Thursday, October 9, 2014

Come and See -- A Call to Explore Priestly and Religious Vocations

Dear Coffee Talkers,

In my last column, I reflected on vocations -- our calling in life from God -- and mentioned that, while we all have a divine calling in this life, that most of us are not called to be priests or nuns. Of course, the flip side to that coin is that some of us are called to be priests or nuns (or called to some other form of consecrated life in the Church)! What this means is that if we are still free to be called to the priesthood or religious life, we should be open to exploring that possibility, and not just sit back on our laurels thinking that the call is certainly for someone else.

I remember as a child occasionally hearing prayers in church that had to do with young people responding to the call to the priesthood and religious life, and I remember thinking very distinctly that someone else must be called to that life, but not me. However, when I was in college and deciding what to do after I graduated, I realized that I really had met very few women in religious life and felt a tug on my heart to go check out some communities. I thought that maybe I'd like to go volunteer for a year after college, and maybe there was a community of nuns who needed some help with their work. I wanted to go meet some Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order of sisters) and some other orders as well, but genuinely had no idea how to do this or where to start my search.

Eventually I did go to visit a couple orders (Missionaries of Charity included), and while I ended up volunteering with a young adult retreat team instead, that tug on my heart to check out religious life more remained on my heart for some time. I realized that the feeling I had as a child that the call to consecrated life was for someone else might just have been because I knew nothing about consecrated life in the Church, not necessarily because I was not actually called to it. In the middle of graduate school I finally made a decision, namely that the only way to test the call was to go, to 'come and see', to live for a time with a community of religious sisters and see if their life was for me. So I left everything else behind and headed for convent life.

I lived for one school year as a postulant (or one who asks the question) with a lovely community of Dominican Sisters in Nashville, Tennessee and while I did not end up being called to live as a sister, I can honestly look back at that time as one of the most valuable moments of spiritual and human formation in my life. One great surprise to me about religious life was how much fun the sisters had! They worked hard and prayed hard, but they also played hard and their life was filled with the kind of deep and abiding joy that only God can give us. I'll never regret taking that risk to come and see what religious life was like, and now find it a joy to tell others about the experience. Also, if my children ever feel that tug in their hearts, I'll know better now how to support them in testing that call.

I believe that many people feel a call in their hearts to see what consecrated life is like, to check out a call to the priesthood, brotherhood, or sisterhood, but that like me they do not know where to start. This is why Holy Innocents Catholic Church in Victorville, California will be hosting a Vocations Fair on Sunday, October 19 from 2 - 4 pm. The Fair will include representatives from a number of communities of priests and sisters, a chance to speak with these men and women, to hear their stories, to ask questions, and to get more information about their communities and how to visit them if you feel called to 'come and see' like I did.

There is no regret in testing the call to priesthood or religious life, only in not having responded to Jesus' call to 'come and see' and then wondering the rest of your life if you missed out on the truest calling of your heart. Sure, not everyone is called to give their lives and hearts to God in such a radical and undivided way, but some are and maybe one of those someones is you.

For more information on the Holy Innocents Vocations Fair, contact Owen Carroll at (760) 948-4177 or Nabor Manriquez (in Spanish) at (760) 985-4776.

One final note: considering religious vocations is NOT just for Catholic Christians! There are many people called to priesthood and the religious life, and I have several friends who are now priests and religious brothers and sisters who did not begin their journey as Catholics. In time, they did convert to Catholicism and then embraced their vocations. There are many paths to finding God's calling for you!

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

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Reality, Love, and Suffering of Vocation

