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As a chaplain I have increasing numbers of patients and/ family members who do not claim to be religious but are nonetheless searching for something to provide meaning, direction, purpose, or value in their or their loved one’s suffering and dying. “I’m not religious but my wife is.” To which the patient responded, “Well, not really. I haven’t gone to church in years. I’ve been looking for something, I guess. But what do I do now?”  She was told she had just weeks to live.

I am hoping in the future months to gather or create resources for such people and I will share them here. I also ask for suggestions from any readers. If you or someone you know fits in this category, how are you or they making sense of life and death? Perhaps I need a new blog to attract people with this issue. But I’ll wait and see.

For the time being, check out some responses here:
https://thehumanist.com/commentary/spiritual-not-religious-readers-respond

 

How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275

traces of hope

Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on many questions about Catholicism – my faith home. Along the way I have left my career as a Catholic religious educator and more recently I have left my home in the Catholic Church for a new faith community in the United Church of Christ. It would be inappropriate to continue to comment on the Catholic Church as if I were a member, and so I will be changing the blog’s name to Christianity in the 21st Century.

I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my faith journey and my journey through grief and loss, if you are interested in my full story.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426982211&sr=1-1&keywords=Mona+villarrubia

A Mother – protecting her children (the membership) from historical truth and theological insight, and the responsibilities of independent thought. Trying desperately to keep her babes from leaving the nest.

A Lioness – protecting her cubs (the clergy) by hiding them from attack, redirecting attention away from them, retaliating against their attackers.

A “Uriah Heep” – whose only concern is to protect and gain control over the moneys taken in by the business. Motivated by greed, and putting on a face of insincere humility.

A model of the Church of “Bishop” Francis? – I remain hopeful.

“Why do we call God THE Place, HaMakom? It’s a metaphor. As physical beings, we sometimes best understand difficult concepts from a physical frame of reference. If you think about the meaning of a “place”, you may agree that it is more than just a geographical location. A place is a space which is capable of containing something else. When we call God HaMakom, we mean that everything is contained within God, while God is not contained in anything. As our Sages say: “God does not have a place, rather God is The Place … of the Universe” (Genesis Rabba 68:9).” Rabbi Paul Kipnes
http://www.rabbipaul.blogspot.com/2013/08/god-does-not-have-place-rather-god-is.html

God is the place…

Despite my recurrent atheistic leanings, born out of profound personal issues with Catholicism, I seem unable to escape God. My mind rejects the concepts of God proposed by Christian theology and other varieties of paternalistic theism, but I continue to encounter God. As Rabbi Kipnes suggests, we have to come out from behind our climate-controlled barriers, and when we do we can’t help but discover that there is something more than, greater than, deeper than, older than, human enterprise and human achievement. And I’m not talking dinosaurs!

I travelled to New Mexico this summer – it had been a wish of mine since moving to the States over thirty years ago. I wanted to see deserts and mountains and pueblos and I was not disappointed. I even saw the Rio Grande River Gorge. Not quite the Grand Canyon but just awesome to me.

I admit to an overly romanticized view of the culture of the Native Americans. I want to believe that every long-haired Native American man is a Shaman and can impart wisdom about life and finding God; I want to believe in the spiritual power of burning sage. Truth is, the man may just be old. Nonetheless, in the Taos pueblo I discovered that the community there, though baptized Catholic, still maintained the ancient religious traditions of their people. And these traditions demanded regular attention to, and respect for, nature. For the families whose turn it was to prepare and lead the ceremonials that year, a certain amount of time had to be spent living in the pueblo itself, with no electricity or running water, reliant on the river and on oil lamps and wood burning stoves. These conditions meant that there was an intimacy with nature not usually experienced in modern living.

So I come back to Rabbi Kipnes’ point again, that to meet God we must be open to nature…the place of God, the place that is God. And in fact in New Mexico I felt myself to be in God’s place – every day we drove out into the desert and through the mountains. One day we visited a Trappist monastery in Abiquiu and we joined in afternoon prayers. When the monks stood up after prayer was over and placed their hoods over their heads my stomach lurched and I felt panic rising – too much black, too many men in black. But I raised my eyes to the wall of windows in the front of the chapel and the mountain rock face it revealed, and I focused on that beauty and solidity and breathed slowly until the chapel cleared.

God was present to me that day, not in the chapel, not in the monks or prayers, but in the mountain. God shared the strength of that mountain with me as I struggled with a panic attack and with tears and with a throat threatening to close up on me. I breathed and prayed in thanks to God for simply being there and helping me breathe.

God as that place, God in that mountain – that is a God I can believe in.

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John’s description of his “revelation” is at once brilliant and breathtakingly painful in the way that Truth has of striking us in the heart. John has witnessed some changes for the better and acknowledges those, but these are changes in the hearts of State Legislators not in the hearts of Catholic Bishops. I recommend you read the entire article and share it with others. Then I recommend you research the Statute of Limitations in your own State. We have the power to bring about change through the legal system, power that we don’t have in the Church. This is one arena where there is indeed “Hope for the Future.”

