Making the Kingdom Visible

Pretty exciting news! My first solo campaign in my new job was to raise $200,000 for a parish to replace the roof on their historic rectory in Baltimore City. Not only did we meet goal, but we did it in less than two months!

As Henri Nouwen said in The Spirituality of Fundraising, “Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the kingdom.” He went on to say, “Every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness and into a vision that is fruitful. Fundraising helps to make visible the kingdom that is already among us.”

Grateful to my team at SS. Philip and James Parish that worked together through humor, sweat, and a few missteps along the way to reach our goal! We carried a mutual respect for one another to all of our meetings and continually affirmed each other when faced with a roadblock or pause for concern. And ultimately, confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit proved to be critical.

“What was impressive was that we all wanted to work for the kingdom, to build a community of love, to let something happen that was great than we were individually.”

Henri Nouwen, The Spirituality of Fundraising

What do the Catholic Church, the Supreme Court, and Miss America all have in common?

October 2018 marked a moment of upheaval in three major American institutions:  the Catholic Church, the Supreme Court, and Miss America.  Each of these organizations have a deeply rooted similarity of structure and power.  We are witnessing the clash of the meaning of our bodies & the lust for power and dominance.  As a result, the future of these cultural, political, and religious giants has been tarnished.  

The Catholic Church’s current leaders have lost their moral authority

The Catholic Church has continuously taught the same moral tenets over 2,000 years without falter; however, the practice of such teachings is questionable.  How many Catholics do you know have cohabited before marriage?  How many Catholics do you know that have used IVF?  How many Catholics do you know who have been divorced and remarried without an annulment?  How many Catholics do you know who use artificial contraceptives or have chosen sterilization to make family planning choices?  And I’m only talking about the laity here.  Now comes to light the practices of the clergy who are charged to be the moral teachers, the role models for us in the practice of the faith.  And to make matters worse, the hierarchy of the church spent time and resources in covering up the abuse rather than calling one another to holiness.

But then I think, how often do I call my lay brothers and sisters to holiness?  Especially when it comes to sex.  It is such a difficult topic to bring up and so intimate and personal to one’s heart.  And yet, we see sex everywhere in our culture.  So for something that is so overexposed, why is it so embarrassing to talk about?  I think it’s because our innermost being is meant for union with Christ; and sex, the union between a man and a woman in a covenant relationship, is the outward sign of that inward reality.  We all desire companionship and security.  But when sex takes place outside of the marital embrace, that’s not safe at all.  And then to introduce a power complex into the situation is so deeply invasive to our existence.  Sexual abuse creates a deep wound that hits at the innermost desire given to us at creation, to love and be loved in return. 

This crisis is not winding down either, October has marked the opening of a Grand Jury Investigation in many states including my own.  While I hope and pray this is not going to provide any new names to us here in Maryland, it is going to showcase the dirty details.  How is that going to affect us on the local level?  What is the American church going to look like moving forward as state after state release their reports?  I think it will kill all moral authority of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy unless we start hearing personal stories of seminarians and priests living out chastity joyfully to show a future, pure leadership.  Because the overwhelming answer I am hearing now is, “allow priests to be married!”  When in fact that is NOT the solution because the majority of abuse cases are male priests engaging in acts with post-pubescent boys (80%).  These men don’t want to be married to a woman, they are expressing their same-sex attraction outwardly in a criminal way.  I recommend reading an article from Psychology Today entitled “Separating Facts About Clergy Abuse from Fiction”; however, I think #3 in the article is lacking in targeting only pedophilia which is defined as sexual feelings directed toward prepubescent children (which is only characterized by less than 20% of clergy abuse cases).  I also recommend reading this reflection from Commonweal Magazine entitled “The PA Grand Jury Report: Not What it Seems”.

The root of the church crisis is not just celibacy, it’s not just a lack of female leadership in the Church, it’s not just homosexuality in the priesthood, it’s so much deeper than that and cuts to the core of who we are meant to be: male and female He created them.  

