Mommy Always Comes After Nap and Snack

IMG_2058-1My dear friend and longtime colleague Ginny Kubitz Moyer has a wonderful new book out that’s perfect for Mother’s Day called Random MOMents of Grace. It’s all about her experience of being a mom and a nice addition to her very fine blog, Random Acts of MOMness which I love for the Fisher-Price toy on her homepage banner alone.

Ginny is the mother of two boys: Matthew and Luke–they’re just about past the toddler stage, but they are boys. And Ginny is this regal woman, a classically trained English scholar. She carries herself so elegantly everywhere she goes, with her hubby Scott, another classy guy himself.

So now picture her with two boys who think poop is the most hysterical thing in the world!

Boys indeed are yucky. They love mud and boogers and playing with food. And somehow this woman rolls with it as the mother of these two…BOYS.

I’m sure I was no worse than Ginny’s boys when I was her age. And one of her chapters jarred a memory of me and my own mother.

I was 6 and in first grade. My elementary school was a block from our apartment house. To get home I would walk out the gate and walk down to the corner mailbox where my mother would be waiting across the street. I would catch her gaze and wave each day. A reunion that I would look forward to each day. Somedays my sister (who is 16 years older) would be the one to meet me and I loved my sister, but she wasn’t mom.

A bit of a backstory. My mother has suffered immensely in her life with the disease of rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other ailments. There were numerous hospital trips and a few times when I was young it was touch and go as to whether mom was going to survive. She rallied each time and today at 85 she’s still around. But to be a little boy with a sick mother was no easy task. It caused me much anxiety and so each reunion with my mom was always a reason to rejoice. It meant a day of health and not a day of hospital, where I was too young to go and visit mom.

So mom would always tell me that “Someone” will be there by the deli to help me cross the street and walk the rest of the way home. I trusted that knowledge and it was as dependable as the sun.

One day I was walking towards the corner with the mailbox and for some reason Robert Kastner thought it would be a good idea to push me…repeatedly. My mother saw two boys pushing and she knew that it couldn’t possibly be her son. I looked across the street and didn’t see mom. I was slightly worried but I was also excited. I am going to cross the street by myself and walk the rest of the way home and surprise mom!

I looked both ways and then another mom decided to give me a hand and cross me. I ran past the three houses to my home and bounded up the stairs. I knocked on the second floor door to my parent’s home.

Nothing. No answer.

Mom was gone. Where did she go? Maybe she went to the hospital and won’t come back and I’ll never see her again? Maybe she’s inside and can’t answer the door? Maybe she just got fed up with me because I wasn’t a good boy at school today?

I started to cry. Loudly. So loudly that my neighbor, Mrs. White heard me from her apartment below mine and then Mrs. Nappi, our landlord upstairs also heard me. They came to see what was wrong. I told them I didn’t know where my mommy was and that I had walked home but mommy was not by the deli and I thought I had just beat her to her post. Mrs. Nappi got the key to our apartment and they went in and searched the whole apartment with me waiting in the living room. It was empty.

Mrs. Nappi, always a little gruff said, “Are you sure you just didn’t walk past her and she didn’t see you?”

“I don’t know!” I replied through tears.

“Don’t worry, Michael, we’ll find her.” Mrs. White said.

We began to go downstairs to try to find mom outside. Mom meanwhile walked up to the school when she didn’t see me pass her on the corner. I had just not seen her (probably because the jerk Robert Kastner was pushing me). Mom had ignored the pushing kids and looked for me in the scrum of other kids, but I was not in that crowd.

As we reached the bottom of the stairs the door opened and there she was: Mom! I ran to her and was screaming crying. My mother was as white as a sheet when she arrived. Alls well that ends well, but this was too much. Simply put, mom missed me in the crowd of pushing kids.

Ginny in her book talks about the importance of routine for a child and the honor she has of picking up her boys “after nap and snack.”

