social mortgage.” That’s a great way of framing it.

Even if you don’t read the whole thing, anyone reading this blog will want to check out the prayers at the end, “A prayer for our earth” and “A Christian prayer in union with creation.”

I’ll end by quoting my favorite long passage, “A Universal Communion”:

V. A UNIVERSAL COMMUNION

The created things of this world are not free of ownership: “For they are yours, O Lord, who love the living” (Wis 11:26). This is the basis of our conviction that, as part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect. Here I would reiterate that “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement”.

This is not to put all living beings on the same level nor to deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails. Nor does it imply a divinization of the earth which would prevent us from working on it and protecting it in its fragility. Such notions would end up creating new imbalances which would deflect us from the reality which challenges us. At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure. Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.

A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.

Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”.[69] We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

Ash Wednesday

posted by Mike on February 18th, 2015

“The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference.” —Pope Francis

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Lent: A time of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and projects.

Project #1: What are you giving up for Lent this year?

This year I’m keeping it simple: no coffee.

Project #2: What extra meditations are you adding to your life this season?

I’m keeping it simpler than other years, but still a bit complicated. Inspired by Rod Dreher, and with the support of my Dante book club, I’ll be reading the Purgatorio (Divine Comedy, Part II).

Assuming all of the above goes according to plan, it should be a successful Lent. For those looking for more resources, Susan Stabile always posts great stuff. I am going to fight the temptation to browse these resources when I should be reading Dante. I will especially avoid spending too much time thinking about Forty for 40: A Literary Reader for Lent.

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Beginning the journey through Purgatory: Gustav Doré’s “Dante Kneeling Before Cato”

posted by Mike in Lent, Orthodoxy | on February 18th, 2015 | Permanent Link to “Ash Wednesday” | No Comments »

Love in the Time of Ebola

posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy on January 30th, 2015

bethuneSome Americans responded to the ebola epidemic in West Africa by offering to care for the victims. Unfortunately, most of us were swept up in fear of the disease’s dreadful symptoms and mortality rate. Proposals circulated to block all flights to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Emblematic of the hysteria, a Catholic school teacher and registered nurse from Louisville, Kentucky was forced to resign after returning from a medical mission to Kenya, even though she was never closer than 3,000 miles from the ebola outbreaks.

Fundamental changes in how we treat African visitors and returning medical volunteers were proposed for a disease that ultimately killed only two people on US soil. One can only imagine the draconian measures that would be adopted in a real pandemic.
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posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy in Religion, Worcester | on January 30th, 2015 | Permanent Link to “Love in the Time of Ebola” | 2 Comments »

The First Day of Christmas

posted by Mike on December 26th, 2014

Many writers have noted that, in terms of national and international news, 2014 was a bad one. (It was a tough year for me, too.) Advent didn’t give us a break. I’d like to think we’re due for a couple good months.

The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas; and the only way to enjoy the sun of April is to be an April Fool.
GK Chesterton

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House of Card(inal)s

posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy on May 20th, 2014

From the latest issue of the Catholic Radical. PDF here.
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posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy in The Papacy | on May 20th, 2014 | Permanent Link to “House of Card(inal)s” | No Comments »

Lent approaches

posted by Mike on March 4th, 2014

This year, it is back to basics. I am keeping things simple for Lent.

  • Fasting: Facebook still seems like the perfect thing to “give up.” As a vegan, I’ll be skipping an extra meal on Fridays rather than fasting from meat.
  • Prayer: Give Us This Day is still my go-to prayer book. Susan Stabile has a good roundup of other resources.
  • Almsgiving: MINE OWN BEESWAX again this year.

I hope everyone reading this has a powerful Lenten season. If you’re curious about Lent but not religious, I’ll point you to Jacob’s essay on the topic.

posted by Mike in Lent | on March 4th, 2014 | Permanent Link to “Lent approaches” | No Comments »