Ways of the cross

Phos zoe cross. Via Gallery Byzantium.

Phos zoe cross. Via Gallery Byzantium.

Last Sunday, September 14, was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Since then, I have considered the many kinds of crosses there are. I mean literal crosses, those you wear around your neck or affix to your wall.

Crosses can be streamlined and blank. For Protestants, this is generally the default. Originally, all Christian crosses were this way. Writes Thomas Cahill in Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus:

The early Christians, the original friends of Jesus, so sympathized with Jesus’ pain and had been so traumatized by it that they could not bring themselves to depict the stark reality of his suffering, except in words–that is, in the accounts of the four gospels, which are as clipped and precise as the four authors knew how to make them. Only in the fifth century, nearly a century after the Roman state had discontinued the practice of crucifixion and no one living had witnessed such a procedure, did Christians forget the shame and horror of the event sufficiently to begin to make pictures of it.

Of course, crosses also include those body-bearing crucifixes that are so familiar to us Catholics. But they need not be dead bodies. On some crosses, Jesus is not hanging in execution, but risen in glory.  Read more of this post

what is the church so scared about?


Growing up Catholic, I was raised with the notion that the Roman Church was the holder of ultimate truth and that there was a certain infallible nature to the Church. All other traditions were wrong, confused, or flawed in some way. Perhaps it was a grave misunderstanding of Church teaching and doctrine, but I believed that the only to way to obtain truth was through the Church.   Ecumenism and religious pluralism threatens this idea of the Church holding the truth. To think that truth can be held by other traditions (even a piece of it) is unfathomable to many conservative Catholics. This mentality can lead to a superiority complex among Catholics who feel that the Church is better than other traditions.

Catholic teaching is very black and white—what you see is what you get for the most part. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum of obedience and agreement to Church doctrine, there is a clear set of teachings to grapple with. Teachings on sexuality and responsibility may seem outdated but at least one knows the official stance to support or rebel against. Religious pluralism threatens the control that the Church has over her members. By acknowledging pluralism, one acknowledges that there are truths and alternative means to obtain them outside of the Church. There is no control over how people think, what they do, or how they express themselves. It goes from being black and white to colorful which poses a threat to accountability to a set doctrine. I do not mean to describe the Church to be a power-hungry, tyrannical dictatorship needing to control every nanosecond of every life; however, obedience and loyalty to teaching is often emphasized and lack of conformity shunned upon. Individuals who seek to broaden their experience of the Divine by adopting practices from other traditions (even Christian ones) are often criticized by fellow Catholics who feel that if one sits when one is supposed to kneel or uses a mantra or acknowledges that Jesus was Jewish or discerns the possibility of entering another tradition because the Church is no longer home—one is deviant, ostracized, and shunned.

The Church needs to learn how to balance Catholic and catholic. There is a balance between being a universal church that is located in various parts of the world with being open to widening the circle of acceptance of individuals and beliefs that can broaden our understanding of God. Through the black and white (which brings order) God has been placed within the limitations of a box. I believe this unjustly binds the Almighty Creator of the Universe who is so much more than our imperfect minds can grasp. I find it problematic when people define God as this and not that or develop rubrics for what constitutes authentic religious expression—whatever does not conform to our labels/categories is some how less than and questioned.

The church is struggling to become comfortable with learning from other traditions.   The Church is recognizing where she needs growth (at times admitting and owning errors and mistakes) and how religious pluralism can enrich liturgy, theology, and doctrine. It is a journey of discovering how to be catholic Catholics—why is that so scary?

delfin bautista is a member of the CTA 20/30 Leadership Team and the CTA Board of Directors; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and Trans Caucus.  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.

Dear Pope Francis: Sorry ’bout the cats

The new cat — who is just a cat, not a child “substitute.”

After months of deliberation, last week I adopted another cat. This led to me Googling pet-related search terms on my work breaks, and I found this article about Pope Francis, in which he warns married couples not to “replace” children with pets.

This hit close to home because one of the reasons we debated whether we should get another cat is that we are thinking about having children — and that is such an unknown factor that we wondered if it was really wise to introduce another unknown factor into our lives before then.

