Tag Archives: Discipleship

Where Bombs Come From

Today, one of my Facebook friends posted a short video that has been widely circulated. A portion of the heartrending recording shows two young Syrian boys grieving the loss of their brother, who was killed by a barrel bomb during an airstrike in Aleppo.

How can we do such horrific things?

Walking is one of my preferred forms of exercise. On a recent walk, I recognized the face of someone approaching from the opposite direction. He was not a friend. In fact, I knew only his face and not his name; but, it was a beautiful day, one that naturally lent itself to cordiality. So, as we drew near to one another, I nodded and offered a greeting. He returned my greeting, and we stopped to exchange pleasantries.

During our conversation, we discovered that we had a mutual acquaintance – a person who, in my experience, has always shown himself to be consistently thoughtful and kind. I mentioned that this mutual acquaintance was a really wonderful man. At that, my conversation partner paused briefly and then said: “Of course, not everyone would agree with you.”

When he uttered these words, I felt my heart drop in my chest. I asked no follow-up questions and quickly changed the subject. Our conversation soon ended, and we parted company.

The New Testament Letter of James offers a stern warning about the power of the tongue. In a passage that always makes me squirm, James writes:

“Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:5b-8)

When I saw the video earlier today, I almost immediately recalled my recent encounter while walking.

I intend no disparagement. In fact, if I indict anyone, I indict only myself. How often have I casually uttered unkind words? How often have I sewn corrupted seeds by malicious use of my tongue? How often have I surreptitiously attacked my neighbor while failing to recognize my own violence?

Weapons come in many shapes and sizes. Some cause instantaneous destruction and pain while others simmer and slowly corrupt from within.

I wonder…

Might bombs be the ultimate product of our untamed tongues?

Faith

there is another Way
neither rejection nor grand delusion
a third path
holy, often silent… sometimes torturously so

questions are permitted
even doubts

stridency, militancy… born of fear
these are the enemies
of that third and quiet Way
of immersion

pilot lights still burn
though softly

urgent moments screech
then settle into recesses of memory and history
mine… and others’
swallowed by that blessed stillness…

of the moment
that teaches everything
but for just that moment
then beckons, darkly, onward

“this little light of mine”
step by step
pages of the deeper story
relaxed and unfolded by human tears

yours… and mine

On Synods and Samaritans

In the opening chapter of her widely read book, Forming Intentional Disciples, author Sherry Weddell paints a troubling – at least for concerned Catholics – statistical picture of trends in the Church’s membership. Simply put, in the United States and other Western countries, the Catholic Church is bleeding members and has been for quite some time.

The reasons for Catholic defections are as complex as the people involved; still, I believe Weddell is on target when she points to insufficient evangelization and catechesis as key factors. Particularly telling is her anecdotal evidence from active Catholics she encountered during her research. Even among those serving in leadership positions within their parishes, many do not self-identify as disciples of Jesus.

The hard truth is that faith-formation for adult Catholics, at least in the West, is seriously deficient; and, that problem has enormous implications for the Church and her remaining members.

—–

In recent weeks, there has been a media firestorm raging around the Synod on the Family, convened by Pope Francis. One of the more controversial issues addressed by the Synod fathers was a proposal by Cardinal Kasper to make the Eucharist, which Catholics believe to be the “Real Presence” of Jesus, more readily available to divorced Catholics who have remarried (via a civil service) without having their prior marriage officially annulled by the Church.

Some of the Cardinal’s brother bishops were quite outspoken against his proposal, their rationale being that Jesus specifically proclaimed marriage to be indissoluble. While I have great respect for those bishops and their office in the Church, I wonder if their position is pastorally insensitive and, more importantly, inconsistent with the example set by Jesus himself.

—–

When the Nicene Creed is recited during a Catholic Mass, all present are instructed to bow their heads as these words are spoken of Jesus: “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This gesture of reverence honors one of the most sublime teachings of the Church, the Incarnation – namely, that the second Person of the Holy Trinity actually became human and, in the words of John’s Gospel, “pitched His tent among us” (John 1:14), i.e., became intimately and permanently connected to humankind.

In the person of Jesus, the perfect God, incapable of suffering, as an act of gratuitous love, willingly entered into our dysfunctional, unjust, and often brutal world, embraced our pain and struggles, and drew the broken human experience into the very heart of God.

