The Joy of Papal Documents in a Era of Instant Communication

It’s going to be an interesting day. At first glance, the Pope’s document on the family looks like a (LONG) synthesis of previous Pontiff’s teachings coupled with a charge to go into the trenches and apply the teaching to pastoral situations. Nothing really new. Maybe my phone won’t ring today. Maybe I’ll get off easy.

But there are already tweets questioning a footnote here, articles claiming an agenda there, and plenty of people anxious to get the story first -regardless of whether the story exists.

Before I wade into the 300 page document, I’d like to say one thing.

Truth is black and white. It’s as black and white as the polka-dotted sweater I’m wearing today.  Nothing will ever change that. Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, and is therefore unchanging and eternal.

People are gray. As much as we’d like to live in a Western where the good guys wore white hats and the villains wore black, we live in a world where even the greatest saint has sinned and the even the greatest sinner has the capacity for conversion.

We also live in a culture that wants to say the exact opposite. Our modern culture wants to paint the Truth in a relativistic gray – “what’s right for you isn’t necessarily what’s right for me” and yet pigeon-hole people into camps of good and bad.  We label people and denigrate them, putting them in boxes based on a comment here or a personal view there. We crown people heroes when we agree with them, and unfairly vilify people we don’t like.  We can’t even have a decent debate or discussion these days without someone getting branded and put in a box, never to escape.

I fear a culture with their blacks, whites, and grays so mixed up will never be able to understand Amoris Laetitia.


The Crisis in the Single Life

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for awhile now, but haven’t had the energy to really collect coherent thoughts on the subject.  The SCOTUS decision made me come back to it.  I figure I’ll ramble here, maybe get some feedback, and then post my coherent and articulate thoughts on joanmwatson or at Integrated Catholic Life.  So if you’re reading this, know that you’re my guinea pigs well-loved friends with whom I can be vulnerable and open.

Over the past ten or twenty years in the Church, we’ve heard talk about crises in the priesthood and crises in marriage.  This post isn’t going to contradict those ideas. We have been bombarded by false images of those vocations, and a lack of understanding of those vocations have led to severe problems.

But I think we’ve neglected to think about the crisis in the single life. Sure, a false understanding of marriage has led to the Supreme Court decision. Absolutely. But so has a false understanding of the single life. And in the Church we can even perpetuate it with a false emphasis on vocation.

Let me ‘splain.

I was struck when the French bishops came out this spring encouraging the synod on the family not to forget singles. The article mentioned that theologians “studying the issue said the Church should not ‘absolutise states of life’ and idealise marriage.”  While I hate vague references to no one (“theologians” is like saying “they” and never talking about who “they” might be…), it got me thinking about the idea of “absolutizing” states of life.

I think I’ve said here before – I don’t think the non-vowed single life is one of “VOCATIONS” of the Church, like marriage, consecrated life, and priesthood are. (the capitalization here and what follows is all completely intentional. I want you to feel yelled at. haha)  I think we actually do damage to those of us living this non-vowed single life by acting like it is.  It’s sometimes thrown into petitions and whatnot, probably somewhat out of pity and/or fear of neglecting someone. But I don’t know if God made me to live alone. I don’t think He did.  If I thought He did, I would take vows as a consecrated virgin.  And then I wouldn’t be alone because I would be in a vowed relationship with Him.

I don’t think He created me to be alone, but here I am. And here are hundreds of thousands of young men and women.  Now, if you find yourself in this spot, don’t immediately assume your Aunt Betty or your newly-engaged-best-friend are correct in asserting that you’re in this position because you’re too picky or because you don’t get out enough.  (you’ve heard that, I know- we all have.)

It might be a consequence of something…. such as our sexed-crazed culture that has destroyed babies, destroyed morals, destroyed an understanding of sacrifice and love, and destroyed the physical, spiritual, and emotional lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

And as a result, there are a many of us who find ourselves single.  Is this our “VOCATION!!!”?  I don’t think so.  Will all of us get married someday?  I don’t think so.  And you know what?  That’s okay. Because our ultimate vocation is holiness.  I think that’s what the “theologians” might be getting at when they talked about “absolutizing” vocation. We’ve begun focusing so much on “PRAYING FOR YOUR VOCATION!” and “FIND YOUR VOCATION!!!”  that we’ve neglected to talk about the vocation we don’t have to go searching for, we don’t have to wait for, we don’t have to wonder about… because it’s right in front of us, in the every day grind of life, in our friends and family … holiness.  Ulitmately, all those vocations just serve one purpose: holiness.  So rather than getting your panties in a wad because you haven’t “FOUND YOUR VOCATION!”, why don’t we all just concentrate on being holy?  If God brings a spouse to you during that time, or proposes to you in the form of an attraction to priesthood or consecrated life, great.