Catholics4Change

Click here to read: “I Was Once a Victim,” by John Salveson, class of ’77, ’78 M.A., Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2013

Excerpt:

Slowly, eventually, I figured out the reason for the lack of progress within the Church. It really was simple. I had long believed the Roman Catholic Church considered the child sex-abuse crisis to be a moral issue. So I expected clergy to care about the victims and to do the right thing.

But the simple truth I had learned over time was this: Much of the Catholic leadership does not view this as a moral issue. They view it as a risk-management issue. The focus is on managing settlements, keeping the topic out of the media, telling the faithful everything is taken care of and, most of all, doing everything humanly possible to ensure none of these cases ever make it into a court of law.

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Read some suggestions for a positive, constructive, courageous and potentially healing church council.

Catholics4Change

Click here to read and watch: “Cardinal George Pell admits Church covered up cases of child sex abuse,” by Brigid Andersen, ABC News, May 27, 2013

Excerpt: Australia’s top-ranking Catholic has admitted to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry that some members of the Church tried to cover up child sexual abuse by other members of the clergy.

 

Please Sign For Christ’s Sake Initiative

by Tony Biviano for Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has been nothing short of an epidemic of catastrophic proportions. The devastation of victims, the ruination of priests and religious, the damage to a major world religion and its faithful are horrendous and incalculable.

Australian Bishops – Geoffrey Robinson, Bill Morris and Pat Power call on the new Pope to seize the opportunity of his appointment to not only sweep the Church clean but to put His/God’s house in order for all time.

ROYAL…

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Don’t give up hope give up blind obedience!

Another Voice

Professor Hans Küng — now 85 like his former professorial colleague Joseph Ratzinger — offers some reflections about church reform and Francis the new Bishop of Rome.

“What is to be done if our expectations of reform are dashed? The time is past when Pope and bishops could rely on the obedience of the faithful. A certain mysticism of obedience was also introduced by the eleventh-century Gregorian Reform: obeying God means obeying the Church and that means obeying the Pope and vice versa.

“Since that time, it has been drummed into Catholics that the obedience of all Christians to the Pope is a cardinal virtue; commanding and enforcing obedience – by whatever means – has become the Roman style. But the medieval equation of ‘obedience to God = to the Church = to the Pope’ patently contradicts the word of Peter and the other apostles before the High Council in…

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Mark Mueller at the The Star-Ledger has been following the Fr. Fugee / Archbishop Myers story. This is what the Archbishops’s spokesperson has had to say:

Priest who admitted groping boy appointed to high-profile position in Newark Archdiocese
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/02/priest_who_confessed_to_gropin.html
The Rev. Michael Fugee, who is barred from unsupervised contact with children under a binding agreement with law enforcement officials, has been appointed co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, the archdiocese recently announced in its newspaper, the Catholic Advocate.

….. Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese, called Fugee’s new role an administrative position based in the chancery office in Newark. Under no circumstances, Goodness said, will Fugee be alone with children.

“We have every confidence in him,” the spokesman said.

———-

Newark archbishop allows priest who admitted groping boy to continue working with children
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/04/with_approval_of_archbishop_pr.html

But Goodness denied the agreement had been breached, saying the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement.

“We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so,” Goodness said.

Even if Fugee heard private confessions from minors, those supervising Fugee were always nearby, Goodness said. “The fact is, he has done nothing wrong,” the spokesman said. “Nobody has reported any activity that is inappropriate, and I think that’s important to know, especially given that he’s a figure whose name is public and whose past is public.”

———-

Priest at center of Newark Archdiocese scandal quits ministry
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/05/newark_archbishop_monmouth_cou_1.html

Earlier this week, The Star-Ledger reported Fugee had violated that agreement, openly engaging in youth group activities at St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck. Fugee is longtime friends with the church’s youth ministers, Michael and Amy Lenehan.

Since the disclosure, Goodness has argued that Fugee did not violate the agreement because he was under the supervision of the youth ministers or other priests. Tonight, the spokesman sought to clarify his statements, saying that while it was “good” Fugee was under supervision, the priest did not seek permission from the archdiocese before participating in youth activities.

“He engaged in activities that the archdiocese was not aware of and that were not approved by us, and we would never have approved them because they are all in conflict with the memorandum of understanding,” Goodness said.

————


Priest admits violating ban on ministry to children, says actions are ‘my fault alone’

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/05/priest_admits_violating_ban_on.html

“In conscience, I feel it necessary to make clear to all that my actions described in recent news stories were outside of my assigned ministry within the archdiocese,” Fugee wrote. “… My failure to request the required permissions to engage in those ministry activities is my fault, my fault alone.”

The archdiocese released the full text of Fugee’s letter yesterday in an apparent effort to quell a public uproar over Myers’ handling of the priest, who signed the agreement with law enforcement in 2007 to avoid retrial on charges he fondled a teenage boy.