In his ministry, Jesus loved people, even – or, perhaps, especially – messy and/or misguided and/or hurting people; and, his uncompromising charity inevitably got him into trouble with those preoccupied with legal observance.

In the Gospels, we often find Jesus transgressing established religious and cultural conventions to personally encounter people in need. I am reminded, for example, of the occasion when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand and, in doing so, raised the ire of religious leaders because he had done prohibited work on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). On another occasion, when his hungry disciples plucked ears of grain on the Sabbath, again the religious leaders protested, leading Jesus to say, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). And, then there’s John 4:1-42, where we find the famous encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan “woman at the well.” Much could be said about this story, which has inspired prayerful reflection for centuries; but, I will limit my observations to a few pertinent details.

This woman’s marital status was far from a model of holiness. She’d had five different husbands and, at the time she met Jesus, was living with a man who was not her husband. Yet, Jesus – the original “Real Presence” – went and met her in her chaotic moral circumstances; and, that encounter transformed her life. In fact, as a result, she became an evangelist among her people.

This timeless story is a marvelous example of pastoral need trumping religious conventions. After all, according to accepted practice among Jews of his time, Jesus should never have conversed with the (enemy) Samaritan woman at all. Even his disciples were reportedly shocked that he did so.

I can’t help wondering…

Why did Jesus’ disciples try to keep the little children away from him when Jesus just wanted to love and bless them? (Luke 18:15-17)

Why did people try to silence and exclude the blind Bartimaeus as he cried out for Jesus’ help from the side of the road? (Mark 10:46-52)

Why did John and the other disciples forbid a man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not a part of their company, while Jesus would have permitted him to do so? (Luke 9:49)

Why are Jesus’ disciples, both then and now, tempted to push back against what is so obviously happening in the Incarnation?

The Gospels reveal a “Real Presence” who delights in reaching out to, and healing, those who are marginalized. Jesus said it best:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12b-13)

Mercy was at the heart of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal.

—–

As some Synod fathers indicated, Jesus’ own words on the closely related topics of divorce and adultery do seem uncompromising (see Matthew 5:31-32). When reading such strong words, however, we must resist adopting a strictly literalist interpretation. In evidence, I offer the verses immediately preceding, wherein Jesus says:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.** 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

I apologize in advance for being so blunt; but, if a Synod father is struggling with a habit of viewing pornography and/or with masturbation, must he take the Lord’s words literally and maim himself? Of course not.

The words of Jesus must be seen and interpreted within the entirety of His ministry, i.e., in light of just such encounters as He had with the woman at the well.

—–

If, as Sherry Weddell convincingly argues, many adult Catholics are inadequately formed in their faith, several vital questions concerning marriage logically follow. For example: Do the average Catholic bride and groom truly understand the Sacramental character of marriage? Do both parties self-identify as disciples of Jesus? If not, what foundation exists upon which to build a Sacramental marriage? Are both parties active members of a parish? And, if so, does their parish offer ongoing support to enrich and strengthen marriages? Are both parties emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually prepared to enter into a Sacramental marriage? And, was the marriage preparation program in their parish sufficient to meet their needs in these important areas?

Surely it is worth our consideration that a vocation to priesthood or religious life is very carefully discerned over a period of years by both the person seeking the vocation and by those charged with his/her formation. Marriage is also a life-long vocation, yet nothing remotely approaching that level of formation and discernment is offered by the Church for her members. This seems to me a serious injustice.

—–

Recently, Pope Francis, in comments made during an audience with the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement, anguished over the current state of marriage, opining that the Sacrament has been devalued and “made a social event.”

Assuming the Pope’s assessment is accurate, one just might find a root of marriage’s devaluation in the Baltimore Catechism’s cartoon-based vocational ranking system. Therein, one cartoon depicting a newly married couple is juxtaposed to another depicting someone in religious life. The first image carries the label “This is good” while the second is captioned “This is better.”

I’ve often wondered how deeply ingrained that mentality – and its sister, clericalism – is in the Church that I love.

—–

The Holy Father went on to call for couples to engage in “profound” preparation for Sacramental marriage – a call that would seem to place an onus for formation squarely on the Church’s shoulders.

—–

I favor Cardinal Kasper’s position because I believe it to be just, merciful, and true to the example given us by Jesus. And, I will go a step further.

