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False Choices & Religious Liberty

Is There a Better Way Forward?

By John Gehring,  June 21, 2016 in Commonweal

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/false-choices-religious-liberty

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launches its annual Fortnight for Freedom campaign this week. A recent video from the conference illustrates how unhinged the debates over religious liberty have become. Pairing images of Islamic State militants ready to behead Christian prisoners with ominous warnings of the Obama administration’s harassment of religious ministries epitomizes how the hierarchy risks making itself its own worst enemy on the issue. (For more, see the recent Commonweal editorial, “Lights, Camera, Contraception?”) Even many faithful Catholics who should be most sympathetic to the church’s arguments have grown weary of the divisiveness and worry that the all-consuming quality of the religious-liberty battle now seems to define American Catholicism. At the same time, the perversion of religious liberty into a bludgeon against women’s health, workers’ rights, and LGBT equality has caused some progressives to forget that religious freedom is a fundamentally liberal value. Finding a better approach that rescues religious liberty from the culture wars is challenging, essential work.

It’s fair to say religious liberty has a damaged “brand” these days. Catholic institutions have played a role in that diminishment. Lesbian and gay teachers across the country have been fired from Catholic schools after their civil marriages have become public. Several Catholic universities are using religious liberty claims to block adjunct professors making poverty-level wages from forming unions, a move dripping with hypocrisy given centuries of Catholic social teaching defending the rights of workers and living wages. Catholic leaders have spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees fighting for more religious exemptions in contraception coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that years before health-care reform was passed some Catholic institutions, with little furor, already offered their employees insurance coverage that included birth control coverage.

The nation’s largest church needs to lower the temperature and elevate the conversation. In his visit to the White House last September, Pope Francis affirmed that religious liberty is “one of America’s most precious possessions.” American Catholics, he added, are equally “committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.” To state what should be painfully obvious, Catholics are not living in an era of despotism or facing tyrannical assaults, as some church leaders have claimed. American Muslims, in fact, have the most legitimate reasons to fear for their religious freedom. When mosques are burned, Islamophobia is a well-funded industry, and the Republican presidential nominee has proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country, Catholics must speak boldly and act with more urgency to demonstrate our solidarity with a religious minority under siege. Continue reading “False Choices & Religious Liberty”

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Maria’s Sunday Paper: This Is What’s Possible When You Open Your Eyes

I’VE BEEN THINKING

Yep, he’s at it again.

Pope Francis that is. That man has a way of getting above the noise and it’s not just because he’s the Pope. Pope Benedict rarely got my attention, but this guy… well, he’s different.

This week, Pope Francis spoke up about climate change. He directed his message at all of us and sounded an alarm that if we don’t review the choices we’re making about Mother Earth, then there will be hell to pay.

Okay, he didn’t actually say “hell,” but that was the gist. He warned that “history will judge us for our decisions” and that we “will go down” if humans fail to curb climate change. But, it was this line from his speech that really stopped me in my tracks: “When you don’t want to see … you don’t see.”

Bam. Think about that.

What do you not want to see right now? Is there something in your relationship you refuse to acknowledge? Is there something in our political world that you refuse to see? Is there something inside you that is holding you back? Are you scared or angry about something that is gnawing at you, yet you refuse to believe it?

Think about it.

All of us, at different times in our lives, have been blind to something around us or within us. I know I have been. I’ve been blind to things I should have seen and didn’t.

But today, I find myself more attuned and more aware. I see things today that I might not have seen in the past—mainly because I’ve worked to become more self-aware. I’ve worked at getting out of my head and into my heart.

When you open your heart—like, really open it—then your eyes will magically follow, and you will begin to see your whole wide world in a whole new way.

When you’re out of your head and in your heart, you can’t deny stuff. You can’t not feel. You can’t not see. Sure, when you open your heart, you might feel some painful stuff, but you can also feel moved. You can also feel inspired.

The images and stories I’ve seen and heard this week—stories of generosity, compassion and service—have been inspiring. I’ve seen stories of human triumph and perseverance. I’ve seen, heard and listened to individuals who have stepped forward to make our world better for all of us.

Now, I know this has also been a devastating week for many of our fellow citizens. That goes for those affected by the hurricanes, as well those living through the wildfires in the west. I can’t imagine being displaced from my home and losing everything. I see what people are going through and—to the best of my ability—I feel it, and I feel for them. I’ve been so shaken this week by the stories of the elderly who were left stranded after Hurricane Irma, as well as the news that eight residents of one nursing home died in the aftermath. This just exposes how much this population needs our love and attention. It’s a reminder to society that we have to prioritize their care, particularly in times of need.

Throughout all of this, I must say that I have been moved by all of the stories of people who are stepping up to help. Who are putting their own needs aside and rising to the occasion to help their fellow neighbors. The people I spoke to Tuesday night as I worked the phones for the telethon “Hand-in-Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief” were a touching reminder that love is all around us and people are eager to help. In fact, I fielded so many calls from Canadians who wanted to give, even though this didn’t happen in their country. It’s amazing, and I’m grateful to them for their generosity. (The telethon raised more than $44 million and counting. You can still give here.)

