Friday, December 9, 2011

On the Belgian Reform Manifesto

Hellloooo, Coffee Talkers!

It's been a while, but I've gotten some questions in recently, so let me try to clear the cobwebs out of my brain and get crackin' here. Tonight's topic is an article on a reform manifesto issued by four Flemish priests, which a friend passed on to me, asking if I had any commentary. Anyone who knows me knows that, if nothing else, I am never lacking on commentary, so permit me to post the article here (in black) and to comment intralinearly (in red). Enjoy!

Published on National Catholic Reporter
Dec. 02, 2011 By John A. Dick

Hmm...I'm already a bit suspicious of the credibility of this article due to the source, but I'll keep an open mind.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM -- The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.

Married men -- fine. You can ask for that, since there already are married priests in the Catholic Church, both in the Eastern Rites and in the Roman Rite among those who have become Catholic priests after having previously served as married Anglican/Episcopal priests. But ordaining women is an entirely different matter (for which I should sometime devote an entire blog post), and perhaps the priests just need to review Blessed John Paul II's document "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone."

By the week's end more than 4,000 of publicly active Catholics had signed on to the "Believers Speak Out" manifesto. By Dec. 1, the number of signers had reached 6,000.


Among the supporters are hundreds of priests, educators, academics and professional Catholics. Two prominent supporters are former rectors of the Catholic University of Leuven, Roger Dillemans and Marc Vervenne.

I have no idea who these people are, so I can't comment here.

"These are not 'protest people.' They are people of faith. They are raising their voices. They hope their bishops are listening," said Fr. John Dekimpe, one of four priests who launched the manifesto.

"Some people are fearful about approaching church leadership," said the priest, who lives in Kortrijk. "Is this being a dissident? I don't think so. The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don't do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. ... I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers."

I wish I knew more about the Belgian church so I could offer more insights here, but I have no doubt that they are having serious problems and that some valid concerns are being raised here.

Among the manifesto's demands, made "in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries," are that:
  • Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople; 
This already happens very frequently in the US, so it's interesting to hear that perhaps this idea is so radical for the church in Belgium that these Flemish priests feel the need to present the idea in the form of a 'manifesto.'
  • Communion services be held even if no priest is available; 
Ditto on my comment above.
  • Laypeople be allowed to preach; 
Well, here is the US lay people do the most informal 'preaching' -- that is, teaching and passing on the faith in the context of sacramental preparation and ongoing formation. The formal homily is reserved to priests and deacons, which I don't see as a huge problem here because the lay people have opportunities for other forms of 'preaching' and proclaiming the Gospel. But okay, what's next?
  • Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion; 
Divorced people CAN receive communion, so that is certainly not what the manifesto is asking for. Don't be deceptive, National Catholic Reporter.
  • "As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.
As I said above, married men -- already allowed for some Catholic priests, so could still be up for discussion in the Roman Rite. Women, married or not, are an entirely different matter (for theological and sacramental, not historically discriminatory, reasons. Read the JP II document above if you care).

So far there has been no official reaction from Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the Catholic primate of Belgium, any of the other Belgium bishops, or the Vatican. Privately, and off the record, one Belgian bishop has applauded the manifesto.

Why is this bishop afraid to go on the record if he really believes it is all right and true?

Jürgen Mettepenningen, a Leuven theologian and former press officer for Léonard, told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen that he hopes the manifesto can lead to a well-thought-out church reform. "When I reflect on what I have written and said over the past years, I can only say that the spirit of the manifesto is the very same spirit in which I have been trying to work to make the church more credible: true to the faith."
Last year, after reports of abuse rocked the Belgian church, an independent commission discovered sexual abuse in most Catholic dioceses and all church-run boarding schools and religious orders. The commission said 475 cases of abuse had been reported to it between January and June this year.


In one of the more prominent cases, Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe was forced to resign after admitting to years of abusing his nephew. In April of this year, he told Belgian television that he had molested another nephew and that it had all started "as a game."

Horrific, and inexcusable. Still, the cause of these problems in not a problem of theology, or of not admitting married men and women to the clergy, etc.

The full text of the manifesto, "Believers Speak Out":

Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, worship without Communion: that really should not be! What is delaying the needed church reform? We, Flemish believers, ask our bishops to the break the impasse in which we are locked. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries, with all who insist on vital church reform.

Sounds good to me!

We simply do not understand why the leadership in our local communities (e.g., parishes) is not entrusted to men or women, married or unmarried, professionals or volunteers, who already have the necessary training. We need dedicated pastors!

Again, I have too little knowledge of the Belgian church to say much. In the Diocese for which I work, it is not at all uncommon to see the administration of parishes entrusted to celibate priests, married priests (former Anglicans), married women, married men, single women, single men. However, they are not all pastors, per say. A priest (or deacon, when permissible) still has to serve in the celebration of the sacraments. Evidently, the church in Belgium has a real priest shortage, but little or no openness to lay administrative leadership of parishes. That is a solvable problem, and perhaps these priests do well to bring it to the light.

We do not understand why these our fellow believers cannot preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations. In every active community we need liturgical ministers!

Again, we have many lay liturgical 'ministers,' but they are all 'extraordinary ministers' -- that is to say, they are outside of the ordained clergy. Only the ordained clergy are formal ministers. These lay people can serve in many liturgical roles, but they cannot celebrate Mass. Are they just asking for lay people to be admitted into any liturgical ministries at all, or for them to take the place of ordained clergy?

We do not understand why, in communities where no priest is available, a Word service cannot also include a Communion service.

Agreed. I also do not understand this. The bishops can train and commission lay 'ministers' for this purpose.

We do not understand why skilled laypeople and well-formed religious educators cannot preach. We need the word of God!

I addressed this above.

We do not understand why those believers who, with very good will, have remarried after a divorce must be denied Communion. They should be welcomed as worthy believers. Fortunately, there are some places where this is happening.

If a person was sacramentally married, a civil divorce does not end the sacramental marriage. Only if the original marriage was invalid sacramentally can a person get married in the Church. Otherwise, if they remarry civilly (while still being married to another sacramentally), they are not permitted to receive Eucharistic communion. Divorced people who are annulled from their previous marriage (in other words, it was declared by the Church to have been an invalid sacrament) may marry again and receive communion; also, divorced people who cannot receive an annulment but remain unmarried (civilly) may receive communion. There are many complicated cases for which I believe that the Church (most especially priests and bishops) should have very special pastoral care. These priests are right to point out that many people in this situation remarried with good will, and often with varying degrees of misunderstanding or ignorance of church (or canon) law. Still, there are many other situations for which people are not permitted to receive Eucharistic communion until reconciling themselves with the Church and the community, and the Church's teaching on a sacramental marriage being a lifelong union that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful must be preserved. I think they mention a valid concern, but do not present a real solution.

We also demand that, as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood. We, people of faith, desperately need them now!

I already talked about this one a few times, so enough said.

Those are all of my thoughts for now, friends. I'd welcome insights from people with a special knowledge of the church in Belgium.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Human Dignity, Steve Jobs, and Why You Shouldn't Call Me A "Pro-Life Advocate"

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Well, it's been a while. And since I realized that little old Coffee Talk has just been sitting here collecting virtual dust, I decided to hop on tonight and write a little something for you. (I did briefly check my blog stats for the first time in weeks before writing, and made a totally weird discovery -- my last post on "Pro-Life: What Does It Mean to You?" got nearly 1,000 page views, over 800 of which appear to have been from Egypt. Strange.)

