Staying Active in the Holy Spirit

493px-peace_dove-svgWe learn in high school English class the significance of the birth metaphor: something important has taken place, our hero has crossed the threshold to a new level, and they will never again be the person that they used to be. The feast of Pentecost is full of birth imagery. It’s no accident that it’s referred to as the birthday of the church, for it represents the moment when Jesus’s disciples were transformed from scared followers asking “now what” to bold preachers willing to spread the good news at all costs. The description of Pentecost in John (“After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy spirit.’” 20:22, The Inclusive Bible) echoes the second creation story, the birth of humanity, where “YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, The Inclusive Bible). Recall, too, the presence of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’s baptism, his spiritual rebirth: “the Holy Spirit descended on the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove” (Luke 3:22, The Inclusive Bible).

The birth metaphor, with its images of life and breath, reveals another fact about the Holy Spirit: she is associated with action and movement. The appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Acts reading for Pentecost is accompanied by “what sounded like a violent, rushing wind” (Acts 2:2, The Inclusive Bible). The disciples present act on the spirit’s urgings by preaching in a multitude of different languages. The breath mentioned in the John passage above is an image of movement, too – we can feel the rush of air! In modern English, I only have to use the phrase “spirited debate” for your brain to be filled with images of animated people gesturing wildly and perhaps moving about the room in order to make their point. The word spirit carries energy.

Unfortunately, the feast of Pentecost shares a fatal flaw with the other major appearance of the Holy Spirit: the Sacrament of Confirmation. With both celebrations, the story too often ends right then and there. For some, the Sacrament of Confirmation marks the end of regular visits to Church for the foreseeable future.  In the case of Pentecost, it can feel like the last stop before our brains kick into summer mode. (This is culturally reinforced: school lets out, vacations begin, and the church choir is on hiatus.) We may still be there physically for the summer months, but our spiritual development stagnates.

How do we face spiritual stagnation head on? At the MCC church, one way we do this is to declare the season after Pentecost to be Pridetide: in this time of gay pride parades and festivals, we take time to reflect on our place in the celebration and show up, claiming our own place among the groups. In this active spirit of Pentecost and Pridetide, my summer goal is to continue my spiritual growth. During Lent, I developed the habit of asking, “What do you want me to hear?” Now I’m asking, “What do you want me to do?” If I am successful, Advent will not only mean beginning again; it will be a new beginning.

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.

“We like it here”

I’ve always had an interest in architectural oddities, so when news of the Metrodome roof collapse hit the airwaves in 2010, I became obsessed with finding out all about this unusual building.  One of the articles that I stumbled across, part of an old ESPN review of every stadium in baseball, mentioned a sign that used to hang there that said “METRODOME – Minneapolis ‘We like it here.'”  The article goes on to express the true meaning:

Yeah, you people from New York, California and Florida might think our weather is cold and miserable and that our stadium sucks, but we don’t care — WE like it and that’s all that matters. And is it loud enough in here for you, then?

metrodome_with_new_roofIn thinking about why I stay Catholic, I think some of the same logic applies.  Those who have left the church or who are proud of their own faith tradition will see the “cold and miserable weather” that we’ve gone through as Catholics (the sexual abuse scandal, bishops and Cardinals getting in the news for being unwilling to welcome LGBTQ Catholics, etc.) and ask us, “why stay Catholic?”  And the best answer I can give them is that “we like it here.”  If that’s the case, I thought, I’d better seek to understand why I like it here.  This lead me to decide that what I should “give up” for Lent this year was negativity.  In other words, I sought to focus on the positive this Lent.  And it turned out that my pastor was right there with me — part of his prescription for Lent was to spend ten minutes a day counting our blessings.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive person, but I found that the goal of “giving up” negativity demanded effort.  It is easy to get sucked in with others when they talk about shortcomings of religious leaders or the undeniable mess that is politics in the United States.  I kept coming back to the question of “What good can I say?”  What good can I say of Pope Francis when my progressive Catholic friends point out that he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging LGBT Catholics as much as we had hoped?  What good can I say of President Obama when I am confronted with a list of things that he has failed to accomplish?

Fr. Tim’s wish that I count my blessings didn’t prove as easy as I would have thought, either.  My thought process often went something like family, good weather … gotta finish that report at work, gotta talk to my boyfriend about Easter plans … people that love me ….  I couldn’t even list 10 things without being distracted by everything I “needed” to get done.

But if I can count one big blessing, it’s that I feel that this Lent really has been different.  I have made progress in my Lenten goals, if imperfect.  And I have gotten to take advantage of three Sacraments: Eucharist, of course, but also Healing and Confession.  I didn’t get the opportunity to go to much of our parish mission in person, but I’m taking advantage of the YouTube recordings to slowly experience it on my own.

As you head into Holy week, I invite you to consider the blessing that this week and this season is for you.

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.

Lenten February

Dar Williams, “February”

First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year
And then we forgot that we’d planted at all
Then we forgot what plants are altogether
And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting
And the nights were long and cold and scary, can we live through February?

Somewhere in the middle of February, Lent began.  I don’t know when, exactly; I’d have to look it up.  Ash Wednesday passed me by barely noticed; I felt like Lent had already begun.  My Mardi Gras was the last weekend of January, when I went to my art studio and painted two full days in a row, a luxury I have not had in two years.  It was a time to celebrate: my studio is a cooperative one with many artists, and we had found a new space just in the nick of time before our old lease ended.

