Give It Up!

Over my soon-to-be 73 yers I have had to let go of many friends, careers, family, cherished possessions even understanding of my identity. I’ve shed a few unhealthy addictions, more than a few preconceptions, even conceded — reluctantly — that I’m not always right. Cruising deeper into my eighth decade of circling the sun, spontaneous body aches or episodes of vanishing memory suggest a lot more yielding, giving-way, mini-deaths lie ahead.

Lent 2023 gave me pause. The forty days just past could not have been more different from prior religious practices and disciplines. Probably lethargy. Perhaps a deeper integration of the spirit rather than the letter of the law? A sign of maturity rather than rote obedience? I wish!

Nothing expresses this conundrum better than my largely discarded, dismissed and devalued Lenten practice of fast and abstinence. How strange that seems. Catholic discipline excuses those of us over 65 from the obligation to fast or abstain from meat. Early religious formation explained that this exemption was to preserve the health of the elderly.

Now a self-proclaimed old-timer, I beg to differ! I have come to believe that by the time we merit senior status spiritual practice is either cruising along well on auto-pilot or its truly inconsequential. Whatever, at my age, I still bristle when anyone tells me what to do (didn’t I just say that much more letting go and mini-deaths undoubtedly lie ahead)!

A bright flash pierced my inattentiveness when I happened upon these words by Judy Cannato this week, an author of whom I had never heard:

Even little resurrections that come after choosing to die to fear and egocentricity release the Spirit. When we engage in a lifetime of death and resurrections as Jesus did, we become ever more empowered to do the work God asks us to do.

How humorous that I’d be given this awareness during Easter Week! It sure would have enriched my experience of Lent 2023. Or, would it have?

I’m embarrassed to say, with all the Catholic heritage and sophisticated theological education I’ve been given, I have never really made the connection between fasting/abstaining as a mini-expression of the Creator’s invitation — even when my desire is feeble — to die with Christ that I might rise with Christ, not one festive day in the not-so-far-off future but daily, if ever, in the here and now.

Okay, perhaps that was always the point and was there all the time. Honestly, it never really sunk in! I simply didn’t recognized any efficacious connection with empowering me to do God’s work in the world nor appreciated how fasting and abstaining offers practice for sharing in Christ’s resurrection.

Too many church disciplines and pious practices seem so dismal, hardly more than a regimen to earn our own salvation. How ironic that this renewed awareness was given during Easter Week. Obviously, it’s time to take these spiritual siblings from the shelf, dust them off from years in storage and revive them as efficacious practices for disposing us to God’s grace.

Clearly, Lent 2023 yielded its own fruit despite my inattentiveness. And today, Friday in the Octave of Easter, a weekly day of abstinence might very well be a good place to start — no, not Lent, but starting with the Fridays of the Easter season! Being a vegetarian should provide no out! Excuses and explanations must give way to desire and generosity. For example, I could well substitute abstaining from sugar as an alternative! Creativity welcomed.

If my years have taught me anything it is that time is insistent. There’s so much of which we must let go, yield, give up. Occasions cascade, options narrow. God knows we need the practice.

From this renewed perspective and with only self-imposed obligation, I now choose to abstain, and fast!


Judy Cannato’s fuller reflection is within a Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation.

The Day After

So, it’s the Monday morning after Easter. I’m still mulling over the question, “So what has changed?” Does our celebration of Easter make any difference? I’m concluding, “No, for most it doesn’t! Except for kids who’ve come to look forward to it as a mini-Halloween — Easter baskets just being a smaller version of their Halloween haul.”

I do not mean that as a crotchety old curmudgeon! Rather, it points to the importance and urgency of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. I’ve come to believe that unless people have some sort of a genuine personal experience of the passion and death of Jesus, even the liturgical celebration of the Triduum remains an exercise of pious wishful thinking regarding a reward in the hereafter.

Far too many may even regard going to church on Easter as a pious social practice at best or, at worst, as an obligation for earning heaven. I’m not saying the Spiritual Exercises are the only means to open us to the transforming grace of encountering the Risen Christ! It is simply an especially well honed instrument for disposing us to such grace. When well executed and fully engaged, the Triduum liturgies will also dispose us to the same.