Anyway, thanks to those who responded. Your feedback on your views of the pro-life movement were very helpful to me, and I was able to whisk away an article that will apparently be published soon. I'll be sure to remember you all when I start raking in all those bags of money! ;)

When I was asked to write an article about being involved in the pro-life movement with a new perspective than the same old stuff (this magazine has an annual pro-life issue), I first thought of a good friend of mine from college having confided in me her experience of having an abortion. So I wanted to use that experience as a starting point for my article -- my personal reflections on ways that I could be more active as a pro-life person as inspired by this discussion with my friend. Some of my ideas were definitely outside of the box of traditional pro-life activities, and included things as simple as being a better friend to people and supporting single moms, to let others who may end up in that situation themselves know that it is not unbearable and that a loving community will help to support that mother and child. I also reflected a little bit on how many people who are 'outside of the pro-life movement', so to speak, might have a really negative and distorted view of what it means to be pro-life, based on the inappropriate speech and actions of a few. I could easily imagine that, to some people, those who claimed to be 'pro-life' seemed rather harsh, judgmental, and unkind to those who are currently living, which does little to promote a spirit of human dignity, love, and mutual respect.

And then I had a fascinating and unfortunate exchange with someone that really confirmed this for me. A certain well-known "Pro-Life Advocate" (henceforth referred to as PLA) made some very negative posts about Steve Jobs, very shortly after his death, on their "pro-life" Facebook page, and many people were (understandably) offended by the posts. I decided to write to PLA, in the hopes that I might appeal to this person's goodwill and decency, and while the PLA did eventually remove the most offensive post (the one in which PLA compared Steve Jobs to Margaret Sanger in a tasteless, irrelevant, and unnecessary way), the exchange that we had in the meantime made me realize that, unfortunately for the whole pro-life movement, some of the movement's leaders do little to represent a spirit of compassion and love. Also, when people cannot articulate their own arguments well, or engage in a rational debate with another person (especially with someone who largely shares their own point of view), we have little hope of winning over people from the 'other side' to our way of thinking. I would like to give a very special thanks to my friend who read this exchange and so wisely advised: "Don't write back; PLA is crazy." Honestly, this exchange even made hard-core Catholic Coffee Talking Leslie feel that if this kind of attitude is part of what identifies someone as a "pro-life advocate," I hope people will never call me one. I hope they'll call me a friend and a defender of human dignity, but not a pro-life advocate if it means being a hateful and illogical idiot. (And for the record, I think that I may have been a bit of an illogical idiot myself for engaging in this discussion in the first place, especially online. It is much easier for people to know your intention and the spirit of your words when you are speaking face to face, in a spirit of friendship, than in the emotionless forum of the virtual world.) In any case, here's the exchange:

LESLIE: Hi, PLA! I hope you'll forgive the boldness of this unsolicited message, but I saw your recent posts from your "PLA: Pro-Life Advocate" page, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

First, let me say that I am so happy for the good work the Lord has done, and is doing, through you and your experience of conversion. I have a copy of your book (excellent so far), and even looked into the possibility of having you come as a speaker for the parish/diocese in which I work. Unfortunately, the costs were much too high for an area of rather modest means, but I was happy to know that you must be doing very well in terms of speaking engagements and spreading the important message of the sanctity of all human life. I am also blessed to hear of you and your family coming into the Catholic Church. Welcome!

All of that said, I am really disappointed by your last two posts about Steve Jobs. I am not suggesting that anyone should celebrate the fact that Apple may have ever supported Planned Parenthood, "even one cent" as you said, but I am shocked that you would post such strong statements without having any hard facts at all to back up what you are saying, especially in the wake of someone's death. I think it's clear that anyone spreading the message of Steve Job's adoption is doing so as a way of illustrating the significance of every human life, and I'm sure that's not a message that you're opposed to. I know that you have been on the receiving end of so many mean-spirited comments and even threats, and I thank God for protecting you and your family as you continue to do good work. Still, I have to hope that you have not let the attacks get the best of you and resorted to baseless attacks and mean-spirited comments yourself. I'm sure you are above that. You have a very large and captive audience -- over 14,000 people on Facebook alone -- and I hope that you'll use this forum boldly, but responsibly. I think your last two comments are inappropriate, and it's my personal hope that you'll delete them, or issue some sort of apology for making such remarks in the wake of a man's death without any hard evidence of his (or his organization's) support of Planned Parenthood. And even with hard facts, it seems that the timing is really less than tasteful -- can we not let people mourn, and celebrate what was good in the life of Steve Jobs without making this some sort of rhetorically snappy platform for the pro-life message?

This is just one humble opinion, of course. And in any case, be assured of my prayers for you and your family.

Peace and all good,
PLA: I won't be deleting them. I think it needed to be said. And I do have the links that show contributions from Apple to PP. I also know first hand of the donations...since I saw them come in to my affiliate. I am not attacking anyone. I am simply stating that it is bothersome to see some in the pro-life movement forget what our primary stance is...LIFE. His company supports abortion. Period. I think it is interesting to see how people will defend things or people that are tied to abortion if they have benefited their family. It is sad, really. I have seen pro-lifers with the Apple logo as their profile pic. That is not celebrating Jobs' mother...that is celebrating the Apple Corporation...the same corporation that donates to PP. Shame.
LESLIE: I'm in no way defending Apple, PLA, but I am defending Steve Jobs as a person, and his family and friends as they mourn this loss. Yes, our primary stance is life, of every single person, regardless of who or what they support. I am glad that Steve Jobs' mother chose adoption rather than abortion, and I'm glad that people are sharing that message. And I hope they continue to do so, despite your messages. I doubt that many of the pro-lifers with the Apple logo as their profile pic know about their support of PP, so yes, that could be an important message to share. Apple supports Planned Parenthood, so if you support life, then sure, go ahead and celebrate Steve Jobs' adoption, celebrate his accomplishments even, but don't celebrate his organization's support of Planned Parenthood. I think some so-called pro-lifers lose a lot of people with the brashness of their message, full of rhetorical devices and hitting people over the head, but devoid of the kindness and love that are truly necessary to win people over. Thanks for the reply, anyway. It's interesting to know more of the thinking behind what you post. Peace be with you.
PLA: I didn't say not to share the adoption message. I didn't say not to talk about the sacrifice his biological mother made. I said to not turn him into a pro-life hero. He was not. That is no "brash." That is truth. Sometimes it is hard to swallow.
LESLIE: I haven't seen one example of anyone trying to turn Steve Jobs into a pro-life hero, and I do not at all find the truth hard to swallow. God bless.
PLA: Hmmm...I have, multiple times. ie, the Apple logo on people's profile pic. The overly gracious articles about his philanthropy and "oh, where would we all be without Apple Computers????" That has nothing to do with his mother. That has nothing to do with her choosing life for him.
LESLIE: Nor do any of those examples have anything to do with turning Steve Jobs into a pro-life hero, in my opinion. How do you think that they do? Just because a person is pro-life and they post the Apple logo as their pro-file pic -- this represents turning Steve Jobs into a pro-life hero?

As for all of the "where would we all be without Apple Computers????", I agree that some people may have gone a little overboard with this. Even before the death of Steve Jobs, there's been a certain mania regarding Apple computers, so it comes as no surprise to me that this kind of hype would follow his death. I personally do not own a single Apple product.

Still, I think their products are of such high quality and ingenuity that every other computer has followed their lead, and I do think that Apple has made certain technological advances which have directly influenced those things which are good, true and beautiful. For example, I studied music as an undergraduate student, and the only decent computer programs for musicians and artists were to be found on Apple computers. And then, while studying theology as a graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I learned from several different professors of Scripture and language that they could really only use Apple computers to have access to the appropriate fonts and programs for ancient and Biblical languages. Trust me, these guys were about as much of the real-deal in terms of pro-life as you could get -- these were men with doctorates spending all of their meager wages on their huge Catholic families and driving old beaters to teach at one of the most pro-life universities around -- and still, they had a real appreciation for what Apple computers could do to promote the study of ancient and Biblical languages, of art, of music; in short, of things that are the most beautiful in life, and that are at the heart of the Church.

