The Populist Pope


This post also appears in Pandora's Box is Open at:

If G-d’s on Our Side. . .

            In “Pope Francis Enters 2016 Election With DIRECT Verbal Attack On Donald Trump (DETAILS),” by Carissa House-Dunphy, on November 6, 2016, Ms. House-Dunphy reported that Pope Frances spoke out against the Trump campaign. He said: 

No tyranny can be sustained without exploiting our fears. This is clear. All tyranny is terrorist. And when that terror ignited in the peripheries with massacres, looting, oppression, and injustice explodes in the centers in the form of violence, including with hateful and cowardly intent, the citizens who still have some rights are tempted by the false security of walls, physical or social—walls that close some in and banish others. Is that the life our father God wants for us?

            To read this article, visit:

            This Pope is old enough to remember World War II and Hitler’s tyranny.
             His comments also echo and explain why a Sister, who is part of the Nuns on the Bus’ get-out-the-vote campaign, felt free enough to say that, while the Church is antiabortion, there is a lot more to the choices that Catholic American voters face. During a CNN interview over this past weekend, she said that supporting life meant not only being against abortion but also creating the kind of society in which an unwed pregnant woman would not feel compelled to have an abortion. Moreover, she added that, during President Obama’s time in office, the rate of abortions had gone down.
             All of this is part of the Pope’s shift away from concentrating solely on divisive issues and seeking to shed light on the context in which these issues emerge. If we truly want to end abortion for good, going back to coat-hanger deaths is not the way. A strong social safety net is. When any pregnant woman can feel that her unborn child will not be born into a world that rejects her need for help for her and for that child, that is when she will have a true choice. When we end the shame surrounding unwed pregnancy and offer mercy instead, again, that will give her a true choice.
             O.K. This is all good. Yet, there are still problems. Our Pope still calls G-d a Father. And our Pope still maintains that there will never be female priests. This is because, back in Jesus’ time, the disciples were males. Excuse me, but what about cultural context? Back in that time, it was an extremely misogynist society that was totally based on patriarchy. Haven’t we progressed at all since then? How do we know that G-d has a gender? Last time G-d showed up it was through a fire in a burning bush.
             In the Pope’s worldview, it seems we can elect a female president to lead the free world, but no woman is suited to represent G-d in the highest Catholic Church offices. We can be ruled by a woman, but we cannot be given G-d’s Word from a woman. This is a contradiction.
             Here’s another thing. Abortions are not permitted in the Pope’s worldview. Neither is contraception, which would prevent a heck of a lot of abortions. Again, we have a contradiction.
             Push–pull, push–pull. The Pope got me to admit that I am at least some kind of a Catholic. Maybe a cafeteria sort. I prefer to call myself a dissident Catholic. That means I believe in the miracles of Jesus Christ and many Catholic values, especially those that are antiwar and antipoverty. It also means that, when it comes to women, or homosexuals, I don’t subscribe at all to the Catholic doctrine. I’m into contraception, choice, and gay marriage. I’m into living together. None of these views prevent me from praying to G-d, especially through St. Jude (Patron of Impossible Causes). None of these views stop me from seeing Jesus Christ as a Jew who was sent by G-d to deliver a new Covenant. And none of these views stop me from appreciating the Pope’s ecumenical message that does not harp on only one way to salvation. None of these views prevent me from recognizing, in the words of Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach, that “there are many roads to G-d, and they are all valid.”
            So what do G-d and the Pope have to do with the choice Americans face tomorrow? Our Pope pushes the envelope and then retreats. He is stuck between an essentially kind and merciful heart and his strict Jesuit training. This has characterized the Pope’s reign since he started. And with Hillary Clinton, it’s kind of the same thing in the political arena. She is caught between what is desired and what can be done. Yet even that conflict is better than Holocaust II, which is what Trump would usher in.
            To bastardize a Bob Dylan song, “if G-d’s on our side, She’ll choose Hillary Clinton and give the Senate to the Democrats.” Why? Because, I believe that G-d wants us to progress—not to go backward.

The Socialist Pope: What’s Not to Like?

My Parents
      I was what they call a “red diaper baby.” That’s the kind of child who was brought up in a home with socialist or communist ideas. My parents looked like ordinary working class folk. They didn’t go to jam sessions or take drugs. My father didn’t sport a beard—not even a mustache. They didn’t go to political meetings or attend demonstrations.
      But their ideas and tastes in music were much more to the left than I realized. How many children’s parents sang songs by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger while riding in their cars? Later on, the songs would also include Peter, Paul, and Mary and Bob Dylan. And they also listened to what we would call today World Music.
      Our home was full of books. Books galore. And I was allowed to read anything I happened to pick up. Those books included Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and The Communist Manifesto, both of which I read as a preteen. I also read Pregnancy and Birth at age 11 when my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister. Many years later when I asked my mother why these particular books were around, she said “oh a neighbor left them in the hall, so we picked them up.” Ha, some excuse! Why pick them up? “Ma, you were a communist,” I teased her.
      Well, not really a communist. More like an American socialist, much like Bernie Sanders, what one would call a Democratic Socialist. My mom and dad were both union. When transit workers threatened to strike the Long Island Railroad, higher-ups where I worked complained. Hey, it was going to really inconvenience me, but I piped up: “My mommy was union. My daddy was union. And if those people need to go on strike, it’s going to really mess up my commute, but I support them just the same.” And my husband is union too. I would be except my field is not unionized. They all looked at me like I had two heads.
      My father was a regular Archie Bunker type—he even looked like him. He’d say things and my mother would get furious at him for that. But when push came to shove, he would help anybody in distress no matter what that person’s race was. I was taught to despise racism and that started when I was very young. I remember visiting a friend and saying to my mother that my friend was nice but “she is so dirty.” My mom explained that my friend wasn’t dirty at all. She was just Hispanic. I saw the first black person in our area while I was on a bus. I asked my mother, “why is that lady so black?” My mother was horrified but the lady rose magnificently to the occasion by saying “I was born that way.” Our neighborhood was becoming more and more diverse and my parents didn’t care. I went to school with and played with all sorts of people, and they were always welcome in my home—race, religion, and economic class did not matter.

      In Catechism, we were taught about how Jesus Christ fed the poor and healed the sick. He did not ask for means testing. He would just as soon run to heal a Roman soldier’s child as he would any fellow Jews—any day of the week. Nobody in the crowds were asked for proof that they were poor. They got their loaves and fishes no matter what. Jesus was always telling people to ditch their riches and give to needy people. Jesus was one heck of a socialist, if you ask me.
      Jesus accepted people who were different, such as the Good Samaritan. He ate with sinners and allowed a tax collector to be a disciple. He also accepted a prostitute to be one of his followers and appeared first to her after he died. When Saul became converted, he had a vision of allowing Gentiles to be part of Christianity. That was all part of the plan.
      Jesus believed in redemption. One could atone for past sins. No person’s fate was set in stone. There was no predestination in his worldview. When he said to be “born again,” he did not mean to become part of an elite group of people who looked down on everybody else. He believed in spreading the Word, but not in torturing or discriminating against people who did not listen.
      And let us remember one very salient fact: Jesus was born as a Jew. He lived as a Jew. And he died as a Jew. So, there was absolutely NO room for any kind of antisemitism in what he preached. He never preached hate against any group of people. He only preached about what he thought was best to do. He talked about behaviors and did not marginalize people. My parents pretty much believed this way.

      Yet, there were differences too. My parents were not churchgoers. They used birth control. They did not spurn unwed mothers. They did not disapprove of my going to my best friend’s apartment, where a drag queen watched the younger children. My parents were years ahead of their time in accepting that people had different lifestyles.
      With a background like that, I wasn’t exactly going to turn into a conservative Republican.
      What about Protestant? There are all sorts of Protestants. Some are very liberal and others are very backward. I could see myself with the liberal Protestants, but never with those crazy evangelicals who claim that there is no salvation except in their own particular sects. There are evangelicals with great hearts who mean no harm, but the other kind are really poisonous. In fact, they are the exact opposite of all the things that Jesus preached with their homophobia, racism, and lack of compassion for poor and disabled people.
      Pope Francis fired the ambassador who set up a meeting that included the homophobic Kim Davis. That meeting made a horrid, hateful blot on the Pope’s glowing visit.

Pope Replaces Ambassador to U.S. Who Set Up Kim Davis Meeting
By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor


      I can’t say whether or not Jesus would approve of gay marriages but I can say that he would never had denied a gay person therapy for any problem. I can say that Jesus would never have tried to keep people out of the country simply because they had different backgrounds and beliefs. I can say that he never, ever, ever would have denied poor people help. He would never, ever, ever have blamed them for their economic problems.
      I can’t say whether or not Jesus would approve of contraception, but I can say I think he would have preferred it to abortions. And I believe he would have been very compassionate toward women who felt that they needed abortions. He would not have made up laws about these things. He also would have favored the kind of safety net that would provide a much better alternative to abortions.
      Yes, indeed there are differences between what I believe in and what is current Catholic doctrine. Yet, the socialist strain that runs through true Catholicism and the antiwar stance of the Church has its appeal. When the Pope meets with Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist, and then goes to Greece and picks up a little refugee girl crying at his feet and lifts her up to stand and pats her head, and then takes 14 refugees on his plane back to the Vatican, what’s not to like?
      Jesus was the original socialist and Pope Francis is following the Way of Jesus.


Pope Pushing Papal Envelope

Pope Francis continues to push that papal envelope as hard as he can. It’s a tough sell to both conservatives and liberals, because he is walking a tightrope between both factions. As a Jesuit, duty-bound to remain within canonical law, he still does what is possible without changing the law.
       On April 11, 2016, Kaitlin Menza reported 5 Things the Pope Said Today That Have Shocked the World” for Yahoo News.
       The Pope discussed, among other things, in his Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), which was released today, (1) divorced and remarried Catholics, (2) equality between the sexes, (3) unmarried couples, (4) the role of sex in life, (5) the definition of “marriage,” and (6) same-sex romantic relationships. Only one of these six was not shocking.
       So what was so shocking? I can tell you that #1 was for me. I remember when one of my sisters sought a divorce and had to go through a very rigorous annulment process because her husband demanded it. (Yet, he ended up marrying a Jewish woman later on. . . .so much for his devoutness). So, now we have the Pope saying that divorced and remarried Catholics are part of the Church and should not be excluded from Communion. Hallelujah! I wish Pope Francis had been making the rules when my sister got her annulment. Conservatives will want the old rules, and liberals will smile.
       # 2 had me scratching my head. What exactly is meant by his call for “more equality” between the sexes? Is he prepared to have women priests? A female Pope? Or is he only talking about the lay world, while keeping the ecclesiastical world the same as it has been for centuries? Conservatives will hate it, and liberals will ask how far Pope Francis is willing to go on this issue.
       Unmarried couples “not living in sin” (#3) almost knocked me off my chair! Why? When I was getting married, one friend whom I wanted to include in my bridal party refused to be in it, because she said I was living in sin with my fiancée. However, when I told this to my husband’s Aunt Paula, a Catholic nun, her response was pretty much like the Pope’s: “I’m sure you are doing it for good reasons.” So much for my ex-friend’s idea of sin. Conservatives will hate this one.
       I like #4 a lot. Pope Francis says that sex is meant to be enjoyed, because it was created by G-d. Nice going, dear Pope. I only wish you had been the first Pope and spread this message around, because there has been an awful lot of misery around the issue of sex and sexuality. I’ve always found the Catholic view of sex-for-procreation-only positively medieval. This one, I’m sure will be a big shock for a heck of a lot of Catholics. A good shock in my humble opinion. It almost makes me laugh.
       The definition of marriage (#5) will make the conservatives happy, and the liberals will be displeased. It’s still that old man-and-woman thing. I disagree. I was ecstatic when same-sex marriage became legal in the State of New York. On TV, I watched our Mayor marry two Jewish men and I was moved to tears. I rejoiced when Ireland, that oh-so-Catholic country, legalized same-sex marriage for the Free State. I wasn’t shocked because, when my husband and I were in Limerick, those rainbow flags were flying, and we witnessed an openly gay march that included drag queens and teachers and socialists. Ireland did it the right way—by popular vote. Seems that the Irish feel secure in their separation of church and state, while the United States is paranoid to the hilt on that subject. Yet, the United States followed suit in a different way. The Supreme Court made it legal throughout the land. That surprised me because that Court is made up of a bunch of old folks and is tipped toward the conservatives. I guess the swing vote worked here. Why was I so concerned? Because, although I am a happily married heterosexual (30+ years), I have people whom I love who are gay. I want them to be able to have what I have. Conservatives will like #5. It’s not shocking to anybody because the liberals know darn well where the Jesuits stand on this issue.
       And that leads me right over to #6. This one is a shocker all right. It’s a half-a-loaf, push-the-envelope kind of thing. Pope Francis recommends more tolerance for gay romantic relationships. O.K., so living together is not a sin, so gay people can do that. And sex is for enjoyment, so gay people can do that too. But they can’t marry in the Church. This one will have everybody wondering: if Pope Francis had his druthers, would gay marriage actually be OK? Here he is attempting to keep the Jesuit line on marriage while opening up the discussion regarding homosexuality. It’s like he is saying, “it’s technically wrong, but it doesn’t hurt anybody, so let them be.” It’s a sort-of progress. Conservatives will scream: “NO WAY!” as they are around the Southern United States with a spate of antigay laws. Liberals will say: “That’s all fine and dandy, but you are still shutting gays out when it comes to marrying.” Half-a-loaf hardly ever pleases anybody.
       Keep pushing that envelope Pope Francis! Maybe someday there will be a revolution in the world, and we will make even more progress. I, for one, would hate the clock to be turned backward.


Desperately Seeking Tickets

to See Pope Francis in New York City:

Disappointed and Down in the Dumps

New York City is the only place where every single event to see Pope Francis requires tickets. Who would have thought that getting to see a Pope was harder than trying to see a rock star? I've had better luck with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Beatles, and many others. There was always a ticket to be found somewhere, somehow.

What is particularly disturbing is that some people entered the recent contest for tickets to the Central Park Event simply to obtain tickets to sell at outrageous prices for people who were desperate to see the Pope. Again, I've had better luck with rock stars.

There was only ONE way for an unchurched person like me to obtain a ticket: Enter the Central Park contest. Madison Square Garden was not giving or selling any tickets. Those were only for the faithful members of the various parishes around the city (understandably). Tickets for the Ground Zero event were only open to people who lived in the area or who were affected by 9/11 (again, understandably).

So, what's a person like me to do? I know of somebody who won and declined the tickets, not realizing that I would have been more than happy to relieve her of them. She found the security arrangements too onerous. I would have gone through that no matter what.

It's very disheartening that a Pope of the people is harder to even get a glimpse of than a rock star ever was. Seems like nothing has really changed except now that the head of the Catholic Church is totally inaccessible to people in New York City.

And they wonder why religion is flaming out over here? It's not just all the ideological things, although those play a major role. It's putting the Pope up on some pedestal and making us all feel worthless because we are not allowed in his presence.



Pope Francis, My Father, and St. Jude

Or the Strangeness of the Universe 

and the Need for Divorce

OMG, I'm nearly ready to go back to Church! The Church has never had such a Pope as Pope Francis. This man is infused with supernatural understanding of the human condition. How he got it I don't know. He is the first Pope I ever knew that was so intelligent and aware. 

I haven't blogged in a while because everything was pretty much the same, and I already had written so much about how capitalism stinks and how we have to care for the poor. Mind you, I'm not complaining because it's great that Pope Francis talks about this issue a great deal.

But today I found this, and it is absolutely remarkable:

In "Pope Francis Says Divorce Can Be 'Morally Necessary' To Protect Kids," Huff Post Religion reporter Rosie Scammell notes that Pope Francis actually said that it was "morally necessary" for parents to separate, especially “when it comes to saving the weaker spouse, or young children, from more serious injuries caused by intimidation and violence, by humiliation and exploitation, by lack of involvement and indifference.”


Here's the deal. I've been happily married to a wonderful man for 30 years! He is my twin flame, my soul mate, and my all. Sometimes, I think of something and he just brings it to me. That's how close we are. So, you might well ask: "Why do you believe so fervently in divorce?" Well, there is a darn good reason for that: I am the product of a bad marriage. From the time I was 8 years old, I would tell my mother: "If I were you, I would divorce the son of a bitch." 

I said that and many other worse things because my father was a very cheap and mean person for most of his life. He did not like to share any part of himself or what he earned, even when his family needed it. When he was displeased, he would curse and holler and threaten. 

I never saw him hit my mother, but we children certainly got it. Mostly it was The Strap. That could come out because we giggled in bed past bedtime. It could come out because one of us would wake up screaming from a nightmare. It could come out because we made sexy jokes (which he himself loved to make). It could come out because we cursed (which he did very often). I got a shoe thrown at my head for not hearing him tell me to move out of his way to watch the TV. These days, they would call that child abuse. Back then, it was just what fathers did—at least so my mother thought.

I lived in fear of him. I would never go near him or talk to him unless it was absolutely necessary, with few exceptions. I never asked him for anything until I was already old. I felt he did not love me at all. He threatened to put me in a mental institution, which frightened me no end. Ironically, when I did land in a Day Hospital for patients with problems, it was a great experience that not only included a lot of caring and healing, but was also a lot of fun.

He was stingy with money too. My mother always had to make do with scant amounts of money. Fortunately, she was very resourceful, and we ended up having lovely bespoke clothes before that became fashionable. He would not pay for a tonsillectomy that one of my sisters needed.

He was a hard worker, but when it came to doing things needed around the house or carrying things, he left that all to my mother. She literally did the heavy lifting.

My parents fought all the time, with unkind words and a lot of hollering. When my father would leave the house saying he wasn't going to come back, my sisters and I would laugh like crazy. We hoped it was true.

I will never forget the day I realized that I had some courage. My sister had brought her male dog in the house, and the male dog got together with our female dog and started doing what male and female dogs do naturally. This embarrassed and enraged my father, especially because the event was taking place in front of a few of us, including our youngest sister. 

My father hollered at the dogs but they didn't separate. Dogs can't just separate; they have to finish their business. That enraged my father even more. He went to our basement and got a lead pipe and advanced toward the porch where the dogs were. His intention was clear—he wanted to beat the brains out of the dogs. My youngest sister, who was sitting on a porch chair, became hysterical. 

I was this little skinny thing weighing less than 100 lbs. He was muscular and much bigger than me. I don't know what possessed me, but I grabbed an umbrella from our coat tree and pointed it straight at my father and said calmly: "Don't you come one step closer." He threw down the pipe, said "son of a bitch," and walked away. I could have been brained. I think G-d was with me. G-d gave me the strength to face my father down when it was needed.

But, let me set the record straight, lest you believe he was a total ogre. In his later years, he became much nicer toward me. It had to do with the fact that I had married a wonderful man and it was clear that there were many things that I loved about my husband. I think my father realized then that I was not a "man hater"; I just hated cruelty. We still had arguments, but he began to model some of his behavior on my husband's benevolent ways. My father would then do favors for me. He would say decent things about me. 

And one day, when I was upset, he gave me the greatest gift ever. No, it wasn't money. It wasn't even a hug or saying "I love you." He handed me a card with a picture of St. Jude and a copy of the prayer to St. Jude. "When you get upset, take this card and say this prayer," my father said. "It will help you." Well, I never knew my father to be a praying man. I was astounded. But I figured anything was worth a try. So, I did it. I prayed to St. Jude and each time, my prayers were answered. I'm not saying I always got what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. To this day, St. Jude is my adopted patron Saint. That was the gift my father gave me—him of all people! It just goes to show that one never knows from where and from whom the universe will bestow much needed blessings--or Grace as President Obama called it recently.

So, here's the thing. Perhaps if my parents had separated, I might have had a very different kind of relationship with my father when I was younger. I might have been more able to appreciate his lighter side and his creativity. I might have been able to enjoy the family magic shows he put on or the other nice times that were sandwiched in between those bouts of cruelty.

He did, after all, take me to Willoughbys to look at cameras and eat at Horn and Hardarts. He did let me in his darkroom while he made pictures, and he did show me how to do that. He did drive us out to our country home, singing country and folk songs. He did make good jokes. Yes, actually there was some good in this otherwise mean man. And maybe if he didn't live and fight with my mother and the rest of us, we all might have been happier. Maybe we would have seen him for the good times and enjoyed that.

Yes, my parents should have divorced. They should have done so for themselves and for us children. Perhaps we all would have had better examples of what men could be. I was darn careful and picky, but I also got lucky when it came to getting married.

The Pope understands this about human beings. They do not always get along with one another. Sometimes, their values or their intellectual levels are too different. Sometimes, they simply grow in different—and highly conflicting—directions. Sometimes, they are just not made for family life. Sometimes, they just can't stand all the noise and chaos of children. I've never seen the sense of two miserable people staying together because they made a huge mistake by getting married.

It's because I believe in divorce so fervently that my marriage has lasted so long and been so happy. Both my husband and I realize that we must tend to our marriage or it will fall apart. We must always show our love to one another and respect each others' equal rights. We must do the necessary tasks in life cheerfully. I'm not saying we are perfect. We mess up. We get in our moods and have our misunderstandings. But underneath it all is the love that is so strong and enduring, so G-d given, so full of Grace. The "musts" become joyous for us. We are not perfect but we are perfect for each other.

