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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

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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.

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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.

“…biblical authors often used humor and the absurd to alert their readers that something very important is about to happen. The births of Isaac and Jesus were my two examples. The idea that either a woman in her nineties or a virgin can give birth is, I said, absurd, and the authors knew this to be so. They never expected their readers to take them literally. Rather they were saying, look these births herald the coming [of] something new into the world and hence break with the normative ways of producing offspring.” Rabbi Rami Shapiro, http://rabbirami.blogspot.com/2012/11/stand-up-theology.html

We all love Thanksgiving dinner and all its trimmings – a beautiful family tradition that brings our families together and mends and heals and nurtures. Now, just a few weeks later we are immersed in the Christmas story and all its trimmings. And, once again, we prepare for family gatherings and for opportunities to renew and reclaim, to nest and remember. But what is it as Christians that we are called to remember? What is the Christian heart of our Christmas story?

Obviously, it’s not Christmas lights and fir trees; it’s not snow men or reindeer. It’s not Santa Claus or even Saint Nicholas – he came much later.

Is it the angels singing in the fields, and the shepherds? Is it wise men from the East and their gifts? Is it Herod’s slaughter of the innocents – that’s hardly festive? Okay, what about the stable and the ox and ass and manger? There has to be a manger because of the song, right? And everybody loves the scene of the angels and shepherd and the baby!

Everybody loves a story of a baby, especially one in which there is danger and pathos and heroism and compassion and beauty and a happy ending with angels singing and a star from heaven guiding a family to safety so a baby can be born under a starry sky….ahhhh! Cue the heavenly chorus. Then add the mysteries and treasures of the Orient and a baby lamb and some portentous dreams. What is not to like about this story? But we still haven’t gotten to the Christian heart of the story. We are still in the Christmas Story. And that is where Christmas stays for so many people it seems, and not just children.

In my experience, adult Christians who have become disenchanted with Christmas have become disenchanted with the Christmas Story not with the Christian Story. In fact they may not really know the Christian story. And here we get to Rabbi Rami’s point.  The Gospel writers, writing decades after Jesus’ death, were not historians of his life; they were not biographers. They were tellers of his Teaching, Death, and Resurrection – and only as an afterthought his birth, and only because, after all, he had to have had one.  In telling about his birth their main concern was to say that God was involved, and that from the very beginning the Jesus Event was a God Event. Not just from the moment of his baptism (Mark), not just from the moment of his announced conception (Matthew and Luke) but even from before the moment of creation (John).

The Gospel writers, when addressing the issue of Jesus’ birth, were giving us theology not biology.  They weren’t interested in eggs, sperm, uteruses – they didn’t know about such things. They weren’t interested in the human person as evil matter versus a good spirit, that idea was a Greek idea that didn’t have any influence on the Gospel writing, obviously, because Jesus clearly had a body in all the Gospel narratives.  The Gospel writers weren’t concerned about Original Sin either; Augustine would create that idea a few hundred years later.

The Gospel writers were telling us, using hyperbole and using Old Testament allusions, that the Jesus Event was a God Event, and that it had always been a God Event, since the beginning of Jesus’ life, or even since the beginning of all time. Moreover, the Jesus Event had been prefigured by many different stories in the Old Testament, showing that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah of Jewish expectation. For example, Micah prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew especially took great pains to connect his version of the Infancy Narrative, as it is called, to prophecies in the Old Testament. For example he connects the family’s trip to Egypt, and the ensuing slaughter of the innocents – two stories no other Gospel includes – to prophecies in Hosea and Jeremiah respectively. It is generally agreed that Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish-Christian and in his use of Old Testament quotes and allusions he may simply be using a literary device to make his theological points: the Jesus Event was a God Event; Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah.  The early Christians hadn’t gone any further than this in trying to figure out Jesus’ relationship to God yet, other than the basic language of Father, Son, and Spirit. The debate about the Trinity took nearly four hundred more years to settle (Council of Nicea 325, Chalcedon 451).

So what then is my point? If we are suffering from Christmas ennui, maybe it’s because we simply have lost sight of the Christian Story.  My solution? Let’s give ourselves the gift of a LITERARY GOSPEL CHRISTMAS. Let’s do some reading of the Gospel narratives with a footnoted Bible translation and/or scholarly commentary at hand and really attempt to understand the Christian Story beneath the Christmas story before we call Bah Humbug to it all!