Hey there, Coffee Talkers,

What's presented below includes an abridged and edited version of an old post that I came across and realized that I needed to hear again and meditate on at this stage in my spiritual journey. When I write about the faith I see that God is often speaking most directly to me even if I'm answering a question that someone else has asked, and if a few people out there have been also been helped in their life of faith by my writings then I'll count that as an added blessing. So here's one on the concept of vocation because I need to revisit it, and maybe you do, too:
When Catholic Christians talk about vocations, most people think only about priests and nuns, but a vocation refers to a person’s calling from God. This means that every one of us has a vocation, or a divine calling, and the fact is that most of us are not called to be priests and nuns. In my own spiritual journey I have reflected a great deal on the concept of vocation, and have summed up God’s lessons to me in three major themes.
1. Vocation is always rooted in reality, and in the present moment.
Have you ever known someone who was always 'discerning' their vocation, or a person who says, “I’ll pray about that” as a way of side-stepping even the most simple decisions or commitments? Don't get me wrong; discernment and prayers are very important, but I think that sometimes we use prayer as an excuse to be perpetually non-committal and confuse discerning with fanciful daydreaming. 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.
Ultimately, the most important aspect of any vocation is rooted in our present reality – God is not going to ask us to neglect our obligations to our current state in life to pursue another. A widowed mother is not likely to be ‘called’ to a cloistered convent while her children are still young and relying upon her for their care and formation, for example. Each of us is called to continue dedicating our lives fully to those tasks at hand until such a time as the Lord presents something else to us, puts something or someone clearly in our path and asks us to take a different direction. When that happens, we should act on it, and promptly. Until that time, however, 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.
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, a young cloistered Carmelite nun whose feast we will soon celebrate on October 1. Therese wanted to be so many things, but in the end realized that her vocation was love. What does this mean? Some think Therese to have been a syrup-y sweet little saint who always had life easy, and so her joy and happiness and vocation of ‘love’ must have come to her with ease, as well. However, anyone who has read her ‘Story of A Soul’ can assure you that this was not the case, nor is it the case with any sincere disciple of Christ. No, we are asked to choose love and to live love again and again in the face of countless sufferings, as Therese did.
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. Just when we have reached the end of our own strength, it is then we are called to love again, and 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.

Anyone who preaches a Gospel solely based on prosperity and success in this life preaches a lie; we must realize that the Christian vocation means following Christ even unto death, and that means accepting the Cross. If we are humble enough, many people of faith will admit that while we may have followed a number of paths to which we surely felt God calling us, we ended up in a place entirely different than the place of our imagining or choosing. Even in the face of uncertainty, embarrassment, disillusionment, pain, and suffering we are always God's, and God is always present, always. '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 seemingly senseless suffering bearing the greatest fruit of redemption that the world has ever known.

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

Peace and all good,

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On Love Expressed and the Christian Life

Dear Coffee Talkers,

I was recently reading an article talking about the importance of expressing our love for our family and friends, and citing some examples of ways to express our affection rather than just assuming these relationships would continue to run on auto-pilot from the efforts we'd perhaps made in the past or simply from an ongoing feeling of mutual affection, un-fueled by current expressions of kindness. Some of the ideas for showing our affection included sending a text message or an e-mail, giving the person a phone call, and sending a letter or a simple gift.

While I liked the idea of the article, there was something about it that seemed incomplete to me. In grappling with what ideas might be missing, I considered an important thought about the Christian life and love: that true love expressed always seeks the good of the other and is sacrificial, not selfish. This is not to suggest that the ideas of communicating with another person in simple ways or sending cards and gifts is not part of an expression of someone's affection, but to point out that, despite Hallmark's persuasive marketing scheme, perhaps simply giving someone a greeting card does not truly represent 'the very best' that love has to offer.

I think it's fair to say that most people have experienced the development of a new friendship, a fresh crush, or a blossoming romance and the ambivalent emotions that can accompany this experience. At first, we might see the other person entirely through rose colored glasses, so to speak, and we can be easily carried away by the excitement that accompanies every smile, text message, phone call, and card we receive. Soon, however, we may find that the relationship is put to some kind of test and that it has either grown stale or has become one-sided. Maybe we are the only one sending texts and cards, or perhaps the other person is giving 'gifts' that do not really consider our good but are intended to manipulate and get something from us that they want. We may realize that one or the other of us has a need that the other party is not willing or able to meet, and we realize that perhaps this was never really love at all but instead an arrangement of feel-good convenience at best and mutual using at worst.

While some may think that hate is the opposite of love, a Christian worldview offers the possibility that using another person is that which is most contrary to loving them, or caring for their ultimate good. When I merely use someone to meet my own selfish needs, true love can never enter into the picture.  I must stop using, and being used, if I ever hope to enter into a truly loving relationship, one in which both parties truly consider the good of the other and enter into a love of reciprocal self-gift.