“The human body includes right from the beginning…the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” ~ Saint Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body address on January 16, 1980

The Supreme Court’s magnifying glass on the war between the sexes

Were you hooked to the TV on September 27th watching the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing?  And were you even more shocked on October 6th when he was confirmed?  Taking sides is brutal in any social circle.  Who is telling the truth?  Who is lying?  Do they just not remember what happened?  The conversation again cuts to the core of who we are as male and female and how we relate to one another.  I feel like I am still reeling from that week in our nation’s history.  I am very troubled that a woman would possibly claim something took place that didn’t.  I am very troubled that a now Supreme Court Justice was overly defensive of his love of beer and did not mention any condemnation of underage drinking or alcohol abuse in young people.  Listening to the hearing was very reminiscent of the feelings I had while watching the series, “13 Reasons Why”.  I am disgusted that the premise of the show is that if teenagers mutually consent to a sexual interaction, that is something to be celebrated.  The themes of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, assault, suicide, harassment, and so much more were highlighted as an everyday reality for teenagers.  Sadly enough, I felt like I was listening to a Georgetown Prep party all wind down to the question of “consent” as being the determining factor of character.  I hold my definition of character to be much higher than that.

The #MeToo movement has wound us up into a tight little ball around the word “consent” and the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing played right into the debate.  Newsflash:  consent is not enough.  A committed covenant relationship between a man and a woman that is free, total, faithful and fruitful is the only safe sex out there.  Don’t be fooled otherwise.  And speaking of consent….I highly recommend reading this article by Simcha Fisher entitled 16 things Catholic girls should know about consent.

“Man, whom God created male and female, bears the divine image imprinted on his body ‘from the beginning.’ Man and woman constitute two different ways of the human ‘being a body’ in the unity of that image. “– TOB January 2, 1980

Miss America tries to embrace feminism and instead she implodes

As a former Miss America titleholder in the local Maryland system, I have been very closely following the downward spiral of this beloved pageant.  Here’s the problem: an email was leaked between the former CEO and Board Chairman of Miss America as well as an ABC producer.  The email included a derogatory comment by the male producer about women and the former Miss Americas as a group.  The male CEO responded to the email, “bahahaha”.  As a result, a slew of former Miss Americas called for the resignation of the CEO and other board members resulting in a complete overhaul of leadership to be replaced by females only.  It worked and Sam Haskell resigned to be followed by Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989 and former Fox News Correspondent, as the new CEO.  

Am I allowed to say, “I told you so!”?  The burning at the stake of Sam Haskell for laughing at a crude joke has resulted in utter turmoil of the Miss America Organization.  While Gretchen Carlson quickly worked towards a re-branding called Miss America 2.0 which most notably eliminated the swimsuit competition, she swiftly alienated her former supporters.  Those who demanded for new leadership were now noticing that new leadership meant an entirely new pageant….I mean competition!  The beloved traditions and history of Miss America are disappearing.  For example, on the live telecast of the pageant this year the contestants (now called candidates) no longer were allowed to introduce themselves as “Miss Maryland” or “Miss New York” instead they just said “Representing Maryland” for example.  The evening gown competition might no longer be filled with elegant gowns, but instead whatever outfit is a personal expression of the candidate (so pant suits accepted).  They removed the runway from the stage so that the ladies do not model their outfits anymore, they simply stand and answer questions.  And finally they didn’t play “There She Is” at the crowning moment.

Didn’t you sit on your dad’s lap as he sang this song to you as a little girl??  Or was that just me….

So now fast forward to 2019….ratings have dropped, local competitions are struggling to find contestants, and the 2018 Miss America, Cara Mund, continues to release her story and expose of Gretchen Carlson’s bullying and manipulative behavior once she took power. Now I don’t know the details and what is truly taking place behind the scenes, but ultimately the Miss America Organization is imploding. And all under the baton of the self-proclaimed “founder of the #MeToo movement”: Gretchen Carlson.

