NYS Bishops on Care for the Mentally Ill: “Our Duty Is to Welcome Them with Openness and Affection”

In 1980, New York State decided to take a look at how the mentally ill were being treated in society. They found some horrifying news as they looked at the state psychiatric hospitals. All it took for one to be “committed” to a state run psychiatric institution was the signatures of two psychiatrists. Obviously that system was abused and many people suffered because of it.

They decided to reform the law and they released many people from these institutions without much of a community-based plan to assist and care for them.

34 years later, the mentally ill still need attention. The stigma of mental illness still exists in society and we often deem people with mental illness as dangerous and unstable.

The truth is that “one in four adults, some 61.5 million people suffer from some form of mental illness.” For some, talk therapy with a psychologist is enough treatment needed to bring them back up to the borderline of good mental health. For others, medication is needed to correct a chemical imbalance. In either case, treatment works and is desperately needed. It is a serious community issue that needs community-based health care workers and much commitment to help people care for themselves and to seek whatever treatment might be necessary.

I am proud to say that our New York State Catholic Bishops have taken up this cause with a pastoral letter called “For I am Lonely and Afflicted” that I encourage you to all read in its entirety. They wrote a similar letter in 1980 and I am glad that they have re-affirmed this as a social justice issue for all Catholics to be aware.

Here’s a highlight that I found both touching and challenging for all of us:

“…with regard to developing “attitudes of acceptance and compassion” in our Catholic population. Let us be clear, it is our duty and the duty of every pastor, every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal, and all others in positions of Church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the Church to the fullest extent possible.

Furthermore, all Catholics are called to be welcoming of this population in their churches, schools and communities. We must ask ourselves, have we always been as charitable as can be when we encounter those with mental illness? Have we sought to include them and make them feel welcome? Have we avoided the temptation to shun those who are different? Have we been open to residential housing or community mental health centers in our neighborhoods? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then we must again look to the example of Jesus given to us in the Gospels, repent for when we have failed, and resolve going forward to mirror His love and mercy for all God’s children.”

This is a call to all of us to ask “What are we doing for those with mental health diagnoses in our parishes, campuses, hospitals and neighborhoods?” How might we lobby as Catholics for greater care for those with mental illness? How might Jesus be calling us to stretch our hearts just a bit farther to care for those who may desperately need help and for those who have sought treatment and find themselves still ostracized by society?

I know quite a few people who have faced these issues either personally, or because they know someone with mental illness. Mental illness is no different chemically, than having a cholesterol imbalance that needs medication to regulate it. Treated properly, most people live rather normal lives with few, if any, issues surfacing. Gone untreated, severe problems occur that often go beyond the individual and can effect whole communities.

We need to be open, more open, to people with mental illnesses. We need to work with our communities in order to help people get treatment that they need. At Canisius, we work closely with our counseling center and have set up several days where they use our conference room for screenings for depression and anxiety. We’ve walked students at risk over to the counseling center and have been met there by caring and wonderful people who do life-changing work for so many people. The pastoral letter points out that “About 20 percent of youth experience severe mental disorders in a given year.” I would suspect that number is higher on any college campus.

As a spiritual director, I often refer people when I notice the signs of mental illness, most often depression. I’m glad that younger people are a bit more open to professional counseling and the need for medication when it warrants it. I hope that trend continues because we need to Stop the Stigma of mental illness in our society.

Today let us be grateful to our Bishops, in this case, those in my home state. Bishop Malone is my own Bishop here in Buffalo and I’m proud to call him a friend and also proud that he is but one of the authors of this document along with his brother bishops and the staff of many at Catholic Charities who know all too well, the need for the stigma to end and for community-based mental health care.