In Christianity, we see this ultimate model of sacrificial, selfless, and life-giving love in action: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." This is agape love, the love of self-sacrifice. This type of love does not seek to take anything, and while it is open to receiving back an offering of love from the beloved, it never demands or requires reciprocity for its gift to be given.

Next time we consider how to express our love for our family and friends, let us truly consider the needs of the other person, place their good above our own, and put into action this love of self-sacrifice. Let us be willing to give the gift of our very selves, and to take the chance that even when sacrificial love is unrequited it is its own reward because it is the most true to our highest calling and destiny. Because when we care enough to send the very best, it will rarely involve a greeting card but will always require self-sacrifice, a sacrifice that will bear fruit in both this life and in eternity.

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

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Failed Prayers, Action, and Waiting: Opening A Spiritual Door

Dear Coffee Talkers,

A journalist recently asked Pope Francis, "Given what has happened in Gaza, was the Prayer for Peace held in the Vatican on June 8 a failure?" Pope Francis responded by saying it was not a failure, but rather that "the door of prayer was opened." He continued by saying that the encounter of prayer "is a fundamental step of the human attitude" toward God's gift of peace and that while "the smoke of the bombs and the war do not let one see the door ... the door was left open at that moment."

The two ideas that struck me most in this interview were the concepts of failed prayer and of opening the door of prayer. I believe that many of us can relate to the experience of a 'failed' or seemingly unanswered prayer and the accompanying pain that goes with the experience. Sadly, this is why many have abandoned the practice of any faith or prayer at all -- the risk of being hurt again by God is simply too much to bear. This seems to be part of the experience of the prophet Jeremiah who in the midst of intense sufferings and an interior crisis proclaims, "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped...All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me." Thankfully for Jeremiah, that was not the end of the story, but his feeling of being misled and mocked as a result of his efforts at prayer and faithfulness ring in the hearts of the faithful through the centuries.

The untimely death of a loved one; the loss of a job; the end of a romantic relationship or long-time friendship; a breach of trust within a family that can perhaps be forgiven but not forgotten -- where was God in the midst of these situations? Were our prayers a failure? And if so, why bother continuing to pray at all?

The image of a door being opened, and then remaining open, as a result of our prayer is very powerful, especially in considering some of the more tragic moments of our lives. The first way that the image moves me is that the idea of the door being opened reminds me that, while the work of grace is God's, I have a part to play in the divine action by walking toward and through that door. Yes, prayer is important, but in most cases if it is unaccompanied by any action on my part it is unlikely to bear much fruit. While certain situations do not allow for a great deal of human action, most of the time we should be moved by the Spirit of God to do something practical that would move us toward the result of our prayer.

The second way that the image of the door of prayer inspires me is that it causes me to consider how many doors are still open from prayers that I have already initiated but given up on. There are times where the human action accompanying my prayer is flawed or insufficient, or where I simply have to wait upon the Lord and for much longer than I am willing. Maybe I think that prayer failed or was unanswered, and I'm so busy looking at the 'smoke' left behind by a series of unfortunate events that were simply not according to my plans. But God has not given up, and the door remains open, perhaps to be answered in a different way and  time than I was originally prepared for. That is part of the mystery of grace --  freely given, wholly unexpected, and far surpassing our wildest dreams.

Am I ready to look again for that open door, to open myself to the risk of prayer even after being burned before? When I ask this question, I hear the words that the Lord spoke to Jeremiah after the prophet's crisis of faith: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope."

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

Peace and all good,

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guatemala 2014 - A Thank You to Our Benefactors

I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Click here for a link to many awesome pictures of our mission, taken by our sound technician James! :)
I am writing to express my profound gratitude for your partnership in the mission of Celebrant Singers, and to share with you a bit about my team’s recent outreach in California and Guatemala. As one of our benefactors, I consider you a very important part of our mission team and want to assure you of my team’s daily prayers for you and your intentions.

