It’s nice to come home reeking of incense from Mass again. Our parish only trots out the thurible for major feast days like today.

So now we’re heading out again smelling like roses (per the Feast of the Assumption). Cool.

ICAD 34b: Fixed on the Lord

ICAD 34b: Acrylic paint; printer paper; stencils; Sharpie.

This was part of the refrain during the psalm at Mass this morning. It’s been stuck in my head ever since.

ICAD 11a: Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us

Bonus ICAD card for today. Let’s call this 11a/61; no prompt. Pilot G2 bold pen, cheap glitter markers, bronze metallic Sharpie pen that was low on ink.

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart. Wanted to do something for it.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.

ICAD 7: Maybe a little divine intervention

ICAD 7/61; no prompt. Metallic, pearlescent, and matte craft acrylic paints; metallic Sharpie; washi tape; old postage stamp.

Late getting this done after rifling through more supplies I didn’t realize I had. May be divine intervention involved, because I was close to giving up on this one. Actually happy about this card.

Finally coming to terms with the fact that I get my most meaningful prayer time done in the car, either when parked or driving. No wonder the acedia has been so bad since I started working from home full-time more than a year ago.

Just got home. Drove around a lot today.

God doesn't let go

Returned to confession and Mass yesterday for the first time in roughly 6 months.

The priest gently chided me for letting my anger at all the divisiveness in the Church keep me from the sacraments: “This [division] has been going on for thousands of years,” he said. Or something like that. But he didn’t flinch as I went on, even when I admitted that I had pounded down a chicken leg on Friday just out of spite, I was so angry.

He asked if I had at least been praying, and I admitted only with my kid at bedtime – beyond that, not even so much as a morning offering. “Why, even second-graders do that!” he said. I could tell he said it with a smile (even behind the curtain), but it still stung.

Fr. L., the guy I usually turn to for confession, was a little tougher on me than usual at first, but I didn’t mind. He spent a little more time advising me this time around, and I appreciated that. With Pentecost coming up, he advised me to ask the Holy Spirit to lead me in a fresh start, gave me my penance, and sent me on my way.

My takeaway was that I can’t let annoying people and Church politics get in the way of prayer and my relationship with God. Fr. L. is particularly insistent on people maintaining a regular prayer life as much as possible, and he’s absolutely right to be insistent. And I’m grateful for that.

I”m still annoyed at the divisions and failures of the Church; reading this piece just now by a priest who was kicked out of seminary for being Black doesn’t help my anger. But, as Fr. Bruce Wilkinson writes of his experience:

After I worked through some of my anger and sadness in reflection and prayer, though, I realized something important: I was not going to allow other people’s hatred to control my life.

Why? Fr. Bruce makes it clear at the end: “I couldn’t help being in love with God, and God wouldn’t let me go.”

God doesn’t let go, no matter how livid you are with the Church, His people, and sometimes even Him. And I’m grateful for that, too.

After a lot of years hanging out with people who prioritize theological and liturgical purity over Christlike personal behavior, I needed to be reminded of this tonight.

I need to find some Anabaptists to hang out with. Or at least read more about them.

Still applies to theology in general these days. For me, anyway.

We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life

Prince died 5 years ago today. Doesn’t feel like that long ago.

That morning, I was listening to WXRT on the way to the office. By the time I got there, Lin Brehmer — the morning deejay at the time who, with his colleague Terri Hemmert, is a national treasure — was waxing poetic about Prince’s passing. The somber tone was broken with the riff of a church organ.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

The opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy” left me weeping in a Naperville parking lot. I turned up my stereo as loud as it would go.

So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby

‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own

And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor

Five years later, Prince’s hometown is dealing with more gut punches beyond the loss of a favorite son. The world has been torn apart and spliced together in the past 5 years, and it’s changed a lot, it seems. Or maybe it hasn’t, and we’re just seeing the world for what it is a lot more clearly – and maybe that’s an even worse thing.

