Why I needed a retreat (and you might too!)

pause-303651_640Chalk it up to nature or nurture, but I tend to rejoice in what I have rather than lament what I don’t.  In the Catholic world, I celebrate that I’ve been given access to the Sacrament of the Sick before being at death’s door and that I’ve been on plenty of retreats, rather than believing that “retreats are for really holy people.”  Before college, retreats were just built in to my education.  There was 8th Grade Retreat, Freshman Retreat, Sophomore Retreat, Kairos, and yes even Les Miserables Cast and Crew Retreat.  While retreats didn’t force their way into my life in college, they were readily available, and I took advantage of two that I can remember.  Then I spent a year in the Norbertine Volunteer Community and was on no less than 6 retreats.  My time in the NVC wrapped up in July 2010 and then … Nothing.  For five years I went without the beloved retreat.  How did this happen?  I’ve got no good excuse.  But I finally broke my streak on September 18th when I went on my parish’s men’s retreat.

Where’s the power in a retreat?  It’s simple … or rather simplicity.  Life is stripped down to its essence.  There was a whole list of don’ts for me that weekend in September, each one empowering:

  • Don’t worry about a thing (your parents or your boyfriend will call the emergency phone if something happens in the world that you really need to know about)
  • Don’t check your email (good luck getting Internet anyway)
  • Don’t worry about a daily routine
  • Don’t worry about getting anything done
  • Don’t worry about food (one weekend without your diet won’t kill you)
  • Don’t hesitate to take some alone time
  • Don’t cut yourself off from the group
  • Don’t worry about what time it is

Even without the talks, this “stripping down” should help you to disassemble and reconstruct your life.  Even if all the pieces go back in, at least you know that they really needed to be there.  Ideally the talks supplement this.  One thing that Fr. Tim said that really stuck in my mind is the acronym T.U.B.E.D. – tired, used, bored, envious, depressed.  The point, of course, is to recognize the signs of this in your life (one telltale sign: going through the motions of life events, like Sunday Mass, and not really getting anything out of them) and take steps to combat it.  I was definitely feeling pretty tired and maybe a little used up, and so I found a scrap of paper and wrote “Anti-TUBED plan” across the top and reflected:

  • What’s taking up all my time?
  • What has to happen first?
  • Can I have one day a week where I’m not trying to just get as much done as possible?

I had already been splitting up my homework among the days between classes on my calendar; now I decided that I should probably get my homework done for the day and then clear out email rather than clear out email and then get to my homework.  I resolved to stop trying to use the computer and eat meals at the same time. I chose Saturday as a day to just do one thing at a time rather than always trying to get two things done at once.  I can’t say that I’m doing a great job sticking to this plan or that I became an expert time manager — I’m squeezing in this post about a September retreat more than a little after the fact, for example!  But on the good days, my busy scurrying seems more meaningful.  And I’ve become less afraid to turn down invites to good things that just don’t fit in right now.

I’m looking forward to my next retreat!

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

The Earth is Crawling with Reflections of the Creator

Breanna Mekuly is a spiritual seeker currently living aBreanna Mekulynd ministering in Milwaukee, WI. She is committed to searching for and helping others find the Beauty of the Creator in everyday life. She keeps an Instagram account: @4TheeBeauty where she posts daily pictures of nature with spiritual reflections. The following is reposted from her blog For The(e) Beauty.


This morning I took my dog for a walk half groggily as I had just awaken. Yet my senses were extra keen today. Twice daily I walk the same path and often stop to admire the beauty of the flowers blooming in the morning light or, more recently, the changing of the leaves as they turn from a healthy green to an array of yellows and reds and purples and oranges. But today I saw something different on a tree I pass so often. Here, at the bottom of a large mature tree with branches extending far and wide above me, I noticed a few white mushrooms growing stealthily in the wood. And suddenly I was struck awake: How often do I miss details of the world around me? On what do I focus on my daily commute? What reality am I living in? One of technology? Of distraction? How can I walk the same path each day and not see something new each time? Isn’t the world full of life? Have I forgotten to see Beauty? Have I forgotten that the Creator shows Herself in Her creation? Have I lost interest in exploring, adventuring, in coming to know the unknown? Have I shut off my spiritual curiosity?

But with all of this, today I am joyful with gratitude; I have been gifted once more wonder and beauty to see the earth, creation, life – all of which is crawling with reflections of the Creator.