I don't know that these people knew of Apple's support of Planned Parenthood, and I don't know if they would have continued to buy Apple products if they had known. Still, even if they switched to PCs to find similar products, they would have found something modeled on Apple's original work, and a creative vision that could originally have been attributed to Steve Jobs. So I actually don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the world would be very different without Apple computers -- especially with the era of technology in which we now live. And in any case, I don't think that celebrating what was good about Steve Jobs life equates with people making him a pro-life hero. Do I think Steve Jobs was a pro-life hero? Hardly. But do I think he was a man who made a difference in the world, a difference for good based on what he knew and believed, and am I glad that his mother chose life for him? Most certainly. And I sincerely believe that this is where most pro-lifers are coming from when they make posts about Apple or Steve Jobs since his death.

PLA: I am glad his mother chose life for him as well. I just wish he would not have lived his life supporting immorality.
LESLIE: Of course. What God-fearing person would wish that another lived their life supporting immorality? Still, two things come to mind here:

1.) Does the life of Steve Jobs really strike you as essentially one that supported immorality? Is that the way in which you would sum up the little we know of his life? Can you not even celebrate the positive achievements in this man's life because of his support of an organization which you have now turned away from? I would certainly hope not. Yes, supporting Planned Parenthood is supporting an organization whose philosophical underpinnings are in many ways a serious attack on human life and dignity, but many people are unaware of this. You do well to educate people as to the true objectives of the organization. But while making such possibly educational commentary during the course of a person's earthly life could certainly be the potential for conversion and positive moral change (as in your own story), making the same type of commentary shortly after a person's death could easily be misconstrued as taking a step toward the judgment which is left to God alone at worst, or defamation of character at best. Yes, we can know with certainty the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, but judgment of an individual soul is based upon that person's conscience, a knowledge of which is left to the Almighty alone. I'm sure that's not the type of judgment you are trying to pass.

2.) Being pro-life means that we wish that ALL pregnant mothers would give their babies a chance at life, and that means that every single one of those lives would have opportunities to choose right from wrong, good from evil, again and again, and they would always have the chance for and hope of mercy and redemption up until the moment of their death. The reality of our fallen world is that many people, at some point or even during most or all of their earthly lives, will choose immorality. This is the result of free will and the fall of man. While no pro-life person hopes that anyone will live an immoral life, one of the most bold and unthinkable things about the pro-life position is that we truly support ALL HUMAN LIFE -- regardless of 'being wanted' or having a lot of money or material resources or of how they are going to end up living their lives. I think that most people do NOT see Steve Jobs life as essentially one lived supporting immorality, and rightly so. He did a lot of good things with the gifts and talents he was given, and he will be judged accordingly, just as he will for any evil in which he participated or contributed. And of course, this will all be based upon what he knew, and the graces that he was given. I don't believe that he was a Christian person, so to be honest, those of us who have the gift and burden of Baptism will be judged more strictly and at a higher standard -- to whom much is given, much is required. May the Lord have mercy on us all.
PLA: You are totally not understanding my point. You are making a big deal out of nothing. I don't like going back and forth. You think whatever you would like...doesn't matter what I say anyway. You have decided that I am saying something I am not. It's fine. People do that all the time. People LOVE to put words in my mouth. :):)
LESLIE: Well, you must like going back and forth at least a little bit, because you keep responding! Maybe you could give a simple clarification of what point it is that I'm missing, if you feel so strongly that I am "totally not understanding" it. It does seem strange that, as a fellow Catholic and pro-life advocate myself, I could be entirely missing whatever point it is that you're trying to make, PLA. I have hardly decided you are saying something you are not, but I'm sorry that you believe that 'people' love to put words in your mouth. I am not one of them. I've tried to avoid that, in fact, by messaging you directly and not discussing this in a public forum. I was rather surprised that you responded at all, but I have to say that each time you do reply, it doesn't seem to correspond to what I've said. And with your responses being rather brief, and not really addressing what I'm saying, I guess I've tried to clarify. My mistake. I'm sure that this would be a better conversation in person, and I'm sorry that you seem to have taken things so personally. All the best, PLA!

P.S. Does ending a message with a smiley face emoticon make it okay for you to accuse me of putting words in your mouth and grouping me with all the people who have formerly done so? I don't really appreciate it. Thanks!
PLA: Funny that I am the one who keeps going back and forth...ummm, you keep responding, too.

Steve Jobs supported Planned Parenthood (abortion) and homosexuality and all homosexual legislation. Yeah, I'm going to say that is pretty immoral.

You say I condemned his soul. NEVER. I have not done that ONCE. See, you putting words in my mouth.

Since when can we not comment about how someone lived after they died? We do it ALL the time! Margaret Sanger was a racist. Ooops...should I not say that??? I mean, maybe she wasn't a racist? Maybe she didn't support immorality?? I don't know. Maybe we just aren't supposed to say that. Now I don't know what to think, since we supposedly can't make comments about the way people lived their lives. Gosh, the pro-life movement is in trouble.

I never said I didn't value his life. NEVER. I never said I didn't appreciate his adoption story. NEVER. You are going on and on about those two things as if I didn't appreciate his life or the fact that he was adopted.

People keep going on and on about how "brilliant" he was. I don't really care a thing about that. And I think there has been far too much emphasis put on that. If we want to really "honor" his adoption story, then let's make this about his mother...not about ipads, ipods and Jobs' innovations. Who cares? There is nothing pro-life about the ipod. But there is a pro-life story in his adoption. But I honestly haven't seen that much emphasis on that. And, trust me, I have been looking. You may not see the pedastal he has been placed on, but I have.

I also think it is interesting that you say "supporting Planned Parenthood is supporting an organization whose philosophical underpinnings are in many ways a serious attack on human life and dignity, but many people are unaware of this." So, we shouldn't tell the truth because people are unaware of what PP does? What? That is what I do! I educate people about PP AND the people they are associated with.

My responses don't make sense?? hmmm...

And so ended the conversation. I thought of so many responses, but as none of them would have proved fruitful, I decided to let it go and try to commit more firmly in my personal life to be more loving and not be a moron. I think that this is the best way that I can represent and act on behalf of the pro-life movement.

As always, thanks for stopping by! Be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"PRO-LIFE" - What does that mean to you?

Heyyyy, Coffee Talkers!

I'm back! Whew, I had initially just taken a breather from the ol' Coffee Talk to collect my thoughts and such, but then sickness hit my household! For about 3 weeks (with little breaks in the midst of the variety of illnesses that have come upon us). And I really couldn't generally be up much past nine, and certainly not thinking or writing any sensible thoughts if I was. But I'm glad to see y'all again, and am always, am amazed that people still read this little blog even while I'm away. Today, friends from the US, Russia, UK, Canada, Italy, Poland, Japan, and Turkey tuned in to our little forum here via the blogosphere, so welcome!

Now, down to business. I need to start writing again. And guess what? Not only do I need to hop back on the writing wagon for Coffee Talk, but I've also been asked to write another article. For a magazine. A real one. And I'm gonna get paid again! But not if it sucks. So this is where you come in.

I need feedback. Candid, honest feedback in the comments section. Please feel free to comment anonymously, but I would ask two things: 1.) please do not comment on other comments, only on my questions, and 2.) while I welcome candor (and candy!), please do not write anything deliberately offensive. I think y'all know the general feeling and ground rules of Coffee Talk -- you can contribute anything, so long as other persons are respected.

Alright, here are my questions for you:

1.) What do you think of when you hear "pro-life movement"? What do you think the movement is, and what do you think it means? What signs, symbols, feelings, people, or ideologies do you associate with that term?

2.) Do you consider yourself "pro-life"? Why or why not?

3.) If you do consider yourself to be "pro-life", do you refer to yourself as "pro-life"?

4.) What do you think of t-shirts and bumper stickers that say "Pro-life"?