The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God [God’s love for man], and thus to be a sign of it. – TOB February 20, 1980

So what do they all have in common? They all need a little more TOB.

Create Holy Moments

Can one truth change the world? I believe it can. Is it possible for just one beautiful truth to change your life? I know with absolute certainty that this is possible. How can I be so very sure? I have seen it happen before. And I’ve experienced it. The single truth that Holy Moments are possible and that you and I – with all our faults and flaws, defects and weaknesses, brokenness and constant need – can collaborate with God and create a single Holy Moment is life changing.

The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly

On pages 45-50 of this book, Matthew Kelly shares a few very short stories, simple moments, of holiness. These are people just like you and me. These aren’t canonized saints, they are regular ordinary people. I encourage us all to list Holy Moments we see around us.

When I took my kids to a Family Rosary event at our local school, my son was struggling with sitting still and making a lot of noise. I stood to walk over to the side to remove him from the scenario, but this caused my daughter to cry and “meltdown”. She didn’t want to leave the rosary. I’m torn between them and causing a big disruption. Then, one of the aides at the school leaned over and said, “Eva, do you want to sit with me and we can finish the rosary together?” Eva immediately curled up next to her so I was able to step away with my son. That was a Holy Moment.

My mom is currently undergoing cancer treatments. Juggling motherhood and a full-time career is daunting. Then add the fear and anxiety of an ill parent. One day I checked the mailbox and I had a package from a childhood friend. I opened the package to find a note of encouragement filled with Scripture verses in the face of the news of my mother’s cancer. Under the note were all the ingredients to make a few Moscow Mules. That was a Holy Moment.

My in-law’s work closely to support the Mann House in Bel Air. And my father-in-law is an amazing chef. Every holiday, he cooks this incredible spread down to the garnish and homemade Bearnaise sauce. He always cooks too much and we have so many leftovers. I always wonder if he cooks more on purpose, because after he loads us up with Tupperware filled with leftovers, he also packages meals for the guys at the Mann House. This has become a part of our family dynamics. These are Holy Moments.

Try it. It’s amazing to see, experience, and create Holy Moments.

Get to know a seminarian.

I’m a parent in 2019. I’m a Catholic parent in 2019.

Naysayers can’t believe that anyone would raise any children in today’s culture and even more say they would never raise their kids Catholic.

We are surrounded by a culture of death, a culture saturated by sex, a culture of political correctness, a culture filled with screens, and a Catholic culture scourged with the sin of clergy sexual abuse.

I want to say that I recognize all of this. I choose to fight against this. With the weapons of the rosary and the sacraments, we can withstand. My kids can withstand. And together as a family, we can journey to holiness…even in 2019.

It’s not culturally cool to be Catholic anymore and it’s definitely not cool to hang out with priests. Sadly, a priest in a Roman collar has become a cause for concern and a red flag. I’ve had folks say to me, “Keep your kids away from priests” or “When he hands me communion, I think ‘Where have his hands been?'”

My response is that if I shared that mentality, then I would have to keep my kids locked away from the entire world. I couldn’t take them to school, sports, or any activity with adult supervision because predators are everywhere…sin is everywhere.

So instead, I embrace healthy and holy relationships. Under my watchful eye, I gladly introduce my children to priests and those studying for the priesthood. It might surprise you to meet some of the wonderful young men who are filled with the joy of the Gospel and a deep love for Jesus Christ.

Just yesterday, we attended the Lector and Acolyte ceremony at St. Mary’s Seminary. What an uplifting service filled with faith. And while I had to step out a few times because of my toddler, I thoroughly enjoyed the incense and beautiful singing by the choir. So grateful for this experience and the gift of friendships with seminarians.

Podcasting = Catholicism ALIVE!

