RSSCategory: Catholic Church

Mass in Beijing

| April 12, 2020 | 0 Comments
This post was in my drafts section and was written years ago. I posted it thinking that WordPress would preserve the original date. It did not. So, it is posted out of sequence.
I attended an English Mass in Beijing today. It was the 4 pm service at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in east Beijing.

For the most part, it was identical to Mass at home. The church is very historic, dating from the 1600’s. But it had modern touches, like the flat screen TVs hung on the columns showing the words of prayers and music.

A big difference was the “enforcer,” a young man who stood next to the priest and question certain congregants as they received Communion. They priest occasionally participated in the questioning. Some were denied Communion and one woman had her Communion taken away.

When Breath Becomes Air

| March 13, 2016 | 0 Comments

When Breath Becomes Air is a very deep and thought provoking book by Paul Kalanithi. He was a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in his late 30’s. He wrote the book after he was diagnosed and it was published after his death. It is part memoir, part spiritual and existential reflection. Extremely powerful. I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts about the book.

One persistent thought was how relatively meaningless my life is. This man is brilliant and driven. His description of the process of becoming a neurosurgeon is daunting. The level of commitment and the enormity of the workload are just amazing. I was exhausted just listening to it. My least favorite parts of the book were when he described the actual surgeries, the types of disorders he confronted and the tragedy of many of the cases. But that was clearly necessary to give a full picture of his life. But his involvement in such enormous life and death issues made my life seem somewhat puny.

Add to this his eloquence as a writer in describing actual events and ruminating about the meaning of life and I felt totally inadequate. Continue Reading

The Share Food Network

| February 2, 2015 | 0 Comments
Share Food Network order on its way to those who need it.

Share Food Network order on its way to those who need it.

One of the biggest challenges that any nonprofit faces is how to sustain itself over time.  This is a particular challenge for nonprofits serving the poor.  Since nonprofit social service organizations have always been seen as vehicles for people with means to transfer resources to people without means, the simplest approach was for the nonprofit to find good people with money to donate in support of whatever activity the nonprofit was conducting.  Basically, the model was based on the philosophy of Blanche Dubois from Streetcare Named Desire who said, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  While there are many kind people out there, there’s still not enough to fill the needs of the poor in our society.

The reality is that, in order to be sustainable, nonprofit social services organizations need to build their models on something more enduring than altruism.  This approach is sometimes called “social entrepreneurialism” which seeks to apply business principles to efforts that address social needs.

A great example of this approach is the Share Food Network, a program that provides access to healthy, affordable food to people in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.  Its headquarters are in Hyattsville, but it serves food programs from Baltimore, Maryland to Newport News, Virginia. Continue Reading

You Think Philomena’s Story Was Bad….

| June 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

This past January, I posted a review of the movie, Philomena, which depicts the story of a woman who had a child out of wedlock and was sent off to a convent in disgrace.  The nuns sold her son to Americans who adopted “Tony.”  The movie shows Philomena to be almost saintly in her faith, charity and forgiveness.  The nuns do not come off well, appropriately.

Now, imagine Philomena’s son Tony was totally neglected by the nuns, starved to death and was buried in an unmarked mass grave with 800 other dead children.  This unimaginable horror is the latest revelation from the despicable era in Ireland when there was no sin worse that a sexual sin.  As an observant Catholic, I find it unfathomable that nuns could commit this atrocity.  What possible justification could they find for this kind of behavior?  It makes the Nigerian kidnappings seem almost humane by comparison.

I’m often asked how I can remain faithful to a Church that would commit such acts.  My answer is always the same.  I am faithful to the Catholic religion, not necessarily to the institutional “Church.”  The human beings that run this church are just that, human beings, who can be evil.  This is a story of evil.

As usual, Andrew Sullivan strikes the right cord by unsparingly criticizing the Church for tolerating this abuse while remaining hopeful that exposure of these crimes will lead to a “Christianity worthy of Jesus.”  I can only share his hope.


| January 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Real Philomena

Philomena is an outstanding movie.  It has a plot that is full of surprises and a sensibility that is deep and spiritual.  It tells the story of a Irish woman whose son, born out of wedlock, was ripped from her by nuns in Ireland who were, at best, misguided and, at worst, evil.  Because it dares to expose a true story of bad behavior by the Catholic Church, it has unified both anti-Catholic atheists and conservative Catholics in their interpretation of the film.  Both claim that the nuns represent the Catholic Church and that their evil is the Catholicism’s evil.  Of course, the Catholic critics applaud the movie and the fundamentalists denounce it.

I saw a different movie.  For me, Philomena represents Catholicism.  I draw a distinction between the institutional Church, a human organization, and the so-called “body of Christ,” which is the congregation of the Church.  Obviously, throughout history, the Catholic Church has committed some serious atrocities, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to recent clergy abuse of children.  But I consider true Catholicism to be based on the actual life and teachings of Jesus, not what was decided by a bunch of bishops at the Council of Trent.