Let Catholics marry with this understanding. Let them prepare for marriage and choose wisely. And, if they make mistakes, let them be liberated from those mistakes without any stigma of sin. Our much-beloved Pope Francis realizes this. He is truly receiving his wisdom from G-d. He is able to see the human condition with mercy that comes so much closer to the love of Jesus Christ than any previous Pope has ever had. Truly, I know people who would have benefited so greatly had Pope Francis been around when they were going through their troubles.

Viva il Papa. We don't have to agree on everything, but Pope Francis is MY Pope.



Pope Francis Tells It Like It Truly Is

Today on Facebook, a meme came from SANDERS.SENATE.GOV and this was it:

The other day, on my Facebook page, I was saying how we do not truly have freedom of speech for many reasons. Among them, was that “we live in a corporate dictatorship.” The sad truth is that, no matter how much our leaders tell us that we should be honest, everything in our society, from the time we are born, tells us to lie, steal, and cheat. Almost everything is fake. That’s not just a modern complaint; the ancients had the same problem. Moses faced the Golden Calf. The Romans claimed that they were liberal about worshipping various gods, but when it came to the Jewish god, this claim was not true.

John the Baptist and Jesus were both executed for speaking truth. In John’s case, it was because he railed against Herod breaking Jewish law by marrying his brother’s wife. Herod was supposed to be the leader of the Jews but he felt that he was above the law. Sounds like a lot of people in the news these days. And we all know what happened to Jesus Christ. Crucified. Just because he said words that the Romans took offense at. Sounds like all the authoritarian dictatorships in today’s world.

Jesus tried to pave the way for the betterment of humanity. Have we truly progressed? I think not. Remember Copernicus? Galileo? They were the victims of Christianity gone rogue; the sweet and gentle religion that Jesus died for had turned into vicious Crusades and the Inquisition. If anything, in modern times, we are very much like the people in the desert worshipping the golden calf while Moses went to seek the word of G-d. We are still a society that reveres power and money, and sacrifices goodness for it. From making shoddy—and sometimes dangerous—products to creating little corporate kingdoms and queendoms in which people must bow to the rulers in order to make a living.

Wherein lies this dismal failure? Let’s start in childhood. It begins innocently enough when little Emma says she thinks Aunt Bertha’s green dress is ugly and makes her look fat. Emma is immediately shushed by Mamma, whose embarrassment is very obvious. So, first, we teach our children to tell white lies. That’s not so bad; the intention is to prevent needless hurt caused by brutal frankness.

Let’s move on to when Emma is about 8 years old. She walks into a candy store and steals a pack of gum. When he mother discovers the gum, she is shocked because she knows that Emma didn’t have any money to buy it. So, in an angry tone, she grills Emma. “Did you steal that gum?!!!” Emma hears the anger and becomes afraid of punishment. She knows that, when Mamma sounds that angry, a good smack on her rear is likely to follow. So, Emma invents a way to extricate herself from the situation. “No. My friend, Cathy, gave it to me.” The lie works. Or, if Mamma uncovers the truth, Emma is in for more than a spanking. She probably won’t get to watch TV for a week too. Well, we think, “of course, stealing is wrong and should be punished.”

Here’s the problem: With the best of intentions, Mamma has lost a very good teachable moment. She could have asked Emma calmly how she got the gum. Emma probably would have told the truth. Then what? Then, Mamma could have explained to Emma that it is wrong to take things from other people and that they are hurt when they are robbed. Mamma could have said to Emma: “I forgive you because you didn’t realize this. Let’s go back to the store and say ‘sorry’ and return the gum. I’m sure Mr. Finkelstein will understand and forgive you too.” And, if the good Mr. Finkelstein realizes that Emma and her mother are trying to right a wrong, he, too may forgive the child.

Which lesson is better for Emma? In the first scenario, Emma has learned that lying is convenient and easy. She is able to steal and lie to get what she wants and not be punished. In the second scenario, Emma learns that she did something wrong, but that she can fix it. She can be forgiven. This is what mercy is all about. This is what Jesus meant when he said to the prostitute “go, and sin no more.”

Unfortunately, too many children learn the wrong lesson. This persists through school and college and then into the workplace, which is a particularly harsh and cruel setting to navigate.

Being hierarchical is another problem. Emma learns that she should never contradict a grownup, even if the grownup is wrong. The reason given is that “grownups know more than children and children need to show respect.” If Emma rebels against Aunt Bertha distributing candy to her and her cousins but giving the boys more candy than the girls, instead of being praised for speaking out, Emma is shushed again—this time by both Mamma and Aunt Bertha. The inequality is allowed to persist. Why? Because the grownups should not be contradicted. This is senseless.

Had Mamma told Aunt Bertha that her candy distribution was unfair, maybe Aunt Bertha would be angry. Maybe not? Maybe Aunt Bertha would explain that she thought that the boys were more active, so they needed more candy. Whether or not that is correct isn’t the point. The point is that the event would have been explained rather than simply enforced. Maybe Aunt Bertha, realizing the inequality, would give the girls more candy to make up for the deficit. Or, at least, she might explain why she did it. Or, if Aunt Bertha stalks off in anger, at least Mamma will back Emma up. Emma then learns that she did the right thing, even if some people disagree with her.

In the first scenario, Emma learns that one must always give way to people “above” her. In the second scenario, Emma learns to speak truth to power and that power can sometimes respond well.

And once again, unfortunately, too many children learn about this hierarchy when they are very young, and this negative lesson persists throughout their lives. By the time people reach the brutal workplace, they are already primed to be obedient slaves to their bosses instead of collaborators trying to make things work out the best for everyone.

As Leonard Cohen said: It starts with your family and soon it comes ’round to your soul.”

Bernie Sanders (by promoting this meme) and Pope Francis are using their positions of power to speak for those of us who have been silenced. Although the law says we have free speech, in truth, we do not. We are, in essence, wage slaves, doomed to lie and cheat and bow down to the hierarchy in order to survive. We are punished every time we dare to do the right thing, correct a wrong, or speak the truth. It’s not crucifixion or torture on the rack, but there is the threat of homelessness caused by economic deprivation. If we lose our jobs because we have done the right thing or spoken the truth instead of pretending that everything is OK, how, indeed, can we survive?

There are worse things occurring that are routinely covered up, such as the police making it open season on black males and devising lies about why they do this. When investigators probe, if they are honest, they reveal a hornets’ nest of racism, crawling with all kinds of nasty actions and statements. This stems from people being taught at an early age that they are superior to other people.

Religious leaders instill a feeling of superiority among their flocks. Such a leader will promise that a particular religion is the only right way and that everybody else’s paths are wrong and will lead to damnation. This backfires badly. Instead of everybody being satisfied to follow their own beliefs, we end up with jihads and other kinds of abuses, such as discrimination against people who are different.

People could be taught to value their own beliefs and to feel strong enough not to have to destroy people who have other faiths. Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach was asked what Jews being a “chosen people” meant. He explained that this designation simply indicated that the Jews had a particular spiritual mission. Then he said: “There are many roads to G-d, and they are all valid.” These are profound words to live by.

Pope Francis, when questioned about gay people, replied: “Who am I to judge?” Jesus associated with prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, and other hated people. What is the lesson? It’s all about being inclusive. It’s all about living one’s beliefs and allowing other people to live theirs. It’s all about being in the world but not of the world.   

When one’s faith is strong, one never worries about being tainted because of associations with others. One realizes that people with different values don’t necessarily have to be our best friends, but we can do business with them. We can associate with them in a harmonious way that is inclusive.

Politicians, police officers, CEOs, and religious leaders could use their positions to make life better if they were not beholden to financial interests or to the hierarchy. Laws could be passed that truly serve the people. Communities could be protected against real crimes. Companies could have happy employees working for them to do the best possible jobs. People in their churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and ashrams could be led to extend mercy and love toward everybody.

I suppose this is my version of Imagine, by the late John Lennon.

Half a Loaf is Better Than None

Pope Francis’ Half Miracle

Ed Mazza of HuffPostReligion reports that something very odd happened when Pope Francis was in Naples attending festivities for the Feast of San Gennaro (also known as Januarius) on March 21, 2015. The Saint's dried blood, inside a sealed glass ampoule, began to liquify when the Pope kissed the outside of the ampoule. Half of the contents became so immediately, while the remainder. Mazza reported that this was the first time this had happened in front of a Pope, since 1848, when it happened in front of Pope Pius XI.  This had been reported to happen prior to that, as often as six times per year.

Pope Francis Credited With Performing "Miracle" As St. Gennaro's Blood Liquifies

While some members of the onlooking crowd burst into ecstatic tears, and others cheered, Cardinal Crescenzo Sepe, archbishop of Naples, told the cheering crowd, according to Vatican Insider: “It is the sign that St. Gennaro loves Pope Francis: half of the blood turned to liquid."

With typical humility, Pope Francis responded: 
"If only half of it liquefied, that means we still have work to do; we have to do better. . . .We only have half of the Saint's love." 

According to Vatican Insider, the rest of the dried blood eventually liquefied that day.
Much as this impressed the faithful, skeptics suggested that the liquification might be the result of the relic being moved and put on display.

In any event, the Pope looked rather surprised himself.

So, what are we to make of this? I’m not very religious, but every time this story surfaces on the news, I end up crossing myself like any other good Catholic.

I’ve not been around much on The Populist Pope. There are two reasons and an “excuse” for that. First, much of what was being reported was simply a variant of what had been covered previously. Second, there were a series of recent misteps by Pope Francis. One reason was his manner of talking about women in old-fashioned derogatory terms. Another was his appointing a bishop to Chile who was cited for covering up sexual abuse in his diocese.

Indeed, the Pope was continuing to broach new issues and concerns, making pleas for mercy instead of strict judgment. However, as expected, not one scrap of doctrine was changed. So we were standing at the status quo. Open the door, let some air in, and talk, but everything and everybody is to remain stationary. This is why I remain unchurched. I admire the man just for even talking about such things and for making merciful gestures, but I feel ready for more.

Here’s the excuse. A busy life and an illness drained me of a lot of energy.

But when I read this “miracle” story, I had to come back and say something—anything.

Do I believe it’s a miracle? I’m sitting on the fence. Ouch! Part of me believes that it is so because I do believe that Pope Francis is a holy man. But, like he said, only half the work was done. I wonder if “the other half” means that he must now take steps to make actual changes. Is that what San Gennaro may be asking?

Not much is known about San Gennaro. He was born a patrician and became a priest during the 300s (ad). He hid fellow Christians during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian and was himself arrested during that year-and-a-half period.

Perhaps the spirit of San Gennaro is interested in people who have to hide their identities for fear of persecution. His interest might be concerned with Christians who are being persecuted in the Middle East today.

However, I would love to think that maybe San Gennaro might just also be saying that is is necessary to welcome more people into the Church, people who are routinely excluded because of their marital status or their gender or sexual orientation. Might San Gennaro be declaring: “Francis, you’ve talked the talk, now walk the walk. Make changes!”?

I’m no theologian. Most, I am sure would disagree with me very strongly on this point. I’m the last person to know what the spirit of a Saint from the 300s is trying to convey. It’s just nice to think about it.

In any event, we know Pope Francis will ponder about what he needs to do. He did, after all, according to Mazza, speak out against organized crime and then “shared a meal with prison inmates, including some who have AIDS and some who are transgender.”

Can’t argue much with that, can we? You know the saying that “half a loaf is better than none.” Well, half an ampoule of liquified blood is also better than none.

These days, even half-miracles are welcome.

 The Eleventh Commandment

Oh, I am almost ready to go to Church! Pope Francis is just absolutely sending frissons of joy through my entire body, heart, mind, and soul. He is now emerging—again by simple example—as a leader in the disability movement.

Read: Pope Francis Blesses Man With Disfigured Face Displaying Healing Power Of Love 


When I first saw the above picture, I thought it was Pope Francis talking to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and that the part of the picture with Kerry had mixed up pixels. Then I read the text and found out it was a man with a severely disfigured face.

Huff Post Religion reported that "Vinicio Riva, the man with neurofibromatosis, told the media that he 'felt only love' as the Pope embraced him." I can believe it! Pope Francis is the most loving Pope I can ever recall in my nearly 65 years of living. He is a sweet man. He's the sort of person one can agree to disagree with and yet love, love, love so very much. It's the Pope's utter sincerity and total willingness to just keep reaching out to people of all sorts that makes him so appealing.
To look straight at a person with a disfigurement is an act of spiritual greatness that every single person on this Earthno matter what his or her beliefs or non-beliefs may be—can achieve. To touch that person is even better than that.
Look at that picture! Look at Pope Francis' face. He is looking at Mr. Riva without a trace of condescending pity or disgust. Pope is simply listening to another human being and touching him. By doing this, the Pope draws us in, compels us to emulate him, and realize the importance of the inner being rather than the outside package. We see both men together; we cannot ignore Mr. Riva and pretend that he doesn't exist because he has a deformity.

Look at this one:

Can you see the pure love radiating from Pope Francis? I do. He's not faking it. It's not theater. It's a close embrace that is tender and profoundly spiritual. It's soul-to-soul. 

This is where our true journey into a higher level of consciousness starts. We leave the body for a time to appreciate the soul and the heart and the mind. We realize that the body is only one tiny dimension of Being.

Indeed, this is the beginning—the fundamental stage—of acceptance and welcoming those among us whose bodies are not perfect. This is growing away from society's obsession with beauty and sex objects. This is how we see a person's being—body, soul, intellect—all as one beautiful entity. 

If there is a better lesson in life that any spiritual leader can teach us, I don't know what it is. Pope Francis expresses the ultimate essence of G-d's love for all of Creation.

This Pope, in my view, is a reincarnation of St. Francis. He is also a Buddha, a Christ, a Moses, a Mohammed and more—come down to earth to show us a path out of the horrible corruption that worship of The Golden Calf has infected us with. 

If there were an Eleventh Commandment, it would be: "Thou shalt not dismiss diseased or disabled people; for they are made also in the image of G-d."

THAT is what Pope Francis said without words. And THAT is what resonated completely with me as a person with several disabilities. The Pope was telling us that Jesus was not sexy and stunning when he was on the Cross. It was a physically ugly sight, but it had a profound spiritual meaning that was very beautiful.
If we do nothing else, I would say, let us follow this "Eleventh Commandment." Lead on, Pope Francis.


  "TRADITION! UNHEARD OF ABSURD!"—and Extremely Beautiful

Back in the saddle. It's been a frantic time around here since I got back. I've not said much because it's just been more of the same—some excellent things and some things that are not-so-excellent.

But today's news story is a short one that is extremely good. Yazmine Hafiz of The Huffington Post tells us about how Pope Frances reached out to comfort a man with a severe disfigurement. The Pope cradled the man's head tenderly and comforted him.

I looked at the picture. It's ghastly. What are reported to be boils looks more like Proteus syndrome, the disease that the Elephant Man had. Whatever it is that this modern man has, I would hope it is nowhere near as painful and/or disabling. I remember once getting 16 boils under each armpit, and I had a fever and unimaginable pain with just those 16! If that man truly has got boils all over like that, he must be in agony. Boils on top of boils! It looks like all the plagues have descended on the poor fellow at one time. And if he has got Proteus syndrome, he must be in another kind of agony.

Pope Francis is staying true to Catholic doctrine with this action. Jesus healed the lepers and many other sick people. He did not shy away from them or shun them, as was typically done in that era and as still happens in far too many places today. Once again, this Pope is leading by example. He isn't preaching from "on high" that we should welcome and help sick people. He is showing us that none of us—no matter how powerful or healthy we may be—should be never above showing compassion to the least of us. No one is too good to do this, face-to-face, hands-on!

As Jesus put it so aptly: "What you do the least of Me, you do to Me." I've always tried to live by that code, because it resonates very strongly with my own experience of how awful life can be when one is bullied or mocked because of having physical challenges. I also know what it is like to be on the bottom of the social/economic ladder.

This is why I wish so very much that other differences could be just as warmly cared for and accepted inside the Catholic religion, instead of being labeled as "disordered." This is why I would love to see an equality that does not distinguish between genders or gender identities or whatever else makes people different from one another.

Our Pope is a true, sincere Jesuit. He questions. He explores. He pushes the envelope out, seeking answers. But, in the end, he always obeys tradition—unlike Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, who sings of TRADITION, but then says "on the other hand. . . ." Even the very worst breaking of tradition ends up being accepted by old Tevye, because love, ultimately, is more important to him. Yes, at first, it does seem "UNHEARD OF! ABSURD!" but then it really does make sense.

However, Pope Francis is what he is. He is not likely to change. He will continue to teach, by example, those things that he was taught. He will shed new light on some of the finer and better aspects of Catholicism that have been ignored for far too long. Caring for and about disabled people is the next civil rights movement, I believe. And I would love to have Pope Francis lead this movement by example. We can choose to welcome that much and be glad for it even while we agitate and pray for other changes.

Unchurched I remain. Interested in Pope Francis, I also remain. I'm eclectic. I can take the many good things he has to offer into my own life. That is my TRADITION!


Actions Speak Louder than Words, Pope Francis

First, I'm sorry I was away so long. I had to prepare for our 12-day trip to Ireland and then spend some time getting things back to normal. I was going to wait till the weekend to resume writing as I had some lovely articles on Pope Francis' comments regarding capitalism, throw-away mentality, and poverty. I wanted to write more glowing posts about these things.

Quite sadly, some earth-shattering news reached my Facebook page and I am compelled to speak up about it. Unfortunately, I must harp on an rather overdone topic, because we never seem to finish with more outrageous stories about it.


Melbourne Priest Greg Reynolds Defrocked And Excommunicated By The Vatican

Mr. Reynolds has been an outspoken champion of elevating women to the priesthood and of gay marriage. He finally decided that his own views on these topics were too divergent from the Roman Catholic church and chose to leave it to start his own sect—Inclusive Catholics.

But, oh dear, despite Pope Francis' recent kind words about how we must not be "obsessed" about gay marriage and abortion, back in MAY 2013, the Vatican sent a peremptory letter to Mr. Reynolds telling him that he was not only defrocked per his request but that he was also excommunicated.

Defrocking makes some sense. It's what's done when someone leaves the priesthood. Mr. Reynold's own sect allows for gay marriage and elevates women to the priesthood, per his beliefs. In Inclusive Catholics, Mr. Reynolds gives Holy Communion to people who attend services there. It's not Roman Catholicism, so it's appropriate to accede to his desire to be defrocked.

There also appears to be an unfortunate rumor that someone attending one of the services gave part of the Host to a dog. Mr. Reynolds did not do this.

But excommunication seems quite wrong to me. Why should this man be excommunicated? Why is he not allowed to participate in any Catholic rituals, such as receiving Holy Communion or marrying in a Catholic church, among other things. Because of the schism?

Schisms in Christianity are pretty old. I seem to remember reading that at one point in history there were two popes! There are all sorts of Christians around—many varieties of Protestants, Anglicans, Greek Orthodoxes, Coptics, and Mormons, to name the ones I know about. If this man deserves excommunication based on forming a new sect and giving Holy Communion, well then shouldn't all these other groups also be similarly punished for doing the same thing? Why single out this one man? His archbishop didn't call for this to happen.

Was it the dog? This man did not give Holy Communion to the dog. If we follow this kind of reasoning, then someone who pockets a Host and later brings it to a Satanic Black Mass would automatically make the priest who gave the person the Host to blame. That's absurd.

We can argue about dogs and Communion. I believe that all living things have souls, so it doesn't bother me if the dog got Communion. I wouldn't do it out of respect for tradition but, as long as it wasn't done for Satanic reasons or for mockery, it's just not that awful that a dog shared spiritually with humans in the church.

We can only conclude that this man was thrown completely out of the Catholic Church because of his outspoken and active support for gay rights and women priests. And again, what should then be done with Episcopalians and the Anglican Church in England? Should THEY be excommunicated too? How about the female ministers in evangelical Protestant churches. And, ooops, I forgot the Unitarians—my husband and I were married by a female minister in a Unitarian Church. What about THEM?

Now, it is not totally clear whether or not Pope Francis knew what the Vatican staff members were doing, as he cannot be in a thousand places at once. But what IS clear is that, when this came to light, the Pope did NOTHING to reverse this decision. He let it stand, despite his own words that this "obsession" was wrong. He was saying this, while, behind the scenes, the Vatican was just doing "same old, same old."

Now let me mention something about my trip to Ireland because it IS relevant. We stayed in Limerick and visited a number of places there and in surrounding areas in County Clare with relatives we had discovered online. We had a glorious time in Ireland. One thing really struck me. All over the place, in Limerick, I was seeing the rainbow flag flying. I had known before that Limerick was expecting a Gay Pride march as part of a yearly activity and as part of something termed The Gathering, which was a kind of call for people who had roots in Ireland to return for a visit. I had been surprised that even that march was allowed in that very Catholic country, but I figured, "what the heck? We'll attend and show our hetero support for the Irish gays."

But it really hit me when I saw THREE rainbow flags flying right in front of Limerick's Hunt Museum. I pointed to them and whispered to my husband "I don't know what these flags mean here, but I can tell you what they mean back in America." Then in a conversation with the cashier (everything in Ireland is a conversation—even the elevators talk to you), I pointed to the flags outside and  asked timidly: "What are those flags for?" "Oh," he replied quite casually and in a very normal voice, "it's for the gay pride." Shocked almost out of my wits, I asked: "Why aren't the priests and Cardinals out there picketing the museum?" "Why should they?" he asked me in turn. I turned to my husband and, in a dazed voice, asked: "Well how do you like that?!" (He approved, of course.) And then I explained to the lovely gentleman that, even in good old liberal New York City (where gay marriage is legal), if a museum flew that flag, the Cardinal would be screaming bloody murder in a New York minute.

