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Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Forgiveness

A few days ago, a reader queried,

I want to ask you about forgiveness. It's such a basic and integral part of our Faith and yet many people, like me, aren't entirely sure what it means. What are the steps for forgiveness? . To recieve forgiveness from the Almighty I must Repent, ask forgiveness and make penance. Are we to ask this same process for those seeking OUR forgiveness? It often seems by the way that people talk about forgiveness that it should be a simple thing...I am not always so sure.

One more thing. When does Forgiveness become Enabling?

Thanks for your questions, Jose!

You're not the first to ask, and you won't be the last. Let's break it down and get to the heart of the matter.

1. What IS forgiveness?

That's a great question! Perhaps, through common knowledge of both God and ourselves, we can come to a definition that will make the term more clear.

We know that we are fallen creatures and as such, we don't just offend God, but we frequently offend each other, and sometimes we do so on purpose.

How many of you are familiar with the cry of surrender from childhood games, "OK! I give!"

Some would say "UNCLE!" which is similar but the a heartfelt "I GIVE!" does a lot more both for we as the one who succumbs, and we who are victors. "I GIVE!" is a cry of humility, of surrender, and is a universal appeal for mercy. It is also an expression of implicit offering: "Whatever it is you want...I GIVE!" and often physically expressed by open arms and hands, showing that there are no hidden weapons, be they sticks, stones, M-180's or cream pies.

Forgiveness, then, belongs to the one who reigns, the one who is in control.. Forgiveness anticipates the surrender of the "enemy" and makes him a friend through the divine virtue of charity which wills the good of the other.

We as humans "forgive" when we recognize that we are all fallen, we all fall short, and we all merit Hell. When we are faced with an interlocutor, in knowing our own final end, it is much easier to gaze upon the faults of another and even if they don't ask, to surrender ourselves to their own faults in recognition that they have likely accepted our own as a foregone conclusion of our basic humanity. Even if they have not, we know that our own faults give us greater cause to accept the offenses of another.

John Paul II wrote extensively about the mercy of God, and in his Encyclical on that topic, Dives in miseriacordia, he discussed how mercy begets mercy. When we have experienced mercy, we learn also to extend it to others.

This is not a true definition but perhaps just an illustration.

2. How does one forgive? What are the steps?

Forgiveness is not so much a matter of "steps" as a matter of interior disposition.

In our fallen nature, we tend to turn even the simplest of things into a "process" and think that if we put that "process" in place, everything will go well. The first thing to realize is that we are human, not machines.

Forgiveness has, at it's core, relationship. In order for us to be offended, we must have some kind of relationship with the one who offended us. Certainly there are degrees of relationship, but for the most part, if we're hitting the confessional on Saturday afternoon to speak about forgiveness or the lack thereof, it's because of a real person we know and have injured in some way...or perhaps we have been injured by them. When we go before Our Lord with contrition

When it comes down to it, there are no "steps" to forgiveness.There's nothing complicated about forgiveness unless we make it so. It's what we choose to do...or do not.

Sometimes people are deeply, deeply wounded by the sins of another; so much so that they may believe they can never forgive the person who hurt them. An example of this might be a family whose daughter was abducted and murdered, or those families who lost loved ones in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In cases where the offense is so great, that is where we need to lean on Christ and pray for HIM to forgive those who have hurt us. Perhaps when we begin that prayer, we may not truly desire it, but the willingness to hand it to Him can transform our own souls and heal our own wounds until one day, perhaps that forgiveness will become our own as well. We have to forgive others through Our Lord, who can bear all things on our behalf and on behalf of the offender.

3. The Sacrament of Confession follows a process of Repentance, Confession, and Penance. 

Yes, it does. If we are asking God for forgiveness, we'd better be sorry for what we have done. If we aren't...the Confession is invalid, no matter what the Priest says. God knows our hearts and souls and we can't fudge Him.

So, yes, we must be truly sorry and intend to do better. We must confess our sins, and then we must "make satisfaction" which is the penance given by the Priest. Have you ever noticed that no matter what horrible things you have done, the prayers you are told to offer don't even TOUCH the offense in most cases?

There is a reason for that: it is because we can NEVER make satisfaction for our sins. Only the Son of God can do that, but we are called to participate in that offering. I can give this concrete example:

One day after an hour of my regularly scheduled prayer in the Perpetual Adoration chapel I went to Confession, and I had things to do afterward, but decided to go to Confession anyway in a brief window open to me. I confessed sins relating to impatience, but had no mortal sins. Overall, it was a pretty benign Confession!

The Priest gave me the penance of an entire Rosary, which was HUGE for this particular Priest who was known for his...uh..benevolence.(very Holy priest, very lenient penances).

I accepted my penance and returned to my place, actually grumbling about it! I'd been there an hour, I'd already prayed a Rosary and I hadn't had anything serious to confess! I had to get this over with, and quickly as I had to GO!

And that's when it hit me:  uh...yeah. Impatience.  In my own immediate sin of impatience after confessing impatience, I couldn't even complete my assigned penance without complaint! That lesson hit me right where it counted:  heart and soul.

Do you see?

4. Does what God asks us to do apply also to those who offend US?

Yes, He does, although not necessarily in the same way.

This question is best answered by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the section on Christian Prayer on the topic of the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father".

First, we are called throughout scripture to be holy and perfect as our Father in Heaven is holy and perfect. It is made clear that a facet of His perfection is His forgiveness and mercy for sinners; that teaching is a living reality. Jesus stated very clearly that we must pray for those who persecute us, to love our enemies, and to "turn the other cheek." If our Father in heaven forgives us, who are we to refuse to do the same?

If we are to be like Him, we must be willing to suffer much and still stretch our own arms out to our sides, vulnerable to attack and give ourselves up in love to anything that does not require us to commit mortal sin.

The teachings on Our Lord's Prayer as it applies to forgiveness is found in CCC paragraphs 2838 -2845. Please note that the teaching does not begin or end there, but is encompassed in all of Catholic teaching and throughout the life of Christ as expressed in the scriptures.

In short, must we forgive others as Christ forgives us:  YES! To do differently is to deny Him entirely.

5. What keeps forgiveness from being enabling?

Keep this in mind:  we are called to holy obedience and growth in relationship with Christ to forgive...not to forget. Never does He say we must forget.

