Facebook Forgivers

So I’ll be honest, some days the factions in the Catholic Church drive me up the wall. For instance my colleague Jim Martin, SJ posted a picture of Sr. Pat Farrell, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on Facebook and immediately people talked about her being a “bad Catholic.”

Fr. Jim then posted the following note:

Earlier I posted a profile about Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, the current president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. David Gibson’s article for Religion News Service focused on her work for the Church, and with the poor, in Central America over the last 30 years, often in situations of great danger. How is it possible that, within a few minutes, I had to delete so many ad hominem comments about Sister Pat, which critiqued her for not being a “good Catholic”? Have people no sense of perspective any longer? If not, I have an idea: If you’d like to criticize Sister Pat for not being a good Catholic, as some did, then I would suggest that you do the following: First, spend some time working with the poor in San Antonio. Then, spend six years working with the poor in Chile during an oppressive and violent political regime. You’ll be working in a Catholic parish in a small town in the desert, by the way. Next, move to El Salvador, where you will be in danger of being killed for working for the Catholic Church. That is, put your life on the line every single day for Jesus Christ and for the Catholic Church. At one point during your almost twenty years there, work in a refugee camp, run by the church, that is the target of military raids. Do all of this, by the way, while living under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; living far from your home country; and having nothing to call your own. Then feel free to come back and post a comment on this Facebook page about what a bad Catholic she is.

And suddenly I’m inspired both by Sr. Pat and also by Fr. Jim’s bravery in standing up for Sr. Pat.

Indeed it is stories like that which inspire me to stay Catholic. It’s people like that, who keep me grounded and help me realize that the church is the people of God inspiring one another and not tearing them down.

I’ve often said that if I weren’t Catholic, I would probably be a Quaker. On Beliefnet’s Belief-o-Matic Quiz I often score high in agreement with the Quakers. So I began to investigate once and said “What do Quakers believe and am I in line with their beliefs?”

What I found was a website that said, Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about being a Quaker. BY Phillip Gulley. Here are the first few lines of what he writes:

I’ve been talking with a wide variety of Quakers these past few months, discussing with them what it means to be a Quaker. It’s been an interesting experience. When I tell evangelical Quakers what progressive Quakers believe, they often say, “That’s not Quakerly!” When I tell progressive Quakers what evangelical Quakers believe, they say the same thing. It seems the only things Quakers agree upon is that other Quakers aren’t real Quakers.

Now substitute Catholic for the word Quaker in this paragraph and see if you feel the same way I did.

No religion, a flawed man-made system is perfect. Only God is perfect and our imperfection doesn’t make God angry…

It makes God more forgiving than we could imagine. It goes beyond denomination into a newness of life for all of us. All we have to be is just as forgiving of our own brothers and sisters.

And that friends, is very, very difficult for all of us. Because hatred runs deep and wounds are even deeper.

And while I can forgive others when they offend me, reconciliation is much harder to achieve because reconciliation is the repairing of the relationship. We’re all required to forgive but reconciliation comes at a much greater price.

Because some people don’t accept the forgiveness of others or are too hurt to move towards reconciliation.

And the internet just might be the worst place ever in that regard. Today can we Catholics who really value forgiveness to the point of making it a sacrament, to the point where we can be examples of reconciliation and civility on the internet.

I’ll start. If anything I’ve ever written has offended you or if I took a tone with you on Facebook, or in any way made you feel less than I should have…know that I apologize and hope we can reconcile if we are estranged.

We need to stay in conversation with one another even when we disagree. One of my students is an atheist and one of the highest honors I could ever have is the fact that she stays in conversation with me and calls me a “reasonable theist.” I hope that people on all sides can be as charitable as she is.

And I hope I can be as well.

Higgs Boson Does Not Disprove God

There’s a few items on my mind with regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, an amazing event in the world of physics, which has been referred to as the “God particle.”

First of all, scientists hate the term “God particle” and it’s called that not for any anti-theological reason, but rather because the higher ups at CERN (the center that has made today’s historic discovery) wouldn’t let the scientists working on the experiment call it “the Goddamned particle” because it was so difficult to find.

Ok, that’s kind of funny. Who knew scientists could have such a sense of humor. I need to watch more of the Big Bang Theory.

What is the Higgs-Boson particle anyway?

From National Geographic:

The Higgs boson is one of the final puzzle pieces required for a complete understanding of the standard model of physics—the so-far successful theory that explains how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature.

The so-called God particle was proposed in the 1960s by Peter Higgs to explain why some particles, such as quarks—building blocks of protons, among other things—and electrons have mass, while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.