In this year of turmoil, I have been feasting on Catholic podcasts. I remember listening to my very first podcast after I gave birth to my first child and needed some kind of entertainment while I was dancing around the kitchen trying to soothe a newborn. My expert mom friend suggested podcasts and of course, Serial. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and not having my eyes fixed on a screen and even being able to wash dishes while listening. Woohoo! But as soon as I went back to work, podcasts died with it. Then a few years later when I gave birth to my second and I was on maternity leave again…sure enough the second season of Serial was available! Anyone listen to S-Town? Wow, that was heavy. While having similar striking moments of imagining Adnan Syed still in prison, this story was finite. Life was ended and there was no turning back. I spent my entire relationship with that podcast removing wallpaper and painting a hallway, but I’ll never forget the depression and quirkiness of John B. McLemore when I walk down the hall….

So podcasts are great!!!!! 🙂 I had a rocky start to be sure, but once I started my new job this summer at the Archdiocese I decided I needed something to pass the time during my commute. I asked a friend for some podcast suggestions and was introduced to Catching Foxes. You must immediately put on your ear buds and listen to Catching Foxes.

The hosts are two hysterical guys that also went to Franciscan University and have been involved in ministry/church work since graduation. Having that in common certainly drew me to the podcast, but ultimately when McCarrick and all hell broke loose this podcast saved my faith and fidelity to the Church. The hosts, Luke and Gomer, termed what we have all experienced as “The Summer of Scandal“. Their raw, emotional, and often border-line inappropriate hashing out of the headlines and the repeated atrocities that we have experienced has been healing for me. After a few months, I decided to start supporting them on Patreon. I am so grateful for these men that study the faith, are faithful to the teachings of the Church, and want to build the kingdom even in this mess.

I also have tested a few other podcasts out that have been inspirational at times. However, nothing comes close to Catching Foxes…but I will list my favorites below:

  • Among the Lilies – hosted by Cameron Fradd (married to Matt who runs the anti-porn ministry) and contains real talk for women
  • Catholic Creatives – as long as you aren’t bothered by “Like…um….ya know….” millennial speech, you will enjoy this!
  • The Catholic Feminist – while I don’t agree with the host’s soap-boxing at times, I have loved many of her guests and they are worth a listen!

I have truly felt that Catholic podcasting has brought the faith alive for me recently. I can’t find great conversation like this at my local parish….or at least not on a daily basis. Smart, talented faithful Catholics are creating wonderful content and this is where I have found it!

“The Spirituality of Fundraising”

Over the holiday weekend, I read Henri Nouwen’s short piece entitled, “The Spirituality of Fundraising”.  A friend of mine suggested the book when she was in town a few months ago.  She works for Mobile Loaves and Fishes which serves the homeless in Austin, Texas.  She shared with me that their success did not result from events or major mailings, but rather through building relationships with members of the community and simply sharing the story of their vision and mission.  It was lovely hearing her speak about her ministry and the passion behind the project.  While I haven’t yet written a check, I am planning to visit the Village in Austin in the summer of 2020.  And that’s exactly how she got me…when she said, “You should come visit sometime and meet the people we serve.”

I was invited to participate in the vision.  I was invited to see it for myself.  I was invited to belong to a community of generous people.

Powerful stuff.  But even more powerful was the conviction I received from reading “The Spirituality of Fundraising”.  The paradigm must shift in fundraising for the church.  Written by a Catholic priest who died in 2006, his work poignantly states the obvious: no one is motivated to be generous without knowing your clear vision and mission.

As Fr. Nouwen said, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”  He also made it clear that fundraising is a MINISTRY.  It’s not another business tactic or sterile, automated transaction.  Fundraising for the Lord is “as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry!’

That was certainly encouraging to me.  As a theology major and evangelist at heart, I always desire my so-called ‘job’ to ultimately help bring people to heaven.  The invitation to give of your first-fruits is a Gospel based message of allowing God to be the king of your heart.  As St. Paul says, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity” (2 Cor. 9: 11).

Fundraising is not a response to a crisis.