There’s a satisfaction in knowing that I am bound to my little boys as surely as God is bound to me. I reaffirm this covenant over and over, every time I change a diaper or hug someone after a nightmare or pick up my little preschool scholar after nap and snack. And I like knowing that I am providing two little people with a sense of security, that I am giving them the confident assurance that Mom isn’t going anywhere.

My childhood was shattered when that sense of security was breached. My mom WAS in fact where she was supposed to be, but this time she just lost sight of me and I, her. The terror in her heart was probably 10 times mine.

I treasure my mom and know that she has never left me and never will. Moms make that first theological truth for us tangible: God never forgets us. For us to believe that, we need mom to claim us as her own, to always be there and for us to be comforted by those rhythms of the covenant. In a world too often marked by neglect and divorce, mom’s have a tough job in getting their little boys to trust that they will always be there “after nap and snack.” That nothing can ever separate them from mom, just as nothing separates us from God’s love either. It is the heart of our faith.

413FdiAHnML._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ginny’s book outlines all those times that moms reflect God’s presence for us. It’s a gem of a book and I have just purchased a copy for my mom for this mother’s day. Perhaps you might too and let it jar the memory of your now-no-longer-little boy memory?

I will never know the joy of having children. It is an unrealized dream for me. So I have to live vicariously through Ginny. So I treasure her stories. In some ways, Ginny’s writing has mothered me through the death of this unrealized dream, softening the blow a bit and moving me into the other dreams that God always offers me. It is there that I find the mother-God is always there waiting for me.

After nap and snack.

Consolations of the Week

It’s been quite a week. Besides the joy of seeing a new Pope emerge, my week has been blessed with many gifts where different people offered me much to be grateful for.

The first are a bunch of new students and a new colleague. Instead of our usual spring break plan of organizing and taking students on an alternative spring break experience we decided to concentrate on what we do well on those trips which is helping people focus on the reflective elements of these trips. The University was already planning to do a fee alternative break experiences of their own and they invited me to be part of one of them. It was a “give where you live experience” in Buffalo. Each day the students went to a different service organization in Buffalo that served the needs of children and teens in the area. They even asked me to set up a day of service at our parish school which had our students being teacher’s aides for the day and another group painting sets for the kids’ upcoming performance of “Annie.”

The highlight of the week was working with a bright young woman named Baylee. Fresh out of undergrad, Baylee is working on a graduate degree at UB in higher Ed administration and she planned and organized the trip and trained the two student leaders, Kate and Erica who were also amazing. Each night I’d gather with them to help deepen the experience through reflection. The students had some amazing insights and the full day I spent with them at St Joe’s was a heartfelt reminder of how much they have to offer to people who are in need of their gifts. Baylee really did a wonderful job and was gracious enough to invite me into their space and gave me an opportunity to witness to all the good work that had been done. I had great conversations with the students over meals and evening hang outs, hearing about their relationship struggles, their homelike and their college experience alongside the service experience.

I was also able to offer them a brief tour of our church building. And nearly all of them signed up to do service projects with our campus ministry in April. One student even said she was inspired to go back to mass after the tour of the church and many others were certainly thinking about it. In our “highs and lows” of our days one student said, “Without a doubt, my high was the church, cause I haven’t been in a church in sometime and it was so peaceful and beautiful. I’m glad I know it’s there.”

Yesterday, I traveled to New York City and spoke at my old stomping grounds at St. Paul the Apostle to a group of about 60 young adults at their group called Apostolist. It was a networking event where lots of business cards were exchanged between people. I got to talk about my book, Loving Work and sign a bunch of copies. Lots of inspiration was flowing and I could see the wheels turning for people. It was interesting to see so many people who were looking to deepen their experience of work and many who are hoping to change tracks in their career. Fr. Steven Bell, CSP invited me and it is always great to spend time with him and his dynamic personality. He introduced ,e and it was the first time I’ve ever been referred to as a “Titan”.

So all in all, much to be grateful for. I also get the opportunity to see my parents, my best friend, my college roommate, celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and spend time with friends who soon will be married. A fun-filled two days in my hometown that has already renewed my spirit.

