Thursday, January 24, 2013

Adding a Stitch in the Seamless Garment of Life

Many of you probably read the recent heartbreaking news of Marc and Eddy, deaf twins who requested, and were granted, euthanization in Belgium after discovering they were going blind. 

Later this year, Belgium's ruling party is set to consider allowing the euthanasia of children and Alzheimer's sufferers

This news was on my mind recently when I read about Robert Gleason, an inmate in Virginia, who was executed last week. He wanted the death penalty so badly that he killed other inmates so he would receive it. 

It struck me that the United States is already helping perfectly healthy people commit suicide. It just seems there isn't as much of an uproar about it because they are criminals.

If we stop to think about life issues, it is shocking how delicately each issue is woven into another. When one suffers, they all suffer. 

Slowly but surely  the "seamless garment" of life in our culture is being torn apart.

The phrase "seamless garment" was first used in connection with the interrelatedness of all life issues by Roman Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan. And Cardinal Bernardin picked up this line of thought when he developed the Consistent Ethic of Life in 1983. The words "seamless garment" are drawn from the Gospel of John, when, at the crucifixion, the soldiers cast lots for the clothing Jesus had been wearing: “the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down” (Jn 19:24).

Unfortunately, the “seamless garment” approach has gotten a bad rap because it has been misused by Catholics who focus on some life issues but reject or downplay the most important life issue of our times: abortion.

But just because something is misused does not mean we should cease using it, (we would have to stop reading the Bible real fast if we lived by that logic).

Life is a seamless garment, a garment that originates in the hands of God. The garment of Jesus itself was woven with materials found in the natural world, created by God. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the person who most likely wove the seamless garment. For me, this represents the important role that we, as humans, have to play in maintaining and protecting the seamless garment of life. 

So here is the practical, everyday application of the "seamless garment" philosophy in my mind:

We can go to the March for Life. We can minister to prisoners. We can picket for religious freedom. We can post brilliant and hilarious blog posts on life issues. We can do all these things and more - and they are important. 

But we can also do something even more concrete, every single day.

Anytime we love others with the extravagant, unconditional love, that mirrors God's love, we are putting another stitch in the seamless garment of life, and bolstering the fabric of human dignity. We do this simply by showing others how important they are and how precious their life is. 

Loving others is one of the most important aspects of truly respecting life - one that we all manage to neglect quite often, (as is evident by the ongoing online discussions about disrespect among Christians online). This sounds simple, but I believe that in its simplicity lies a key but oft overlooked truth. Our tireless work to promote respect for human life is made meaningless if we do not practice it in the everyday interactions of our lives.

While others tear it asunder, we can add another stitch in the seamless garment of life - practically, every single day - by respecting those around us and deeply loving them into believing that their life and all life is precious.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Come Together: A Divided Online Church

He one holy roller....
Souls are many and diverse, precisely because in heaven there is harmony in variety.
                - Blessed James Alberione

Msgr. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a poignant article this week that reflected on painful divisions in the Church that become evident in online interactions.

He writes: The Church needs two wings and one heart to fly. Thank God for the diverse passions and actions of many in the Church on many and different fronts ... I’ll tell you what, perhaps the most discouraging thing about being a blogger and being out there is not the scorn of the secular. It is the death by a thousand cuts executed by some (thank God not most) fellow believers who nit-pick, and object that something I say is not said just they way they want it said. 

Ain't it the truth.

Any Catholic blogger out there can definitely relate to this. I recently received a comment on a post that accused me of being a "modernist" for writing that we are all sinners, and encouraging forgiveness! Of course the comments on my blog are generally kind and rather tame compared to what some bloggers get.

But based on Msgr. Pope's insightful article, and my reflections on experiences I have had online, here are some ideas for how to create a better environment online and in our churches:

1. Remove the Personal Imprimatur Glasses:  We often put on our own personal "imprimatur" glasses when we read online. Rather than reading with an open mind, we read with an eye for error or an eye for what aspects of the post we can critique in the comments. Are we concerned we will be subtly drawn into erroneous thinking if we are not constantly on guard? I think most of us will admit we are not that soft-headed and that is not the actual concern. Deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, when we see something that clashes with our understanding of the truth, our "righteous anger" has more to do with our desire to be right than it does anything else.