Jesus does not call us to be doormats without a cause.

To understand this, we have to first understand the true definition of charity (divine love):  True Charity wills the good of another. Not just the temporal good, but the ETERNAL good, for that is what we are here on earth to obtain: Eternal beatitude with God.

We have to ask ourselves, in every moment, "What is the most loving thing?"

It is not enabling to forgive. It is enabling to turn a blind eye, to refuse to see what is there and to say nothing to someone we know and love and CAN speak to. It is enabling to recognize a problem in a person who is a mere acquaintance and refuse to bring it to the attention of those who do know that person in hopes they will intervene if necessary.

It is enabling to forgive and not maintain boundaries, for real forgiveness holds the sinner accountable for their actions.

That is the difference:  Forgiveness exists for the sake of Holy Conversion of heart and soul. It is to bring us closer to God, to help us to recognize who we are in His sight, and to recognize His supreme authority and ability to heal us of even the most dire offenses. If Our Lord can forgive us our offenses, it stands to reason that we, too must extend that same kind of mercy towards those who offend us as well.

 **     **     **

Jose, I hope this helped, at least a little. If you're a reader, I do highly recommend that you read Dives in Miseriacordia (linked above) as well as the passages in the CCC that of course are far more succinct and to the point than I will ever be!

If something I said here doesn't make sense, please feel free to ask - I never can claim to be free from error! ;-)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Do You Know Me?"

When I was in college, it was a tumultuous time, as I sought to both learn practical knowledge and, as the cliche says, who I was.

Well, one out of two ain't bad: I gained a great deal of knowledge designed to further a career, but it didn't teach me squat about what I was (or am) as a human being.

That is not to say I was abandoned, however, although it seemed that way at times especially the Christmas I spent alone after my Dad's death.

In fact, I had a friend who faced down death in the form of cancer. For a time he'd been in the seminary, and that time had bolstered his own faith. I remember one evening at a party, quite a secular one, where among a few of us, spirituality had become a topic and in particular, the call to Holiness and the reality of Death.

I can still remember my friend looking me in the eye, speaking of Particular Judgment and in his gentle voice, hand against his own chest, looking me straight in the eye and asking in the words of Jesus: "Do you know me?"

Jesus will ask us all, in that moment, "Do you KNOW Me?"

I'll never forget the agony in his eyes, unspoken, hopeful, even as he repeated the words.

"Do you know me?"

I resolved on the spot that if I didn't know Him...I wanted to.

And it took several years and I admit, quite shamefully now, that I wanted to know Him then because of what  He could "get" me, for you see, it took a long time to experience the true beginning of conversion.

Now I hear those words differently and reach out for Him in a different kind of agony. for as I see His pain, I can only offer my own, recognizing in that eternal question all of my years of rejection, of "doing it my way", and a deeply hidden fear that perhaps, my choice...maybe I still don't really know Him.

Not for lack of His effort.

In His question I see the Cross as the Tree of Life and I kneel, weeping at the stone at its base, remembering the fruit of my downfall even as I reach for the fruit of salvation.

The other day while working on my Icon I was listening to Miriam Marston's song, "The Gardener", and as the song continued to penetrate my soul, I couldn't help but recall the words of my friend, those ancient words, the ancient question Our Lord asks of each of us, individually: "Do You Know Me?"

In Marston's song, she juxtaposes the theological reality of the Creator; the Gardener as St. Mary Magdalene meets Our Lord on the day of His Resurrection.

As she weeps in her grief he confronts her and she queries, "What do you care?  You're just the Gardener's Son". 

I can imagine His loving gaze as He replies so patiently to Mary Magdalene and to all of us, waiting for us to make the connection, and when He knows that we do or only wants to prompt that leap, He queries,  "Do you recognize me now?"

We are taken back to the Garden of Eden, the parable of the Master of the vineyard and his son murdered by the workers,  the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately the Garden where Jesus is laid to rest...and Rise.

We cannot help but recognize Jesus as the beloved Son, our eyes opened in wonder, in love, as we really see  the One sent by The Gardener to open the gates and restore us to original Beatitude..and beyond.

"Do you recognize me now?"

by Miriam Marston

A faint sign of gladness makes her pause in all her sadness
Fair and so faithful she throws aside careful
Hardly knowing what to expect
She makes her way over
Maybe it’s safe now it’s been a few days now

And she started weeping as though she’d never cried before
She thought she’d lost the only one she’d loved
And three of the longest days of her life had come to this
Waiting by a stone

And then she saw the Gardener
He asked her how she’d been
“I’m sad and I’m scared but why do you care? You’re just a gardener’s son”

“Do you recognize me now?” (x3)

“Go tell all the others that you’ve met me
They might think that you’ve been drinking through the night
But don’t let all their doubts keep you away from me
The world will likely tell you it’s all in your mind

She comes to the home she’d left
Anxious and alone
But it’s more like a mansion now
Though she can’t yet mention how
Everything around her
seems infused with glory
Her hope expands as the world just stands still

And she started weeping as though she’d never cried before
She thought she’d lost the only one she’d loved
And three of the longest days of her life had come to this
Waiting by a stone

And then she saw the Gardener
He asked her how she’d been
“I’m sad and I’m scared but why do you care? You’re just a gardener’s son”

“Do you recognize me now?” (x 3)

“I’m here…I’m here...I’m here….”

None of us ever needs to ask Our Lord "Why do you care?"

Still, deep in our souls, we DO ask, and we NEED that answer, individually, and we need to eventually lift our eyes and hearts and souls to Jesus, who stands before us, simply waiting for us to recognize Him.

Wherever we are...He is HERE.

But....we still have to respond to that question, "Do you know Me?  DO YOU RECOGNIZE ME?"

** Go to the link, scroll down and find the song title to listen

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fleeing the Cross

Recently I had to give a presentation at work, and it was to an audience that, traditionally, hasn't been very receptive to the subject matter, simply because they are required to be there to receive it whether they desire it or not.

To be honest, for weeks prior to this, months, even, I dread the annual affair, for my own experience of it took something I once enjoyed and warped it into one of my worst nightmares.