I found this liberal attitude toward gays quite popular among the people I met. They were very confident that there was no problem between Church and State. Church was Church and State was State, and nobody was paranoid that the twain would ever meet. Even two religious relatives we met, when told about the compromise in New York allowing the churches to opt out of performing gay marriages, approved of this. Another relative agreed with me that homosexuality was simply genetic. And this man was NOT from the city. He lived way out in the country! The religious folk also came from the country.

In seeking to learn when and where the gay parade was taking place, we found information in two places. One was a supposedly "conservative" newspaper that simply provided the information (at least the paper was conservative in Frank McCourt's day, being against contraception) without any comment at all about it. The other source was, believe it or not (it WAS something out of Ripley's), an entire BROCHURE put out by the Irish bureau of tourism all about the gay-themed activities for The Gathering

Just think about that for a second. Could you imagine the uproar that would ensue in the United States if that happened here? There would be riots in the streets! The so-called Christians would scream their heads off and they'd be in front of the White House en masse and bombarding their Congresspeople about it. It would be a MESS of blood, fire, fists, and tears. And yet, in this Catholic country, all we had to do was walk into a little place in a mall and be handed a brochure with no questions asked! I called my state of mind about Ireland "flabbergastment" because, for the entire 12 days, that is what I was feeling. To me, this city was more Christian than so many of the so-called Christians back home in the United States.

Can you imagine my further shock when I looked through the brochure and found that there was a gay pride MASS at St. Mary's Catholic Church? Upon returning to New York and telling someone about this, the person said that they do this in New York too. Well, I never heard about it. All I ever hear around here is the Cardinal yelling about how terrible this all is.

So, now, what is the Pope going to do about IRELAND? Should he excommunicate the whole country? He may as well do Argentina while he's at it. And England. . .and New York and other states in the United States. What is the Pope going to do about St. Mary's in Limerick or the churches in New York that have gay services?

You get my drift, now, right? Why pick on one MAN who LEFT the priesthood, who had enough respect for the Church to renounce his right to represent the Church, because he knew he was departing from doctrine? 

Does anybody really believe that the people who attend masses for gay people aren't having sex with partners of the same sex? I have a bridge to sell you in Manhattan if you are interested.

I did not expect the Pope to endorse gay marriage or elevation of women to the priesthood (two of many reasons I remain unchurched), but I felt glad that he seemed to be opening up the discussion about such topics. I felt, for the first time in more than 50 years, that I did not have to be ashamed to call myself a Catholic (even as an unchurched dissident). Now the shame is right back.

I hope Inclusive Catholics eventually makes its way to New York City. I'd like to join up.

There is a saying that goes like this: "Put your money where your mouth is." This is what I want to say to the Pope:  "If you want people in your Church, Pope Francis, then put your money where YOUR mouth is. Your actions are speaking louder than your words."

Them's Fightin' Words by Pope Francis

More fascinating and wonderful things from Pope Francis emerged during his recent trip to Brazil. Today, let's focus on two very surprising statements he made regarding women and homosexuals.
Let's start with women because that one is a lot simpler to discuss. Pope Frances says that he wants to see women assume higher-level administrative roles in the Catholic Church. He stopped short of agreeing to make women into priests. That's not quite so radical, as this involvement of women has been slowly evolving over the years, but it's good to hear the Pope support it. He is restrained by an interpretation of the Bible that shows Jesus choosing men as his apostles. I don't favor that interpretation. I believe that Jesus' selections were based on what was feasible in his culture during the period in which he lived. Since that time, society has evolved considerably, and now women can be prime ministers, secretaries of state, Queens, and—I hope one day—President of the United States. I'd love to see a female Pope.

Now here's where things get really interesting: Pope Francis made this startling comment regarding homosexual priests:
If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?
He also stated that homosexuality is not a crime and that we should not marginalize people who are gay.

Hmmmm. Is homosexuality a sin, then? Well, again, constrained by Catholic theology, the Pope says it is a sin, but still affirms that this does not justify maltreatment of gay people. Here, again, I differ with the theology. My definition of sin is doing something that will harm oneself or another entity (person, animal, nature). The other things that people call sins are merely expressions of cultural disgust at practices that have long been frowned upon. Human beings look at such practices and then attribute their own disgust to G-d.

Indeed, some scholars argue that homosexuality was not discussed by Jesus but appeared more in the Old Testament. We are evolving away from disgust to understanding and acceptance. Perhaps in the future, people won't even blink an eye at this. They will understand it as a natural part of being human with a certain set of genes. 

I believe that we sin by not being compassionate and understanding and by not fully accepting people who are different from us. When gay people marry, it upholds the institution of marriage as the gold standard. It makes me happy to know that people I love can enjoy what I am enjoying in my happy heterosexual marriage. My marriage is childless for physical and economic reasons. It is nonetheless a great marriage that was not formed primarily to procreate in this sadly overpopulated world. It was formed because two souls felt connected by G-d and wanted to share their life and love in this lifetime. So, if people love each other, I can't call that sin regardless of their genders. 

Despite these constraints, I am glad nonetheless that the Pope is pushing the envelope on these issues. He cannot make women priests and tell people that practicing homosexuality is not a sin—even if he thought so, he could not do these things! If he did, there would be a huge schism in the Church, and it would simply fracture. That is the last thing that this Pope wants. He wants inclusiveness as far as he can push it so that more people will want to be Catholics. What is more, he says that he welcomes the ideas of people who disagree with him. That is remarkable. None of this papal infallibility nonsense.  This is his compromise between the treacherous waters of Catholic theology and changes in our understanding of what it means to be human.

For a person of his generation and from the priesthood up through the ranks to the papacy, what he had to say was not bad at all. In Uganda, where the government and the priesthood hate homosexuals to the point of wanting to murder them, people must be freaking out. Their reaction to Pope Francis' words is likely to be: "them's fightin' words." Good for Pope Francis!

Here's Where I AGREE with the Pope

Today's post was not sparked by any particular news about Pope Francis, but it is about three things in Catholicism that matter a great deal to me—faith, intelligence, and purity.

Far too many people think only in dualistic terms. If one believes in evolution, than, according to these terms, one cannot believe in G-d. No matter how much I try to explain this to people, they are fazed and confused. Yet, this is an area in which the Catholic Church has grown tremendously. Instead of throwing people who note what is going on scientifically into jails and turning them on racks, the Church tells us that evolution is real and so is G-d. I've never read any explanation for how this can be but I've always thought that evolution was simply how G-d was expressing Divinity. When we see all the amazing things that science shows us, it seems quite clear that all of this could not be an accident. There had to be a Divine Spark that let it all loose to happen. So. . . .

Faith? What is that about? It's believing in things even when they are not necessarily evident. I've always believed that, when you pay it forward, the universe pays you back—and it's always been the case in my life. I've always believed that, when you pray, you get an answer. It may not be the answer you were looking for—no you did not win the Lotto—but it is the answer that G-d needs you to have. I remember feeling very low when someone I love had a third failed IVF attempt. I was mad at G-d. Then I talked to my dear one, and she said to me: "G-d has another plan. Eventually, it will all work out." I was stunned at her great faith against all these terrible odds that she was facing. Well, you know what? The doctors gave her a fourth attempt and it worked! She got her child. Now, THAT's a miracle, and it was given because she had faith.

Intelligence? Intelligence does not necessarily deny faith. Intelligence looks at all the mysteries of life and while examining them closely, still retains a sense of wonder. Intelligence knows that there are indeed "more things in heaven and earth, then dreamt of in your philosophy." Intelligence does not reject the paranormal out of hand. I've had far too many paranormal experiences to ever doubt it. And none of them ever prevented me from living life in a very practical and down-to-earth fashion.

Purity? That's a weird word. Almost nobody uses that word these days. It conjures up images of fundamentalists reading the Bible literally and demanding that everybody else do the same. But that's not my definition of purity. For me, purity simply means being absolutely true to oneself. It means being sincere and always attempting to turn toward the good and away from the bad (no matter how glamorous it may seem). It means honesty. Not the kind of nasty frankness that tells a person that she looks like a bathtub wrapped in gauze, even if she does. It's the kind of honesty that says rather, "I think that green is a lovely color for you." And most of all, it means that when you make a vow—whether it be in G-d's house or not—you KEEP IT! To me, the marriage bond is sacred. It's not just a physical and practical joining of two (or more) lives. It's a spiritual merging of souls. To violate that by seeking out thrills and being unfaithful is a sin against purity. If people in a marriage AGREE to have an open marriage, that is their business, and I don't aim to legislate it. But I can't stand it when people marry and then get bored and go rutting around. 

Rutting around. We live in a sex-obsessed society. Everything is sex, sex, sex 24/7. It's thrown at us from all the media—movies, books, art, you name it. Even the books I read in high school were full of illicit affairs. Even on the news, we see women's cleavages and legs. Why sex is so compelling is beyond me. What sex is is FUN. It's just a natural expression of being a human being. It feels nice. It's a great way to get high without drugs. But that's IT! It's no more than that. So why are people rutting around like cats in heat after it? Just how much of it do we need? After seeing so much of it shoved down my throat, sometimes the very idea of it makes me want to vomit. And that's a shame because it's not supposed to be that way. Sex should be a natural and good thing and it belongs between people when it has no potential to cause harm to anyone else. It doesn't belong in dirty books and magazines and movies. It doesn't belong on cell phones and facebook pages.

I'm sorry. I've been married more than 30 years, and any sexy dreams nonwithstanding, I have absolutely NO desire to break up a wonderful marriage with a wonderful man just for a thrill for a few minutes.

I'm fond of quoting Bob Dylan and Martin Luther King, Jr. Their words were always inspiring. I identify with the art and persona of Dylan. But when it comes to their sex lives—it's disgusting. I'm sticking with the Catholic Church on this (even though I married in a Unitarian church): My vows were made on an altar of G-d and I will not break them unless I am forced to (I believe in divorce). So far, so good. No reason to even imagine it.

Why are people so fascinated with Wills, Kate, and George? I think because it's about purity. Their love withstood a number of tests PRIOR to their marriage and now they have brought new life into being. We love their story because it is so very romantic. She had his picture on the wall and then she found him and married him. We love it because their eyes are not roaming around. They are looking at each other and at their newborn son. I never had any children, but I know that Kate and Wills have their priorities in order. We could do well to imitate them—decent people who are not cats in heat.

I think the Pope would agree with me on all counts here. That much Catholicism stuck with me—Faith, Intelligence, and Purity. Let's let Pope Francis guide us here. He is very much filled with faith. He is very intelligent. And he is very pure.



Bomb Physically and Spiritually No Good

The Huffington Post reports that a homemade bomb was found at a shrine where Pope Francis was scheduled to visit on Wednesday, in Brazil.

Now this is a really sad bit of news. The Pope came back to South America so soon after his election and happily greeted crowds on his first outings there.

I have to ask, aren't there people we can agree to disagree with? Sure, very, very often, I gnash my teeth at some of the miserable things people say about various topics. The bigots and racists make me want to throw bombs myself. But something always stops me. Not just laziness or whatever. . . .I mean it's pretty bad karma to throw bombs around.

What IF somebody got killed that had nothing to do with any of the issues that made me angry? What IF it was a person who was loving and had a family who would be in terrible need? What IF the nasty person who said the rotten thing was eventually going to see the Light and change his or her ideas? And how exactly would G-d view me if I became a killer? I don't like the answers my conscience gives me regarding these questions. Visions of prisons and hells and terrible lifetimes in the future are enough to keep my momentary rages well in check.

I can go out and protest or write nasty things online about the rotten things people do and say. I can discuss these things with my friends and family. I can even decide to pray about the problem. And, one way or another, surely, my eyes are opened about the source of the rottenness. One way or another, I learn that there is a backstory. It doesn't excuse the badness but it does explain it.

G-d knows—and anybody who has been following this blog knows—I have my areas of disagreement with Pope Francis. Yet, I still perceive that he is a well-meaning person who is just trying to live according to what he has learned. I feel that he doesn't place himself above anybody else. I see that he tries to teach by example. He is not a bad man and he would not see me as a bad woman. I can learn from him. And maybe he will learn from people like me as well.

Bombs and guns we don't need. That is one thing that the Catholic Church has been saying for centuries and it's an area where I totally agree with the Church.

If somebody hates the Pope, then that person has a right to speak out and tell people why. But NO ETHICAL person—believer, agnostic, or atheist—has the right to kill the Pope or anybody else.

All I can say is THANK G-d the bomb was found before Pope Francis got there. G-d was looking after one representative on earth.

Gotta Serve Somebody

Hello, dear readers. I've been absent, I know. Two reasons for that: (1) excessive heat/humidity made me feel exhausted and ill and (2) all the negativity surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court's (SCOTUS) decision to support same-sex marriage. Number 1 just made me need a lot of rest. Number 2 made me start wondering if I was an atheist or worse because I was highly repelled by the religious fanaticism expressed by antigays. To his credit, Pope Francis did not comment on the SCOTUS decision. We know where he stands: He doesn't want same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, but he renders to Caesar what is Caesar's in the civil sphere. Some day in the future, when the Church becomes more progressive, maybe in another lifetime, I'll be a Catholic.

But, as you all know, this unchurched writer, still gets very impressed by things that Pope Francis does. In a very ironic twist of fate, the Italian Vanity Fair named him its Man of the Year. That made me laugh—a man so against vainglory on the cover of a magazine devoted to complete superficial narcissism. I love it. It shows that his example is reaching even the frivolous people among us.

Now here's a new one: Paul Brandeis Raushenbush reports in HuffPost Religion that Pope Francis demanded that a statue dedicated to him should be demolished.

Citing the dangers of a "cult of personality," the Pope called the Buenos Aires curia and said he wanted the statue eliminated immediately. It's interesting that he used a term that was invented by Communists to describe the problem—that's very eclectic of him.

I kind-of felt sorry for the artist,  Fernando Pugliese, who had sculpted statues that included Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. He did all that work to express admiration for Pope Francis only to have it slapped down. It reminds me of when Bill Cosby received a People's Choice award. Instead of thanking his fans, he lectured them on how wrong they were to give him the award. I never liked Cosby after that. I felt that his response to the honor was arrogant and mean.

So why then would I admire this in Pope Francis? It's not exactly a gracious act to express horror at being honored. But there is something more to this. Giving an actor an award is one thing. Erecting a statue of a religious leader is another thing. Religious leaders are not supposed to be glorified in that way; they aren't supposed to be on a pedestal together with G-d, Jesus, Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. 

I would hope that Pope Francis might talk to this sculptor and thank him for his efforts anyway and explain that the best honor for this papacy would be for Mr. Pugliese to live a life that avoids vainglory. He's got my empathy anyway. It's a tough lesson and it sure hurts to get Zen-slapped that way.

I don't know if Protestant churches have any such statues in their churches—not even of Martin Luther King, Jr. I've seen statues of King in public and political kinds of spaces, but not in churches that I know of. Correct me if I am wrong. Synagogues don't have statues. I don't think mosques have them either.

I've always found massive statues of people or beings extremely scary. Massive Buddhas are enough to give me nightmares, even though I love the gentle teachings of the Buddha. I never liked the statues of Pharoahs either. They are just downright creepy.

So, maybe it's a Catholic thing? Maybe the Pope got the creeps seeing himself made larger than life and graven in stone like that. I would not like to see a massive statue of myself like that either.

Now, here's the thing that's even more important here: Once again, Pope Francis is showing by example that vainglory is not a good thing—he firmly rejects it.

I can't count the number of times that I wished for fame, attention, and honor. Yes, that is one of my sins. That's a hard sin to get rid of. I'm human. I'd love to be the "Number 1" something or other. Yet, I seem destined to remain in the background, unhonored, unacknowledged, etc. I wonder: Am I a failure?

Recently, I got an answer to that question from a pagan source—a sample personal astrological reading about Career Strengths. It said this:

Not at home in a crowd, Billie can usually be found around the edges of a group, watching, perhaps criticizing, but always taking it all in. She runs cool, when others run warm (or hot). She thinks and plans, when others do. She serves, while others are served. She cares when care is needed. In the East (places like Tibet and China), Billie could be said to represent the Bodhisattva path, living to serve others.
Here in the West, the concept of serving others is considered a lesser position. In America it is considered much "more cool" to be served, than to serve. But this concept is slowly changing. (From CAREER ASTROLOGY-7-9_6-13-32 at

The Bodhisattva path! Now that is strong stuff. That's talking about a soul who has wiped out all karma and comes back on earth to help enlighten other people. That's spirituality "on steroids," so to speak. That is the highest of the high. I'm far from being a Bodhisattva—way far from it—but it's nice to know that perhaps I have at least put one foot on such a path. Perhaps I can conquer my burning ambition to be famous and honored and simply use my talents to help people. Maybe I'll get a little recognition. Maybe it will always be simply one-to-one situations and incidents. In any event, I'll be helping people and serving G-d's purpose that way. I don't have to be a big celebrity to do this. It has to be what G-d wants—not what I want for my ego.

Maybe G-d gives certain people fame and honor for various reasons—honor for greatness in past lives, fame to push certain causes, and fame to teach lessons. Pope Francis is demonstrating that he is resisting vainglory passionately. He does not want the papacy to change him or his commitment to G-d and G-d's people. Oh that all famous and powerful people would heed this message-by-example!

You don't have to be Catholic to love this Pope. I do. Maybe I'm going to learn to feel fulfilled with whatever I can do instead of yearning for what is not mine.

Bob Dylan said: "It may be the Devil,/it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody." Even the Pope knows this. The road to being a Bodhisattva is a very long one for me. Disagreements aside, the Pope is well ahead of many of us on that road, and he is lighting the way.

Nobody is Better Than Anybody Else

Today's Inquisitr reports on how Pope Francis allowed a disabled teenager to ride with him in the Popemobile, once again showing the pope's genuine caring for people who are disadvantaged in some way. The 17-year old boy, Alberto di Tullio, was thrilled to say the least. So must the public be thrilled. I would expect no less.

Visit: Pope Francis Lets Teen With Down Syndrome Ride In Popemobile [Video]

• • •

Let me me frank here in an aside before I continue with this story:

When I blog about spiritual matters, I like to highlight positive things. There is so much negativity with respect to religion that many of us—myself included—tend to get disgusted with it and turn away. The latest developments in the Church have made me very angry and disappointed. Well, I did expect that, knowing about Pope Francis' theology. It's not like I was fooled or anything. This is one honest Pope.

It's hard to start disrespecting a man who is so obviously devoted, caring, and sincere. But, unfortunately, when developments in the church foster the same old prejudices, it makes me just want to take a break, and not say anything at all, even though I am furious within myself.

Here's what got me upset: The Boy Scouts finally entered into the twenty-first century (and caught up with the Girl Scouts) to include gay boy scouts. So, the Church goes and disavows the Boy Scouts. Three things hit me: (1) That old prejudice is still highly extant. (2) Pope Francis is not going to change it. (3) Why does the Church believe that having lesbians in the Girl Scouts is O.K? I think it's O.K., but I have never heard of the Church disavowing lesbians in the Girl Scouts.

Right away, from early childhood, gay people are set apart. They are caught between believing in G-d and following what nature is telling them to do. If they want to participate in activities shared by their communities and friends, they have to struggle with the impossible task of rejecting their own sexual orientation. It CAN'T be done. Notably, this week Exodus (a so-called "gay reparative Christian" organization) has made an exodus and obliterated itself, because even its leaders could not "pray away the gay" in themselves. They finally came out and admitted this. Hooray! Let's pray away the antigay!

So, I just stayed away from the blog....I didn't want to disrepect the Pope, because I really like him in so many ways. But, I realize I cannot keep silent. That's not going to work. So, here's the game plan: I'm going to get off this progay rant today and come back to it in detail in a later post. Today, I will concentrate on the teen with Down's Syndrome.

• • •

Pope Francis extending himself in that deeply personal way toward Alberto is just another action in a long-series of actions designed to make people aware that he values people who are struggling with issues such as poverty or disabilities. Once again, he shows that he does not place himself above other people. He's not "too good" or "too elite" to associate with people who have difficulties with their socioeconomic status or how their bodies function (oh, but, if only that included homosexuals!—sorry this issue is really sticking in my head).

The time for a disability revolution is not yet at hand but I'm hoping that it will follow on the gay one that is currently taking place. While we disabled people are not barred from marriage or participation in whatever we are able to participate in, there are so many barriers that still separate us from what we could do if the barriers were down.

For example, attending church would be so much better if churches were made handicap-accessible. It would be absolutely wonderful to be able to actually tell WHAT priests are doing and saying if churches would only have assisted listening devices. I think it is reasonable to hope that the clergy will look at the Pope's actions and institute actions of their own to be more inclusive to potential parishioners who have disabilities. Pope Francis is leading by example. It is up to all of us to follow his lead. Let us think about what the disabled people we know may need and let us do our best to supply it without reservations or excuses. If the Pope can do it, so can we.  