And so I pray: Loving Creator, Maker of all that exists and has passed, open my eyes and my ears to see and hear you right where I am. Grant me the gifts of admiration and wonder. Open my heart to beauty and delight. And remind me, daily, that it all comes from You. Amen.


For more reflections like this, check out Breanna’s blog: For The(e) Beauty.

Teacher Yuzuhira

This is a post by 瑠威 明 Francesco Matsuo. Lui is Japanese, FtM, was born in Japan and raised all over the world.  He was raised in a very conservative Buddhist family in a Shinto environment. Early in his life, he had an urge to become a Capuchin Franciscan or a Franciscan monk. However, due to his gender identity, he is still looking for any order that will accept him as who he is. Lui writes poetic reflections for the Young Adult Catholic Blog where he uses inspiration from nature to gain spiritual insights.

P2283-4Teacher Yuzuriha

You have been my role model

My dear plant siblings

You have been my teacher of humility

Through your life

You have been teaching us

To let go

To be not so grabby

What comes in the future is for new voices to explore

Every year at beginning of spring

The grown leaves fall on ground

Making sure the new leaves

Receive the sun light

Have the space to grow their leaves

So they can explore the life

It is easy to take the rainy season for the young

Easy to take the typhoon wind

Than to see the young welcomed into the adventure called life

It is easy to put a bubble around them

Than see them get scrapes

But you with wisdom of your heart

Knew that it shouldn’t be so

It is an arrogance

It is egoistical oppression

To rob the adventurous life challenges

That help them grow beyond you

Amazing wisdom!

For the tough part of parenting is

So someday the young will live independently

To build them up to tackle challenges life throws

It is what it means to live fully!

So every spring

Grown leaves let go of the attachment

Making sure new voices are being heard

On the ground, gently, softly supporting the root

Yuzuriha, my teacher,

No wonder you have been a chosen symbol of parenting for the future

For you have been teaching parents

To let go

To let their young live their adventures

The life awaiting for them to be explored


Be in my mind always

Make sure I will let go of the loved one

When my time comes

Make me mindful

To work as gentle nutrients

Not the guiding pole for vines to follow

For it is such waste not to see

Life puzzles for each to solve


Daphniphyllum macropodum is a plant native to Japan and a few other eastern Asian countries. In Japanese we call them yuzuriha (譲り葉: literally meaning Yielding leaves). The name came from how the plant lives.

Every year, around spring times, the grown leaves from the past year shed to the ground, as if to yield the sun light for the young new baby leaves.

Japanese saw how these plants lives, and the plants have often become the symbol of longevity of the family clan. (Not the longevity of the individual, but of the family). One generation yielding to make sure the young ones to explore life, carrying on the family name. Not suffocating the young with traditions.

It is the toughest lesson for anyone to learn, I suppose.  Be it a community organizer who has been into birthing community or raising community. It is tough to let go, it is tough to see that things are handled differently than one is accustomed to, it might be tough to see new ones appearing to have struggles… it is so easy to say “we have traditionally done this this way or that way”, it is so easy to dismiss the struggle of next generation by saying, “when we were in this…” but those words are an automatic shutoff switch for new leaves to explore, to tackle our challenges, because it is easy to be obedient to the voices that are loud, rather than to be like a stethoscope, trying to listen to the shyest heart beat.

I want to be able to let go. I want to be humble enough to trust the new leaves, as they tackle life to grow. I want to be able to be a listener, and not the microphone. I want to be able to yield, so that newer generations can discuss and tackle the struggle that life throws, as it is their gift of adventures and puzzles to play and explore. It is not for me to open the wrapping paper, ruining the surprise.

Of course I will be here in support, a gentle support, when needed, when asked.  But first I’d love to recognize and I’d love to respect the wisdom within the new leaves.

“You are anointed for mercy…”

The following is an adaptation of a sermon preached on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at the FutureChurch liturgy “Celebrating Women Witnesses of Mercy” in Milwaukee, WI. The readings were: excerpts from Pope Francis’ March 13, 2015 homily; Dorothy Day’s “The Scandal of the Works of Mercy;” Psalm 33; and Matthew 25:31-45.

Mercy! What is it we are talking about when we talk about mercy – about God’s mercy, and our prayer to be merciful as God is merciful? And how, in the words of Pope Francis, might we “rediscover and make fruitful” the mercy of God? Pope Francis has said that mercy is “the very substance of the Gospel message,” and “the mission of the Church to be a witness to mercy.”