Maybe those who are stepping up to help are doing so because they know that we’re all one step away from being in our neighbor’s shoes. Or at least, I hope that’s the case. My friend Jan, who lives with her husband and four small children in Florida, told me how humbling it was to be in the midst of the hurricane and how it changed the way she sees just about everything. Like Jan, I see how fragile life can be. How meaningless all of our “stuff” is. How important it is to open our eyes to our fellow neighbors, to our individual choices, and to our common home.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for the poke, the slap, and the nudge. If you’re still one of those people who doesn’t want to see… get out of your head and into your heart. You will be amazed at what you might see.

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Source: Maria’s Sunday Paper: This Is What’s Possible When You Open Your Eyes

Maria’s Sunday Paper is back after her spiritual break

I’VE BEEN THINKING

Good Sunday morning to you!

I’m writing this as I would write a note to a friend who I haven’t spoken to in awhile. I’m back from my self-imposed spiritual break and wanted to check in. How are you? How is your world? How are you feeling on this day about our larger world?

I know I don’t have to ask that question of Mother Earth. She feels as angry as she’s ever been. But, I hope those living directly in her path feel supported by the outpouring of love, unity and assistance that is coming their way.

At a time like this, it almost feels mundane for me to talk about my time away this past month. But, The Sunday Paper is dedicated to trying to provide a sanctuary and a moment of reprieve from the storms that surround us — be they climate-related, political, or otherwise. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll bring you up to date on my last few weeks.

My time away in August was wonderful and productive. Before I left, I wrote down a list of intentions for my break. I wanted to step back from the noise of our world so that I could reflect, reconnect and approach my life and work with a renewed sense of passion and purpose.

There were so many times along the way that I wanted to jump back into the world of social media to comment on this or that (North Korea, Charlottesville, Heather Heyer and her inspiring mom, Houston and Hurricane Harvey, etc…) So many times that I wanted to drive my car back into the office so that I could feel plugged in, connected and purposeful. But, I didn’t.

I had challenged myself to take time. Time away from the virtual world. Time to focus on my family—immediate and extended. I challenged myself to have at least one deep meaningful conversation with each of my four brothers. (Gotta give me credit: Trying to get grown men to have deep, meaningful conversations is no easy task. I did it with all four, and then we had a group conversation.) I also did the same with each of my four children. (The conversation I had with my son as I moved him back to college and into a frat house was eye-opening.)

I challenged myself to begin each day in silence—which allowed me to focus more on the love in my life…not the lack of love in my life. That enabled me to focus more on the joy in my life and less on the struggles. It also helped me focus on my good health (fretting less about small issues like my frozen shoulder and instead feeling grateful that I don’t have a debilitating disease!). It also helped me focus more on my relationship with God and my faith in myself.

Since I had already applied the lessons of Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” to clearing out my physical space, I figured I would apply it to my internal space as well. I looked within and asked myself if the feelings I was holding inside were really bringing me joy.

What did I learn? Well, during this period of reflection, I realized that I was carrying some beliefs that no longer served me and, for sure, weren’t bringing me joy. I also looked hard at some opinions that I came to discover weren’t my own. Then, in Kondo style, I trashed them. Yup, I put those beliefs and/or opinions in a folder and got them out of my mental space.

I cleared out the self-defeating language, negative beliefs and harsh judgments that had been my companions for too long. They pushed me for a long time, but they no longer served me. Lo and behold, when I cleared them all away, I found my joy. I also strengthened my relationship with my faith and with my God. I threw out old beliefs that made me think of God as a punishing, mean, and shaming power. I replaced them with the image and belief of a non-judgmental, forgiving, caring, and loving God—one who accepts me and others as we are and who guides us to a better place.

I also challenged myself to go through my days with a different perspective about work and its larger-than-life role in my life. These intentions may not have brought about any dramatic changes that are visible to someone else’s eye, but they did bring about small ones that I can feel, and that’s big to me. I learned that I could step away from social media for awhile and, lo and behold, it would keep going on without me. That’s important to remember the next time you think you have to stop whatever you’re doing and comment online. You don’t.

As I watched the news in our world unfold (OMG), there were so many moments that reminded me how blessed I am. That, in turn, reminded me of the importance of reaching out to be of service. It also reiterated to me that small acts done privately can often bring more joy than the larger, more public moves.

I know that in the past if I had three weeks off, I would have planned some big trip. But going nowhere allowed me to go everywhere that my mind and my thoughts wanted to take me. Now that I’m back, I feel I have a better and more hopeful perspective.

I know I’m here (as I believe we all are) to be of service. For me, that’s in the women and Alzheimer’s space through the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. It’s also wherever else I can be of assistance, like now with the hurricane relief efforts. (Please join me Tuesday night for Hand In Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief. I’ll be answering phones, along with others, for the telethon that’s airing at 8pm ET on multiple networks, including NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, HBO and Bravo.)