So today, let us pray for those with mental illness, that they may be able to receive the treatment that they need. Let us pray for those who care for those who have mental health diagnoses that they might be good advocates and be patient during the tough times. And let’s pray for each one of us, that we might have the courage to stand with those who are most often ostracized in society, to call for greater care and a greater need for quality intervention, when others cannot speak for themselves and need care. Let us greet these people with love and with dignity. As the Bishops point out, this is what Jesus did. And so let me close with the words of the psalmist:

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart;
and free me from my anguish.
(PS 25: 16-17)

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Nun: I Had No Idea I was Pregnant

Fans of Discovery Health’s “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” will love this: a Salvadoran nun gave birth in Italy this week, claiming she had absolutely no idea she was pregnant.

She said she was in her convent in Campomoro when she felt stomach cramps and was rushed to a hospital in the nearby city of Rieti, AFP reports. She ended up giving birth to a boy.

Italian news agency ANSA reported that the 31-year-old nun named her son Francesco, which also happens to be the name of the current Pope.

I’m not buying this. The Nun in question is 31.

Her superior said “It seems she was not able to resist temptation.”

Apparently. I’m glad they are caring for mother and child. Hoping that we don’t find out that the nun was assaulted.

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Breaking: Msgr Lynn in Philly: Decision Reversed

Just in: Via Deacon Greg:

The unanimous decision released Thursday by the state Superior Court also dismisses the criminal case against Monsignor William Lynn, a Philadelphia area priest. Lynn has been serving three to six years in prison after his child-endangerment conviction last year. Prosecutors had argued that Lynn reassigned predators to new parishes in Philadelphia when he was secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Lynn’s conviction stems from the case of one priest, Edward Avery, found to have abused a child after such a transfer. Lynn’s attorneys contended the state’s child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn.

Read More at: http://www.wjactv.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/pa-court-reverses-conviction-priest-sex-abuse-case-1179.shtml#.UryB9aWBLj0

The only question I have is: Did he know? If so, then he deserves to do time. However, I think there’s a good chance that Msgr. Lynn did all he could and was overruled by the now late Cardinal Bevilacqua.

We’ll see how this shakes out.

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And People Are Crazy…

When I was a talk radio producer I had a hierarchy of “callers”, people who would call into a talk show trying to get on the air to voice their opinion. My hierarchy was as follows in reverse order:

3) You had a very intelligent point, succinctly made and you could go toe to toe with the host intelligently and passionately.

2) You were angry and you would make the host go ballistic. Or you made me laugh and I thought the host would either laugh or get mad at you.

And #1) You were just lame enough to be funny. Not in a sad or pathetic way, but in a way that was just lame enough that we could get one good laugh out of you.

It also convinced me that there are a lot of loonies in the general public–and I mean that in the best way possible.

So today I read a beautiful article by Fr. James Martin, S.J. on the Pope’s recent embrace and kiss of a disfigured man with a horrible skin condition. His main point is succinct:

Even more broadly, for believers, the Pope’s kiss reminds us of God. This is the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity.
Few of us suffer from such a terrible disease as does the man in the photo; not many of us are physically disfigured. But many of us feel internally disfigured – unworthy of unconditional love. Yet God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope’s embrace.

But then I read the comments below and just felt like the democracy of internet is creating way too many “minor league radio callers” with the folks who write into the com boxes. One person even suggested that Fr. Jim kill himself–which if it happened in my day was enough to get you banned for life. Another suggested that God doesn’t exist and that Fr. Jim’s article was akin to buffoonery. Of course, they made the same old arguments that we’re all sick and tired of hearing. Nothing new. Not even anything creative.

They are not getting close to being just lame enough to be funny.

A colleague of mine recently invited me to plan some events and to invite some “friendly atheists” to the conversation. I asked him what I should do about “unfriendly atheists”? His response was great. He said that we have to stay in conversation with people who are willing to have an intelligent conversation and dismiss those who simply cannot maintain a conversation or who simply don’t want to be part of one.

So tonight I will begin my prayers by asking God to bless those who are unable to have a conversation and who more importantly, find it necessary to be mean. I pray that we can find ways to talk with one another. And I pray that we don’t get discouraged in this work, this vital work that can indeed bring about peace in the world.