In addition, let us never, ever put ourselves above another person because he or she lacks money, has a disability, or is—in any way, shape, or form—different from ourselves. This is critical! We are all part of G-d. We each have a Divine Purpose. Let us never fail to respect that. It is wise to always extend agape (universal love) to each and every innocent soul we encounter. We can argue about what is "bad" or "sinful—and indeed we shall—but let us direct any hatred we may feel against hatred itself. Despite some of his prejudices, I think, Pope Francis would agree with me about this.


Evangelizing Sweetly:

The Method of Pope Francis

Check out what Sister Mary Ann Walsh has to say about Pope Francis' great appeal to people. This article appeared on the HuffPost Religion site:


Pope Francis' Late Night Appeal


Sister Mary Ann has got it exactly right. She has analyzed how Pope Francis is appealing to people and helping to evangelize. 


As a person who is passionately against proselytizing, I find Pope Francis' method of demonstrating and discussing Catholicism highly attractive—so much so that if he were a priest in my neighborhood, I'd end up going to Church just to hear what he had to say! It might not make me a completely devout Catholic—because I still have those progressive views that are so important to my soul—but I would be exposed to—and understand better—a great deal of valuable Catholic thought and feeling.


Much of what the Pope is saying is very illuminating and inspiring. His kind of evangelizing is gentle and does not violate anybody's soul. It simply shows what is suggested and invites people to think and feel about it. This is exactly the way I believe all religious leaders should act and speak.


Pope Francis is inclusive. He demonstrates kindness and understanding. Instead of fire and brimstone, he offers Heaven. Instead of hatred, he illustrates love. This, after all, is really what Jesus Christ was all about. It's true that He had anger when He chased the money changers out of the temple, but, for the most part, he offered sweetness and healing along with his theological teaching. The Pope is doing the same thing.


I still have great problems with some parts of Catholic theology regarding gays and women, but I have never felt so close to Catholicism as I do now, ever since Pope Francis was elected. I actually feel that I now have Catholicism as part of my eclectic religion. I would look to this pope as a spiritual guide in many ways. He comes to my mind in many situations.


I never planned to blog about a pope. That was not even anywhere in my thoughts—ever! Yet, ever since I saw that man looking at the crowd in St. Peter's Square for the first time after his election, I knew that something magnificent had occurred. Something different and very unique had come to the Catholic Church. So, now, here I am blogging about Pope Francis. Here I am thinking about Catholic ways of being. Here I am, just like Sister Mary Ann notes.


Am I being evangelized? Maybe. But I don't mind at all. I am enjoying it.

No Success Like Failure: 

Pope Francis' Battle with Temptation

Pope Francis shares so much of his internal life with us. This is unlike any other pope I have known about. He tells us about his own foibles and weaknesses and uses himself as an example of how to overcome spiritual obstacles. This is in the tradition he has already established of not vainglorying himself or his position. Although, presumably, he is at the very pinnacle of success for the career path he chose as a servant of the Church, he tells us about his own reaction when he faced serious temptation. An article published today by the Catholic News Agency described what the Pope told an audience about a dark moment in his life.

He was tempted to do something flashy and outstanding, and very, very scary. According to the account Pope Francis gave, the Devil told him:
Do everything with speed, preform a miracle, something that everyone can see. Let’s go to the temple and skydive without a parachute, so everyone will see the miracle and redemption will come to pass.
That would actually have been suicide, and we would not have our Pope today, if he had succumbed to this crazy notion. Fortunately, he realized that the idea was not a calling from G-d but rather the temptation of the Devil, urging the future Pope to take a shortcut to speedy success. 
Now that is one Hell of a revelation—literally—that a person of G-d felt this way—a future Pope no less! One thinks of such people as being so sure and so confident and so very serene. Their very auras attract us, because we are seeking great mastery of life. 

Pope Francis reminds us that this is truly an illusion. He explains that Jesus' disciples wanted to get everything polished and organized quickly in an effort to consolidate their power and success. That would have been very temporary. It was not the way Jesus was bound to go. His path was the Way of the Cross—to ensure real and lasting success.

Pope Francis said that he had asked a nun to pray for him because of the temptation he had been grappling with. The 80-year-old woman of G-d was in the confessional, and he asked her:  "Sister, as penance, pray for me, because I need a grace. O.K? If you ask the Lord for this grace on my behalf, I am sure to receive it." As he recalled, "she stopped for a moment, as if in prayer, and said: ‘Of course the Lord will grant you this grace, but do not be deceived: in His own divine manner.'"

This benefited the future Pope. He was well-comforted: "This did me a lot of good," he said, and explained that "this is the divine way to the very end. The divine way involves the Cross—not out of masochism—no, no! Out of love. For love to the very end.”

This has got to be the best—the absolute best—explanation of the Catholic centuries'-old obsession with suffering that I have ever heard. It provides the missing context. All I ever heard was: "Suffer, suffer, suffer. Be a martyr." And for what? It seemed a useless and futile exercise to me. It didn't seem mentally healthy.

But now it's clear what this is all about. We will face obstacles in life, and those obstacles can only be overcome by great effort. That effort will duly involve suffering and sacrifice. G-d, hears our prayers but chooses to answer them in a mysterious fashion that may not always be what we envision. Yet, if we are patient, we will see the glorious reasoning behind the strange answers and demands that we receive. What we really need to pray for is not so much victory as the ability not just to endure but to face problems and work to resolve them. That, in and of itself will be the victory. Anything else, if G-d wills it, will be the icing on the proverbial cake.

As the Pope explained, when we focus so much on victory or success and avoid any kind of suffering, we become "half-way Christians." Like the disciples, we lay out plans for triumph but don't factor in all the myriad variables involved in such plans. We don't stop to think what G-d wants. We don't ask if our schemes will better humanity.
This attitude of "trumphalism" impedes spirituality. It impedes the Church. It's efficient but lacks the illumination and understanding of the martyrs upon which the religion was founded.
I had noted, in my own life, times when I sufferered through things that seemed totally strange and unfair, only to emerge stronger and better because of these events. Mockery and discrimination made me more empathetic to other people who were enduring these things. I became more passionate about being inclusive and multicultural. I cared more! An injury I sustained inspired great creativity in my husband and brought me closer to one of my sisters. My own creativity blossomed. Oh yes, I knew G-d is watching and G-d lets certain things happen for a reason. And, sooner or later, that reason is revealed.

True to what Pope Francis said about people who are non-Catholics having spirituality, Bob Dylan had written so many years ago in a song: "There's no success like failure/and failure's no success at all."

Thanks to Pope Francis, I understand more fully just what those beautiful lyrics mean. And, more thanks to Pope Francis, I can worry less about my failures because I know I am in G-d's hands, and things are going according to G-d's plan. In not succeeding all the time, I am doing G-d's Will. That doesn't mean that I should give up and be a lazy lump. It just means that I should go in the direction where G-d's love leads me rather than chasing after any kind of victory that the Devil might offer me.

Oh this Pope is really inspiring us. He is giving us so much knowledge and understanding about G-d. He truly is acting as a pontiff, bridging that gap between us and what is Devine.


Pope Francis sparks controversy for suggesting atheists' can go to heaven

for information on Pope Francis' comments on original sin.

 G-d is Not a Country Club

Big controversy going on. Pope Francis says that good deeds can ensure salvation even for atheists, and then the Vatican rushes to do damage control, because this breaks with the original doctrine of "no salvation outside the Catholic Church."

Visit this Huffington Post article by Sara Nelson:

and then see this update:

Vatican Confirms Atheists Still Going To Hell, Despite Pope Francis Remarks 


Pope Francis described how some of Jesus' disciples were upset to see a nonbeliever doing good:

They complain: "If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good." And Jesus corrects them: "Do not hinder him," he says. "Let him do good."

Then the Pope said: 

"This was wrong. . . .Jesus broadens the horizon. . . .The root of this possibility of doing good—that we all have—is in creation."

Ms. Nelson then reports that the Pope went even further to be absolutely clear in a simulated "conversation" between himself and a questioner:
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: Do good and do not do evil. All of us."
"But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good."
"Yes, he can. . . .The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!" 
"Father, the atheists?" 
"Even the atheists. Everyone!  We must meet one another doing good."
"But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!" 
"But do good: We will meet one another there.”
Now this is revolutionary stuff! I never heard a priest say anything like this, let alone a Pope. Poor guy. Every time he tries to extend G-d's mercy and goodness to the world, somebody comes in and tries to put a cork in Pope Francis' mouth. It also happened to him when he was willing to let Argentina's gay marriage law go unchallenged outside the Church.

I cannot help but chuckle too. The Vatican claims that there is such a phenomenon as papal infallibility on matters of doctrine (not that I ever believed that ANY human being can have that—not even a Pope!). Now the Vatican is trying to say that the Pope made a mistake. Whoops—they can't have it both ways. Either the Pope is infallible; hence, there is a change in doctrine OR the Pope is fallible and misspoke. Well, that's a problem that comes up according to their rule book. It's very different in mine.

Pope Francis is a true Person of G-d in my rulebook. He does not presume to wear a cloak of infallibility. He does not presume to judge as G-d would judge. The Pope simply preaches what he was taught as the doctrine and offers it to everyone. He looks for the good in all people, because he truly believes that goodness saves and evil damns. He knows that not everybody can or will necessarily follow the Way of Christ in a literal and doctrinal fashion. Yet, the expression of who and what Jesus was does emerge in such people. 

Why shouldn't g-dly people welcome goodness wherever it is discovered? Is it not G-d's Will that goodness be spread as far and wide as possible? Isn't it our G-d given duty to do that spreading? Every act of good creates more good in the world. We keep paying it forward. And, in doing so, we make our souls cleaner and more whole. We help to heal other souls too.

I've never believed that salvation only was given to people who professed a certain kind of creed. I've seen too much goodness everywhere, in all sorts of people, to imagine that they would burn in Hell just because they didn't all go to one Church. And I've seen too much evil everywhere so many times—even inside the the Church—to ever believe that Church could keep evil out of its confines.

It's never really a matter of cosmology, in my view. It's a matter of intent and action based on that intent. G-d knows what is in our hearts. G-d is everywhere and is All Knowing and All Seeing. I believe that I have said before that every act of good, whether consciously or not, is a prayer. Even if Heaven for atheists simply represents a moral life that contributed to humanity and was well-lived, that is a kind of salvation. 

I believe that we are all part of a G-dhead in some way or another. We are all connected. Our souls are all part of it. It is within us as well as all around us. Each of us perceives it differently. This is as it was meant to be, because we are all adding to the wisdom of the collective human soul.

It is enjoyable to meet with people who believe as I do. Yet, I learn so very, very much from people who believe differently. Each time I encounter someone with different ideas and beliefs than my own, I learn something. It could be a new way of reaching G-d or doing good. It could be about another kind of evil, most especially intolerance. Whatever it is—it is KNOWLEDGE. Apple and snake be damned, I am not Eve, and I am allowed to seek knowledge. And the Jesuits do that so, so how bad can that be?

Pope Francis even said there was no original sin. I agree with him. We carry karma from past lives (which I believe in), and we have to work out that karma, but we are not damned from a sin committed by our ancestors.

The Pope is going to need G-d next to him, because the conflict between him and the Vatican is really starting to boil over. We could see a revolution within the Church. He once told the College of Cardinals that they might come to regret their choice of him as Pope. They might, because he loves the whole world, not just the Catholic Church.

G-d is not an exclusive country club. We cannot exclude members because they are different from ourselves. Who are WE to decide? Like Pope Francis, I prefer to leave that up to G-d. And G-d Bless Pope Francis!

What the Devil is Going On Here?


Mea culpa, mea culpa. While my faithful readers have been reading along, I've been derelict in writing more. I was tied up with my day job, for one thing. And I was disappointed and disgusted with Pope Francis' reaction to the liberal nuns. But this Pope still has a lot of good things to teach us—and we need all the help we can get these days.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: It feels like Armageddon is here! One simply cannot turn on the news without seeing images of new disasters every single day. If someplace is not burning up, it's flooding. If it's not flooding, it's being swallowed up in a sinkhole or an earthquake. And, if that isn't happening, then, well, tornadoes are attacking and ripping away homes and lives with total abandon. Oh yes, indeed, the Devil is having a great time these days. And that's because Mother Nature is very angry at the human race for abusing the Earth. So, she's letting the Devil wreak havoc.
Is it really so surprising that the Pope of the Catholic Church would be thinking a lot about Satan? Is it really so surprising that he would pray over people who are suffering? Those things were the concern of Jesus Christ, so why shouldn't His emissary be equally concerned? Especially these days!
Did Pope Francis really exorcise demons out of a man? Here's a report by Nicole Winfield, of the Associated Press: 
Check out: Pope and the Devil: Francis' Fascination with Satan Leads to Suspicion He Performed Exorcism

She reports the story of a man who went limp after Pope Francis placed his hands on the man's head and said a prayer. The man's behavior was very much like that which is seen in an exorcism. Indeed, Ms. Winfield also cites an expert who says that exorcisms do not always have to conform to the prescribed rites. In addition, Ms. Winfield quotes Pope Francis as saying in his first homily as Pope back in March, that "he who doesn't pray to the Lord prays to the devil." Well, I'd say that also applies to women.
Pope Francis has mentioned the Devil at other times. When talking about the need for dialogue among peoples, he said: "With the prince of this world you can't have dialogue: Let this be clear!" he warned. After reading Milton's Paradise Lost, I've always viewed the Earth as the Devil's playground.

Now, here's what I think: Pope Francis may not have prayed over the man with any specific intention to cast out any demons, but, perhaps the demons in the man weren't too happy to be blessed by a Pope, so they left the man.
I would have to say that I do believe that people can be possessed by demons. It's not just the terrorists and the serial killers. It's also people who are inhumane in their actions and thoughts. Maybe they don't thrash about and vomit green pea soup, but their ideas are really demonic. Among those are people who vote to reduce aid to the poor, people who abuse their workers, and people who blame victims for the disasters that befall them. You know these people. They tell you that everything is your own responsibility, whether or not it works out for you. They blame you for your bad karma.
Now the Law of Karma is such that, yes, indeed people with bad karma will have things happen to them. However—and this is a big HOWEVER—this does not, not, not, absolutely, not mean that we are their appointed judges. Whatever punishment that was coming to such people has already happened. It is not our job to make that punishment worse. Rather, instead, it is our appointed task to show mercy and forgiveness, in the form of aid to help such people.
This is what Pope Francis teaches us when he prays for the victims of disasters or over individuals who may or may not have demons in them. He offers healing to everyone alike—both sinners and saints.
In this time of so many disasters and so much confusion, mercy and healing are needed more than ever. 

Armageddon is here. Souls are being taken left and right everywhere. We are left here to battle with Satan, and the best way to win that battle is to refute any temptation to be cruel and selfish. Instead, let us pray and let us extend mercy to people who have paid their karmic debts, instead of trying to judge and blame them.
That, indeed, will keep any demons away so we can win this final battle with Evil.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Seventh Day Controversy

"And on the seventh day He rested...."

This quote from the Bible is controversial. Some people say that G-d wouldn't rest because He (well they say "He") wouldn't get tired and so, He would have no reason to rest. However, Pope Francis tell us that leisure is part of G-d's plan and that it is G-dly to rest. 

Pope Francis Has a Few Words in Support of Leisure

I would say that in fact it is G-dly to rest and have recreation. If you break up that word you get re-creation. In my view G-d valued creativity and wanted to show that rest and restoration would be part of what we needed to be vital, living beings. And, when one is at leisure, there can be a wonderful, serendipitous opportunity to appreciate G-d's gifts even more. For example, this past Saturday, I took some time to photograph some of the beautiful flowers in my neighborhood. I was awestricken by the beauty of G-d's creation. It didn't matter to me that this creation had come about through the manipulations of human beings. It still had its root in G-d's grace.



Devils in the Details

Part I: Slave Labor and Investment Gambling

OK, we've talked a lot about the presence of Evil and the necessity for Good. How does that translate into action? What can we learn from Pope Francis? The next few columns will look at some of the Devils in the Details, to help us understand how evil manifests in the world.

Here's one article, by Agence France Presse, reporting in The Huffington Post, that really put me on fire: 

Pope Francis Condemns "Slave Labor" in Bangladesh: "Goes Against God."

This was Pope Francis speaking in response to a factory collapse that left more than 400 people dead in Bangladesh. The Pope noticed a headline that indicated that the workers were living on 38 euros [approximately $50.19 in U.S. dollars] per month. . . .That is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labor." Citing humanity's ability "to create, to work, to have dignity," as G-d's creation, Pope Francis wondered "how many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation." He then stated:
Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God! . . . .There are many people who want to work but cannot. When a society is organized in a way that not everyone is given the chance to work, that society is not just.

To that I add a resounding AMEN that I hope will be heard around the entire world. There is nothing here that I have any reservations about. There is absolutely no disagreement between my ideals and Pope Francis' statement.

This has always been an area where the progressive movement and the Catholic Church are perfectly aligned. We are allies in the struggle for workers' rights. It doesn't matter what one's religion or ideology may be. The goal is what matters.

I have always felt that abuse of workers was a sin. That is one of the things that attracted me to the progressive movement. It is very, very hard to survive on small wages and be able to pay bills. We all need to eat and have shelter, clothing, cleanliness, and health.

How many of these needs are actually met? We get it preached at us all the time about how we are supposed to be creative, independent, willing to work, and out there sweating bullets to earn a living. When something happens, and we cannot do so, we are looked upon with the same disdain as any poor person in a Charles Dickens novel. We are thought of as lazy, irresponsible, and wanting handouts. Yet, we are only looking for a hand up—not a handout!

Oh I work, but trying to pay for everything is quite another story. The healthcare situation alone in the United States is a scandal, but don't get me started on THAT today—or this column will take forever to read! Suffice to say, it has bankrupted many people. Working people. People who should not be blamed for bad luck, for following the best advice that was available to them during their lives.

Instead let's talk about some economics. There are so many discussions about "investing." That word grates on my nerves as much as the word "opportunity" does. Opportunity is meaningless to an older person or any person with any kind of disability. All it means is that the bar will always be much too high to ever be able to "take advantage" of opportunity. Opportunity is simply a gamble that only allows selected people to win. The rest of us must lose.

Given that, how are we supposed to even think about investing?

We don't have two nickles to rub together. What can we actually put aside to invest? What are we going to invest in? And why would we want to put the odd dollar that might come our way into something that is essentially a gamble? That's what investing is. There is always a winner and a loser. And anybody who has not been taught how to play the game will always be on the losing side of it. I got a B in college economics, and there was nothing in that course about credit, investing strategies, or budgeting. There was no preparation for that sort of thing at all. Why should I bother to learn a game that might make me win at the expense of other people?

Pope Frances mentions something about looking at corporate balance sheets. He knows that those sheets only reflect numbers that are supposed to benefit investors. They do not reflect the work that was put into making those numbers possible. 

Think about it. A company is on the stock market. That company wants to have its shares be worth a lot to attract investors. How does the company do that? By cutting costs everywhere. Cutting production costs so that products are shoddy. Cutting labor costs, including everything from worker safety to working conditions, from salaries to benefits. . . . Ultimately, a company will do everything that it can possibly get away with, so that its balance sheets will be attractive to investors.

Doesn't that say something about the stock market and what it does to workers? Doesn't that say something about what it does to consumers? All the stock market cares about is numbers—not people.

Aren't we supposed to be enlightened since the days of the Victorian era when we blamed the poor for their deplorable condition? How can we say that we believe in a merciful and beautiful G-d and then allow slave labor? Pope Francis is 100% right. We can't. It would be total hypocrisy.

While Bangladesh is the most extreme example of slave labor, it goes on in many places. There were workers in a plant in Asia who committed suicide because their working conditions were intolerable. South America uses maquiladoras earning a few cents a day to make clothing. The good old U.S. of A. uses undocumented immigrants to do dirty work. And then, on top of that, these immigrants are condemned for being "illegal." If there was no market for them, they wouldn't be coming here, would they? Somebody is paying them and the little they are getting is worth more than what they can get in Mexico. So we exploit them and then we punish them too. 

This slave labor is a direct result of pressures from investors on the companies to make their balance sheets attractive. That's the connection. Until we stop asking people who do not work for a company to invest in it, we are not going to improve conditions for workers, nor are we going to improve our products. That investment mentality needs to be changed from a win–lose strategy to a win–win strategy. You might be scratching your head and asking, "I'm not a company owner, so what can I do?"

I'm not a company owner, but here are a few of the things that I do:

If I know a product is made under bad labor conditions, and I have an option to choose a different product, I choose the other product.
In my husband's 401k, we invested only in bonds. We avoided the stock market, because we don't want to participate in it. True maybe we won't make as much, but at least we can look in the mirror in the morning and not want to vomit.
In every single interaction with workers, I try to show respect. I try to praise them for a service well-performed. If a person goes the extra mile, I try to tell the boss about it. One never knows, maybe that person would get a nice raise.
I speak truth to power as best I can. While maintaining respect, I try to let the powers that be what the results of their decisions are. This includes bosses, government officials, etc.

If anybody has more ideas, share them in the comments section of the blog, please. . . . 
I think the world should listen to the Pope. On this issue Pope Francis is not backward in any way, shape, or form. He is actually ahead of everybody here.

The Stand Effect

This post is more complex. It deals with two forces of Evil—active and passive. Active evil is obvious. It involves deliberate actions that are designed to hurt people and cause destruction. Passive evil is insidious. It involves denial, a refusal to act when the opportunity arises to help prevent evil, and neglect (meaning no response to stop evil).