My hope is that the final product of next year’s Synod will be a document within which the Church publicly repents of her negligence of marriage, opens the doors widely to the faithful scarred by divorce, and details a clear path toward strengthening the Sacramental marriages of her children.

“Listening” by Steve Dalton

Preface:

Of late, I’ve had precious little time to write, but I have been doing a lot of thinking… often with pain in my heart over the divisions in our broken world.

I’m re-posting this essay (below) for two reasons: 1.) because it’s important to me, and I feel that it speaks to the pain I’ve been experiencing of late; and, 2.) Although more that 260 people subscribe to this blog, only 29 – according to the WordPress stats – have actually read it.

I hope you’ll take the time. And, I hope this blesses you in some small way.

————————-

Like you, I have a lens through which I view and interpret the world. It is a lens forged by the entirety of my life — my religious formation, for sure, but also my upbringing, my relationships, my education, my opportunities, my inclinations, my struggles and losses, and my many mistakes. I make no claim that mine is a perfect lens. In fact, when I go to prayer each morning, I do so with the stark awareness of my need to see more clearly.

My vocation, at least in part, is to consent to the gradual sharpening of my vision by God’s own hand, which will happen as I do a disciple’s work, namely, as I listen with an open heart to the countless words of God spoken – sometimes as a whisper – into my life each day.

On a continuum, be it religious or political, my lens (or worldview) falls somewhere between far left and far right. From my vantage point, when I look in either direction, I see friends whom I love and value, who are themselves words of God infused with profound meaning and deserving of my utmost consideration.

If I speak from my worldview, my place along the continuum, and express a perspective at odds with yours, I hope you will be patient with me. And, I hope you will recognize that I have arrived at my position after careful soul-searching… and often with an anguish born of love.

Most individuals, I believe, follow a similarly thoughtful path of discernment on important issues. In our politically-volatile culture, however, even good, sensitive people seem prone to lose sight of this.

The world may indeed have its share of small-minded people, spouting bigotries and reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the issues of the day. Nonetheless, to presume such a disposition in another, especially on the sole basis of a conflicting worldview, seems a grave offense against that person’s dignity. Further, presuming such a disposition of an entire group or community of people (e.g., “traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholics; or, members of the “Tea Party” or the “Occupy Movement”) represents, in my opinion, a genuine flirtation with evil.

We are quick these days to demonize. It is so much easier, after all, to brand and dismiss someone than it is to listen thoughtfully to the circumstances that have shaped that person’s perspective. Such is the carelessness of our age; and, we collectively suffer as a result. The chasms between us are sometimes shockingly wide and deep. But love and respect are a marvelous bridge and a reason for hope.

I am pro-life. I say that with no intent to confront or accuse, though some may hear it as such. I say it though painfully aware of the exploitative, abusive, and terribly irresponsible behavior so often manifest in those of my gender. I say it with shame for the ways in which such behavior has been manifest in me. I am truly sorry! And, I am pro-life!

Perhaps it will help if I explain that I see all life as proceeding from the mind of a loving God. When I see you, regardless of your worldview, I see one who has been intended for all eternity, who has been “spoken” into existence purposefully, and who has a worth well beyond my comprehension. God does not waste words!

For us, however, language is often a big problem. Civil discourse has all but evaporated because of, what I call, a “contraceptive mentality” (i.e., an automatic tendency to close our minds and dig in our heels the moment certain buzz words or phrases are uttered, such as “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” etc.). Such barriers – or shields, to borrow an image from Star Trek – prevent the life-generating sharing of our human stories and prohibit discovery of what we hold in common, including our shared beliefs and frailties.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)

Do we believe this in practice? What if, for example, one of two is a so-called “American Catholic” and the other an unapologetic “Papist?” Before considering the possible tenor of their conversation, perhaps we should wonder if they ever would “gather” in the first place… in the name of the Lord they both profess.

It seems nearly irresistible to mock the “left-wing loon” or the “right-wing bigot,” as though the entirety of that person’s life, the complex circumstances that have forged her/his worldview, has no validity. How can we miss this injustice in ourselves?

It hurts terribly to be branded! And, make no mistake; we are diminished profoundly by branding others!

So, we remain a polarized people, living in fear and anger, suspicious of each other, and yet craving to be understood and accepted.

We are wary of the absolutists, who seem to be all around us (sometimes, I’ve discovered, even hiding in my mirror); still, we thirst for the Absolute!