For days after The Star-Ledger’s report, a spokesman for the archbishop
Insist Fugee’s interactions with children were within the scope of the agreement, arguing he was under the supervision of lay ministers and other priests.

But amid mounting public pressure, calls by elected officials for Myers to resign and a criminal investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the archdiocese reversed course Thursday, acknowledging Fugee violated the agreement and saying he acted alone.

Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, reiterated that stance in a statement yesterday.
“The archdiocese only learned about two weeks ago when approached by a reporter that Fr. Fugee had engaged in other activities or ministries,” Goodness said. “Had the archdiocese known about them at the time, permission to undertake them would not have been granted.”

20130504-094752.jpg

Photo taken on a Pilgrimage in 2010. Fugee was convicted of sexual abuse in 2003. Facing retrial in 2007 because of a technicality regarding his self-description in his confession, he instead signed an agreement with law enforcement barring him from unsupervised contact with children.

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A friend died yesterday. Death is always an event that raises existential questions. And so I have been thinking about God and meaning and I wonder if perhaps the reason we need to believe in a God is not so much that we need to believe in an all powerful creator, and a grand design and purpose for the universe, but rather that we simply want to believe in “I.” We want the Self that we experience to be a reality, and, for that to be true, our Self has to be important to someone or something beyond ourselves. We don’t want to believe that we are just an anonymous part of a chaotic universe in which neither the universe or our Self has a purposeful beginning, history, or future. We don’t want to believe that our actions and reactions are just a matter of chemicals and neurological responses. We want to believe in the I, the Self, and the power of free will. For our individual Self to be real, we have to believe that there is something intrinsically different, ontologically different, between our species and other species: our ability to create ideas from nothing, not just imitate; our ability to love selflessly; our ability to recognize and respond to the Divine. And so we are drawn to the notion of a God who created it all from nothing, the universal Thou to our personal I. A Being who created us, chose us, knows us, loves us – and not just us collectively but individually.

I attended synagogue services Friday evening and prayed for my friend’s recovery. But I find the Reform Jewish service unsatisfying. It identifies the concept of a God, a creator, the name above all names, but without a re-enactment, without God’s words being spoken directly to us in some ritual drama, we never quite cross the threshhold of an invitation to believe in God and move into an engagement in communication with God.

In a Christian eucharist the words and acts of Jesus at the last supper (in so far as Paul remembers them) are re-enacted. We enter into that drama through our responses, and we participate, allbeit in a theatrical fashion, in a relationship with a God who knows us and loves us – each of us individually in our very Self – loves us enough to die for us. There is great power in this experience. It can bring about changes in a person’s life, elicit a decision to pursue a vocation, bring about conversion, provide relief from despair. It doesn’t matter who takes the role of Jesus, there is no magical power bestowed at ordination and no significance to gender, what is important is that someone speaks in Jesus’ place, addressing us in the first person, and that that someone believes in what they are saying. If you like, they have to be a good actor. If you love live theatre and live music as much as I do you will know the power of a good performance: for a while you can be completely drawn in to an alternate reality. The Eucharist is live drama and at it’s best it has the power to draw us in to an alternative reality to the one presented by society. And what it teaches us is that this alternative reality – a God centered universe – is the Truth.

Love relationships have a similar power to affirm the Self. We are known and chosen by another, our Self becomes more real because someone else acknowledges it. One level of devastation in a break-up is the loss of that sense of Self, our I. Without someone to love us how do we know who we are? Or even if we really exist. People will even comment, She seems lost.

It is common knowledge by now the degree of damage done to an infant that does not have its existence affirmed, that does not bond to a caretaker, that does not experience loving eyes and touch – statistically they have a harder time simply staying alive, and certainly they will struggle to thrive. But that need does not end in infancy. Without the love of parents and close friends and partners and children to identify us, who are we? If we at least have faith in a God, we have a chance of believing in our reality, our existence as an I, a separate Self. But without belief in the love of God and without the love of intimate relationships? It is easy to understand the descent into hopelessness and despair of the isolated and depressed individual who faces a world in which he seems to be invisible.

Does technology help here? I don’t think so. People do not encounter us as who we are through social media, so our identity, our I, is not affirmed. There are layers upon layers of deception and secrecy on the internet that we use to shield ourselves from others. So it does not really help in our quest to affirm out existence, our identity, our uniqueness. Encountering our true Self requires real interaction in person with another, and seeing and experienceing their acceptance of us as an I that exists and is unique and worth knowing.

My friend was with my husband and me for four months in Houston after Katrina, part of an uprooted high school community from New Orleans. We all became friends and I discovered in him a brooding, anxious, angry side that made me afraid for him. But after Katrina he married and had a baby. He was more mellow, his existence had been affirmed, his identity had been acknowledged: he had been singled out and chosen above all others. There was less anger, more real joy. I’m so glad he had that experience – of being (re)created, of his Self being affirmed – before he died at the young age of 39. And if there is a God, my friend will now know for certain who he is and how much he is loved.

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