Another theme is something I call "The Stand Effect." This has to do with souls gathering to be either on the side of Good or Evil. Among fundamentalists, there is much talk about Armageddon, the ultimate battle of Good versus Evil. With the way things are today, I sometimes wonder if we are not in the middle of Armageddon rather than waiting for it.

The Brothers Tsamaev

By now the world is quite familiar with the events of the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent identification of the two bombers. While the world watched, the older brother, Tamerlan, was shot and killed during an exchange of shots with law enforcement. Then came the spectacular capture of the younger brother, Dzhokhar. In between, we saw interviews with friends and family of these two evil brothers. These brothers behaved like jihadis who were Hell bent on destruction. Their mother talked just like a jihadi mother, saying that she didn't care if her sons were killed or if she were killed. The Boston Marathon, which was so dramatic and public, was only the beginning of these brothers' monstrous plans, which even included my own city of New York.  Tamerlan was wired with explosives when he died.

What caused these men to do what they did? That is the burning question here. They came here and began their education, and got involved with community activities and athletics. The older brother was not as well-adjusted as the younger one seemed to be, although Tamerlan evidently was able to get married. Dzhokar fit in quite well. He had a circle of friends and a lot to keep him busy.

What made these brothers any different from thousands of other immigrant Americans? We have plenty of people who are from the Caucasus, plenty of Muslims, and plenty of young people who are immigrants here. Dzhokhar was a naturalized American (on a September 11th of all things!). Evidently, there were crazy family dynamics playing a significant role.

But there's more. Many people from dysfunctional families don't turn to terrorism. Why did Tamerlan feel a need to even look at radical Islam? Wasn't peaceful Islam good enough for him? What made Dzhokhar follow Tamerlan? It was almost as if something evil was calling to them, looking for some vulnerable spot to attach to and draw them in. Perhaps it would not be considered possession in the classic Catholic sense of the word, but it is still a kind of force that does take some kind of possession in the souls of people who would have otherwise gone on to live unremarkable but productive lives. Were these brothers weak in some way that allowed this evil to enter their souls? Or were they just picked randomly by Evil to be instruments of death and terror?

When it comes to Evil, there are obviously more questions than answers. One hint comes from this in a story on Yahoo News, written by Jeff Donn and Jocelyn Noveck:
Albrecht Ammon, 18, lived directly below the apartment of the two suspects. He said he recently saw Tamerlan in a pizzeria, where they argued about religion and U.S. foreign policy. He quoted Tsarnaev as saying that many U.S. wars are based on the Bible, which is used as "an excuse for invading other countries."
Visit: The Stories of 2 Brothers Suspected in Bombing

Scary, isn't it? Wars and terrorism promulgated in the name of G-d. I can't help thinking of that Bob Dylan refrain:
If G-d's on our side, He'll stop the next war.

To that I can only add, AMEN, S/he will!

The pleas for peace from all Catholic Popes are well-known and familiar. This is an area in which progressives and the Church are exactly aligned. We all want wars to stop. Not just the obvious wars with the tanks, guns, and missiles (whatever happened to the missile rattling by North Korea?)—but also the wars by terrorists everywhere. And also the wars within ourselves.

Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves some questions: Who are WE to think we have any right to cause destruction of other human beings who are not harming us? Who are WE to think that G-d would pick US to do this? This is where a line must be drawn. It doesn't matter which form of G-d we believe in. When we start to force that vision of G-d onto other people, we are, first of all, violating their souls. And when we use physical force to do so, we are violating the temples of their souls, i.e., their bodies.

Why must there be a war between Christianity and Islam? Isn't our Pope trying to reach out? Aren't there imams trying to reach out? Why are these peaceful people being ignored in favor of the fundamentalists because the fundamentalists are noisy and shout the loudest?

Is it because Evil is gathering souls to counteract the forces of Good that are also gathering souls? 

The Stand Effect

In Stephen King's famous book, The Stand, there is an Armageddon-like plague, and the survivors are drawn to either Good or Evil. Good is represented in the person of Mother Abigail, an old African-American woman living alone on a homestead. Evil is represented by the roaming Walkin' Dude (Randall Flagg), who collects followers by doing favors for them and demanding unquestioning obedience as payment. I'm not going to tell you the ending, but there is a blowout. There are characters who are inherently good and others who are inherently evil. And then there are characters who struggle with good and evil within themselves. Some end up with the forces of Good and others end up with the forces of Evil. The whole point is that souls are called and gathered together to battle for their sides after many, many people are eliminated from the Earth. Everybody has to choose and they can decide whether to be destructive or constructive. No one can just stand by and do nothing, because, that is simply allowing Evil to prevail—one is compelled to take a stand.

I feel Stand-like effect these days. So many people are just being eliminated in explosions, floods, earthquakes, storms, shootings, and more. It's almost as if they have paid their karma, and G-d has called them back to the spirit world, leaving we survivors to remain for the battle. That battle seems to be ongoing, every day. First it's the Middle East (Israel versus the Palestinians; Iran versus Iraq), then it's somewhere between the "Stan" countries and Russia. Then it's the Koreans. Now it's Syria and Israel (and maybe the United States). Groan! We have our own things going on in Afghanistan (one of the "Stans") and the problems with terrorists on our own soil. And, as duly noted, Nature is playing a role too.

What to Do? What to Do?

In the face of all this, most people just go about their business. They hope for the best, but somewhere, we are all prepared for the worst. That is hard enough. Yet, all of us have to do more. We must respond—but not by proselytizing. We must speak out, over and over and over again, against extremism. We must not permit extremists to rule anywhere at any time. We need to use all the powers at our command to do this. But we must do it nonviolently. I'm no Mahatma Ghandi, but if push comes to shove, I sure would want to would use his tactics rather than throwing bombs around or shooting people. 

It is vital to stop insisting that there is only one route to salvation via our particular religions. Pope Francis recognizes this when he attempts to reach out in an ecumenical way. While his version of Catholicism is strict and not especially progressive, at least he is not saying "no salvation outside the Catholic Church," like the infamous Father Coughlin did in the past.

Can we not recognize that there are many routes to G-d that Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach, as Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach said? Can we not realize that these roads help control all the spiritual traffic and represent specific kinds of missions, specific kinds of "being chosen peoples"? Can we not find the most good, the gentlest parts of our religions—or even our atheism—and simply practice these things? It's true that one person cannot save the world. But, collectively, by paying kindness and goodness forward, we give our own souls and the souls of others a fighting chance to emerge intact from the battles we are in.

Can we not use the gentle actions of Pope Francis—whether or not we follow his brand of Catholicism. He isn't a progressive but he has something very, very important to teach all of us: Humility! If we  must evangelize, can we not evangelize about that?

I'm not saying it's easy. It's NOT. Humility is really tough—especially when trying to combine it with strong, well-grounded beliefs. I'm going to have to write about that struggle one of these days. For now, I ask forgiveness that I've been absent from this blog for a week. I was totally caught up in the Boston events.

 An Apology
I was planning on blogging more with The Stand Effect but the saga with The Brothers Tsamaev absolutely riveted my attention. Now that Dzhokar has been captured, I was finally able to sleep and get my thoughts together to continue on my theme about good and evil. . . .

Something is Happening Here. . . .

Today, I want to discuss an article written by a Jewish man, Roger Dubin, who experienced a conversion to Catholicism when Pope Benedict first came out after being elected Pope. Some of Dubin's experience echoes what I have been going through with Pope Francis, and I suspect that something very big is going on. The article was published in The Catholic World Report.

Like me, Dubin did not feel a strong connection to the religion he was born into. As a Jew, he felt that his religion was simply a collection of rituals and practices tied to a cultural identity, but he did not feel the presence of G-d. As a Catholic, I part of a very secular, nonchurchgoing family. In fact, I was not baptized until I had a tonsillectomy at age 7, when the hospital's priest thought it a good idea. Then, I was baptized again, when I decided to go to Catechism, because the priest didn't feel that the baptism I had had in the hospital was sufficient. However, from the very start, there was a problem. Instead of allowing me to use my own name plus a Saint's name, the nun decided I had to use only a Saint's name and that my own given name could not be used. Hence, I was Billie Theresa Mudry in my mind but only Theresa Mudry in the church's records, with my confirmation name added in later (Brigid after the name of the church).

Other problems emerged. We learned everything by rote. Questions were dismissed with a stock answer: "You have to have faith." That answer did not satisfy me, because I did not understand all the mysticism. How could there be one G-d Who was was Three? How could anybody rise from being dead? What happened in Fatima? That last one was scary, because rumors were going around that the world was going to end in 1960, when the famous letter was going to be opened.

After watching the movie, The Lady of Fatima, with a friend of mine, I was frightened. This otherworldly Lady had appeared to these children, and they underwent such terrible ordeals as a result. Later on, my friend woke me up in the middle of the night, in the dark, claiming she had seen the Lady. Needless to say, I did not sleep a wink further. All the next day, I kept anxiously looking over my shoulder to see if that scary Lady was going to emerge somewhere.

Understand this: To a child, Catholicism can be very eerie. Events happen that are gruesome (crucifixion), unearthly (miracles), and just plain creepy (visions, risings, spirits). When explanations regarding these things are not forthcoming, the questions about them just fester and eventually get repressed into the darkest part of one's consciousness. I wanted no part of it.

I had even had a dream that Jesus on the cross had somehow beheaded me, although my head was still attached to my body. Oddly enough, that dream didn't scare me. I am not sure why. Maybe because there was no pain and I still had my head. I think now that maybe the dream meant that Jesus was severing some things that were "in my head."

Then came the progressive problems. The first one was birth control. At first, I was appalled that my parents used it, but I came to realize that having ten children—as opposed to four—was not such a great idea, especially in the overpopulated city I lived in. The next was masturbation. A friend of mine was struggling with this issue and went to a priest to discuss it. I was with her at the time, and the discussion made no sense to me. My mother, my authority on everything, had told me that it was a natural but private act and that there was nothing wrong with it. It didn't seem right to condemn something that was, after all a part of nature. Yet the priest said it was a sin.

Abortion came later. At first, I was against it. But then, when I got older, I found that some people I knew underwent abortions. These people were troubled and teary-eyed. The decision they faced was not easy at all. What else could I do but try to offer nonjudgmental compassion to these people? Discussions and movies revealed tragic results of making abortion illegal. So, I had to flip over to a reluctant prochoice stance—one that I still struggle with today, because, in my view, it is a life and destruction of a life is a trauma. Yet, there are so many reasons why. . . .so I didn't want to pass judgments on people about that. Thank G-d, I never had to make such a decision.

Premarital sex and homosexuality also came into the bargain. I knew gay people as people not as evil sinners. I knew people were having premarital sex. I engaged in it. It seemed logical to do so, because then one knew what to expect rather than facing some really unpleasant surprises on one's wedding day. In fact, living together, in my view, was the ONLY way to ensure that I didn't pick the wrong person. I did it and I like the results some 25+ and counting happy years of marriage.

As I said in a previous post, the decision to marry in the Unitarian Church was not done lightly. I just couldn't do it in the Catholic Church, but we had to face my husband's aunt—the nun. And, as I described in that post, that sweet nun was the first indication to me that there was more than just the granite facade of the Catholic Church. From her, I saw that mercy and understanding were also part of the Church.

Yet, as I have said so many times, my progressive views are rock solid. They go down to the very bottom of my soul. This is not because I ever wanted to be "let off the hook," as Dubin described, regarding his search through Eastern/New Age religions. Instead, I sought for a real connection to G-d that was not just a bunch of rules and rituals. In fact, I actually liked the Catholic rituals. It was the rules that got me disconnected from the Church.

What New Age religion actually gave me was a path toward comprehending the mysticism of Catholicism. It made the miracles and the otherworldly events very understandable and indeed quite beautiful rather than frightening. While the story of the Lady of Fatima still gives me a shiver, I now understand it as a very profound account of how the faith of children can move so many people. 

The Law of Karma did not give me ANY reprieve from sinning—quite the opposite. I saw the effects of karma all around me. I didn't want to have to die and face reincarnation to a worse life. I didn't want to do things only to have them rebound on me in this or another life. No Law ever bound me as strictly as the Law of Karma. I saw it in action in the form of what is popularly known as "instant karma"—how something I did would have a result that was truly connected to my original action.

Through New Age religion, I understood the connectedness of everything and how three could indeed be one. It was clear how G-d could be everywhere. G-d was within ourselves and all around us, and this was benevolent. At times when I felt despair, the Law of Karma prevented me from contemplating taking my life, because I feared ending up in a spiritual zone where there were terrible evil formless beings. These things brought me closer to G-d. Indeed, New Age religion is the deepest form of connection to the All and the Almighty. And, New Age religion keeps me in line much more than any Decency List from the Catholic Church ever could do.

I've talked about how I wanted to be a Jew, because the Jews where I lived were the most educated, enlightened, and accomplished people I ever saw. But, when I was faced with Orthodox Judaism's mountain of ritual and more rules that didn't make sense to me, I didn't want to deal with them. This would have been stricter and more confining than what already existed in my own religion. I felt like a Jew, culturally and politically, but not religiously. Like Dubin stated, it didn't really seem like a path to G-d. How happy I was when I thought I didn't have to convert, because my DNA seemed to indicate that, through my maternal line, I was a Jew. How crushed I was when I learned that further research showed that this was not the case.

So here I was, this ex-Catholic, having very strange and spiritual learning experiences. I was having numerous psychic experiences. I had my own G-d dream, which I have described in an earlier post. Dubin had had one too. In that dream, G-d commanded Dubin to slay Satan. My own dream was so much more benevolent: Help people, and educate them when they come to you. No demons to slay.

Some people talk about being "Godfearing folk." Trust me, Catholics aren't scared of G-d, but we are deathly afraid of the Devil. Even we ex-Catholics have that fear deeply embedded within us. In my case, that was definitely true. Why else—after seeing The Omen movie, and walking home, and seeing a license plate with the number 666 [cross myself here]—did I scream in utter terror? Why did I have such trouble sleeping, so much so, that I needed to get medicine from a doctor to be able to fall asleep? Yes, indeed by the time I had my G-d dream, I was quite glad that my mission was so much gentler and didn't involve staring down the Devil.

And, yet, again, like Dubin, something happened to me when a Pope walked out to greet a crowd in St. Peter's Square for the first time. For Dubin, it was Pope Benedict. Dubin had some kind of spiritual vision that struck him much like Saul on the road to Damascus. It felt instantaneous, although Dubin had been kind-of building up to this quietly, and his wife had been praying for his conversion.

It could never have happened to me with Pope Benedict. His eyes did not seem spiritual to me. They resembled those of a mean raccoon. His general expression looked mean. His Prada shoes did not impress me at all when I learned about them. What I liked even less was learning that he had covered up pedophile scandals while he was a Cardinal.

For me, it was Pope Francis, instead. 

Just a few days prior to Pope Francis' election, I had a dream that I call my Bird Dream. In this dream, my sister went shopping and brought home a South American bird. This bird was stunningly beautiful. It had a riot of colors, all in a lovely mottled pattern. Typically, I don't tend to reach out to birds, but, in the dream, I cradled this bird in my hands. I expected it to fly away as birds will often do. Instead the bird responded by nestling warmly in my hand. I was amazed. "He likes me. He likes me," I exclaimed, Sally Field–like. I loved that bird and he loved me back. Then came my psychic experience of saying on March 13, 2013: "Today is a good day to elect the new Pope. It's 3-13-13 and Catholics love 3s." What possessed me to say that? Not the Devil I can assure you. Quite shortly after the announcement of the white smoke came through my computer. And the Pope was from South America! And St. Francis, lover of animals, is often depicted with a bird as a symbol of this love.

In an earlier post, I described how I felt looking at his expression when Pope Francis looked out at the crowd with such deep reverence and respect. While I was not pulled into a "conversion" or even a return to the Church, something definitely moved me closer to G-d.

So, what is this all about? 

Evidently, I am not alone in having some very powerful and odd spiritual experiences regarding Popes. I would be willing to bet that other people are having similar things occurring in their own faiths. By this, I mean benevolent, spiritual awakenings that make people more G-dly. I don't mean the fervor of the extremists and fundamentalists at all. In my view, those extremists are part of the Devil's plan to drive good people further away from true religion and G-d. Either they cause people to be cruel (such as by encouraging bombings and other terrible actions), or extremists drive good people away by turning them off. I know some atheists who want to vomit at the mention of G-d. When I probe into that, I find that there are horrific experiences that cause these people to avoid churches, temples, and anything that even reminds them of religion.

In the words of one popular antiwar song:
Something is happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear. . . .


Stop, children. What's that sound?
Everybody, look what's going down.
Indeed, we need to look at this. It's almost like a gathering of souls—just like in my G-d dream. Perhaps, as in my dream, Satan can be slain by gentle forces. 

In my next post, I will speculate about what I call "The Stand Effect."

Stay tuned. . . .

BAM Goes Boston!

 And Kerplop Goes the Pope! 

It's a Bad Day!

I was going to blog a nasty one about Pope Francis not backing up a bunch of nuns who really needed his support, but events superseded that, so this one is a rather confused missive about hatred.

We were talking about war and hatred last time—and this is just a continuation of that. Well, the Pope was not too nice to a bunch of nuns who just wanted to go out and help the disenfranchised people in the world—the poor, the minorities, and also the "sinners." Evidently, the Pope's homophobia came out instead, and he supported what Pope Benedict's Council said against the nuns.

Not so nice, not so nice. Not helpful in reducing hatred, which continues to fester in this evil world.

2 (or 3?) bombs went off in Boston a while ago, disrupting the Boston Marathon. Runners and watchers just wanted to enjoy a festive Boston holiday, and, instead, they were treated to explosions, injuries, deaths, and fear.

We don't know who did it yet. 

I remember how it was on 9/11. I remember saying that "we are at war, but I don't know who we are at war with." That same nasty feeling overtakes me. Is it Al Queda? Some splinter group in the United States, like the Minutemen? The KKK? Is it the Koreans, who are spewing fury at us every day now? Or some gun nuts who are angry at the U.S. Senate for a bill on gun restrictions? 

I don't know. Nobody knows yet.

What I do know is this? Pope Francis started out with some very lovely actions that were designed to bring people closer to G-d. He reached out to everybody outside the Catholic Church, and that felt very good. But for, some reason, when it came to his own (a bus full of nuns), he rejected them. What example can we get from that? Be nice to outsiders but behind closed doors, be rejecting and cruel.

In my view, that only leads to more hatred. If we cannot love people within our own circles, how can we love those on the outside? How can we embrace our diversity?

With prayerful respect, I would hope that Pope Francis might reconsider. There is too much hatred in the world to even want to spread any more hatred and rejection.

Sigh. . . .

Psst! This is What Pope Francis Said. . . .

Evidently, Pope Francis offers daily homilies just like an ordinary priest does. Rebecca Hamilton reported yesterday on a homily about gossip. That may seem quite trivial, given all of the bigger issues at stake, but, as usual, with this Pope, there is more to this than meets the eye.

Truth be told, I'm like most people—a real sucker for a bit of juicy inside information about people. The more "secret" and the more negative it is, the more exciting it seems. It makes one feel superior. A real insider who is above such flaws as reported. But, as Ms. Hamilton points out that when gossip goes beyond "idle chit-chat," it can be very harmful. Gossip can get people focused on a person's faults and can results in group judgments that may be quite unfair. This can be especially true if the gossip continues for a period of time.

Obviously, if false, negative information is spread, it can create bad impressions. However, even if something is true, is it really our business or our concern? Does it really affect our lives if a certain person has problems that have nothing to do with us? Why would we really prefer to focus on a flaw that is not so terribly important in an otherwise good person? Maybe that person is not a great cook or a great fixer of household items. Maybe that person is illiterate. Maybe that person is not perfect in organizing things in his or her life. Maybe that person bickers with his or her spouse or children. Maybe that person . . . . And yet, that person might be a sympathetic friend when one needs a good ear to hear one's troubles. That person might have a great sense of humor. That person might be a lot of fun to be with. That person might be very kind.

Pope Francis says:
When we prefer to gossip, gossip about others, criticize others—these are everyday things that happen to everyone, including me—these are the temptations of the evil one who does not want the Spirit to come to us and bring about peace and meekness in the Christian community. 

Notably, he does not exempt himself from the temptation. He is not lecturing us from on high. Rather, he is exposing his own weakness and sharing his wisdom about how to handle the problem.

He concludes that we don't have any business judging other people. That is up to G-d. He advises us to keep our nasty thoughts to ourselves. If it is necessary to bring information about someone to other parties who might be able to help the person, that is O.K., but, he cautions us not to spread such talk about indiscriminately. 

Gossip may be deliciously tempting, but the resulting stomachache (or headache) won't just affect the gossiper—it will spread indigestion and head pains far and wide. It's not worth it. 

Why dirty ourselves with other people's dirt? Like Pope Francis, we can rise above that nastiness, and everyone will be the better for it. Looks like I had better discipline my own tongue.

Pope Francis and the Power of One

OK, OK, I know, I know. I missed a day. I had so much work to do that I just didn't get a chance to blog, but I'm back again with more on Pope Francis. This time, the subject is simplicity. In today's Huffington Post, author Frances D'Emilio describes the Pope's formal installation.

