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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

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

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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.

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.

Yes, it’s true: there is Justice going on in the Church. Read on and rejoice! Better yet, support CTA.

“In the last two weeks, three parishes in the Seattle Archdiocese have said they will NOT participate in Bishop Sartain’s anti-gay campaign that is being run by NOM, an organization known for its racist strategies.

Instead, by their action, these parishes have declared they are going to stand on the side of love and stand with their LGBT parishioners.”

Jim Fitzgerald, Call to Action

Read more of the story here on NCR.

My brother sent me an article about Mr. Rogers and his profound impact on a writer, Tim Madigan, who interviewed him and subsequently wrote a book called, I am Proud of You. My brother said that the second page of the article brought him to tears, and as soon as I read it I knew why.

For those of us with poor relationships with our fathers, it is deeply touching to learn how Mr. Rogers’ acceptance of, and un-self-interested affection for, another man could reach this man’s heart and help heal his father-wound. The secret? Mr. Rogers, an ordained Christian minister, saw his profession as a ministry, a way of bringing God’s grace into the lives of others. He imagined that as he looked at the camera he was giving his undivided love and attention to each child. And that is how he treated the writer who interviewed him–undivided attention, acceptance, and eventually a parental kind of affection.

“In the book we learn how intentional he was in his television show, understanding it as a ministry and lovingly using it to impart the values of the gospel that was so dear to him: grace, forgiveness, kindness, and trust in an Unconditional Love.”

The author of the article in Christianity Today, Jason Gray, continues,

I’m Proud of You is an understated and modest book, competently written. But within its pages you find the best kind of story—the kind of story that not only inspires you to be more human, live an ennobled kind of life, and to love better than you thought you could, but that also reveals the grace that makes these things possible.”

As Gray ponders the affect of the book on his own life, he asks a question which each of us needs to ponder,

 “What might my life look like if I better incarnated the grace of God? How would my wife’s life be different if this were true of me? My kids? My friends and those around me whom my life touches?

And he concludes with a statement of hope:

…in Mister Rogers I find a man, a broken sinner like me, set free to love and live the kind of life that Jesus points to. If Mister Rogers can find that kind of grace, maybe it’s available to me, too.”

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