Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lent 2021: Book Reviews

 If there was anything positive about this past year, I believe my reading habits have been forever changed.  During Lent, I limit my reading choices to books that are at least faith-adjacent choices. In previous years, I haven't been able to do more than a devotional and a book or two on top of that. I had five books on my list for this year, and I finished the last one mid-March. If you are looking for some reading material, here are a few suggestions:

Racial Justice and the Catholic Church by Bryan N. Massingale

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: Massingale provides us with a heartbreaking look at the generational loss the US Catholic Church has suffered because of racism, slavery and the devastating consequences. I had noticed some of the reviews claimed there wasn't a strong conclusion or resolution but I did not share this opinion. While I am uncertain that there is an appropriate way to repair this sort of generational loss, I found a fairly detailed list of action items and a thorough analysis in Massingale's words that I will be referring back to for years to come. I appreciated his style and approach to the subject and I am only sorry I didn't read this book much sooner. 

Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church: by Olga M. Segura

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: I had been anticipating Segura's book for a few months. There are some very commonly spread rumors and falsehoods about the Black Lives Matter movement in Catholic circles especially, and I wanted the opportunity to read something that discussed both the Church and BLM. This was fantastic. Perhaps my favorite things about Segura's work was that most of her resources were women of color. It helped me to sit completely in a perspective that was different from my own, helped me to understand  aspects of the movement that I had previously not understood, and gave me so much to sit with and work on for myself. Segura also gives us specific action items that Catholics must change and be a part of in order to repair centuries of damage. I hope that both lay and clergy of the Catholic Church take notice here and read her work. 

Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood: by Michael R. Heinlein

Rating: 2/5 stars

Review: When I purchased this book, I was looking forward to Gloria Purvis' involvement. I was somewhat let down by the all too brief biographies. While some of the reflections were well done, it seemed obvious to me that the author/editor wasn't entirely comfortable talking about race and racism. It is possible that this book fell flat for me after reading books with a more detailed history of racism and the Church. The Black Catholic Messenger's review of this book shows why the approach Heinlein took isn't all that helpful. While this gave me some great someday saints to research, I was expecting more.

The Church's Best Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching by Mark P. Shea

Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Shea does a great job here of wading through the Compendium to give us insight on Catholic Social Teaching (CST). I appreciated the brevity and the questions at the end of a chapter, making it an easy book club or study group choice. It's been nearly a decade now since I first began seeking out books on just this topic, only to find very limited options. I'm glad to have a hard copy of this because I definitely needed my highlighter. 

The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus by Dorothy Day

Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: I have read The Long Loneliness and Saved By Beauty and a few others about my favorite American Catholic, Dorothy Day, and I will read them all I am sure. There is something about the private writings of Day that moves me. She is quick-tempered, a little bit mouthy, and has to really work to get through the work she believes she is called to do. I loved that this was a book easily broken up because so much of my reading time is in the car waiting to pick up the kids, but at the same time there were entries where I wanted to know more context. 

Bonus Read

The History of Black Catholics in the United States by Cyprian Davis

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: I read Davis' book last year, but I had to add it to this list because it was the book that started my journey in learning about racial justice and the part the Catholic Church has to play in all of it. Davis has a thorough and fair voice and I learned more about Black Catholics and even the history of Catholicism in the United States from him than I have any other author or class. This book can be difficult to find, but it's easily one of the top three most important books to American Catholicism. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

A Return to the Mundane Complaint?

 Our 46th president Joe Biden makes me think of my one and only political conversation with my grandpa.  He died when I was a senior in college, or I'm sure we would have had plenty to say to each other these days. It went something like this:

            Me: What's with the 'Catholics for Kerry' button, old man?

            Him: What, you wouldn't have voted for Kennedy?

These two Catholic men that have served as president leave me conflicted. 

As a Catholic, there is a sense of swelling pride in a shared and sacred Baptism in Christ that I didn't think I was able to feel anymore. Pride in a baptism that leaves an indelible mark on our souls that cannot be taken from us. There is also the distress in the knowledge that both men are flawed Catholics. So am I. The Catholic Church is a place for sinners but it is also a place where our leaders share our sins. 

As a woman, I have the all too familiar feeling of wanting to trust a man, but knowing he may have made other women feel unsafe. Perhaps I have become hyper-aware and hyper-focused on these warning flags, but I cannot dismiss the warnings all the same. 

These conflicts all feel blessedly mundane in this, the year of our Lord, 2021. My insides may resemble a storm at sea, but I am grateful that these conflicts leave me cautious and alert. It reminds me of dark churches at night and my favorite Liturgy of the Hours Tuesday night prayer verse:

                                        Stay sober and alert. -1 Peter 5:8



Friday, May 29, 2020

Neutral isn't a Thing

A few years ago I made the decision to mostly stop posting about politics and heavy issues on my personal social media accounts. I decided that I simply did not care what my friends and family thought about these things, because their opinions were not what formed mine, and the useless arguments between friends and family that often did not know each other were increasingly difficult to host amid day to day responsibilities. If I had something pro-life or feministy to post, I used the blog or the blog social media accounts. If I am being completely honest though, I also stopped because reading old posts about things like abortion and motherhood make me cringe now. I was trying so hard to fit a mold that I no longer desire to fit.