Fellow Travelers? Four Atheists Who Don’t Hate Religion

Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal Magazine, October 26, 2012

My Comment in response to his article:

Paul, I want to thank you for providing such an informed review of the apologists for the Church without Christ (and the Synagogue without Yahweh).

     To put it more bluntly, the secular self-understanding of the liberal state can no longer motivate its citizens to act self-sacrificially in the service of justice. Its failure to find a way to mark death is mirrored by its failure to make passionate collective action a real possibility.

I am currently ambivalent about God, but find myself longing for a Catholic faith community without the Church. What the Catholic Church has come to represent to me is not God but human corruption, self-serving arrogance, and power-hungry pope mongers. The answer is not to give up on God but on the structures of power that inhibit the values of love and self-sacrifice, beauty and reverence, honesty and penitence from becoming present and visible to the Catholic community. The Catholic faithful need to take ownership of these values, take responsibility for their understanding of the message of Jesus, and take over the practice of faithful witness.

I don’t want any priest at my funeral. I may want a particular priest friend of mine, or perhaps a Rabbi – also a dear friend, because each of these friends exemplifies the values of compassion, tenderness, integrity, and justice rooted in a life of reflective, religious faith that I recognize as truly “of God.”

As a victim of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, one of five in my immediate family, the worst way to mark my death for my family would be with an anonymous representative of the organization responsible for our suffering. Even an empty Church would be painful – the context of our abuse. But what about a house with a gathering of loved ones, and the Catholic prayers and rituals of a funeral rite led by those present?  There could be priests, rabbis, druids, agnostics, atheists, as long as each one was a friend representing only his or her own faith in God and/or love of me.

Perhaps one thing of value that can come from the sexual abuse crisis in our Church is that it might make “passionate, collective action a real possibility” among Catholics who are still faith-travelers in search of God, Love, Truth, and Justice. Then maybe more of us can forestall the rejection of God that would bring us, finally, to that empty church and a memorial with no blessing.

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It seems that I have fallen under the spell of magical thinking. Although clear about the nature of priestly ordination NOT making any kind of magical, ontological change in the persona of a priest, I apparently still harbored similar ideas about religious vows.

I have treated my brother James as if his capacity to bear the burdens of others was deeper and wider simply because he was a professed religious. It didn’t help that he was indeed more compassionate, gentle, patient and tender than most brothers, or Brothers. This in fact made it harder to recognise how we all in the family were taking advantage of him and expecting him to bear burdens beyond those of ordinary mortals or even ordinary friends or siblings.

The truth is he has borne those burdens, often juggling one parent’s or one sibling’s needs against another – often more than just one other in fact. And he has borne them alone. Unlike the rest of us – with husbands, wives, children, grandchildren – he has had no permanent presence in his life. No daily confidant or consoler. And he has lost many of his dearest friends in the last few years, reducing the number of support people in his life and increasing the pain and loss in his own relationships.

I have shared these reflections with my brother and our siblings, but I felt the topic was worthy of public comment also.

For those who are committed to going forward in the community of the Catholic faith it is vital that we reconsider our view of religious and priests, and most importantly our view of the vows that we have taken. Yes, all of us are under vows (solemn promises to perform an act, carry out an activity, or behave in a given way) taken for us by our parents at Infant Baptism, renewed by us at Confirmation, and reaffirmed by us every time we recite our creed and pray the Lord’s prayer. Implicit in these sacraments, faith statements and prayers is the promise to live by the beliefs expressed. We are not promising to support priests and religious as they live out their “calling,” we are acknowledging that we, too, are called, that we, too, are committing to live out this common calling, this shared vocation.

The Catholic faith community will not survive unless all Catholics accept their role, their burden, their joy of living a “vowed” life. The role of priests and religious should be seen as supporting us all in this life, not the other way around. This is a good time to reclaim  not the priesthood of the people but the people of the priesthood, or even better the people of Christ.

This excites me. This energizes me. How will this look?

I wanted to light a candle for my mother today. The first anniversary of her death. She believed in candles, did mum. Lit several every time I sat an exam. Apparently there were “C” candles and “A” candles! But there are no churches open during the day any more. So I bought a Jewish memorial candle instead; they light them on the anniversary of a death – a yahrzeit candle. I don’t think she’d mind – same God an’ all. And Jesus was Jewish, so was his mum.