There is a creed that I profess. In faith, I embrace the elements of that creed as “objectively true” in the fullest sense of that phrase. My understanding of these truths, however, remains a work-in-progress, especially regarding their practical and pastoral application. I am reminded here of the traditional definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As a person of faith, my life’s work is to strive for a deeper understanding of all of God’s wonderful words — the ones printed on pages in holy books that I treasure… and, the ones who will pass by me, some on my left and some on my right, as I live this day.

The gift that is this day!

Re-Birth: An Instruction Manual?

Upon the birth of a first child, someone among the new parents’ family and friends will most likely – and with the best of intentions – observe (about the baby): “It’s too bad they don’t come with an instruction manual.”

Parenting is indeed a learn-as-you-go proposition; however, looking back on our own steep learning curve, I wonder how Marianne and I may have benefitted from just such a handy tool.

When our youngest grandchild, Benjamin, was baptized, the administering priest, Fr. Raymond, used the opportunity to provide all in attendance with a strikingly beautiful catechesis on that foundational Sacrament. I remember leaving the church with the very clear conviction that Benjamin had just been “re-born” in Christ.

Thinking back to that joyful day, I’ve been doing a bit of prayerful reflection on what a post-Baptism “re-birth” instruction manual might contain.

If an instruction manual were to accompany a first baby, it would be written specifically for the new parents. A “re-birth” instruction manual, however, would be primarily for the baptized. Of course, if the “new creation” in Christ could not yet read or comprehend the manual, the instructions could temporarily be implemented by the parents and god-parents, but with the clear understanding that the new Christian must assume personal responsibility for implementation upon reaching maturity.

Please bear in mind that what follows is not intended to be comprehensive. These are just some of my “musings.”

—–

Congratulations! You are a “new creation” in Christ. In order to experience fully the benefits of your transformation, please do the following, and repeat each step as necessary:

  • Appreciate that, in all circumstances, you are loved by God beyond the furthest limits of your imagination.
  • Know that you have always been in the mind, heart, and plan of God. And, at just the right moment in history, God purposely “spoke” you into the world.
  • Recognize that God intends community among people and has deliberately woven us together so intricately that everything we do impacts the broader human family. You yourself are a communal being. Always keep this in mind.
  • Confront, with humility and faith, the tragic reality of sin and its implications for you personally and for the world.
  • Understand that, if you were able to conquer sin within yourself, you would have no need for a Savior.
  • Always rejoice in the great Savior you have been given.
  • Be grateful that God has gifted you with authentic power, significance, and freedom; but, also recognize that, because of these gifts – and the divinely-ordained communal nature of the human family – you must always act with discernment and love.
  • Because all are sinners, you and your neighbors alike will often fail to perfectly carry out the instruction immediately above. Consequently, you will wound, and be wounded by, others. Never despair!
  • Seek and dispense forgiveness liberally.
  • Trust that God can bring good from even the greatest tragedy.
  • Know beyond a doubt, however, that God never causes a tragedy to bring about a good purpose.
  • At times, you may be tempted to see yourself as ugly, unlovable, a mistake, an inconvenience, a burden, a failure, a disappointment, etc. Recognize and absolutely reject these lies, which are designed to steal the truth of your identity and dignity in Christ.
  • Cherish that God knows you intimately; and, rejoice that God wishes to be intimately known by you.
  • Seek God constantly in prayer. And, when prayer is dry, persevere. And, when prayer is drier still, persevere further.
  • Study God’s revealed truth.
  • Recognize that God chooses to speak revealed truth through human agents; so, it is vitally important to discern the voice of God from the voice of God’s agents. Trust the Church’s guidance, as well as the noble work of scholars and theologians in these matters.
  • Humbly seek a spiritual director to guide your journey in Christ.
  • Appreciate that the created world is holy. So, when you observe the majesty of the mountains, the raw power of the ocean, the beauty of the night sky, or the miracle of a tiny wildflower, see God as their Creator, and know that God has perfected their beauty precisely for you.
  • Richly and gratefully partake of the Sacraments of the Church, which heal, feed, and ennoble your interior life.
  • Become an active member of a faith community. You will quickly discover that your gifts complement those of your brothers and sisters; and, you will experience life more completely.
  • Be gentle and patient with your neighbors, who may be bearing a greater burden than you realize.
  • Use your words to build up, but never to tear down.
  • Make sure that your life of faith never deteriorates into an ideology that will set you at odds with your brothers and sisters.
  • Learn to live serenely with things beyond your control, always trusting in God’s ultimate goodness and sovereignty.
  • Share your time, treasure, and talent with great generosity.
  • Be patient.
  • Treasure innocence.
  • Listen, always, for the voice of God.