It was important that I rethink this decision (momentarily, at least) this week because racism is sinful, murder is sinful, and I am a white person that is in the best position to challenge any belief that posits otherwise when it comes to my friends and family. A post written by Jen Hatmaker was like a slap in the face. I am not neutral when it comes to racism and murder. Why am I allowing my silence to speak for me?

I am not suddenly jumping on a cause. I am not a perfect ally. I want to be better. I can't get better if I don't try. As Hatmaker said, "(I) can handle dissent." The right thing is not always easy, but we do it anyway.

It should not take rioting and looting and fire for men and women of color to be heard. This is not a hateful reaction to hate: it is begging for justice to be served. I used to believe that I did not understand rioting and looting. Maybe it is never something I would do. I do not have to condone it to understand the human reaction to fight to be heard. You don't have to like it. You don't have to participate. You have to listen. You cannot be neutral.

This is a pro-life issue. Womb to tomb, human life has dignity.

If you do not know where to begin, Here is a list. Pass it on. Do not rely on your friends and family of color to do the heavy emotional labor here. You can handle it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


I was somewhat of an anomaly amongst my coworkers at the domestic violence shelter. I was a practicing Catholic. I was completely new to working with survivors of violence. I was pro-life. 

It was quite common that I would be asked questions about my beliefs or politics, but being pro-life was a hot topic of conversation. 

"What about the death penalty?"

Yep. I'm against that.

"What about working with women that have had abortions?"

My job is to advocate and provide information for women and their children as they build a life after violence. All women.

"What about partnering with the shelter that serves the LGBTQ community?"

No one deserves to be abused or assaulted. 

With every answered question, I'd get a "Wow." and a shake of the head. "So you're, like, really actually pro-life for everyone, huh?"

I think I always assumed that my coworkers just hadn't ever encountered someone that was actually pro-life, because all pro-life people believed that all people were created with inherent human dignity, right? From conception to a natural death, right?

I get it now. I understand the looks. I understand the impromptu meet and greets: "Hey come meet my friend, she is pro-life but not like *that* so you'll love her!" I understand the warnings from my coworkers and supervisors about conferences and get togethers with other agencies. "Maybe don't mention the pro-life thing, especially if you're looking to stay in this field and maybe work on the state level someday."

The last three years in particular, we have all watched as the pro-life movement interpreted their cause narrower and narrower. There are very real reasons pro-life folks are not trusted.

"We can't fix everything."

I actually saw someone call us Catholics to a consistent pro-life ethic and be met by another supposed pro-life Catholic with "oh that consistent pro-life pitfall" as though there is another path Christ has asked us to follow Him down. 

My work as an advocate left me with stories I can never forget. It did not change my belief that all people are created in the image of God and that all are worthy of dignity. I can believe that and let my actions and words reflect that while still being against abortion. It is not mutually exclusive work, friends.

Stop sacrificing the dignity of others because unborn babies are easier to champion than other groups of people that need Christ's example. People are messy. They don't always look like you or make it easy to love them. Do it anyway. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sexual Violence is Personal

We all have people in our lives that have experienced rape, sexual harassment or assault. Many of our loved ones have experienced this at the hands of someone they know. These experiences leave imprints. 

Our loved ones are listening. What you do matters. What you say matters. Public figures you support?  It matters. Not all of us have the luxury of being about to "just enjoy the comedy routine" or "just vote policy." Sexual violence is a direct violation of the dignity of a person. It is personal. 

It is personal. 

Saying that you cannot support an actor, CEO, member of the clergy, politician, or anyone in the community because of sexual assault/harassment, or rape allegations isn't emotional. It's personal. It is telling survivors that they matter. Their stories matter, and you are not okay with taking the bad with the good if it means overlooking their assault. 

The very reason these crimes are so personal is the same reason so many believe they are excused from listening: it often cannot be proven. 

"Well, they *are* married." 

"Well, he/she didn't assault *me*."

"I'll wait for proof."

"Let the courts decide whether or not this virtually unprovable thing that happened, when often times even evidence of such a crime doesn't change the fact that our instincts are to blame the victim, actually happened." 

"But he/she does this thing good."

"He/she shouldn't have been there/worn that/done that so he/she had it coming." 

