She’s a Real Mother Teresa

Fr. James Martin, SJ has a great article on Huffington Post today on how Mother Teresa isn’t any more holy than say, the average housewife.

Since at least the Second Vatican Council, which convened in the 1960s and stressed the “universal call to holiness,” Catholics have been reminded that everyone has a vocation. Everyone’s call is to be holy — no matter who you are.

To be blunt, that means that the work of a Catholic sister is no holier than the work of your sister — who might be a mother, a lawyer or a physician. (Or all three.) That doesn’t mean that your sister is necessarily a saint, but that she could certainly become one!

That’s not to detract from the manifest holiness of Mother Teresa, who I consider to be one of the greatest saints ever. (She vaults into that category because of her unshakeable fidelity to her call even in the midst of her “dark night” of prayer, when God felt absent to her for years and years.) Rather, it’s to remind people that the young mother who wakes up in the wee hours of the night to care for her child is every bit as saintly as the Catholic nun who spends hours and hours teaching children in an inner-city school.

Indeed. There is an inherent misconception that our lives themselves cannot be deemed holy. But the truth of the matter as Merton points out that “All that is needed to become a saint is to simply want to be one.” We don’t live lives of quiet desperation, I think, rather we live lives that we view as quiet degradation.

“I’m no Mother Teresa”

“Well, I’m certainly no saint.”

“The church will fall down if the likes of me should be a lector.”

“I can’t believe that I’m holy enough to be a eucharistic minister.”

These are all uttered by GOOD and HOLY people who live their own lives as students, fathers, mothers, librarians, firefighters and sports announcers. They can’t see that these vocations in and of themselves are holy.

God calls us to simply be who we are. And the act of being who we are is holy. And when we sin, we get off track from what is the best expression of who we are but it doesn’t mean that we’ve suddenly stopped being able to be holy people. Fr. Jim gets this fact directly.

I’ll bet that Mother Teresa would agree. Better than most, she understood the universal call to holiness. When visitors used to visit her in Calcutta, and offer to work with her, and follow her example, she would happily accept some. But to most, she would say, simply, “Find your own Calcutta.”

Today we pray to find our Calcuttas–the places we are called to express all that we are and all we can be. For many of us, our Calcutta may be helping with homework when a child is stuck on a math problem, or holding the hand of a fearful spouse when she gets diagnosed with cancer, or mental illness, or even shingles. It may be helping a co-worker or even treating them with respect when others don’t.

You don’t need to be Mother Teresa. The world already had one.

You simply need to be you.

The Need for Sabbath

The NY Times reports today that clergy are burning themselves out. Duh, you’re not exactly breaking a story there.

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

Hmmm..this story lacks some contrast. After all, the burnout rate in other occupations are just as bad:

– One-third of Americans feel they are living with extreme stress.

– About half of Americans (48%) feel that their stress has increased over the past five years.

– Money and work are the leading causes of stress (mentioned by three quarters of Americans).

Source: American Psychological Association study, 2007.

And furthermore,

More than 30 percent of workers say they are “always” or “often” under stress at work. A quarter of those surveyed in 2002 said there often were not enough co-workers to get the job done

National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Seeing these statistics we might be surprised to find that clergy aren’t MORE stressed than the article would suggest.

But as someone who works in ministry and secondly someone who worked in sports radio for years there’s an important factor here that the article doesn’t cover. In both fields that I’ve worked in one overlapping element is present:

My work was and is related to people’s down-time.

People want to be ministered TO and that is why it is hard for us to get commitments from people in the pews to serve as retreat leaders, council members, even lectors. It’s their time to be renewed, their sabbath and making it “feel” like work is something that is a deal-breaker for many and even causes many to stay home.

Working in sports was similar in that my job was everyone else’s hobby. So when people wanted to talk about sports, it was on their downtime. My downtime consisted often of anything but. I’d quickly change the subject to something other than sports at dinner parties but sports fans (mostly men) couldn’t let it go. They clung to their downtime and roped me into their conversation, often against my will. My friend Sean’s wife Gretchen, in my single days once took me aside at a party when she saw my level of stress

Gretchen: “I know exactly how you feel.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

G: “Well, you’d like to talk about something other than sports and probably want to chat up the other women at this party but the guys won’t leave you alone, right?”

