Do Catholics Need Yard Signs?

“Black Lives Matter” and “In this house, we believe…” signs proliferate the main drags and side streets of my community. It is often not enough to have one of each sign in a yard; many homes plant several at the very edge of their tree lawns. It has begun to look like whoever can get their sign closest to the curb can claim victory as the most just in the neighborhood.

On our community website, one person even went so far as to ask, “What does this say about the people who don’t have signs in their yards?”

I thought long and hard about that. Because we believe in the dignity of all people, regardless of race, and we denounce injustices based on the color of someone’s skin. But we don’t have a sign in our yard. Our sign to others is treating everyone with the same dignity as we would expect to receive, helping people who are oppressed and speaking out against racist and other wrong behavior we might encounter.

In addition, we don’t put a “We believe” sign in our yard, because we already have a mantra that speaks to it, and it comes from our Catholic faith. What’s more, our mantra goes well beyond the sign, as it speaks to the dignity of all human life, from the very beginning to the natural end.

I understand the feeling of desperation in times like this to decry what is perceived as grievous slights against humanity. And yet, I have found myself drawing closer and closer to my faith in addressing these issues. “Love one another as I have loved you.” That would make a great sign! But it is also a call to action that is more powerful than words on cardboard.

If we live our lives in such a way that extends love without looking at skin color or economic background or any other factors that can divide us, we are like walking billboards for Christ. Our actions can and should speak louder than words, and those actions should give witness to the fact that God created us all and thus we are all entitled to the same love and compassion.

The “We believe” signs have become a kind of secular creed. Let’s not forget that as Catholics, we have a creed and a faith that can make a difference in the world. If we live to that point every day, our message of unity and peace will be clear.

Baubles for Jesus

Some friends and I were recently discussing how, although St. Peter’s Basilica and The Vatican are beautiful structures, the amount of ornamentation in each seems out of place for a religion focused on humility and helping the poor. The first time I attended a Mass at St. Peter’s, I couldn’t help but wonder if some amount of world hunger could be alleviated by selling all of the jewels the church contained. That may have been my young, idealistic mind at work, but even today it seems hard to reconcile with all of the wealth that can be found in some (but not all) Catholic churches.

The Basilica, in all its magnificent and ostentatious beauty

That is why today’s gospel caught my attention. It’s not that you shouldn’t have a beautiful structure in which to praise God; it’s that you don’t need excessive ornamentation to show God that you care.

While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
He answered,
“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”

Climate and conscience

I found today’s gospel very apt, even 2,000 years later.

Gospel Lk 12:54-59

Jesus said to the crowds,
“When you see a cloud rising in the west
you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does;
and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south
you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is.
You hypocrites!
You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky;
why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate,
make an effort to settle the matter on the way;
otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge,
and the judge hand you over to the constable,
and the constable throw you into prison.
I say to you, you will not be released
until you have paid the last penny.”

Plagiarism is okay when the words are good!

I have so many drafts on my WordPress site, I’m surprised it doesn’t crash. How many times can I start a post only to get turned in another direction and leave it unfinished? The answer, apparently, is quite often.

Today, then, for the sake of actually posting something, I’m not going to attempt to write about my visit to the cathedral and my moments of reflection. Instead, I’m going to turn it over to Bishop Robert Barron, one of my spiritual advisers (although he doesn’t know it). Bishop Barron offers a daily gospel reflection. It pops into my email around 3:30 every morning, and I try to make it the first item I read (around 5:30 or 6). His words explain where Jesus was coming from and where we should be going.

So without further ado, here is Bishop Barron’s gospel reflection for today:

Friends, in today’s Gospel we meet a prudent steward who serves his master wisely. I would like to say something about prudence and wisdom. In the Middle Ages, prudence was called “the queen of the virtues,” because it was the virtue that enabled one to do the right thing in a particular situation.

Prudence is a feel for the moral situation, something like the feel that a quarterback has for the playing field. Justice is a wonderful virtue, but without prudence, it is blind and finally useless. One can be as just as possible, but without a feel for the present situation, his justice will do him no good.