In my first year in my job, when I gave a speech on this same topic, I was nearly crucified...after the audience got over their shock at Catholic teaching. Their reaction took exactly one week to percolate before the outrage overflowed upon my boss, the school principal, and the Pastor. Not a single one of the outraged souls confronted me directly, and even at the end of the year their negative evaluations remained anonymous.

It made me realize that, first of all...angry Catholics are largely passive-aggressive. Very few are willing to be hostile to my face, and most, if forced to confront me, find their desire to be hostile melting away. There is a simple reason for this:  humanity speaks to humanity, compassion speaks to compassion, truth speaks to truth.

But...there are those who simply do not want to be confronted, and changed, by Truth, Compassion and...simple Humanity.

It's unfortunate, but it's our fallen nature that drives this.

That knowledge does not make it any easier to handle, however, when one is on the end of receiving the passive-aggressive and sometimes even outright in-your-face hostility.

My first experience of outright anger in an audience was so palpable that if I hadn't had some serious training in speech competetion and in speaking to groups that were open to the Gospel, I probably would not have been able to finish.

As it is, I still bear scars from that horrible encounter, for now, every time I have to go before this kind of crowd, I hit a level of anxiety which, in normal people, has to be medicated. (tongue-in-cheek).

The fact is this:  What I once thought I would enjoy doing professionally has become one of the biggest crosses in my professional life.

I thought, upon entering my position, that the opportunity to speak to groups on my favorite topic of Eternal Salvation was an incredible, and...FUN...blessing!  I imagined all the happy people who would be there ready to receive the Word of God, the Traditions of the Apostles, and revel in our shared Faith, especially in light of the benefit to their children.

In spite of my Pollyanna attitude and my incredibly brilliant soapbox, I learned that the typical condition of humanity in any given Church involves backbiting, passive-aggressiveness and outright hostility, with a little frosting of a few supportive souls who are glad to be there but thrilled they don't have to stand there on the gallows, singing to their executioners.

Every year now, I recognize the gallows for what they are, and I approach in trepidation. What I once loved has become an object of dread. What I once saw as a chance for Hope has become an object of despair. What I once saw as a chance to share our Faith has become the recognition of a Faith rejected. What I once saw as simple charity has become the fulfillment of what Divine Charity is all about.

It's taken several years, and I've groaned and complained, I've tried to get out of it by hiring speakers, but always, my supervisor has intervened and told me, "No, YOU have to do this. Maybe next year will be different, but this time, YOU have to step up to the plate again and deliver this message for Our Lord."

Each time, inwardly, I've groaned, and outwardly, I've complained to my friends and to some of my co-workers, even my boss.

But I've carried on because there is no one else and I simply haven't anywhere to go if I quit.

63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." 66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:63-68)

Every year I agonize, I practice, and I've even been hauled into Father's office for a critique on what is wrong, technically, with my speaking abilities. (He is always right, by the way, and I'm grateful for his suggestions.)

And every year as the date approaches, I sleep less, dread more deeply, and look more and more askance at Jesus, wondering what I'm doing here and why I am doing this.

Each year is a new purgation, skinning layers of my pride as deeply and painfully as St. Bartholomew was skinned by his own persecutors. (I do believe he had it worse).


Although I've often thought of it, sometimes have written of it, I know that the privilege of speaking on the central beliefs of our Faith to such an audience as this is truly a gift of God's Grace. It's a gift I don't always want to receive, but I must at least admit to the fact that I have been formally called to it (outside of my own desires) and have had to cooperate with that directive.

I know that in my first year, the reaction of others was partially my own faulty delivery of the message, for I was not as nuanced as I could have been and did not realize how my words would be taken - which was far from the way intended.

Part of what I suffer, even in having been correct in teaching, was still my fault, for even the proper message when delivered improperly ends up in the same place as every other piece of misdelivered mail. Some remember that misdirected mail and still hold me in suspicion.

So it is, so it has been, so it will be.

What I struggle so hard to live, though, is the gift of being able to speak to an audience much like those to whom Jesus and the Apostles spoke:  hostile, unreceptive, unwelcoming, indifferent, outright angry.

Yes. When I have to speak and deliver certain Biblical teachings, certain teachings of our beliefs, and know that unreceptivity of the audience, I know, intellectually, that it is what Our Lord suffered, too, and still suffers.

As I've asked before, WHY SHOULD I BE ANY DIFFERENT???

Indeed. It is a gift to suffer what He did.

I only pray I can learn to bear it so patiently.

Friday, February 18, 2011


You know how it is, in the spring, when you've had a few days of melting snow such that the edge develops an icy "lip" over the sidewalk?  And you know how under that lip is where the melting water runs on its way into the storm sewer?

Yeah, that.

I've discovered that stepping on that icy ledge creates an infinitely satisfying "CRUNCH!" when stepped on.

Ah...the joys of childhood that never die...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Canon Law and Catholic Publications

Last week there was a huge fiasco regarding the iphone app for Roman Catholics, leading major media outlets to conclude, erroneously, that the Church had just approved the Sacrament of Confession outside of the Confessional. Why? Because "A Catholic Bishop gave the application an Imprimatur". Unfortunately, too many people don't know what that means and indeed, the terms and what they imply can be confusing if one is not familiar with them.

What does it mean for a publication to have Church approval?

As usual, definitions are important here; both of the subject matter and what "approval" entails.

I'm going to focus on, specifically, publications. This can include scripture translations, books, prayers, or as we're seeing recently, applications.  What does it take, then, for the Church to approve a publication? And if it is approved, what does that really mean? Does it change theology?

Let's look at the process involved, step by step,  in the publication of a document, the applicable Code of Canon Law, and what is revealed within that.

1.  First, the author of a publication submits it to the Local Ordinary (The Bishop).

2.  The Local Ordinary assigns a Censor to review the work. [The Bishop does not review the work himself]

Canon 830.1 states:

"The conference of bishops can compile a list of censors outstanding in knowledge, correct doctrine, and prudence to be available to diocesan curias or can also establish a commission of censors which local ordinaries can consult; the right of each local ordinary to entrust judgment regarding books to persons he approves, however, remains intact. "   (The Latin is far more precise that what can be translated in the vernacular). 

