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Parish pilgrimage blog: Day 1

I know I typically lack patience when I ask God for things. I can never understand why he doesn’t answer my prayers right away, especially when I am sure that what I am praying for is something good and holy. Of course, I understand that if God is making me wait for something, he must have a good reason. He is omniscient, all-powerful and infinitely loving, so if whatever I am praying for isn’t happening, there has to be some greater purpose being fulfilled in making me wait, or even in saying no to my petition altogether.

This morning I found myself thinking about how often I make God wait for my “yes.” I often fall into an incredibly backward view of how my relationship with God ought to work. I didn’t create God from nothing, I don’t know everything — I am much closer to knowing nothing than I am to knowing what God knows — I don’t have the infinite love for God that he has for me, and I am not the Lord of the Universe. Yet, when I petition God, so often I act like he owes me an answer.

Of course, when God ask me for something — when my Creator, the one to whom I owe my very existence, who loves me infinitely and knows everything about everything, such that anything he asks of me will for good — I need to think about it. I treat him like a door-to-door salesman — “Gee, this looks like a great offer, but let me think about it and get back to you. Don’t call me — I’ll call you.”

So it was a few months ago when I had an idea for a new blog. I was at Mass, listening to one my parish priests talk about his recent pilgrimage to Lourdes, Fatima and Rome. I was a little envious, but I knew that I didn’t have the time or money for that sort of pilgrimage right now. But then an idea popped into my head — I could make my own pilgrimage locally by visiting every parish in my diocese for Mass, and I could journal about each visit.

I shared the idea with a few friends, all of whom thought that it sounded like a great idea. I went to a several Masses at other parishes around the diocese and even wrote rough drafts about a couple of them, but I felt unready to post them.

I think the main reason I hesitated was that I wasn’t sure what these journal entries ought to be. I knew I didn’t want to write “critiques” of the parishes. I remember years ago coming across a blog called “The Roamin’ Catholic,” in which the writer basically went to Masses at different parishes and wrote about how well the priests and the congregations adhered to the rubrics, which never up to par for him. To be fair, I also loathe when priests don’t follow the rubrics, but I know that parishes are often like families, and I would never show up as a guest in someone’s house and then write a blog about everything they did wrong in their home.

So, initially, my thought was to keep everything positive, and just reflect on how God spoke to me through each parish. I thought this was a good idea until I went to my third Mass on this journey at a church that was barely recognizable as such, in which the deacon giving the homily actually told the congregation, “You are the Holy Spirit.” This struck me as so outrageous that I really couldn’t reflect on anything else that morning. I couldn’t bring myself to put a positive spin on that.

Besides, I am not being paid to write free PR for these parishes, and who would want to read it if I did? What value would that have for anyone?

That’s when I shelved the whole project. I didn’t see a way to write reflections about these parishes without coming across as rude and judgmental, but also without being artificially positive. Indeed, artificial enthusiasm is part of what is wrong with the Church today. Some people within the Church are saying and doing things that they shouldn’t be saying and doing, and there is an attitude that we should all just smile and sing “Kumbaya” together. Or even “Imagine.” This is the kind of attitude that leads to situations, like, I don’t know, the pope blessing pagan idols in the Vatican garden and giving tacit approval as people prostrate themselves before them. Or deacons telling congregations that they, themselves, are the Holy Spirit.

Lately I have found the project on my mind again. I still feel like it is something God wants me to do, for whatever reason. This morning I felt compelled to go visit another parish and get this project going again. I went on Masstimes.org and found a Mass 8:15 a.m. and got in the car to head over. After hitting some traffic, I realized I wasn’t going to make it on time so I quickly looked up another Mass time at a red light. I ended up at St. Anne in Santa Ana, which had an 8:30 Mass..

The homily, given by a deacon, struck me as particularly apropos, given what had prompted me to go to that parish for Mass this morning. The deacon primarily reflected on today’s first reading, Romans 12:5-16, which discusses, among other things, the different roles the faithful play as members of the body of Christ. He urged us to use the gifts we’ve been given to the best of our ability, and to do whatever we discern that God is calling us to do.

I still don’t know exactly what shape this blog will take, but I feel called to write it. In any event, going to a couple of extra Masses every week can’t be a bad thing, and maybe God has plans for me that I cannot yet see.

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Be PERFECT? Can’t I just be pretty good?