Pope Francis wore "a plain white cassock," which was quite different than the finery displayed by the welcoming Italian cardinal. In contrast to the entrance of many fancy pontiffs, the Pope came into a side entrance of the basilica complex in a jeep. He stopped to kiss babies in the crowd that was gathered there, before going inside.

After blessing a plaque in honor of Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis repeated something from his very first message to the people after his election: "I ask you to pray for me, I need it, don't forget." Emphasizing gentleness and caring, he said that "those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive."

Another different element in this occasion was that Pope Francis chose a pledge that was nonhierarchical. Most past pledges "elevate" the position of the pontiff, but he chose to consider himself as "presiding over all the Churches in charity."

Simplicity, no vainglory, nonhierarchical. . .these terms have been emerging as descriptors for this Pope. He doesn't always use words to "preach." He doesn't exhort people to throw off their fancy clothes and don sackcloth. Instead, he strips down as much of the ornate trappings of his office as possible. He shows by example what is possible.

That isn't to say that he will never "pull rank" on anyone. It does say that he would prefer not to. What a world this would be if people lived by that concept. We would not all be glued to our TV sets wondering if and when North Korea will set off a bomb just to show who is "boss." The United States would not be in perpetual gridlock, if it weren't for all the showboating that goes on in the halls of Congress.

Let's admit it. We are human. Most of us don't get a taste of power that often, and, when we do, we are tempted to flaunt it. Yet, there is something that can prevent this from happening. It's that old word again—empathy! We can choose to remember a time of powerlessness at the very moment of attaining power. We can choose to feel the feelings of the people who still do not have power. And that can guide our actions in the most humane way possible. And, like St. Francis of Assisi, we can also remember the animals in this world.

There was a reason that Bob Dylan sang, "you gotta serve somebody." And Pope Francis gets it. He knows that the highest, most gracious, and most spiritual power comes from service—not from wielding a scepter. This is at the root of true power. It is the power that never runs out and never reverses itself. It goes on forever unopposed in the end. And it prevails.

If only the rest of us could learn this lesson. Imagine if each one of us could emulate Pope Francis and use our power of one to spread humility and decency throughout the world. All it would take is a little simplicity.


Of War and Peace: What Truth Can't Twist

A slow news day today. North Korea is hogging all the headlines with the threat of a nuclear launch. Unfortunately, Papal pleas for peace are routinely ignored by everyone. Pope Francis is no different in this respect. Every Pope make them all the time. These poor men probably get scabs on their knees from praying so hard for peace, as war after war after war breaks out.

As such, it is highly doubtful that the leaders of North Korea will pay any attention, although Catholics in South Korea are asking for help from the Pope. His hands, however, are tied. He doesn't have an army. He can't run maneuvers to prevent this. And that truly is not the Catholic way in modern times, although, in centuries past, Catholic bloodbaths were common during the Crusades and Inquisition.

Why, after all these centuries, must the world still be at war? If I knew the answer for that I'd either get a Nobel Prize or be nominated for Sainthood. Given that neither of them is about to happen, all I can do is speculate, like everybody else. 

And Pope Francis has offered some inspiration regarding that topic. I don't just mean telling the world we need peace. That's too obvious. It's more by example that he directs us to look at a pathway that could lead to peace if it were followed. I'm not even saying the Catholic or Christian pathway. It's more like something that every human being on earth could follows regardless of his or her beliefs.

That is the path of inclusion, of love. Not love in the sense of agreeing with another person or even wanting to live the way that person lives. Not love in the sense of any kind of positive attraction to a person, whether it be romantic or in terms of family or friendship. Not even the love that comes with admiration. This kind of love is what the Greeks called agapé. It's a more generalized love of all humanity, with all its messy warts and mistakes.

This kind of love allows for tolerance. It allows for respect. It allows for differences. It relishes diversity. The only thing it is intolerant of—the only thing it hates—is hatred. It is the kind of love that makes us hold back instead of shouting or raising our fists, or our knives, or our guns, or our bombs. It makes us think before we speak or act. This love makes us feel the blood and nerves within ourselves and realize that the very same things exist within other living and breathing beings. It makes us aware of our connectedness to everybody and everything. We are all part of the whole, so when one part is wounded, the whole feels it through empathy.

When the Pope says that he wants to reach out to Catholics and non-Catholics and even atheists, he is saying that he wants to engage in agapé. When he hugs a disabled boy, his showing his caring. When he worries about people in his homeland experiencing floods, he is empathizing with those people. When he refuses glamor and vainglory, he expresses an identity with people in poverty.

Catholic or not, can we do any less?

How does this answer the question about why there are wars? War, I believe, in part, is a direct result of not feeling part of a wholeness. It's a result of putting one's own egoes above other people. It's a result of shutting down our ability to empathize. There's more. . . . 

As I said, Pope Francis is beginning something to expand our consciousness. This is the kind of expansion that doesn't require any drugs or revelations. All it takes is looking at other human beings and going beyond our boundaries to take in their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. It's opening up a bit and letting humanity in so our own humanity can come out and be expressed.

Pope Francis "Fix My Church"

An ABC News report from Vatican City says that Pope Francis wants to have the Church act "with determination" on the sex abuse cases in the continuing scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for some time.

Visit: Pope Seeks Decisive Action Against Sex Abuse

While mentioning things that could protect minors, help victims, and prosecute the guilty parties sounds good, some doubt troubles my mind. Here's why: Unfortunately, the report also notes that the Pope recommended following the same "line" that Pope Benedict used. This raises an alert, because Pope Benedict was noted for covering up these kinds of scandals while he was a Cardinal. Admittedly, as Pope, he did try to do some damage control. It was too little, too late.

If Pope Francis is the kind of man that we have seen so far, I would hope and pray, with all due respect, that he will take a much harder line than Pope Benedict ever did. I would hope that any cleric who engaged in such behavior would be summarily excommunicated rather than being shifted from one parish to another. Such behavior is inexcusable in anyone. It is especially abominable in a religious because we are all taught from childhood to respect and revere religious. We are taught to trust them implicitly as people bringing us to G-d.

My husband was an altar boy. Thank G-d nothing happened to him. But it could have. 

I offer my deepest prayers to St. Jude, the Patron of Impossible Causes, to help Pope Francis to root out this problem in the Church. Children need to be safe in churches everywhere. I pray that Pope Francis will go far, far beyond his predecessor Pope to work on this troubling problem. Pope Francis is undoubtedly going to uncover a lot of dirty secrets along the way. I believe that he sincerely wants to solve the problem, but he is going to have to go much further than he imagines to do so.

Pope Francis Opens a New Door of Perception

More interesting—and some people would say provocative—statements from Pope Francis are coming out every day. It's almost impossible to keep up with the media's fascination with everything this Pope does. Today, in the Huffington Post, author Naomi O'Leary covers what Pope Francis had to say about women in the church.

Pope Francis Stresses "Fundamental" Importance of Women in Church
Dare I make a pun here and say that the statement is intended to have Mass Appeal? Like the young priest in that movie, Pope Francis says: 
In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. . . .The evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria.
He notes that Jewish law during Biblical times did not deem women as reliable witnesses, and thus, their role was not recorded in the Bible.

Now, this is startling! Here we have a Pope—the head of the entire Catholic Church—actually looking back with a historical view at what happened and suggesting that culture had something to do with how women were treated at the time. While not going as far as endorsing women as priests, Pope Francis is at least admitting that the culture of that time was what we progressives would term "male chauvanistic." While not endearing himself to conservatives who would like to keep women in convents, nurseries, and kitchens, Pope Francis has managed to rankle women who feel that they are being given a symbolic "pat on the head" and then still being regaled to where the conservatives want them to be.

I, however, am not rankled at all. I already am gaining a feel for this Pope and what he is doing. He is proceeding by evolution—not revolution. He doesn't want to throw the whole Church in turmoil. He believes in the doctrines he was taught. As a Jesuit, he feels bound to obey those doctrines. But, true to his unconventional nature, he looks for "wiggle room." He asks how he can open the door and let some air in the stale and musty corridors of Catholicism.

As Marinella Perroni, put it:
The fact that the Pope acknowledges that the progressive removal of female figures from the tradition of the resurrection   . . .is due to human judgments, distant from those of God. . . introduces a decidedly new element compared to the previous papacy.
I agree completely with this assessment.

Considering that Pope Francis is a 76-year-old male cleric, elected by old male clerics, this isn't bad at all. It's actually pretty good. The first way to solve a problem, after all, is to admit that it exists. By shining a light on the errors in the Bible, our Pope is inviting us all to think and rethink about how to interpret what is there. And, he is also admitting that women have value that may well extend beyond the limitations that we have had placed on us for all these centuries.

Given that conservatives were upset about 4 feet (belonging to two women), I can imagine that they will not want to go the miles and miles and miles that need to be traveled before women are given full recognition and total equality. But there is a draft coming into the Vatican along with a beam of light.

In the beginning, there was the question. The Pope said: "Let there be light." And that is a lot better than the medieval darkness that has surrounded the Catholic Church for so long. 

Pope Francis has taken the first steps into the 21st century. No matter how limited or how small these steps are, they steps are the beginning of change. And perhaps that is Pope Francis' role—to walk to a new place and open the door to show us where to go next.


  A Bit of Empathy for the Pope

ABC News reports, in an article by Michael Warren, that Pope Francis still has most of his right lung and is in good health despite having some disabilities.

Visit: Pope Francis Still Has Most of His Right Lung

He does have some limitations from the removal of just the upper part of his right lung and he also has lower-back pain, which affects his walking sometimes and requires use of a cane.

Now, when I read that about that, I felt a big OUCH! How, could someone get on a bus everyday and go to work with lower-back pain? I cannot and never could. When I was younger I did it, and I was eating Vicodins like candy and stopping every two blocks to sit somewhere until the pain passed every time I went to work and every time I went back home. Pope Francis must be a strong man with an ability to tolerate pain even better than I can—and I am pretty good at tolerating pain.

This brings to mind the indelible image of the Pope hugging a young disabled boy recently. That boy looked so happy to get that hug. Doubtless other Popes have done similar things. Yet, I wonder how much empathy they felt. Perhaps a lot. Yet, somehow, with this Pope, that empathy seems more obvious. Maybe that is why he has such concern for poor people. He knows that poverty breeds hunger, bad diets and disabilities. And disabilities, conversely contribute to poverty.

It is not easy for people with chronic conditions—especially those that cause constant pain—to travel to work every day. Standing on crowded subways and busses. Dealing with jostling crowds. Sitting at desks with chairs that are not so ergonomically fit to relieve pain. Getting up and down to get things and do work. OUCH! Been There, Done That, whole nine yards! 

I thank G-d everyday that I can now telecommute. It reduces my use of painkillers and allows me to function better. I only hope that Pope Francis will accept a car and a desk and chair that won't cause him pain, because I don't want anybody to go through that. It may give him empathy but I think he has quite enough of that right now. Surely, he has enough empathy to help make people more aware of the daily struggles people with disabilities face.


A Reaction and Some New Thoughts

By Joan Amato

I like your blog. I think Pope Francis is a pope that people can relate to because he admits to desires that are quite human; attraction to a woman being one of them. It's also interesting that he studied science and chose a religious vocation. It turns the tables on those that would say science and religion are so separate. You can believe in both.

As a Catholic myself, I feel it is important to understand Jesus. I find it surprising that throughout history, many people did not seem to see Jesus as a Jewish person. And that instead of trying to learn about Judaism, since it is the religion he was brought up in, many chose to persecute His people instead. Perhaps if there was more understanding, there would never have been any Inquisitions.

It is my hope that Pope Francis will bring about more healing and greater unity, and will be a leader whose message will appeal to all people. Many like and admire the Dalai Lama, even if they're not Buddhist. And the Buddhist idea of enlightenment is something very encouraging and profound indeed. 

Billie's Note: My best friend, Joan Amato, sent me this reaction to my Populist Pope page. In it, she shares some of her reactions and adds her own thoughts as well. She points out that Pope Francis originally studied science and yet ended up choosing to work as a religious. I've always believed in both science and religion. In my view, evolution is real and is G-d's way of making things happen. I learned that the Catholic Church shares this view, so at least we know that, today, someone like Galileo would not be put to the test or relaxed per Inquisition torture methods.

Joan shares my Jesus-as-a-Jew idea and expands on the ecumenical perspective that Pope Francis espouses. This Pope has raised many hopes among devout and unchurched alike. I would repeat: If we are realistic about what to expect, it seems we will not be disappointed. Expect changes in style. Expect changes in how things are symbolized and expressed. Do not expect changes in doctrine.

Here's an example of what I mean: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who works here in New York, told gay people recently that they were entitled to be friends but not to marry. Contrast that with how Pope Francis handled it when he was a Cardinal (before the conservative faction got to him and forced him to start talking about the Devil)—his "render-to-Caesar-what-is-Caeser's" approach was so much gentler. When I read what Dolan had to say, I could only think: "Thank G-d Dolan was not elected Pope."

Breaking Tradition in the Name of Jesus

Yahoo news continues its coverage of the unconventional actions of Pope Francis. An article by Nicole Winfield describes some of the actions that we are already familiar with and adds a few more to the list:

  • He shuns the use of the ermine-adorned, red velvet cape (also called a mozetta) that past popes have used while engaging in their papal duties; instead he only wears a white papal cassock.
  • He refused a golden pectoral cross.
  • When receiving traditional pledges of obedience from the Cardinals, he would not sit in a chair on a pedestal, opting instead to stand at the same level as the other churchmen.

Catholic conservatives were happy when ex-Pope Benedict worked to revive the pomp and ceremony associated with the Church. These clerics wanted a return to the way things were before ex-Pope John had changed them; for example, perhaps masses would be said in Latin again. Pope Francis' nonhierarchical approach upsets these conservatives. They want their pomp and vainglory untouched. 

Why does this recall the Sanhedrin of Biblical times? Or King Herod? One can see an image of Jesus in his simple garb as he confronted his gold-bedecked enemies. They, so rich and powerful, feared that this ragged being would bring their temple—and hence their power—down. The money changers of today are fearful once again because their wealth is tossed aside by a man who they call the Pope.

Didn't Jesus Christ break the rules of his time? Didn't he flout tradition and heal the sick on the Sabbath? Didn't he baptize people? Didn't he "profane" the temple by scattering the money changers? Didn't he utter what was considered blasphemy in his time?

Hardcore traditionalists also do not like Pope Francis' interfaith approach, for example, his calling for "the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters." This statement was made in a prayer ceremony designed to recalled the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. Their complaint is that this attitude could create religious relativism—a concept that warms the cockles of my progressive heart. What about the conversion of Saul, who eventually brought Christianity to the gentiles after receiving a message from G-d in a dream about diversity?

And Pope Francis' unusual foot-washing ceremony yesterday is a story that really has legs. It won't go away! That is because traditionalists are highly peeved that he broke liturgical law, which requires that the ceremony only be performed with men. It is supposed to reenact "Jesus washing of the feet of his 12 apostles during the Last Supper before his crucifixion, a sign of his love and service to them." Ergo, only men can get their feet washed by the Pope.

The conservatives claim that Pope Francis including women in the rite could lead to a slippery slope—this one change in the rite could lead downhill to the ordination of women. Oh I wish! I would consider it an uphill change, but I know that's not going to happen on this Pope's watch.

Indeed, one traditionalist cleric/blogger, Rev. John Zuhlsdorf warns: 
What liberals forget in their present crowing is that even as Francis makes himself—and the church—more popular by projecting [a] compassionate image, he will simultaneously make it harder for them to criticize him when he reaffirms the doctrinal points they want him to overturn.
What the Reverend doesn't understand is that not every liberal is crowing about progressivism in the Church theology. We know that remains unchanged. Some progressives are remaining as cool to the Church as ever. However, I am one liberal who is crowing—but it's about about really conservative changes that go back all the way to the time of Jesus Christ. That means no pomp, no hierarchy, and no riches—just simple living and giving aid and comfort to the poor instead. When I say conservative, I do not mean what we think is "conservative" today. I mean going all the way back—all the way to the heart of why Christianity came to be—to relieve the suffering of humanity, especially the poor.

The rest is all politics, and it's all man-made, with the emphasis on man! These people forget that the first person Jesus appeared to after he rose was Mary Magdelene. He instructed her to go and tell the men about it. Within the mores of Biblical times, I believe, Jesus did his best to include women in his gathering but women just weren't able at that time to rough it on the road.

Why, after all, is the Virgin Mary, such a central figure in Catholic theology? Why are so many Catholic songs and prayers addressed directly to her? Have you heard any complaints from Jesus about that? I haven't.

This liberal says: "Viva Pope Francis!" Unchurched but happy, she waits for the rest of her progressive agenda to come to fruition in the Church, someday, with some other Pope, in some other time. For now, as they say in Argentina "Basta!" It is enough. Jesus broke tradition. So, it's traditional for Pope Francis to break tradition.

 The G-d Dream

I mentioned something that I call my "G-d Dream" yesterday. Given that nothing new has flashed on my screen about Pope Francis, let me share this with you. I had this dream between the night of January 6th and the morning of January 7th, in this year (2013). I e-mailed my sister about this dream, because it struck me with unearthly awe. I now wonder if this dream perhaps heralded the election of Pope Francis. Some of the themes in the dream suggest some of the symbolism that he is offering to the world. What follows below is an adapted version of the e-mail, with names removed (——) to protect the privacy of people and places.

Now let me talk more about the spiritual dream I had. It was quite weird but very, very clear and plain. In the dream I get a phone call from —— in the wee hours of the morning, and she is telling me she is upset because yet another person died. It was somebody she thought I knew but actually the person had been with —— before I had gotten there. I gave her my sympathy and we got off the phone. I started thinking about why all these people were dying, and suddenly, I see Jesus and a bunch of modern people walking down the street toward me. They were all modern though—none of those robes and things.

Jesus/God starts telling me that all these people were dying because he was clearing out all the souls that weren't going to heaven and the rest of the souls on Earth were potentially able to go to Heaven. It wasn't literally meant to mean that every person who was currently alive is among the only people to go to Heaven and that none of the people who were currently dead could not—it was more like the idea that spiritually alive souls could and spiritually dead souls could not.

Anyway, I was brought to this lovely place with "offices" set around a central area. The walls between the "offices" were all clear glass and outside was sunshine and nature. I was offered a plate of fruit and cheese to eat and I ate a part of an apple and a slice of cheese.

The "offices" were really where each of around 8 or so of us lived. Each of us had a job to do and the job was to tackle an aspect of soul development. We had to help any souls that came to us for help and advice. For example, one that I remember had to deal with sexuality and that person had to help people deal with their sexual problems. That person's job was NOT to stop people from being gay or from having sex or masturbation but rather how to deal with these things in a loving and gentle way—how to get satisfied without causing hurt or damage to the soul or other people. The rules were not rigid in any way. Another person dealt with diets and how foods we eat affect our health. That person's job was to try to help people understand how food affected their bodies. I was one of the group of advisors, and my job was education.

Nobody was above or below anybody else. God was at the center, but it was like the Table Round, except that it was rectangular. Everybody was equal to everybody else.

Then Jesus/God said that all of us had to be able to deal with troubled souls if we wanted to continue our jobs. I stood up and said that I couldn't do that. Then Jesus said to me that I could, that I was already doing it by advising people who came to me to learn things. He was telling me that it wasn't my job to straighten out people who were total nutjobs—just to help people who came to me in need by giving them something that I had to give them. So I decided that I could do that.

At one point I was showing Ma around, but when I was showing her it was like each person was a jar (like the "students" we had in our "classes.")*

(*Note: This refers to a childhood game of school that my sisters and I played. We gathered jars around our home and arranged them in classes to be our "students.")

We would get messages typed up about each soul's problem and then we would address that soul's problem.

Then [my husband] woke me up...

I interpret this dream to mean that we are all like apostles of G-d and that we are not supposed to go around preaching or laying trips on other people about that. Instead we are all given opportunities to use whatever unique gifts we have to help other people along their spiritual paths to Heaven. We are not supposed to go around preaching gospels or telling other people that we are superior or anything like that. We aren't supposed to threaten other people that they have to do things our way.

What we ARE supposed to do is do what we do best and any time we get an opportunity to help another person, we are supposed to extend ourselves with what we have to help that person.

It's not like a church or anything. It's just a simple message like Jesus said to "love one another as I have loved you." Each apostle represents an aspect of human life and struggle and each apostle spreads this love of God through doing what he or she can do best. I think that's the way Jesus actually ran things when he was down on Earth, but then the whole thing got all fouled up with a hierarchical church with all the trappings of power and coercion. I think it was supposed to be spread in a much more natural and gentle and peaceful way. And the way was by letting people come of their own accord. When people are ready to be helped, they will come and any apostle will know what to do to help that person.

To me it was a profoundly spiritual message that I believe came straight from G-d. It was not any kind of ego thing or any kind of thing meant to set up any churches or cults or anything. It was just a way of life and a message to tell anybody who might like to know—go out and do your thing and help people when you can and that is the path to salvation.

Not any right or left wing thing. Not any specific instructions about what to eat or what to wear or how much money to make or what kind of sexuality to have—just to live as best one can and to try to live from the heart with kindness and love.