By that standard, Philomena represents my Church, or at least the Catholic religion that I observe.  She suffered at the hands of the sanctimonious nuns, just as Jesus suffered at the hands of Romans and sanctimonious Jews.   And, in the end, Philomena forgave her tormentors, as did Jesus.  And she remained faithful, despite doubt.

The best thing you can say about the nuns is that they were profoundly misguided.  What they did was beyond sinful. And the fact they continued their crime was unforgivable…..except by a true Catholic.    But it was people like them that Jesus denounced the Gospels.

Philomena is the only Christ-like person depicted in the movie.  That said, I also admired the atheist reporter, who was fairly principled, albeit cynical, in his atheism.  Not to mention, very funny.

Nevertheless, despite the tremendous suffering that was visited upon her, Philomena forgave the evil nuns and chastised the reporter for his justifiable anger.  Her behavior epitomized the words of Jesus on the cross, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24).  That’s about as Christian as you can get.

Mass in Shanghai

| July 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

St. Ignatius aka Xujiahui Cathedral

I attended Mass at St. Ignatius Church in Shanghai. It is presumably a Jesuit Church. It was much more traditional, in every respect, than Mass in Beijing. In fact, outside of the language, it was more traditional than most of the Masses I’ve been to in the U.S.

I went to the 7:30 am Mass on Sunday, which in the U.S. is usually a short Mass. One American priest said in his homily that he keeps his sermons short for the 7:30 am Mass, because people that come to Mass that early “have things to do.”  Not so in Shanghai. In fact, the 7:30 wasn’t even the first Mass of the day. They had one at 6 am.

This Mass was a full “smells and bells” extravaganza. I was splashed with holy water and immersed incense before the priest even gave the sign of the cross. And the sermon was interminable, even allowing for the language barrier. It went on for about half an hour, where sermons in the U.S. are usually about 10 minutes.

Otherwise, however, I have to say it was a pretty rich experience. The choir and the congregation filled the church with song. And, unlike Beijing, the hymns were traditional western church music, though sung in Mandarin.  I enjoyed the Mass and it was a good view of authentic Shanghai, as I did not see another non-Chinese person in the congregation.


Let he who is without sin….

| March 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

There was no way the new Pope was going to be anything like the reincarnation of Pope John XXIII, the hero of every liberal Catholic, like me.  Any Pope coming out of this College of Cardinals would hold views consistent with the conservative Popes who appointed them, John Paul and Benedict.  There would be no daylight on the sexual issues like abortion, birth control and gay marriage.  My hope was that the new Pope would balance those views with a great commitment to the poor and disadvantaged.  I wanted a Pope who exercised the “preferential option for the poor,” to coin a phrase.  I have some hope that I got that.  Pope Francis does seem to live by my favorite line in the Bible, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me.” Continue Reading

When a retreat fails

| March 2, 2013 | 1 Comment


I am at a Catholic retreat in southern Maryland. It’s an annual parish men’s retreat and I have done it the last two years. I’m sort of an “unlapsed” Catholic who struggles a bit intellectually with religious faith. Still, I’m also a committed Catholic who goes to Mass every Sunday.

My previous two visits were calming and somewhat spiritual. I left feeling renewed and refreshed. And i gained some spiritual satisfaction. Nevertheless, I do sometimes find the full immersion in “God” talk a bit off-putting.
In my mind, a God who created the entire universe, with its millions, if not billions, of galaxies, doesn’t square with the anthropomorphic God described in some of the sessions. “God wants this or God wants that” just doesn’t make sense to me. How can an all powerful, omniscient God “want” anything? I prefer to think of God as utterly incomprehensible to the human mind.

That said, the concept of such a God sending a version of himself to humanity to teach a gospel of love has some logic for me. So, Jesus, I get. And I also believe a God that powerful, can find a way to “care” for every one of the billions of humans on earth and probably quadrillions of extraterrestrials individually. But I don’t think we can possibly ascribe to Him (Her?, It)  human emotions and motivations. Continue Reading

Anniversary of the Vatican Reading

| June 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

Today is the 7th anniversary of my family’s visit to the Vatican in Rome where I was invited to give the reading. It was the Letter from Paul to the Romans, Chapter 6, verses 3 to 11. Today, I’m starting a tradition where I will post this video every year on this anniversary. I’m assuming that anyone who stumbles across this post will have already seen it, so you can move on….

A Jesuit Retreat

| March 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

Sunset over the Potomac at Loyola Retreat House

I spent this weekend at a Jesuit retreat in southern Maryland at Loyola Retreat House, a facility on a bluff overlooking a very scenic bend in the Potomac River. It was a very different experience from the 24 hours I spent with the Benedictines a few weeks ago.

This is not a monastery but a retreat house. The accommodations are the same, very spare, but this time I had a lot of company. This is the annual “Men’s Retreat” for my parish, Blessed Sacrament in Washington, DC. But it’s a silent retreat, so you don’t really have the opportunity to get to know your fellow retreatants. Lots of smiles and nods, but no real conversation. Continue Reading