And I pray that everyone can see that ugliness comes in many forms. There are many in the world who would call the man who the Pope embraced “ugly”. But the truth is that I find attitudes to be far uglier than any physical attribute.

And here is the Pope who, like God, is unafraid of touching the ugly parts of who we are.

What about us? Who are we all too eager to dismiss? Who do we cast off and cast out? Who are we so uncharitable to, to the point of denigrating?

We are called to touch these people with our own willingness to stay in conversation with those we can talk to despite the difficulty in doing so. And that can get ugly. It can get painful and vengeful and just simply put, sinful.

May God inspire us to stay in conversation with each other and in doing so may we be healed and renewed.

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Daddy, The Scary Priest Made Me Cry

images-2So be forewarned, I’m about to be cranky today. And this is so because I have bent over backwards trying to remind people that welcoming is one of the central aspects of church that people look for in a parish. Quite often, this is forgotten by pastors and pastoral associates, who granted, are far too overworked and who we depend on far too much.

But this one takes the cake.

My best friend took his six year old daughter to mass about a week ago. He takes her up with him to communion because she hasn’t yet received her first communion and doesn’t want to sit in her pew alone. (I did the same thing as a kid–when my father and sister went up and left me alone, I cried uncontrollably once when I was four. Amazingly, I have a strong memory and have sent them the therapy bill.)

He reached the head of the line and the priest offered him communion and as he received the Body of Christ in his hands, his daughter tried to grab the ciborium from the priest because after all, she wanted Jesus too.

Now my friend’s daughter is six. She’s a precious child and she’s a lot of work. We often can’t have a phone conversation without at least 5 interruptions from said precious daughter.

But the priest’s reaction was to pull the ciborium away and say angrily “DON’T YOU DO THAT!” I’m sure he tried to slap her hands away too, but my friend is too kind to mention it.

So my friend said nicely and quietly to his daughter as the rest the church snapped their necks to see what Fr. Meanie was reacting to, “No-no honey, don’t do that. Come on, let’s go back to our seats.”

He thought she was fine but when he got to his pew, he heard a strange noise…a low whimper. Here was his daughter, crying a low cry. So he turned to her and asked her what was wrong.


But he couldn’t take her home, one, mass was not finished and two, is that she had Sunday school right afterwards. Which she was then fighting with my friend about because she sure as heck didn’t want to go there today.

Now let’s think about this in any number of ways.

There are now future implications to this. The first being, good luck getting her to be excited about her first communion. She’s going to be terrified to head up to that same priest who frightened her. And who knows, he’ll probably yell at her again because she didn’t put her hands out properly.

The second thing is good luck getting her to want to go to church at ALL.

The third thing is obvious to me, but many others might disagree:

Jesus doesn’t NEED us to protect Him.

What if the worst thing happened and she knocked a few hosts out of the ciborium and they fell to the floor?

Well, someone would pick them up and wipe up the particles with a damp purificator and then have that purified. We should be respectful of the sacrament, undoubtedly, because it is Christ himself in the appearance of bread. But what about the living and breathing Christ that is a little girl that stands before us?

I train eucharistic ministers and this is always a question that they have…What happens if I mess up and drop my ciborium or my plate? And I always tell them the same thing:

“We should respect the sacrament, but accidents happen. But you want to know something? Here’s something that was no accident. Look to the cross.”

And when they look up at the cross I say: “Jesus went to the cross for us. That’s the worst thing that could have happened to Jesus. And now look! Here He is again with us anyway. Jesus defeated death and remains with us now despite going to the cross and physically dying! I don’t think you dropping a ciborium is going to hurt him all that much. But that said, respectfully pick up the hosts and then place a corporal over the spot until we can wipe up any particles.”

They often smile at me and relax into their ministry and I think maybe twice in 15 years have we ever had to deal with someone dropping a host. They become more comfortable in the presence of the Eucharist as well.

And a six year old should also be comfortable in Jesus’ presence and now she is not.

My friend had a great line. “Didn’t Jesus say let the little children come to me?” I concurred and said “He also said a great millstone should be thrown around the neck of someone who distances a child from Jesus!”