2.  The Church is Like the Beatles...: A good band needs a John to write insightful lyrics, a Paul to harmonize, a George to lead with guitar and a Ringo to play drums, (and add levity). The Body of Christ needs everyone, even the people with wacky ideas, (sometimes especially the people with wacky ideas). We are a family. Everyone is invited, everyone is welcome and we are never going to agree on everything. That is why we have the hierarchy, and thank God that we do. Not everyone is going to love the hierarchy, just like not everyone is going to like Grandpa George, but that does not mean that they are not part of the family. (I know this is not a perfect analogy but you get the point right?)

3. Stop Fighting Over Liturgy, Just Do It: If there is anyone who is sensitive to liturgical abuse, it is me. I lived in the Bay Area for five years and endured some pretty questionable liturgical practices. Believe me, I understand. But how about rather than talking about it, writing about it, and arguing about it, what if we just did liturgy and did it well? How much do articles harrumphing about the right way to do things help prevent liturgical abuse and how much do they simply raise blood pressure and bring people's attention away from the Mass the next time they see people holding hands during the Our Father? I tend to think the latter is much more prevalent. And if this is correct, we end up wastefully expending energy that is better spent doing good liturgy, (we also could choose to focus our creative energy on other things that are in dire need of our attention - can anyone say the New Evangelization?)

4. Behave Online like Your Mother is Watching: (And she is, from heaven!) Anonymity online makes us think we have free license to rant, be nit-picky, rude and generally be a bad example to others. But how often do non-Catholics or non-Christians see our internal bickering and wonder what good our faith does for us? Instead of giving into our immediate feelings, what if we paused, got up, walked around, said a prayer and sat down again (perhaps even hours later) with the intention to write something that is inspired by God, not our human reactions?

---

Moving beyond polarization is not just about cleaning house in the Church, it is about attracting others to the Church. Who wants to join a family that is constantly bickering? Sometimes we get so caught up in the leaves that we lose sight of the forest. The forest is that we are a family, like or not, our baptism makes us that. The forest is that Jesus is at the center of our faith, not anything that divides us.

Here's some inspiration, (ok this song is pretty unrelated, except the title, but I think the Beatles are appropriate any time any place):




Friday, January 11, 2013

Being a Saint in Bite-Sized Pieces

You cannot be half a saint; 
you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.
- St. 
Therese of Lisieux
The need for reform in the Church is something that ebbs and flows. Depending on historical circumstances, the need for serious change can be great in some times while at other times it is less so.

However, there is virtually never a time in which there is no need for reform in the Church because although the Church is the Body of Christ, it is also composed of weak human beings who make mistakes. As sinful humans, each one of us is in need of reform and this individual need for reform translates regularly into a need for the breath of the Spirit in the Church as a whole.

Thankfully, we can always trust that the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, is right here with us, in the middle of the messes we create for ourselves, guiding our Church as our head, through its structural skeleton and leaders, the hierarchy. But all of us, including each member of the hierarchy, is constantly in need of renewal and transformation in Christ. This is why Cardinal Dolan told the USCCB at their General Assembly last November that personal renewal, especially confession, should be a priority for bishops.

This is true for all Christians, in order to speak the Gospel, we must make it our goal to be constantly renewed in Jesus. We must become saints. It is imperative. We constantly undermine the message of the Gospel with our sins. This is a humbling reality, but one that God works through nonetheless.

So, as the Church experiences reforms through the centuries, we too can relate to this need for reform. Every day, we experience ebbs and flows. Ups and downs. Sometimes, we are caught in the downs for days, weeks, months. But inside, we have an interior push for perfection. Perfection not in the sense of stuffing it all in, pasting a smile on our face and pretending the world is rosy. No, perfection in God's sense of the word.

Perfection in love.