It was a very beautiful message. I don't know why I received it, but I really liked it. I found it interesting that my "job" was education. I'm not a teacher by trade, but I am involved in the business of preparing information for doctors, and I guess I keep on learning lessons in life so that, when someone comes to me with some needs, I can answer those needs by educating that person—but NOT as a didactic "authority" and not by being "always right,"—more just by living and failing and succeeding and finding out about my good points and my bad points. More by sharing when I am ASKED to share (the lesson of ——, our sister to me—DON'T share when not invited to!). More just by offering what I have learned when people ask it of me in some fashion or other.

It's very hard to explain this in words, because it's not like going around and saying, "you must do it my way because I am some big shot authority." It's more just like saying, "oh, you want to know about this. Here's what I have to give you. Use it as you wish to."

I think that is why I had to spend SO much time learning not to force my opinions on others, because that is the opposite of educating. Real educating is learning from people all the time and simply offering it out to people as one goes along. —— says it's like that essay I wrote about my experience in the Ohio hospital.†

(†Note: see my post on Home page entitled "How a New York Chauvinist Pig Learned to Love the Middle of the Country," which was written on July 8, 2012, as I was recovering from surgery I received in an Ohio hospital after I was injured in that state.)
I think this was a very interesting dream. I feel like it is a kind of revelation that I am not useless or without any mission or message in life. I think it was saying we are ALL here for a purpose—each one of us has a purpose—which I already knew that—and that no matter what our circumstances are, we are of use.

Shroud of Turin Program

Shrouded by Lack of Information

Oh drat it. There is a report that, on March 31st (Good Friday and just happens to be my mother's birthday this year), there will be an international "viewing" of the Shroud of Turin. This is a gift of ex-Pope Benedict and Pope Francis is expected to talk before the viewing. I want so much to see this.

The problem is that there is NO information about timing. I found two ITALIAN times (11:10 AM and 17:10–18:40) but these are very imprecise. Why aren't they on the hour? What do they mean in terms of U.S. programming? An Italian station is broadcasting this but there is no mention of what U.S. stations will pick this up. Nor do I know if any of this will be captioned. Too many of the religious stations do not have captioning, so I get all my religion-related viewing on TV from other channels, such as the History, Discovery, H2, National Geographic, and other educational channels.

I dearly would love to know what Pope Francis will say about the Shroud. I have been fascinated with it for years. It is a point of interest whether or not this Shroud is genuinely the cloth that was wrapped around Jesus after he was taken down from the Cross. However, my feeling is that, even if it were proven to be an extremely clever artwork, it conveys something of importance to Christians everywhere. The depiction is good and suggestive of the Passion.

Let us put our skepticism aside and enjoy the wonder of this sacred Cloth no matter how it was created. And I await with great curiosity the words of Pope Francis.

I just hope I can get the thing on TV over hereWITH CAPTIONS. Dare I utter a prayer for this

A Different Pope for Different Folks

Earlier today, I mentioned that Pope Francis has a mission of healing. It appears, from information cited in an article on Yahoo News, that this is nothing new for him. The article was coauthored by Paulo Prada and Helen Popper.

As a youth, he wanted to study chemistry, with the goal of becoming a doctor. His mother set up a laboratory for him only to discover that her son had filled the space with books on theology and Catholicism. Why had he done this? What was it? Confronted by his mother, the future Pope responded: "It's medicine for the soul."

There are other fascinating hints about what made Pope Francis such a different kind of Pope than the ones we are used to. For example:

  • Despite being genuinely humble, the Pope knows how to read people intuitively.
  • When convinced of something, he can be annoying about it to the point of meddling, a trait that got him removed from one of the schools where he was teaching.
  • He did not want to leave his homeland.
  • He refuses to wear ornate vestments.
  • He has got one lung, because the other was removed with three infected cysts in it.
  • He admits to having been enamored of a woman while he was studying at a seminary.
  • He can be a micromanager who is concerned with petty details.
  • While at a Jesuit residence, he shared a gift of pastries with the maids and cooks in the kitchen, which miffed some of the other Jesuits present.
  • He was quite relieved during the last conclave when he wasn't elected Pope.

So what do we have here?

We have a man who is very human with faults and foibles. While he is very likeable, he annoys people. The people he irks are those who want to keep everything in order, who don't like changes, and who, most of all, do not like having their power challenged. He can zero in on details and drive other people to distraction when he does that. Yet, he's not a cold fishhe admits to crying, missing his homeland, and having had an attraction to a woman. 

When was the last time a Pope admitted these kinds of things?

Yet, he is cheerful and likes to serve people. Here again, we see his strong desire to be as nonhierarchical as possible. We sense his dedication to seeing a task through to the end. We understand his desire to serve rather than to rule. We observe his compassion and kindness, which endears him to powerless people. And we know that the best servant of the people is the one who is reluctant to be raised up to attain more power.

Another article on Yahoo News, written by Philip Pulella, provides an update on how the feet-washing ceremony went and describes today's papal homily:

There were a number of remarkable things about what happened at the foot washing besides the location and shift from priests to prisoners. Pope Francis washed the feet of two female inmates and two Muslim inmates. As the article reports, Pope Francis said: "It is the example of the Lord. He was the most important, but he washed the feet of others. The most important must be at the service of others."

We also learn about what Pope Francis had to say in today's Mass ceremony: 

We need to go out, then, in order to experience our own anointing (as priests). . .to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.

Here is that theme again: He speaks truth to power, saying we must understand what it is like to be powerless.   And we suspect that there are going to be a number of annoyed people at the Vatican when Pope Francis starts to micromanage the Curia. They are used to their own power.

Once again, this difference is at work. He cannot—will not—do things the way they were done just because that is the tradition. He'll stick with the doctrines, because he considers them sacred, but all the other things are up for grabs. Why not? Why not upset the apple cart and fill it with oranges? The apples are old and stale so it's time to dump them and put in some new nourishments.

These are the acts of a person who knows full well the symbolism of such things. He uses his position as a pontiff to underscore the importance of living up to one's vows and advancing one's own spirituality.

It's no accident that, unchurched as I am, I find myself praying more. I find myself watching more TV shows with religious content. And, I also find myself counseling other people to look more deeply into issues rather than just taking a "side." I also find myself asking if I can do more, do better. 

I sense divisions within me healing. The symbolic actions of Pope Francis are teaching me accept the fact that I am strong (even if I am a pest). I am learning more about what I think might be my own mission in life. It's not a grand one, but it's a good one, and I am happy with it. I shall reserve that for another post. I keep meaning to put it up on this blog. I'm saving it for a day when there is NO news on Pope Francis.

This different Pope is making a difference already in my unchurched life. He's bringing me closer to G-d and to humanity. What more can I ask? A lot, my progressive side shouts. Yes and no.

I can want, wish, shout, ask, and demand that my progressive agenda be implemented. Indeed, I have to be a meddler and annoy people sometimes with those things. That's all part of what I have to do.

But I also have to try to be a little bit "pontiff-like" and try to help build bridges between people. I can appreciate and welcome what others have to offer. The difference is the peace I feel. That is the grace that Pope Francis has given me, even though he doesn't know it.

So on this Maundy Thursday, let me pay it forward: Peace to you all. May we begin to heal our divisions and seek service instead of power.

Two Addendums: Missions of Healing

First, on CNN today, there was a clarification about the feet-washing ceremony, which takes place today. Normally, the Pope washes the feet of priests. So, this jailhouse set-up is yet another way that Pope Francis is doing things differently. He is signaling his desire to reach out to people who are considered wrongdoers and give them some honor. This is a healing kind of action.

Second, the individual with whom I argued yesterday, explained that past traumas from the Catholic Church's intolerance of gay people made it impossible to view a photograph of Christians who expressed support for gay marriage and believe in its sincerity. Instead it evoked the ugly picture of Jews being co-opted by Nazis. And that was the basis for the comments and the argument that followed. While accepting this person's feelings and agreeing not to take the remarks in a personal way—because this individual knows that I am sincere about my convictions—I did try to offer some food for thought. 

I discussed the concept of having allies in enemy camps. I also said that the inability of most people to accept that there are areas of agreement between individuals in such opposing camps is the basis for gridlock and war. And, I hope that Pope Francis will be able to open up the dialogue. Dealing with all kinds of traumatized people who have experienced persecution by the Church—such as Jews, Muslims, sexually abused children, abused women, women who have underwent abortions and have PTSD from them, and gays—is going to be a very hard task. It's not so easy to undo damage caused over centuries of Inquisition-like behaviors. All I can do is pray and hope that Pope Francis will make some headway and begin a process of healing. This was a mission that St. Francis was given also.



"Step Outside Yourself," Pope Francis Advises

Today has been very difficult for those of us who are outside the box. As the fight goes on here in the United States regarding the status of gay marriage, people's nerves are shot. We know the Supreme Court heard the two cases but we won't know the results until June. I suspect that the Court will split the difference and say, "do what the voters want," so Prop 8 will stay and DOMA will go.

And the fights are raging on my Facebook page. One person got called a hypocrite because she believes in Jesus and she believes in gay marriage. That brickbat was thrown at her from an extremist religious person. Then I got compared to "a Jew who supports Nazis" for having the same belief as my friend. That brickbat came from the other side of the fence, from an atheist. Oh my G-d that one hurt!

In all my years of life, 64 of them, I've never been so insulted by friend or foe. I've had people tell me I was "spitting on the Cross" (and that friendship was ended because I don't like being considered a blasphemer) and that I was influenced by the Devil because I support gay marriage. I've also been called irresponsible and deluded for believing in G-d. But like a Nazi supporter? OMG, I'd rather be dead! 

I have always been an ardent anti-Nazi. I hate Nazis with a white-hot passion (I know, I'm guilty of a sin of hatred; but I really believe that THEY come from the Devil). When I was younger and able to get around, I belonged to three anti-Nazi groups. One of them was my day job for a time. Any time the Nazis came around here, I was out demonstrating. I and other anti-Nazi activists carried signs, shouted insults, and sung songs. I went with a group of people from New York City to protest neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois. We all went on a bus and we slept in a rabbi's house on sleeping bags. The rabbi said he thought we should just ignore the Nazis but I argued back. "Hitler started with 7 people. They said it couldn't happen there and it did. It CAN happen here." 

We demonstrated, and I carried some of the materials and made phone calls for people, because it was the Jewish sabbath. I functioned as a "shabbos goy," for religious Jews who wanted to be there with us but who also needed to follow their own religious restrictions.

On the bus back home, somebody made a comment that it was "easy for Christians to be Nazis." I was very, very angry, and I retorted: "You don't have to be Jewish to hate Nazis." (It was a takeoff on an ad for bread that was around at the time: "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's.") Then, I exploded in fury. I pointed out that the Church that I had attended taught me that it was wrong to kill other people and that made it harder for me to be a Nazi ever. Just because I am Christian, that does not, ever make me a Nazi or like a Nazi supporter.

Look, this Christian anti-Jewish stuff really bothers me! I was never taught all that crap about the "Jews killing Jesus." It was the Romans, pure and simple. It doesn't matter if the Sanhedrin instigated it. The Romans did the dirty work. 

And nowadays, I always declare: "This anti-Semitism is crazy. Jesus was a Jew. He lived as a Jew. He died as a Jew. He never meant to be anything but a Jew." All we Christians are worshipping a Jew.

So any so-called Christians who hate Jews are really anti-Christians. And any Jew who likes Nazis is a sick self-hater. That's the bottom line here. Hitler and Mengele were anti-Christs. 

Now the sad truth is that, in its long history, the Church did a number of things that were evil. The Crusades, the Inquisition, collusion with the Nazis...all these things are bloody, profoundly evil parts of the Church's history. They were part of the many reasons that I became unchurched. But, Pope John Paul II, in his youth, was a supporter of the Jews during World War II, even as the then-Pope Pius was colluding with the Nazis. Even as the Church stayed silent on the Nazi genocide, there were individual nuns and priests who gave their lives to help save Jews. There were righteous Christians, even during that dark time. In Israel there are trees for Righteous Gentiles.

I don't like the Church saying that homosexuality is wrong. I believe it's genetic. I don't agree with Catholic theology on this. There, I've said it outright! But does that mean I have to hate the whole Church? Do I have to hate my husband's gentle aunt (the nun) and sweet cousin (a devout Catholic)? Do I have to hate the new Pope too? 

Will the Church do nothing good at all for people who are suffering, such as those who are in countries at war or people who are mired in poverty? Cannot the Church be an ally in these areas? Why should I not let this be so?

It's hard being caught between these extremes. It's hard having my New Age, liberal heart and soul being condemned so often and so roundly. I know that Pope Francis doesn't believe in gay marriage in the Church. That was clear to the world from the first day of his election. It's one of those "agree to disagree with," unchurched areas in my life.

As a Cardinal, Pope Francis had initially agreed to let Argentina have gay marriage in the civil sphere but refused it in the Church. That is, until the extremists pulled him back and made him start talking nonsense about the Devil.

Today, Pope Francis gave a message to the public. It's really worth a read. Don't just go past the link here. If you can possibly read it, I entreat you to do so. This message touched me so deeply that I cried.

Here Pope Francis encourages people to step outside themselves and be compassionate and kind. He says: "God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks with mercy: our merciful Father. God thinks like a father who awaits the return of his child and goes to meet him, sees him come when he is still far away." Mercy! Oh that is exactly what I need today!

He expands on this:

God thinks like the Samaritan that does not approach the victim to commiserate with him, or look the other way, but to rescue him without asking for anything in return, without asking if he was Jew, if he was pagan, a Samaritan, rich or poor: he does not ask anything. He does not ask these things, he asks for nothing. He goes to his aid: This is how God thinks. God thinks like the shepherd who gives his life to defend and save his sheep.

Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes—what a pity, so many parishes are closed!—in our parishes, movements, associations, and to "step outside" towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith. Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.

May you all live these days well, following the Lord with courage, carrying within a ray of His love for all those whom we meet.

Instead of focusing on all the polarities and controversies, Pope Francis asks us to come together with mercy and love. He doesn't assume that people who are different are necessarily "evil." They may be lost, they may know something that we have yet to learn, or they may simply be different.

How much kinder these words from a Catholic Pope are than the cruel words of the extremists who believe "my way or the highway"!

At this moment in time, I'm more inclined to step a little bit further into the Church and see what is happening there. I listen to Pope Francis. I try to learn from him. Eventually, he's going to have to get to the hard issues. It's not going to be fun for me when he gets there. But I can tell you this. I don't think he is going to throw mean brickbats at us. He's not going tell us to get the Hell out of his Church. He is not going call us hypocrites or supporters of the most evil beings that ever walked the earth (Nazis). He's going to tell us that he disagrees with us and he's going to explain why he believes as he does. But he is ALSO going to realize that we too have our own beliefs and consciences and that we are all trying to get on our own roads to salvation ("all of which are valid," according to Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach).

All I can do is thank Pope Francis for that kind message. I really needed this when yet another friendship is breaking because of extremism. G-d Bless you Pope Francis, with all my heart and soul.



Papal Real Estate

The Huffington Post is keeping up with all of Pope Francis' moves. I got this one just now.,b=facebook

I was going to talk about the environment and a few other topics, but then this one came out. It is startling to say the least—and yet, I predicted it. I said to my friends and family: "This guy is NOT going to want to live in the Papal Palace. It will drive him nuts." Well, that's my casual way of talking to people I know—no disrespect for Pope Francis intended here.

What do we learn today from Pope Francis?

We learn that he is a man who shuns any kind of frippery. He is not comfortable in what I would call "a fancy, schmantzy place." In this era of McMansions, this is going in the opposite direction. It's asking: "Who needs a gigantic place with all kinds of elaborate things in it?" It's saying he will take what he needs to do his job and leave all the extras behind.

Quite honestly, I love collecting things. I love the big rooms in my apartment. I'm no different than most people that way. While I don't want anything elaborate, I'm not exactly living plain. There are pictures on my walls, crocheted blankets all over the place, enough pillows to satisfy an Arab, and all sorts of knick-knacks and geegaws (what they call artistic clutter) everywhere.

I'm not much for dressing up, but I love a pretty environment. I love the many gardens in our apartment complex. I enjoy the view of the trees outside my window. Yet, I don't think I would want to live in a palace. That would be too much.

Yesterday, I thought about all the dishes in my closets and all the extra scarves that I make just because I like to make them. Do I need these things? Do I even want them? Aren't there are lot of things in my apartment that are just taking up space and doing nothing but collecting more dust to bother my sinuses?

When my husband's aunt, Sister Paula, died, the nuns were giving away her few possessions to her family. Thinking of a small inheritance that had been mentioned previously, I was hesitant to inquire about it; yet, I was curious. So I said something about her "estate" to the other Sisters. And they said, "this was her estate," meaning these few objects, including some art she had done and also the beautiful life that she had given to Jesus. While I was left wondering about the inheritance and about a blanket I had made for her, I did know that the nuns were correct in what they said. 

Then, they sent us a box with even more treasures—more art, letters and pictures from family members, rosary beads, Bibles, and more. Many of the beautiful things that our much-beloved Aunt Paula treasured in her long and productive life were in that box. Even some of our gifts were in that box—but not that blanket...

Much as I would have loved to have that blanket, I assumed that it had gone perhaps to another Sister who had admired it. Or maybe it went to a poor person in the parish. Perhaps the person who had told us about an inheritance was mistaken.  

But so what? We had all these other precious items from her. I especially loved a plaque with a painting of the my husband's Spaight family ancestral home in Derryfadda, Ireland. Months later, when we learned that this plaque had been given to Aunt Paula by another relative, I scanned it on my computer, and we returned the plaque to the original giver. I hated to let it go, but, in a way, I loved to let it go too, because it would bring comfort to the man who had had it made for Aunt Paula.

Then, one day, a few months later, my husband walked in the door with a broad grin on his face. The inheritance had actually been real and it was coming our way. Divided between her two nephews (my husband and his brother), our portion could finance a trip to Ireland. Oh how we planned that trip. Passports, plane and hotel reservations, maps, searches on the internet for sites to see, we were at it almost 24/7! It was all set. Then my best friend died unexpectedly, and I broke my ankle in three places. The trip was off. I wouldn't be well enough to travel.

I was too busy recovering to feel terrible about my missing our first—and probably only—trip to Europe, but I did feel bad for my husband who was stuck taking care of me and missing this longed-for trip. So what did my husband do? He went on his blog and described in great detail a series of adventures we had in Ireland—all in his fertile imagination. It started here...

Paddy's Place: Fantasy Ireland

So, G-d didn't want us to go there yet. But instead we were given another gift. A creative door opened up, and my husband started writing and writing and writing. He's writing a book now. And—nudge, nudge, nudge—I the editor/writer realized that I was letting my own literary talents lie fallow. "St. Jude," I prayed, "please give me something to write about. I don't know what to write about."

Then on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis stepped out to greet the crowds that awaited him. And THAT was when all this Pope-related blogging began. St. Jude had answered my prayer. But instead of me starting with my favorite causes, it was about the Pope. Well, that just shows how G-d works in mysterious ways. 

By not moaning and groaning about a lost trip to Ireland but by being patient and letting G-d decide when it will be time for us to go there, we received gifts beyond compare. We received gifts of creativity and joy. And Aunt Paula's inheritance waits for us when the time is right. Wow, I wish we could afford a trip to the Vatican too—just to be there and see Pope Francis. After all, he gave me this gift of inspiration. But I will gratefully, joyfully accept whatever G-d decides.

How does this relate to giving or giving up things? Most of us can give up some things. And ALL of us—no matter how poor we might becan give of ourselves—our love, our sweetness, our creativity, and our empathy. We just have to give up a bit of our egos and our lust for consuming things, and more things, and more things. 

Is this about me? Yes, it is! It's about you too. It's about almost everybody.

While we may not be ready to give up our cherished possessions and go wholesale into plain living, might there be things that we can let go of? Are there clothes and objects that poor people can really use better than we can? Are the churches collecting such things to give to the poor? 

Where can I unload a somewhat-incomplete set of dishes and extra scarves? 

Churches, get ready! A lot of people out there may start asking similar questions. At least a whole lot of Catholics are likely to. And, yes, there may also be we many unchurched souls who find a peculiar resonance with this new Pope because of his desire to strip the Church of its fripperies. We too may want to do a bit of stripping in our own lives as well. We may want to make our own real estate simpler and cleaner to let in G-d's gifts.

Irregardless of the personal choices we may make, we can admire Pope Francis for setting a good example of how to be more humble and how to appreciate what we do have. Pope Francis gives a precious gift of wisdom. Let us try not to waste it.



Jesus and the Law of Karma

 It looks like the Huffington Post likes to post on my page. Today, this one showed up:

This picks up on the themes we have been exploring about the opportunities we are given to do the right thing and correct our past mistakes. Even the smallest events may present us with such an opportunity and show us that the universe (aka G-d) appreciates a good turn.

I had lost my keys, and was using my husband's keys. I was really worried about those lost keys, because I didn't want to get robbed, and I needed them to get in and out of our apartment. Still and all, life had to go on. My husband and I went out, and, as we were walking down the block, all of a sudden, we noticed a baby carriage rolling away toward the gutter. Not even thinking, I ran over and grabbed the carriage and stopped it from rolling into the street. My husband helped me steer the carriage back to safety. Needless to say, the baby's parent was very happy that we had done this. I was glad too—who doesn't like saving a baby? When I got home, there was a note slipped into my mailbox to go to a certain apartment because someone had found my keys. "Now that's instant karma," I declared. I knew somehow that I was receiving some kind of thanks for my previous action. I didn't do it for thanks, but I got thanks just the same.