Nouwen can be pegged as a prophet for this statement.  IF your organization has already been floundering prior to the 2018 crisis of clergy sexual abuse, I highly doubt you will be able to flourish in the near future.  Nouwen related the story of a friend who once told him, “If you never want to be fooled, you will never give your money.”  That certainly is true as you can gather from unhappy tax payers, those who pull their funds from organizations without transparency, or those who leave a school or parish all together because of disappointment.  We all know someone who has made this decision or even might have done so ourselves.  Nouwen continued to examine this, “The reason for the taboo is that money has something to do with that intimate place in our heart where we need security, and we do not want to reveal our need or give away our security to someone who, maybe only accidentally, might betray us.”

The book was challenging.  It challenged me and my attachment to money and material things.  My attachment to the securities of life such as a home, a car, a job, a 401K, etc.  How pressured are we in American society to be SECURE in finances?  To control our future, to control our daily choices in order to reach the potential of the American dream?  Is the American dream to go to heaven?  Nope.  Wealth, prosperity, long-life, ultimately cheating death!

“Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too.” (Matt 6:19-20)

Read the book.  It’s only about 60 pages long.  I will share more of my reflections in another post.  Still feeling challenged and soaking in the wisdom!

Tired of the Filth…but I’ve been tired for a while.

Remember when I said “Drain the Swamp”.  The swamp got worse.

I have waves of sadness on a regular basis for my church.  Sadness for the future of the church, sadness for my colleagues who work in the vineyard, sadness for those who live in sin and are blind.  So much sadness.  When everything broke in the Summer of Scandal, the following post from a freelance Catholic writer spoke to me:

I’ve been up most of the night with an unsettled newborn, so I’ve had lots of time for reading last night’s bombshell, as well as praying and thinking about it. But honestly, I’m not that shocked.

When I returned to the Catholic Church, 18 years ago, it was with full knowledge of her history of scandal: of 16-year-old popes, evil popes, and anti-popes; of episcopal sees bought and sold, papal armies raised, and murders plotted (and actual murders committed) within the Vatican; of orgies in the papal summer palace, papal mistresses, and Curia prostitutes. None of that stopped me from believing in the truth of the Church’s claims, and the current scandals aren’t stopping me either.

In a fallen world, where Satan is always at work, this is to be expected. Not tolerated. But expected. Much as we like to think we’re so much wiser and more enlightened than our brothers and sisters in the sixth century or tenth century or fourteenth century, we’re not. So, the same awful sins are going to be committed, again and again and again, inside and outside the Church, because human beings are inside and outside the Church.

Fortunately, our faith isn’t in human beings. It is in Jesus Christ, who has already overcome our sin with his mercy and love, and who keeps raising up saints to show us that, with grace, so much more than this is possible. I grieve for those whose faith will be damaged by these revelations. And yet I don’t grieve the release of this letter. In some ways, it’s almost refreshing to read it because it makes sense of so much of the last 60 years. It explains why the truth so often hasn’t been proclaimed, why the lay faithful have so often been marginalized, and why the Church has been such a horrible witness in a world that desperately needs more from it.

If you’ve ever been confused about why you felt more Catholic than your priest or bishop or the pope for that matter, this is why. And only by bringing this all into the light can any of that change. Sin is always bad news. But the unmasking of sin is not bad news. It’s the first step towards cleansing the temple and restoring it. It’s time for the cleansing to begin. ~ Emily Stimpson Chapman, August 26, 2018

We all crave a relationship with Christ.  Enjoy this song from artist Lauren Daigle.  I was thrilled to see her perform on Dancing with the Stars Finale last night.  We all want Jesus, even the rich and famous who seem to “have it all”.

I made some hard decisions

Do you feel just a little bit sick every day?  Am I the only one who feels pangs of awkwardness, fear, and distress?  So much has been thrown at us in such a short amount of time.  As American Catholics, and for me as a woman, the past few months have been emotionally difficult.