But this morning I’m still taken by what I shared yesterday…

Life is changed, not ended.” echoes through these events and is evident in the world around. But how? How is life — the whole creation — different from yesterday? Easter Sunday cannot be a final, singular, historic event. So much suffering, injustice and death attest to that. Rather change, transformation, resurrection, salvation, reconciliation, peace, joy, justice, pulses within and radiates from all that shares being. Resurrection is now, here, today if anywhere, ever!

Gerard Manley Hopkins captured it best when suggesting Easter as a verb. If yesterday, if the Triduum, means anything at all it is that Christ “Easters” in us and throughout all creation. That is the only faith that can nurture and sustain us within a world of war, death, suffering and injustice! Christ “Easters” in us, or not at all! We are to be an instrument and locus of that “Eastering” in our world.

Otherwise, we are simply about something as fantastical as the Easter Bunny.


This morning, mulling over the meaning of this day from Washington, DC…

I arrived last evening to be part of mourning the loss and celebrating the life of my niece’s husband (56, died of a massive and totally anomalous brain bleed).  Just saw James Martin’s FB post the Tom Stegman died yesterday, appropriately on Holy Saturday (sublimely perfect — he was not the Christ but shared in such life and love so intimately).

Life is changed, not ended.” echoes through these events and is evident in the world around. But how? How is life — the whole creation — different from yesterday? Easter Sunday cannot be a final, singular, historic event. So much suffering, injustice and death attest to that. Rather Easter, transformation, resurrection, salvation, change pulses within and radiates from all that shares being.

It is now, here, today if anywhere, ever! May we be wrapped in the Mystery of it all.

Finding Our Way

Irishman Padraig ÓTuama, host of Poetry Unbound, wrote something so wise, so consoling, so true-to-my-experience that I simply had to share it here:

During the retreat last week, I took a few walks. One afternoon, Sean, a man I’ve met and kept in touch with from other events, asked if I wanted to go on a hike. Yes. The pathway was covered with gorgeous autumn coloured leaves. Sean knows those pathways well, though, so — mostly — we were able to find the way. But even he was stumped by the way the fading light made old pathways seem unfamiliar. I trusted him, as he laughed at himself when he felt wrong-wayed. I liked his guidance that even though he didn’t know the way, he knew a general direction. We made it back.

I spent years of my life looking for the way, thinking I might find it in some small section of religion. Or, when that faded, thinking I might find it in some small particular practice. The desire wasn’t the problem, the imagination was. The imagination that there was only one way. What I see, over and over, is that the way is made: with failure, friendship, desire, thwarted desire, achievement, limitation, justice, reparation, the long ache of wound, art, ambivalence, and amazement. There is no, the way. There are just the ways we get through.

I encourage you and others who are hungry for wise insight regarding this adventure we call “life” and down-to-earth inspiration for finding our way(s) to check out Poetry Unbound and consider subscribing. Here is a link to Pádraig Ó’Tuama’s complete reflection from which this selection was taken:

Freedom, Responsibility, Choice

Much is being said, and needs to be said, about the Supreme Court decision to overturn the Constitutional right to an abortion. As a Catholic, I know Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago to be consistently pastoral, measured and wise. I was eager to read what he had to say (Link provided below) and found nothing in his statement with which I take issue. Nevertheless, Catholics in good conscience — and I’m one of them — may come to different conclusions about where to go from here.

In a pluralistic society like the United States, it is not the role of government – federal or state – to proscribe through legislation the rights of persons to make moral judgments with which various faith traditions express a broad range of opinion and pastoral counsel. Seems to me, this is a classically conservative view regarding the free exercise of religion as well as the role of government in our lives!

Yes, my personal moral values are well expressed in the statement by Cardinal Cupich and the “seamless garment” teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity of all human life. Yet, our moral lives are not lived within a clear either/or “dualistic” universe. Life is much more nuanced, complicated and downright messy than that!

Yes, all law should be “moral” (though it is patently obvious this is not always the case)! However, not all morality should be codified into law — most especially when there is widespread, well-intentioned disagreement about the rectitude of the principle or behavior in question.