Note what the Canon states about the Censor:

1. Outstanding in knowledge
2. Outstanding in correct doctrine
3. Outstanding in prudence

Note that either the Conference of Bishops compiles this list for the sake of the diocesan curias or establishes a commission for the Local Ordinaries to consult.

Note further that the Local Bishop's authority over to whom he is willing to entrust a publication remains intact; of the pool of censors, that means the Local Ordinary still gets to choose who will review the work.

What about the obligations of the Censor?

 The Censor has an important role, and there's a great deal to it which also involves the obligations of the Bishop to both the Censor and the Author.

Canon 830.2 states:

In fulfilling this office, laying aside any favoritism, the censor is to consider only the doctrine of the Church concerning faith and morals as it is proposed by the ecclesiastical magisterium.  

Nota Bene:

* The Censor cannot show favoritism 
* The Censor must consider ONLY the doctrine of the Church concerning faith/morals 
* That, as proposed by the magisterium [as opposed to popular fly-by-night ideas, etc.]

Canon 830.3 states:
A censor must give his or her opinion in writing: if is favorable, the ordinary, according to his own prudent judgment, is to grant permission for publication to take place, with his name and the time and place of the permission granted expressed. If he does not grant permission, the ordinary is to communicate the reasons for the denial to the author of the work.  

Let's take a look at that canon, because it reveals a great deal about the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur:

* A Censor must give his or her opinion in writing 
* If it is favorable,  [Nihil Obstat - "nothing obstructing"] the Bishop (according to his own prudent judgment, ie: does he trust the Censor?) MUST grant permission for the work to be published. 
* And, if this is the case, the Bishop must let it be published with his name, time, and place of the permission granted. [Imprimatur:  "It may be published"] 
* If the Bishop does not grant permission, he must communicate the reason for the denial to the author.
Let's use a simple example of this process. 

Let's just say I use my Master's degree to write a book about Catholic doctrine and its relevance to our culture today. It would be thousands of pages long, of course. It's also very likely every other student in my graduating class compiled the same kind of book with varying areas of specialization.

 Because of the subject matter of my book and the submissions of my friends, and the fact that we want to be taken seriously as legitimate theologians in contributing something to the Church, we submit our works to our local Bishop.

The Bishop doesn't look at the work himself; he's far too busy. Even if I knew him personally as a good friend, he probably still wouldn't read the book himself both to avoid the temptation of favoritism (explicitly prohibited by the Law) and because he's actually got better things to do - like preach and provide for the Sacraments.

Thus, as Canon Law established, the good Bishop takes my work and the work of all my fellow graduates and assigns each of these tomes to a Censor who has been appointed either by the Conference of Bishops or from a designated pool of Censors. In other words, he entrusts this work to, typically, a lay person with good  knowledge of doctrine and a sense of prudence.

Now, that appointed Censor might not like what I'm saying in my book, or may actually love it completely and want to make me a Saint because of it. However, the Censor cannot offer a visceral reaction. On the contrary, that Censor is obligated to objectively evaluate my book on the basis of Catholic faith and morals. Does anything I say in the book contradict the Faith outright?  Does it state something contrary to the moral teachings of the Church?

Mind you..there's a lot of leeway there...the Censor must use prudent judgment; perhaps some of my wording is imprecise and perhaps I don't work from definitions, and perhaps my work can be a bit wishy-washy in that regard. However, in the fair judgment of the Censor, does my work actually contradict, outright, the Faith and Morals of  Catholicism?

There are many factors there such as:  how well has this Censor been formed?  All theological degrees are not equal; the fact is, some universities are more faithful than others, some provide a more complete theology, others are...uh...lacking, to put it charitably. The fact is, the Censor is using his or her own judgment given their specific knowledge, no matter where it falls on the very broad spectrum. The Censor might actually be completely mis-informed about some areas of Catholic faith/morals, yet the Bishop may still trust his or her judgement with regard to my work.

So let's just say that the Censor read my thousand-page book and acted in accordance to Canon Law.  If he thought my work did not contradict Church teaching on faith and morals, he must give that approval in writing to the Bishop (Nihil Obstat - nothing obstructing), and the Bishop, unless he has reason to believe the Censor is way off, will accept that judgment and put his stamp (Imprimatur) on the publication...because he has to.

Now, to the contrary, if the Censor thought I was off my rocker, he must also tell the Bishop that, and even if the Censor gave his approval and the Bishop got an inkling maybe said Censor was wrong and looked further, discovering that I'm a total heretic, the Bishop must inform me that my work cannot be published and what I did wrong.  That would give me a chance to correct my book and then re-submit it. Or choose apostasy.

Does that make sense?

Further, does that help to reveal the fact that the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur on various questionable publications does not serve as "Church approval" by any means?  There are some Bishops who are more prudent than others in those they allow to censor work in their name, as we all know.  There are also a large number of people, Catholics included, who take these "stamps" to mean that the Bishop himself read and approved certain things. I assure you he did not, but for perhaps a few rare cases.

As a friend of mine suggested, why doesn't the work get assigned to a Canon Lawyer?  Answer:  Canon Lawyers are overworked and underpaid as it is. They have even less time than the Bishop to read the myriad of works submitted!

That still leaves one question:

What kinds of publications must be submitted to the Local Ordinary?

According to Canon 824, Any writings intended for publication and distribution should be submitted.

More specifically:

* Can 826.3  Prayer books for public or private use - required submission.

* Can. 827  Catechisms and catechetical materials require approval of the local ordinary.

* Can 827.2 Textbooks of scripture, theology, canon law, ecclesiastical history, or religious / moral disciplines require approval of "competent authority" in order to be used. (The authority referred to here may go beyond the local ordinary or require more than just the local Bishop's approval)

* Can 827.3 Books about about scripture, theology, canon law, ecclesiastical history, religious / moral disciplines not used as textbooks are recommended to be submitted to the local ordinary  [the type of thing I'm most likely to write]

Where does that leave bloggers?

Good question, isn't it?

Well, this is where Canon Law has not caught up with social media, which itself is in a constant state of flux. All we bloggers can do is take what we have and see how the law applies. We are encouraged to use social media to share our faith, to evangelize, to teach. However, we ARE subject to canon law; virtue and prudence should be our guides in what we publish.