Me: “Why that’s exactly right! How did you know?”

G: “Hi I’m Gretchen and I work for a make-up company.”

Now that I have left the sports field I have regained my quiet downtime of watching baseball, football and hockey (with occasional outbursts of profanity). But almost never tell people that I worked in that field unless I’m in the mood. Surprisingly though, people seem less interested in sports these days anyway, especially younger people.

What are you stressing these days? If you’re a ministry person, how do you spend the sabbath? What causes you to burnout and what helps you recognize it when you do?

Important ways to stay refreshed await us all. As for me, I’m off on Friday to watch 4 baseball games in 4 different cities. And unless you’re my wife or my parents…I won’t be taking your call.

After all, the game is on.

BustedHalo’s® Open Letter to Anne Rice

Myisha Cherry takes a stab at an open letter to Anne Rice. She sums up nicely some similar thoughts to my own.

Even today there are a few of my denominational doctrines that I do not agree with, but the heart of what Jesus stood for is still dear to my heart. My experience from 32 years of church, particularly the black church, has led me to believe that the church is largely anti-gay and anti-female, although two of the largest groups that attend and serve in church are gay and female. The part of me that yearns for justice and equality does not accept this ethic at all. But I stay. I stay because I recognize that I am needed. I am needed to preach a different message; one closer to the one Jesus so radically spoke. I stay because the heart of Christianity feeds my spirit and I am able to recognize and discern “the bad” when it appears. I stay because there are others like me who need my company and support. God and the true gospel are so much more awesome than the acts of man.

I am disappointed you have chosen to leave Christianity, Anne, because people like you are needed to help bring change and revolution but also to serve as a light to others that will shine throughout the body of Christ, so that the institution, filled with weak and strong believers, can be awakened and enlightened. Reformer Martin Luther did not leave Christianity; instead he fought for it. A woman with a writing gift like yours can help usher in a type of radical love, acceptance, accountability and revival that would make Jesus proud (not to mention Christian believers better.) I don’t believe this can be done effectively by disowning Christianity totally. Jesus was a Jew (insider), who was considered an outsider. So was Paul. It is the “inside” outsiders that have the power to make great change.

Today let us pray for the the “inside-outsiders” that they indeed might be heard as a voice filled with wisdom. And may that wisdom lead us to the truth that God wants us to discover.

How Far Would You Go For Reality TV?

Dr. Christine Whelan at Busted Halo’s® Virtue/Vice Blog suggest quite far:

A French documentary, which aired this spring, argues that we’d do anything to win a reality television show — even kill another human being.

The film, called “The Game of Death,” features players in a fake television game shocking fellow contestants if they answer a question incorrectly. The directors of the film found some 80 contestants and auditioned them to take part in a game-show called “Zone Xtreme,” where other “contestants” (actually actors) were asked questions while strapped to an electrified chair. If the actor gave an incorrect answer, the contestant was encouraged to administer an electric shock as punishment, while the crowd roared approval.

Sound familiar? It should. The idea for this show comes from the 1960s and the Milgram experiments. The experiment was similar in that people were asked to hit a button and they would hear bloodcurdling screams and told to continue despite it. Simply because someone in a position of authority asked, people did what they were told.

Amazingly, it seems people will do this for even more superfluous reasons today.

How far would you go for something you really wanted?

More on Anne Rice leaving Christianity

Catholic Anarchy responds:

I can’t say I can’t relate to Rice’s frustrations with the Catholic Church and with her feeling that she is an “outsider.”

I do think the Googling God post is awfully presumptuous about Rice’s reasons for “quitting Christianity.” I’m not sure that the author can make the judgment that she has chosen to “go it alone” and to “horde [her] relationship with God for [herself],” or that she prefers “the ‘vertical’ relationship between God and self without the ‘horizontal’ relationship where one also relates to God in relationship with others” just because she has decided to “leave Christianity” while clinging to Christ. The “you’re in or you’re out” view of ecclesiology will no longer cut it. The boundaries of the church are fluid and we cannot limit it to “Christianity’s” often tired institutional forms, as important as they might be. Sounds to me like she has left “Christianity” but is still very much attached to the Body of Christ. May she find peace wherever she finds “church” to be.

