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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come now, let us set things right

A significant factor in beginning this blog was that it would be a creative means of holding myself accountable for engaging in regular spiritual reflection and critical thinking. For the past few weeks, however, I’ve shied away from this personal commitment in favor of savoring the present moment.

This past week, after a nearly a month of gradual goodbyes and “lasts,” I transitioned out of a year long post-graduate service program in which I lived in an intentional, faith-based community. This time last summer, we were strangers, but somehow, through the joys and pains, laughter and tears, arguments and embraces, we were transformed into a family.

Even more difficult than the transition out of community, however, is the transition away from the work. For the past year, I have been so unbelievably privileged to have spent myself in the service of disadvantaged and marginalized youth. Day in and day out, I was blessed to spend my hours with kids that did not look like me, talk like me, or think like me, and whose personal narratives I could barely being to comprehend let alone find any detail about which I could claim to relate.

The sad irony in this is that a few years ago, I would have walked past so many of them on the street as quickly as I could without so much as a second glance, except perhaps to fear for my safety or belongings; I would seat myself away from them in movies or restaurants; I would hope that I never found myself alone with them. I’m still not quite “there” yet. I still struggle with making assumptions, expecting the stereotypical norm in interactions, buying into the heavily prejudiced and racialized narrative of humanity that is force-fed to us by the media and even some history books. But thank God, I’m also not who I once was.

It’s not easy to do personal battle with these subtle cultural and institutional injustices, but it is what Christ demands of us. The Gospels are an oft-quoted source of motivation and mandate along these lines, but the Hebrew Scriptures are full of similar summons. A personal favorite comes from the beginning of Isaiah:

Put away your misdeeds before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphans plea, defend the widow! Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD.
Is 1:17-18 (NABRE)

I love the Hebrew Scriptures for the incredible depth, beauty, and context they bring to the New Testament, but at the same time, there is a danger in reading passages like the one cited above, and unfortunately, I think that it’s one that far too many Christians fall into when extracting moral and social instruction from the Old Testament. Namely, there is a tendency to over-historicize it, to disregard the Truth while over-obsessing over the details of context.

Yes, the writer of Isaiah was speaking to a specific people in a specific time and place, but we cannot claim that our work is done simply because orphans and widows occupy a different space in contemporary society. This challenge from Our Lord never expires, the actions and populations named are simply redefined as some injustices are corrected only to be replaced by others. Yes, in some ways it’s a never-ending battle, and we know that we’ll never quite get there this side of heaven (Mark 14), but there are two ways to take that message. We can either allow it to discourage us or desensitize us to Jesus’ radical call or, and I’d highly recommend this choice, we can allow ourselves to take comfort in the knowledge that we can’t do it all on our own, turn our eyes eastward with earnest longing, and in the meantime, keep soldiering on simply because He told us to.

All of this, at least today, brings me back to the youth that were loaned to me this past year – those beautiful, wounded, strong, heartbreaking, inspiring, hilarious, tragic, and joyful kids who have endured every evil imaginable. As I reflect on this summons from Isaiah, my mind is flooded with the faces of these teenagers who taught me where to find the orphan and the widow today, in my own time and neighborhood. These kids may never know the profound depth of the impact they had on my life or that I saw the face of Christ in them every single day. When possible and appropriate, I try to find ways to show and tell them of the inherit goodness I see in them, but I also respect that they aren’t always at a place where they are ready to receive that message of acceptance and love.

Thankfully, I have had the time to prepare them for my transition, and even more thankfully, I will be able to continue working with them in the future, albeit in a very different capacity and with less regularity. And then there’s that additional detail that with the end of the year of service, so too ends the sense of self-sacrifice that I carried with me every day of uncompensated work with them.

Although I find it difficult to let go of the gifts of this past year, I do recognize that this – as the cliché goes – is not a true ending, but rather a new beginning, and I am excited to journey forward in my relationships, work, and schooling. More than anything though, I want to publicly thank my kids for allowing me to journey with them and for changing my life.

Thanks to them, I have gotten a little closer to understanding one of the greatest mysteries in life, how love, true love, is redemptive suffering. I will be the first to admit that at times, all the forces working against them simply seem too big, too powerful and it makes me question if what we’re doing it’s making a difference, if it’s worth the fight, but then, I remember that this is what love is, what love demands. And I will continue loving them, if for no other reason that because it’s what He told me to me do.

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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.


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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