Still, the Pope’s “advice” rubbed me the wrong way because, like many of the hierarchy’s proclamations, it is too simplistic, dismissive of the complicated choices people must make about their lives. The decision whether or not to have children is an intensely personal one, and probably has the farthest-reaching consequences of any choice a couple will ever make. This requires deep soul searching, not a rote edict from a man who will never have to lose hours of sleep over a baby’s cries or a teenager’s rebellion; who will never have to make the decision to take the hit to his career for the flexibility parenthood requires; or who will never have to stay in a soul-crushing job because he needs the money to feed his children.

Read more of this post

The chasm had become visible

Via Amazon.com.

Via Amazon.com.

[Trigger warning: discussion of violence, sexual assault.]

About a month ago, I was traveling. Whenever I travel, I hunt for books. The title of one particular book screamed at me from a shelf in the Harvard Co-op: Men Explain Things to Me. I dove for my credit card.

Men Explain Things to Me is an anthology of essays by San Francisco journalist Rebecca Solnit. The title comes from the first essay, a 2008 Internet classic that I’ve referenced before, but hadn’t read in full until I bought the anthology. In it, Solnit relates how a resolutely clueless man cornered her at a party, pontificating to her about a book he had not read but that she herself had written, all the while ignoring a friend who kept saying, “That’s her book.”

Solnit observed: “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.” Her sentence inspired a neologism: “mansplaining.”  Read more of this post

g-d is trying to tell you something

(from my personal blog)

This clip in the film, “The Color Purple,” reflects a powerful moment of reconciliation and the re-embracing of a loved one. But what else is G-d trying to tell us through this moment? What does Shug Avery mean by “even sinners have soul”? She doesn’t say “a soul”, she simply says “soul”. Maybe what G-d is trying to tell us is that despite our limitations and mistakes, we all have soul; that deep-rooted, gospel singing, passionate spark, chispa, that can set everything ablaze with our words, actions, singing, and even a hug. Sometimes it’s the person who others deem to be “soulless” who is the most “soulfull” and even able to rekindle the flame of our own souls. What is G-d trying to tell us? What is G-d trying to say through us? How are we soulfully sharing our soul?

–delfin bautista is a member of the CTA 20/30 Leadership Team and the CTA Board of Directors; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and Trans Caucus.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito and  is a contributor to Believe Out Loud.

Celebration of Catholic Women’s Vocations – Lauren Ivory

At the close of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI spoke of “women impregnated by the Spirit of the Gospel,” and more recently Pope Francis has called for a “new theology of women.” There are thousands of Catholic lay women discerning how to share their gifts and responding to ministerial calls. In many cases, these women are well-trained and highly educated professionals who bring a wealth of life experience to their work in parishes, diocesan offices, faith-based non-profit organizations, hospitals, schools, and many other settings.

This post on Lauren Ivory is the fourth in a series which celebrates Catholic lay women’s vocations and profiles some of the many women who are enriching the life of church. Past profiles include Kate Burke (New Lectio Divina) and Rita Emmenegger (medical missioner) , and Mary Ruppert (L’Arche companion). If you know a woman in ministry that you think should be profiled, please email me.

(This series will take a break for the months of September and October as I will be serving with Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami as they accompany and provide legal representation for Central American migrant children. Thanks for your prayers as I prepare for this newest call to ministry and please check in on the blog for reflections on service in Miami!)

– Rhonda Miska

Lauren Ivory, M. Div, Board Certified Chaplain

Lauren Ivory, M. Div, Board Certified Chaplain

“I gravitate to the story of the hemorrhaging woman the gospels.  In some translations it says she just touched the fringe of the hem of Jesus’ garment. She believed that much in the power. Jesus’ response to her is so compassionate. Wordlessly, he understands. He doesn’t say a lot but he understands – that’s a model for me of what I want to do in my work.”

So describes Lauren Ivory, M.Div, BCC (Board Certified Chaplain) her vision of chaplaincy after over ten years of serving in this ministry. She is currently at Hope Palliative & Hospice Care in Palatine, IL and has also served as a chaplain at the Cleveland Clinic, St Francis Hospital, and Alexian Brothers Medical Center.

Ivory recognizes that chaplaincy isn’t always understood and valued, especially in the medical profession in the Western world which is focused on the bottom line and concrete results. “Chaplains are an easy target” when hospitals are looking to cut staff or pare down budgets. However, the benefits of the spiritual companioning that chaplains provide to patients and family members are being recognized more and more. Ivory cited a study done at Rush hospital showing how patients have a decrease in blood pressure as they talk to a chaplain.

