with restless hearts

reflections, critiques, comments, and questions of a 20-something catholic in pursuit of truth and justice in a dualistic world

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the temptation of time

Time. Of all the intangibles made tangible by human definition out there, time is one that eludes me the most. It’s no news to anyone that time has an inexplicable tendency to speed up when we most wish to savor it, and it drags on in periods of drudgery or restless waiting.

I know in my life, I also have a tendency to make time something of an idol. Too often, I view it as something that I can possess, something that is rightfully mine, and I find myself irritated or impatient when something unexpected makes demands of “my time.” We’ve all heard the sayings – don’t take anything for granted, carpe diem, live each day like it may be your last, and on and on. As much as I believe those admonishments on a superficial level, I don’t think that I’ve yet managed to really internalize them.

I don’t savor the little moments in life near as often as I should. I don’t always give freely of myself without first calculating the cost, the time that will be “lost.” I live from deadline to deadline. I waste the present moment by scheming how to make “more time” for something in the future. In fact, so much of “my time” in a given day is spent either reliving the past or worrying about the future, and I know that I am far from alone in that tendency.

I am trying to move away from this overly possessive attitude toward time because, firstly, it tricks me into clinging to something that was never mine to begin with, and secondly, because it invites me to further blockade myself into my own little world. Rather than being fully open to accept the surprises, gifts, relationships, and invitations to service of the present moment, I’m more concerned with just checking off another item on my to-do list in a manner that takes up the least amount of my time as possible so that I can get onto whatever it is that would rather be doing with my time.

St. Augustine has some interesting writings out there on the concept of time, and perhaps I’ll challenge myself to pick some of those up in the next few weeks. I know that he wrote on the concept of the “eternal now” – and without knowing too many of the details, I think that’s the sort of relationship with time that I’m going for. I’ve also begun reading a book called the Music of Silence, which traces the concept of time in relation to the Catholic tradition of the Divine Office and monasticism. I am not very far into it, but it’s proving to be a very thought-provoking and prayerful read.

I want to close with a quote from it that gave me pause when I came across it. So much so that I just sat with the page for a few moments to allow it to really sink it. For me, it served as a summons to reconsider how interact with “time;” perhaps it can do the same for someone else out there as well.

As a monk, ideally speaking, you always know what you are supposed to do at a given time. The moment when a bell rings for an activity, you drop whatever you have in your hands and turn to this new activity in readiness and responsiveness: because that hour is like an angel who calls to you and challenges you and wants your response at that moment. Even though this is made easier in the monastery, the attitude behind it is something that people in any walk of life can attempt to realize. And, to the extent to which they realize it, it will make them happy.



levada speaks: vatican v. nuns

Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the man leading the alleged charge against
American women religious via the LCWR doctrinal assessment, recently granted an exclusive interview to National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen Jr.

Ordinarily, I steer clear of NCR reporting because, to be frank, it reminds me too much of Fox News – it claims to be independent, fair-and-balanced, whatever, but its stories all seem to have a definite partisan lean. Nevertheless, every so often I come across an article that is both thought-provoking and reflexive, and this interview is certainly one of those rare pieces.

The full text of the interview can be found here. It came as breath of fresh air after months of emotionally charged writings and rantings on both “sides” of the issue. I am of the opinion that it should be read by everyone who has, or claims to have, a stake in latest LCWR headlines, and I would also favor somehow making it prerequisite reading for anyone who wants to publish on the matter.

There is so much that I could say about this topic as I find deep connections to it on a personal, religious, and academic level. I’ll reserve comment for the time being, however, and just say that I am strong believer that the urge to cast “sides” in what should be a dialogue has caused serious rifts and pain for all parties involved. But more on what I think later. For now, I want to close with some quotations from the interview that address my compiled short-list of FAQs about the alleged smack down between the Vatican and nuns.

Why is the CDF going after American nuns? 

This assessment is not about the sisters in the United States. It’s about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a coordinating and directive body that has a spokesperson’s role for 80 percent of the religious congregations in the States or so. It exists because of a canonical statute in which the Holy See invites them to do this work of coordination, in a way that’s in sync with the teachings of the church and the directives of the Holy Father. That’s the basic issue we discussed with them.

Why is this all just coming up now? 