I don’t think I’m saying that Anne is “in or out” and that’s it. Hardly and my open invitation to welcome her to any community I’m part of shows it.

Ironically, I think that’s exactly what Ms. Rice is saying!

“If you don’t agree with me I’m walking out” seems to be her attitude. Now granted we all have frustrations with our communities and I want to own my own failures in that regard. I’ve left parishes over the attitudes of pastors, the unwelcoming nature of parishioners and even because of a preference in liturgical style. However, I think to lump not just Catholicism but all of Christendom into one lump and saying that she’ll have nothing to do with them, is a bit much.

For me (and please note that I’m speaking for myself, and don’t know the mind of Ms. Rice, who I deeply respect), to leave my denomination alone would be like saying to every teacher I ever had that I am no longer willing to be part of the dialogue where we grappled with scripture, church teaching, ecclesiology, liturgy, theology, etc. I’d be poorer for not being in those conversations and poorer still for stopping now.

People can, and often do, help us change our minds, see our own shortcomings, see wisdom in their point of view and solidify our own convictions. Great theologians have had deep divisions over centuries but I don’t think too many of them simply picked up their toys and went home.

My friend Alex Swingle made a comment on Facebook that I found interesting as well:

Maybe her reasons should wake the church up from their slumber? As a Catholic I totally understand where she is coming from

A quick story to back up Alex here:

My friend’s mother is a staunch Catholic–not a conservative by any means but certainly a devoted Catholic. Her son in his young adult years stopped going to church. I doubt if he stopped believing in God, Jesus, the Real Presence, or any other tenant of the faith. But what he stopped doing was trying to fit into a community.

His mother prodded into this and he simply said that in his newfound hometown he couldn’t find a parish that spoke to him. He admitted to not looking too far afield. And that’s when mom uttered:

“Well you can’t be so passive! You have to speak up in a community and tell them that they aren’t meeting your needs. Or travel to another place where they will meet your spiritual needs. Why won’t you fight for your faith to be fed?”

Her son’s answer was something that I think the church should heed:

“Oh mom! I just don’t have that kind of time!”

This is why I often say that the quality of the welcome in parishes is clearly the most important element to pay attention to. There’s already enough division in the church, we don’t have to add to it. Pointing out divisions up front is an easy way to eliminate people from the community.

Now that doesn’t mean that we stop talking altogether about what divides us, or what might trouble us, or even where we think the church is “out of touch.” But we can do all of this with charity, even agreeing to disagree and then moving on but keeping the door open for future considerations to dialogue. Loving one another in community goes beyond divisions. Hanging in despite those divisions to me, is a sign that we are willing to love those who we don’t particularly like sometimes.

Isn’t that church? Isn’t that what Jesus would hope for? Or are we trying to set up über communities where we can point fingers at others who disagree.

Granted, others might have that attitude and may have been un-Christian towards Ms. Rice, and indeed, she may have good reasons for leaving everything behind. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling sad about it and hoping that she reconsiders. I would probably disagree with some of what Ms. Rice thinks about Christianity and she might disagree with some of my beliefs, but I’d always want her to sit in my pew and hold my hand during the Our Father and then offer a sign of peace to her afterwards.

We are one body, one body in Christ…and we do not stand alone.

Perhaps that is a lesson for us all?

Steinbrenner: He Could Never Be Happy

As many of you know, I covered the Yankees home games for a number of years as a locker room reporter for a few radio outlets. While I got to know Bob Sheppard pretty well when I was there “on the beat,” George Steinbrenner and I never really got to know each other. I had only one or two interactions with him and they were both positive ones.

I was listening to Jim Rome yesterday in the car (you always wondered, now you know what I do when I drive) on local WGR here and he had the great sportswriter, Bill Madden on who wrote a great new book on George Steinbrenner, The Last Lion of Baseball.

They discussed the fact that George was never satisfied. George’s father had the same attitude. If George won 3 track heats (hurdling) at Williams College his father would wonder why he didn’t win the fourth?