Higgs’s idea was that the universe is bathed in an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field—now known as the Higgs field—but to varying degrees.

If a particle can move through this field with little or no interaction, there will be no drag, and that particle will have little or no mass. Alternatively, if a particle interacts significantly with the Higgs field, it will have a higher mass.

The idea of the Higgs field requires the acceptance of a related particle: the Higgs boson.

According to the standard model, if the Higgs field didn’t exist, the universe would be a very different place, said SLAC’s Peskin, who isn’t involved in the LHC experiments.

“It would be very difficult to form atoms,” Peskin said. “So our orderly world, where matter is made of atoms, and electrons form chemical bonds—we wouldn’t have that if we did not have the Higgs field.”

In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth.

So some are saying that the Higgs-Boson disproves that a God has any role in the making or maintaining of the universe. That we are simply a random bunch of particles bouncing off each other with little or no meaning. This assumes something about religion that simple isn’t true.

Religion does not try to say anything about the origins of the world. Religion and science have two completely different purposes, but can work complimentarily to give meaning to human existence and have done so for years. It should be noted that a priest proposed the big bang theory, using science as opposed to the Book of Genesis to explain the order of the universe.

Check out this video that I did some time ago on science and religion with the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr George Coyne, S.J.. It’s focused on evolution, but Fr. Coyne takes us into defining the difference between religion and science in general.

Science and scripture are not compatible, or I should say that the purpose of the Bible is NOT, precisely not, aimed at scientific discovery. These are revelation stories designed to teach us about “meaning” not “scientific origins.”

Now some are going to say that there are nutburgers who’ll say different. And they would be right to say so. These are fundamentalists, people who believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We believe that the bible is divinely inspired, meaning that the biblical writers are not God, but rather people who wrote something down to try to tell us a bit about what God is like; mainly that God is loving and allows us to participate in God’s own creation through our humanity.

There are also fundamentalist scientists in my opinion. People who believe that their empirical discoveries are all that there is. That there cannot be anything beyond these discoveries. I find that haughty and arrogant.

Catholics believe in transcendence, that there are things that go beyond our very selves and our experience of the world. This is where we experience God.

And God is ALWAYS mystery, the inexhaustible one that we never truly can grasp with our limited human intellects. God is beyond us, so far beyond that full knowledge of God is impossible. In fact, that would make us God if we had that.

But God is also with us and within us. And we do have some experience of what God is like for us. Scripture tries to give us a glimpse of this, and the experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit links the ineffable with us. We are connected to God, who always is trying to unite with his creation. We need to pay attention to that in order to discover meaning in our lives that is beyond science, but also that doesn’t disprove and still honors scientific discovery.

Much like our political landscape these days, the interaction of scientific communities and religious ones are fraught with division. And it’s unnecessary. Let’s call out the extremes on both sides today and show that Catholics are not part of some radical anti-scientific mentality and also honor science, that continues to discover the wonders of God’s world for all of us.

Voices of Hope and Doom


E.J. Dionne has a great column today in the Washington Post and he rightly points out that the voices of doom seem to be all around us.

First he points to the voices of doom on the left.

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

He immediately grasps that the secular left doesn’t care much for Catholicism, or I suspect religion of any kind, preferring to lump all of us “religious-types” together.

But there’s another kind of progressive minded group. And it’s those of us who believe in much that liberal principles hold and that it reflects much of Catholic teaching.

We’re the ones who remind some narrow minded folks that it’s not OK to just be against abortion when you call yourself a pro-lifer but that the title also demanded that we support women who struggle to not just bring a child to term, but also to support that child and mother well long after the birth. Not to mention those of us who call for an end to war, violence and the death penalty. We hope to care for the poor who all-too-often are in harm’s way and for the environment which continually gets ignored too often as well.

And we do so by pointing people to the wisdom of our tradition as the reason why.

Dionne then takes up a second group of doomsayers. Those on the Catholic right.

I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements — including that odious comparison of President Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month — that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism’s detractors wrong? ….has it occurred to the bishops that less stridency might change more hearts and minds on this very difficult question?

Indeed. While I certainly think that those who oppose abortion, for instance (I would count myself as being in that group), are doing their darnedest to try to change the law and to protect the innocent who so desperately need our assistance, what good has it really done? Our opposers are more firmly entrenched because of the vitriol of some and they liken the words coming forth from well-meaning and dedicated people (Laity and Bishops alike) to hate speech and at best, mean-spiritedness.

I don’t think that’s the message that people need or even want to hear. It doesn’t call us to change and it doesn’t produce results apparently.