The Guatemala Team of Celebrant Singers came together for 4 intensive days of rehearsal and spiritual preparation, and then started out on our 3-week mission. I originally traveled with Celebrant Singers on a 10-week summer team to Trinidad 14 years ago, and so I was amazed not only by the invitation to travel with the ministry again, but by the idea of preparing for the mission so quickly. Any musician knows how long it can take for a group to come together musically, and even that preparation does not take into account the need for spiritual readiness and learning to work together as a ministry team. Also, our team was extremely diverse in every possible way – we ranged in age from 17 to 79 years old and came from many different Christian churches, work and family backgrounds, and countries including USA, Canada, Mexico, France, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. Even before we set out on mission, I could tell that the Lord had something very special in mind for our team, and I can truly say that by the end of the mission we had become a family deeply bonded in faith, hope, and love.

Our ministry outreach in Guatemala far surpassed any of our expectations. We were hosted by a charismatic community of Catholic Christians who had been greatly anticipating our arrival and welcomed us with open arms. The hospitality we received was extraordinary, and our presentations of music, testimonies, and presentation of the Gospel message were received by more than 5,000 people in Guatemala City and Antigua. In every place we presented, we were greeted by a large crowd of people, usually with standing room only and long lines of individuals coming forward for prayer. The great sincerity and faith of the Guatemalan people was very moving, and it was clear that the enthusiasm they had in receiving us was their way of welcoming Christ himself into their midst. We were certainly undeserving of such hospitality, but truly honored to be welcomed as representatives of Jesus.

We returned to California to conclude the ministry with the France team at the 37th Annual Homecoming Concert in Visalia and the World Touch Partners Banquet and Concert. During this time, we were able to remember the larger scope of the ministry and the importance of all of our sponsors in a very special way. Of all of the music and ministry experiences I have had in my life, this summer’s was one of the most powerful and I cannot express my profound gratitude to you for making this possible. While words may fall short, I pray that grace will suffice and I assure you of my grateful prayers.

In Christ,

Leslie A. Elliott

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Time Is Now: A Tribute to Roy the Bus Driver

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

As some of you may have heard, I've been on mission with Celebrant Singers in California and Guatemala, which at least gives me a somewhat legitimate excuse for not writing for some time now. I do plan to write at least weekly from here on out, so hold me to it!

The mission experience this summer, though brief, was extraordinarily powerful and moving in so many different ways. Really, I'm rarely lacking words to describe anything, but in this case words really do fall short.

After returning from any kind of spiritual experience like this, I always find that the reality of daily life tends to smack you in the face again pretty quickly. That's not to say that what we experienced on mission wasn't real -- on the contrary, I'd say that it was more real in the bigger picture of life and eternity -- but to point out that it's easy to come down from that mountaintop experience and get dragged down by the minutiae of daily responsibilities and trials.

But there is one particular person that my mind keeps coming back to that I want to share with you now, a person who taught me in a very short time about what is really important. His name is Roy Dick, and he was one of our bus drivers.

Roy was such a kind and gentle person, so happy to be with all of us on the team, and to serve God and us by driving us to all the ends of the earth (or all the ends of California, at least!). He always greeted each of us with a hello and warm smile, and there are a couple memories of Roy that I'd like to share.

Roy took our team for a WalMart run before we were to depart for Guatemala, and not needing anything myself, I just hung around outside for a while. When I saw Roy, he asked how I was doing and if I needed anything -- he was always concerned for others -- and when I told him that I was fine, he asked if I might have time to run in to the McDonald's to grab a Big Mac for him. It was something so small that I did for him, but he was so grateful that you'd have thought that I went and bought him a new car (or an upgraded Celebrant Singers bus, perhaps?).

The next special moment with Roy happened on the afternoon on the Celebrant Singers 37th Annual Homecoming Concert. I had just returned to meet the teams for rehearsal, and when I went in to the building I had my children with me. I was in a bit of a hurry to get them to the restroom and then to get ready myself for the rehearsal, but we saw Roy in the hallway. He was so happy to see me upon my return to the team, and really excited to meet my girls. Because I was feeling rushed, I felt inclined to just give a quick hello and to keep walking, but I felt Jesus say to me, "Won't you stop and visit with me for just a moment?" Roy wanted to know my girls' names, to say hello to each of them individually and to see how they were doing. He was so kind. I found out later that it was actually his weekend off (the ministry sometimes has the volunteer bus drivers on a rotation) but that he had come anyway that day because he loved being around us and the music. My girls and I told Roy that we'd see him later, and continued on to prepare for the rest of the day.