Today, let us pray for the gift of inspiration and renewal in our lives. Come Holy Spirit and renew our lives with hope and energy to be able to be men and women for others. May St. Ignatius intercede for us in helping us to find God in all things today.

And it is St Patrick’s Day in NYC….a great day for a parade!

Unemployed? God Offers Us Something Else

This week I was saddened to hear that the Archdiocese of Chicago’s hasty restructuring plan has left three colleagues in young adult ministry out of work. (And those are the three I know about!)

Timone Davis and Jorge Rivera worked respectively in African American and Hispanic Young Adult Ministry for many years and were great gifts in reaching out to those communities. Timone and I worked on many projects together and I have firm arrangements with my Chicagoland friends that if anything should ever happen to me that Timone is to read the first reading at my funeral. She makes the word come alive and brings a vibrancy to her ministry and to all that she does.

Jorge is not far behind her. He’s worked there longer than I have been in ministry and loves Chicago so much. It has to be frustrating to now have to say “Adios” to a ministry that he helped build and bring into it’s own.

Finally, a third colleague: Dr. Kate DeVries (pictured, above with Fr John Cusick) has been the Associate Director for Young Adult Ministry in the Archdiocese for nearly a quarter century! She’s been at the right hand of Fr. John Cusick, the director and the founder of Theology on Tap for that time. They’ve been a good team. Fr. Cusick is the dreamer and Kate is the practical one. Kate would run conferences and have all the logistics down to a science. Their book, The Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry is still a best seller. She’s got a 25 year record of successful young adult ministry and frankly, the Archdiocese threw her away like an old shoe! That’s a shameful way to treat a longtime employee in my opinion, much less a woman who has become one of the most well-known leaders in the Catholic Church. Fr. Cusick is crestfallen at the loss of his longtime colleague and who can blame him?!

But, friends, at this time we in Young Adult Ministry need to have faith. We need to realize that the skills and the talents that lie deep within our colleagues are not now, nor will they ever lie dormant.

Because they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given deeply and generously to us from these three. We need the faith to believe that God will continue to use these gifts, these people, in new ways to bring others closer to God, to bring others to have life and have it to the full and to bring peace and justice to a world and to particularly a church that so desperately needs it right now.

When things don’t go the way we would like to, we need to remember that God always offers us something else, something better. Perhaps my friends can rest easier in knowing that something new will come their way, perhaps not in the same way it did in their now-former ministry, but something new will be there for them. God will provide us with the strength and the faith when we are suffering from loss, to bring us into healing and most importantly, to provide us hope when things look hopeless.

That is what we need to most pray for today. Hope. Hope that these gifts for ministering to and with young adults will no longer be discarded by the church but rather be used for the betterment of their people. Hope that peace and harmony can exist in Chicago’s Archdiocese. And hope that our church will minister strongly to Young Adults today…not just those that show up, who are already in the club, but those on the margins as well.

Here’s a task for you this week, especially those of you in Chicago….

If you’ve ever been touched by the ministry efforts of the Young Adult Office in Chicago, today is a good time to let Kate, Fr, John and Timone and Jorge know how much they have given to each of us. I’m wearing my Ryne Sandberg Cubs Jersey today in solidarity with my colleagues from the land of Wrigley, but what I really hope for them is that they can be restored to the dignity that they all truly deserve.

Anyone got a job opening? I got three good candidates for ya!

Blessings, friends.

Young Adults and the Weary Church

The 40th Chapter of Isaiah talks about depending on a God despite weariness and that God never grows weary.

That would include growing weary of us.

What do we grow weary of? For me I grow weary of the constant infighting in the church. Here’s one good example:

There were two stories written of late about young adults in the church, young adults being defined as people in their 20s and 30s.

The first was called The Church Young Adults Want, by Annie Selak which makes several good points and takes many issues that divide young adults who have been distanced from the church. Issues like interfaith dialogue, the ordination of women and homosexuality. She cites the need for the church to be relevant. Calling the reason that many fall outside of the church the fault of a church that is out of touch with the concerns of younger Catholics for inclusion. But I fear that there’s still many more young adults who don’t fit into her categories for many reasons.