Where does mercy live? Not in our heads. It is not something we can think ourselves into. Mercy resides in our hearts – think of God telling God’s people in Ezekiel their hearts of stone will be replaced with hearts of flesh. Mercy is in our bodies. There are two words – one Hebrew and one Greek – which show us something about the nature of mercy.

The Greek word splanknon and the Hebrew word racham.  Literally, splanknon can be translated as “guts” or even “bowels” or “entrails” – in the ancient Near East, this was the seat of passions and deep emotion. In our time in English, we speak about knowing something in our gut – that deep, intuitive, visceral place within us.

The Hebrew racham – found primarily in the writings of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea – translated as “compassion” or “mercy” is closely related to the Hebrew word for “womb.” It is another very bodily image – and a profoundly feminine one, as well. In Isaiah 29, the prophet compares God’s mercy to a mother’s unconditional love, rhetorically asking “can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have mercy on the child of her womb?”

Anointing at prayer service (photo: Rhonda Miska)

Anointing at prayer service (photo: Rhonda Miska)

As these two Scriptural words illustrate, mercy is deeply physical, something we do with our whole selves. More than a matter of orthodoxy (right believing or right thinking), mercy is about orthopathy (right feeling) and orthopraxy (right action). A matter of heart and soul and hands more than head. Indeed, Matthew’s gospel seems to imply the measure of salvation is not in believing or thinking correctly, it is in acting correctly – in a way which honors that those most in need embody God’s presence. It is acting out of a depth of feeling. Think of Jesus weeping with Martha and Mary at Lazarus’ tomb, and then raising his dear friend from the dead.

Mercy involves a willingness to be broken-hearted – which is not easy to do. There is a temptation to numb out – either by shutting out what is happening in the world around us and pretending tragedies and loss aren’t happening, or by somehow making ourselves believe that those who suffer and don’t share our privilege are less human, or fundamentally different. Keeping our eyes open to the uncomfortable truth of suffering is just that…uncomfortable. This is where we turn to our cloud of witnesses, finding countless women and men who have courageously lived out mercy.

Sr. Karen Klimczak is one woman witness of mercy in our time. She ministered to women who were incarcerated and to ex-offenders, and was active in promoting peace and non-violence in Buffalo, New York. In 2006, at the Halfway House she helped to run, one of the men she accompanied murdered her while under the influence of crack cocaine when she caught him attempting to steal her phone. Poignantly, she was murdered on Good Friday – like the merciful Jesus she followed. Her life of service to those viewed with scorn and suspicion is a powerful embodiment of Francis’ words that no one is excluded from the mercy of God. “We must love to the point of folly,” said Dorothy Day. Karen certainly did so – and paid a much higher price than the loss of her wallet.

St. Joseph Sister Karen Klimczak (image: http://www.buffaloah.com/a/ndiv/418/ext/jpegs/08.jpg)

Our acts of mercy may often look like folly, as Dorothy said, they tax our faith. Providing food or shelter to a chronically homeless addict who might never escape his chains of addiction. Forgiving someone who has harmed us over and over. Investing our time and energy in a person who has no ability to repay us in any tangible way. Only through the eyes of faith, only through transformed and converted eyes, only when we (as Pope Francis says) “look beyond and not stop at the surface of things,” do these acts make any sense. Matthew 25 doesn’t just tell us to love the deserving poor or those who express gratitude – it simply and powerfully tells us that anyone in need is in fact the face of Christ in our world.

The extraordinary witness of Sister Karen is a grand act of mercy – we can think of other grand gestures of mercy, like a stay of execution for a death row inmate or the courage of a murder victim’s family member who develops a relationship with the offender in a restorative justice program. In reality, most moments of mercy are smaller, less newsworthy, and more daily. There are countless opportunities each day to choose to give another the benefit of the doubt and to release resentment; to be charitable instead of exacting and compassionate instead of judging with that noisy neighbor, that annoying coworker, that trying family member, that other driver on the interstate, that person in line ahead of us at the grocery store. And, of course, mercy towards ourselves when we inevitably fall short of our own hopes and expectations.

We know that lives of mercy, that is to say authentic Christian lives, aren’t easy. We don’t do this alone. We do this in community. Equally as important, we daily choose to live mercy in union with Christ, and out of a deeply contemplative place. This stance of open-heartedness (which inevitably leads to moments of broken-heartedness) only makes sense in these contexts: human community and deep union with God nourished by prayer.

