placing ourselves in the passion story




VATICAN CITY Preceded by young people and clergy waving tall palm branches, Pope Francis began his Holy Week liturgies by encouraging people to ask themselves which personality in the Gospel accounts of Jesus passion, death and resurrection they resemble most.”Where is my heart? Which of these people do I resemble most?” Pope Francis asked Sunday as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lords Passion.

via Pope: During Holy Week, ask which Gospel character you resemble | National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis was inviting us to enter into an Ignatian style of prayerful imagining. In the Passion story, who do you most identify with? For me, my heart, mind and gut are united with Mary.

My grand-daughter doesn’t like it when I call her my grand-baby. At the ripe age of 2 1/2, it insults her sense of maturity in relation to her one year old brother. I tried to explain to her that her daddy is still MY baby. “No, Grammy”, she argued. “Daddy’s not a baby!” It was useless trying to explain to her that the strapping young man who is now a wonderful husband and father will always be my baby boy.

One of the most glorious gifts of parenthood is rejoicing in all the accomplishments of our children, from first steps to graduations to careers to parenthood and beyond. One of the hardest aspects of parenthood is suffering with them through the many struggles of life. As wee babies they stole your hearts and never gave them back. Their pain became your pain, and continues to be.

I resist pondering Mary’s agony as her son was tried, tortured, humiliated and finally put to a gruesome death. It is too much to bear. This was her baby boy, now grown and trying to fulfill God’s will in his life. How did Mary find the courage to stay beside him, to remain standing even at the foot of the cross when others had fled? How does a parent survive the breaking of their own heart when they see their child suffer so?

Pope Francis, in his wisdom, knows that nudging us to enter into the gospel with our mind and heart can touch us more personally than soaring theological treatises or lengthy sermons. This is a powerful, yet simple exercise. What about you? Who do you identify with in the Passion readings?

don’t feed the trolls!


The Internet can be a powerful tool for dialogue, a dialogue that could serve the church well. Conversations on ecclesial matters are no longer limited to professional ministers in the church or secret doctrinal offices. Blogs and online discussion boards allow many and varied voices to be heard. But, dialogue is not well served with mud-slinging brawls, mean-spirited comments and hate-filled diatribes.

I spend a lot of time (too much time!) reading Catholic news web sites, blogs and discussion boards. Some are a meeting place of like-minded souls supporting each other in their shared ideologies. These discussion boards can form a valuable community experience and a safe environment. This is a good thing, but it could also prevent a more inclusive dialogue.

The best discussion boards are those that welcome all voices while maintaining civility and respect in the discourse. Good and consistent moderation is the key as is maturity and discretion among the participants. It is sad to see the beginnings of a good dialogue dissolve into childish one-liner attacks that have nothing at all to do with the original topic. Which leads me to the issue of Internet trolls.

What are Internet trolls? Psychology Today, in an article titled Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists provides this definition,

An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response.

The same article referenced a Canadian research that studied the personalities of Internet trolls, wondering if there was a link with “the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism”. Not surprisingly, the connection was a strong one. To quote the authors,

 Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground! 

It’s easy to spot the trolls on Catholic sites. They have no compunction in their venomous attacks. You can challenge their lack of basic Christian charity or compassion to no avail. Respond to them, and they will quickly respond back. You can almost picture them salivating with pleasure at the prospect of a long and dirty debate while you get increasingly more angry and frustrated.

The key is not to be taken in by these scurrilous scoundrels. A dear friend (and Archbishop) once told us that being a Christian never means being a doormat. Yes we can, and should, promote dialogue. Catholics include women and men on all points of the Trad-Lib spectrum and we need to talk in order to better know and understand each other. But, we do not have to listen to, or provide a venue for, those who are unwilling to listen and respond respectfully to others.

If an in-person conversation is going sour, it is often difficult or impossible to walk away without seeming rude. In online discussions we can leave the conversation by simply not responding.

Do not take the bait.

Do not succumb to the temptation.

Do not feed the trolls!


of popes and mercy


Pope Francis never tires of promoting a church of mercy. His recent announcement of a Holy Year of Mercy  has cemented his title as “the Pope of Mercy”. But, wait. Shouldn’t Pope John Paul II be called the Pope of Mercy? After all, didn’t he promote the Divine Mercy devotion and officially proclaim the first Sunday of Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday?

Both popes preached of mercy but their style and approach was different.

In my opinion, the Polish Pope’s personal devotion to the writings and visions of St. Faustina Kowalska should have remained just that. A personal devotion. The church has a healthy skepticism and caution regarding personal revelations and visions. Catholics are never obligated to believe them. Yet, here was the Pope not only actively promoting a devotion, but also fast-tracking its founder to sainthood. It’s unfortunate that the devotion and the message of God’s divine mercy were so closely woven together, for the former often overshadowed the latter.

There was also an irony in all the talk of God’s mercy while the church, herself, was becoming increasingly clerical, authoritarian, and focused on maintaining doctrinal purity within her ranks. During the previous two papacies, there were many who felt the church’s wrath, not her mercy.

And then along came Pope Francis. From the moment he stepped onto the papal balcony, he exuded mercy in both word and deed. He nudged us to go beyond church walls and did so himself. He never tired of writing about and speaking about not just God’s mercy for us sinners, but also the mercy that WE must show as a church. In his March 17th homily at Domus Sanctae Marthae he stressed the importance of mercy and not judgment toward those who had left the church and are now seeking to return,

“And how many times today in Christian communities [they] find closed doors: ‘But you cannot, no, you cannot,'” said the pope, imitating someone who prevents such people from reentering the community.

“‘You have done wrong here and you cannot,'” Francis continued the imitation. “‘If you want to come, come to Mass on Sunday, but stay there, but do not do more.'”

 Summing up how he feels about such a situation, the pontiff said: “That which the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of people, Christians with the psychology of doctors of the law destroy.”

 Francis reflects Jesus’s impatience with the Pharisees of his own day. Over and over again Jesus stressed that the law of love and mercy must always be above man made laws and traditions. Over and over again Francis, too, speaks of the need to show mercy before judgment.

 When this Pope calls us to a much needed Jubilee year of mercy, there is a feeling of optimism that mercy and compassion might begin to flow more freely within our church, and out into the world.

This is the Psalm (145)  in today’s liturgical readings. The response is “The LORD is gracious and merciful”. If the church began to genuinely reflect God’s mercy, what would she look like?

Here is the same Psalm reworded. A vision of a merciful church indeed!

The Church is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The Church is good to all

and compassionate toward all God’s people.


The Church is faithful in all her words

and holy in all her works.

The Church lifts up all who are falling

and raises up all who are bowed down.


The Church is just in all her ways

and holy in all her works.

The Church is near to all who call upon her,

to all who call upon her in truth.