That was the last time I saw or spoke to Roy. A few hours later, while the musicians were on a break from rehearsal, Roy took a misstep at the edge of the stage and took a big fall into the orchestra pit area. He was flown to a hospital for treatment, but he sustained such serious injuries that he died last Tuesday evening, the night of our final banquet and concert for this summer's outreach.

I learned so much in the few weeks of our mission, but the most profound lesson was learned from Roy's life and his sudden death: that we should never take one another for granted, that we should never pass up an opportunity to give and receive love, that we should always take an opportunity to serve others, to give, to love to the point of sacrifice. The time is now to love; we have no time to waste!

When I think of Roy, I think of this Bible verse about love in action:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12: 9-12)

And I trust that we will see Roy again, and soon. May the soul of Roy, and all of the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

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

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I’m Honored When Satanists Mock the Mass

Dear Coffee Talkers,

It's been a while! There's been so much going on in the Catholic news scene, but so little time to write!

Some of you may know that I am one of the religion columnists for the local newspaper where I live. I haven't submitted any columns for a while because of pre-Easter and post-Easter busyness at the parish where I work, and family obligations, and also due to my occasional love of sleep. In any case, a man from my parish asked me a while ago when I was going to have another column in the paper, and he said something like, "Make it a good one -- something to stir people up, something controversial!"

I honestly wasn't thinking of what he'd said when I wrote this column today, but perhaps his exhortation was somewhere behind what follows. I wonder if they'll run it? Crazier things have happened...


          This week’s planned, then canceled, then relocated-to-a-Chinese-restaurant Harvard student group’s ‘Black Mass’ has certainly garnered a lot of attention. Understandably, many Catholic Christians were deeply offended by this satanic mockery of the central form of worship in Catholic Christianity, namely the Mass and the Eucharist. As a Catholic Christian myself, I am actually somewhat honored by this tremendous offense. Let me explain.

          I’ve learned that there are a couple major types of so-called satanists: theistic (or theological) satanists, who believe in satan as a deity and worship him, and atheistic satanists, who believe neither in the devil or in God but rather ‘worship’ themselves as their own God. It seems that the group responsible for the Harvard Black Mass happens to be of the atheistic variety, but in either case, let’s consider why any satanists would mock the Catholic Christian Mass and Eucharist specifically.

First, it seems that theistic satanists would want to pit the devil against Jesus, worshipping the evil one over his adversary. Satan, as the Prince of Darkness, would be worshipped over Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the Light of the World. In a real Black Mass, the actual Mass of Catholic Christians is not only mocked, but the Eucharist (a consecrated host which Catholic Christians believe to contain the true presence of Jesus’) is desecrated. If Jesus was not truly present in the Eucharist, why would they use a consecrated host at all? If this was just some crazy Catholic hoax, any piece of bread would do and the consecration of the host would be entirely irrelevant.

Secondly, considering the case of atheistic satanists who believe neither in God nor in the devil, their Black Mass seems more of a strict mockery than of actual devil-worship, an extreme exaltation of self over the worship of a Divine Other. The Harvard Black Mass was apparently conducted by this type of satanists, and it is said that a consecrated host was not used but that they originally had desired to use one. Again, why? If these people do not believe in God or in the devil, why do they not mock all major world religions? Why is there not an open mockery of the most sacred acts of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or even of Protestant Christians? Instead, we see the now rather predictable mockery of Catholic Christianity and disrespect for the Mass and the Eucharist. If this type of atheistic Black Mass exalts the self as the ultimate authority and divinity, then it must set itself as an adversary against (and exalt itself above) the other source of authority and divinity: namely, the Catholic Church, its Mass, and the Eucharist.

When satanists (of theistic and atheistic varieties) start mocking any other world religion besides Catholic Christianity, maybe I’ll consider converting, but until then I’ll hold it as a deep honor that those who choose to worship darkness and self have pitted themselves against what I (and millions of Catholics worldwide) hold to be the source of true light, peace, authority, and divinity: Catholic Christianity, the Mass, and the Eucharist.