Wisdom, unlike prudence, is a sense of the big picture. It is the view from the hilltop. Most of us look at our lives from the standpoint of our own self-interest. But wisdom is the capacity to survey reality from the vantage point of God. Without wisdom, even the most prudent judgment will be erroneous, short-sighted, inadequate.

The combination, therefore, of prudence and wisdom is especially powerful. Someone who is both wise and prudent will have both a sense of the bigger picture and a feel for the particular situation.

Wait, there were 2 Judases?

Or should that be Judai?

At any rate, how long have I been in this Church and only today do I read the gospel and find that Jesus had two apostles named Judas? Can you imagine being the other Judas? “Oh, no, I’m not the one who took the coins. I’m the good Judas.” You might have a hard time shaking off the perceived reputation of being a traitor.

Today’s gospel tells the story of how Jesus came down from prayer and named the twelve. I would love to know how each of them made the cut. Were there several rounds, like a draft? Were some of the also-ran disciples annoyed? “That Simon Peter is such a kiss-up. He gets picked for everything.” Or perhaps, “I think that Judas Iscariot is a bad choice. I never trusted him.”

Well, everything works out for a reason, including everything related to the story of Jesus.

July 15: Week at a Glance

Let’s try this again.

Instead of the intended promise (to myself, at least) of posting every day, I’m cutting myself (and, thus, the reader) some slack and writing a weekly update. I may throw in an extra post now and then for special occasions.

Without further ado, here is the first installment of the week in review and a glimpse of the week ahead.

We came back from an amazing vacation at the Jersey Shore last Saturday, all rested and relaxed–so relaxed, apparently, that all 5 of us were nodding off during Sunday’s 8 AM Latin Mass. Now, it can be especially easy to drift asleep during the Latin Rite because the Mass moves in a melodic pattern of words from a “dead” language. If you’ve been sunning yourself and stuffing your face for the past seven days, it’s even easier.

We were in various stages of semi-consciousness, when the priest suddenly (or maybe it just seemed suddenly) began belting out a fire-and-brimstone homily. The homily, by the way, is always in English at the Latin Mass (thank goodness). The priest was probably about halfway through his sermon when his voiced raised to a dramatic pitch, and he began to remind us what being Catholic should be all about.

It certainly felt like the priest was doing this for our benefit — wake up, sleeping sinners! — but it’s more likely that he was just trying to get his point across. His stern admonitions certainly set the tone for the rest of the week.

This leads me to a confession: I don’t physically go to Mass every single day. I had every intention of doing so. Sometimes, though, your circumstances just won’t allow it, so you look for alternatives. Two of the easiest for me have been 1.) listening to morning Mass on my way to work, courtesy of EWTN radio on Sirius XM, and 2.) reading the scriptures for the day via Bishop Robert Barron. While neither of these offers the ultimate benefit of receiving the Eucharist, I can at least have some daily time with God and scripture.

With that in mind, I listened to Mass on my way to work last Monday. On Tuesday, I visited the Poor Clares Monastery in Cleveland for Eucharistic Adoration and a special treat: the chance to reconnect with a friend from grade school. Not high school or college. Grade school. As in, we lost touch after 8th grade. There were a lot of years to catch up on, and we probably made it through about half of them over lunch. Before that, we had an opportunity to visit the beautiful little chapel. It was a lovely day.

Wednesday brought another day of Mass on the road, while Thursday and Friday led me to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I lit candles in front of St. Teresa of Calcutta (for the ability to unselfishly help others) and St. Anthony (praying in advance to help me find things I’ll lose in the future).

Yesterday, the gospel was about the Good Samaritan. I could dive into political waters at this point, discussing what is and isn’t our obligation as Good Samaritans, but let’s leave it here: Any time there is an opportunity to help someone in need, we should take it. The gesture can be as small as holding the door open for someone or as large as donating a kidney to a stranger. The Good Samaritan doesn’t stop to think about what the consequences might be for him/her; the focus is always on how to help the other person.

The most important part about being a Good Samaritan is taking action, not just thinking about how important it is to treat others with kindness. So this week, the emphasis for me is on really helping others rather than pointing out the inaction of others. I’m also going to take a shot at helping others (especially my family members) without complaining. Wish me luck.

