Monday, February 18, 2013

Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church is often labeled today as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, look like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards.

~Pope Benedict XVI 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Faithful Encyclical

Courtesy of the rather startling news of his retirement, the question of the expected fourth encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI has only recently appeared in a few Catholic blogs and news sources.

As it was not expected for a while, now that he is retiring, there is doubt whether we will see this fourth proposed encyclical.

Maybe we will. Maybe it just is not one that we will see in print. Maybe this encyclical is a living one.

Perhaps, this great treatise on faith, is not one that scholars will have a text to pour over for centuries to come. Perhaps instead, this testimony to the call to faith will be a lived example.

The Pope lives in tension between an extraordinarily public life and incredibly well-protected secrecy. The mysteriousness, real and imagined of what goes on in the closed doors and back rooms of the Vatican leads to many speculations and novels of varying degrees of quality. Yet the Pope is one of the most recognized individuals in the world. His words whether spoken, written, or even tweeted become the source of debate, adoration, animosity, and completely dissected.

There is much that we do not know of the Pope's resignation. For every bit of information we learn, there is likely an encyclopedia's worth of knowledge we are unaware of in regards to this historic move.

Perhaps Pope Benedict is using this final, shocking and humble act to show us his fourth teaching - faith. 

Maybe he is challenging the Church to a renewed faith. Through the inevitable examination that the Cardinals will make in conclave and the overwhelming discussion of Catholics and non-Catholics the world over we can come to have fruitful discussions of the essence of our faith and the call to live that faith in our lives and the world.

Maybe he is challenging us to live lives of humble faith. In a world that will encourages you to shout, "I can do anything you can do better!" we have a Pope saying, "Enough." He is admitting that he has reached his limit. He is saying that for the greater good, he needs to step back.

No matter what the Pope may wish for us to see in his retirement, one thing we can assure ourselves. It is an act of faith. Faith that he is doing his best to follow God. Faith that the Church will discern a new leader. Faith that the Spirit will guide the Cardinals in the conclave, the faithful in their prayers, and the world on its journey. Faith that the Son walks with him into this new phase of life just as he walks with each of us on our sometimes rocky and troubled ways. Faith that the Father holds us all, the Pope, the Church, the believers, the unbelievers, in the palm of his most loving hand.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When a girl in black met a man in white

No, this is not a Valentine's Day post.  Rather it is the day I will forever associate with Pope Benedict XVI.

On March 28, before the sun even rose, I climbed into what Italians likely call a car. That is a generous term. Two young women from Africa in beautiful native garb joined me as we squeezed ourselves into the backseat. For some time we were driven through winding roads that a woman from India had described as, "Just like Goa but a bit prettier." She did not mean it as a compliment, I think.

Finally, we reached a wall, with a gate. The three of us peeled ourselves out of the backseat and stretched a bit in the chilly early morning air. The African women were freezing, even this Midwesterner was a bit chilled. We took in our surroundings. We were somewhere in the Vatican. There were buildings and shrubbery and who knows what else. It was early, we were bewildered, we were cold. Our driver and the car left.

Our escort motioned for us to follow. He spoke Italian only it seemed. My German, Spanish, and English were not too helpful this morning. The Africans knew a few words of English, but French was their language of choice. We followed this man who I never identified but was known by all the guards. He took us through walkways and driveways out the side entrance  We walked to a small cafe where he kindly bought us espressos to warm us and energize us for what was to come.

The Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter's.

I had been attending the Pontifical Council for the Laity's Youth Forum on Human Sexuality. You can see some posts I made about it here. The shock of the week came with the request that I read at Sunday Mass. I agreed, no big deal, right? My laid back attitude lasted about 3.2 seconds until it dawned on me that the Sunday Mass was at St. Peter's with the Pope presiding. Insert awkward moment of falling over about five people at this point.

Back to St. Peter's on March 28, 2010. We were taken to our seats, in a reserved section. I left my bag under my seat. Only when you are a row away from Italian royalty and the Cardinals of the Church do you feel comfortable leaving your backpack in Rome. The Swiss Guards nearby didn't hurt either.

I could go on as it was an amazing experience.

However, I want to focus on the Pope. I was reading the first reading from Isaiah:
The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Besides being one of my favorite passages (and thankfully without some of those particularly challenging Old Testament names), in retrospect it could not be more appropriate for my encounter with the Pope.

I come from good, hearty German stock so perhaps that is why I feel like Pope Benedict could be my grandfather. My Grandpa D had a thick shock of white hair, was feisty and loved his music (he sang in a barber shop quartet). So maybe the two aren't clones of each other, but somehow my mind links the two.

With the news that Pope Benedict is retiring, I feel like a grandfather I nearly knew is fading away. I find the words of Isaiah floating in my mind and I think Pope Benedict could claim them for his own. Though given a difficult era to shepherd the Church, I believe history will be honest and Pope Benedict "shall not be put to shame."

Just as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, Pope Benedict has given the Papacy his all. When most men dream of fishing or watching their grandchildren's baseball games and dance recitals, Pope Benedict took on perhaps the most challenging 'job' in the world.

No matter what history, the press, or the plethora of social media commentators may say, I will think of my day, standing on the steps of St. Peter's proclaiming Isaiah. The day when I was a Midwestern girl in her plain black dress, reading for the Pope. It was an honor and a pleasure.

May you find peace, rest, and fulfillment in your retirement, Pope Benedict. And if you want, I make the best Gingersnaps - translated the recipe from my great-grandma's German handwriting. Just let me know, I'll send you some.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gaudete and Grieving

Yesterday afternoon I hit the point where I had to stop. I had to close down Twitter, Facebook, and all the news source sites from my web browser. I had to stop the conversations.

