SPIRIT: Pope Francis Makes Me Want to Be a Catholic (almost…)

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VATICAN RADIO REPORTS IN AN INTERVIEW WITH POPE FRANCIS:

“It is an ugly thing, when you see a Christian who doesn’t want to humble himself, who doesn’t want to serve, a Christian who struts about everywhere: it’s ugly, eh? That is not a Christian: that’s a pagan!”

He warned Christians against placing themselves above others and called on the faithful to be in solidarity with the poor.

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I’m almost ready to become Catholic. But I’m Episcopalian, so I’m already “Catholic Lite.”

Source: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/19/1263815/-YES-YES-YES-Pope-Francis-trashes-the-prosperity-gospel?detail=email1

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AT THE HOMESTEAD: MY ALTAR

I keep a personal altar in my bedroom at SCH, a place where I pause each morning for reflection and light candles as an act of ritual to help me focus on the various aspects of my spiritual awareness and practice. Ritual is a very powerful thing. And we all perform rituals in our lives, even though we don’t always recognize them as such. As Joseph Campbell wrote in Transformations of Myth Through Time (Harper & Row, NY 1990) “People sometimes ask me, ‘what ritual do we have?’ You’ve got rituals, only you’re not meditating on them. When you eat a meal, that’s a ritual. Just realize what you’re doing.”

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I have several candles of the type found in botanicas and at the grocery store, cylindrical clear class holders with paper images applied to the outside. To avoid overconsumption (many people burn these candles, toss them, then buy replacements), I have burned the original wax down inside each candle and then replaced it with a votive. That way I am only buying more wax and wick, which lowers my waste output and saves me money.

I like these botanica candles because of their paper imagery pasted on them. They aid my focus and center my thought as I begin my day in prayer and contemplation. As I light each one, I reflect on its theme or message.

There’s the “Holy Spirit,” and the “Guardian Angel.” This one is especially important for me because I believe my maternal grandmother, who passed in 2009, watches over me and protects me. I’ve felt her spirit particularly close to me through the struggles of this past year. Another candle, the “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” keeps me in touch with the central figure in my faith tradition, and the values that he embodies. There is the “Virgin of Guadalupe” to remind me of the feminine in God, of the “mothering” as well as “fathering” aspects of the God of my own understanding. I also use the “Virgin” candle to remind me that we each have a part to play (Mary was a human being who played her part in bringing God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ – and when I live according to the values of my faith tradition I can also bring God into the world each day in a similar kind of way). The Virgin reminds me of the great country and people to the south, and of the ways in which growing up and living in Southern California is an experience as rich with Mexican traditions as the prevailing American ones. She reminds me of the possibility of miracles, and of the ways in which the Divine reveals itself to the common man as Mary revealed herself to Juan Diego in 1531 (my favorite telling of the story is found in the children’s book THE LADY OF GUADALUPE by Tomie de Paola ).

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I keep one botanica candle which is clear, without any image affixed to it, and I light this one each day for a different person or persons. I might light it as I pray for my mother, or a friend, or the memory of Nelson Mandela, or the people of the Phillipines after the terrible storm last month. I keep a second candle on my altar which rises on a stem and is encased in a hurricane of green glass. This candle I light for peace and justice in the world, and to remind me that I have a part to play in the advancement of each.

I have two vases – one a bud vase for a single flower, and a larger vase for a small bouquet. These provide fragrance and beauty and remind me of life and its passing.

I have two items on my altar that were gifts – a small hand-painted image on wood of Saint John, the patron saint of writers and a small laminated card with the image of Jesus on it which was a gift from my Cuban friend Agustin.

Finally, I have a special oil candle made of stone which has a “step” in it. This was given to me by my friend Rafael as a reminder of the importance of my sobriety and the power of the 12 steps in my life.

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Behind my altar hangs a calendar, which reads in Spanish, “?ES EL FIN DEL MUNDO, O APENAS OTRO DIA?” (Is it the end of the world, or just another day?”). This great find came to me at a garage sale in Silver Lake years ago for just one dollar. It has dials on either side that allow me to change the day of the week, date, and month. Making the change each morning centers me in the here and now, and reminds me that yesterday has passed, and tomorrow will be “dialed up” another day so what about THIS day here and now? The calendar helps me keep things in perspective, and with it’s humorous text and illustrations it really amuses me. I don’t have to take myself or life too seriously. And it’s never the end of the world.

When I was 18 years old I wrote a song to explain the power of faith in my life, and it took as its main image a lit candle.  The lyrics are as follows:

I light a candle

I let it burn

In the hope

That one would see

 

This light that’s burning

Fire eternal

The only life for me

 

Though the world

Grows dark I know

My light won’t dim

 

Nothing can darken

My heart

My light is Him

 

I light a candle.