*Insert anecdotal evidence here*

People do both bad and good things. People can do mostly good with flaws, and people can do mostly bad but still manage to do a little good. If we never hold anyone accountable for the bad, then it is easier to do again. When survivors see statements such as those above, reporting or even disclosing assault seems pointless. "Who will believe me?" This echoes the threats made to abused children, and those assaulted by people with money, power, importance. 

If it is easy for you to overlook allegations of assault or rape "for the greater good", I ask you to pause  and think about human dignity, and the fifth commandment. 

2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.
Sexual violence violates the fifth commandment. Those in violation should be held accountable, repent, and be rehabilitated. 

It is up to us to treat sexual assault as the violation of human dignity that it truly is. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Sexual Violence Against Women and the Catholic Response

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the Catholic Church has had to seriously up her game when it comes to the subject of sexual assault, in particularly as it relates to the clergy abuse scandals. However, when it comes to sexual assault, a great deal of the training or responses issued center on rape and pregnancy.

The Catholic Church (beyond the Catechism (2356) ) does not really have a standard training for the clergy or faith counseling focused on sexual assault advocacy or healing. In my experience as an advocate, there are Catholic organizations that serve sexual assault survivors, but when it comes to one on one counseling or even educational/training materials there is most certainly something left to be desired.

The Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Findings (2011) tell us that faith communities are a likely support system for victims of violence, yet our support for survivors is seriously lacking. Poor catechisis  and modesty/chastity talks gone wrong are not doing a fantastic job of sexual assault prevention. We cannot leave our girls to believe their level of modesty is responsible for assault, and we cannot leave our boys to believe that they are nothing but a victim of their sinful urges.

I believe that the Catholic Church can put together more cohesive preventative measures and responses when it comes to sexual violence. The USCCB website has a section with parish resources related to combating sexual violence, but many of the links speak mostly about domestic violence. I believe the response must be more than this.

The inherent dignity of all people must be upheld in all aspects of Catholic faith education: from parish communities to counseling. The church has implemented the VIRTUS training program for all parish volunteers in the US as a response to the clergy abuse scandals. I believe that our parishes can work with local domestic and sexual violence programs to also train their staff in advocating for survivors. The pro life response here, is to have complete understanding of the dynamics of all forms of sexual assault, and to be able to support survivors as they heal. After all, will they not call upon their faith community for support?

The FaithTrust Institute approaches domestic and sexual violence from a religious perspective. They have resources for most faith communities, though nothing I have seen that is explicitly Catholic. When I go to the USCCB page and click on the link for resources, nothing comes up. This something that really must improve

Do you know how your parish and diocese approach sexual violence? Sound off in the comments! I would love to hear about successful approaches or working relationships between Catholic organizations and the local anti-violence programs.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Here's to Dorothy, Oscar, and Rebuilding

I used to think that logic was all I would need to remain faithful. When I became a wife and later a parent, I did not worry about the spiritual dry spell that developed because I knew there was not another spiritual home for me. These past few years, I have seen the wounds of our Church history rip open and I have felt it deeply. I mourn for the victims of clerical abuse. I mourn for those harmed by our institution in other ways. There is a comfort within the Mass and a yearning for the Eucharist that I cannot be without, and yet I desperately wanted to leave.

It is my nature to want to fix problems. It is not easy for me to sit without resolution. Learning how to build faith in uncertainty and how to work through the uncomfortable feels like an overwhelming prospect for an impatient perfectionist such as myself. It makes coming to terms with the imperfection of our human church a struggle that feels insurmountable.

I've recently discovered that my faith in God is not the same thing as my faith in our earthly church. This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but for this cradle Catholic, it took some time. Humans let themselves, each other, and their God down. We fail. We fall. We get back up and swear we will never fail or fall again, but then we do.

We are Peter.

My faith in our human ability to live as Christ asks us to live is (permanently?) shaken, but I am trying. It's been suggested that I just look through all the pain and grief towards the resurrection. All I can see is a fog of anger, and not all of it is righteous. I see doubt, darkness, ruin.

I keep trying.

I see Dorothy Day, surrounded by those that people find difficult to love, those that struggle to love, or both. I imagine her words "God understands us when we try to love." I see her commitment to loving others extend to her death.

I try again.

I see Oscar Romero (once I blink away Raul Julia) as I begin to get to know more about his faith, love and life. I spend time wrapping my hardened heart and mind around his words "The church is the salt of the earth. It is to be expected that where there are wounds this salt will burn." I see that his commitment to Christ extended to his sudden death.

I try again.

I read their words, see their flaws, and I feel relief.

I am relieved that I recognize the hardships of faith in their lives and the familiarity of struggle.

I am relieved that they were not perfect.

I am relieved to disagree at times, but there is still so much room to admire their work, words, and example.

Surrounding myself with saints that also recognized the imperfection on earth is healing.

I share this with all of you because it was important for me to know that other Catholics felt similarly. If you too have been shaken and have lost your footing, I see you. I am here with you, and I am trying along side you to rebuild.