We commit ourselves – our full selves, bodies, hearts, hands, minds, splanknon and racham – to the works of mercy. Inspired by Sister Karen and countless women and men who witness to God’s endless mercy, we say “yes” yet again to do mercy – to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, bury the dead, shelter the homeless – even when it looks like folly. We pray again for our eyes to see Christ in those in need and for our hearts to be tender to their needs. May we – with Dorothy Day, Sister Karen, and countless others witnesses – walk the road of spiritual conversion and so enflesh God’s extravagant, endless mercy.

Rhonda Miska (credit: Wendy L Wareham photography)

Rhonda Miska (credit: Wendy L Wareham photography)

About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities.. Her writing has appeared in appeared in various print and online publications and she is a contributor to Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press). A native of Middleton, WI, she lives in Dubuque, IA.

Holding On To Hope


A photo of Maggie from queer photographer Sarah Deragon’s The Identity Project.

This is a post by Margaret Wagner: a writer, non-profit professional, cartoonist living in Austin, TX. She graduated from DePauw University in 2014 having majored in English Literature with double minors in Women’s Studies and Religious Studies. She currently works as a Communication Specialist for a non-profit organization in Austin dedicated to fostering peace and respect through interfaith dialogue. As a radical feminist queer Catholic, Margaret spends a great deal of time trying to reconcile all of her various identities with each other.

Ever since I moved away from home to try my hand at adulting in the real world I’ve noticed many major lifestyle changes, but one in particular stands out. Growing up, I was a regular church-goer, helping to fill the pews for mass each and every Sunday. But now that I’m all grown up, my church attendance has steadily dwindled down to a mere appearance at Christmas and sometimes Easter. In my family, we always referred to such individuals as “Chreasters”, jokingly shaming those who only found enough time to come to God’s house on the days they were most expected to. Now, as one of the Chreasters I so readily derided as a child, I cannot help but wonder what led me to avoid church more and more over the years. Continue reading

Embracing Pinkitude ~ Breast Cancer Awareness

Saludos to all!  First off, I would like to apologize that I have not posted to the blog in a long time.  Life became very hectic with personal and professional life, causing a neglect in my writing.  However, I am learning to balance and learning to find time for my writing, ranting, and sermonizing.   And so la lucha will continue and venture into new areas of luchaness.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and All Saints Day, I wanted to share this homily I wrote in memory of Marie Hernandez and Maria Lemes da Silva, two brave women who coped and thrived despite being diagnosed with breast cancer.  The sermon is based on the three Gospel stories of the woman who was hemorrhaging that touched Jesus’ garment (Matt 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43).  Her story is one of not allowing a disease define who she was and of taking a leap of faith that is rooted in radical boldness.  May “think pink” be more than a catchy gimmick this month but an ongoing testament to our solidarity with all those impacted by breast cancer—a commitment to coping, surviving, and thriving.  Towards the end there is space for people to name all those women and men who have bravely fought this disease, who are beginning the fight, and who are in remission—honoring also their loved ones who are also coping, surviving, and thriving.

Fore more information about breast cancer and ways to get involved, please visit The National Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org).

Coping     Surviving     Thriving

I will be honest, preparing this sermon was a challenge. It was and still is daunting and anxiety provoking, inducing of many brain-busts.  What can I say about breast cancer? What do I know?  I asked myself repeatedly, how will G-d get me through this one?  Why me?  But than I asked, why not me?   Someone has to break the silence. I may not know much but…I do know that…

  • Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women, accounting for one in three cancer diagnoses in women.
  • One in eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lifetime
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women aged forty to fifty-nine
  • There are over two million breast cancer survivors in the United States
  • A survey of twelve years of reports in two major psychiatric journals showed that spirituality – defined as participation in religious ceremony, social support, prayer, and belief in a higher being – yielded positive mental health benefits in 92% of the cases

I know Maria Lemes da Silva, I know Marie Walker Hernandez, two brave women who fought breast cancer, two women who are presente and here with us.  I know that despite the intensity and magnitude of this disease, the pulpit has remained silent.   I may not know much about the embodied impact of breast cancer, but I do know about coping, surviving, and thriving.  I may not know the struggle of radical mastectomies, the pain of chemotherapy, or the anxiety caused by finding the right wig, but I do know about the warrior spirit of the luchadoras who are in the struggle…la lucha, to not merely cope or survive with breast cancer but to thrive.  Luchadoras who are not letting cancer define who they are, but who are finding ways to live life without fear, despite the pain that breast cancer may be inflicting on the body, they are not letting it take over their spirits.