One answer is that the wheels turn slowly here in the Vatican… In reality, this should not be a surprise to anyone. We started this process four years ago. I met with the representatives [of LCWR] then to explain it to them. Of course, these things go on at a snail’s pace here, while the LCWR has changes in leadership all the time, so the new leaders may not be familiar with the history, and they have to go back over it all.

Why now? It’s a reasonable question in that this is not new stuff. Yet it’s cumulative, and at a certain point someone has to pay attention to it.

So there’s not an attack on US sisters?

For the record, let me say again this is not about a criticism of the sisters. No sister will lose her job in teaching or charitable work or hospital work as a result of this assessment, as far as I know. … This is about questions of doctrine, in response to God’s revelation, and church tradition from the time of the apostles. We take that seriously.

What about the criticisms on Sr. Margaret Farley? 

These things take a lot of time, and they all have their own logic. For instance, we didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Let’s go after Margaret Farley.” Frankly, this came up because of an interview she gave in Ireland. She was there for a conference, and said something along the lines that Ireland ought to approve same-sex marriage. Someone in Ireland objected, asking, “Why is this sister coming from the States and pushing same-sex marriage?” We wrote to her superior and got a vague response about how she’s a wonderful person who enjoys great esteem. That’s how Margaret Farley came onto our radar screen. It had nothing to do with the LCWR. We then found [her book] Just Love, read the reviews, and the process developed from there.

But why just pick on the nuns? Plenty of Catholics agree with many of their positions on social issues that go against the Church anyway. 

We’re not picking on people. We’re saying that people who have a representative role as spokespersons in and for the church also have a higher responsibility. It’s the same standard with theologians, even if they’re laity. We intervene, we give notifications and so forth. Sure, their books go off the charts, but we’re here to say that this doesn’t correspond with the truth of our Catholic tradition, with the revelation of Christ to the apostles.

I know some people say, “Isn’t my opinion as good as anybody else’s?” But this isn’t a question of my opinion. I don’t wake up and say, “Here’s dogma B, C and D.” These are the teachings of the church.

Wait, what’s the point of all this again? 

Ultimately, this is about a group that represents the church doing so in a way that is accountable to the teaching and tradition of the church.

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racial injustice and youth incarceration – a summons to love

Yesterday I came across a short article in the Chicago Tribune that I ordinarily would have simply skimmed over, but decided to read a bit closer. It recounted an all too familiar tale – model citizen attacked and burglarized by a group of rowdy teens while riding public transit. The article does not mention race, although a picture of the victim coupled with the article’s description paints him as a young, white, heterosexual male – just about as privileged as you can get in our nation today – but despite this, the article practically begs to be read in racial terms, especially if one is familiar with racial layout of Chicago. The attack happened on the Red Line, the train route that travels from the primarily white yuppie, hipster, and just-out-of-college neighborhoods, through down town, and all the way down to the southside where the primarily black/African-American neighborhoods are. And so although the article doesn’t specifically say that the group of attacking youth were black, I’m going to make that assumption – and sadly, based on the article’s poor portrayal of the group, I think that that is a fairly safe assumption.

In the article, the Tribune and the victim weave together a narrative that highlights the teens’ tendency toward violence and crime, alleged targeting of the victim, an exaggeration of the actual physical violence, and the slow and inadequate response of the authorities.

Now, I am not suggesting that the youths’ act of violence should be condoned or excused, but I do find the victim’s final call to action to be very disturbing.

The man said he wants police and the judicial system to hold the attackers accountable.
“They need to get the word out and they have to start convicting these people instead of just taking them in and letting their parents pick them up,” he said.

Whether he means to or not, the use of these people carries serious racial implications. But what really upsets me about this is the equation of a safer community with harsher legal consequences for juveniles. The reality of the juvenile delinquency system in our country is, in my and many activists’ opinions, anything but just, and for anyone to suggest that more youth need to be incarcerated demonstrates almost a complete lack of knowledge on the issue.

I understand that statistics can be misleading and there are often hidden factors involved, but try on these for size:

  •  One in three Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 years old is under correctional supervision or control.
  • Blacks account for only 12% of the U.S. population but 44% of all prisoners in the United States are Black
  • Blacks are incarcerated at a rate that is more than six times that of Whites.
  • According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.
  • The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes
  • According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses.
  • A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

And here’s one a little closer to home

  • In Chicago, only 30% of Black males graduate from high school, of these only 3% of them obtain a bachelor’s degree by the time they’re 25.

