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.

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.

May 8: Anniversary blessings

While I did not attend Mass in a church today (listened to it on the radio), I fondly recalled my wedding Mass 20 years ago on this date. It was a windy, overcast day; my father had accidentally dropped my wedding gown on the floor; and my mother was recovering from the removal of some sort of killer corn that clearly was more painful than anything ever experienced by another human being. Still, nothing could cloud the beauty of my wedding day.

To be honest, my parents were nervous, although I don’t understand why. By the time I got married I was 34, so you think they’d have been ready to push me up the aisle. But that’s how my family rolls. And so they had to be forgiven for their clumsy hands and corn complaints. As I recall, absolutely everything else about that day was perfect.

I wish I could remember the words Monsignor Ashton said during his homily. It’s a shame that I don’t, but I do remember kneeling at the foot of Mary’s statue while the organist sang “Ave Maria,” and I remember that our communion song was “One Bread, One Body.” I distinctly remember telling my bridesmaids that they could cut the long black dresses I’d asked them to wear so they could reuse them — a huge lie told by many a bride and one that I had sworn I’d never tell. Getting married makes you do crazy things.

It has been a wild 20 years, and I can honestly say I haven’t been bored for a minute. It’s because of my husband that I’ve chosen to reconsider my faith and what it means to me, and because of him that I’ve gone back to Mass on a regular basis. I’ve also lost the “Catholic guilt” that I carried around for a few decades, while increasing my appreciation of what it means to be a Catholic. At the same time, every Mass I attend or listen to on the radio makes me think about the faults of the Church, especially of the abuse that went on (and possibly still goes on).

If I had the short-sighted faith I once I had, I would have left the Church for good in 2002. Even now, it’s hard to look at a priest and not wonder if he was hurting others. What has made me go on is realizing that the Church is really God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They put mortals in charge of it, and mortals have a tendency to screw up. It’s unfortunate, especially when the problems are so severe and so hurtful to many.

It’s very flawed. And so is marriage, to be honest. So is just about any situation you encounter with another human being. You get angry, become self-involved, hurt someone else, let others hurt you. It’s messy. We don’t expect that kind of a mess when it comes to the Church. Then again, I wasn’t expecting some of the messy moments during my marriage.

If you’re lucky, you learn from the mistakes and move on. That’s what my husband and I have done. It’s what the Church is trying to do, but it’s hard when new stories emerge on a fairly consistent basis. I feel like I got a do-over more than once in my marriage, and it helped a lot. I demand a do-over for the Church. It’s the only chance of saving the relationship.

May 7: Some Quiet Time

Today, I’m sitting in a perfectly empty cathedral. I got here after Mass was over, and I’m actually pretty happy. It’s just me and the saint statues, and so I’m getting in some private reflection.

I clearly have it better than poor Stephen, who in today’s first reading ticks off his opponents enough that they stone him to death. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit,” he says to them, along with some other choice words.

Back at my computer, it’s time to visit dictionary.com. Stiff-necked: The first definition literally says, “having a stiff neck.” The protesters didn’t all sleep funny the night before; that can’t be what we’re looking for. The second definition hits the nail on the head: “haughty and obstinate.” There was a new way of looking at things, and they didn’t want to see it; they didn’t want to give up the old and try the new. But Stephen was really persistent and many saw him as blasphemous. That didn’t stop him from preaching the Gospel until his death. Feeling like you could use St. Stephen’s courage in your own life? Well, he is the patron saint of deacons, headaches, horses, coffin makers, and masons. If you have a horse or are experiencing a headache, Stephen is your man. But like all the saints, you are permitted to call on him to intervene anytime you want.

May 6: Monday, Sunny Monday

It is a beautiful sunny day in Cleveland, and the perfect time to get back to writing about the Mass. Today, I was at the Cathedral downtown, where there was a nice amount of people on hand. (Does sunshine coax more people out of their homes/offices and into church?)

Things are not so sunny for Stephen in today’s first reading. Stephen is preaching the word of Christ and speaking very eloquently, and the elders don’t like it. They bring their grievances to the Sanhedrin.


“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law.
For we have heard him claim
that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place
and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”

Acts 6:8-15

Can we blame them for being upset? They had years and years of living their faith in a certain way, and then Jesus came along to say it was supposed to be different. And then they feel like they can relax because Jesus is no longer around, but then he’s got disciples coming out of the woodwork, talking about Christ and trying to convert people to Christianity.

Things don’t end well for Stephen. In fact, he is considered to be the first martyr of the Church. But it’s also said that Stephen was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he had to go out and talk about Jesus and Christianity. Can you imagine being that filled with the Holy Spirit? I have to ask myself, if I knew it was dangerous would I stand up and proclaim my faith or run as fast as my feet could carry me? I’d like to think the answer would be the former; luckily, I have yet to be put to the test.

Wed., April 17: Doggone It

On my way out of church today, a woman walked in with her dog. This was not a service dog; it was an every day energetic spaniel mix on a basic leash. The woman had obviously been on a walk with the dog — the blue poop bag in her left hand (which appeared to be empty at the moment) was a good clue — and decided to stop into the cathedral.

At first, I was going to do my sideways, middle-aged glance as a mild form of contempt. Throwing a bit of shade, as it were. Then I thought, so what? Who cares if this woman was out for a stroll with her dog and decided it would be great if they both went inside? Maybe the dog was sick and its owner wanted to say a quick healing prayer. Perhaps she had a sick relative or a pressing concern and this was the only time she could step inside the church to pray. Maybe she just felt like walking in with her dog because, why not?

I’m sure St. Francis had animals wandering in and out of his monastery. If you visited an ancient church in a faraway village, you might see a dog or a goat pad down the aisle. Why not in downtown Cleveland? Instead of looking askance, I gave the woman a smile. Peace be with you, and with your little dog, too.