What do people want? They want two things: action and results.

It seems to me that this is what the nuns were doing pretty darn well and their heroism seems to be brushed off because they didn’t spew venom often enough.

Even with a Republican President for 4 years recently and a congress that also shared those principles what were we able to do about abortion?

Nothing.

That’s not a good record. And we should be ashamed. All of us.

There’s an old adage that some in the church should carefully heed.

“It’s time to put up or shut up.”

Why, might I add, haven’t we heard much about a small organization called Malta House in the state of Connecticut –a state I might add, that just abolished the death penalty?

Just a sample of what Malta House does:

Malta House promotes the dignity of God given life by providing a nurturing home environment, support services, and independent living skills to expectant mothers of all faiths, and to their babies.

Residents of Malta House participate in educational programs covering issues of Health, Nutrition, Parenting and Child Development. During their stay at Malta House, mothers also receive guidance designed to foster a positive self image for themselves and their children. Personal finance and budgeting advice is offered to promote self sufficiency as our young families assimilate back into the community.

In addition, each resident agrees to participate in an individualized educational component that may include GED preparation or certificate programs at a local community college. Tutoring is provided to support the rigors of each class.

Michael O’Rourke, Malta House’s founder, is a saint in my opinion. He put up and then he didn’t shut up–rather he went and spoke to thousands of people leaving no stone unturned in order to gain support for his cause. It was an easy sell. And he did it all with grace and a quiet voice of peace.

So why, might I ask, has nobody bothered to say…

“Y’know what might be a good idea? Let’s have one of these Malta Houses in every diocese! Heck, let’s have two! Get O’Rourke on the phone.”

It would provide jobs, care, and it’s clearly a pro-life message that can be seen and produces results.

Do we think that the secular left couldn’t get behind that? Despite the law, we Catholics need to find ways to support the cause of life ANYWAY.

And other causes that support and claim who we are–a people of action.

Or we can just keep crying foul as a voice of doom that claims that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and we are powerless to change that because of those pesky little laws.

Now c’mon folks, we’re smarter than this. A lot smarter.

Perhaps, as Dionne suggests, we should heed the words of John XXIII:

“Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world which he redeemed.”

And as Dionne rightfully notes: “The church best answers its critics when it remembers that its mission is to preach hope, not fear.”

Amen.

Oh! And if you’d like to help to Malta House click here—their gala event is Thursday!

Congrats UB Grads – We Have Long Prayed for Ye!

I was honored to be asked to give the invocation at this years UB graduation ceremony. Special thanks goes to the Office of Special Events for all their help. I had to keep it interfaith to represent all of the various religions (and for those who practice no religion) of the University community.

I got a chuckle and some applause for my invocation which I really appreciated. I’m not much of a poet, but I put my undergrad English degree to good use and came up with this:

Did anyone say a prayer?
Graduates, out there?
When on the day of a test
You were not at your best
Because you were sick and pale
And feared you might fail
Did you then, ask a prayer?

Your parents may have chosen to pray
That day 
They sent you away
To this place
And then Missing your face
And then they paid your bills with grace
And then, they needed a prayer! (chuckles)

And so for you, we have offered prayer
Graduates out there
That you might answer more prayers 
As peaceful ones
Daughters and sons
Who take their knowledge
From this college
And make the world a better place
With your grace

You see, prayer is not hoping for magic
No, it’s actually quite fantastic.
It’s our heart’s deepest desire 
Our passionate fire
That sets our mind
To go change humankind

And so from this day 
I hope you pray
And see
All you’re called to be
And find insight
So you might
Answer a prayer, Graduates out there

And so I close
My poem, not prose
With a simple truth for you
As you leave
Know that we believe
In you, class of 20-one-two.

And until we meet again
Let us all say:  Amen

The day itself was a lot of fun. Dr. Scott Weber UB’s Vice Provost and Dean was seated next to me along with longtime councilman Frank Cuomo. Both were delightful companions for the day. Frank is 85 and just full of life. His wife was hoping to get him back early since it’s mother’s day and they’ve been together for nearly 60 years–so if she wants him back I suppose that’s a good sign.

Graduation is often a sad time for us Campus Ministers. We gain the trust of students and can’t help but grow attached to many of them. For myself, I didn’t know too many graduates this time out…most of the students I’m close with are juniors and sophomores or are in graduate or medical school these days. I’m looking forward to a new group of “first years” next year as we have a dorm for first year’s on our South campus and I’ll be teaching UB 101 an introductory course for incoming students next semester as well.