I’m in my mid-50s, when I thought I’d be done being disillusioned. Maybe it’s good that I let hope spring eternal about a lot of stuff, like human nature and – especially – faith. But how many times can that hope crash and burn in my eyes until I’m done with such things?

We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ‘cause
We’re all gonna die

And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door

Maybe it’s not terribly orthodox theology, but I don’t care. It’s become theology I can live with right now. I hope Prince and I will share an afterlife where I can thank him for that.

Sunday worship in the time of pandemic

Not that it’s anybody’s business but God’s, but it dawned on me that one could ask: Why do you opt to view Mass from home on Sundays rather than attend in person, but you’re okay with going into restaurants, a Pilates studio, and even a museum occasionally?

I’ve thought about this a lot. And I don’t emerge from this guilt-free. I get that it is incongruous to be unwilling to go to church yet be willing to go out to these other relatively less important places. The possibility of infection is only a small part of why we remain home Sunday mornings.

The truth is, if it was just me, I’d likely be more inclined to go to Mass. (I haven’t received the Eucharist since my November retreat. And it kills me to think about it.) But I have to consider my daughter, who is preparing for confirmation and reception of Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

My Episcopal and Anglican friends, having been part of F’s First Communion celebration at our former Episcopal parish a couple of years ago, would be horrified and indignant that our Roman parish’s pastor decided F would have to wait and prepare another 2 years to begin receiving the Eucharist again. But that is what we have agreed to do. F agreed to go through 2 years of CCD – asking to do this first year remotely, rather than in person – rather than try to rush the process by going through, say, a year of RCIA with older people or even periodic meetings with the pastor. Our pastor gave F those options, and she opted for the 2-year deal.

But, my Episcopal and Anglican friends would insist, our former parish was “Catholic,” and the longtime rector there taught that the Episcopal Church is on equal footing with Rome insofar as the sacraments go. This teaching helped me feel better about being at the Episcopal parish, where I was very happy for a number of years, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I was Catholic, and this place – back then, before that rector retired – was in many ways more “Catholic” than a lot of Roman parishes I know. (This was before my husband’s annulment gave me the opportunity to return to Rome, which is a subject for a future post.)

Despite that rector’s contention, however, and the informal agreement of many Roman Catholic clergy with that idea, this is not what the Church – that is to say, Rome – officially teaches. And we are part of Rome now.

F and I had attended Mass at a couple of different Roman parishes since leaving our old Episcopal parish, and F dutifully would join the Communion line, arms crossed, to receive a blessing. There were several times when eucharistic ministers didn’t know what to do with a tween who wasn’t receiving; confusing scenarios would ensue, and they became increasingly awkward. When the pandemic dispensations came down that allowed us not to worry about our Sunday Mass obligation, I was relieved that F didn’t have to go through such awkwardness for a while.

After churches shut down, I set up our own home liturgy each week, based on the Sunday rubrics – the Sunday readings and many of the Mass prayers, up to the Eucharistic celebration, obviously – and wrapping up with our own intercessions and the prayer of Spiritual Communion, plus the Hail Holy Queen and prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. We continued with this even after we returned to in-person Mass for a bit.

When we started going back to Mass after churches reopened, things became even more awkward; the kabuki-like processes involving hand sanitizer and masks complicated things, and both priests and eucharistic ministers became even more befuddled by a non-receiving kid. After several Sundays of this, I finally decided we would remain at home on Sundays. F seemed relieved.

Nowadays, we pray through our home liturgy together before CCD; after CCD, we usually view the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral. At the very least, this gets F acclimated to the words and routine of the Sunday liturgy without either the distractions that come with in-person worship or the anxiety that comes with awkward Communion line situations.

It can be laborious sometimes, putting together the home liturgy, but reading and praying through the process has been an enlightening and fruitful experience for me. I’m grateful for it, and F seems to appreciate the intimacy of praying through it together as well.

So, no, we’re not attending Sunday Mass these days. The pandemic dispensations remain, so we are okay as far as the Church is concerned. And until the dispensations are lifted, I’m going to forge ahead this way with my daughter.

