My son built a cross–a ten foot high, six foot wide Lenten cross and stand.  This is remarkable because he is seventeen and typical.  His room is a mess, he grunts instead of saying hello, he is far nicer to other people than he is to his mother, and only prays before meals when I’m watching.  Because he is a very private person, I really have no idea about the depth of his spiritual life.  When I bring up faith or social justice (or just about anything) I am guaranteed that he’ll take the opposing view.  Like I said, he’s a typical kid.

And yet he built that cross.  True, it was his eagle scout project and served a higher purpose than just making our liturgical minister happy, but he could have built a bench or planter box or cut a trail or any number of other eagle-worthy projects.

It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.  It was constructed from 100-year old redwood timbers: the floor joists of a parishioner’s remodeled home.  The heavy wood had to be hollowed out so that when we pass it above the congregation on Good Friday, we don’t crush a senior citizen.  It also had to be sanded, stained, and varnished while keeping the patina of age.  During the hollowing out stage, my son and the other young men who assisted on the project, wrote their names on the inside of the cross.  These names will never be seen, but I like to think that when the congregation prays over the cross, these boys will get a little boost of grace.

The liturgical minister asked my son and me to assist during Good Friday services.  Part of the job is passing the cross, but the other part is to prostrate ourselves before it–five minutes of full face-on the floor prostration with the deacon while the congregation watches.  I anticipated that when he found out about the prostration, he’d decline. Instead, he’s going to do it–no hesitation.  It’s amazing where you find grace.  Sometimes it is in wood and work.  Sometimes it is hidden like the names in that cross, or inside the silent heart of a teenage boy.


I just heard about the Vatican’s not so stealthy attack on the “liberalness” of the American church, starting with women religious.  Nuns?  They’re worried about the doctrine faithfulness of nuns?  And I’ve learned that the  dictates eroding the position of lay women in the church are ready to hit us with a one-two punch.  No women within three feet of the altar.  Women not allowed to touch the sacred vessels–even for cleaning.  And that’s just for starters.

Yo, Vatican, my CATHOLIC faith community violates these mandates on a daily basis.  Meanwhile, we continue to be a vibrant, growing, loving, Christ-centered, prayerful community.  

The thinking that women who serve Christ and the community is somehow detrimental to the church boggles the mind.  We aren’t calling ourselves to service.  God does the calling.  The fact that so many women answer the call is a blessing to the church.  We are lectors, Eucharist ministers, pastoral ministers, religious educators, RCIA sponsors, and sacred vessel cleaners–not to serve our own egos, but because our soul was stirred.  God asked, and we said, “Yes!”  If you don’t believe that God is in charge, then you’re in the wrong business.

I know so many good, great, wonderful priests.  Wonderful American priests and faith-filled lay women.  Old men in the Vatican, listen to God and leave us alone.

Everyone has an oddball Uncle George. He or She is the family member who claims not to be racist while spewing forth stereotypes; or has the habit of picking his teeth during thanksgiving dinner; or wears socks with sandals. Clearly not all social crimes are equal.Catholic oddballs

My Uncle George precedes the word Jew with damn. This otherwise sane and loving man has a thing about Jews. His knee jerk racism makes my skin crawl. I can look to his upbringing to excuse his behavior, but there really is no excuse. There is also no changing his mind. The one time I dared retort that Jesus was a Jew, I came very close to having to perform CPR. So, what do I do about Uncle George?
I can disassociate myself from him. Uninvite him to my house on the holidays. Pretend we are not related. The problem is that I love Uncle George. He held me when I was a baby. He played peek-a-boo. And, aside from his Jew phobia, he continues to inspire me with his kindness and goodness.
Uncle George stays in my life; while his racism is excluded from my heart.
I feel the same way about the Church. I prayerfully cannot agree with one hundred percent of the church’s positions on social issues, but I agree with about ninety percent. For me that is enough.

Do you have an oddball Uncle George?  I’d love to hear about him. (more…)

I really don’t like San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom.  For starters he’s way too pretty and I have an innate distrust of male-model good looks.  He’s also way too politically left.  Fringy left. But talk about someone Catholic in the bones!

First, lets get the non-Catholic stuff out of the way–the affairs, the pregnant girlfriend, the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-anything that moves stance.  (Upon reflection, much of that is standard Catholic fare, but I’ll leave that  for another post.)

What makes Gavin Newsome Catholic in the bones?  It is his, and I believe it is authentic, concern for the poor, the disenfranchised, the meek.  True, those things go over well in San Francisco and the man is a political beast, but he is more than that. 

We grew up Catholic in the same era, in roughly the same place.  We attended Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, within a few years of each other. Before he graduated, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, were murdered on the campus of the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador–a place that had close ties with our alma mater.  The eight were martyred because they stood against an evil regime.  In their honor, eight plain white crosses were planted in the lawn in front of Mission Santa Clara–the centerpiece building and heart of the campus.  I am certain that is a memory Newsom and I share.

A commitment to service, the willingness to stand firm against those in power in order to protect those in need, a faith so deep that it remains beyond all logic and despite disagreements with church policy–that’s Catholic in the bones.

I sit with my face tipped up to the sun, in a puddle of light streaming through the bedroom window.  My soul melts.

Rain had been long coming to California this winter and we’ve had two weeks of drizzle.  No complaint.  Water is a blessing–and so is this ray of sunlight that has managed to dodge the clouds.  All the worries and anxieties that have layered over my heart steam away.  The moment is pure, and then I spill my tea all over the carpet.

I blot it up, roll back the carpet to air the underside of the spot, and toss the papers that also got soaked.

Something profound has occurred.  Some deep lesson about life hides just round the corner of thought.  But I am back in my spot of sunshine.  The clouds will approach soon and I’ll not miss another second of it.


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I heard another reference to “Catholic guilt” today.  I tried to smile knowingly, but I honestly do not understand the phrase.  I am Catholic;  I do not feel guilty.  My conscience will alert me when I’ve done something wrong, but that’s not the same as guilt, is it?  A conscience keeps us–humanity–from barbarity.  Sometimes it seems as though not enough people have a well developed conscience.  Pick up the newspaper.  You know what I mean.

Back to the idea of Catholic guilt.  It is not listed in Cannon Law nor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church–I checked.  So, it must not be official church teaching.  All I can surmise is that it malingers among Catholics raised in the pre-Vatican II church, especially among those who attended parochial school.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and attended a distinctly post-Vatican II church.  I do not remember Latin mass, though I do recall that my older sister used to wear what looked like a doily on her head.  The doily disappeared before I was of an age to wear one and I think I felt cheated for a little while in the same way that I felt cheated that my sister had anything that I did not.  We went to public school, so there are no memories of nuns with rulers.  On Saturday mornings I had to forgo cartoons in favor of CCD (I have no idea what the initials stand for).  Lots of nice ladies and one or two nice nuns taught CCD.

istock_000003724724xsmall1Instead of guilt, I was raised on grace.  The concept of grace is an official church teaching.

Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace.  With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of good.  The virtuous man is happy to practice them.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1810)

Admittedly the above is rather dense.  The point is that God’s grace helps us to do good.  God does not operate through threats nor a guilty conscience.  It is grace that helps us be better people.

In the future, when I hear the phrase “Catholic guilt,” I will ask “What do you mean?”  There is just so darn much misinformation about the church today that that phrase has become pejorative.  If I am accused of any malingering Catholic-ness, let me be accused of having Catholic Grace, of that I am quite guilty.