Coping     Surviving     Thriving

When it came to finding a scripture passage to reflect on sermonically, I was at a loss and I struggled with the bible, realizing that many of the passages on healing in the New Testament intersected with sin and I did not want to equate cancer with sin … I also realized that many of these same stories are sources of hope for many who are living with cancer.   What to do?  After hours of reflecting, praying, reading,  re-reflecting, re-reading, and praying again,  G-d sent me 4 radically spiritual women, Sadie, Rebecca, Stephanie, and Rachel.   At a point where I was going to lose hope in scripture and in Christianity, these 4 women shared insights and thoughts and questions that helped me see passages in a different light.

With their help, I came across the story of a woman whom I am naming Florence.   Her story is captured in 3 of the gospels as the woman who was hemorrhaging that touched the hem or fringes of Jesus’ cloak/robe.  Her story is one inspiration, of boundary breaking, of the warrior spirit that was embraced by Marie, Maria, and the countless women and men diagnosed with and affected by breast cancer. She is un-named in the gospel accounts, but the fact that she is included in 3 gospels reflects the importance of her story of fighting with a chutzpah-based faith.  

Florence was afflicted with a disease, a disease that made her unpure and marginalized her from society – not unlike the treatment many women received when they were first diagnosed, marginalized by silence by many who were unable to pronounce the “c-word.”  Florence was a luchadora, she was not going to let disease stop her from living.  She went to doctors, she prayed, she offered sacrifices.  But despite all her efforts, 12 years worth, she did not get the results she hoped and yearned for.  However she did not let that stop her, she endured the chemos and homeopathic remedies of her day with their body ravaging side affects and side effects to the side effects, she could not be healed, she could not be made whole – but her chispa, her undominable audacity to hope would keep her in la lucha, in the struggle.

Despite social norms on purity and the place of women in society, Florence acted boldly, aggressively … she did not let the cancer within her define her or let society dictate her identity.  Florence decided she would fight and do what was needed.  She embodied the Deuteronomist’s encouragement…“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; G-d will not fail you or forsake you.”   She trusted G-d and G-d trusted her.  Guided by her faith and determination, she did something radical … she touched Jesus.

Despite the crowds, despite the claustrophobia of crawling through a forest of legs, despite the heat, despite the pain within her body, despite the stigma that marked her and that she risked marking on others, she took a leap of faith and was healed … Jesus tells her that it is her faith that healed her.  It was her boldness, her determination, her lucha that brought her healing and made her whole.  Her lucha of coping surviving and thriving

What can we learn from Florence?  What can we learn from her faith that flowed her into voice and wholeness?  She lived and embodied what the Psalmist says in Psalm 31 … she was strong and let her heart take courage.  She took a risk, she took a chance, she got messy. Knowing at the core of her being, in the depths of her soul, G-d was with her … she coped, she survived, she thrived.

Florence’s story is not a story of giving people false hope, or instill an expectation of healing.  Florence’s testimony in the Gospels  is about not letting disease or society’s view of disease define how one lives life, however, long or short it will be. We need to remind all those living with breast cancer that they cannot and will not be diagnosed to the margin.  They are not alone, for G-d is with them.  It is not about fuzzy quips and fluffy colloquialisms, but radically embracing life like Florence, Marie, and Maria … Of fighting with every breath and ounce of chutzpah one can muster.  Of transforming limitations into differently abledness.  

Maria is my best friend and sister in life’s mother.  Marie is my beloved husband’s mother.  These two moms, wives, workers, women of faith realized that though they might not be able to climb mountains anymore, they would boldly proclaim…
I will go to church, I will raise my children,
I will lead a household, I will be there for others,
I will participate in treatment,
I will work as long as I can to take care of my loved ones,
I will cry, I will be angry,
I will laugh, I will go to the doctor,
I will live.
Will it be easy, no.
Will we get mad, yes.  
Is that okay … it sure is.
It is okay to complain and be angry and ask G-d why.  Like Job and Job’s unnamed wife, we can authentically and angrily ask G-d why … knowing that G-d can take it.  Maria and Marie, like so many others, coped and thrived.  They could not answer many questions about their health or what would happen, but assured everyone through their conviction and faith to live as long as they were able to live, believing and reminding others to believe that G-d’s love was present and filled with anger-enduring care.  