I can never decide how I feel about local sports references being inserted into the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral. But this time, I approve of the assisting priest’s White Sox mask.

Today, the most deeply heartfelt Good Friday social media posts — to me, anyway — came from Patti Smith on Instagram.

I went through Lent, and all I have is this lousy angst

It’s Holy Week. And once again, I arrive at this moment realizing that I suck as a Catholic.

Except for some reading I actually accomplished, Lent was a dismal failure. I haven’t been to Mass once, and it looks like I won’t be hitting the confessional until after Easter. I think about God a lot, and I pray each night with Frannie, but my rosary beads have largely gone untouched. I’ve been cranky about the Church, and anything that smacks of traditional Catholic practice or belief leaves me guarded in case it’s linked to some kind of scary far-right extremism.

So, I gravitate to my old comfort zone of moderate evangelicals and Catholic voices like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Fr. Jim Martin, and Franciscan Fr. Casey Cole. My media consumption veers sharply away from EWTN and Relevant Radio now, and more toward America and U.S. Catholic magazines. It feels like the more outspokenly traditionalist and more-orthodox-than-thou the voice is these days, the more likely the voice belongs to angry people who hate the current pope and/or hold frightening views on COVID-19 vaccines, political conspiracy theories, and policies that support the common good.

So much for gravitating back to basics this Lent and getting to know Jesus again. There is that – but then I think, Jesus, have you even met these people?

(Yeah, I know: He has. And yeah, I know: They need His mercy as much as I do.)

Between the pandemic that still scares me from Mass and the divisive politics in the Church today, I feel a lot farther from Rome than ever.

Eve Tushnet, on today’s news out of the Vatican: “The Church can guide our loves. But nobody’s gonna trust Her if Catholics focus on protecting doctrines and ignore the need to defend people. Jesus defended the woman taken in adultery before he said anything at all to her … this is the right order of priorities.”

An early birthday present

A birthday gift that I really needed arrived in the wee hours, as I was attempting to fall asleep with a lectio divina meditation via the Hallow app: a reading of Psalm 27.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
These my enemies and foes
themselves stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart does not fear;
Though war be waged against me,
even then do I trust.

One thing I ask of the Lord;
this I seek:
To dwell in the Lord’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the Lord’s beauty,
to visit his temple.
For God will hide me in his shelter
in time of trouble,
He will conceal me in the cover of his tent;
and set me high upon a rock.
Even now my head is held high
above my enemies on every side!
I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and chant praise to the Lord.

Hear my voice, Lord, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.
“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”;
your face, Lord, do I seek!
Do not hide your face from me;
do not repel your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off;
do not forsake me, God my savior!
Even if my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me in.

Lord, show me your way;
lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not abandon me to the desire of my foes;
malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.
I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord, take courage;
be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!

(Psalm 27 [NABRE])

At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“Let the day of my birth be erased,
and the night I was conceived.
Let that day be turned to darkness.
Let it be lost even to God on high,
and let no light shine on it.
Let the darkness and utter gloom claim that day for its own. …
Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb,
for letting me be born to see all this trouble.

“Why wasn’t I born dead?
Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? …
Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace.
I would be asleep and at rest. …
For in death the wicked cause no trouble,
and the weary are at rest. …

“Oh, why give light to those in misery,
and life to those who are bitter? …
Why is life given to those with no future,
those God has surrounded with difficulties? …
What I always feared has happened to me.
What I dreaded has come true.
I have no peace, no quietness.
I have no rest; only trouble comes.”_

(Job 3:1-5a, 10-11, 13, 17, 20, 23, 25-26 [NLT])

Why do I post and tweet more lately on social media about baseball than about church stuff?

It dawned on me: I want to post about things that make me happy.

Baseball these days makes me happy. Church stuff, with all the Catholic infighting and anger and holier-than-thou crap, does not.

One of the few things I’m accomplishing so far this Lent is reading through the Gospel of Mark (using the Message translation).