Really, America? Don’t these numbers say that something is broken with our system, and I refuse to believe that longer and harsher sentencing is the answer – especially when we’re dealing with a population that’s already receiving disporportionally harsher and longer sentences.

The good news in all of this, though, is that after 40 years of the so-called “War on Drugs” that brought on so many of these injustices, people are finally bringing this to thoughtful conversation that is charged on a sense of justice rather than hate. One of the leading voices in this conversation is Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. I haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire book yet, but the excerpts I have read seem promising. I want to share one quote from Alexander that comes from a 2011 interview. It’s a bit dense, but it near perfectly captures the real issue at stake in all of this.

I think the fundamental question posed by this system of mass incarceration is whether we as a nation are willing to see every human being as worthy of our collective care, compassion, and concern. And I believe the fate of poor people of color in this country depends on our willingness to answer that question, ‘Yes.’

Even if their behavior we find objectionable or reprehensible, we will not stop caring. We are capable of the kind of love—what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as unsentimental love—reflected in our policies, practices, our rules of law, our ways of being, structures and institutions. Unsentimental love that keeps on loving, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.

If we continue to look the other way and believe that some people are not worthy of our moral concern, caste-like systems will be a permanent feature of American life. It’s always possible to demonize or criminalize people along racial or ethnic lines to make certain groups of people be viewed in the public eye as bad and wrong. If we allow those kinds of tactics to cut us off from our own capacity for compassion, then we are conceding to a system that is dehumanizing millions.

And there is is again – LOVE. It certainly has an annoying habit of sneaking its way into everything. But it’s true. Like so many other issues that we have become so accustomed to viewing through the colored lenses of partisanship and politics – addressing issues of racism, juvenile delinquency, and community violence really is ultimately all about love.

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chance or dance

About a year ago, I was first throwing around the idea of beginning a blog as a means to hold myself more accountable for producing intentional, reflective writing. Today, I happened to stumble upon the draft of my would-be first post and though it’s short and sweet and a bit unfinished, I thought it would be worth reformatting here…

This past week I heard something that really stuck with me. The funny thing about it is that I cannot for the life of me tell you who said it, where or when I heard it, or even quote it exactly. It was just one of those unexpected things that you’re only half paying attention to in the moment but leaves an impression after the fact so deep that you find yourself struggling to recall any details.

It was something along the lines of “You can think of life in two ways; it’s either all chance or it’s a dance.” In the original context, I think that it had more of a philosophiocal or humanist feel to it, but as someone learning to fall head-over-heels in love with my faith tradition, it struck me as deeply religious and true to the human experience.

It’s all chance. Or each and every one of us is caught up in a dance with the Creator of the Universe. I choose to believe the latter. And I think that this stance really is fundamental to how I understand myself, others, and everything else that is.

I hope to tease this out further in later posts. For now, though, I’ll end with a beautiful quote that I came across from an unlikely source – Friedrich Nietzsche. Yes, that’s “God-is-dead” Friedrich Nietzsche, but you cannot deny that the man got beauty.  He has written,

“I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance.”

Happily, for all of us, I believe that we do.

And if we choose to go through life with that mindset, we can rightfully cry out with the Psalmist:

You have turned
my wailing into
dancing; You removed
my sackcloth and
clothed me with joy
– Psalm 31

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hhs frustrations

Disclaimer: I am not at all an expert on the hhs mandate, the US Constitution, women’s health issues, insurance costs, or contraception costs and needs. But of all the recent Catholic headlines out there, nothing baffles me more than rallying cry for religious freedom that has gone up in the wake of the mandate.

I jumped on the hhs bandwagon relatively late – the regulation was first released in August, 2011, but I didn’t hear much about it until Obama and the bishops began going back and forth on the issue in February and March. I read a few articles, keeping more or less up to date on new negotiations, but no one I knew was really heavily invested in it or interested in discussing it, so I just filed it away in the look-something-catholic-is-getting-national-attention-but-it-doesn’t-really-affect-me part of my brain.