As the Psalmist proclaims … G-d is my shelter, covering me in the refuge of G-d’s feather… in G-d is my strength … though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil … with G-D, what shall I fear.

As Isaiah proclaims … “do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your G-d;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
   I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Coping     Surviving     Thriving

In this place, may we be reminded that though the world may be falling apart, our bodies are ravished with scars, chemo has caused our hair to fall out, nausea is our constant companion, getting out of bed is an insurmountable quest, fear of the cancer spreading, G-d is suffering with us.  G-d is carrying the cross with us and sometimes for us through a nurse, doctor, friend, loved one. G-d is holding us.

“And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings, Bare you up on breath of dawn.  Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of G-d’s hand, And hold you in the palm of G-d’s hand.”  (Hymn On Eagle’s Wings by Rev. Michael Joncas)

To be held is an act of trust and vulnerability, to allow oneself to be gently cradled in the hands of another, to truly believe our partners who still behold us as beautiful, to allow others to help you because walking to the kitchen for a cup of water is exhausting … to share with a stranger that the scars on our bodies are medals of honor and badges of courage… to be held by G-d through the pain and the joy.  To be held into coping, surviving, and thriving.

In this space, let us remember Florence, Marie, and Maria.  Let us make presente all the women living with breast cancer … For Hispanics and Latinos, those who have died are still with us, presente in our lucha, as companions in our struggles and in our celebrations.  Their stories are reminders that we are to focus on today so we can get to tomorrow, their presencia reminds us that we are not alone.  

In this space, you are invited to share the names of all those who have been impacted by breast cancer.  You are also invited to light a candle…

Let us lift up the names of our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, wives, cousins, and grandmothers, friends, brothers, co-workers, husbands, and pastors…

May we lift up the names of those who have died, those have been recently diagnosed, those in remission, those going through treatment, and those who are getting tested…

(back to sermon)
Where 2 or 3 are gathered, there I am … This is our calling as people of faith … To be in la lucha with and sometimes for others, to break the silence, to allow G-d to flow through us … starting groups of support, taking people to the doctor, cooking meals, going the extra mile at the cancer walk, not letting pink be just a gimmick but a true sign of our solidarity…sharing the Kleenex when the time to say “ta ta for now” comes…Talking about breast cancer to ensure that women can go from lump to laughter, love, and life.

Though one may be overpowered by the vomiting, scarring, headaches, body aches, puss, hairloss, confusions about treatments, worries about finances, uncertainties … one is not alone, one is in community, en conjunto, we face this disease … we are in this together.  

As it is written in Ecclesiastes, “And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Our experiences here are interconnected, the experiences of Marie and Maria and all women before us are interconnected with us.  Marie and Maria died of cancer, but did not lose the battle to cancer.  They are still fighting…their memory, their children, their spirits, their Florence-like chutzpah, their presence lives, loves, and fights on … With them presente in our lucha, we cope, we survive, and we thrive.

delfin bautista is a former member of the CTA Vision Council and is currently on the board of directors for Trans Bodies Trans Selves.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog “Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito” and is a contributor to the Young Adult Catholic Blog and to Believe Out Loud.

Of mercy, margins, and minorities

In the midst of conversations on inclusion during the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome, New York Archbishop Cardinal Dolan spoke of a “new minority” in the Catholic Church in an October 12 statement. Among its members: “couples who welcome God’s gift of many babies,” couples who don’t live together before marriage, wives who give up careers “to stay home and raise their children,” and gays who remain chaste. Dolan expressed a concern that such people “often feel excluded and feel themselves to be “a minority (emphasis his), certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!”

The question of how to include those who feel excluded important, and I am grateful the Synod fathers took it up in their discussions. Dolan observed that those who are “single, those with same-sex attraction, those divorced, widowed, or recently arrived in a new country, those with disabilities, the aged, the housebound, racial and ethnic minorities” are among those who were the focus of these conversations about inclusion. Laudably, Dolan states of people in these groups:  “we in the family of the Church love them, welcome them, and need them.”