Isn’t it tragic though, in a little, poignant kind of tragic way, that the church that got  my mother through so much is no longer there in that way. Even if I were still comfortable doing so. where would I go to offer prayers today? If I still taught in a Catholic school I would  have a chapel, but I work in a synagogue office. People just don’t drop in to synagogues to pray. Take photos maybe, on a historical tour, but pray? Not so much. I do, though, sometimes pray in the sanctuary that is. (It is so beautiful when the rising and setting sun hits the large arched stained glass windows.) Nothing formal just a quiet thank you and a smile ,or a desperate, God help me today,  help me breathe.

I don’t think God minds where we are when we give thanks, or cares for us less if we are bi-religious or religiously undecided. Whatever. If there’s a God then God is wherever I am, always. That’s a comforting thought, today. I hope mum found what she was hoping for, and I hope she’s with her Jim. And today hope is as close to prayer as I can get.

A RESPONSE TO AN ATHEIST BLOGGER WHO HAS CHOSEN TO BECOME CATHOLIC – click here for the website

I don’t know you; I came across an article about your conversion on CNN news. I am delighted that you have found the love of God; I am somehow offended that you have chosen the Catholic Church. With all its immorality in leadership, its disregard for truth, let alone God’s Truth, its dismissal of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of female religious and in the call to priesthood among women, its rejection of homosexuals as disordered, yet its acceptance of large numbers of homosexuals into the priesthood, its protection and promotion of child abusers and their bishops, its total and absolute disregard for the spiritual and emotional torment of child victims and their families… it is impossible for me to find the Truth that is Jesus within the contemporary Catholic Church.

I wish you well, I hope you can take Jesus with you on your journey into Catholicism and remain faithful to the guidance of the Truth.

It seems to me that in order for the Catholic Church to make any kind of meaningful recovery from the current dismal situation of international moral turpitude, there will have to be an overhaul of the Code of Canon Law, and a re-education of the bishops in the inappropriate use of “mental reservation” which has been used to avoid telling the truth to civil authorities and to victims.  It is pointless for reforms to be written in country after country if the priests and bishops can ultimately still lie while they assuage their consciences by recourse to Canon Law and archaic Catholic Moral Doctrine. Bishops are still instructing victim’s advocates to never admit there has been other accusations against, or other victims of, a particular priest. It has to stop. The dishonesty and denial has to stop.

Canon Law.

We need to have the Vatican remove Canon 1728.2. To quote Sr. Maureen Turlish:

While possible victims of childhood sexual abuse and other lay witnesses are asked to take an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth etc.” during a canonical trial concerning the public good, an alleged priest-perpetrator is not. Canon 1728.2 says, “The accused is not bound to confess the delict [crime] nor can an oath be administered to the accused.”

http://ncronline.org/blogs/examining-crisis/philly-trial-reveals-unreliability-religions-self-policing-policies

The Scandal of Secrecy

It is time to open all the secret archives, and have an independent non-Catholic committee review the documents for records of criminal behavior. The privacy of priests should be upheld except in cases of written record of criminal behavior such as the sexual abuse of minors.

… canon law encourages — and even requires — church leaders to engage in secrecy so as to prevent scandal. If a bishop suspects a cleric has committed sexual abuse, for instance, canon law requires the bishop to conduct an investigation (or delegate the investigation) and then place the results into a secret archive. Those privy to such investigations swear secrecy and risk excommunication for violating that secrecy, note the authors.

From a review of Sex, Priests and Secret Codes, Thomas P. Doyle, A.W.R. Sipe and Patrick J. Wall, Volt Press.
http://ca.renewedpriesthood.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=764

Mental Reservations

We also need to remove the option of “mental reservation” from the bishops play book. Because despite its “official” rejection it continues to be implemented. Why? Because it serves a useful purpose.  To refer to the same review quoted above:

Then there’s the technique of mental reservation, which, say the authors, is used by a person who is caught between an obligation to keep a secret and a duty to tell the truth. Furthermore, Catholic moral theology allows a person caught in such a dilemma to use misleading words to deceive another so long as a deliberate lie is not told. This is commonly employed in order to avoid a greater harm.  Justification for mental reservation is built into the oath cardinals take to never reveal to anyone whatsoever has been confided in me to keep secret and the revelation of which could cause damage or dishonor to the Holy Church. This might go a long way toward explaining why church officials lie about scandal when, as the authors contend, honesty is the best policy.

From a review of Sex, Priests and Secret Codes, Thomas P. Doyle, A.W.R. Sipe and Patrick J. Wall, Volt Press

http://ca.renewedpriesthood.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=764

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