I had to remind myself that while my heart is grieving, my soul rejoices. Perhaps there is comfort to be found in the seeming coincidence that this Sunday was Gaudete Sunday. Maybe I, like so many of us, need the reminder that our soul can be joyful even in times of grief and sadness.  Maybe we need the reminder that sorrow may last for a night, but in the morning comes the light.

Yes, we may be mourning the loss of those souls in Connecticut  We may be grieving the loss of a job or a home. We might be sorrowful over a relationship ending or an unwelcome life change.

Yet, we are not a people of sadness. We are a people who live in expectant, confident hope. We are a people of joy. Even when we are remembering the darkest hours of Good Friday, we know, with all our being that there is an Easter morning.

So yes, mourn. Grieve. God does not deny us that human need. After all, even Jesus wept for Lazarus. Yet, we cannot despair. We are an Easter people reminded in this particular week of Advent that we are a people of joy.  We mourn our loss. We can find comfort in the joy those lost souls now have.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When all that is left is silence

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
~Aldous Huxley

I am now on my fifth day of trying to process the tragedy in Connecticut  I am trying to wrap my head around the shooting in a school, in a mall. I am trying to figure out what my heart is supposed to feel and my head is supposed to think at a time like this. Like so many others, I am answered with silence.

There are plenty who feel the need to add their voices to the mix and in a way I am too. Some are writing beautiful pieces offering real suggestions to help those that might cause terror such as this due to mental illness. Others are suggesting the time is here, yet again, to really examine the gun control policies in our nation. There are also beautiful stories and posts to social media of acts of kindness and remembrance of the little souls and the brave adults who time came too quickly and harshly.

Then there are those who see this is a time to offer angry words. They blame guns, blame God, blame the nation. Whether from fear or anger, they strike out at whomever they can reach.

All I know is that at Sunday's youth group I looked at the teens and wondered...Would I be as brave as those teachers? What could I do to protect them more? Why did those children have to die and never get the chance to experience the sweet torture of adolescence?

All I know is I now treasure all the more the pictures and updates I get from my goddaughters. I wish I was closer to my pseud-nieces and nephews to offer them hugs and celebrate each day with them.

All I know is that there are no words of comfort, no policy shifts, no anger, no fear that can erase what has happened.

I do not have the words to offer you, those grieving, or myself. I simply offer my silent prayer to God knowing that the angels will add their voices and those voices are all the sweeter with the choir of Sandy Hook's children.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I came to a profound realization. If ever I am lacking in humility, I will simply play Boggle with my brother. Despite being a certified bibliophile with an annoying vocabulary, I absolutely, positively stink at playing Boggle.  One round found my brother scoring 35 while I weighed in with 1, that's right 1 point.

My sister-in-law, while not quite as proficient as my brother, also completely schooled me. However, she was kind enough to offer words of encouragement along the lines of, "You just need to play it more often and you will start to know what patterns to look for." Yeah, I have a wonderfully kind sister-in-law.

What I did learn was how important little words are. Three lettered words become so crucial.

In a faith where we toss around consubstantial, Eucharist, ecclesial, transubstantiation, and even our short words like laity and chalice hail from a different age, simple short words get lost in the shuffle. Boggle taught me that can be dangerous.

I'm not even talking about some obvious ones like soul, love, faith.  I'm going even smaller - three letters - joy.

This is a busy time of year for us in the Church. Advent ministries and programs flood our schedule. Personal and professional obligations loom like an oncoming avalanche. Yet, if nothing else, this time of year should remind us of the simple, but so crucial idea of joy. Our God rejoices in us."I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." When Jesus says this in John 15.11 it is such a simple yet incredibly profound statement.

Despite the chaos that is life right now (which includes a nasty headcold), I am trying to live with joy. I am trying to have that joy be contagious (unlike the headcold).

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you."
~Zephaniah 3.14,17

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When A Geek Geeks Out

A few months ago, based off of some discussions and the fact that we have The Hobbit opening this month, I decided we'd do a series for the young adult ministry on "Faith & Fantasy: Lewis, Chesterton, & Tolkien."

My not-so-well-hidden-geek is completely geeking out.

Not only do I get to spend weeks (five to be exact) talking about, discussing, and reflecting upon my favorite authors, but I get to do real research. For while I am quite familiar with their writings, I wanted to see what was out there for analysis on a deeper level.  Enter my deep and abiding love for research (and this is a fair use of the word love).

Utilizing the wonders of the library system, I am getting books sent to me from college libraries across the state and have a stack of books on my table at home that if they fell they could squish my dog. For her safety I have moved them closer to the center of the table.

I often wonder if Martha and Mary had a third sister, maybe Margaret. She was the nerdy one. She's not mentioned because she was off with her nose in a scroll (her dad taught her to read, even though that was not an accomplishment for your average 1st century young lady). I've got a whole mental story about her and her sisters. Maybe I'll write it some day for you.

These do all come together in my mind. For you see, Tolkien, Lewis & Chesterton all remind us of one very important but over looked aspect of our humanity and faith - imagination. We can get so caught up in the reality of life, of the business of living, the work of God, that we forget the creativity. We forget to imagine. If we are to have childlike faith, isn't one of the most consistent characteristics of children their creativity?

While I am enjoying challenging myself with the research and writing of a new series, I am rejoicing in the challenge being issued to live creatively. Since starting this project I am spending more time in my own art and creative writing and those are good places to be.

How's your imagination?