—–

Thoughts?

Listening

(NOTE: When I started this blog, I uploaded a number of essays all at once so that there would be content there if/when people visited the site. After checking the stats, I now see that those few early postings got quickly buried and, thus, were seen by very few people. I’ll be re-posting four or five of them, beginning with this essay (below) titled “Listening.”)

—–

Like you, I have a lens through which I view and interpret the world. It is a lens forged by the entirety of my life — my religious formation, for sure, but also my upbringing, my relationships, my education, my opportunities, my inclinations, my struggles and losses, and my many mistakes. I make no claim that mine is a perfect lens. In fact, when I go to prayer each morning, I do so with the stark awareness of my need to see more clearly.

My vocation, at least in part, is to consent to the gradual sharpening of my vision by God’s own hand, which will happen as I do a disciple’s work, namely, as I listen with an open heart to the countless words of God spoken – sometimes as a whisper – into my life each day.

On a continuum, be it religious or political, my lens (or worldview) falls somewhere between far left and far right. From my vantage point, when I look in either direction, I see friends whom I love, who are themselves words of God infused with profound meaning and deserving of my utmost consideration.

If I speak from my worldview, my place along the continuum, and express a perspective at odds with yours, I hope you will be patient with me. And, I hope you will recognize that I have arrived at my position after careful soul-searching… and often with an anguish born of love.

Most people, I believe, follow a similarly thoughtful path of discernment. In our politically volatile culture, however, even good, sensitive people seem prone to lose sight of this.

The world may indeed have its share of small-minded people, spouting bigotries and reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the issues of the day. Nonetheless, to presume such a disposition in another, especially on the sole basis of a conflicting worldview, seems a grave offense against that person’s dignity. Further, presuming such a disposition of an entire group or community of people (e.g., “traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholics; or, members of the “Tea Party” or the “Occupy Movement”) represents, in my opinion, a genuine flirtation with evil.

We are quick, these days, to demonize. It is so much easier, after all, to brand and dismiss someone than it is to listen thoughtfully to the circumstances that have shaped that person’s perspective. Such is the carelessness of our age; and, we collectively suffer as a result. The chasms between us are sometimes shockingly wide and deep. But love and respect are a marvelous bridge and a reason for hope.

I am pro-life. I say that with no intent to confront or accuse, though some may hear it as such. I say it though painfully aware of the exploitative, abusive, and terribly irresponsible behavior so often manifest in those of my gender. I say it with shame for the ways in which such behavior has been manifest in me. I am truly sorry! And, I am pro-life!

Perhaps it will help if I explain that I see all life as proceeding from the mind of a loving God. When I see you, regardless of your worldview, I see one who has been intended for all eternity, who has been “spoken” into existence purposefully, and who has a worth well beyond my comprehension. God does not waste words!

For us, however, language is often a big problem. Civil discourse has all but evaporated because of, what I call, a “contraceptive mentality” (i.e., an automatic tendency to close our minds and dig in our heels the moment certain buzz words or phrases are uttered, such as “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” etc.). Such barriers – or shields, to borrow an image from Star Trek – prevent the life-generating sharing of our human stories and prohibit discovery of what we hold in common, including our shared beliefs and frailties.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)

Do we believe this in practice? What if, for example, one of two is a strident so-called “American Catholic” and the other an unapologetic “Papist?” Before considering the possible tenor of their conversation, perhaps we should wonder if they ever would “gather” in the first place… in the name of the Lord they both profess.

It seems irresistible to mock the “left-wing loon” or the “right-wing bigot,” as though the entirety of a person’s life, the complex circumstances that have forged her/his worldview, has no validity. How can we miss this injustice in ourselves?

It hurts terribly to be branded! And, make no mistake; we are diminished profoundly by branding others!

So, we remain a polarized people, living in fear and anger, suspicious of each other, and yet craving to be understood and accepted.