In my pastoral experience these “old” minority groups in the Church all too often do not feel welcomed, loved and needed. I think of a former Catholic who began worshipping in United Church of Christ community because they better accommodated to the unique needs of her family members with intellectual disabilities. I think of the a divorced and remarried Catholic woman who sits in the back pew, hoping no one will notice when she stays in her seat at communion time. I think of the Spanish-speaking immigrant woman living with an abusive partner who didn’t receive adequate counseling and support from her parish staff because of her limited English proficiency. I think of the Catholic friend who struggles to make her Protestant husband feel welcome in her parish when he cannot participate fully in the Eucharistic celebration. I think of a homily berating parishioners for being lazy when they arrive late to Mass when they – whose undocumented status means they are unable to obtain driver’s licenses – have spent up to an hour and a half traveling on unreliable public transportation to make it to the parish. I think of a family whose son is gay who avoid going to Mass altogether, or sit with baited breath during the homily at what the preacher might say. I think of undocumented Catholics (like this one whose testimony I shared in a previous post) who can’t produce baptismal records as requested to sign up their children for first communion preparation because all their possessions were left behind or stolen from them on their journey to the US.

The list could continue. These are not hypothetical situations, but real people I have encountered.

It has been through ministerial experiences like these that I have become aware of my privilege in Church as a white, heterosexual, educated, middle-class, non-disabled, educated native-English-speaking US citizen. I carry an “invisible backpack” of privilege because of these attributes. I have never worried any marriage I would seek would be blessed by the Church. I can find a Mass in my own language with an assembly (and a presider) who look like me relatively easily. I will likely hear preaching that is geared toward me as a member of majority culture. Parish materials are available to me in my native language. In attending faith-based peace and justice demonstrations with parishioners, I can choose to risk arrest without the potential of deportation. In addition, because of my race, I will probably be treated more kindly by law enforcement officials than parishioners of color. I can offer to serve as proclaimer and Eucharistic minister and not be hampered steps to approach the altar and ambo.

The invisible backpack of privilege (Peggy McIntosh).

The list could continue. In short, I have power and unearned privileges because of particular attributes.

Perhaps at this point you are internally rolling your eyes or shifting uncomfortably in your chair. Maybe you’re thinking, “there goes one of those bleeding heart Jesuit-educated social justice warriors types harping about privilege, bias, oppression, structural injustice and all that stuff again…”

To which I respond with a firm, unapologetic, Jesuit-educated “yes. Here I go again.” Not because I am trying to be trendy or a self-proclaimed prophet. Not because acknowledging the reality of my majority status in the Church is comfortable – indeed, the opposite is true. But because though I believe that “the arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr), it won’t bend without acknowledgement of structural injustices and commitment to transforming systems to more clearly reflect God’s kingdom.

In order for conversion to happen and transformation to take place the realities of privilege and systemic injustice must first be honestly named. We cannot tire of calling for justice for those on the margins, listening to their voices, checking our own privilege, and recommitting ourselves as allies. In her essay in Catholic Women Speak (written as a resource for the Synod on the Family) Chilean Carolina del Rio Mena states that “the search for a more just order and God’s truth is not work that can be given up.” It is a long, hard slog much of the time.

Thankfully, as we celebrate on this feast of All Saints, we stand on the shoulders of many saints and witnesses who have struggled on behalf of justice. And we are the inheritors of a rich spiritual and intellectual tradition that can guide our individual and corporate efforts. Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and going out to those on the margins is only the most recent articulation of a long Judeo-Christian tradition of particular concern for those excluded. From the Hebrew Scriptures’ continual refrain to care for the anawim (widows, orphans and strangers) to Jesus’ teachings about the extravagance of the father’s love for prodigal son to Catholic Social Teaching’s articulation of the preferential option for the poor, we are the inheritors of a long tradition of concern for the marginalized.

The final relatio of the Synod, paragraph 76 offers a beautiful challenge for which we can all pray and work in our respective communities and we strive to be Church that enfleshes Jesus’ radical inclusivity and concern for those on the margins. The relatio challenges ordained and lay members of the Church “to learn ‘the art of accompaniment so that ‘all may learn to take off his (sic) sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex 3:5). In our struggles for a more just and inclusive Church, may we see the other as sacred ground, and – to return to Dolan’s words – may all find in the Church a home where they are “loved, welcomed, and needed.”

Rhonda Miska (credit: Wendy L Wareham photography)

Rhonda Miska (credit: Wendy L Wareham photography)

About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities.. Her writing has appeared in appeared in various print and online publications and she is a contributor to Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press). A native of Middleton, WI, she lives in Dubuque, IA.