An American Nun Responds To Vatican Criticism

“Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.” — Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the vice president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa.

Read the transcript and listen to Sr. Pat Farrell’s interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air (July 17, 2012).

Abbot Philip: How to Get to That Inner Space of Peace and Tranquility

In April, our brothers at Christ in the Desert Monastery released a new disc of music titled “Blessings, Peace and Harmony: Monks of the Desert.” They were also interviewed on NPR last weekend about it. I urge you to practice mutual aid by purchasing this music. You will receive much more than you give!

Abbot Philip writes this week about The Cloud of Unknowing and practices of resting in God:

Someone wrote and asked me to write more about how to get to that inner space of peace and tranquility. What concrete steps are useful for reaching/learning to reach this space of inner tranquility? As I thought about that, for me, the most important step is to recognize that I have lost my inner peace and tranquility and need to return to that space where I am aware of God’s presence and where my whole being is quiet in His presence.

Years ago, my brother-in-law, who is a psychiatrist, taught me self-hypnosis. Then later I sat in Zen for some years. Both of these practices taught me a lot about myself, my body and my spirit. One does not have to be into psychiatry or Buddhism in order to practice such techniques. They are simply techniques for calming the body and spirit so that one’s inner being can then rest in the Lord and be aware of His love.

I am a Catholic Christian through and through in spite of early forays into various other expressions. Personally, I have one chair in which I sit when I am not living from that inner center of peace and tranquility in the Lord. I sit there and let myself relax. Sometimes I simply focus on breathing and at other times I focus on the name of Jesus or I use the Jesus Prayer. It is not a matter of pulling myself away from anything else. It is a matter of focusing on one thing. Always I find that if I relax first, then I am able to be aware of God present in that space/time reality. I go to that relaxation with the intention of becoming more aware of His love for me, not just with an intention to relax.

Much of this I also found in The Cloud of Unknowing, a book of the late 1300s. It is based on earlier Christian writings, but has always been popular among those seeking to know God more profoundly and those seeking union with Him. Here is an example from this book: When we intend to pray for goodness, let all our thought and desire be contained in the one small word “God.” Nothing else and no other words are needed, for God is the epitome of all goodness. Immerse yourself in the spiritual reality it speaks of yet without precise ideas of God’s works whether small or great, spiritual or material. Do not consider any particular virtue which God may teach you through grace, whether it is humility, charity, patience, abstinence, hope, faith, moderation, chastity, or evangelical poverty. For to a contemplative they are, in a sense, all the same. Let this little word represent to you God in all his fullness and nothing less than the fullness of God.

For me, always I find that I must begin with composing my physical body: letting go of everything and relaxing my body. Once that is done, then I let my heart be with the Lord, think of the Lord, be for the Lord.After all of these years of seeking God in the monastery, I cannot imagine any other way of living except prayer. I may not be as faithful to prayer as I would like to be. I am not always a very faithful person. Yet in the deepest recesses of my being, I know that this is what God calls me to every day.–Abbot Philip

Read more from Abbot Philip at The Abbot’s Notebook.

Video: Gulf Coasters Sit in at White House to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

As of today, more than 900 people have been arrested at the White House  as part of the Tar Sands Action demanding that President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline and take positive steps to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

(Thanks to Catherine Wang at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for this video.)

Cherri Foytlin, who took part in the Tar Sands Action demonstration in Washington, D.C., said she was directly affected by last year’s BP oil spill and came to Washington to “make a bigger voice and to protect our world.” She calls herself an “accidental activist” who got involved with environmental awareness campaigns after the BP spill, which she says continues to degrade the ecosystems of her home state, Louisiana.

It is clear to me now that smaller, regional groups that have been fighting local effects of oil spills and fighting the oil companies are joining together in the Tar Sands Action. A much larger movement is in the making. It’s a movement that is not going away.

As we head into an election season, President Obama will have to engage directly this “line in the sand.” (Listen to NPR’s story on the Tar Sands Action.)

Joe Uehlin, who served on the UN Commission on Global Warming in the 1980s and 1990s, said, “I saw how our international and national mechanisms have failed us,” Uehlin said “We need drastic action to stop putting carbon in the atmosphere.”

‘Defensiveness and Self-Protection Are Not Gospel Values’

benedictOn Saturday’s Weekend Edition, NPR host Scott Simon talked with John Allen, who reports on the Roman Catholic Church as a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter on the Vatican facing renewed pressure amid charges that Pope Benedict XVI mishandled priest sex abuse cases while serving as archbishop of Munich in the 1980s. Allen calls the scandal “unprecedented” and a “global crisis.” (Listen to the interview here.)

When Simon asked how this scandal has affected Mass-going, financial donations, or dioceses spinning off from the Roman church, Allen responded:

From the beginning of this crisis there has always been the fear that this is going to cause some kind of fundamental rupture that is that it will cause the large number of people to stop going to Mass, it will cause large numbers of Catholic to stop making financial contributions to the church, and that some of them may decide to opt out of the system all together and create a parallel church.

To date the empirical evidence that we have is that really has not happened. At the end of the day the reason for that is fairly simple: Most typical Mass-going Catholics learned a long time ago to make a distinction between what their faith is really based on — which is God, the encounter with Jesus Christ, the supernatural dimension of the church — to distinguish between that and the very fallible human beings who at any given time may be running the show.

Additionally, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote How the Catholic Church Could End Its Sex Scandal in which he said:

The church needs to show it understands the flaws of its own internal culture by examining its own conscience, its own practices, its own reflexives when faced with challenge. As the church rightly teaches, acknowledging the true nature of our sin is the one and only path to redemption and forgiveness.

Of course, this will not be easy. Enemies of the church will use this scandal to discredit the institution no matter what the Vatican does. Many in the hierarchy thought they were doing the right thing, however wrong their decisions were. And the church is not alone in facing problems of this sort.

But defensiveness and institutional self-protection are not Gospel values. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition.

Read Dionne’s whole article here.

T.R. Reid: Universal Health Care Reduces Abortion Rate

reid-healing-of-america150T.R. Reid, a longtime correspondent for The Washington Post and regular commentator for NPR, published a great Op Ed in Sunday’s Post (Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate) on why people who want to lower abortion rates in the United States should be 100% in support of universal health care.

Writes Reid: The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we’re No. 1.

Reid, who is also a Catholic, has been researching health-care systems in industrialized countries for several years in preparation for his book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. Reid includes has a very lovely story in his commentary about Cardinal Basil Hume, who was the senior Roman Catholic prelate of England and Wales when Reid lived in London.

Writes Reid: In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.

The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain’s universal health-care system. “If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed,” Hume explained, “she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, I take a little issue with Reid when he argues “The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that’s on offer now: expanding health-care coverage.” From my location, American churches have been extremely involved in our national health-care debate, especially the Catholic church. But I appreciate his summary of why universal health-care is an issue rooted in basic moral values that nearly everyone can support for the common good.

Writes Reid: When I studied health-care systems overseas in research for a book, I asked health ministers, doctors, economists and others in all the rich countries why their nations decided to provide health care for everybody. The answers were medical (universal care saves lives), economic (universal care is cheaper), political (the voters like it), religious (it’s what Christ commanded) and moral (it’s the right thing to do). And in every country, people told me that universal health-care coverage is desirable because it reduces the rate of abortion.

It’s a great piece, read the whole thing here.