But if not, you’re not a horrible person.  You’re not a failure. Will life be hard because you’ll feel alone sometimes?  Sure.  Will holiness be difficult because you won’t have the grace of a sacrament or the grace of vows?  You betcha.  But it’s okay.  There are crosses in every vocation.  Yours are just easier for you to see.

“Absolutizing” the vocations has repercussions when we look at our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction.  How do we tell people struggling with these attractions that holiness is possible if we’re so busy absolutizing vocation? “You should go find your vocation!! … oh, but you can’t get married to the one you want to marry.  Um, no, you can’t become a priest.”  Hm.  And so what do we do?  We try to make the single life a vocation.  But how can it be a vocation if it 1) might not be permanent and 2) it’s not vowed to another (either God or a spouse)?

Why don’t we stop trying to make it a “vocation” and instead accept (and work through) the uniqueness of the transitional single life… that might not be transitional?  Why don’t we teach what chastity actually is? I know chastity has to be lived in every vocation, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist (or a psychologist) to know that it is particularly difficult for those living the transitional single life.  Sorry, married friends, I know you have your unique struggles, but don’t try to tell me our struggles with chastity are equal, haha.  If we are going to preach this Gospel of chastity to those struggling with same-sex attraction, it would behoove us to understand the nature of the transitional single life (that might not be transitional).

Until we try to understand the nature of this unique stage (that might not be a stage) of life, we aren’t going to be able to preach to our society that is so in need of healing.  I’m not just talking about those of us who are trying to live chaste single lives in this sexed-crazed world, or those who struggling with same-sex attraction.  What about those people who are divorced but can’t remarry because their first marriage was valid?

A few of my transitional-single-life-that-might-not-be-so-transitional friends and I were discussing some of these things recently.  We agreed that we’re sick of people telling us to go find our vocation, as if we never think about it (when we’re reminded of it in some way  We agreed we are sick of people praying for “an increase of vocations to the single life.”  STOP IT.  Really. Just stop.  No one deserves your prayers for that. Stop.  And we’re sick of people telling us that we are picky, we need to get out more, or acting like we don’t understand life because we haven’t “found our vocations.”

I read an article once that said, “Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage.  it’s an entirely different sport– and if you haven’t played it, you haven’t mastered it.” Yes. A million times yes.  At risk of someone thinking I sound snarky, I’m going to say that I’m tired of married people thinking they know what being single is like simply because they were single before they got married (by age 25) or because they’re alone some evenings when their spouse is at work.

It’s time for us to start looking at this unique state of life.  Not by adding it into the petitions (again… please… no…) or by throwing more “singles events” at the parish (aka mixers) or by acting like it’s one of the permanent vocations, but by really trying to undertand how this transitional-maybe-not-so-transitional way of life fits into the parish family and society as a whole.  It’s time to listen and figure out what we have to share with a world in so much need of healing.

Politics and the Church

At their biannual general assembly last week, the US bishops were given an update by a group of bishops who are exploring the way the Church communicates with the average person in the pew.  Since my job is in service of just those people – the average person in the pew – I listened to the report with interest.  When the report wasn’t easily found online, I listened to it again and took notes.

They surveyed a number of different groups of people in the Church, including Hispanics and young parents and singles.  They interviewed both “engaged Catholics” (those who go to Mass at least 3x a month) and “fervent Catholics” (those who go to Mass 4x or more a month and who indentify themselves as having a personal relationship with Jesus), but also those consider themselves Catholic but are not active.

None of the data shocked me, but it was good to have it verified. A few common themes ran through all of the responses from all of the groups- things like “we want to know the why behind the Church teaching” — which helped validate my position in my own mind.

One of the most common recommendations- from almost every single group- was “stay away from politics.”  The “engaged” Catholics said they had concerns over the Church getting into “politics,” which really translated into  any divisive social issue – abortion, redefinition of marriage, etc.