June 21: Curses

I hope I make it to church today because I need a good spiritual cleansing. This morning, as I often do, I was saying the rosary while driving. It’s usually very calming and keeps me from listening to talk radio shows that give me heartburn. Sometimes, though, I forget that I’m supposed to be in a state of holiness because, well, some people are really bad drivers.

In the middle of my first decade, right when I should be focusing on prayer and meditation, a car — no two cars — pulled out from a side street and proceeded to drive slowly across four lanes of traffic to land in front of my car. Here’s the thing: If you are going to pull out of a side street and get in front of me, do it fast. I have major respect for drivers who nearly cut someone off but immediately drive 40 miles an hour to avoid any issues. If you pull in front of me and you’re driving 15 miles an hour, though, you incur my wrath.

Which is why as soon as the second car pulled out and proceeded to drive at a snail’s pace in front of me, I lost all sense of grace.

“You JACK ASS,” I yelled to no one except myself. Then I laid on the horn because that’s as far as my road rage escalates.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to chop them into little pieces and throw them in the nearest trash can. Like, in the middle of a Hail Mary, I’m yelling “jack ass.” Who’s not feeling the spirit this morning? That would be me.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic is not my thing.

In these instances, I really think (hope) that God has a sense of humor. I mean, it’s a pretty clever piece of irony that I’m supposed to be focusing on prayer and I’m instead swearing at drivers. That’s funny, right? Right, God?

This is when your personal interpretation of the supreme being becomes particularly helpful. Who wants to think of a god that would be miffed because you chewed out a driver while praying? Maybe Jesus would have been annoyed in a similar way, although, let’s be honest, probably not. He would, of course forgive me, and that’s a good thing.

So two important musings on this sunny Friday:

  1. It’s okay to get mad at someone’s bad driving and forgive yourself for doing so.
  2. Maybe saying the rosary behind the wheel has its drawbacks.

June 17: No Resistance

How pertinent today’s gospel is, and how quickly it is to forget:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You have heard that it was said,

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.

When someone strikes you on your right cheek,

turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,

hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,

go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you,

and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:38-42

June 13: Lost & Found

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, a man who needs no introduction, especially if you know me. I have relied on this saint to find everything from my car keys to my car. He helped my daughter find her purse last winter and my son to find his spelling book when he was in third grade. Of all the saints who can make you believe that there is a God and that they have a direct connection to Him, St. Anthony is one of the greats. I could go on and on, but instead I’ll let you read this nifty article about him. And I encourage you, Catholic or not, to call on him the next time you’re lost or you lose something.

P.S. He is also really good at finding lost souls.

St. Anthony, pray for us!

June 12: (Saint) Tolton

First, a confession. Every single time I go to church, I count the number of “minorities” in the space. I am always disappointed that the majority of attendees are white; sometimes, they are all white. I grew up in a diverse community, but I didn’t know a single black person who attended a Catholic church. When the Hispanic Catholic church in town was asked to merge with our Italian-American parish, it at first caused quite a stir. Why are we not integrated in our faith, I keep asking myself.

One day on NPR, I heard a deacon speak. His name is Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers. He is black and he wrote a book about Fr. Augustine Tolton, a former slave who became the first black priest in the United States. Why hadn’t I heard of either of these men before? Now that I finally had, I couldn’t stop thinking about either of them and their challenges within the Church.

Imagine my surprise and joy this morning when I read that Pope Francis is advancing Fr. Tolton for sainthood. From the article:

Despite rampant racism and discrimination, he became one of the city’s most popular pastors, attracting members of both white and black Catholic communities. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics and worked tirelessly for his congregation in Chicago, even to the point of exhaustion. On July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke on a Chicago street at the age of 43.

He was known for persevering against all odds in pursuit of his calling and quietly devoted himself to his people, despite great difficulties and setbacks.

Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

You can read more about Fr. Tolton in the article and in the deacon’s book. God bless Fr. Tolton, hopefully soon to be St. Tolton!