And then the snow, and then the snow came
We were always out shoveling and we dropped to sleep exhausted
Then we wake up, and it’s snowing

I live in Massachusetts.  We had the snowiest winter on record compressed into a 6 week span.  I stopped checking the weather; I just assumed it would snow every third day.  Watch snow.  Wait for plows. Buy groceries. Watch snow. Wait for plows. Buy groceries.  Repeat. Repeat.  When the schools are canceled, most of the playgroups are too.  I am home with a one-and-a-half year old.  At least he loves watching the plows.

It snowed almost every Sunday.  Church was cancelled two weeks in a row; most of the other weeks we were still waiting for the plows to get to us, or the roads were too bad to drive.  I find God many places, but the liturgy and the Eucharist are my grounding place.  “Source and summit” the Church says of the Eucharist; I have never felt this truth so keenly. I wasn’t able to make it to Mass for a month.  I don’t know if I’ve ever gone that long without it before.

Isolated, but not completely: the calls can still come through.  Friends in crisis.  A sister in the hospital. I watched the snow and waited and worried.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?”, And you said, “It’s a flower”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”
You said, “I still love you”

The snow is melting now.  I’ve been to church three weeks in a row.  My loved ones are healing.  We are getting out; the isolation is lifted.  I am coming out of the fog.  I pray now and I feel rusty, unsure.  Six rough weeks: is that all it takes for me to lose touch with God? I feel as though I forgot how to pray, forgot how to serve, forgot how to be Church, forgot how to do anything but go through the daily motions of physically living.  Yet I am grateful, because as the fog lifts, I see God, still right there as always, saying, “I still love you.”

Lent may not be officially over yet, but I’m ready for Easter.

Time for a Change

church-304637_1280Here we are back in Lent, the season when I first took the plunge to write for this blog.  Last year, I focused on mindfulness. A year later, I want to focus on change.  Lent is a time of change — you need look no further than songs such as Change Our Hearts and calls from the readings to repent (i.e., change your ways) to see it.  As Christians, we have a unique take on change.  I was reminded of this during a brown bag session on making changes in your life that I attended at work.  In general, it was a good session with useful information.  But one thing rubbed me the wrong way: the presenter’s reminder of the old adage that the only person we can change is ourselves.  I just smiled and nodded at the time (I certainly wasn’t going to change the presenter), but upon reflection, I disagree wholeheartedly.  (I suppose this audacity to believe that I can change others is part of what keeps me Catholic, even when I think that the Church’s imperfections are not all my fault!)  Allow me to cite some examples showing that Christians believe in changing others:

  • In the early history of Catholicism, the drastic change in Augustine’s lifestyle (from partying to piety) is attributed to his mother Monica’s constant prayers
  • A more modern story in Catholicism is that of Sr. Helen Prejean, who was able to convince Pope John Paul II not to allow for any exceptions in his condemnation of the death penalty.
  • In the Quaker faith tradition, John Woolman is credited with changing the hearts of companions in faith on the issue of slavery, years before the United States got around to abolishing it.
  • Couples heading into marriage often talk about their partner as “bringing out the best version of me” or “challenging me to be the best version of myself.”

Changing others is possible, but misguided notions of change are all too prevalent.  As a gay man, I know that there are people who want me to change my sexuality; it’s not going to happen.  How do the examples cited above avoid this pitfall?  With patience and humility.

  • Monica’s constant prayers took years to take effect, during which time, she undoubtedly had to let go and let God do the work
  • Sr. Helen had no formal authority over Pope John Paul II, and yet somehow through patient dialogue, her truth won out
  • Woolman’s efforts to convince the Quakers to condemn slavery took years of heart-felt dialogue before they won out.
  • Evidence that healthy couples use the same techniques is in the results: through loving dialogue over the course of their years together, a change for the better can come about.

As a choir boy, I’ve heard enough of They’ll Know We Are Christians to last me the rest of my life, but isn’t it talking about this type of change?  Our love for others should be so sincere that it actually makes a difference — it changes something!

May your Lent be full of change for you, and through you, for others as well.

Parish: An Ash Wednesday anniversary reflection

001I write for Young Adult Catholics on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. This year, I have the privilege of posting on Ash Wednesday. I could do much with Ash Wednesday.

But I want to say something not about Ash Wednesday in general, but about what Ash Wednesday means to me. It is my anniversary. It is an unlikely anniversary at that.

Four years ago, I did something I never thought I would do. I quit being a practicing Catholic for an extended period of time. Two years ago, I rescinded my choice. I “came home” on Ash Wednesday, 2013.

The experience was multidimensional. Here, I want to focus on just one dimension: the “home” part. Specifically, my parish home: what it was before, what it is today, and some thoughts for folks who are where I have been. Continue reading

The Word in Peace, Good Friday: Take Comfort in Discomforts

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

“Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.” – Isaiah 53:4

I woke up groggy and congested, starting a cloudy day alone.

It’s Good Friday.

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The Word in Peace, Holy Thursday: Christian Trifecta!

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.” – John 13:12-16

You know what I love about the Holy Thursday mass readings? This is the only time that all three readings describe three unique events that are central to our Catholic faith.

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