Certainly, we are not asked or required to submit our blogs to the Bishop for approval. However, if I decided to publish my blog as a Catholic book, intended for distribution, it would be recommended that I submit it to my Ordinary. If I wrote a more formal work on the theology of the Church, or compiled prayers, I would be required to submit it, which, naturally, makes sense. After all, in the latter case I would be doing so as an act formal to the role of theologian; I would be trying to contribute to the theology of the Church in some formal way.

Disclaimer: With all that said, and with all I have written here, although I have tried to do this faithfully and with reference to the materials I received in graduate school, and with reference to the specific Canons, I have to offer this disclaimer:  my blog is not approved by the Bishop. It has not been submitted to a Censor and it's quite possible I am wrong on some point or have stated something improperly. Blogs should NEVER be used for formal study, although they can be useful to point to further information.

It disturbs me, though, that so many people put their faith in the stamps "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur" when really, those approvals mean very little. They are only as good as the understanding, faithfulness, and integrity of the person reading the work.

Keep that in mind the next time you look at a work, and judge it not by those designations but rather by the actual content of the publication.

Your soul is worth far more than a faulty Imprimatur or mistaken Nihil Obstat.

And your intellect is worth far more than the media's interpretation of Catholic terms they don't even try to understand.

Faith and reason go together, my friends. Know the terms, know what they mean, and if you don't understand them don't ever be afraid to ask!  :-)

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I've been watching a lot of cop/fire shows lately. For years I simply couldn't do it; Hollywood always gets it wrong and those things they get wrong used to drive me so crazy it would make me angry. I couldn't enjoy that kind of "entertainment" that made the rookie mistakes I made...and paid for a thousand times over.

There was more to it than the technical malfunctions of the screen writers, though; the "camaraderie" of the actors on the set was just that:  acting. 

I remember sitting at certain restaurants with my fellow officers, picking at my food while they talked "fantasy football."  We rarely hung with the other female officers, most of whom were on other shifts. Usually it was just the FTO's (Field Training Officers) or ex-FTO's...and me. The guys in my department were just as cliquey as a bunch of 7th grade girls and quite honestly...even more nasty.

I was the third wheel, a fish out of water, the kid sister no one wanted around. In other words...the untried rookie. I could deal with that, for I expected that to be the case, but what I hadn't expected was all the subtle psychological sabotage.

Every so often they'd joke with me but I had that little nagging sixth sense that they reason things weren't better was because we both knew I wouldn't be sticking around. I just didn't yet know the reason, nor had I had a chance to live up to any reason to stay or to leave.

That distinct lack of belonging was something I couldn't put to words. As I told one of my friends from Skills training, "I don't feel like a cop."

My friend was in line to be hired by a big city but hadn't started yet and was interested in my rookie experiences. Logically, he was perplexed that I could put on a Kevlar vest, a badge, a gun, go to morning briefing, don a radio and drive a squad car and still not "feel like a cop."  I was perplexed, too.

I don't in any way mean to say the department was all bad. In fact, that October the other six or seven  women in the department, represented by two of them, waylaid me one afternoon to invite me "Up North" with them on a weekend fishing trip.

"We already checked your schedule",  Officer T. said to me. "We know you're off! Do you want to come?"

Ha!  If I'd wanted to say no, at that point I would have had to have a great excuse! It was clear they WANTED me to go with them, and in fact, they were all very helpful to me. Perhaps things would have been different if I'd realized early enough which help to request and when. I had allies in ALL the other women in that department, for they'd been where I was, at least in a sense, and knew the struggles I was facing.

Meanwhile, back at the Station... particular officer, not an FTO, seemed to want to make things especially difficult for me. My training officers and a couple other cops warned me about him in vague but menacing terms. It wasn't that he was a "hound", but it was more intimated that he hated women, was a jerk, not a good cop...whatever. That very much put me on my guard and made me suspicious even though he'd always been at least polite to me, if aloof and cynical.

Well, one day I came in and put my radio on the charger before roll call.  It was pretty much ready to go as I'd used my home charger, but I figured it could use a few minutes while we were in briefing.

This particular anti-woman Officer in question was called out of the briefing room to go to dispatch, and as he passed me in his hurry, he stopped me and requested that I put his radio on the charger for him. I saw that every docking station was taken, and, knowing that mine was OK, I removed my own radio, replacing it with his. I passed him a couple minutes later and confirmed I'd placed his radio in a docking station as he'd asked, and he thanked me kindly. Fine. Done. I thought nothing of it.

I was quite surprised and offended, therefore, that after briefing, this very angry, very large hulk of a man confronted me very loudly with, "You LIED to me!"

Taken aback, I asked him what he was talking about. He pointed dramatically to his radio in the charger, orange light glowing, and demanded to know why I didn't just TELL him that there wasn't a spot available.  He claimed that I just set it aside and lied to him about it.

"No, I didn't!"

"YES you did! Why didn't you just tell me the truth?"

At this point he was bending down to meet my eyes, cornering me, his very angry, shouting face only inches from mine.

I didn't take very kindly to being cornered and accused like that, so I struck back with all of my 5 feet, 4 inches of Pure Attitude. 

I denied lying, stated clearly (and loudly to overcome his own protests), that I DID put his radio in the charger at the expense of my own. I told him next time to be more responsible and charge it overnight like I did, and don't blame me when his equipment isn't ready. I further told him that if someone else took it out of the charger that wasn't my problem, and went on to inform him, quite loudly and in language that might have made a sailor blush, where, exactly in his anatomy he could place his radio from that point onward.

This little scene gathered quite a crowd of badges as you might imagine, (although none intervened given this was a verbal skirmish) and this angry officer backed off quite considerably in the face of my charged verbal onslaught.

I went down to the women's locker room in a huff to gather a couple things, then headed out with my training officer who naturally told me I needed to watch my language and cautioned me that my outburst probably did some serious damage to the reputation I didn't even have yet.  I was ashamed. He told me he was glad I wouldn't let anyone walk all over me but that I really needed to be more guarded and...professional.

He was right and I knew it. Thankfully he kept it off his observation reports for that day.