PROVOCATIVE WORDS FROM POPE FRANCIS and THE LOSS OF A LIVING SAINT: Sister Antonia Brenner 1926-2013

PROVOCATIVE WORDS FROM POPE FRANCIS

I’m not a Catholic, but I admire the new Pope and the missions and ministries of many Catholics the world round. I am a practicing Episcopalian (as I like to tell people, I’m not that serious, I’m just practicing). But I am serious about my commitment to issues of social justice and my activism is informed by my desire to follow in Christ’s footsteps, My fight (and I am a fighter)  is always strengthened by my faith. I’m not a literalist and I don’t lose myself in ideology or dogma. I’m more interested in the mystery than I am in search of certainty. I believe you have a right to a God of your own understanding.  And I’m not alone.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget the progressive wing of the Christian faith, the ways in which abolition and civil rights and gay rights and women’s rights have been fought for and won by those acting on Christian conscience. And those are the headline grabbers. But each and every day in a much quieter way random acts of kindness, love, caring, and compassion are put forth into the world by people acting out their faith.

For every Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian who runs with the Tea Party crowd, there are progressive Christians who are feeding the hungry and clothing the needy and even fighting for the hungry and needy to earn living wages that restore their dignity and allow them to be self-supporting. For every Al Qaeda suicide bomber, there are Muslims practicing their faith in ways that further justice and peace. For every Conservative Jew who thinks Palestinians should be taken out back and shot, there are enlightened Jews who recognize the humanity of everyone and the insanity of an apartheid-like state in Israel.  For every Buddhist burning down the houses of non-Buddhists in Myanmar, there are those seeking mindfulness and serenity and pursuing non-violence.

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Because my cultural and family tradition is the practice of the Christian faith,  I pay especially close attention when someone like the new Pope makes a provocative a statement like the one he recently did about ideology and ideologues:

“…when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Way to go, Pope Francis. You’re fast becoming one of my heroes. 

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THE LOSS OF A LIVING SAINT: Sister Antonia Brenner 1926-2013

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While the Pope is in Rome, some heroes are much closer to home. Just south of the San Diego border lived another unsung “Mother Theresa,” Sister Antonia Brenner who died recently at age 86. She was particularly extraordinary because in the middle of her life she decided to give herself a second chance and turned everything she knew upside down. I imagine many thought she had lost her mind, but she knew better. And so she changed her life and in turn changed the lives of so many others.

Sister Antonia Brenner began life as Mary Clarke in Beverly Hills where the success of her Irish immigrant father’s office supply business afforded her family the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Growing up, Cary Grant was just one of her well known neighbors. She was destined to become a “Real” housewife of Beverly Hills.

 And so she did. She married and raised seven children, four daughters and three sons. But not everything worked out as planned. Sadly, her first marriage ended in divorce, as did a second. At mid-life, her children now grown and searching for something more, she was moved to make a change.

 In 1977 her choice was clear. She gave away all her expensive belongings, took holy vows and moved to Tijuana, Mexico to take up residence inside a penitentiary that she knew of previously through outreach and volunteer work. As Sister Antonia Brenner she lived just as the inmates in the penitentiary did, in a 10 by 10 foot cell. She lived and worked freely among the inmates who looked upon her as an angel in the flesh and referred to her affectionately as “Mama”. She was deeply respected and loved both inside and outside the prison walls.

She would tell new inmates “Don’t be afraid. Christ was a prisoner just like you. He knows what it’s like to be arrested and interrogated and sent away. He knows what it’s like to be hated and mocked and humiliated. He hasn’t abandoned you. In all of the Scripture, he doesn’t speak a word against you,” (quote from http://www.thecatholiccatalogue.com)

In the 1990’s she founded her own religious order to continue and expand her work, the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. http://www.eudistservants.org

 She often returned to Southern California to raise money for her work and to visit her family which had grown to include more than 45 grand and great-grandchildren. But she always returned to the prison where she lived and ministered for 30 years.

 Speaking of Sister Brenner, Father Joe Carroll, who once ran the St. Vincent de Paul Village in San Diego and knew her well, said:

 “Rhyme, reason – you can’t rationalize why she did it. She [had] that one-on-one relationship with God.”

Sister Antonia Brenner 1926 – 2013.

 May she rest in peace.

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To read the Los Angeles Times Obituary of Sister Antonia Brenner, click here http://www.latimes.com/search/dispatcher.front?Query=Sister+Antonia+Brenner&target=adv_all

To read the New York Times obituary of Sister Antonia Brenner click here http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/us/antonia-brenner-prison-angel-who-took-inmates-under-her-wings-dies-at-86.html?rct=j&q=sister%20antonia%20brenner&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CFYQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2013%2F10%2F21%2Fus%2Fantonia-brenner-prison-angel-who-took-inmates-under-her-wings-dies-at-86.html&ei=62FlUpN7s-XIAYaSgPgB&usg=AFQjCNFNDnqaFl_VV5kCFB4-1kFhi9tsBA&sig2=KTwSZwPnc0SNyt5Fiw-z9A&bvm=bv.54934254,d.aWc&=

To learn more about the Eudist Saints of the Eleventh Hour, or to make a donation click here http://www.eudistservants.org