5.) Based on what you know or perceive of the "pro-life movement," what would you say are its strongest and weakest points?

Okay, it's your turn now. Please weigh in. Be honest, be kind, be respectful. And remember -- don't comment on other comments here, but only on my questions. Let this be a free and open forum of respect.

In advance, thanks for your help! And as always, thanks for stopping by and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Vocation, Suffering, and Disillusionment: World Youth Day and Being God's

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

A friend of mine, who runs her own lovely blog for Catholic moms, asked me to write a guest column for her blog on World Youth Day. Only, she asked me to do this shortly after I returned from World Youth Day, which was almost a month ago now. I think she was interested in hearing and sharing a Catholic mom's-eye view of World Youth Day, which got me really thinking about how this World Youth Day experience was different for me than my other two, since it was my first as a mom. It also got me thinking about vocation in general, and although this is a month late and at least a few ounces of "I'm a bubbly Catholic mama blogger" short, I'll offer what I have first here in the Coffee Talk forum, and then perhaps to be shared on my friend's blog as well.

My first World Youth Day experience was in Denver, Colorado in 1993 with Pope John Paul II. I was 15 years old, and looking back on that time, I believe that even though I probably can't remember a word that was said in any catechetical session or many specific things that happened at that event (I do remember feeling sick after a solid week of McDonald's food!), I do know that WYD Denver was my first taste of what it really meant to be Catholic (and no, it was not the taste of McDonald's!). In those days, I suddenly saw, heard, and felt, what it meant to be part of something much larger than myself, something much greater, higher, broader, more significant. I knew for the first time what it meant that the Church was truly Universal, or in a word, Catholic. For 15-year-old Leslie, full of youth, hope, and idealism, I think that WYD Denver helped me to form a deeper sense of having a calling in life, and seeing that I was a small but important part of some much bigger plan and design for life and the world.

My next World Youth Day experience was in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2002. I traveled with a group of international alumni from NET Ministries (National Evangelization Teams), and helped to facilitate the catechetical sessions. This WYD was also especially meaningful to me in terms of my vocation, or calling in life, because I attended just weeks before entering religious life with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. I felt that perhaps God was calling me to live as a Dominican Sister, and was accepted to live as a postulant (or one who asks the question) with the community. I remember clearly Pope John Paul II's message to the young people at his final WYD, especially to those considering priesthood and religious life, and I felt a deep hope and responsibility in responding to God's call as I heard it, even if it meant leaving behind regular contact with family and friends, a good job, and a graduate degree program that was being entirely paid for by my employer. I was ready to put my hand to the plow and to not look behind, following God wherever he was leading me. Little did I know where this path would take me.

My most recent World Youth Day experience was last month in Madrid, Spain. As I said, it was my first WYD as a mom, so you can probably gather that I did not become a Dominican Sister. After a school year of living with the beautiful community, I returned home, not at all sure why the Lord had called me there if He didn't want me to stay, and completely uncertain as to what path might lie ahead. When my friend recently asked me to share my 'mom's-eye' view of what WYD was like, it reminded me a bit of when I was asked to share my 'vocation story' for a Catholic magazine. The editor who asked me was relatively new to the publication, and so I was certain that she assumed that I was a happily married Catholic wife and mom. Strangely, I'd had a sense that I'd be called upon to share my story, complete with the sad divorce-and-annulment and all, so I told her that I'd be willing to share, but that my story wasn't probably the one she expected. She accepted my offer, and the result was published here. So in those years between WYD Toronto and WYD Spain, I'd experienced a whole lot of life and whole lot of heartache, especially in terms of my vocation. I never expected to attend a World Youth Day again after having children, and especially not after unexpectedly becoming a single mom, so I knew that when I was called upon to lead a group to Madrid, God must have some message for me, as well.

There are SO many things that I could say about my experience at World Youth Day Madrid, and about what I feel like God wanted me to take from the whole experience. I'll try to sum it up in three main themes:

1. Vocation is always rooted in reality, and in the present moment.
2. Vocation is always rooted in love, and in loving again and again.
3. Vocation means being God's, even on the Cross.

I'll offer a few thoughts on each one before I drift off to dream-land.

1. Vocation is always rooted in reality, and in the present moment.

Have you ever known someone who was always 'discerning' their vocation? Don't get me wrong -- discernment is not a bad thing, but I think that sometimes we confuse discerning with fanciful daydreaming. And these daydreams don't necessarily have to take the form of something glamorous, for even the dream of suffering or martyrdom can be heroic in the mind's eye. Take my own situation -- sure, I can consider and pray about what the Lord might like me to do in the future. Would He like me to be married, to be a missionary, to enter religious life after my children are grown? But ultimately, the most important aspect of my vocation is rooted in my present reality -- I know that I am called to be the best mom I can be to my 3 and 5-year-old daughters, and to be a single person living a holy life in the midst of the world. And I should keep dedicating my life fully to those tasks at hand until such a time as the Lord presents something else to me, puts something or someone clearly in my path and asks me to take a different direction. Until that time, there is no use spending countless hours (or even minutes!) thinking about what could be or what might have been. Vocation is reality, plain and simple, and often that involves our lives being very different than we might have wished them to be. So be it.

2. Vocation is always rooted in love, and in loving again and again.

Whenever I think of vocation, I think of little St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast we will soon celebrate on October 1. St. Therese, a young cloistered Carmelite nun, desired to do everything. She described it here:
To be your Spouse, O Jesus, to be a Carmelite, by my union with you to be the mother of souls, should content me... yet it does not... Without doubt, these three privileges are indeed my vocation: Carmelite, spouse, and mother. And yet I feel in myself other vocations—I feel myself called to be a soldier, priest, apostle, doctor of the church, martyr. Finally, I feel the need, the desire to perform all the most heroic deeds for you, Jesus... I feel in my soul the courage of a crusader, of a soldier for the Church, and I wish to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church...
And as she continued to search in the depths of her heart and her soul for her vocation, she finally had this culminating moment in her prayer:
Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!... Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place... in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!.... Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”
Now, some think Therese to have been a syrup-y sweet little saint who always had life easy, and so her joy and happiness must have come to her with ease, as well. I can assure you that this was not the case, nor is it the case with any sincere disciple of Christ. No, my friends, we are asked to choose love and to live love again and again. And I think that even though perhaps the habit of loving makes it easier, the act of loving in the face of hatred, persecution, malignment, and every form of human suffering is a discipline that is possible not by human effort alone, but by grace. And then we are called to love again. And again. And again. To be willing to take the risk of loving not just once, not twice, but an infinite number of times. I suspect that this is part of what the Psalmist is referring to when he says, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Do you hear God's voice, even in the midst of your pain and suffering? Open your heart to the possibility of loving again, to hurting again, to being healed again, and then once again to loving.

3. Vocation means being God's, even on the Cross.

This is a hard one, especially for someone like me. I like to always have an identity in something I'm doing, or in being someone impressive. I'd like to say that it's not true, but it is. So since that last WYD to this recent one, I was many things: student, graduate, discerning, postulant, bride, wife, mother, divorced, annulled. I felt that God had led me down a number of different paths, and that while I'd followed in all sincerity, none of them took me to the place I thought I'd end up. And I realized, at World Youth Day in Madrid, that I was among many young people who had endured a great deal of suffering for their faith. I realized that there were many other faithful young Catholics besides myself who are also now divorced and annulled. I know that there were young mothers and fathers there, who have lost children or spouses to death. And I know that there were many people there for whom the gathering at World Youth Day was a rare opportunity to practice their faith openly without fear of intense persecution or legal penalty. I realized that ultimately, the Christian vocation means following Christ even unto death, and that means accepting the Cross. And that even in the face of uncertainty, embarrassment, disillusionment, pain, and suffering we are always God's, and God is always present. Always. And that 'Being God's' is the one vocation that never ends. For both in life and death we belong to God, and we know that the story of the Cross is one of unimaginable and senseless suffering bearing the greatest fruit of redemption that the world has ever known.