But then, something happened. Two things, really. First of all, I realized that as an employee of a Catholic social service agency that does not qualify for the narrow exemption, this seemingly far-off policy actually does impact me, in a profoundly personal and professional way. And secondly, on perhaps a less ego-centric note, I attended a young adults speaker event and the speaker, a priest that I very much respect, went a bit off topic to touch upon what a pivotal moment this mandate was for the Catholic Church in America.

So with that extra push of perceived relevancy, I started to do some more intentional research. I had heard that the brief filed by Notre Dame was the best piece of writing on this by the “this is a breach of religious freedom” crowd, so I read it. All of it. It’s a legal brief, so obviously it’s dense, but I actually found it very engaging and if you’re even mildly curious about what exactly these Catholic institutions are complaining about, it’s well worth the read. What I like most about it is that Notre Dame makes it explicit that this is not about the morality or accessibility of contraceptives

This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are, and will continue to be, freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available.

But this is also precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about this whole thing. Can we really call this a violation of religious freedom? Especially when we have sisters and brothers suffering in parts of the world where there truly are governmental impediments to freedom of religion and worship. Just this week alone, a Protestant church was forced to shut down in Tehran, a Christian leader was arrested for allegedly having “too many conversions,” and a suicide bomber and gunmen attacked Nigerian churches – and that’s just looking at Christianity!

Personally, I do believe that contraceptives and abortifacients are morally objectionable, and I also recognize that that stance comes directly from my religious tradition. I also understand, and agree, that forcing Catholic institutions to pay for that which they find morally objectionable is in itself morally objectionable and does technically “violate” religious freedom. But at the same time, I also understand that for many women and families, contraception has become a normalized and costly part of their lives, and this mandate would in fact ease the financial burden of some of those women. So in that sense, the government should work to make it more affordable. The issue comes in with how they’re doing it – if the government believes that women should have covered access to birth control, fine. It’s not my thing, but fine. But if that’s the case, they should pay for it; use their money to back up that this really is something that our nation is passionate about and should be a “right.”

So in that sense, I suppose I am very anti-hhs mandate, but where my ambivalence remains is in the question of what to do about it. When Franciscan University of Steubenville very loudly and enthusiastically dropped health insurance for students and employees rather than be forced to eventually submit to the terms of the mandate, my first thought was, but what about those students who can’t get health insurance any other way? As an undergraduate student, I was on my college’s health insurance plan, but if that wasn’t there I always had my parents’ plan to fall back on, but I recognize that that was a unique privilege of my class, race, background, and a whole slew of factors that I am ordinarily blind to but depend on to get through my life. And what about those employees? How can they be expected to raise families without health care coverage?

I think that what frustrates me most about this whole thing is that it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation (which the Notre Dame brief brilliantly points to – seriously, if you haven’t, read it). Catholic services and institutions must choose between violating Catholic social teaching regarding either contraceptives OR affordable health care.

So, then, what’s the answer? As much as I admire Franciscan University’s steadfast commitment to its Catholic identity, I do not think that it is a solution that others would be wise to follow. Yes, it sends a strong message they will not compromise their religious identity and beliefs, but it also serves to victimize those who are most vulnerable, those without alternate means to safe and affordable health care. The only real way out of this, at least that I can see, is for the government to expand its definition of which institutions qualify for the exemption and allow Catholic institutions to make atrue choicein the matter. And for that, unless you are into political lobbying, which I am hopelessly not, then I think the best plan of action we have is simply to pray.

The US bishops have declared a ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ from June 21 – July 3 to join in prayer, study, and public action to defend our right to religious freedom, and I’ve already received email notifications for events happening around my city for it. As much as I struggle with framing the HHS mandate as a full-fledged attack on religious liberty, especially considering how many unchecked privileges we as Christians and Americans actually do enjoy, I certainly will be joining in these two weeks, praying that this matter can be resolved in the way that will lead to the victimization and harm of the least number of people.

Do we need marches and speeches and catchy protest slogans? Maybe, but they have their potential for doing just as much harm as good. If making our message louder and more visible is what works for people, than so be it, but what I really believe that we need is more people in this nation on their knees. This whole thing is a mess; I don’t know how to fix it, but I guarantee that God does, and I for one, will choose to trust in that.