All posts filed under: Articles

Reflections on Latino Ministry

“Others always have something to give me, if we know how to approach them in a spirit of openness and without prejudice.” As an apprentice in the Echo program, I have spent the better part of the past two years working in ministry with Hispanic people, most of whom are immigrants from Southern Mexico. Over the course of my apprenticeship, I have tried many times to put pen to paper with regard to my experience, willing myself to compose a piece of writing that could capture the challenges, joys, necessities, and singularity of Latino ministry. Until now, these earlier attempts were always met with some measure of self-resistance. The doubts would arise early on: how can I, an educated, white female, claim to say anything of merit about ministry with the Hispanic community? How could my reflections not just be an appropriation of another culture—the use of someone else’s story to further my own name? Is it okay to reflect theologically on experiences of life that don’t belong to me? At the end of the …

The Fitting Nature of the Sacraments

“By coming into this world our Lord Jesus Christ wished to bring holiness within the reach of all….For this end He provided certain means to fill up all their deficiencies, and supply all their needs in the supernatural order. These wonderful means of sanctification are the Sacraments. Their outward signs harmonize admirably with the grace which they contain, and with the effects which they produce. By their means, in a truly divine order of things, [created things], which have so often captivated [us] and drawn [us] away from God, become instruments for bringing [us] back. – Abbess Cecile Bruyere O.S.B.” One of the central paradoxes of human life is that it is the good things of this world that lead us astray, not the bad. No one gets fat because food tastes nasty, no one hoards things because they take up room, no one engages is sexual promiscuity for the STDs. No, it is indeed the case that food often tastes good, stuff is often cool, and sex is often pleasurable. And yet, look at …

A Letter to the Newly-Baptized

To the Newly-Baptized: You may already feel it—the fact that this journey you are on made a significant transition when you were baptized. Though you remain on the same path towards Christ, your landscape and means for getting there have radically changed. In this post I will discuss three ways in which your Baptism marked a significant moment in your journey, changing you irreversibly, and then speak to the continuing nature of your journey. First, in Baptism you were adopted into a new family, one of choice. Though you were born into a birth family many years ago, Robin Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity notes that “unlike a birth family, this was a family one chose” (57). Tertullian exhorts the one being baptized saying: When you come up from that most sacred washing of the new birth and for the first time you raise your hands with your brethren in your mother’s house, ask of your Father, ask of your Lord, for special grants of grace and attributions of spiritual gifts. (58) You now have …

Meditations for Good Friday, 2016

Editorial Note: The following piece was written when the feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday fell on March 25, 2016. Since this will not happen again until 2157 (when the Internet will be replaced by telepathy) we’re publishing it this year since the themes of the essay are essential to Passiontide.  Today is Good Friday, March 25, 2016. It is also the feast of the Annunciation, the Conception of Our Lord Jesus Christ—celebrated on 25 March because that date is precisely nine months before the Feast of the Nativity on December 25. Good Friday also fell on March 25th four hundred and eight years ago, in the year 1608. Not surprisingly, John Donne wrote a poem to commemorate the paradox of the day’s liturgical significance. And thanks to my friends Kirsten Stirling and Greg Kneidel of the John Donne Society, who reminded the rest of us via email, I was not allowed to forget! Here is Donne’s poem: Vppon the Annunciation, when Good-friday fell vppon the same daye [1608] Tamely fraile body, abstaine to …

Beauty from the Brokenness

As the flickering candles and dim lights fought off the dark Texan night pouring in from outside, the chapel danced between silence and sound. The silence was palpable—as thick as the bonds of the seventy young men huddled attentively as they leaned forward to listen to their fellow senior standing behind the ambo. He began to break open his life, allowing others to listen to the symphony of his rugged voice: crescendos of moments we never expected, slurred words in between tears fought back, staccatos of the surprising levity, and pauses to gather his soul to spoken notes—his young life sung to the tune of the Paschal Mystery. I remember my astonished gaze ascending upwards from the student’s face, aglow with fire light in the dark, towards the gnarled figure of Christ on the suspended crucifix. . . Crucifixion—Why? I found myself in the chapel before the whirlwind events of yet another retreat, drawn to the silent gaze of that same crucifix. Memories flooded the silence and past retreat experiences reverberated into this crossroad in …