I'll close with a beautiful quote from a little card that I carry in my wallet:
Your life is His affair; it is produced by His steady attraction. It consists in being drawn, at His pace, and in His way, to the place where He wants you to be, which is often not the place you fancied for yourself. It is trying to see things, persons, and choices from the angle of eternity, and accepting them as a part of the material in which the Holy Spirit works. ~ Sister Rose Marie Masserano, O.P.
Peace and all good,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Thoughts on the Hans Küng Interview Regarding Benedict XVI

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

My friend posted an article sufficiently interesting to make me jump right back on the Coffee Talk bandwagon, so I hope you enjoy my simple commentary on some intensely nerdy Catholic news!

Here's the scoop: Hans Küng is a Swiss Catholic priest and controversial theologian. Although I am not particularly a 'fan' of Hans Küng, I must note that  he is a very interesting person in a very interesting situation -- Fr. Küng (why does no one ever call him Father??) was very involved in the Second Vatican Council (a.k.a. Vatican II). However, in the late 1970s, Küng publicly renounced the Catholic dogma of papal infallibility, and the Vatican in turn revoked his permission to officially teach Catholic theology. However, neither his bishop nor the Holy See have ever revoked his priestly faculties, so he remains a priest to this day, and in addition to administering the sacraments, he continues to stir up theological trouble and debate where he can, in informal (though still very public) ways. 

Another priest who was involved, alongside Küng, as a theological advisor to Vatican II is even better known, now as Pope Benedict XVI. As the Holy Father (I wonder if that title makes Father Küng cringe a little?) prepares for a week-long visit to Germany starting tomorrow, Hans Küng has offered an interview with Spiegel, offering sharp criticisms not only of the papacy in general, but of Benedict XVI in a number of particular ways.

Read the full interview here, if you'd like, and then I'll offer just a few of my thoughts on the interview and Küng's criticisms. I will respond intralinearly, with the interview text itself indented, and my thoughts between the interview excerpts.
SPIEGEL: Professor Küng, your former faculty colleague Joseph Ratzinger is coming to Germany this week for a state visit. Do you have an audience scheduled with him?

Küng: I didn't request an audience. I am fundamentally more interested in conversations than audiences.
Interesting way to set the tone for the interview.
SPIEGEL: Does Benedict XVI even talk to you anymore?
Küng: After his election to be pope, he invited me to his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, where we had a four-hour friendly conversation. At the time, I hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era of openness. But that hope has not been fulfilled. We correspond with each other once in a while. The sanctions against me -- the withdrawal of my permission to teach -- still exist. (Ed's note: The Vatican revoked Küng's permission to teach Catholic theology in 1979 after he publicly rejected the dogma of papal infallibility.)
I'm quite sure that, after more than thirty years of living with this sanction, it is no secret to Küng what is keeping him from being able to teach with permission in the Church, especially since he and Benedict XVI are in regular contact. The Church's aim, with any sanction or excommunication, is not to keep a person permanently away from the sacraments or teaching office. Reconciliation, whenever possible, is desired.

SPIEGEL: When was the last time Benedict wrote to you?
Küng: Through his private secretary (Georg) Gänswein, he thanked me for sending him my latest book and sent me his best wishes.
Well, that was rather gracious of the Holy Father, if you ask me, especially after what Hans Küng wrote!
SPIEGEL: In your polemic book "Ist die Kirche noch zu retten?" ("Can the Church Still Be Saved?"), which was published earlier this year, you harshly criticized the pope for his anti-reformist policy.
Küng: I find it very gratifying that he hasn't ended the personal relationship despite my criticism.
Like I said!
SPIEGEL: Many Catholics feel that the Church is in a rather desolate state. The cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by priests has driven believers away from the Church in droves. What's going wrong?
Küng: If you put it that simply, I'll give you a simple answer. Ratzinger's predecessor, John Paul II, launched a program of ecclesiastical and political restoration, which went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. He wanted a re-Christianization of Europe. And Ratzinger was his most loyal assistant, even at an early juncture. One could call it a period of restoration of the pre-council Roman regime.
WHAT?!? Hold the phones, everybody, because this is where the interview just got ridiculous. Anyone who tells me that "John Paul II launched a program ... which went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council" just totally lost me. And then, when I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and follow out whatever his 'logical' conclusion might be as to how JPII acted against the intentions of Vatican II, he claims that his desire for "a re-Christianization of Europe" is what stood in conflict with the intention of the Council. Oh, dear.

There are SO many misunderstandings about the Second Vatican Council, its documents, and its intentions. Now, I feel like a bit of a whippersnapper commenting on this at all, because here I am, 33-year-old post-Vatican II Leslie, criticizing 83-year-old Hans Küng who was a theological advisor to the Second Vatican Council. I guess the only thing I have going for me at this point that he doesn't is that, so  far, I have not been prohibited by the Vatican from teaching in the Catholic Church. But in all seriousness, I guess I want you all to know that I temper my remarks with a necessary humility and an understanding that I'm sure I could learn quite a lot from Hans Küng!

That said, I want everyone to understand that just because Vatican II called for a spirit of right ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue (which, by the way, was a big old deal, especially at the time the documents were first published!), this does not mean that Catholic Christians no longer accept Jesus as Christ! Naturally, we would like all people of the world to experience the joys of everlasting happiness, and we believe that salvation comes through Jesus, and is normally mediated through the Church. Does this mean that we believe that all non-Catholics, or even non-Christians (Catholics were the first Christians, for the record) are not going to be saved? No! Read my other post about it, if you'd like a better explanation. But still, we believe that if any person is granted salvation, it is through Jesus and the Church, even if that is not known to them explicitly in this life. So desiring the re-Christianization of Europe would hardly be contrary to the intention of Vatican II. Pope John Paul II was hardly calling for a new inquisition, and if I had to choose one person who lived the spirit and intentions of the Second Vatican Council as fully in this life as is humanly possible, I'd vote for our Blessed JP II any day.

Alright, I said I'd be brief, so let me move on!