But something funny happened as a result of that scene; the officer I'd been so warned about suddenly became my best friend. He would go out of his way to assist me on calls, or,  if I was working on paperwork he'd offer advice on little tricks my FTO hadn't told me about. One day when we walked in to the station he loudly proclaimed that I was his "favorite rookie."

And the scary thing is, to this day I think he actually meant it. In fact, I think that the whole radio thing was a setup by my own FTO, who was hoping I'd make an enemy instead of a friend. And I think that my new friend realized it while I was going off on him, which is why he become my buddy after that. (Yeah, I know something about psychology and depravity, too.)

For some odd reason, I make the best friends through massive confrontations on first meetings.

Still, I knew I didn't belong there. The whole time I wore a badge and carried a gun, I felt like I was playing dress-up. Cops and robbers. It was a pretense, even when I actually did manage to do something right.

That's why I never went back to law enforcement; I wanted to grow up and become who I was, not make myself into what I could only pretend to be. 

The Fire department was much the same, albeit without the big explosive confrontation with a co-worker. That particular year was more interior conflict than exterior, and the camaraderie was there but there came a point that I knew, once again, I was in the wrong place entirely.

The sense of relief on the day I was laid off can't even be expressed in words. It's like I'd faced a dragon and learned it was a fixed match with someone's trained pet, ending in a draw where both of us walked away with medals of honor.

Religious life was different, though.

With all my trepidation and gun-shyness from so many bad work experiences, bad discernment, etc., the communities I visited made me feel like family from the very beginning. That's not to say I was "home" but rather, it was like the sense one gets when visiting beloved relatives. When I left, I couldn't imagine not being there again, I couldn't imagine my life not knowing these Sisters.

And you wasn't about the superficial ideal of "camaraderie" or a lack therof; it was simply a shared love for God. No matter how hard it was at times on those visits, I never felt like I had something to "prove" to anyone. I had only to "be."

That is why I press on. That is why I continue to pray, in spite of my obvious obstacles. There is no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, and for now, whether I'm called to religious life or not, I have a huge burden to bear and carry up Calvary.

I've written often about being in the shadow of the Cross, and I see that as the sun sets, that shadow becomes longer and longer, and I know that it's leading into a long, dark night. Still, I walk because I know that what I choose, what I believe I am called to do, isn't going to be easy. It is not an escape from life, but rather, makes life more real, more intense...more...true.

I chuckle now at the conflicts of the past. They are nothing in comparison to what I currently confront. I see, clearly now, that all those jobs, all those conflicts, were only preparation for what is happening in this very moment.

From the Liturgy of the Hours, Series III (Midafternoon)

If the Lord does not build the house,
in vain do its builders labor; 
if the Lord does not watch over the city
in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

In vain is your earlier rising,
your going later to rest,
you who toil for the bread you eat:
when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.

~ from Psalm 127
Apart from God our labors are worthless 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Little Wisdom from St. Teresa of Avila

A couple weeks ago Paraclete Press sent me a review copy of a little daily wisdom - through the year with saint teresa of avila,  compiled by Bernard Bangley.

The book begins with an introduction about St. Teresa's life and writings. Bangley included a short section on definitions of words common to St. Teresa's writings (such as "His Majesty" and "recollection"), followed by a listing of works from which he took excerpts, and finally, followed by a list of people to whom she wrote, and who they were.

As the title implies, there is a reading for each day of the year, some very short, others two to three paragraphs.

I admit that as of this writing, I have not completely read through that book; this is one that must be savored. The readings are not arranged topically, but rather, some are stories of her life, others advice on prayer, some of her own lamentations or poetry, or other spiritual lessons designed to help another soul advance in holiness.

If you are indeed looking for a daily devotional or even some spiritual reading divided into something you can read quickly, or if perhaps you simply would like an introduction to St. Teresa of Avila, this may be exactly the book for you.

Paraclete Press is also coming out with this year's lenten offerings, so go have yourself a peruse!

Monday, February 07, 2011


I've been pondering a great deal about the average people of Islam; their reality versus what those of us "outside" think about them.

The recent stories from Cairo, Egypt have given us some snapshot; such as all the average men and women who rallied to protect the Coptic Christians as they celebrated Christmas after the attacks by Muslim extremists. The return favor of the Christians banding together to protect the Muslims from similar attacks (from their own Muslim extremists) was beauty to behold.

I've gone on record in various places stating that I am opposed to the Mosque being built at Ground Zero, especially considering the Orthodox Church which was stymied even though it existed long prior to 9/11 and was destroyed on that day. I protest the injustice and the imprudence of the Mosque there...which is not the same thing as saying I deny Muslims the right to build a Mosque somewhere else. Somewhere more prudent and more respectful.

I don't want this post to be about that political issue however and I won't get into that topic in the combox.

Rather, I wanted to discuss my own limited connections with people who profess Islam, and where the stereotypes end and relationship begins.


There can't be a relationship with dialogue (conversation) and without connection.

I do not personally have any Muslim friends as they simply are not near me and as I work in a Catholic Church, of course my co-workers are mostly Catholic.

When I worked in Insurance, however, I had customers from all over the globe, of every system of belief. Usually faith was not a topic of conversation, although I knew that my Somali customers were Muslim, religion did not affect their claim; our biggest problem tended to be communication and sometimes...culture.

Because I handed thefts and fires, I had some very interesting interactions. One woman's claim was that she'd had an engine fire, and she described for me what had happened. I suspected over the phone that it wasn't really a fire, but wouldn't know until I saw the car. My heart sank when she gave me the name of the shop and the address...a Somali shop.

I admit here my own fears, my own prejudices, and I admit them as a woman.

I'd "learned" years prior that "Muslim men do not respect women" and of course, I know that as a Christian woman, I am an infidel. So be it.  That latter label has no real meaning in my local area. But I knew the Somalis in my area were tight, they seemed like a very closed group and I feared not only that this woman, my customer, might not get a fair shake, that there would be a double whammy because I, too, am a woman outside their Somali and therefore Islamic community. 

But I went in to work and I dutifully went to the shop where the woman's car awaited my inspection. I'd called in advance in case they were very busy and also to get more specific directions. The men on the phone were kind and although a bit difficult to understand at times, were gracious. When I arrived one of the mechanics, maybe the shop owner, stepped out with me to the car, lifted the hood and told me very directly that what the woman claimed was a fire...wasn't.