The second one is The Church Young People Really Want by Bad Catholic, a patheos blogger, an often funny, too often mean-spirited and most often one that tried way too hard to be what he thinks is clever.

Much like Ms. Selak, Bad Catholic uncovers some truth (emphasis on some). He describes a group of young adults who want a different kind of Church. Bad Catholic makes the case that young people want what he terms the transcendentals, the mystery that life is not about us, but rather about the mystery beyond us. He goes on to say that the young are actually attracted by “the good and the beautiful” a centerpiece of Balthazarian (Hans Ur Van Balthazar) theology.

Ms. Selak would tend toward Rahnerian (Karl Rahner) theology which responds to the “signs of the times” and engages science in dialogue and admits that they have something to contribute as opposed to being diametrically opposed to their school of thought.

And I don’t doubt that in the circles that each of these authors run in, that these are the types of young adults that they find. But I believe that young adults are far more varied than either of these articles make them out to be, especially when you look outside the usual Catholic enclaves of Catholic Universities and Catholic parishes. Bad Catholic describes young adults who show up at mass each week and have grown up in Catholic enclaves or have had serious conversion experiences. Selak describes Catholics who find value in the church and probably have grown up in the church, but find it hard to square their youthful religious formation with adult critical thinking.

But few young adults fall into these groups directly.

Sociologically speaking, many young adults are at best nominal Catholics. Some not only find the church irrelevant, they find it ridiculous. Many are frustrated with what they find to be the hypocrisy of religion, or better stated, religious people, who claim to follow the gospel and yet most often, disregard the needs of others. People they perceive who represent religious entities in general are often looked upon as mean-spirited, awkward, or just plain goofy.

Most of them are not concerned about the relevance of Catholicism, most are unconcerned about religion in general and don’t plan on seeking out a religious path anytime soon. I’m finding more and more Catholics within this circle and my colleagues are finding that this is true as well. The truth they seek comes more from Richard Dawkins than Rahner or Balthazar.

But they are not necessarily hostile towards religion, they just don’t want to be part of an institution that lends itself to so much hypocrisy.
The sex abuse scandal didn’t help and the fact that often we seem less likely to dialogue with others who are in their world (in science, politics) only seems to exile religion farther away from the mainstream.

Simply put, most young adults simply don’t want a church that makes them weary. The endless arguing internally in the church divides young people further from us. The constant focus on one issue, abortion, isn’t beyond their respect for our tenacity, but also falls short of their holistic expectations of caring for mothers beyond birth, pregnancy prevention, the danger of AIDS and STDs and the need to openly talk with teens and young adults about the power of sex and how it may hurt them if they take this too lightly.

The Catholic focus on freedom is something that widely attracts them once they find out about it …the freedom needed to become the person God hopes we cooperate with–that frees us from our prejudices, biases, bad experiences and most of all, our fear. Our fear that God may not really love us because of our failures. Our fear that God may not exist at all and that the neo-darwinists may be right. Our fear that God isn’t enough for us and so we turn to sex, consumerism and anything else that we think might fill that hole in our lives. But instead, what is most often found is the minutia of political infighting.

And that friends is the stuff of weary young adults. And it makes the church they want an impossibility. A church where they can overcome fear through dialogue and searching for answers to age-old questions. They seek a church where all are welcome and gifts are honored. They seek a church that spends more time outside the four walls caring for those most disenfranchised in society than inside caring for themselves. And yet they want the freedom to talk with spiritual mentors about their journey, fears and questions and they hope they’ll have patience and time for each one of them.

But right now, those we’re not reaching that we are called to inspire are not finding us. Because most of the time we’re too busy with maintenance of a church that doesn’t speak to their experience or inspire them greatly and a church that doesn’t listen to all of them, but only those in the club who tend to make the most noise.

I’m most weary of that. And soon we won’t have to worry. Because young Catholics aren’t choosing between Rahner and Balthazar…they are choosing between religious practice in a community and chucking a spiritual search altogether in frustration. We spend too much time talking about those on the extreme ends of the Catholic Young Adult Spectrum. In doing so, we miss the vast middle, who long to be inspired.