In 1996 when the Yankee dynasty began, they had lost the first two games of the series to Atlanta. My friend worked for the Yankees at the time and she said to me, “Well, we’re all getting fired if they lose, so please root for a comeback.” George wouldn’t stand for even a second place finish and while brilliant, I wonder if he ever really felt free?

It’s this kind of self dissatisfaction that I fear eats away at our souls. Are we always looking for the next thing without taking time for gratitude? Do we push ourselves beyond reasonable limits without being satisfied with the small victories along the way?

I hope that George finds peace now with God. He was an incredibly charitable man and from my brief dealings with him, actually a nice man who I think did care about people and how he was perceived.

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

What You Fall In Love with Determines Everything

The snip above is from a quote from the former Superior General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe. It is the quote I display on my Facebook page and also have it framed in my office.

Christina, a Catholic Charities Volunteer here in Buffalo who I have become close friends with over the last few months, wrote some of the most beautiful reflective words after meditating on Fr. Arrupe’s words on her blog “A Star in the Sky.”

I think we deploy distractions instead of faith because that’s what we’re used to, or we are not up to digging deeper within ourselves to expose that raw beauty and vulnerability. It’s easy to have a comfortable faith that begins and ends on Sundays. It doesn’t take much mental or emotional effort to throw money at charities. Sometimes we are afraid of finding the ugly things that dwell inside of us.

The truth is that it hurts to be vulnerable. I am trying, day by day, to fully open myself up to God to see all that’s in me- the irrational, immature, self-centered part of me, and have asked Him to help me rid myself of those things. And while it hurts to look at that part of myself, I feel the love of acknowledging the ugly and I know that with God, it is transformed to beauty.

The truth is that when we fall in love with who God calls us to be–well, that in fact makes our lives a whole lot harder. It’s a more challenging way to live, but once awakened to God’s call–can we ever live any other way?

Discerning who we are, what attracts us and most importantly, what we are in love with (not who, per se–but what) is indeed what will determine everything.

And that might lead you somewhere wonderful, that just might bring you bliss, and it just might get you killed too.

Let us pray for the freedom to fall in love with who we are and what we are called to. To be free from the fear we have in living lives of integrity and challenge and as Micah writes: to “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.”

Do You Ask Friends Their Opinions on Life’s Decisions?

That’s what many college students do and many emerging adults as well. Carolyn McNamara Barry and Stephanie Madsen, two sociologists working on the Changing Sea Project–which is chock full of great research on young people–say has some merit in exploring:

Emerging adults report that friends affect their major life decisions. In fact, friends’ behaviors affect emerging adults’ positive outcomes, including church attendance. Friends’ behaviors also influence more negative outcomes (e.g., those with aggressive friends are more likely to abuse their romantic partners). Besides friends’ behavior, the quality of the friendship matters, with “better” friendships promoting positive adjustment and reducing problem behaviors. We don’t yet know whether these effects are due to choosing a bird with similar feathers or birds shaping each other’s behavior—likely it is a bit of both.

My thought is that this is all about trust. That there is so much NOT to trust in our culture that many have held tightly to people who have proven themselves worthy of their trust–and thus, they turn to them when the time comes to make important decisions.

Make sense? Who do you turn to when you nee to make a decision and why?

Can Roller Coasters Promote Religious Experience?

This weekend I went to Carowinds Theme Park in Charlotte and I rode the “Dale Earnhardt” Intimidator, not once, not twice, but three times (and no puking involved) with my friend Cary (Marion was content to watch from below with Cary’s mother, Carmen, who joined us for the day). I used to hate roller coasters as a young kid but grew to love them in the teen and young adult years. This one is the longest coaster in the SouthEast in terms of length of ride. There is one very huge drop at the start followed by 6 smaller ones. No loops but really high peaks at high speeds as you can see below!

This one was the first one I was on in about 3-4 years. As we climbed up to the first hill I said to Cary, “Ya know, I just realized I’m 40. I hope I’m not too old for this.”

Cary replied, “No worries. You’ll feel 19 after this ride.”

