Funny Hats and Cardinals

Funny hats, Royal Robes, Good Grief Charley Brown!


Am I the only Catholic totally embarrassed by the recent “coronation” of new bishops into the ranks of cardinals in Rome? The miters on their heads, the flowery red robes, their funny little slippers on their feet, the opulence of the setting made me think of a Cecil B Demille movie about the Holy Roman Empire.

C’mon guys, who in the name of heaven is your PR Manager? Is this foppery the message you want to convey to the world? “Here we are in all our finery, the Church Triumphant.” Funny. I thought we were founded by a poor carpenter in Nazareth.”

Is this who we are, this assembly of silk robed old bucks parading down the aisles of St.Peters in medieval costumes? As a Catholic, I say, “Shame on you, Holy Father and your entourage of cardinals. You all look pretty silly.

Don’t tell me it is tradition. That kind of tradition didn’t start until Charlemagne declared the Church to be the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, three centuries after Christ. The Holy Roman Empire is long gone? May it rest in peace.

I submit that the traditions we want to follow are rooted in the life of a poor carpenter, whose followers were chosen from the ranks of fishermen and ordinary working stiffs. I dare say there wasn’t a red robe to be found in their ranks.

If we are serious about honoring tradition, how do we explain the awkward fact that our first Pope had a mother-in-law? And what about the presence of all those women who followed Jesus so loyally? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see even one woman in the Papal entourage.

Jesus chose his followers from ordinary folks. As far as I know he didn’t say “Okay, if you want to join me on my mission, you have to be male and celibate. No one else need apply.” I don’t think so.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am a Catholic and proud of it. My church has served the poor and the marginalized of the world. It has built schools and hospitals and been in the forefront for social justice, the rights of workers, the dignity of humankind.

I stand for this church, pray with its members and love what it stands for. The Church I identify with gives a preference for the poor and works for world peace and calls on people to love one another. That’s the Church I belong to.

As for your royal regalia, surely you can find a place for it in the Vatican Museum.l

What if there is No God?

What If There is No God?

Leaving my apartment this morning to spend my half-hour of prayer and meditation at St.Eugene’s chapel, the thought struck me, “Could I be wasting my time? What if my prayers are no more useful than the wishes we make before blowing out the candles on a birthday cake? What if my prayers are addressed to a delusion, a made-up God who exists only in our minds?

Years ago, I would not have put my own doubts out there so bluntly. I would have been afraid to do so. I dared not express my doubts, even to myself. To doubt the very existence of God was unthinkable.

Through the years I have learned that I can’t make doubts go away by stuffing them. I like Thoreau’s perspective; He said ““Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.”

Besides, Christianity has had a long tradition of doubters starting soon after the Resurrection of Jesus with one of Jesus’s chosen disciples, that old skeptic Thomas. He wasn’t about to take the words of the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. “Oh yea? Prove it,” was Thomas’s response. I suspect many of us, even those of us who fill the pews at Sunday services, have at times shared Thomas’s reservations.

Dostoyevsky, one of a long line of Christians who had his own struggles with faith, once said, “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born in the furnace of doubt.” There was a man who took his religion seriously.

Like the iconic Russian writer, many of us continue to struggle with our faith. Others, perhaps unaware, or in denial of the commitment that the Christian faith implies, are more inclined to shrug their shoulders, saying in so many words, “Whatever.”

They get on with our lives as though it doesn’t make any difference whether they believe or not. After all, they rationalize, God’s existence can hardly be proven or, for that matter, disproved so, why bother our heads over something we can’t know?

William Sloane Coffin, a man who grasped the implications of what it means to be a Christian, said that for him, faith is much more than believing in a slew of dogmas. According to Coffin, “Faith isn’t believing without proof. It’s trusting without reservation.”

Faith in God, in that sense, is more like you say to your son or daughter, “Honey, I believe in you. I know you can do it.” That kind of belief is based more on trust than on logic. That kind of faith can energize us and cast out doubts.

If I believe in God in that way, any hesitation vanishes. God is as real as life and love and the air we breathe and the trust we have in our best friend. Far from wondering if I am wasting a half-hour of my time in prayer, I should be on my knees 24/7 for I tread on sacred ground. If God is truly the source of all that is good and holy and beautiful, being in his presence is exactly where I should be.

Welcoming “Monsters” into Your Life

Coping With our Monsters

Not all monsters are the furry, scary kind that inhabits the nightmares of little children. According to Peter Skaife, a Northern California spiritual counselor, who has written a fascinating book on the subject, monsters are a part of all of our lives. Skaife defines a monster as “anything, that at this moment, bothers me, irritates me or interferes with my life.”

I have to admit that it took me some time for my mind to get around this definition of a monster. Wait a minute. Say that again. A monster is what?

As I understand it, monsters are sort of like the “good angels” that the nuns told us about in religion class, the spirits that perch on our shoulders counseling us to do the right thing. We don’t always welcome their presence because, frankly, monsters are so damn honest. Most of us don’t appreciate being reminded of the dumb things we have done or the good things we didn’t do. That’s why they irritate us.

On the other hand, monsters are loyal friends because they won’t let us down. They represent our better selves to ourselves. They are our healers, our spiritual directors, and our conscience.

In his book, Skaife reveals his own personal monsters who “notice when I crowd my life and fill my schedule with activities, to avoid paying attention to the things that bother me,” and the monsters who “teach me that every day of my life is a lifetime and who “want me to live each day as fully as I can.” His monsters also “see when I do things to impress myself and other people. They want me to know they are not impressed.”

Monsters see through us and won’t take our b.s. “Hey,” they prod us, “You’re better than that. You know that you were created in the image and likeness of God. You can change the world if you believe in yourself; let’s get cracking.”

The deal is, our monsters are right (damn them); we do yearn to be that person, making our world a better place. When we follow that voice within, we know we are tooling down the freeway clicking on all our cylinders. Doing the right thing is its own reward, baby.

But, being human, sometimes we screw up. We cheat on our spouse, or goof off at work, or copy a term paper that someone did for us on the internet, or pretend to be knowledgeable about something we know nothing about, “faking it” in a thousand different ways so that we can impress people.

Our monsters remind us of our foibles. That’s why they bother us. We don’t like to be nagged by monsters that know that we are capable of doing, way better, who know our dignity and potential..

Like our very best of friends, the monsters continue to call us to be the best we can be. They remind us when we slough off our responsibilities to our kids or to our spouse or to our community. Loving us dearly, they forgive us but want us to know, they are not going away. They will continue to bother us and interfere with our life. That’s what monsters do.

Are monsters real? You betcha! They are as real as Santa and the man on the moon and the play of children. But, like so many of our myths, they express profound truths about ourselves. We all need to be reminded of our uniqueness as human beings, of our potential for good, of our connectedness with the universe.

If letting monsters into our lives help us to realize all that we are and all that we can be, I say, “Monsters, Welcome aboard!”