He pointed out with a light and a pointer something I'd seen many times over: a hole in the engine block. Her car had thrown a rod. Indeed she'd seen flames and smoke, but only from that one point of massive mechanical failure. He looked me in the eye and told me that he knew her claim was not covered by insurance.

He also helped me to get the photos I needed for the file.

I thanked him for his help and told him I would call our mutual customer to explain things. We were both sorrowful, for the lady was in a bad spot. He told me to call him with any questions.

I walked away surprised, for my encounter with this shop, being the minority there, was far more positive than I'd expected; he was honest both with me as the representative of what universally, everyone recognizes as the "evil Insurance company" and with the woman, our customer. He wasn't taking sides; he was interested, as I was, in truth.


On another occasion, I handled a claim for my customer, who had liability only, and was not at fault in an accident where the other party, a Muslim man, I believe he was also Somali, ran a light and struck him. The other party kept asking me what I was going to do about his car. I kept explaining he was at fault and owed my customer. He didn't seem to understand at all...I believe it was simply a failure to understand the laws.

As it was, he took my client to court, so I went with him, provided him the documentation he needed and listened during the hearing. Both drivers were honest about what had happened. I knew we'd won when the hearing officer told the other man that he was in the wrong and explained the law and what it means. He nodded his understanding. A week or so later we received the our favor.

I saw in the notes that on that day, the other party took it upon himself to contact the subrogation department to set up a payment schedule; he didn't have insurance on his own vehicle.

I sat back, shocked at his honesty; it was a trait I rarely saw...anywhere.

More Honesty

On a recovered stolen vehicle, I had another female Muslim customer, not sure where she was from, but she, too, was an immigrant. My relationship with her was a bit troubled for some days she liked me, other days I seemed to be Satan Incarnate. Again, I believe this was much a matter of her not understanding the laws, and me not doing a very good job of explaining them.

In any case, she brought her car to a shop owned by a Muslim, and I went there with the same trepidation as with the other shop; expecting to be "taken in".

Instead, he showed me where the car was, he had his mechanics lift it for me so I could see the undercarriage and the damage being claimed, and later returned to answer my questions.  He told me, in all honesty, that much of what the lady was claiming was simply not related to the fact of loss. He stated outright that she was trying to claim damages that were long-term wear and tear versus something a thief would have done in 30 minutes of road driving.

I have several customers' cars go to that shop and always...he was honest. His workers, all from various places (many Mexican and Guatamalan mechanics) were also very helpful and it came to pass that if a customer's car was going there, I knew I could relax - all would be treated fairly and honestly.

Why do I bring this up?

I don't really know. Perhaps to reveal how limited information and prejudices we don't intend often may lead to misunderstandings. Maybe to reveal how simply being a professional goes a long ways towards understanding another.

Perhaps I write it to shine a light on our own inconsistency and where we get our information. To direct us to look to the integrity of the source of our knowledge.

Or perhaps I'm just writing so I can hear myself think and bore you all to tears with it as well.

There's one big question, though:  Where do we get our information?

We Catholics, we complain that too many people get their info about the Church from disgruntled Catholics who got mad and left, taking all their misinformation and grudges to spread around with impunity. We do indeed have a right to protest that, yet I know so many people who will accept the testimony of a disgruntled ex-Muslim or ex-Baptist or ex-Buddhist or what-have-you as the be-all and end-all of their religion.  Double standard much?

I did not learn much about Islam in my professional relationship with Muslim auto body or mechanical shops, nor did I learn much about the Somali culture by getting a few recorded statements regarding vehicle mishaps. I learned about individual people and about individual businesses but what I did learn taught me to put my prejudices aside for the sake of a greater good. Because of that, I saw honesty where I expected to be distrusted and I experienced a good business relationship where I expected to have problems.

Perhaps in the end, this post, like most of my posts, doesn't really say anything at all. Maybe it's just an exhortation to integrity with regard to our fundamental questions about the beliefs of others.

It is good to ask questions, to learn about one another...and to do so in security, knowing what we believe ourselves and holding on to that while still respecting the beliefs and differences of others.

My ponderings tell me I must begin to ask questions, for I want to understand...but I also want objective truth and not the twisted thoughts of a disgruntled soul. That latter helps no one, and least of all..the soul originally affected.

If you have any thoughts, please share them below:

Sunday, February 06, 2011


The other day I went into the Church and it was abandoned. No one working, no one practicing "music", no one doing one there.  I could have gone to the Adoration Chapel, but I be alone with Our Lord.

At first I thought of how alone He is in so many of the tabernacles throughout the world, and in those parishes that have Perpetual Adoration, the fact that so many don't realize they can be with Him as fully even when He is hidden.

I guess that is my little secret..the one Jesus and I share together.

When I really need to be alone with Him, I don't go to the Adoration chapel, but to the tabernacle in all its solitude, knowing that even though I am in that particular place, I am with Him at EVERY tabernacle.

This solitude..this solitude of Christ...and my own solitude, has made me contemplate the loneliness of Christ in His life. How his Apostles did not understand Him, and yet, He had so much patience for their absolute density. We honor the Apostles now, but let's face it, y'all...none of them were the brightest bulbs on the tree.

When it comes down to it, every dang one of the Apostles was fatally flawed, lacking in intelligence of most kinds and followed Our Lord simply because He called and they were attuned enough to Him (through no merit of their own) to recognize and respond to that Call.

Read the how Jesus had to enlightened these men unto His lessons, for even though they recognized His Call, they still couldn't figure out what He was saying to them. With ultimate patience, He explained so much, leaving the rest to mystery; to the Holy Spirit to fill in the rest, all so that we would grow in faith because none of us is smarter than the Apostles.

I'm no different. 

I don't know what He is asking of me.

I thought I had it figured least, the earthly goal.

As it turns out, I still have no idea what He wants. I thought He was calling me to religious life (and we all know how long it took me to actually ACCEPT that idea) but ever since I've made that "decision", my mountain of debt has continued to grow, I am no closer to entrance than I ever was, and a Sister of one of the communities I once considered has told me she now believes I don't have a Vocation to religious life at all.

She may be right. I think she probably is correct.