Holy Hour of Adoration and Benediction at St. Paul's, the home parish of the Harvard Catholic Student Association

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

Peace and all good,

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Shortest Trip to Change My Life -- Happy Valentine's, Neighbor!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that I have never been asked, as an action of faith, to go door-to-door throughout my neighborhood for any reason whatsoever. Don't get me wrong -- it's not that I am reluctant to talk with people about matters of faith (quite the opposite, in fact). It's just that, while I am rather outgoing in many circumstances, when I'm home I tend to go into hermit mode. I mean, not full-blown hermitage, but I'd definitely say that home time is when the more introverted part of me kicks in and just wants to be minding my own quiet, peaceful business and thinking my own lovely thoughts. When door-to-door folks of faith come proselytizing, I loathe it and sometime avoid answering the door altogether, but not because I don't want to talk about faith... it's because I'm at home! So needless to say, I don't really know any of my neighbors.

It's a terrible commentary on my faith life, really, to admit that I don't know a single one of the people in my immediate neighborhood very well after living here for a few years. I mean, I know the Bible mentions loving your neighbor on a number of occasions, and I'm pretty sure this concept is more demanding than the little wave I give when I see that one neighbor taking out their garbage can and the way that I generally avoid contact with the rest of them. I was recently thinking that I should do better in this regard, but as usual, made no concrete plans to do so.

The weather was so nice today that I suggested to my girls that we take a walk in our neighborhood. And then my girls asked me to let them go door-to-door to all the neighbors on our block to give out Valentine's cards while we were at it.


Everything inside me rebelled, but I knew I had to let them do it, at the risk of my own personal inconvenience and very probable embarrassment. I never could have guessed that the next hour would change my life. Here are a few highlights:

House 1: a kind older lady, presumably the wife of the man to whom I occasionally wave over garbage can transport. She was really happy to receive the girls' Junie B. Jones paper Valentines and to finally meet us, and sincerely thanked us several times for coming by, even though I was still kind of embarrassed and trying to get off her porch in pretty short order.

House 2: some kids peeking through the window, followed by their dad opening the door holding a bottle of Windex and, clearly far more embarrassed than I had ever been, apologizing to us in case we had overheard whatever it was that he had yelled at one of the misbehaving children. We handed over the Valentine's, I told the kids to be good for their dad, and a little while later a couple of the kids came out to their yard to yell a thank you to my girls for the cards.

House 3: a mom and her 3 children who we actually had met before when we were having a yard sale quite a while ago, but who we haven't seen much since because I am a procrastinating hermit (the worst kind). The mother had shared that they are Catholics from Israel who have been wanting to have their children prepared for the sacraments, and I had been meaning to follow up. They were so excited to see us again, and I honestly have seen few children as happy as those 3 were when my girls gave them their Valentines.

House 4: the young guy in his shorts and tank top, who looked groggy and possibly hung over, but couldn't stop smiling when he heard why we were there.

House 5: the guy who was cleaning the house after all of their furniture had already been moved out, and who apologized that they were leaving just when we came over to say hello. (Little did he know that we're about two years late, and not the regular welcome wagon.) He gave a big thanks, and we wished him well on his family's move.

House 6: the friendly but kind of strange guy across the street who I remember also coming over to our yard sale, but he seemed to have no recollection of who we were. He seemed happy enough about the girls' Valentines, although it kind of seemed like he thought I might be hitting on him. Hopefully, my facial expression accompanied by my nasty sweats and greasy pony tail made it clear that I was not, and we continued on as he waved goodbye.

House 7: the elderly Asian lady who, when I told her we were neighbors and the girls just wanted to give her Valentine's cards, tried to explain that she didn't speak much English. I tried to explain, through simple words and gestures, that the cards were for her. She looked happy and asked how much. I said, "No money; free, for you!" Her expression changed from confusion to gratitude, and I saw her eyes get teary as she gave an emotional thank you. As we walked down her driveway I turned back to see if my younger daughter needed help with her scooter, and saw the woman still standing there, smiling and watching us. A while later, I saw her on her driveway with a younger man (maybe her son) pointing down the street and looking our way.

You guys. My girls were just giving out these little paper Valentine's:

And I was just walking with them, trying to explain that we were neighbors just giving out some cards. I didn't even bake anything (which is probably for the best for all involved).

And everyone we saw was so happy.

It was really cool.

I'm not going to lie to myself or any of you and say that we're going to make this a regular event (because who wants Valentine's in March, anyway), but I definitely learned some great lessons from today, the most important of which can't really be put into words.