SPIEGEL: When the pope comes to Germany, tens of thousands of people will cheer him at major events. Church leaders will not exactly interpret this as a symptom of crisis.
Küng: I wouldn't have anything against such events if they truly helped the Church locally. But there is a huge discrepancy between the façade, which is now being erected once again for the papal visit to Germany, and the reality. It creates the impression that this is a powerful and healthy church. It is certainly powerful, but is it healthy? We now know that these events do almost nothing for local parishes. They don't lead to more people attending services, more people wanting to become priests or fewer people leaving the Church.
I don't buy this, even for a minute. I have personally witnessed a difference in Mass attendance and involvement with parish ministries and other activities on the part of many people who just encountered the Holy Father at World Youth Day in Madrid, and many of them felt inspired by the gathering to discern priesthood or religious life, to be married in the Church, and to be more firmly committed to their Catholic faith.
SPIEGEL: Still, some 70,000 people are expected to attend the service in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
Küng: They're not all believers; the crowd will include many curious onlookers. The believers who will attend are mainly conservative Catholics with no interest in reforms. There are also notorious young, hysterical Benedict fans who are also always present at the major papal events. Most of them are recruited from strictly conservative groups. For many people, the pope is still, to a certain extent, a positive role model and a moral force, although others feel that this aspect has suffered greatly.
Again, I cannot believe that most of the young people gathering together will be either 'hysterical' nor 'recruited from strictly conservative groups.' Baloney.
SPIEGEL: Many in the Catholic Church says that if all the reforms you call for were implemented, you would be making the church more Protestant and abandoning its Catholic nature.
Küng: The Church will undoubtedly become somewhat more Protestant. But we will always preserve our unique nature. Our global way of thinking, our universality, differentiates us from a certain narrowness in the Protestant regional churches. It should remain that way, just as the office (of the pope) should be retained. But if everything is concentrated in the office, we'll end up with a medieval vicar, a prince-bishop and the pope as absolute monarch, who simultaneously embodies the executive, the legislative and the judiciary -- in contradiction to modern democracy and the Gospel.
I'm pretty sure that Pope Benedict XVI enjoys being Catholic, and unashamedly, so do I. To be Catholic is to live in the universal faith. End of discussion.
SPIEGEL: You and Benedict are traveling along two different paths. You want to reform the Church to keep it alive. The pope is trying to seal off the Church from the outside world and increasingly restrict it to a conservative core, which may possibly survive.
I HATE this question, which is not even a question at all! It is a totally loaded and biased statement, and I could not disagree more heartily. Anyone who attended, or witnessed even indirectly, the recent events of World Youth Day would agree with me that Pope Benedict XVI is very much interested in keeping the Church alive, and literally opening it to all the people of the world, particularly the young.
SPIEGEL: Your prognosis [for the Church] sounds grim.
Küng: I think it's very important that we do not sink into pessimism. But my diagnosis has shown that the Church is sick, and it's the sickness of the Roman system. Under these circumstances, I can't just behave like an ineffective doctor and say that everything will be fine.
SPIEGEL: What would be the treatment?
Küng: The base must gather its strength and make itself heard, so that the system can no longer circumvent it. I presented a comprehensive list of measures in my book.
HA! Shameless advertisement and self-promotion of his own book as a presentation of the only comprehensive way to 'doctor' the ailing Church. Info-mercial, anyone?
SPIEGEL: More than a year ago, you wrote an open letter to all bishops in the world, in which you offered a detailed explanation of your criticism of the pope and the Roman system. What was the response?
Küng: There are about 5,000 bishops in the world, but none of them dared to comment publicly. This clearly shows that something isn't right.
Exactly. But I think the problem might not be with the 5,000 bishops.
SPIEGEL: Would another council like Vatican II help the Church?
Küng: I hope that there will be a council, or at least a representative convention of the Catholic Church.
This question is so annoying to me. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not against progress in the Church, nor am I wanting to go 'back to the good old days' to solve the problems of the Church in the modern world. However, having studied all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, I find that there is still much to be done in the way of proper implementation of Vatican II, which ended nearly a half century ago! We are still plumbing the depths of the so-called 'spirit of Vatican II,' and I'm afraid that many of the people interested in the 'spirit' have not read any of the documents!

Alright, I think I've been theologically cheeky enough for one night. Special thanks to my friend who posted this article, who I fear may be the only one who reads this now-too-lengthy blog post!

Let's pray for the Holy Father's visit to Germany, for all priests and theologians, and for all Church leaders and all of the faithful to be open to necessary reforms in the Church based on the authentic movements of the Holy Spirit.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's going on with this Fr. Frank Pavone business?

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Well, many of you have probably heard something of the recent and unfortunate news about Fr. Frank Pavone, the priest in charge of Priests for Life and a priest I've mentioned previously in my posts about the Mass he celebrated with Gianna Emanuela Molla and about his work in bringing Baby Joseph to the United States for palliative care. As always, I begin by reminding all of us that I don't know much about this situation, and neither do you. With that disclaimer in mind, I am always happy to share my own understanding of the Catholic news in a way that is easy to understand, so here it goes.

Fr. Frank Pavone is the head of Priests for Life, which is headquartered in Staten Island, New York. However, Fr. Pavone is incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, and Bishop Patrick Zurik, Bishop of Amarillo, has recalled Fr. Pavone to his Diocese and has restricted his priestly ministry to that Diocese for an unspecified time of prayer and reflection. Bishop Zurik, in a now public statement addressed to his brother bishops and cardinals, explains that he is recalling Fr. Pavone due to a lack of obedience, and specifically because he has "deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization." Fr. Frank Pavone responded with his own public statement, in which he mentions his own appeal to the Vatican in regard to his current recall to Amarillo, but also his obedience to the bishop and his return to Amarillo.

So what we know is this:
  1. Bishop Zurik has some concerns about Fr. Frank Pavone's obedience, and the financial administration and stewardship of the Priests for Life; 
  2. Fr. Frank Pavone is incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo and has returned there under obedience, though not without an appeal to the Vatican; 
  3. Fr. Frank is still a priest in good standing and is able to exercise his priestly ministry within the Diocese of Amarillo at this time;
  4. there's a whole lot of information that we do not, cannot, and probably never will know about this whole situation; 
  5. we should all pray for Bishop Zurik, Fr. Frank Pavone, and the Priests for Life.
Situations like this always make me wish that I was a canon lawyer, because it is in canon (or church) law that we can find many clarifications to a complex situation like this. For example, what does it mean that Fr. Pavone has permission to lead the Priests for Life and is under obedience to a Bishop who has oversight of that organization, but that he is still incardinated in Amarillo and is still responsible and vowed to obedience to that Ordinary (or Bishop) as well?

Well, my friends, we're all in luck, because whenever I have a canon law conundrum, I can always count on canon law blogger Edward Peters to clear things up. In his post on the Zurek-Pavone dispute, he does just that, and I really recommend reading his article in full. It gives good clarifications and perspective on the situation.

As you may have guessed, I like what little I know of Fr. Frank Pavone and his ministry. I met him briefly this summer at a Mass he celebrated at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestachowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on the occasion of the first US visit of Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of St. Gianna Molla, and he seemed to be sincere and firmly committed to the faith and to working on behalf of the unborn and all human life. Apparently some of his activities have been controversial, but I don't know much about that, nor do I know anything about the financial stewardship of the Priests for Life. I also don't know anything about Bishop Zurik, but I pray that everything will be resolved as quickly and amicably as possible, and that the good work of the Catholic Church, especially on behalf of all of the poor and defenseless (particularly the unborn) might continue on. I always hate when things like these cause scandal to believers and unbelievers alike, and I encourage everyone to take heart and keep these people in prayer. One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that I know that I am not responsible for judging these people or this situation. I hope that's a load off your minds, as well.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Came, We Saw, We Conquered: CONFIRMATION!

Well, Coffee Talkers, some said it couldn't be done. Maybe some even thought that it shouldn't be done. But it is done!

Night one of youth confirmation classes at Our Lady of the Desert happened!

No fatalities, no injuries, and some fun, faith, fellowship, and YouCat!

Anyone who was there can attest to the amazing feat of having gotten through the first crazy and amazing night! From here on out, it should be smooth sailing, my friends.

A big shout out of thanks to the people who made tonight possible -- the catechists, assistants, on-the-spot translators, office volunteers, parents, and students. We did it! And it could not have happened without you.

Don't forget to read your YouCats, everybody! :)

Peace and all good,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Still With Sorrow and Pain, We Remember

Dear Coffee Talkers,

As this tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11th comes to a close, I feel that little more can be said than has already been said. Still, I'll offer what little I have. What can we really do in the face of unthinkable pain and tragedy but have recourse to something, Someone higher than ourselves? Why were certain lives spared, and other lives lost? It's easy to offer trite sayings like, "Well, I guess it was God's time for some to go," or "God must have a special purpose for those people whose lives were spared," but this all seems a severe oversimplification at best, and at worst it seems a mockery of a God who is supposed to have loved humanity into being.

It is interesting to think back to that terrible time ten years ago, and to the months that followed. People mourned together, and they returned to their places of worship, many for the first time in years. Why? Why did these people not harden their hearts even further, taking a permanent turn away from this so-called God who had allowed such atrocities?

I must warn you that I'm leading you down my train of thought without any definitive answers, but I bring you along with me in the hopes that your own journey will lead you to a place of peace. And for me, the only place of peace in such circumstances is perhaps the most unexpected place, the most torturous and violent, the most senseless, cruel, and unjust.

