Parish: An Ash Wednesday anniversary reflection

LentGraphicI write for Young Adult Catholics on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. This year, I have the privilege of posting on Ash Wednesday. I could do much with Ash Wednesday.

But I want to say something not about Ash Wednesday in general, but about what Ash Wednesday means to me. It is my anniversary. It is an unlikely anniversary at that.

Four years ago, I did something I never thought I would do. I quit being a practicing Catholic for an extended period of time. Two years ago, I rescinded my choice. I “came home” on Ash Wednesday, 2013.

The experience was multidimensional. Here, I want to focus on just one dimension: the “home” part. Specifically, my parish home: what it was before, what it is today, and some thoughts for folks who are where I have been. Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: “Marihuana: A Party…A Puff…A Tragedy!!”

0808-0710-1617-3417The woman I date is a terrible influence on me. So over the weekend, I tried “Marihuana.”

No. Wait. Allow me to rephrase. As we proceeded through a bottle of Pinot Noir, we decided it would be a good idea to live-blog one of her favorite 1930s exploitation films, “Marihuana,” a predecessor to “Reefer Madness.”

Come to think of it, I’m not sure any of that actually sounds better.

But anyway, we thought it would be fun. After all, there is this description on the DVD case:

Marihuana chronicles the downward spiral of a group of teenagers from frivolity into the depths of decadence brought on by smoking the “giggle weed.”

Continue reading

An aside: Diocesan appeals, women’s ordination, and “giving them some food yourselves”

Loaves and fishes mosaic, via

Loaves and fishes mosaic, via

This weekend launches the annual fundraising appeal for the archdiocese of Chicago. I went to Mass last night and found the pledge envelopes sitting at the end of my pew. I listened to a taped message from Archbishop Blase Cupich about being “Entrusted with Responsibility,” which is the name for the 2015 appeal.

I have friends who are commenting about the appeal kickoff on Facebook. (Those are the kinds of friends I have.) One of them will not give the archdiocese any money. She has posted a photograph of the “Equal Justice Reserve Note” she will tip into the collection basket instead.

Chester Gillis, in his book Roman Catholicism in America, describes this unique, non-legal tender:

If anything, the church’s attempted prohibition of discussion of women’s ordination galvanizes opposition, tempting [women] to withdraw whatever support they may be giving the institution. The Women’s Ordination Conference, a Catholic advocacy group, printed and distributed surrogate dollar bills [the “Equal Justice Reserve Notes”] for women to deposit into the collection basket in lieu of their regular contribution. The bogus bills indicate that financial support is being withheld because of the church’s unjust treatment of women.

Indeed.  Continue reading

An aside: Musings on a papal, and personal, disaster

Pope Benedict XVI entering St. Peter's Square for the general audience of May 24, 2006. Photo by author.

Pope Benedict XVI entering St. Peter’s Square for the general audience of May 24, 2006. Photo by author.

More than two years ago, on January 20, 2013, I sat in the very front pew of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. I was attending 5:30 Sunday evening Mass with my best friend. My spine tingled. I was thrilled, even haunted, by the warbling tones of our mustachioed cantor:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

I wondered if now was the right time to return to church. For a year and a half, I hadn’t gone to church except on holidays, or on occasions like this with my friend. And I could barely stand even that.

I did come back. But I did not come back for another three weeks, not until February 13, the evening of Ash Wednesday. I drove to a new parish on a whim. There, I received charred palm leaves on my forehead, and decided I was home to stay.

Something happened between those two dates that made salvation possible.

The pope resigned.  Continue reading

Quotable Quotes: “Signora, this pope was a real Christian”

The reader may find it remarkable how seldom in the history of the papacy it is necessary to make reference to the Gospel of Jesus. This is because the actions of the majority of popes are more aptly appreciated as the actions of politicians–and we do not need religious inspiration to explain the actions of politicians. As politicians, their actions may be viewed as successful or unsuccessful according to political norms. But once we introduce the Gospel as norm, it must be admitted that most popes have been failures. Perhaps this should not shock us as much as it does. The peoples of the Protestant-influenced societies of northern Europe and North America, where moral rectitude wears a very public face, are always more alarmed by the discovery of character flaws in their official leaders than are the peoples of southern Europe and Latin America, where men of power are never expected to be good. As a Roman chambermaid remarked exquisitely to Hannah Arendt while John XXIII lay dying: “Signora, this pope was a real Christian. How is that possible? And how could a real Christian ever get to sit on Saint Peter’s Chair? Didn’t he first have to be made a bishop, then an archbishop, then a cardinal, before he finally got elected pope? Didn’t anyone have any idea who he was?” One could term this comment deeply cynical, impossibly pure, or just realistic.

Thomas Cahill in Pope John XXIII, part of the Penguin Lives series

Called by name



I keep up with pop culture in the same way that my parents keep up with communications technology. (That is to say, they own two rotary phones.) So last week was the first time I watched Gran Torino, a 2008 film starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a grumpy, foul-mouthed, bigoted widower in his seventies. He is a Korean War veteran. He loves his guns, his ability to fix anything, and his 1972 Gran Torino. He built it himself at the Detroit Ford factory where he worked for decades. Kowalski is one of the last holdouts in an old Polish-American neighborhood now settled by Asian immigrants, particularly Hmong.  Continue reading

Elsewhere in the media: Me at CTA News & Notes

Copyright Call To Action.

Via Call To Action website. (c) Call To Action.

The Call To Action website recently posted the PDF file for their Fall 2014 newsletter. I have a piece on page 4, which is an edited version of my summer blogging reflections on why I stay in the Catholic Church.

Because I like to shout out for my fellow young adult Catholic writers, please also see John Noble’s fine piece on page 6, about structural racism and white privilege in the American church.

[I’m permanently archiving the Fall 2014 newsletter here: CTA-News-Sept-2014-Website-Copy]

An aside: “Out of his mind”

My favorite form of prayer (and I admit I do it haphazardly) is to keep up with the daily readings from Mass. I was much struck by yesterday’s Gospel from Mark. It is all of three sentences. It comes down like a hammer.

Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mk 3:20-21)

The problem with being very close to God–well, one problem among many–is that they will say you are “out of your mind.”  Continue reading

Of lunchtime, doing time, and the Vatican report on the sisters

Sr. Megan Rice, one of three arrested for breaking into a nuclear facility in Tennessee in 2012. She was 82 at the time. Photo by Shawn Poynter for the New York Times.

Sr. Megan Rice, one of three arrested for breaking into a nuclear facility in Tennessee in 2012. She was 82 at the time. Photo by Shawn Poynter for the New York Times.

A nun at my lunch table described a “shakedown.” A “shakedown” is when the prison guards raid your cell block to search for contraband. They might rummage through your bedding, turn out your pockets, conduct outright strip searches, the whole nine yards.

It took a moment, but I realized she wasn’t talking about a story she’d heard, or a show she’d watched. Nor was it something she knew through prison ministry. The sister had served time. She had gone through “shakedowns.”

I was eating with several sisters who worked in social justice fields. I found that most if not all of them had gone to jail for civil disobedience. One mentioned the name of a prison. She asked the nun next to her: “That was your prison, right?” Her neighbor confirmed that it was, in fact, her prison.

Another sister related how she was part of a group of defendants. They gathered to receive their sentences: jail time and a several thousand dollar fine. The judge said he would waive their fines, but they had to promise to never trespass again. All of them, including the sister, refused. They all paid.  Continue reading