Our Declaration of Independence proclaims each person’s inalienable right to liberty as well as life and the pursuit of happiness. We may — and will — disagree about what this means in practice. We will even “do the wrong thing” from time to time in the exercise of this right! The best and final arbiter for me in this existential mess is the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the ultimate moral standard — a well-formed human conscience.

For better or for worse, this is where we experience the inability and inadequacy of law — church or civil — to provide for the countless nuances and obligations of moral behavior. Consequently, as a person with deeply held Catholic moral convictions, I do not believe it is the role of any faith tradition — no less government — to prescribe that a person can or can’t make this or that moral choice regarding deeply personal and socially contested matters. Surely the moral life – mature responsibility for our most consequential choices – requires more than following the rules or deferring to enshrined moral principles.

The Church’s track record is spotty at best. Where were Catholic voices in defending dignity of human life all the while we tolerated slavery and even fostered segregation well into my lifetime? Why is Pope Francis going to Canada to apologize in person to the Indigenous peoples? It may also come as a surprise that the foundational proposition that human life begins at conception has not always been the uncontested position of the Catholic Church.

None other than St Thomas Aquinas – the quintessential moral theologian for traditional Catholics – followed Aristotle in accepting a process of human development of the fetus from vegetative to animal to human, making early abortion morally permissible. Obviously, we have not always spoken in a univocal voice nor have we always gotten it right or escaped the obligation to adjust our moral convictions!

Today, official Catholic teaching clearly holds that human life begins at conception. This in spite of our track record of clearly not getting it right sometimes, especially when it comes to science or where we would now honestly admit our complicity with immorality. I believe it is futile, even foolhardy, for any church to prescribe their moral conviction be codified into law when there is so much moral and scientific disagreement about an issue such as the beginning of human life. And as we have witnessed for fifty years, there is precious little civility or authentic manifestation of the Reign of God when the essential difference between the role of moral teaching and the rule of law is not respected.

The church to which I belong aspires to be a “field hospital” in the trenches caring for the practical needs of those who struggle. It labors to inform, encourage and support women and men across the broad, ambiguous spectrum of moral choices – some of which are wrenching! It maneuvers always with an air of companionship and compassion, never coercion or condemnation.

For as God gave humans created in God’s own image the freedom to choose right from wrong however imperfectly we may do so; and as we see in the way Jesus accompanied, taught and loved people in the messiness of their lives; I believe a well formed, mature Christianity does the same with humility, civility, conviction, reconciliation and radical love.

Let’s keep the faith!


Here is a link to Cardinal Cupich’s statement:

How Bad Is It?

Now ensconced in that “curmudgeonly old uncle” demographic, I’ve become particularly attentive to holiday gatherings, weddings, even the birth of great-grand-nieces and nephews. I envy the prospects, insights and opportunities of younger generations. And though I try not to belie my trepidation, I twitch at some cultural practices beyond my comprehension or those that jolt my moral conscience.

Being of the generation we are, my husband and I recently delighted in the chance to fold an embossed wedding program into our suit pockets. It seems we reenact that gesture much more often with memorial cards these days! We celebrated all the more in the warm glow of our grandniece’s wedding — the couple’s promises of faithful love, long awaited reunions with family, surprise encounters with friends we haven’t seen in decades.

Only the birth of a baby is better than a wedding! Fortunately we have a family flurry of these as well — flashes of unmitigated joy hold us in an embrace of love. These are all special occasions, liminal moments, transitory times grounding us before an inevitable return to the hum-drum of a daily routine — what we typically call “reality”.

That confounding admixture of exuberant revelry with that which love really looks like day-to-day, moved me to pull aside a favorite nephew-in-law for some honest talk. He’s a career meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Witnessing the youth, promise and expectations filling the banquet room, I needed to know, “How bad is it?” His professional perspective would be unvarnished — if only because we will soon be celebrating the marriage of his son and a fiancé who charmed us with their presence at our table.