I’m not a big thrill-seeker but I really enjoy Amusement Park rides and surprisingly this one was especially reflective. I held tightly to the handles in front of me and at that first drop I held on even more tightly for dear life. As the ride went on I became more at ease and even let go, throwing my hands up over my head and got a better idea of what the ride really can offer. It really felt like I was flying once I let go.

We went back twice more. The second time I kept my hands in the air most of the ride with the exception of that first amazingly high drop. The last time I never touched a thing. Hands up the whole ride and that first drop was awesome!

I could only imagine that this must be what it feels like to be a bird on a downward flight–free falling through the air, but somehow in control.

It seems to me that this experience has much to say to us about what God calls us to become.

At times in our life we often hold tightly to different things: ideas, ways of being, relationships, etc. It’s only when we can let go, even just a little, that we start to see what else God has to offer us. We experience the freedom that God freely gives to us. And in that freedom is joy and exhilaration.

Like the rich young man, most of us don’t want to give up our sense of control–holding tightly to what we claim as comfort. One friend, who, granted, is not a technology genius, won’t dump his old America Online account even though he doesn’t need it for internet access and free email solutions abound. Why? He’s comfortable with it.

Single male friends I have don’t date because they feel like they are too “set in their ways” and are unwilling to change (even just a bit) now to give themselves in marriage to someone else.

We fear letting go of the bar to throw our hands up and really fly. And we offer all the excuses:

“Something might go wrong if I do that!” (So what if it does?)

“I can’t leave my job, even if I hate it.”

“I’ll stay in this relationship even if I know it’s going nowhere because I’m too scared to let it go and go back to that scary world of being single.”

“I can’t possibly kick this addiction.”

So today, let us appreciate the ride and pray for the courage to let go of everything that holds us back from soaring.

Who knows? You just might feel like you’re flying.

What Else is Offered?

A friend recently was told that they didn’t get a job and it seemed to them that this setback, in a series of setbacks, was simply overwhelming.

“I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that maybe this just isn’t going to happen this year,” she said to me.

I replied, “True enough. So if that’s the case, what else might God have in mind?”

I think that’s actually a powerful spiritual question to explore. What if in our darkest hour, when our deepest fears may in fact, be realized, we can look deeply to see if there’s something else that might be calling us.

I remember when I was thinking about the future when I was in my 20s I thought I was never going to meet someone and never be able to have children. I was really distraught about those future plans seemingly going awry. And while some of those fears were never realized, some indeed were. A friend who was rejected for the priesthood once said to me,

“All my life, I wanted to be a priest. Yesterday, I was told no. I now have to come to terms with the fact that I may NEVER be a priest.”

And indeed he did. And indeed while that moment was disappointing, something else was offered.

What if all your plans DON’T come to fruition?

In today’s age where school shootings capture the tragic headlines, I think many people, especially young people, think that the world is indeed over when their plans go up in smoke. Maybe the cause of much of the violence we see amongst young people are because they can’t deal with the fact that they messed up the 10th grade?

What if we always asked the question “What else is offered?” What kind of world would this be?

Nations might avoid peace instead of retaliating into war.

Families might let go of resentments instead of holding onto pain.

Broken relationships might lead us into new ways of seeing ourselves instead of looking only at a sorrowful past.

An academic failure might focus us on other scholarly endeavors that are more suited to our gifts and interests.

Painful experiences would still be painful, but we’d also be able to see healing, new hope, growth, and how resilient we really are.

The question is not how do we avoid pain and mistakes, rather it is what does pain and out mistakes lead us to also consider?

And we have nobody to look to to epitomize this than to Jesus. For looking at the cross reminds us that even when we make all the right decisions, pain and suffering will still await us. There is no life without some sacrifice. And Jesus who lives for us perfectly, shows us indeed that we can hold nothing back from each other in our quest to truly live.

So look at that cross again today. What do you see? Do you see a pathetic, broken, bloodied criminal? Or do you see God? A God who is willing to show us what lies beyond pain and suffering and accepts our imperfectness and refuses to be separate from us.

What else beyond death is offered on Calvary?

Everlasting life. And that sure and certain hope leads us to see that beyond our own cross much more is offered to us.

Do we dare to look?