We laughed a bit and I asked him if he spoke to the priest afterwards. He replied, “I waited for him after he came back to the sacristy and when he came out, I went to apologize to him and he said “Hi” and then ran past me and out the door.”

Upon further reflection I asked how did he get into the sacristy so fast? Wasn’t he shaking hands with his parishioners afterwards? He said, “There was a small crowd it was an early morning mass, so it didn’t take him long to greet people and I was busy calming down my daughter then and he got back into the sacristy before I could get her calmed down.”

Of course he didn’t spend a lot of time with parishioners. Instead he got back to that sacristy as fast as he could. It takes me a good half hour after a student mass to get back to the sacristy some days.

Here’s what should have happened in my humble opinion and I’m a eucharistic minister and I’ve had children do this to me. One, is that we should remain calm. Again, Jesus can take care of himself pretty well, so nothing that we do is really going to matter too much. Two is you can calmly tell the child, “Oh honey, I know. But soon you’ll get to receive your first communion. Sorry you can’t receive yet, but God loves you. Hey dad, thanks for bringing her to mass with you today!” I’ve even given kids a little pat on the head or on the cheek afterwards and they’ve often become kids who have sought me out later. One need not snatch the ciborium back angrily. Even if the kid got a host, well…then you could just ask for it back. Even if she consumed it and received her first communion that day…is that REALLY so bad? It would be an opportunity to explain things to her at the very least.

Some days those of us who distribute communion need to relax a bit. And in particular, those who are clergy, priests and deacons, have an extra responsibility when it comes to children. Especially these days, when our record with children is not all that stellar. That means that they have to take an extra moment for a six year old and give them a good experience and not a scary one. Welcoming is the NUMBER ONE thing that we need to do and the POPE is screaming at us to make sure we do it.

And even he’s screaming softly and politely and dies it all while hugging little kids and kissing them on the tops of their heads.

Can kids be rambunctious, sure? Could a kid really mess things up by knocking a ciborium out of a eucharistic minister’s hands? Of course that could happen. But guess what?
Things of a lesser concern happen to their parents every single day. Dinner plates get broken, milk gets spilled, walls get written on and things get messy.

And we love our children anyway and more importantly we try to be patient with them and explain what they should and shouldn’t do calmly and politely and maybe we need to do this with each other as well more often so that children see that adults can deal with things calmly and therefore they can too.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for this priest who I won’t reveal, nor will I reveal the parish or even the town this took place in. Suffice it to say that I pray this day that one little girl will be able to find Jesus waiting for her when she seeks him and I pray that a welcoming pastor and parish might be around for them to seek out and feel comfortable in.

As for you, Fr. Meanie. I pray for you too. May you be able to relax just a bit more and maybe take a vacation to calm those nerves. And while you respect the Eucharist greatly, perhaps you might show the same respect for all the members of the Body of Christ who present themselves before you.

And to my friend’s little girl: I hope your first communion day is so special. Jesus loves you.

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Canonizing the Council

A few years ago I had a discussion with a colleague about the spirit of Vatican II. He noted:

“Perhaps they should admit that this wasn’t an ecumenical council. It was just a local council and therefore the changes that the council prescribed do not have to be followed?”

Now this person stated it as a question, but he was technically giving ascent to the idea.

The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is clearly an attempt to not merely canonize these two men but also to get beyond the different factions that resulted after the council and to promote the need for us to continue to live in dynamic tension with each other.

The NY Times said:

Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Center in Bologna, Italy, said Francis was holding to the pattern of promoting John, popular among liberals, by pairing him with a pope more popular among conservatives. Mr. Melloni said soon after John’s death in 1963, a campaign to have him acclaimed a saint during the Vatican Council was countered by the conservative wing of the church, which soon after opened the canonization process for Pius XII, a staunch anti-Communist who led the church during World War II.