Pat’s ever present smile and the Irish glint in his eye revealed his indomitable good humor. “It’s serious, Richard!” With dance music muffling his words, he explained that his attention is focused on North America. Still, he soberly reported that we are “well on our way” to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. We will have winters when Minnesota lakes do not freeze over. It will be worse in the northern part of the hemisphere. The poor will be especially hard hit! My mind reeled while recognizing this is a mere 28 years from today.

Perhaps it is best to hear such sobering assessments in the context of a family celebration of birth or while witnessing the exchange of promises to love one another in good times and bad, in sickness and health, forever! In none of this are we to be naive, delusional or unrealistic. As in marriage, that is not an option!

Whatever hope we may muster has to be grounded in a love that — finally, in the end — is really what its all about! Am I an old curmudgeon for worrying and questioning what gift we are giving to young couples and our newly born?

Surviving Success

Of course, success is to be desired. By virtue of writing or reading a blog such as this we belie, ipso facto, a certain good fortune. This should be a cause for gratitude! Never do we want to take our success for granted.

What follows, at best, should be read as an invitation to reflect a bit more deeply about that good fortune. Without guilt or shame-throwing, how might we look more honestly and holistically at the condition of our lives? No conclusions or prescriptions are offered, no moral judgments, no smug conclusions.

Rather, this invitation follows an intriguing proposition that has continued to rattle my thoughts while reading James Baldwin, A Biography by David Leeming — success carries consequences, some undesirable, some endangering, some we would do well to survive. Of course, Baldwin is not unique in needing to navigate these currents. All truly successful people would likely recount pitfalls strewn along their road to achievement. But here the really provocative issue is how we are to survive success after it is achieved!

What’s so incriminating about the proposition that success needs to be survived is that I am infinitely better at assessing — I resist using the more accurate term, judging — those society clearly deems to be unsuccessful. Who, me? I too easily, and unreflectively, take my personal success and consequent prerogatives for granted. After all, “success” is self-validating is it not?

What has this disquieting awareness and challenge awakened? Well, first, I and most of us are unwitting prisoners of our own story. I look in the mirror and uncritically presume the world looks like me, shares my cultural values and understanding of what constitutes a good life, no less what it means to be human. Preoccupied with my own reflection I fail to appreciate that truth, goodness and success in living encompass far more than “me” exponentially multiplied.

A further self-indictment challenges me to admit that I float along in a dangerous naïveté. Categories, labels, stereotypes easily become my default for making sense of the world. Thus, I am blind to others and to much of creation — never bothering to consider who or what remains invisible in my purview. What kind of imprisonment accompanies a failure to ask what or who is missing from the universe of my creation and awareness?

The full range of consequences accompanying our success will yield realizations and responses as numerous as those who hazard to call the question. Perhaps the only constant is that our successes have tremendous consequences, some we would do no better than to survive.

And truly, the most fortunate to whom success is granted recognize that it never really belongs to us alone.

Spring of Hope or Winter of Despair

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens would be hard pressed to find any who would say these are the best of times…

Despite optimism projected out of Scotland, the world’s top climate analysis coalition warns we are on track for disastrous global heating of 2.4C;

As a retired person living off limited assets I shuttered to learn that prices climbed 6.2 percent in October compared to last year, the largest increase in 30 years;

Action by bishops of my church individually and collectively bely an anti-intellectualism that is, sadly, not uncommon in other sectors of American society today. Many church leaders — not just Catholic — believe themselves to be sufficiently situated to make moral judgments about things they know nothing about and to distrust actual experts and professionals.

A former President recklessly undermines confidence in our elections while the Electoral College, equal State representation in the Senate, passage of laws to suppress voting and carefully crafted gerrymandering assures that we will be a “democracy” where the minority rules;

And there is Covid-19. No longer is there realistic discussion of eradicating the virus. Rather, efforts are directed at transforming the pandemic into a “manageable” epidemic.

Ufduh!!! as we say in Minnesota. There appears to be plenty of evidence to suggest these are the worst of times.

Wisdom broke through the gloom’n’doom in words spoken by Bryan Stevenson in the rebroadcast of a late 2020 interview: “The reckoning that has to happen in the country has to be rooted in a moral awareness, a moral awakening; a consciousness that evolves in a way that we begin to do things that we must do if we’re going to not only save the country, but save ourselves.”

Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, notes what we understand or forget at our peril… injustice, despair and violence prevail where hopelessness persists! Are there solutions for our societal and global crises? Do we have enough hope, confidence and resolve to believe we can do better? Do we? Really?

We truly do become that which we live and believe. Those who despair, hate, exclude or are consumed by fear and anger come to embody it. Scenes from January 6 flash through my mind. Those who truly dialogue, remain curious, build bridges, weave community, embody hope come to personify that which they practice. Teachers in classrooms, volunteers of all stripes, most local government officials, those who quietly do the heavy lifting of caring for others or restoring justice are among the many who call me to hope.

The future — if there is to be one — rests in our individual and collective hands. Will we reap a winter of despair or a spring of hope? Will ours be an age of wisdom, an epoch of belief? It feels perilously up for grabs.


The On Being interview with Bryan Stevenson and Krista Tippett can be found at:

Credit goes to Brian P Horan, OFM for the insightful critique of Catholic bishops and other church leaders.

Weight Loss

During my last visit with the cardiologist I was directed to get back to 185lbs. Yesterday, our rarely used Taylor “Biggest Loser” glared 198.2 back at me. How will I ever make it through Thanksgiving and the Holidays without adding to to my conspicuous girth? Excess characterizes these approaching months, after all. Considerable consternation forced me to consult the calendar — January 8, 2022, my date with cardiac destiny!

Weight Watchers worked well about ten years ago. The Mayo Diet fulfilled its billing when the heart doc first admonished me. But as is the case with most, the weight slowly resumed its upward trajectory once I eased up on the regimen. Earlier this week my husband and I were looking into the phenomenally popular KETO solution. A closer look at the bacon, eggs and fat at its the core soon convinced me it was not the answer for someone already on a hearty daily dose of statins.

During a healthy but more than sufficient breakfast a fresh question interrupted my morning solitude. Perhaps it was the second mug of strong French Roast that inspired the moment. In any case, I found myself asking, “Why do you eat?” Pretty elemental, yes! Perhaps, even foolish! It’s patently obvious why we eat. Yet, the question jarred me by its stark simplicity.

Weight Watchers had me counting points. Mayo focused me on portion size. So many others, like KETO, are primarily about the food — its calorie count, its quantity, its nutritional quality, even the number of calories we burn through exercise. Still, this morning, the ridiculously simple question stalked me, “Why do I eat?”

Surely my ten years of alcohol sobriety influences my curiosity. Countless conversations with others in early recovery inevitably lead to “Why do you drink? Why do I drink?” Implicit are deeper questions: What hunger am I trying to feed or thirst am I trying to quench? What social insecurity, emptiness or void in my life am I trying to fill? What pain or trauma am I trying to medicate, even anesthetize?

Who knows where this fresh insight will go or how I will find myself on January 8. However, attending more to the “why” and less to the “what” seems like a wise and practical strategy approaching a season of conspicuous overindulgence. Ignoring that simple question will certainly result in me being the Biggest Loser.

Tenacity Suited to a Pandemic

Barbara Brown Taylor and the dean of the National Cathedral shared a conversation last evening. I love everything BBT has to say as well as those all too familiar ribes from church-types she deftly sidesteps. Two things really rocked me…

She shared a favorite quote from theologian Walter Brueggemann: “The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you, and this by the grace of God.” Yowzer!!! Sit with that for awhile.

Second, BBT referred to the destruction of the Temple in 70CE as a source of consolation for her at this time in the life of Christianity. The Jewish people had to change, adapt, transform in unthinkable ways. Yet, they endured!

Hmmm… maybe God’s in charge after all; a “jealous God” who will have no truck with idolatry (magic, fantasy or superstition)!

Just some random thoughts percolating this morning on the Feast of the Ascension, that occasion when the departure of the Risen One yet again leaves his friends befuddled!

Are we to simply keep doing what we’ve been doing, frantic to return to what we knew as “normal”? How do we stay true to Christ? How do we avoid being co-opted by a past — not all bad — that needs to fall to the earth and die if it is to yield a rich harvest?

Somewhere in all this is the secure footing for a tenacious hope.