For those graduates though, know that we keep you in prayer always. For our Catholic students who have been part of our Sunday evening mass community, know that whenever you gather around the table of the Lord, we are united again.

Until then, We’ll see you in Communion.

A Unitarian on Faith Formation

Since the Unitarians are a creedless faith, The Rev. Peter C. Boullata took up the charge of hoping that they haven’t “institutionalized narcissism. He talks about the challenge to do faith formation in their denomination. I was both excited and troubled that they have some of the same problems that we Catholics do at times with proclaiming “Just who they heck are we as church anyway and how do we teach others to proclaim that?”.

Rev Peter writes in post entitled The Liberal Church Finding Its Mission: It’s Not About You:

A good deal of this slippage comes from a lack of opportunities for faith formation in our congregations, especially among adults. A disciplined search for truth and meaning takes effort; it takes discipline. Being unencumbered by doctrine ought not imply that doctrine is not examined for the truth it may contain. Indeed, not being constrained by creedal formulations seems to have been translated into an abandonment of theological reflection altogether. We offer a non-dogmatic approach and context to religious inquiry without equipping members of our communities for the search. Discerning your spiritual path is difficult without tools, without support.

Faith formation is not simply adult religious education. Run a couple of classes on building your own theology and spiritual practice and then you’re done. Formation involves worship and preaching, mission work and governance. It’s the work of the entire enterprise of being church together. It takes place collectively, mutually as well as individually. We are also formed as people of faith in conversation with the tradition, with our historic testimonies. The tradition speaks to us and we respond. We respond lovingly, critically, thoughtfully–but recognize that our historic context has a voice shaping today’s conversation about who we are and what we’re about.

At times, I think we Catholics too tend to overlook our creed in favor of highlighting a God of love and casting “what we stand together on” to the wind. Obviously, even within churches people have healthy disagreement and even dissent at times–a church this big is bound to see that. Yet, we can’t just be a “God is love, now draw a rainbow” church. We also can’t just highlight the social justice aspects without some theology to back up why the heck we care about the poor. We also can’t afford to not help people with their own personal spiritual journey. How do people come to know God and form images of God–and most importantly, how do they let God be God and work on them so that they might become all that God made them to be?

A final comment from our Unitarian friend:

Inasmuch as Unitarian Universalist communities continue to neglect discernment, theology, discipline, spiritual practice, faith formation, vocation and engagement with our historic testimonies and tradition, we will never be a missional religious movement. As long as we are known as the church of individual seekers we will never have the kind of impact that a missional religion has on transforming the world. It should go without saying that the chronically self-involved have no interest in serving the needs of others.

What would it take for us to be known in the wider community for some of the traits, characteristics and perspectives we hold in common and that we continue to share with our historic legacy? What would it take for our communal calling as a faith community to become as important as our much-vaunted individual spiritual journeys?

What do people say about your church as they drive past it to others? Are we the church where they believe that we should serve the needs of the poor because Jesus held them in special regard? Are we the church that encourages people to explore their relationship with the divine and to talk with others about that? Are we a church with a mission to change not just the world but also our own prejudices, biases and other shortcomings? Are we a church that encourages dialogue and yet can hold on to truths we’ve come to know in a dynamic tension?

I hope we are. But I fear sometimes, we just have people, especially young people to draw a rainbow and call it a day.

A hat tip to my favorite Unitarian Peacebang

When This Little Light of Mine Didn’t Shine…

So I love the blog Peacebang, who is everyone’s favorite Unitarian. She’s creative and hysterically funny. She must also know that I have a penchant for recalling the times in church when things just go horribly wrong–especially on major holidays.

Like at our 10AM Christmas Day Mass this year when someone projectile vomited in the back of the church. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Or at my parent’s parish when the pastor put too much lighter fluid on the kindling for the Easter fire and singed an older woman’s beehive hairdo. “Oh my hair!” was her cry. She was fine.

But Peacebang, AKA, the Rev Victoria Weinstein, a Unitarian Minister, takes the cake with this one that she reported from her friend’s church:

I guess what happened at my friend’s church is that she had worked for years to introduce the concept of The Coming of the Light into their candlelight service where, for decades, they sang “Silent Night” and left in the dark without a benediction or anything. This drove her crazy. “We don’t celebrate the coming in of the light!” she says. So at long last she got the Worship Committee to agree to having a child come forth at a dramatic moment in the service as she says, “And then arrived the Bearer of the Light.”

So last night, she announced this:

“AND THEN ARRIVED THE BEARER OF THE LIGHT”

And no kid.

For long minutes, no kid.