For Ivory, chaplaincy is all about the ministerial art of deep listening. Drawing on the work of Quaker writer and spiritual teacher Parker Palmer, she describes chaplaincy as a “clearness committee of two” that requires “listening between the lines.” Ivory seeks to perceive well a patient’s communication and then mirror back to them in words which are different, but similar.

This listening and mirroring back may “seem like a small thing,” Ivory says. “But it’s this intense need that we have to be heard. If the patient or family member felt heard, it’s beautiful.”

The role of a Catholic lay woman as chaplain is unfamiliar to some. “At my last hospital, I got asked if I was ‘Father’s helper,” Ivory recounts. An element of her ministry is recognizing when she is not the right minister to accompany a patient. “I know that sometimes people need…someone with a collar. If that’s what will bring them healing, I seek to work with a priest.”

However, Ivory describes many cases where her identity as a lay female chaplain opens doors in connecting with patients. “There’s a lot of different reasons…I don’t always know why patients connect with me. Some men I can tell won’t open up and be vulnerable with another men. So in that case my gender is actually helpful,” she notes. “And there are so many women are delighted that women are doing this now, especially Catholic women.” She also recognizing that her lay minister status can make her more accessible to lapsed Catholics and to patients who are not members of a given faith tradition.

Ivory serves not only patients and their families, but medical staff and volunteer caregivers as well. She offers trainings in reflective listening to Eucharistic ministers so they can bring a greater degree of comfort to patients. She also offers training and support to medical professionals at the hospital, especially the ones providing the most direct care to patients.

“Patients will open up to CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants). The CNAs have been asked some of the deepest questions you could ever imagine when they are bathing patients!   I try to give them tools to help them with that. As a chaplain, one is a chaplain to the staff as well,” Ivory stated.

She credits her family as the root of her call to ministry, since her father was a physician, and one who listened well to his patients. Growing up in Iron River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Ivory wasn’t exposed to female ministers as a child, but when she met a female minister as a high school student, she had an attraction that that work. “So many women come to this as a second career, I feel fortunate that I knew so early,” she remarked.

Ivory hold a Masters in Divinity from the Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, MO, and she stresses the importance of ministerial training: “To me a part of the calling is being professionally prepared…being a good steward to the calling.”

She also values her certification with the Association of Professional Chaplains. Though the work was “grueling” – submission of verbatims, a lengthy autobiography, and various essays – she appreciates the end result. “The certification process felt like my commissioning, a sending forth,” she recognizes – an experience that is significant since she is a lay woman.

Ivory recognizes that her various education experiences (especially pastoral counseling classes and Clinical Pastoral Education) and her various ministry experiences (including internships in a funeral home, a parish, and a hospital emergency room) have contributed to her own personal development. “All of these things help me be the best chaplain, and are also enormously helpful to me as a person in my own spiritual growth. It’s something I laugh with God about – I’m in this to help others, but it supports my own development.”

The moments of grace that Ivory experiences as a chaplain offering deep listening and accompaniment are many. She recalls sitting with a woman who was suffering from unresolved feelings from a rape years before. “The patient said ‘I know people say everything happens for a reason but I just can’t see how that could be with this situation (the rape)’.  My response was ‘not everyone sees it that way. Would you like to talk about some if the other ways people think about this?’  She had a relief while we were talking that was powerful for me to witness,” Ivory recalls.

Sometimes even the mistakes that come from misunderstanding become openings for grace in Ivory’s ministry. “I asked a patient a question of clarification, and I was totally off. But it helped her to say, ‘no! That’s not what I meant.’ I saw an opening happen after that moment. I gave her something to push back against.”

Accompanying those near the end of life and assisting with funerals are treasured pieces of her chaplaincy. Ivory explained: “for the most part, people have a beautiful death, with family around them, a lot of love and sharing. I find it really amazing to be a part of.” Through encouraging family and friends to tell the whole story about the deceased and through honoring the bereavement process, she seeks to make funerals a “beautiful moment of grief work” instead of a “grief crisis.”

In the various ways that she serves others as a chaplain, Ivory describes her vocation as growing out of a desire to “be with those who are suffering…to be a compassionate presence.” Which brings us back to the Gospel passage of Jesus’ encounter with the hemorrhaging woman which provides the model for Ivory.

“I see my role as journeying with, not for. Accompaniment. I do what I can, where I can, how I can for as long as I can…. and I trust that when the patient is ready for the next step, God will put that in their life.”


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