This kind of event happens all the time. A person may not get thanks from where they should come from, but, instead, G-d answers. So, when the Evil One tells us that there is nothing we can do, it's clear that this totally untrue. We are always given opportunities like this—small and big—to make something better. Jesus said it best: "Ye reap what ye sow." One could just as well call it the Law of Karma.

When we see something wrong, we may very well be offered a challenge to do something about it. Even if it's only to walk in a protest, do an e-action for a cause, give money to a charity, or stop a stroller from going into the gutter, the opportunities are endless. We are not totally powerless. We can say "no" to things that we do not believe in. We can say "yes" to things that we cherish.

Hillary Clinton once famously said, "it takes a village." Yes, it does. It takes each and every one of us always grabbing any opportunity to make things right. It takes every one of us deciding, repeatedly, that we will not tolerate the things we think are wrong. We won't let racists tell us that our families cannot have friends and spouses of different ethnicities. We won't let people pick on our friends and family or our neighbors and coworkers. We won't let anybody bully anybody else. We won't vote for people who don't care about the "47%." We won't let the loudest, nastiest person win.

We should try to understand the other side of issues, but that does not mean that we should abandon what we hold dear to us. I'm still at the crossroads between the Church and the outside for that very reason, because my conscience will not let me be anywhere else. Still, I would rather hear the voice of Pope Francis, than that of hatred and cruelty.

Every action that we take, in essence, is a prayer. It's a prayer to G-d, saying what is in our souls. Knowing this, Pope Francis reminds us that we should let our prayers speak louder than the shouting of the Evil One.


 Survival of the Spiritual Fittest

This showed up on my Facebook page today:


I thought it was a quote from Jesus, but the source claimed that is was from Pope Francis. I agree totally with this statement down to the very core of my being. If you were to destroy every bit of me and leave nothing but my soul (which is indestructible), this belief would still be there.

Jesus said: "What you do to the least of Me, you do to Me." Why is this significant?

At the heart of religion is a yearning to free ourselves from human suffering—at least the kind that does nobody any good. There is a desire for freedom and also for security. These two goals are not always "in synch" with one another. Sometimes, a person is forced to sacrifice one goal to meet the other one. This is because we live in a world where people who try to be free are often deprived of their security. Most people will opt for their security because, often, this means their very survival is at stake. Others will opt for it because they are comfortable and want to stay that way. And still others want to gain and retain their power over other people. The strong prey on the weak in a Darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest.

Indeed, some people cite Darwin's theory as a reason for their consuming lust for power—they want to survive and they want to be on top of the food chain.

Yet, what they do not realize is that Darwin was being descriptive instead of being prescriptive. Is it any wonder that poor Darwin shrank in terror when considering whether or not to publish his theory? He did do so only under duress, after much agonizing soul searching that made him physically sick. The theory was going to come out anyway from another person, so he took responsibility and published it first.

Yet, when we talk about the fittest what are we actually talking about? Physical survival? Status? Domination? Pope Francis invites us here to consider another kind of fitness—spiritual fitness. He suggests that we hurt the very being that we say we worship—Jesus Christ—when we harm the weakest people or dismiss their needs. Although it is not said outright, it is implied that we damage our souls' fitness for spiritual survival when we hurt other people.

Social Darwinist thinking is very much in evidence among Christian fundamentalists.  Calvinist-like, they use the concept of predestination to rationalize their disdain for the poor. The poor are not of the elect, according to this doctrine. And, in this, these fundamentalists are no different than the old Hindus who believed in a caste system. The old Hindus' excuse was that the poor and weakest people had "bad karma."

But, I ask, what's to stop us from helping people who need it? Even if they are not of the elect, even if they have bad karma, what do we really have to lose by extending our hands to help lift suffering people from their misery? Oh we might lose some status or some extra comforts in life. However, we stand to lose our souls in the unholy bargain, if we neglect this spiritual imperative.

Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus fed the poor and healed the sick. Jesus even raised the dead. If we claim that Jesus has a place in our hearts, we need to consider this. While I am no Bible thumper, I still feel that this message resonates with what I know of the Catholic Church's teachings. What is more, this message ALSO resonates with we unchurched souls who work in progressive movements. We don't even have to love Jesus (although I do) or believe in religion (I believe in G-d), to know that our collective purpose on this earth is to help one another. What else do we have to do? I cannot think of anything better.

I've never met a truly happy person who ignored other people's needs. Most of the time, people who just go on their so-called merry way, are angry and miserable. Like  dragons, they hoard their gold for no purpose except to be in caves with it and to spout angry fire at anybody who dares to approach.

Yet, people who help others are happy. The old Bob Dylan quote is true: "You gotta serve somebody."

Once again, Pope Francis, in his ecumenical way, reaches out to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This is one of those truths that he would identify as rightness graven on the human soul. The rightness can be recognized by anybody.

This unchurched ex-Catholic hears Pope Francis and responds: "YES!" 


A Bit of Papal Suffering

The only significant (if you want to call it that) news item that I came across was on CNN. It was reported that Pope Francis called up an Argentine newspaper to cancel his subscription, because he wasn't going to be living in Argentina anymore. The CNN source said that the Pope cried when making this call.

Doubtless, since the center of the Church moved to Rome, all of the non-Italian Popes felt sad at leaving their homelands. Doubtless, they cried too. It's only human. Much as one may appreciate being elevated in rank or even simply being willing to accept responsibility for such elevation, ties to one's home are hard to give up.

So what's the difference here? Just a small thing: The Pope made the call himself and let his feelings show. This is so unlike the image of the Catholic religious always being "in control" and not letting emotions come into the picture when dealing with the public.

In private, I have seen a religious cry and confess being afraid. I'm not going to "out" the person but just say I did my best to remind the person that, after giving a life to Jesus, that person's soul was in no danger of Hell. I did my best to say that G-d was there and that G-d's grace would help.

But here, once again, we have something a bit different in the image. The Pope was not above making the phone call and taking responsibility, no matter how painful, of cutting his own home ties to take on his new role. And he was not above expressing human emotion. 

Nor was Jesus Christ. He did weep in the Garden of Gethsemane. He did beg his Father to "take this cup" from him. And he did cry out, "Father, why have you forsaken me." Even though he knew that his mission was to die on the Cross, he still felt the all-too-human feeling of being left to suffer and not always being able to understand clearly why this was so.

St. Francis of Assisi also cried at times, because he was agonized by the sight of human suffering.

This is a good thing to think about on Palm Sunday. 

We are so close to Holy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter. I don't agree with glorifying suffering and purposely causing oneself to experience it (such as using hair shirts and engaging in self-flagellation). That is simply another form of gluttony, vainglorying oneself to gain religious "points" with G-d.

However, accepting suffering when it comes as a consequence of doing the right thing is another story altogether. This small story of papal suffering by cutting home ties may not be as glorious as dying like St. Joan of Arc, but it does remind us that suffering does happen for a reason at times. The report also reminds us that it is very human to feel the pain and express it. It is not sinful to do this. What is sinful is running away when we can stand a bit of discomfort or suffering to achieve a greater good. 

Most of us are not destined for Sainthood. As I said in the post about the feet washing, I'm certainly no candidate for that. There are realms of suffering that even the best of us cannot endure, agonies that will cause us to run away in fear or collapse. But between that extreme and trying to avoid all the consequences of doing right, there are many choices and opportunities for us to put up with some pain when it is necessary to fight for human justice, or to help or defend another person. We can at least try to accept these opportunities when they don't threaten our survival or the survival of others around us. Remember, when Pope Francis was a Cardinal, he even told a couple of priests to stop going into the slums because their lives were in danger. He felt that there was nothing to be gained but deaths that would not change anything at all.

Most of us are not like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mahatma Ghandi, but we can still make choices between the extremes. We can extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones to help others. This is what Pope Francis reminded me of today.

Relativism and the Rorschach Blot

 In an article, published by National Review Online, entitled "Pope Francis and the Return of Natural Law," Samuel Gregg offers a counterpoint to much of the media coverage of the new Pope. In place of the ecumenical tone of most of the reports and analyses, Gregg makes the case that, despite the gentle beginnings of Pope Francis' leadership, anyone expecting him to be a "Gaia-worshipping baby boomer" is in for a nasty surprise.


He cites Pope Francis at length:

But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism,” which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.

And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.

Gregg calls this statement a return to the concept of right and wrong somehow being hardwired into the human psyche. He states that Pope Francis is weighing heavily against the moral relativism of modern times.

Quite naturally, the New Ager in me rises up and cries out: "Oh no! This is, not so." But another part of me warns: "Yes, what Gregg says is true." Finally, a third part of me says: "Both are true." I begin to realize that, in a way, Pope Francis is a little like a Rorschach blot. Each person sees what he or she wishes to read into the Pope.

How can "both be true"? Talk about "moral relativism!

It is clear that the Pope doesn't like people just going around "doing their own things" with little regard for G-d or other people. Obviously, he believes that there is a truth that is discernable to everyone. Mr. Gregg rightly asserts that Pope Francis is sticking to Catholic doctrine. Hippies and tree-huggers beware if you think the Pope is going to stand around with birds on his shoulders and make the peace sign for everybody, no matter what they are doing. It isn't going to happen. 

But it's not only the New Age folks that are in for it. The message is also for dictators, rich "fat cats," and bankers. It's for CEOs who run their companies like little banana republics. It's for leaders who show no heart for anybody else. It's for warmongers and terrorists and racists of any stripe. It's for selfish people who put down other people to make themselves seem bigger and better. It's for people who waste time seeking pleasure without responsibility. It's for all liars, hypocrites, and haters. Everybody is going to get a moral slap on the cheek. All of us are going to be shamed a bit. And, Bob Dylan's Chimes of Freedom are going to flash for all of us who have been marginalized in one way or another.

We can  perceive clearly that there is, indeed, a terrible spiritual lack in the world, "if everyone can claim exclusively his own rights," and we stop right there. However, there is more that follows these words. Pope Francis adds after the comma: "without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth." The Pope's unfortunate use of "his" here should not be taken to mean only men are doing this. There are plenty of women who act the same way.

Let me be guilty of a bit of "deconstruction" here and read my own meaning into this statement. My own moral code has always been that something is wrong if it hurts other beings (people, animals, plants, the earth). There are different ways to interpret that. 

For example, if one wants to remove a nuclear plant from an area—that sounds like a very responsible thing to do. It will eliminate a source of danger and pollution from the area. However, the people who held jobs that plant will be unemployed, and the area will be bereft of a source of inexpensive power. Does that mean the plant should be allowed to remain? My bias says "no," but there is a part of me that realizes that there will be consequences that need to be dealt with. What will we do for the jobless people? How will supply the area with inexpensive energy? Herein comes the infamous "moral relativism," and the lack of clarity, of absolute truth. There is always more to a situation that meets the eye.

As Pope Francis said, he wants to keep to the Catholic doctrine, but he wants to dialogue with people who don't believe in it or practice it. He wants to think about changes and what they might mean. As a Cardinal, he was willing to "render to Cesar what is Cesar's" regarding gay marriage. He is willing to think about cultural change regarding priestly celibacy. He wants to talk to Muslims, Jews, and atheists. He acknowledges the existence of moral relativism and respects that there are other truths that people have discovered.

I believe he realizes that some of us who are "doing our own things" do have values and are concerned for other people. He will adhere to the Catholic way—not with hatred for the rest of us. We hippies and tree huggers won't get everything we want within the Church—far from it—but we will get something that we have not gotten for a long, long time. We will get a respectful and caring ear that listens to—and hears—our concerns. And some of these concerns may actually be addressed.

It is time to stop thinking in such polar terms. It is time to stop thinking about absolutes, about all or nothing. If we are ever to have any peace on this earth, we have to be willing to be strong within ourselves and yet flexible enough to bend a little to meet one another. It's high time, perhaps to stop expecting and to let ourselves be surprised instead. It's time to approach Pope Francis with a little bit of moral relativism within ourselves instead of trying to be self-righteous.

Will the Pope speak for me, an outsider? Sometimes, but not always. And sometimes will be so much better than never. 


Leaving the Comfort Zone to Build Bridges

Yahoo News reports that Pope Francis has called "for more dialogue with Islam, and offered an olive branch to China and other countries that don't have diplomatic relations with the Holy See."


This was the Pope's first foreign policy address, made to ambassadors from 180 countries who do have diplomacy with the Vatican. Explaining that the word "pontiff" means "bridge-builder," Pope Francis emphasized that he wanted to work for the poor while being a bridge-builder among peoples.

Once again, stepping out of the traditional "comfort zone," the new Pope says that he even wants to dialogue with Islam and "deepen the church's outreach to atheists." What a contrast with former Pope Benedict characterizing Islamic teachings as "evil and inhuman."

I'd say Pope Francis has his work cut out for him. It's not easy to establish diplomacy with other countries, especially those who do not share the same beliefs or people who profess not to have any belief in G-d at all.

Standing at this crossroads between traditional religion and New Age beliefs, I find myself defending believers and atheists alike. Both throw verbal brickbats at one another that are sometimes quite harsh. The believers get all righteous, sure they are walking right next to G-d and that they know G-d's will. The atheists express disgust at the often-backward views of the devout and say that only atheism is rational, that believers are irresponsible and uncaring.

None of this is true. People are much more complex than that. We all come out in spots rather than being uniformly consistent, rational, and spiritual. There are sweet, ethical atheists and mean preachers. There are atheists who profess their atheism with a righteousness to rival any preacher anywhere. And there are devoutly religious folk who, like Pope Francis, attempt to understand and value beliefs that are different.

Where do I stand amid all this swirling chaos of beliefs and non-beliefs?

Electic. That word just keeps on coming up. I believe in G-d, but yet I am not a member of any church. I want to know about what people believe in. I want to know how they practice their beliefs. And I want to respect the non-believers among us as well. 

It is not an easy task to step outside of one's comfortable set of beliefs to embrace other people and dialogue with them. I've tried it often, and sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded. I was never, ever comfortable doing it. I always felt like it had to be either I was a nutcase or the other person was a nutcase. Seeking the echo of my own ego, I would proclaim how "backward," "absurd," "unfair" and "wrong" other people's beliefs were compared to my supposedly "enlightened" views.

But, as I get older, and (I hope) wiser, I am learning to be more gentle in my appraisals. I am learning that behind the statements are human beings with feelings that can be hurt by harsh judgments just as I can be hurt by them. I am learning, ever so slowly, that most people are doing their best with what they know and feel. By having a real dialogue with such people—as opposed to talking at them—I may be doing some "enlightening," but I am also being enlightened by them as well. 

Perhaps this is something Pope Francis knows about. He seems to seek knowledge and not think that he is infallible (so-called "papal infallibility" notwithstanding). In opening up such dialogues, he also gives us outsiders a look at some of the things that we can share with the Catholic Church, if not everything. He suggests that we may coexist in peace with one another. Already, he is reaching out to me, tugging me out of my own comfort zone.

G-d Bless Pope Francis for even trying! As I say, it's a hard task. It's uncomfortable, but he is a religious who refuses comfort.


 A Distasteful Papal Responsibility

A story in yesterday's Catholic Online (News Consortium) reports that Pope Francis plans to wash the feet of 12 young prisoners in a facility "on the outskirts of Rome." In addition, he will kiss the feet of these young felons.


Usually this feet-washing is performed in St. Peter's Basilica or in the Church of St. John, which is the Pope's church. But Pope Francis will, instead, go out of bounds to Casal del Marmo's prison to do it.

While this ceremony is known among Catholic religious, it is not so well-known among laypeople—in fact this was the first I had heard of it, although it was reported that, when Francis was a Cardinal, he did the same for patients with AIDS. My response to it is simply this: "GROSS!" I can't stand feet, even clean ones, and I've never been known to wash anybody else's feet—let alone kiss them. I cannot even stand my own toenails.

Although this is not a new act for our new Pope, his election has brought knowledge of this ceremony to the lay world, making me wonder how many other things must popes do that are not exactly enjoyable. How many popes must have wanted to vomit from the smell of people's feet?

I like that, per the style that Pope Francis is establishing, he is going "outside the box," leaving the usual papal comfort zone to perform this distasteful task. He is showing symbolically that he cares enough to come to the prisoners instead of having them brought to him. 

I can only hope that the felons whose feet are thus washed and kissed will be inspired to improve their lives and do better, knowing that the head of the Catholic Church bestowed this honor on them. I would probably want to refuse it because I know I'm just not good enough for anybody to do this for me. It's too disgusting. What is more, I hope Pope Francis' sense of smell is not like mine. 



Of Priests and Pedophiles Come What May

This article in today's Huffington Post tackles the issues of pedophilia and celibacy for priests.


In the article, author Dominique Mosbergen reports on an interview the then-future-Pope had in 2012 with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary. At that time, as a Cardinal, Pope Francis stated that he did not want to change the celibacy rules for priests because they had been working for the Church for "ten centuries" but expressed hardline views regarding pedophilia.

On the celibacy issue, it appeared as if there was a bit of room for potential change at some point. " 'If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons, not so much as a universal option,' " he had said to Skorka.

On the pedophilia problem, "Bergoglio told Skorka in 2012 that child sex abuse should never be tolerated or swept under the carpet, and that church leadership 'must never turn a blind eye. . . .[and that you] cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person.' "

Notably, there was no discussion about the status of nuns ability to marry. So, what can we make of this? Perhaps if enough pressure is applied from more-liberal factions within the Church, perhaps priests may gain the rights that all other religious have to marry. I would hope that the activists would also include nuns in this.

What we MAY see—what is more likely—is a possible kind of "housecleaning" to rid the church of the pedophiles. Will this happen? Will it be successful? All eyes are on the Church regarding this issue and the watchers are from all ends of the spectrum from conservative to liberal.

Evidently, the trail left by Pope Francis when he was a Cardinal is full of interesting—and somewhat contradictory—views. It appears he may have the Eastern propensity to look at issues from more than one viewpoint simultaneously (the "yin" and the "yang").

It is one thing to make statements to a reporter when in a different position and another thing to actually make real changes in a new position. We liberals can hope that Pope Francis might do this. Everything is still too new to judge at this point. It's tantalizing and fascinating, which is why I started this page on this blog.


"We've Been Sequestered"

A new summary on Yahoo News characterizes Pope Francis as someone who is moderate in policy, yet conservative in theology, as per his Jesuit roots.

See: Accessed March 21, 2013.

In the summary, author Nick Squires also says: 

"His modest lifestyle also raises the prospect of a radical culture clash with the pomp and circumstance of the Vatican, which is matched only by the British royal family for its love of costume, ceremony, and tradition.

"Pope Francis, on the other hand, 'takes his vows of poverty very seriously,' says the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Vatican expert at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington. 'It will be a challenge to live this sort of simple lifestyle in the Apostolic Palace,' he says. 'This may be very threatening to the papal court, especially those who like to dress up.' "

This lack of ostentation impresses me a lot. I hate dressing up with a passion. I regard it as a lot of bullfeathers. I know some people really enjoy it, but I don't think it should be taken seriously. It should only be for fun. Careers and status should not depend on people's ability to "dress for success." Neat, clean, and not obscene has always been my guideline. True, it didn't get me very far, but at least I'm comfortable and not unable to breathe in some tight suit and having my face all caked up with paints.

I could imagine Pope Francis questioning a lot of the pomp and ceremony, asking: "Is this necessary? What will this cost? Can't we give that to the poor instead?" That's going up upset the Prada crowd a lot.

All of us have had to do some cutting back. All around the world, people are being subjected to austerity budgets—the poor and middle class, that is. U.S. government workers are being furloughed because of the sequester. But, so far, the rich have not been affected at all.

It's nice to imagine that the rich Vatican MIGHT also have a bunch of religious running around telling each other: "We've been sequestered. The Pope gave us an austerity budget." And it's nice to imagine that the saved funds might flow downward instead of upward, the way they usually do. Will this happen? We have to wait and see what the Pope does. The example he set in his pre-Pope life suggests that something of this nature may occur. It may not be something big and obvious to all, but it may cause a lot of ripples at the Vatican.

I hope so. And I hope that the rest of the world might sit up and take notice.

Another Hope for the Pope Story

Here's an article by a writer ()
who sees it almost the way I do.

I found THIS outstanding:

"A good example of this happened yesterday when Pope Francis happened to come across Cardinal Bernard Law at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

"This is the Cardinal Law who was forced to resign in 2002 as Boston's Archbishop after it was revealed that he had covered up cases of child sexual abuse by some 250 priests within his diocese. The Vatican's response? A promotion. Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Law to be the Archpriest emeritus at Santa Maria Maggiore.

"Cover up the crimes of the Church, and you get a cushy retirement post in Rome. Nice.

"John Paul II? He was beatified in 2011 -- the third in the four-step process of being canonized a Saint.

"When Pope Francis saw Cardinal Law, he apparently said to one of his assistants, "I don't want him (Cardinal Law) to be coming to this Basilica regularly." The incident was reported by the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. According to the article, when the pope saw Cardinal Law, his face became contorted, and he immediately hurried on.

"The alternative might have been to make eye contact, smile, give a nod and wave. But nope, the pope went with his gut. A regular guy this Francis. Maybe there's hope, after all."

All I can add is: AMEN! A-MEN!


The Populist Pope

This part of my blog is dedicated to Pope Francis. First, a bit of background is in order.