I’ve been trying to spend more time reading the Bible lately and have been noticing that various passages — often passages that I’ve heard many times over the years — will just jump out at me with new meaning. For example, in Leviticus, we read, “You shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy.” (Lv 11:44) Jesus reiterates this in Matthew, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perfection is a pretty high standard. I know I’m not there, and I don’t see myself getting there any time soon. I can imagine the response Jesus would get if he were to appear on a modern-day talk show and say those same words:

“Oh, come on! You don’t really expect people to be perfect do you? Isn’t it enough that they try their best?”

“Aren’t you concerned that you’ll make people feel guilty when they can’t live up to this standard? Isn’t this a form of imperfection-shaming?”

“Don’t you think this will alienate imperfect people?”

“Why do they need to be perfect if God loves them no matter what?”

“Who’s version of perfect do you mean, anyway?”

While this verse sets a bar that none of us can achieve on our own, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t lower the bar. It challenges us to try to rise up to it until we can reach it. To the extent that we fail, we rely on God’s love and mercy to take us the rest of the way. Nevertheless, spiritual perfection is to be our aim, and our lives a constant journey in that direction. We don’t measure ourselves against the standards of our time, the sins of others or the sins we could have committed but didn’t, but against the standard of perfection.

This verse also implies that, to the extent we are imperfect, it by our own choice. (“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!”) There would have been no point in telling us to be something we can’t be. Jesus doesn’t ask us to be perfect students or perfect business managers or perfect drivers, but he commands us to aspire to the spiritual perfection of our Father. We must detach ourselves from whatever imperfections come between us and God and be willing to let the Holy Spirit perfect us.

It is worth noting that the statement is not, “Aspire to perfection.” It is, “Be perfect.” Here in this present moment, we are called to perfection, to turn away from all that is sinful, all that is not of God, and turn back to holiness. What is holding us back in this moment? What graces do we need to ask for and receive? What temptations are holding us back?

Moreover, this verse reminds us that there really is a standard of perfection toward which we can strive. Perfection is not a moving target; it is we who move in relation to that target. We might get closer in one way but further away in another, the bull’s-eye of the target remains in the same spot. We are not told, “Be perfect, as you define perfection for yourself,” but, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is God’s standard of perfection that matters; not ours.

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How I hope Pope Francis approaches the environment issue

It has been well publicized that Pope Francis is planning to issue an encyclical on creation and respect for the environment at some point this year. My hope is that the Holy Father will take this as an opportunity to unite people in finding practical or even not-so-practical ways to address environmental concerns, reminding people of their role as stewards of the planet and the need to be aware of the impact individual lifestyles and large-scale operations can have on various regions of the world.

What I hope he does not do is create further division, demonizing some based on their personal opinions based on their own readings about environmental issues. An example of this approach was seen recently when Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi spoke recently at the Climate and Health 68th World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The archbishop stated that the religious leaders and technical experts who participated in a recent event held by the Holy See “left no further room for denial under the mistaken guise of so-called religious belief when they declared that human-induced climate change is a scientific reality.”

So, because a bunch of people who were already in agreement got together and agreed with each other, there is no room for anyone who disagrees. Pretending that there is no one who disagrees with you doesn’t make you more right, and there is evidence that many scientists disagree with the view “that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

In 2008, WND reported that more than 31,000 scientists signed a petition stating that “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Even among scientists who believe that that the earth is getting warmer and that human activity is a contributing factor, there is disagreement about whether we are the primary cause and how much difference behavioral changes could make, and on how much damage global warming will actually cause.

My point is not that these scientists are necessarily right, just that there seems to still be significant disagreement within the scientific community on the subject. And arguing that those who disagree with one’s position don’t count isn’t going to persuade anyone that you are right. If that’s the approach Pope Francis takes, the only people his encyclical influences will be those who already agree with him.

There are ways in which an encyclical on environmental stewardship could be play an important role. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on global warming, understand that air and water pollution are bad things, for example. The problem is that we tend to look at the air and water in our own region and ignore it everywhere else.

For example, according to this pollution index, the U.S. ranks on the lower end of the scale 118th out of the 135 listed countries. But some of our biggest oil suppliers besides ourselves and Canada do not fair so well. Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, all have pollution index scores twice that of ours. China, from whom we import so many products, is the 10th worst polluter on the planet. Doesn’t our consumption of these exports confer some kind of responsibility upon us for the pollution generated in the process of making those resources available.

And our own score of 31.45 is at least twice that of any of the countries in the top six.

There are definitely opportunities for improvement here, and we should be considering whether our consumption habits may be hurting the environment, and thereby hurting other people. Maybe it’s a matter of finding new ways of doing things. Maybe it’s a matter of consuming less. Spreading awareness of the impact of our everyday choices could be an important step.

But demonizing people who disagree on a matter of science is not going get people listening.

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