“John XXIII is the father of Vatican II, and to canonize him is to canonize the council as such and its intention of renewal and unity,” Mr. Melloni said. “But the Vatican is also taking into consideration the tension and sometimes harsh debate that arose around the council, and so they have remained faithful to the idea of linking John XXIII with someone else.” Pairing the popes “also balances a very long canonization process with an incredibly accelerated procedure,” he added. John Paul II will become a saint only nine years after his death.

Pope Francis is indeed trying to provide “a little something for everyone” or in this case perhaps a big something. But I think he’s also trying to remind those who might disagree that Vatican II is legitimate.

And that it’s not going away. And that many reforms of Vatican II have not yet been realized.

And that the two most prominent Popes of the Second Vatican Council are now saints–that seems to speak volumes about the council.

I’m just a bit too young to understand the widespread change that formed in the church as a result of Vatican II. But I have seen the divisive factions that form as a result of this. It reminds me a lot of Isaac and Ishmael.

“They came together to bury their father.”

And now we must come together to honor the saints, to honor those people who built our history. And for better or for worse, we honor those who we sometimes disagree with, who didn’t always get things right but who were determined to stay the course and to work through differences in love for the church, the people of God.

The canonization of both Popes is just one more call to mercy from Pope Francis. It is a call to factions to release resentments that they hold against each other and to come together to celebrate the church’s rich history since the council. It was started by a liberalizing reformer and it was led post council for a long time by a doctrinal conservative.

And yet, the church lives! It may be a bit battered and bruised at times, but it doesn’t quite ever sleep. It celebrates it’s dedication to justice as it critiques itself from time to time and calls on others to inform the church of where she’s got it wrong and more importantly, where it is doing things right.

The Pope hopes to call all of us into a new way of being church, one that is not liberal or conservative, but rather merciful. Mercy calls each one of us to remember that we indeed need to love those whom we don’t always care for because they are just as likely to be saints as we are. Most people’s hearts are in the right place. No matter where we stand on any number of issues. Highlighting that mercy, brings us into the peace that God offers to us.

So let’s pray for peace and compromise and for love of one another. So that we in our desire to love can too become servants of God and ultimately be called into the beauty of God’s kingdom. Amen

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Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.

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At 80, Jesuit Decides to Return to Lay State

An amazing decision by now former Jesuit Bert Thelen on why he decided to return to the lay state despite being nearly 80 and serving the church as a priest for a majority of his years.

“In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, ‘Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.’ As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples …”

I know many men who are priests from a variety of dioceses and religious orders who struggle with these same issues. Please continue to pray for them and for all of us who they serve.

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Deacon Joe Marotta Drowns–So Sad

Deacon Joe Marotta, a good friend and blogger at The Journeyman Carpenter with whom I regularly corresponded with has left us way too early and much too unexpectedly. He drowned on a family vacation and leaves behind a wife, Katie and five children Caroline, Christopher, Jack, Michael, and William, along with dozens of mourners from his parish and from the University, Randlph College, where he was employed. He was only 39.

Deacon Joe would regularly comment on this blog on facebook and always was fair and often hysterically funny.

Only a few weeks ago, Deacon Joe sought my counsel because he was asked to fill in at the Baccalaureate ceremony at his beloved Randolph College.

In short his message was HELP!

I told him to take one simple piece of advice: “Don’t be boring. It’s one minute and you’re mostly holding up the ceremony for more than half the people in the audience–so get creative!” I told him I did my UB invocation in verse and he took to that idea nicely.

This is the day the LORD has made,
So let us rejoice and be glad!
After four years behind the red brick wall,
You are sent forth to engage – and to make change –
In this world as an RC grad.

But for a few moments, let us reflect here today,
And give thanks that you’re up to the task!
Through your time at the College,
You have grown in knowledge,
And this weekend, have every right to bask!

From dozens of countries and hundreds of towns,
Whether Jew or Greek, woman or man, young or old,
You gathered to drink in the Spirit of Wisdom.
It is with joy
That now we praise God –
And continue to build up the Kingdom.

Those parents with you today,
Are also deserving of thanks.
With prayers and encouragement they gave you support,
As well as funds from their banks!