The Cruciform Shape of the Family

Embarking on the journey of marriage and family life is filled with many joyful moments but also with moments of suffering. This suffering is inherently relational, meaning that by entering into commitments such as marriage and parenthood, we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wounded by such commitment. For example, think of the newlyweds who ache with overwhelming love for one another, a mother who labors to meet her child, the infertile couple who longs to conceive, the parents who suffer with and for a sick child, or the elderly man who sits at his dying wife’s bedside after a lifetime shared together. As we can see, suffering takes a unique, relational shape in the context of marriage and family life. This shape reflects Christ’s suffering in the sense that he entered into relationship with mankind, therefore opening himself up to such relational wounds—wounds of love. When we gaze upon Christ crucified, we see not only the horrific suffering of his Passion but also a sign of hope in his Resurrection. However, it …

On the Particular Grace of Palm Branches

“See the palm trees? They tell you anything’s possible. You can be anything, do anything. Start over.” So mutters Terrence Malick’s wayward young pilgrim near the start of his Lenten meditation Knight of Cups (2016). The voiceover accompanies a sequence of restless days and nights in Los Angeles: our Augustinian wanderer stalks empty studio lots, paces his sparsely furnished apartment, frolics through unnamed hotel rooms, mingles about impersonal party mansions. The places he haunts are not really places at all but vacant stages for his own libidinous self-expression. While in the grip of these confessedly errant passions, forgetful of himself and his surroundings, palm trees bespeak boundlessness. For those possessed of a liturgical imagination, palm branches send nearly the opposite message. As firmly as any other symbols in our yearly cycle, they affix in us the impression of a distinct time and place. They reinforce the scandalous particularity of our creed: that for us and for our salvation, God was not content to “be anything” or “do anything.” Instead, God chose a particular people, rooted …

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 3

Effectiveness in preaching arises from the two-way communication between the sender and the receiver of the message. To continue from last month’s post, how do we as listeners receive, listen, and grow through your homily? You may feel, as you stand to speak, that you are preaching into a vacuum. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each of us slides into the pew with a head full of ideas and concerns and dreams. We also arrive with different levels of motivation. Motivation to Listen To further the metaphor from the last two segments, if the homily is like butter, and we listeners are like toast, then we arrive at Mass in varying degrees of warmth. Some of us walk in with a sensitive heart and a responsive mind, ready to let your message soak in, like good butter on warm toast. Here are reasons that may happen: We are in love with God. We have had kindhearted experiences of the faith community and/or you as the parish leader. We have had experiences of your …

Witness of the Holy Fool

Dostoevsky’s task as a novelist is to portray the self-sacrifice of the holy fool in such a way that readers will recognize its beauty and want to participate in it. —Harriet Murov The moment I knew that grad school was getting to me was the moment that I found myself deeply identifying with the manic-depressive protagonist of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov. Throughout the novel, Raskolnikov’s troubled state of soul manifests itself in long, circular interior diatribes and labyrinthine monologues, clearly the entrails of a mind coming unhinged. Raskolnikov is no idiot. He is a sharp and intelligent young man. The modern intellectual milieu that he inhabits, however, is a world devoid of Christ, and accordingly, Raskolnikov’s ability to make sense of the world has begun to break down. In trying to make sense of the world on the terms of his reason and his self alone, Raskolnikov has lost his mind. His intelligence, without the guide of charity or faith, leads him to a hellish despair and emptiness. It has led him to a …

The Art and Science of Ministry

Ministry is an art and a science; it’s both at the same time. The minister may be called to shift from one to the other seamlessly, as a dancer moves from foot to foot. In a parish setting, which is where I carry out my role in the ministry of pastoral care, the movement between the two is so swift it’s dizzying. The particularities in the care of each person call on the minister to embrace the art and science of ministry and put the two into practice concurrently. Ministry is an Art. The art of ministry is like how we’ve come to think of an encounter with a painting or lovely hymns—ministry flows out of the heart and employs the gut. As we think about artists, ministers trust their instincts, hone inborn talents, and embrace uninhibited creativity. To accompany someone spiritually, what is needed is a minister who has a personal relationship with Christ, a compassionate heart, the patience to listen, and confidence in the power of prayer. The single requirement is, very simply, …