Tonight Mom called and told me the rest of the Family (believe me, I'm from the equivalent of the 12 Tribes of Israel, aka the bona fide Holy Catholic Mob) is asking her when I'm going to "go into the Convent."

She keeps telling them I'll go when I pay my debt. They ask how much. She tells them she doesn't know.  Before tonight I wouldn't tell her because, well...she can't keep her mouth shut when it comes to her brothers and sisters.

But tonight, I told her the stakes and the fact that in 20 days, my grad loan company will be reporting to the Credit Bureau. Because I can't pay.

I told her how much I owe in student loans alone. I only alluded to the credit cards that have been used over the last 3 years of Church employment - books for grad school, repairs on the car (like the partial rebuild on the engine), bills not covered by my employment over the last 3 summers (I didn't mention Christmas and Birthday gifts, all modest things, but all unaffordable through my paycheck.)'s life.

My situation sucks, and I'm to the point where I'm willing to give up on religious life; so far I've given up on everything other than survival.

I can't any more look to the future; all I have is the present, and almost every night I wake up in a near-panic, wondering how I'm going to handle all of this overwhelming debt. Never mind the repairs on the house, the stuff that is breaking down, the stuff I simply don't have the funds to fix and which will cost the next homeowner thousands to repair.

There is nowhere to go. There is no one who can help, for there is no purpose for helping. I won't even pretend that any help is to advance me to religious life; to say so would be disingenuous.

If This Cup Would Pass From Me...

Jesus, in His solitude in the Garden, prayed to the Father that this cup would pass from him, and in His prayer, he surrendered his Holy Will to that of the Father, unified, that "Thy Will be done." And so it was.

Sometimes I simply feel crushed by the burden of my life, all the unanswered questions, listening to the ticking  hands of the clock, certain I am wasting my life. Wasting it because I cannot move on. Frustrated by others who keep telling me if I really wanted to go, I would just go. Frustrated because those who say such things have never carried the burdens I carry now and from which I cannot simply flee.

Our Lord does not want us to flee our responsibilities.

I don't know what He is asking of me, although it is clear He demands I pass, in apparent solitude, through this cross.

Perhaps that religious Sister is right; perhaps Our Lord does not really want me as His Bride. I know He has not and will not call me to Marriage. And so...I am left in this terrible solitude...a solitude I never wanted, yet here it is.

Thy Will be done.

Look to the clock on the wall
Hands hardly moving at all
I can't stand the state that I'm in
Sometimes it feels like the wall's closing in

Oh Lord what can I say
I'm so sad since you went away
Time time tickin' on me
Alone is the last place I wanted to be
Lord what can I say

Try and burn my troubles away
Drown my sorrow the same way
It seems no matter how hard I try
It feels like there's something just missing inside

Oh Lord what can I say
I'm so sad since you went away
Time time tickin' on me
Alone is the last place I wanted to be
Lord what can I say
Oh Lord what can I say

How many rules can I break
How many lies can I make
How many roads must I turn
To find me a place where the bridge hasn't burned

Oh Lord what can I say
I'm so sad since you went away
Time time tickin' on me
Alone is the last place I wanted to be

Oh Lord what can I say
I'm so sad since you went away
Time time tickin' on me
Alone is the last place I wanted to be
Lord what can I say
Oh Lord what can I say

~ Brandi Carlile 

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Death on a Stick

A couple weeks ago, Ironic Catholic recollected her novice days in Minnesota, wherein she pondered our seeming obsession with the weather. As she was to learn, "Weather kills you in this state!"

In college, I was on  the Nordic Ski team, and our differing class schedules combined with the individual nature of our sport meant that we all tended to practice when we had time as opposed to a more regulated schedule as demanded by team sports.

So it was that when the temps dipped after a storm, I was all excited to hit the bluffs for a good training session. I was even MORE excited when our University cancelled classes, citing the danger of the -75 windchill, can't recall the actual temps but they might have been about -50.

In any case, those actual ambient temps were probably the lowest I'd ever known, and I grew up in these frigid states...and wasn't about to be waylaid by mere cryogenics!

Taking my opportunity, I bundled up in a layer or two more than usual and went to the College Center to get the key to the ski room. Looking at me oddly, the freshman work-study student handed me the key and as soon as I had my stuff, I headed out to the groomed trails, recognizing immediately that they didn't make a wax for these temps; the snow was stickier than styrofoam and much....grippier!

Doggedly I continued, though, until, maybe a half mile or so further, I couldn't feel my fingers.Unfortunately I couldn't turn around yet. I was already deep in the bluffs when I finally recognized I was really in trouble.

My entire body had begun to go numb. I kid you not. The headwall was before me, but....could I even make it that far, or would the wind from my descent cause me to freeze in place even half-way down?

I'd never been so relieved to see a turnaround, and realized it had been built for idiots such as me, so I used it without another thought, pulling my mask further up, wishing I'd taken my team-mates' advise to invest in goggles for days like this.

There wasn't another soul out there that day, and even the ubiquitous deer were smart enough to huddle in some shelter...leaving me to realize my utter solitude and very real likelihood of death should I falter at all.

I was truly frightened that day, certain I would freeze to death, shocked at how easy it would be.

In 6th grade as part of a Great Books program, I'd read "To Build a Fire" and wondered when I'd start to feel warm...and knew that if that happened, it was finished. I couldn't start a fire...I had all kinds of wood but no spark and no shelter and no kindling.

As I skied back home, out of the bluffs, I knew I had one choice only: to get back..

I knew I was a total idiot for setting out in the first place!

The warm light of the College Center was a mirage;  I didn't believe it was really there until I'd descended to store my equipment and then turn in the key. I'm quite certain I was very blue or purple by the time I handed that thing over...the girl at the desk stared at me in horror, paused, asked me if I was all right, and let me go on my frigid way.

It took me the rest of the day to warm up.

I never told my coach I went out that day..I'm quite certain he'd have had a lot to say to me about that, but my lesson was learned just the same.

Yeah, we in the cold climates learn to live with it and play in it, and we find all sorts of sticks to play with in the snow...but ultimately, if we forget that this stuff will kill us, then we've lost the game entirely.

As I nearly did that day.

 Take this post as a warning, ya'all. No matter how tough you are, the weather will one-up you every time.