And that, friends, makes the church a weary one.

Fast, Pray, Give: Day 3

There’s a difference between being hungry and being homeless. Whenever I do some kind of community service I find I’m more drawn to working with the hungry, but not so much with the homeless. Hungry people get their needs met by getting a meal, a temporary relief from the pangs of hunger. Even students who get a free meal from campus ministry are easily satisfied with a free meal from someone.

But it’s a lot harder to satisfy someone without a home.

What’s worse is that a good deal of the time the homeless can be nasty to us when we try to serve them. Dorothy Day even told Catholic Worker volunteers once that they should prepare themselves for that. “If you’re going to work with the poor, be prepared to work with ungrateful and hard-headed people.”

But aren’t we also a bit like that? I know this week I’m looking at a home I own in Queens that I’m having a hard time selling and I’m cursing my home. I have a leaky faucet in my house in the Buffalo suburbs and sometimes when there’s drama at home, I’d rather be somewhere else.

Home is not always where the heart is.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. We are not always satisfied with what we have, but rather are consistently and constantly searching for more.

And there are many who don’t even have the minimum, and we believe they should be happy with just getting that, when we’re not even settled when we have close to the maximum.

At Christmas one year I was on a subway with my then, roommate. We met a homeless man on the D train in the Bronx in New York City much too late at night. He smelled, he was a bit drunk, smoking a cigarette and the conductor could do nothing with him,

“Put that cigarette out!”

“Sorry, can’t hear ya,”

And it’s not like too many cops are around at three in the morning.

Eventually the conductor gave up his argument. And moved down the cars. It was then that the homeless man looked at us and said:

“Guys, I’m tired. I’ve lost everything and they’re trying to take more away from me. They took my house, they took my kids, they will probably even take away this old bottle soon enough. But they can’t take away what’s in my heart…they can’t take away my talent.”

Then he told us that he liked us and that he wanted to sing us a “tired song.”

And in that Christmas Season “Chestnuts roasting on an Open Fire” had never sounded better than when that man sung it for his heart. We laughed when he said “from kids from one to ninety-NINE” (the correct words are 92, to rhyme with the final words Merry Christmas to you”) but it was no matter. We were satisfied with that and so was he. He never asked for money, or even a bit of food. What he sought most of all that night was dignity.

And perhaps, just by listening to his song, we restored a bit of that to him that night. A tip of his cap as we left gave us a warm good-bye as if we were leaving an old friend of the family, and perhaps we were as 24 years later I still remember him.

We often hunger for more than food and the homeless often seek more than four walls. We get misguided in not being satisfied with what we have when others are deprived of the basics. In restoring dignity to all, we give other people an opportunity to be renewed, to see themselves as God does.

And it is more than enough.

The Bad News: You’re Gonna Die…The Good News: It Doesn’t Matter

So I hate to start out this post with some bad news, but here goes…

You are going to die.

That’s the central message of Ash Wednesday. It’s why we tell people to turn away from sin or we remind them that they are dust. We say so because it is a simple truth. Our lives have a limit and one day it will all be over.

The worse news is that some of us will get there much faster than the rest of us. Some of us will die young, some will die middle aged, some will die as elderly people.

But we are all going to die.

And many of us are not exactly thrilled with that notion. We’re afraid of what might come next, or that we’ll be shortchanged on our life, or that we’ll be forgotten all too quickly.

But here’s the good news.

It doesn’t matter.

We mark ourselves with a cross of dust on our heads to mock death, because we believe that death is the beginning not the end and no matter how we die, tomorrow or in 50 years from now, God will take care of us anyway.

Because we believe and because we are unafraid to live our lives as Christians.

So we mark ourselves and we do so because we want to be recognized as Christians, so that others might “call us out” when we don’t live up to our values. We want to be true to who we proclaim to be and who we hope to continually become.