How can we strive to be saints? Just the thought of it makes me tired. I am so imperfect, and there is really so much work to be done. But, I tend to think of my life as I think of the Church over the centuries. I think of the many years I likely have in front of me and I just don't have the will or the stamina to even try to become a saint. The thing is, as one wise nun once pointed out to me, God's grace is not in the future. It is in the right now. So, what if we focused on being a saint now? And now? And how about now?

Our days are generally in need of reform, they have their own ups and downs, moment of laxity and moments of fervor. What if we approached perfection in love in bite-sized pieces of reform?

I am going to be a saint during breakfast.

I am going to be a saint as I walk down the stairs.

I am going to be a saint as I greet that person who was rude to me yesterday.

Without worrying about keeping it up, without fearing consistency, what if we just tried to be saints in the now. Forgetting our failures, letting go of our humiliations, allowing our moods to change like children, never holding on to our bad moments, forgiving ourselves and moving on. Like Peter after he denied Jesus, we just need to keep on trying, instant by instant, being gentle with ourselves and begging God to reform us in the moment. And when we fail, we brush ourselves off and try again, the very next moment.

How about starting now? Or now?

You can be a saint now, as long as you truly love God. - Blessed James Alberione

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Resolution: Sanctify Your Time

The concept of sanctification of time is nothing new, and it is an idea that is found not only in Christianity but also within other religions.

In the Jewish faith it is an important concept. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time.” 

For Christians, the sanctification of time takes on a new meaning because we believe God not only created time, but also entered time. In a General Audience in 1997, Blessed John Paul II said that "with Jesus eternity has entered time."

A common understanding of sanctifying time is to set apart time in our day for God. For Christians, particularly because God entered time, we believe it is possible to give our time in a radical way to God.

Unfortunately, most Christians have a very limited idea of sanctified time. An hour or two on Sunday is usually the most we feel we need to give to God.  Conveniences have multiplied so we have more "free time," but we quickly fill it up with more conveniences, entertainment, work and technologies. As a result, we give less and less time to God.

We are a culture of "no time."

When I first entered the convent, one of the sisters shared with me her philosophy on time: "I do not consider my time to be my own any more. My time belongs to God."

Theoretically, this is a pleasant enough concept. Put into practice, this is not for the faint of heart. 

To live from the notion that our time belongs to God is to not only set aside time for prayer, but to consider all of our time as belonging to Him.

What does this mean practically?

1. Live in Conversation with God

We do not have to spend 24 hours a day in a church to give our time to God. Instead, He simply asks that we constantly refocus our attention on Him, in even the smallest details of our life. God is interested! We do not have to be scrupulous; God rarely gives clear signs for every move we are to make. But simply acknowledging His presence allows us to act with Him, rather than on our own. As Brother Lawrence wrote in his classic, The Practice of the Presence of God: "I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God; or, to speak better, a habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God."

2. Frequent the Sacraments

It is the sacraments that increase sanctifying grace in our soul. Sanctifying grace is like the glue between us and God. The more we take advantage of the great gift of the sacraments, the more we are united with God dwelling within us through our baptism. The more united we are to God, the more God can work through us, sanctifying all we do and say. 

3. Accept Unscheduled Surprises with Joy

This is perhaps the most difficult for me as I like to organize my time and I do not like surprises. But, as my superior often reminds me, it is Jesus who acts through the unscheduled moments in our lives. When we are asked to help with something, or we have to do something unexpected, it is often Jesus who is asking us to set aside our plans and ideas and follow His plan for the day.

4. Get in Touch with the Timeless

The Book of Ecclesiastes has a beautiful verse about time: “[God] has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts” (Eccl 3:11). We are creatures bound to time, and often we forge extra manacles of schedule to bind us. But God has made us with a thirst for eternity. This is one of the most important things that separates humans from the rest of the animal world. We understand forever. If we live with our eyes on forever, with our hearts connected to God, who is outside of time, but inside of our souls through baptism, we can live a life that is not a slave to time.

_ _ _ _

My prayers are with you in the New Year. May we all grow closer to God, until all of our time is lived in union with Him. Please pray for this intention for me as well!

Please feel free to comment with ideas for how to sanctify our time in the New Year...