She ad-libbed. “AND THEN CAME JUSTIN, THE BEARER OF THE LIGHT.”

But “Justin” didn’t show up. I mean for 3-4 minutes, just dead air.

What happened behind the scenes is that Justin and his mother couldn’t get the little butane lighter going. They were frantically trying to get the clicker to work, while meanwhile my friend is up in front of the congregation going,

“SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO PATIENTLY AWAIT THE LIGHT”

And she’s having a total nervous breakdown and she’s so upset because right before the service she checked that butane lighter and everything was working FINE.

But you know, Justin’s mother also wanted to check the lighter and light it so many dozens of times making sure it was operational that she burned the thing right out. Those things are eight bucks or something – they don’t have that many lights in them.

So five minutes goes by – the most painful, sweaty five minutes you can imagine for the minister, and she’s still vamping,

“SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO WAIT A VERY LONG TIME FOR THE COMING OF THE LIGHT”

And finally, finally, the kid comes down the aisle with the unlit processional candle and some nice guy on the church staff goes up to my friend and hands her a Bic.

It’s just like, a total bomb of a moment.

But of course my friend says, “It was the WORST. But everyone loved the service. They said it’s the best one we’ve ever had.”

That’s why we love the Church, people.

Indeed. What’s your worst church moment? The time you just bombed as a minister or a congregant. Facebook me with some of yours and maybe we’ll make this a regular feature. I’ve got at least a dozen.

Denying Holocaust Heroes

A touching and sad story of combating the world’s worst hatred and of a failure to understand all that was risked in doing so.

Eva Weisel writes in an op-ed of a man, Khaled Abdul Wahab, an Arab Muslim, who protected and saved her and her family from the Holocaust at great personal risk in Tunisia.

A snip from The Times Op-ed:

As luck would have it, however, a German unit arrived in the area not long after we did. Our host told us to get rid of our yellow stars, stay inside the farm walls and keep far away from the main house. He had his own strategy for dealing with the Germans. A bon vivant and world traveler, he invited German officers for evenings filled with food and drink. While nearly two dozen of us were hiding in one part of the farm, he protected himself from the prying eyes of the Germans by entertaining them on the other side of the farm.

Our host’s strategy worked well, until the night a couple of drunken German officers wandered away from the main house.

In the courtyard outside the stables, they started banging on the courtyard door and shouting, “We know you are Jews and we’re coming to get you!”

My grandmother started screaming “Cachez les filles!” — “Hide the girls!” I remember being shoved under the bed, trembling and sobbing as I tried to hide under a blanket.

At that moment of unspeakable fear, as our hearts pounded and tears poured from our eyes, a guardian angel came to the rescue. Out of nowhere, our host appeared. A strong, powerful man who projected authority and commanded respect, he stopped the Germans and managed to lead them away.

The next day, our host came to the stables. We rushed to express our thanks to him, but he was more eager to apologize to us. He said he was sorry that we had to face the terrifying ordeal of the Germans’ threats, expressed relief that he had intervened in time to prevent a horrible tragedy, and promised that it would never happen again. We never found out how he fulfilled his promise — perhaps he bribed the Germans — but he did. We passed the rest of the German occupation at our host’s farm, without incident.

The suggestion is that Yad Veshem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial has refused to recognize him as one of the “righteous” because he is a Muslim. And that indeed is shameful.

Karl Rahner, the great Vatican II theologian, was a student of Heidegger, who was later found to be a Nazi sympathizer. It was the great anxiety of his life that the Catholic Church in Germany did not do enough for the Jews. He often would ask his students to “pray for his happy death.” It seems if upon reflection, Rahner could understand how important it was for the members of church to so SOMETHING to save the Jews (and others), then perhaps it’s equally important for everyone to honor and recognize what many people DID do.

Yad Veshem claims that Abdul Wahab didn’t risk his life to save the Jews. Which doesn’t reach the qualifications they’ve required for him to be honored. I think that’s speculative and ridiculous. What if the Nazis had caught him? What if a larger group of German soldiers had found the barn? What if they decided that his money was no good to them? Nobody knows what could have happened and Abdul Wahab did the right think without knowing what would happen either.

Doing the right thing is usually hard. Perhaps honoring an Arab Muslim when so many Arab Muslims deny the Holocaust or at least deny the numbers of dead and claim the the Jews use it as some kind of advantage. But not honoring Abdul Wahab denies something too. We call that heroism, bravery and having a moral compass.

Perhaps not denying that, is a good example for all of us and helps heal relations between Arabs and Jews who long for a lasting peace?

Or we can continue to cycle of denying.