Are we afraid to die? Or does death no have it’s grasp on us because we know the one who changed death into life and have faith that the same will happen for us, despite our sin and because of Christ’s redemptive love?

Today, may we remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return and therefore let us turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.

Sandy in Long Island

I just returned from Long Island where 8 of us from St Joe’s took some time to help people effected by Superstorm Sandy. We were hosted by Fr. Ted Brown, the director of Campus Ministry at LIU Post and a LaSallette priest (His nameplate on his desk just reads Ted Brown, Friend) and he and his colleague Jeanette, arranged our projects and provided our housing and a few meals making this an affordable and awesome trip.

We headed out to Long Beach where the sand on the beach is now piled high. Know those snow piles you see in winter. They have sand like that. See for yourself.

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We helped a great guy named Bryan who has been putting his own needs far behind the needs of the community. He opened his realty office to be used as a donation headquarters. “Basically anything you can get at a CVS!” he said to us. At the same time he arranges volunteers to go help residents who have lots of damage to their homes.

He sent us to rip out flooring and sub flooring in two different homes and then Jeannette, LIU’s community service coordinator suggested that we help him get his business back on its feet as well. Bryan’s office was also damaged by the tons of water that flowed ashore, but Bryan was too busy helping everyone else to take care of this. So we ripped out his walls and insulation and got two rooms ready for rehab. Here I am crowbarring out his drywall.

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Val, one of my favorite students, had an insightful remark during reflection about the experience. “Outside these homes look fine, even beautiful. But inside! They’re ruined! Do we look carefully enough at the needs of others, because they might look OK, but on the inside, they may be in need of help.” Here we see Christine ripping out rotted floor boards from a home.

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That young lady will be a great occupational therapist!

So pray for the people in these areas, who are still recovering. They need our prayers and now that the CNN cameras have gone away, many feel isolated and alone and quite a bit desperate.

As we get back to our lives, let us remember to look more deeply at the needs of others and know that what we see may not tell the whole story.

Competitive or Collaborative?

In my new book Loving Work, we talk about whether one likes to be in a competitive or a collaborative environment in the workplace. I was reminded by a friend yesterday about a story someone who was working on a building project at some point and a prominent person came to him and offered him some assistance with fund raising for the project.

That request was turned down. The person in question didn’t want anyone else’s help. They wanted to do the project on their own.

I can understand the sentiment and perhaps they were threatened that the donor would want too much credit for building the property or want it named after him or perhaps others would say “Steve (not his real name) couldn’t have done it without those dollars from so and so.”

But couldn’t we all use a bit of help and aren’t we all called to help one another?

Jim McDermott, SJ once noticed that I had a similar attitude and he remarked, “Mike, it would be a shame if you had to do it all, because you can’t do it all! So perhaps God is calling you to be a bit more humble and admit that you need the help of others sometimes.”

True enough. Blasted spiritual directors saying things that make sense!

And I truly value collaboration and take care to make sure each individual working on a project gets some credit for the work they put into the collaboration. Mike Breen, now of ESPN, but formerly of WFAN taught me much about this. I used to work with him on the station’s Imus in the Morning show as a desk assistant and whenever I did anything well, he’d be sure to point that out to Imus or to one of the higher ups. I try to model that behavior in my own work.

At times though, others don’t have the same attitude. There are some who take way too much credit for a project that they really didn’t contribute much to. Or take credit for an initial idea that didn’t really come them.

True collaboration comes from not worrying about who gets the credit but instead focuses on the work itself and allows the team to name one another’s roles in the entire project so that they can appreciate the diverse gifts of the entire crew.

Some people have a hard time with that, wanting to horde attention or hold onto the feelings of grandeur that they have about their accomplishments. They sometimes might also be the first to cast blame towards others as well.

And then there’s those who tear down others to build themselves up. A major league baseball player once told me off the record that they didn’t like one of their teammates. The hated player would say things like “Today I’m going to get more hits than anybody!” But he really would ben wishing everyone else to go 0 for 4.

Ministry can only afford to be competitive when we’re competing for the hearts of good people over evil choices and often we choose competing with one another. That must change. We are often our worst enemy and that ends up getting in the way of great progress.