I think the two are related:  the response that they don’t know the why behind Church teaching, and the concern with the Church being involed in politics.  Let me explain.

Should the Church, strictly speaking, “get into politics?”  No.  Canon law prohibits clergy running for office.  The role of the Church is not to run governments.   But does that mean the Church has nothing to say in the sphere of politics?  Of course not.  If this interests you, I highly recommend the writings of Pope Benedict, particularly his work with Marcello Pera, an atheist Italian senator who writes beautifully about the role of Christianity in the West.

“The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.”
(Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 28)

It is not the role of the Church’s hierarchy to run the government.  It is the role of the Church- the Body of Christ, the people in the pew – to run the government.  That’s precisely our role as laity: to be the leaven in society to work for the common good and the kingdom of God.

What does this require?  That our intellects, wills, and consciences be shaped by the Church – the Magisterium – so that we can go into the world, into Parliaments and Congress and the public square – and promote true human flourishing.

I think when the people in the pew say they want their priests to “stay out of politics,” it is because they actually don’t know the why behind Church teaching.  They see the Church’s concern over social issues – particulary divisive ones – as meddling in politics because they have never been shown that these issues have roots (and effects) far deeper than at the political level.

If a priest rants about a prochoice politican and I like that politican, my brain is going to shut off and I’m going to label him judgmental.  But if we begin the conversation back at the beginning — what is the role of politics, what is a just society, what are the actual effects of the disregard of the sancity of life in a society — I can then begin to understand why I should vote a certain way.  If someone rants about homosexual unions, it might be tempting to tune them out and wonder why they hate my homosexual cousin. But if we start at the beginning, about how we were created and why we were created and the purpose of sexuality, maybe I can come a little farther in undersatnding why the Church teaches marriage is between and man and a woman.

(Interestingly enough, when parish priests were surveyed, they admitted that they feared involvement in politics would contaminate the mission, yet recommended they be encouraged to teach the moral principles that parishioners need to hear.)

Every day, we are called to work for the reign of Christ the King.  Will we see that reign on this earth in our lifetime?  No. But does that mean its naive or romantic to work for it?  No — it’s our vocation as Christians.  Whether we are priest or religious, married or single, we have a role to play in making this society more just, more holy, more fitting for Christ our King.

So for any bishops reading this blog (ha), when the people in the pew say “stay at out of politics,” see that as a challenge… a challenge to help them understand everyone’s proper role in politics, to help them understand the whys behind Church teaching, and to examine your own actions.  As the Church hierarchy, you should be worried more about the laity knowing the teaching of Christ, and then please… step back and let the laity work in the government to figure out how that teaching is best brought to public policy. (because things like this and this do nothing but further divide and anger those people in the pews.)

Viva Christo Rey. And keep voting.

Help a great guy & get good music.

My grandfather used to observe that even a blind pig stumbles upon an acorn every once and awhile.  That’s come to my mind before when a post on this blog has gone viral.  The readership on this blog is not extraordinarily large, which I don’t mind, but every once and awhile a post will get linked or reposted and I’ll see my stats soar for the day.  It’s not usually a post I think will go viral – it just happens. The blind pig stumbling upon an acorn.

If there was ever a post that I wanted to go viral, it would be this one.

I’ve been extraordinarily blessed by God through the people whom He has put in my life.  Let’s just say that this blind pig has stumbled upon some acorns, to continue our theme, and I know for a fact that those acorns have been placed there by God.  He has particularly placed several great priests in my life.  I think it is so that I can pray for them, for their perseverance, strength, and protection, and so my life can be touched by the extraordinary amounts of grace that come from a holy friendship.  One dear friend in particular always seems to email me to tell me he prayed for me or offered Mass for me right when I need to hear that the most.

I’m used to helping priests in various ways — teach RCIA here, proof an article there, give a homily tip, say a prayer, speak words of encouragement.  I’ve never helped a priest with a crowd-funding campaign so that he can record his first album…

Until now.

I’m so thankful that God has brought Father Kevin McGoldrick to Nashville.  He’s is a beautiful homilist, a humble worker for the Lord, and a holy priest. He’s one of those people you just like to be around — the kind of friend that isn’t the showy life of the party but makes every party more fun just by his presence.

And he’s a talented singer-songwriter.