I also believe that I am here to be a light in the world, as I believe we all are. I also believe that we’re here to use our voices, our hearts and our minds to Move Humanity Forward—personally professionally, and politically. That’s exactly what I intend to do, and I hope you’ll join me.

I also invite you to share with me what you’ve been up to lately. To paraphrase my friend Mary Oliver, I ask you: What have you been doing with your one wild and precious life?

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Click Here to Read the Entire Post of Maria’s Sunday Paper.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Hope in the Darkness: Weekly Summary

Hope in the Darkness

Summary: Sunday, September 3-Friday, September 8, 2017

Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality. Perfectionism only makes us resentful and judgmental. (Sunday)

It is only by a foundational trust in the midst of suffering, some ability to bear darkness and uncertainty, and learning to be comfortable with paradox and mystery, that you move from the first half of life to the second half. (Monday)

Regardless of the cause, the dark night is an opportunity to look for and find God—in different forms and ways than we’ve become accustomed. (Tuesday)

Through darkness and doubt often come the greatest creativity and faith. Our faith is strengthened every time we go through a period of questioning. (Wednesday)

God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness, because if we fully knew what was happening, and what it will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process. —Gerald May (Thursday)

“The Dark Night of the Soul is not only about being brought to our knees. It is about unconditional love.” —Mirabai Starr (Friday)

Source: Richard Rohr Meditation: Hope in the Darkness: Weekly Summary

The Power of Forgiveness

I

Forgiveness

Richard Rohr Meditation: Forgiveness: Weekly Summary

Summary: Sunday, August 27-Friday, September 1, 2017

Let’s ask for the grace to let go of those grudges and hurts we hold on to, and let’s do it now and not wait until later. (Sunday)

Nothing new happens without forgiveness. (Monday)

God does not love us if we change; God loves us so that we can change. (Tuesday)

To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is. (Wednesday)

Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the entrapment of the past. (Thursday)

The genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve wholeness. (Friday)

Practice: The Welcoming Prayer

I’d like to offer you a form of contemplation—a practice of forgiving reality for being what it is—called The Welcoming Prayer.

First, identify a hurt or an offense in your life. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt and feel them the way you first felt them. Notice how this shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into the mind and its dualistic games of good guy/bad guy, win/lose, either/or.

After you can identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop splitting and blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard to do, but for some reason, when we name it, feel it, and welcome it, transformation can begin.

Don’t lose presence to the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into attachment to your ego self. The reason a bird sitting on a hot wire is not electrocuted is quite simply because it does not touch the ground to give the electricity a pathway. Hold the creative tension, but don’t ground it by thinking about it, critiquing it, or analyzing it.

When you’re able to welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human—and also what it means to be divine. You can hold this immense pain because you too are being held by the very One who went through this process on the cross. Jesus was holding all the pain of the world; though the world had come to hate him, he refused to hate it back.

Now hand all of this pain—yours and the world’s—over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness for the person who hurt you, for the event that offended you, for the reality of suffering in each life.

I can’t promise the pain will leave easily or quickly. To forgive is not to forget. But letting go frees up a great amount of soul-energy that liberates a level of life you didn’t know existed. It leads you to your True Self.

Gateway to Silence:
Create in me a clean heart. —Psalm 51:10

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 6 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Source: Richard Rohr Meditation: Forgiveness: Weekly Summary

The Quality of Friendship


“The rule of friendship,” the Buddha said, “means there should be mutual sympathy between them, each supplying what the other lacks and trying to benefit the other…” The words ring true. Friendship is not as much a matter of happenstance as we are inclined to think.
 
Perhaps one of life’s most precious lessons is that we must learn to choose our friends as well as to find them. The corollary of this insight, of course, is that we must learn not to allow ourselves simply to fall into alliances and acquaintances that come and go like starlight on the water, exciting for a while but easily forgotten. We must learn, in other words, not to make life a playground of faceless, nameless people—all of whom are useful for a while but who never really touch the soul or stretch the mind or prod the conscience.
 
On the contrary, the realization that friendship is one of the great spiritual resources of the human existence drives us beyond the superficial to the meaningful. It leads us to create relationships that count for something, rather than to simply wander from one casual social affair to another.
 
It may, in fact, be the friends we make who most accurately measure the depth of our own souls. For that we are each responsible.
 
To grow, then, requires that we provide for ourselves the kinds of relationships that demand more of us than continual immersion in the mundane. It requires us to surround ourselves with people who speak to the best part of us from the best part of themselves. It means that we must actively seek out as friends those who have something worth saying. And then we must learn to listen well to them so that they can hone our own best intuitions, challenge our least profound assumptions, point out directions that take us to another level of thought and care and determination. At times when life is most unclear, most confusing, we need … this quality of friendship. But only an awareness of our own limitations can possibly prepare us for it.

            —from Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible, (Blue Bridge) by Joan Chittister