Can We Forgive Fr. Groeschel? And Can He Reach to Reconcile?

So Fr. Groeschel and the CFR’s issued two statements of apology yesterday. They essentially both say the same thing and Fr. Groeschel’s seems like a shorter version of the CFR’s. Essentially, everyone was on message: We apologize, the abused are not victims, Fr. Groeschel’s mind is failing, Fr. Groeschel has a great record of helping people.

Here’s Fr. Groeschel’s apology:

I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.

While Fr. Benedict sadly may be suffering some effects from the accident it in no way exonerates him from the statement he made which was indeed hateful and horrible for any victim of abuse to hear. I fear, however, that this opinion may be widespread amongst many clergy and laity within our church. It shows a blatant ignorance for what sexual abuse has done and leads people into deeper darkness.

Those comments as Joe Zwilling of the New York Archdiocese said in his carefully written press release “do not represent us” as Catholics.

And for a self-professed “orthodox” Catholic to say these words is horrendous and for a Catholic paper to write them without further introspection on them or challenge is not just shoddy journalism, it’s shoddy Catholicism.

That said, what is Catholic is our capability to forgive and so while this doesn’t change what Fr. Benedict said I call for all of us to accept his apology and to offer him sincere forgiveness.

And that friends is hard for all of us.

While I am angered by Fr. Benedict’s statements and am sincerely wondering if those secretly are his true beliefs about sexual abuse, I also know that I cannot let that anger get in the way of forgiveness–where God calls each one of us to be.

Forgiveness however, does not turn a blind eye to justice. And I do think that despite the public embarrassment that Fr. Benedict is facing now, he should also be made to do some kind of restitution or penance for saying something so callous, old as he is, or not. He’s been speaking fairly lucidly and frequently publicly and offering tons of retreats and we haven’t heard any reports of missteps until now. And if that is the case then maybe he should spend some time listening (which as a psychologist he does very well) to those who have been abused by priests in some kind of formal retreat for them under supervision of another. The folks who run the Archdiocese’s Virtus training would be well-advised to take the lead in reaching out to him at this time and to set something up. I wonder if there’s a victim of abuse who is brave enough to take matters into their own hands and offer to speak with him?

Forgiveness on our part is always possible. We cannot let evil control and ultimately destroy us–something Fr. Benedict has also preached on and knows well. But reconciliation is sometimes harder to come by. And Fr. Benedict should take great pains to reconcile with the community here and we as laity should take great pains to welcome that and to forge understanding with those who have been abused with a man who seems to think that they bear some responsibility. Even if he’s saying that he misspoke now, I can’t help but believe that at least a small part of him feels this way.

I’ve said my share of stupid things in my life. Thankfully, most of them not in the public eye. But what I think I pride myself on most is my ability to try to heal the relationships that have been damaged by my own stupidity–even when my statements were unintentional.

He’s an old man. He’s been through a lot these years. But that’s no excuse. I’m glad he apologized and tried to set the record straight.

I forgive Fr. Benedict. And I hope he can forgive himself and can reach out to reconcile with those he has hurt by his words.

Young People in the Church Today: No Time for Infighting

John Allen is always insightful and we’ve been talking over here about the need for peace within the Church, moving away from the divisiveness that often comes with differences of opinions.

Some of Allen’s thoughts seem like good ideas to me. Sometimes we need to surprise those with whom we disagree by taking up a position that we normally wouldn’t get behind with vigor. Allen explains:

In addition to an ecclesiology of communion, “thinking with the church,” or whatever spiritual motive one might advance, offering surprising support is also smart tactics. It means opening channels of conversation before a crisis erupts, and it would give the center-left more leverage to push back against trajectories they don’t like. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to manage disagreements among friends than strangers.
To flesh out the concept, opposition to the death penalty or support for immigration reform wouldn’t count as “surprising support,” even though those positions are in sync with the bishops, because they’re what everyone expects from the center-left. However, the Catholic Health Association’s opposition to the Obama administration’s restrictive definition of a religious employer in its contraception mandate is a good case of surprising support because the CHA and the bishops famously had their disagreements over health care reform.
At least three such opportunities seem to be hanging out there like low-lying fruit.