What I love about Father’s music is that it is beautifully authentic — he doesn’t necessary sing about Jesus all the time, but you can tell his music is the fruit of the Christian life.  He’s singing about life — whether it’s coffee, Nashville, or men and women … it’s true and beautiful and good.   His genre is hard to classify, which I also like.  Around here, we call it singer-songwriter, but it’s hard outside of Nashville to really explain that.  His inspiration comes all over the map, and as a result, his songs aren’t cookie-cutter or expected.


His campaign to fund his first album launched on Saturday, and I’d like to invite you to be a part of it.

Like with other crowd-funding efforts, there are fun things in store for those of you who are able to help Father.  If anything, give ten bucks and get his music when this is all finished.  You’ll want his music — so you might as well give the $10 to him instead of waiting and giving it to iTunes, right?

If you can’t give financially at this time, send up a few prayers for Father and for this effort.  As my friend Jimmy Mitchell always says, it’s time to take back the culture – and we’ll do it one song at a time, if we have to.

It’s exciting to be a small part of this little adventure. I’ll keep you all posted… and please spread the word.  35 days to fund an album for one of the coolest priests I’ll ever meet.  Ready, set, go!


Is there another way?

To continue with yesterday’s post, I wanted to tell you about a beautiful documentary that begins a much-needed dialogue in the Church and the world about the Catholic Church and homosexuality.  Yesterday I mentioned that I agree with the statement that tolerance isn’t always a two-way street.  That doesn‘t mean I disagree with William Rhoden, who had said in the exchange,  “This cannot turn into a Gestapo-type situation where if you express discomfort with something, then you’re cast as a homophobe and you’re fined by the league. I think that there has to be a back-and-forth.”

That’s true.  We have to be able to dialogue without being labeled and condemned.  But we also have to be able to say that something is right and something is wrong.  The world tries to draw this heavy line —  if you love a homosexual, you have to accept everything that they say and do.  If you don’t accept everything they say or do, then you can’t love them.  With such a heavy, dark line, the Church then is painted as a homophobic institution that says all homosexuals are going to hell.

There is really a third way, and that is the real way of the Church, which says we can love a human person without condoning everything they say or do.  I hope that you can love me and yet still tell me that when I gossip, lose my temper, or ignore the suffering of my neighbor, I’m wrong and should strive to live differently tomorrow.

If you love me, you will want what is best for me, you will want me to live in the freedom of Jesus Christ.  True love does not tolerate suffering … it redeems it.

Do me a favor and set aside 38 minutes and 14 seconds to watch The Third Way, and then set aside more time to think about it.  You won’t regret it.


When relativists reject relativism

I was reading an interesting little article about a MSNBC contributor, Jonathan Capehart, who claimed tolerance is not a “two-way” street.  When one of the commentators said that we need to dialogue and not turn everything into a “Gestapo-type situation where if you express discomfort with something, then you’re cast as a homophobe and you’re fined by the league,” Capehart disagreed:
“[T]olerance, no, is not – it should not be a two-way street. It’s a one-way street. You cannot say to someone that who you are is wrong, an abomination, is horrible, get a room, and all of those other things that people said about Michael Sam, and not be forced — not forced, but not be made to understand that what you’re saying and what you’re doing is wrong.”

The article I was reading pointed out the hypocrisy of the liberals who claim that we need to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles but they won’t be tolerant of our beliefs. (Read more here.)

It’s an interesting discussion, because I agree with Capehart in that tolerance isn’t always a two-way street.  The fundamental problem with society elevating “tolerance” to the level of virtue is that it begins to become uncomfortable with the gamut of things about which we have to be tolerant.

Tolerance isn’t always a two-way street.  Take Harvard, for example. Were they right in claiming they needed to “tolerate” a ritual that was blasphemous?  Of course not.  Tolerance is not a virtue — we aren’t supposed to tolerate everything.  Law is based on the fact that we don’t tolerate everything. We don’t tolerate murder, tax evasion, or public indecency.  If you claim to tolerate everything, you have anarchy.

The interesting part of Capehart’s argument is that he is basically declaring is that there is objective truth.  (He says the person “has to be made to see that the way they think and feel is wrong.”)  He is claiming that there is a truth that is applicable to everyone, knowable to everyone.  X is right and Y is wrong.