Granted, Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, so getting through it is really nothing to brag about. That said, Mark’s brevity belies its substance as a rich and vivid portrait of Jesus; it’s exactly what I needed this season.

I found out recently about Michael Pakaluk’s “new translation” of Mark, “The Memoirs of St Peter,” and bought a barely used copy; it arrived today. Only recently did I learn that church tradition holds that Mark, a follower and “interpreter” of St Peter, generally reflects the apostle’s narrative of the life of Christ. After reading an excerpt online of Pakaluk’s book, I was hooked. I look forward to tearing into it after I finish the Message version of the Gospel.


Nothing says “holy Catholic witness” on social media like using your Instagram account to call out people as “heretical donkey clowns.” 😐


Stripping away the anger and frills for a basic -- but late -- Lenten start

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m finally on the Lenten train.

The divisive, angry wing of the Church – the one that increasingly condemns Pope Francis, holds up the Latin Mass over even reverent vernacular Mass as the optimal (if not the only true) liturgy, considers abortion the only pro-life issue that matters, and traffics in conspiracy theories and far right politics – has left me thoroughly disgusted. Unfortunately, that wing has touched “mainstream” Catholic sources, including some I had followed semiregularly (like EWTN, Relevant Radio, and Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire operation); even the Catholic bookstore that has been a mainstay for me has fallen to it. So, I’ve had to cull the spiritual supports in my social media and reading to ease the rage that has blinded me for weeks.

I don’t agree with everything that lives at the center-left end of the Catholic spectrum, especially some of the more New Agey spots (cough – Richard Rohr – cough) where it veers from orthodox theology. But the vindictive, holier-than-thou far right spirit that has clouded my vision lately is notably absent, and I feel like I can see God again.

Anyway, so much has clouded my spiritual vision that Fr. Daniel Horan’s suggestion to “go back to basics” for Lent really spoke to me. I’ve gone with one of Fr. Horan’s ideas for the season:

Why not set aside some time each day during Lent to read a portion of the Bible, perhaps start with one of the Gospels and read, reflect and pray with the passage? If we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, sayings and narratives we thought we understood could inform or challenge us in new and timely ways.

So, I’ve been spending some quality time with the Gospel of Mark, using The Message paraphrase of the Bible. It’s been deeply absorbing and eye-opening, more than I expected. It is awfully refreshing to strip away all the ritual, relatively peripheral devotions, church politics, culture wars, and theological preening, and get to the basis of Christianity: Jesus himself.

From there, I’ve only taken up a few other things for Lent:

  • Read and reflect on two other books this season: “Learning to Pray” by Fr. James Martin and “The Hidden Power of Kindness” by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik.
  • Give up YouTube binging on mindless, time-wasting entertainments like “Big Bang Theory” clips.
  • Avoid constant indulgence in news – stop constantly checking the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other such sites – especially stuff that leads to anger, gossip, and detraction.
  • Avoid gossip and detraction. This goes for work and home conversations about everything and everybody: news figures/celebrities; colleagues; friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; church people; and each other. Change the subject when others try to draw me into such chatter. (I have already failed at this numerous times since Wednesday.)
  • I had a semi-grand idea to forego VitaminWater Zero for the season and set aside my spending on that for alms, but I’ve already failed at that. I’ve given up there and I’m just setting aside alms for the archdiocesan COVID-19 relief effort and our local food bank.

Usually I get ambitious about things like Lent. This year, I’m too tired to be ambitious: tired of religion (but not God), tired of the pandemic, tired of life. If only a few steps – beginning with getting reacquainted with Jesus – can rebuild my spirit even a little, I will be overjoyed.

A weirdly Chicago moment: viewing the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral and finding Bulls announcer Chuck Swirsky handling lector duties.

I know yesterday was Ash Wednesday.

Finally had some time to reflect on the Lenten season ahead. It’ll be another day or two before I write about it. A “hot take” on a holy time is not something to strive for.