He suggest three opportunities:
Getting behind the HHS Mandate, speaking out against anti-Christian persecution (in the developing world especially) and lastly helping the Bishops transition to a world church.

The latter two I jump on board with immediately…albeit I’m not sure how “surprising” these are. The first one, I’d tread a bit more carefully into. I think there’s a real opportunity to look at this issue in a larger context and to ask the question of whether health care should be tied to employment in the first place. I would wager that Catholics could take the lead here in getting out of that and offering their employees a higher salary and allowing them to form their own consciences and purchasing a health care plan of their own.

But there’s an even larger place where the center-left and even the center-right can meet.

It’s called Catholics for Civil Discourse. This could be a place much like the Catholic Common Ground Initiative –which had merit, but I believe that ended up as a bunch of center-left people trying to keep it afloat. Are we willing to talk things through and maybe use some principles of conflict resolution to show the world that Catholics can indeed rise above the hatred and move towards forgiveness and reconciliation of one another. I liken much of this to relationships between conservative and liberal Supreme Court Justices. Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg might agree on little but you never hear either on badmouth the other. In fact, they are close friends and they can see the other’s perspective clearly, even if they don’t share the other’s view. I suspect Ginsburg just says some days “Well, that’s Antonin all right!” and then smiles and laughs a bit. And Scalia probably says, “Well, you know how Ruth thinks. But she means well and has people’s interest at the heart and she does know the law well. Smart lady. Don’t agree with a lot of her views but she’s tough.”

Can’t we have a similar discourse in our church? More importantly, SHOULDN’T we have a similar discourse in our church?

Right now many have simply determined that neither side of the extremes needs the other. Jesus laughs at that and shakes his head and I think might even laugh and say “Dumb folks. They just don’t get it.”

Commonweal writer J. Peter Nixon gets to the heart of this argument very well in my view:

In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage.

Allen suggests that “center left” probably describes the majority of American Catholics and perhaps a super-majority of those working in Catholic institutions, such as chancery offices, Catholic Charities, etc. This is true, but it is changing. We have had a fair amount of episcopal turnover in California in the last few years, and the trend is unmistakable. Older, largely “center-left” staff are retiring or leaving and being replaced by younger, more self-consciously “orthodox” Catholics.

It’s true that the majority of rank-and-file Catholics are probably “center left” in orientation. But what of it? Younger Catholics, for the most part, are simply not attached enough to the Church as an institution to think “institutionally” about their theological commitments. Communal dialogue is something you engage in because you have a community. The majority of younger Catholics—like a majority of younger Christians—are spiritual consumers. If they are dissatisfied, they will choose “exit” rather than “voice.”

In short, this has become an “older” person’s fight within the church. The younger folks don’t have time for such riff-raff, nor do they have the scars from past battles that left others with deep woundedness and brings them into a vitriolic reflex each time something new saddens them from ideologues on either side. The young simply want to pray, connect with Jesus, form friendships with people of honor and serve the needs of the poor. In short, they want a church they can believe in, not one that focuses on infighting.

Infighting will do us no good, even if one side wins. If the far or even center-right wins they get a smaller and more faithful to the hierarchy breed that might not be able to be evangelize or be effective. If the center-left or far left wins they’ll be confusion as to what Catholics stand for, if they even stand for anything.

The truth is that consensus is what is called for in our church. And young people may not be willing to do the work required to battle things out for a long time with people that they really might not think are worth spending all this time on. It’s just easier to leave and have a more individualistic view of religion or spirituality.

We are in tough times. One of my jobs is to try to build consensus amongst younger people of faith, even people of different faiths. But to do that, we have to first engage them in the experience of where they find God working in their lives. Personal discernment, listening to where people are finding God in their lives is a necessary first step.

From there, we just may find an opportunity to understand one another and most importantly….

To seek peace.