The only place of peace is the Cross.

I can't tell you why; it's a place you'll have to arrive at yourself. But I can say this. If Christians really believe, and I mean really, that our salvation was won at a price, and that price was Jesus' own death on the Cross, then we see the greatest of all gifts, Redemption, flowing from the pain, the injustice, the most unthinkable tragedy. Does it maker it easier? I don't think so. Many atheists think that Christians just buy into the whole idea of a loving God offering his Son as some sort of mental anesthesia to numb us from the pain of reality, but for me, the reality of the Cross is far from mind-numbing, muchless a pleasantry or an idle amusement to busy myself with when the times get tough.

The Cross is where reality meets self-giving love, a gift even unto death in the face of what seems senseless and cruel. And, in time, this sacrifice and pain gives way to redemption, beauty, and love far beyond all imagining. Not always in our own time nor in the way we expect, but the Cross always bears fruit in our lives. Always. It cannot always be seen in this life, this vale of tears, but in the life that is to come we shall be known fully, as we are fully known. This is our great hope, and it is a hope which shall not disappoint.

Fr. Mychal F. Judge, OFM (May 11, 1933 - September 11, 2001) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and the first certified fatality of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Fr. Mike had rushed to the World Trade Center to offer assistance and give Last Rites to victims.
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer at Ground Zero
O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—

the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.

Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Peace and all good,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Of Amy Grant, Spanish Skype, and Gifts from God

Whew, Coffee Talkers!

I need to jot down a bit about the last 24-ish hours, just so I can keep it all in mind. Enjoy!

A generous friend offered for me to accompany her for an Amy Grant concert last night, and in a surprising turn of events, I was one of twelve people who got to sit in on the band's sound check, and then to meet Amy Grant and her band. Fun! Then I met a bunch of great people from a Friend's of Amy group over dinner, and then enjoyed front row seats during the concert. And I have to say, the most moving part of the evening was that is was so relational. I've always enjoyed Amy Grant's music, but I don't really consider myself a 'fan' of many people. Having met her and her band personally now, I must say that I am very impressed by Amy Grant as a person, and the time, attention, and love she clearly gives to each person she knows. I enjoyed her beautiful music and message, and overall it was a lovely evening and great experience.

Then this morning, my girls and I went down to the Cathedral of our Diocese for a World Youth Day Reunion at the Cathedral Hall. It was a lovely experience, and it was nice to be able to bring my girls, since they are still far too youthful to have attend World Youth Day itself. Both of our Bishops joined us, and we were able to communicate via Skype with our hosts from Toledo, Spain, which was wonderful! We had developed such a feeling of familial closeness and fraternal affection for our parish hosts and hosting families that I think we experienced a feeling of true reunion with them, as well, through our brief call (chaotic though it was with the large crowd assembled on our end).

In trying to help set up the Skype call, I had sent an e-mail earlier in the week to a few of our hosts, expressing our gratitude to them and letting them know of our interest in communicating with them today during our reunion. Because my Spanish skills leave something to be desired, I had typed up my message in English and put it into Google translate for the Spanish version. Before mentioning our desire to communicate with Skype, I specifically wanted to thank our hosts and to tell them that we hoped we could someday return their kindness by hosting them in California. However, I realized (after sending the message, of course) that I had typed in 'hose' instead of 'host' in English, for which the translator offered its best Spanish rendering. Thus, I basically offered to return the favor that our hosts had so graciously extended to us by greeting them in California with a hose. Nice. And then, to top it off, the e-mail address that I had for the priest turned out to be one letter off, so I realized that now I was even offering to hose off international strangers upon their first visit to California, as well. I cried from laughing so hard at my ridiculous mistake, and tried to correct my errors in a follow-up message.

But today was lovely -- we were able to arrange the Skype call, despite my numerous communication mishaps, and this afternoon I received this kind and amusing e-mail from one of our wonderful hosts:
"Hello our dear friends, thank you very much for your interest in Skypeing with us. When we read your first email, we were impressed by what we thought was an ancestral good practice in the border of the Californian desert: to welcome people you appreciate with a generous hose of water, that precious element essential for life. It is like saying: OK, I wish you a good and hydrated life. It is beautiful. Thank you very much, we were also crying from laughing so hard, and still we are, whenever we imagine the scene."
Ahh, what a blessing to have made such kind and gracious friends, and with a sense of humor, as well!

I also received a little award at today's reunion, present by our Bishops, for leadership during World Youth Day. That was a pleasant surprise! I have to say, I used to be sort of an award-a-holic, winning nearly every award and scholarship known to man back in my high school/early college days, and placing much more importance on such things than I should have. As always, God and life always have their way of revealing to us the truth about ourselves, and so I'm happy to have been broken from the fixation on recognition. (Well, I'm happy for it now, although humility is oftentimes acquired through the acceptance of humiliations, which are never occasions of happiness at the time.) Still, it was an honor to have received the certificate, and in my heart I received it on behalf of all the good people who sent us to World Youth Day through financial and prayer support, and for all the people who personally helped me through those couple hellish (or purgative, at the least) years of life that, thanks be to God, have already borne many fruits of grace and redemption, so much so that to my surprise I recently led this international pilgrimage group to World Youth Day. In all things, Deo gratias.

My girls and I came home for a bit, and then went to a going away party for one of our pilgrimage group members who is college-bound. God-speed, Alex, y vaya con Dios! Use your voice, and keep the faith!

And now that the day of partying has ceased, it is time for sleep!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where in the World is Coffee Talking Leslie?

Hello, again, my dear Coffee Talk friends!

On the small chance that any of you have been wondering if I've completely dropped off the face of the Coffee Talk earth, I just wanted to give a brief check-in and let you know that all is well, and that I'm hoping to return to regular blogging soon and very soon! I've not been writing much for a few reasons, the top among them being:
  1. I've been busy getting back into the swing of 'normal' life (whatever that means) since returning from World Youth Day;
  2. I'd gotten rather used to not having computer and internet access in Spain, and I must admit that I rather enjoyed the experience!
  3. Writing at night is not as ideal as it used to be, as my girls and I rise much earlier than we did in the pre-Spain days, as well, so I may need to find a better time of day to write; and
  4. I've realized that, while I'm never one to lack something to say (for better or worse), if I want to say something worthwhile or meaningful, I need some time to think, pray, and process before I can do that. 
And so much was packed into those couple weeks of World Youth Day that I'm still unpacking the experience, to be honest. I blogged on my first day's journal, but even typing in what I'd already written felt a bit empty, as I still needed more time to think about the significance of what I experienced. I mean, it's easy enough to say what I did at World Youth Day, but I think it's more important to reflect on who I was at World Youth Day, and who I'm called to become in light of that journey of faith. So if you're willing to hang on for a bit more, just know that, Lord willing, I'll be back soon and with something more important to tell you than the fact that there's a Burger King in Avila. (Do you think St. Teresa ever ate there?)

I'm really touched to see how many of you have been coming to Coffee Talk and reading my posts even while I've been away, and from all over the world, too! I don't know who you are, but I'm grateful for your stopping by, and for any of you who have kept me in thought and prayer. Be assured of my prayers for you, as well!

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

World Youth Day Recap -- Day 1, Apple Valley to Toledo!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Finally, my World Youth Day 2011 blogging shall commence! I did take my little old journal and pen, which is a good thing, since many of the details of the year of life that was packed into two weeks somehow elude me now. So, using my journal as a starting point, I'll devote the coming days to recounting the events of World Youth Day, and my reflections on the places, people, and journey of faith. Let us begin!