But I think my favorite lesson is that, when you have children who you school in the faith, they're bound to school you soon enough and you better hop on board for the ride.

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

Peace and all good,

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The UN vs. The Holy See: Who Has Moral Authority?

Welcome back, Coffee Talkers!

It seems that all eyes are on the Catholic Church, and on Pope Francis in particular. As the media tracks his every move and (mis)reports his every word, there seems to be a keen interest in both secular and religious communities to see if and how Francis will set a moral compass for the world. And while his teachings and activities are no departure from his predecessors, his sky-rocket to star status in less than a year of papal reign is notable. Already named person of the year by Time, The Advocate, and GQ, the only cover left un-Poped was, until recently, Rolling Stone. I was gearing up to read my first Rolling Stone article, until a few paragraphs into the nearly 8,000 words of half-truths, gross mis-characterizations, and crude ad hominem attacks on Benedict XVI, I realized that, as Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Wilson so sagely explained, "Ain't nobody got time for that." Clearly, just because people see Pope Francis as a rock star doesn't mean that they 'get' Catholicism or regard the Church as having any kind of moral authority.

Thankfully, I was able to find some other interesting reading in the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child's 16-page lambast of the Holy See. While the UN report was certainly more interesting than the so-called article from Rolling Stone, it seems to have been based on a surprisingly similar lack of factual information about the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. 

Since the UN Committee's concluding observations open by chiding the Holy See for their previously delayed response of approximately fourteen years, I've decided to help the UN out by offering some initial insights right away, at least a decade sooner than they expect to receive a formal response from the Vatican. I will reply to a few key points from the document.

1. The Convention recommends, in a variety of ways that the Holy See (a.k.a. the Vatican) make a full review of all Canon (or Church) Law, with the goal of ensuring that it is in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I'm not sure how to break this to the Committee. I mean, the Vatican did get back to them (albeit 14 years late) the last time they were in touch, but they may not be on the top of their list of priorities. More importantly, last I checked, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was in no way nor at any time mentioned or cited in the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or in any other official Church documents. To put it simply, the Holy See does not consult a UN convention for the soundness of the Church's internal laws of governance.

2. The Convention is very concerned with the rights of the child, the reporting of abuse, and the prevention of any further incidents. To this end, they make numerous recommendations to the Holy See regarding the implementation of rules, policies, and programs that would raise awareness, mandate reporting, and educate children, volunteers, employees, seminarians, and religious in appropriate policies and practices.

All of this has been going on, in a thorough and systematic way, for the past decade within the Catholic Church. Honestly, these recommendations were the most absurd to me, because it genuinely seems as though no one on the committee actually took the time to see the extensive work that Church has done in this regard. The work is far from done, I freely admit, but every one of the recommendations in this area has not only been met, but far exceeded, in Catholic schools, parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic organizations throughout the world.

3. "The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality." The Committee also "urges" the Holy See to change our Canon Law to permit abortion services for pregnant girls who are at risk.

First, let's take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where it's teaching on homosexual persons clearly states that "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (CCC 2358). Again, did anyone on the committee actually consult the Church's teaching before asking them to change it?

Next, it seems particularly twisted that the committee on the rights of the child did not at all mention the rights of the pre-born child in the womb but only of the young pregnant girls (whose abortions are often performed under duress with no consideration of rights of the pregnant girl nor the pre-born child), but in any case let me explain that it will be a cold day somewhere south of Rome before the Vatican changes any doctrines or canons based solely on the recommendations of a UN committee, and certainly not on abortion. The Church does have bioethical norms that explain what might happen in the dangerous case of an ectopic pregnancy, for example, but I fear this may be too much to explain to a committee who apparently cannot even look up simple citations from the Catechism.

Lastly, and most remarkably, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child just appealed to "the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority." Read it again. It's really the most amazing part of the whole document wherein the UN Committee, after just having spent many pages criticizing the law, doctrines, and practices of the Catholic Church and urging them to come into alignment with the UN's own policies and practices, admits that the Holy See has moral authority. 


I’ll be anxious to hear what Pope Francis has to say about the document as well, and while it might make the cover of a popular magazine, I think I’ll wait to read his actual words and see what moral direction he, and the Holy See, have to offer.

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

Peace and all good,