I also wonder if everyone else was listening to the Kavanaugh hearing on Thursday with acute attention like I was.  What a roller coaster of emotions: sympathy, anger, distrust, and utter confusion.   When are we going to catch a break?  Then the next day, Archbishop Vigano released another statement.

While I do not feel qualified to comment on the current state of affairs in the church or in American society, I can only share four real examples of things that took place recently that were hard decisions I made.

Reported an Incident

Recently I was visiting a Catholic parish/school campus for a meeting.  As I was getting in my car in the parking lot, I saw a school student leave the building around approximately 2:30pm (prior to dismissal).  He was walking towards the parking lot with a man that I assumed to be his father.  I saw the man grab the boy’s backpack and violently throw it into the trunk of the car.  He then aggressively pushed the boy so much so that the boy staggered back.  I couldn’t hear the precise words, but the man was yelling at the boy.  The boy began to run back towards the school entrance.  The man yelled to the boy (again I could not hear what he said) and the boy turned back towards the car, got in, and the car sped off in a fury.

My heart was pounding so hard.  It all happened so fast and I remember toying in my head with the decision to run towards them and intervene or to take a picture of the car license plate…..it was so sudden, so shocking, and I was just dumbstruck.  While I didn’t move quickly enough to catch them, I composed myself to call the office after the car pulled off.  I reported everything to the school administration including a description of the boy and the man.  I knew they would have a sign out sheet to indicate who just exited the building.

Maybe I should have done more, maybe I misinterpreted the situation, but at the end of the day I know now, “If you see something, say something.”  I can only trust that the school investigated the matter and followed proper procedures to ensure the boy’s safety.

Called a friend, Reached out to someone suffering

In light of all that took place recently, I felt great trepidation when I asked myself the question, “Am I a part of the problem?   What have I covered up?”  Having been a campus minister and religion teacher in my career, I recently spent many hours trying to remember various events and conversations.  I scoured over memories and asked God to reveal anything I might be missing or overlooking.  Is there anything I don’t want to face?

In fact, I did remember two conversations.  While I will not share the details of them, I will share the hard decisions I made to revisit them.  I called a friend and asked him to please report to the police and to the Archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection something that he had shared with me a few years ago.  After speaking with him, I realized that I did not clearly remember the details of the story and it involved something of a different nature; however, he was grateful that I reached out and that I shared with him the appropriate reporting structure of inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature in a church setting.

Then, I also remembered a time when a woman shared a very difficult story with me.  The incident caused her pain and distress.  While I do not know the validity of the story and it did not include any criminal behavior, I was brought back to that moment of her tears and her suffering.  I was only 22 at the time and did not know the breadth of counseling services available or support opportunities.  I was only a shoulder to cry on that day, but now I am so grateful that the recent events have brought to light the options that can be found for those in need.  I find it imperative to educate oneself on those services and to also be bold in sharing them with others.  But what can I do ten years later?  Well, I reached out to her.  I casually tried to connect and let her know I was thinking of her recently, said a prayer for her, and asked how she was doing….what was she up to these days….etc.

Maybe I should have done more, maybe I misinterpreted the situation, but at the end of the day I know now “Boys will be boys” is no longer an accepted statement in our society.  We are better than that, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We need to embrace chastity because it leads to joy instead of pain and suffering.

Went to Confession

I also have been struck with the ugliness of my own sin.  I want to be holy.  I want to honor my Lord and Savior.  So, I went to confession this week.  That might not seem like such a bold move, but I don’t go often enough.  And when I do, it is ALWAYS a release of guilt, baggage, and bad habits.  It was so helpful to me to talk to a priest behind a confessional screen so that I had the anonymity to share my fear and anger.  I was so grateful to be able to cry and be vulnerable about my lack of trust in so many people.  To be able to voice those feelings out loud, to be able to face my own failings, and to then hear the words, “I absolve you from your sins.”  Wow, what a gift.

I pray that we all will continue with boldness and a newness of resolve to be the best generation of Catholics, to be saints!