Wednesday, August 10/ Thursday, August 11 --
After a lovely Mass celebrated Fr. Jim Gibson, CR and Fr. Alex Gamino (the two priests traveling with our 27-member parish group), family and friends saw us off as we departed via charter bus from Our Lady of the Desert Church, Apple Valley to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). Herman, the kind and humorous bus driver from H&L Charter, provided us with a comfortable and relaxing ride to LAX, where we checked in, and grabbed a bite to eat before passing through the security checkpoint, after which you could not purchase any food. (Is this something new? And only for international flights? It seemed rather strange to me to have to buy our food before getting near our gate.) At the food area, we ran into Fr. Tim Keppel, CR (the pastor of our parish) and Fr. Marcello (the vocation director from Fr. Tim's community); then at our gate, I saw Mr. and Mrs. Santos, the parents of a friend of mine from Franciscan University of Steubenville. It seems that Day 1 was already the first installment of the Catholic version of "It's a Small World" that is World Youth Day! 
We enjoyed a direct flight from LAX to Madrid, which included breakfast (at 3:45 am PST), which featured a mini-Milky Way candy bar -- nice! The zipper on my money belt of questionable quality broke before we landed in Madrid, but Lupita (one of the young adults in my group, who clearly has taken some lessons from MacGyver) was able to fix it. After landing in Madrid, we retrieved our luggage (which, in a miraculous turn of events, was all there!), and traveled via charter bus to Toledo, where our driver dropped us off at Parroquia de San Julian, or Saint Julian's Parish, who would be serving as our host for Days in the Diocese, a week long experience of living in family homes and participating in events put on by a local parish community.
We spoke with the coordinators from the parish to learn our housing assignments, which was an adventure since my Spanish is rather limited. By the end of the trip, it was much better, since I had to use the little I did know out of necessity, and learned a lot along the way! Host families came to pick up all of our group members, and so our adventure officially begins!
 More to come! As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Monday, August 29, 2011

World Youth Day Website -- WOW!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Well, as it turns out, my 5-year-old's first day of kindergarten has tired me out as much as it did for her! So while you're waiting so patiently for my World Youth Day blog-fest to commence, how 'bout you check out the official World Youth Day 2011 website? It now has pictures, videos, homilies, and other exciting information from each day in Madrid.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

P.S. There is already a list on my office door of people who want to attend World Youth Day 2013 in Rio -- PARTY TIME! :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It Becomes Like A Fire Burning In My Heart

Well, Coffee Talkers, in case you were dozing off during today's Mass readings, here's the first reading from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah. It is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.

Reading 1 - Jeremiah 20:7-9

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
 Too much I could say for one evening, so instead I leave you to your own contemplation of this rich passage.

World Youth Day blogging shall commence soon, so stay tuned!

Have a blessed week, and as always, thanks for stopping by. Be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Coffee Talk is Back in Business!!!


Ahhh, it was glorious to be away, but it is also wonderful to be back! World Youth Day was an amazing experience, to say the least, and I feel as though a year of life was packed into those two awe-inspiring weeks in Toledo, Madrid, and Avila, Spain!

I have so much to share with everyone on the beautiful journey of World Youth Day, but I have been readjusting to life back at home with my girls, catching up on sleep and stories and general wellness. Be assured that, in the days to come, I will recount some of the highlights of our pilgrimage and share what can be shared through pictures and written word.

For now, more sleep! Thanks for your patience, and for your prayers for us as we traveled abroad with millions of others in an amazing journey of international solidarity and fellowship.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Be assured of my grateful prayers!

Peace and all good,

Monday, August 8, 2011

Daily Press Fame, and Off to World Youth Day!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

For the few of you in the world who haven't already seen the amazing press coverage, check out the story on my parish's World Youth Day group and our upcoming pilgrimage to Spain! That's right, the at-least-regionally-renowned newspaper publication, The Daily Press, ran a lovely front page article and photograph of our group! Thanks, guys!

Now, those of you who received your paper copy may feel free to save it until you next see us, and we will gladly give autographs!

In all seriousness, I am very impressed with the staff at the Daily Press, who so graciously and patiently interviewed several members of our group and came to our Send Off Mass to take photos. I realize that Catholicism can be confusing and strange at times to those who are unfamiliar with our terms, customs, and general 'Catholic culture,' so I would especially like to thank staff writer Brooke Edwards and photographer Eldon Kingston who, between the two of them, took the time to understand more about such things as dioceses, papal pilgrimages, and even to sit through an entire Mass! I don't think that either of these fine people are Catholics themselves, so I thank them especially for allowing us to share this experience with the community and for bearing with our terminology, culture, and customs. Good press given to the Catholic Church is always appreciated, and front page, no less! Be assured of our gratitude.

We leave on Wednesday, and so this will likely be my last post until we return from Madrid. I'm not lugging around my laptop, that's for sure, and I imagine that the internet cafes might be a bit busy, what with the millions of people there. Instead of blogging, I'm going to take [gasp!] a journal and a pen. Some of us may have distant memories of a time before the internet, and I'm looking to being computer-free for a couple weeks! I'll fill y'all in upon my return.

So in the meantime, here are a few things to keep yourself busy while I'm away (in case you're having Coffee Talk withdrawals):

  1. Pray for us! We'll be traveling from August 10 - August 24, and would be most appreciative of your prayers for the safety and well-being of our group, and all the pilgrims from around the world.
  2. Check out the rocking World Youth Day website -- I bet they'll have updates!
  3. Check out the Vatican website -- remember, they've got that cool 3-D Sistine Chapel business, and!
  4. Scroll down and check out the Coffee Talk archives on the right sidebar, or use the search feature to find a post related to your pressing Catholic questions! (Or go talk to your parish priest. They can answer your Catholic questions, too!)
As always, thanks for stopping by. Be assured of my prayers for all of you in the holy sites of Toledo and Madrid!

Peace and all good,

P.S. I almost forgot! If you have any special prayer intentions you'd like us to take to World Youth Day, feel free to add them in the comment box, or via e-mail at

Sunday, August 7, 2011

To Contemplate, and To Share with Others the Fruits of Our Contemplation: Feast of St. Dominic!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

The Feast of St. Dominic is fast upon us, my friends, and I, for one, am quite excited about it!

St. Dominic was one of those saints that I didn't know much about during my life, but once I learned about his life, it left a lasting impression on me and helped me in the direction my own life has gone.

As some of you know, in a long ago time and a far away land called Nashville, I spent 9 lovely months living as a postulant (one who is discerning a call to religious life while living with a community) with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. I was actually reminded of this myself when, the other evening, I was dancing the night away at a friend's wedding reception. The mother of my bride-friend came over to say hello, and added, "Girl, you can dance! I was just saying to the other people at my table, 'Hey, do you know that she used to be a NUN? And they almost spit out their drinks!'" Ha!

Anyway, back to St. Dominic. He was a contemporary of St. Francis who founded the Order of Preachers, now known as the Dominicans, and a hallmark of the order is prayer and study. The order strives to contemplate, and to share with others the fruits of our contemplation. I love that!

Happy Feast Day, y'all! St. Dominic, pray for us!

Peace and all good,

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Requiem for Those Shot Down

Hello, Coffee Talkers,

There is not much I can say about the tragic death of the 30 American troops and 8 Afghans, shot down in a US military helicopter, and I am not posting about these men to invite political commentary. I am issuing a call to prayer. Please join me in praying for those fallen, for their families and friends, and for those still engaged in military activity.

Peace and all good,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

These Are a Few of My Creepiest Things

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

On a trip today, I saw some wind turbines. Well, not just 'some.' LOTS and LOTS of wind turbines. Also, I saw some of the blades up close on the back of a big truck! My friend figured out what the blades were. Up close, they are HUGE.

I'm not sure why, but wind turbines are a little bit creepy to me.

And so are sunflowers -- not regular sunflowers, but those giant ones.

Weird, right?

Hope you all are having a wonderful week, leading to a lovely weekend! As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For the Beauty of the Earth

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

This lovely song has been in my head this evening, so I thought I'd share it with you all. Enjoy!

Peace and all good,