Four years ago, they dropped you at Main,
and with a hug bid you “farewell”
Today, they can see,
And I also agree,
You are ready to Walk in the Dell
(weather permitting, of course!).

And so, yes, we must certainly rejoice,
And with one voice should all be glad!
For the LORD has made you, this Day
By God’s Grace, a Randolph Grad!

One particular moment I now ghastly remember with Joe. We were chatting late in the evening one night over facebook. He fell for a practical joke I delivered on facebook saying that I was going to be spending thousands of hours in my car writing a book on praying in the car because it was my favorite place to be.

Those who know me well, know I HATE driving.

He thought the project was actually a good idea. I was even considering doing it when he got done with me and was going to ask him to write a forward for it.

But one comment he made convinced me that there was something in this project worth doing.

He spoke of a near-miss car accident he had experienced and said:

By some miracle, no damage at all… I was able to pull back onto the road and drive…. slowly…. home.
First time I have ever told someone that story.
Not to be too morbid, but the odds are that for many young people, the last moments of their lives are spent in a car!

A man as sensitive as that is surely now with God. And I will pray to him often for me as I know he often prayed for me and my family and my students and even that old dog of mine.

His final moments I pray were not too painful and not too frightening–that God took him by the hand and allowed him to be at peace despite the circumstances of his death.

We pray today for Katie and his children and all those who he leaves behind, better for having known him.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And Let perpetual light shine upon him. May Joe’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Andrew Greeley, Rest in Peace

fb36b051175917060da1d07c31403e3816ee0ebcFr. Andrew Greeley, a longtime priest of the Chicago Archdiocese and a noted sociologist who has much influenced my work in young adult ministry, has passed away. PBS had a wonderful feature on Fr. Greeley some time ago which also features his good friend and my pal, Fr. John Cusick.

Watch Andrew Greeley on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

A beautiful life, filled with passion. As Fr. Cusick said when the history of the American Catholic Church is written, Greeley will undoubtedly remain as a prolific name. He spoke of the Sex Abuse scandal LONG before anyone else. He saw the dwindling in the pews, but noted the loose affiliation that many Catholics still held on to about their own personal Catholicism (at hospitals and otherwise people still would check off “Catholic” as their religion–sadly that seems to now be changing in many case because too many ignored Greeley’s call to tend to the “unaffiliated” and turn them into “full and active members” of the church.

Chicago dealt with the sex abuse scandal long before other dioceses were paying attention to it. Cardinal Bernadin was smart enough to listen to Greeley who had a done a lot of research on this and together they hammered out a plan. That plan for the Chicago Archdiocese became the basis years later for the Dallas Charter. Chicago still had their problems despite Greeley and Bernadin’s early efforts as many more cases surfaced in forthcoming years–but you don’t exactly equate Chicago with Boston, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. One of the more infamous stories comes from Cardinal Bernandin’s plea for the Bishops to put something in place with regards to the sex abuse scandal and reportedly one Cardinal soundly rejected the idea saying, “We just don’t have this problem in Boston.” Famous last words from a now infamous Cardinal Law.

While I didn’t know Fr. Greeley, I did have the pleasure of meeting him once at a lecture he gave with Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal George. Fr. Barron was unknown then to the larger church and he kind of stole the show impressing his priestly companions. Everyone expected a smackdown between the elder statesmen and both were quite cordial to one another. Little known to others, the two men were great Opera companions and would frequently go together to many a performance. Their respect for one another, despite disagreements from time to time was a true sign of collegiality amongst brother priests. And still suspicion reigned: Greeley offered the Archdiocese of Chicago $1 million to create a foundation to help inner-city Catholic students. The archdiocese turned him down without explanation. Amazing how divisions can still take hold within the church.

Fr Greeley was kind enough to send me some of his research which I used in Googling God. He always reminded most of us practitioners that data is important and a careful look at Sociological surveys can tell us a whole lot. That’s a gift I will continue to treasure.

So blessings on his life and may God have mercy on his soul.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Andy’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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