There is a creed that I profess. In faith, I embrace the elements of that creed as “objectively true” in the fullest sense of that phrase. My understanding of these truths, however, remains a work-in-progress, especially regarding their practical and pastoral application. I am reminded of the traditional definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As a person of faith, my life’s work is to strive for a deeper understanding of all of God’s wonderful words – the ones printed on pages in holy books that I treasure… and, the ones who will pass by me, some on my left and some on my right, as I live this day.

The gift that is this day!

“Listening”

Like you, I have a lens through which I view and interpret the world. It is a lens forged by the entirety of my life — my religious formation, for sure, but also my upbringing, my relationships, my education, my opportunities, my inclinations, my struggles and losses, and my many mistakes. I make no claim that mine is a perfect lens. In fact, when I go to prayer each morning, I do so with the stark awareness of my need to see more clearly.

My vocation, at least in part, is to consent to the gradual sharpening of my vision by God’s own hand, which will happen as I do a disciple’s work, namely, as I listen with an open heart to the countless words of God spoken – sometimes as a whisper – into my life each day.

On a continuum, be it religious or political, my lens (or worldview) falls somewhere between far left and far right. From my vantage point, when I look in either direction, I see friends whom I love, who are themselves words of God infused with profound meaning and deserving of my utmost consideration.

If I speak from my worldview, my place along the continuum, and express a perspective at odds with yours, I hope you will be patient with me. And, I hope you will recognize that I have arrived at my position after careful soul-searching… and often with an anguish born of love.

Most people, I believe, follow a similarly thoughtful path of discernment. In our politically volatile culture, however, even good, sensitive people seem prone to lose sight of this.

The world may indeed have its share of small-minded people, spouting bigotries and reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the issues of the day. Nonetheless, to presume such a disposition in another, especially on the sole basis of a conflicting worldview, seems a grave offense against that person’s dignity. Further, presuming such a disposition of an entire group or community of people (e.g., “traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholics; or, members of the “Tea Party” or the “Occupy Movement”) represents, in my opinion, a genuine flirtation with evil.

We are quick, these days, to demonize. It is so much easier, after all, to brand and dismiss someone than it is to listen thoughtfully to the circumstances that have shaped that person’s perspective. Such is the carelessness of our age; and, we collectively suffer as a result. The chasms between us are sometimes shockingly wide and deep. But love and respect are a marvelous bridge and a reason for hope.

I am pro-life. I say that with no intent to confront or accuse, though some may hear it as such. I say it though painfully aware of the exploitative, abusive, and terribly irresponsible behavior so often manifest in those of my gender. I say it with shame for the ways in which such behavior has been manifest in me. I am truly sorry! And, I am pro-life!

Perhaps it will help if I explain that I see all life as proceeding from the mind of a loving God. When I see you, regardless of your worldview, I see one who has been intended for all eternity, who has been “spoken” into existence purposefully, and who has a worth well beyond my comprehension. God does not waste words!

For us, however, language is often a big problem. Civil discourse has all but evaporated because of, what I call, a “contraceptive mentality” (i.e., an automatic tendency to close our minds and dig in our heels the moment certain buzz words or phrases are uttered, such as “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” etc.). Such barriers – or shields, to borrow an image from Star Trek – prevent the life-generating sharing of our human stories and prohibit discovery of what we hold in common, including our shared beliefs and frailties.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)

Do we believe this in practice? What if, for example, one of two is a strident so-called “American Catholic” and the other an unapologetic “Papist?” Before considering the possible tenor of their conversation, perhaps we should wonder if they ever would “gather” in the first place… in the name of the Lord they both profess.

It seems irresistible to mock the “left-wing loon” or the “right-wing bigot,” as though the entirety of a person’s life, the complex circumstances that have forged her/his worldview, has no validity. How can we miss this injustice in ourselves?

It hurts terribly to be branded! And, make no mistake; we are diminished profoundly by branding others!

So, we remain a polarized people, living in fear and anger, suspicious of each other, and yet craving to be understood and accepted.

There is a creed that I profess. In faith, I embrace the elements of that creed as “objectively true” in the fullest sense of that phrase. My understanding of these truths, however, remains a work-in-progress, especially regarding their practical and pastoral application. I am reminded of the traditional definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As a person of faith, my life’s work is to strive for a deeper understanding of all of God’s wonderful words – the ones printed on pages in holy books that I treasure… and, the ones who will pass by me, some on my left and some on my right, as I live this day.

The gift that is this day!