He claims his belief is that objective truth.  Gone is the “whatever you believe is okay, just don’t impose it on me” because he’s clearly imposing his truth on me.  Now, I don’t have a fundamental problem with truth being imposed on me, because I believe there is an objective truth (like “killing is wrong’) that is imposed on me everyday.  That’s how society works.  That’s how anyone’s quest for truth works.

But why is his belief the truth and not mine?  Therein lies the issue.  Why can he tell someone that “the way they think and feel is wrong”?  They obviously think they’re right. So where do we find what is really truth and will thus contribute to a flourishing of society?

It can’t be “whatever makes you happy,” because we can both use that standard and come out with different results.  It drives me crazy when people use that line. “Well, at least she’s happy.”  Oh, yes, and that’s all that matters.  Why don’t we say that about people we disagree with?  So-and-so cheated on his wife.  “oh, well, at least he’s happy!”

So it can’t be our feeling of happiness that makes something right or wrong. If that was the case, the cheating husband would be in the right when he cheated on his wife.

So what’s the answer, Mr. Capehart?  Why must I tolerate someone’s lifestyle?  Because it makes them happy?  Or because it’s objectively good?  Can we even continue this conversation to find out what is objectively good, true, and beautiful?  I have a feeling we’d be at another impasse… because I’m not tolerating his relativism. But neither is he.

Sister Act

I am beginning to get a reputation in my family for the unusual opportunities I discover around Nashville.  One night when my brother called me, he was surprised to actually reach me.  “You don’t a book signing to attend?”  No.  “The opening of a convention center?”  No.  “A festival of some sort?”

That’s one of the reasons I love this city.  There are a lot of opportunities for fun, culture, and randomness.  Sometimes they find me, sometimes I find them.

A few weeks ago one found me.


I was on a panel before the traveling Broadway show Sister Act.  

All in a day’s work, right?

The organizer of the panel, Kristin (see above picture), contacted me about the panel because she and I share a hairdresser (and love her.  I have the greatest hairdresser and share her with many other great people).  Kristin organizes a community outreach event, Arts Appetizers, before the Wednesday performance of any Broadway show that visits Nashville.  For a small price, you can come before the show to enjoy appetizers and a panel of cast members and community members with some connection to the show.  For Catch Me If You Can, for example, the panel featured someone from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

For Sister Act, they wanted… Sisters.  It all came together in the end, but it was touch and go for awhile.  Kristin had also asked me to come and speak about Aquinas’ role in the community.  For awhile, it looked like it might just be me.  So I made sure to wear a non-Sister outfit so no one would get confused. (hence the bright yellow sweater and the black boots.  When someone asked me at work why I was dressed like a bumblebee, I responded, “This is my ‘I’m not a nun’ outfit.”)

But in the end, two of the Sisters were able to join the panel!  The other members of the panel were two cast members, both playing “nuns” and understudies for the Mother Superior  and the main character.  They were thrilled to meet “real, live nuns” and had so many questions for the Sisters.  The panel discussion was awesome — everyone loved having the “real” Sisters there, and the Sisters were really able to preach the truth, clear up any misunderstandings, and witness to the joy of their life.  One of the cast members aptly commented that the Sisters manifested the joy that the nuns in the show only manifest at the end.  It was truly a New Evangelization moment.

There were plenty of funny moments too — like before the panel, when the Sisters were in line for food and my friend Manda overheard a husband and wife debating about whether the “nuns” were “real” or were in costume.  “It’s just a costume,” one of them insisted.  “Look, they’re wearing high heels.”  Some of the Sisters do wear lace-up black shoes with a bit of a heel (a solid one, like you might dance in), and sure enough, these two were wearing those shoes.  When we told them about it later, Sister laughed and commented, “I’m glad I wore my really high ones tonight!”

The two Sisters on the panel both were theatre majors in college, so they were the perfect ones to tell their story.  I think they might have joined us for the show if circumstances had been different… : )

Afterwards my friend Manda and I saw the show from pretty sweet free seats.  All in all, not the best representation of convent life or the Catholic Church, but it could be far worse. One of the final songs, “Sister Act,” was actually a pretty good lesson learned about community life.  (The show is a little different from the movie and has different songs, due to copyrights and whatnot.)

It was fun seeing the fellow panelists in action, too.  All in all,  a fun night.