Friday, October 30, 2015

It's been awhile...

"Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been 3 years since my last...Blog post.  I began this Blog in 2011 because I felt the urge to share what was on my heart (and in my mind) regarding what I saw happening in my Church and in our world.  Why did I stop?  I think I wrote in one of my blogs that I needed to "hunker down" and pray about the issues, as I was beginning to feel helpless and hopeless at what I saw happening in our world, and in what I described as "dark days in my Church".

These past few years, I have further cultivated meditation and more specifically, "mindfulness" into my life.  I have been doing yoga for many years, but doing "mindful yoga" has brought that experience to a much deeper level.  Through "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction" or "MBSR", I have learned that the only thing I have control over in any particular moment, is the attention I pay to a particular thing, in a particular moment in time.  And if that means focussing on "breathing in and breathing out", and that's what it takes to center me, then that's what I am called to do, in that moment.

Being mindfully present, allows us to appreciate all of our Blessings and I am humbled at my own.  I have a husband who is truly the love of my life.  He keeps me grounded and at times, "sane", and he loves me probably more than I deserve.  My five children are my greatest accomplishments and each one of them makes me so proud to be their mom.  My husband and I are Blessed with financial resources to care for our children and help launch them into adulthood, as well as help others who continue to struggle in this still struggling economy.

So why am I back? I have begun to have those old familiar stirrings within me, that are bubbling up to the surface and need a constructive outlet.  Additionally, since my last Blog post, we have a new Pope and we are in the midst of a new Presidential Election cycle.  Looking back on some of my blog posts on my frustration at my Church leadership, I can't help but pause and celebrate, that at least my Church, under the wise leadership of Pope Francis, is taking baby steps in addressing some of the issues I was raising three years ago.  My Pastor once said of me, "Mary is like the canary in the coal mine.  She sees things long before others do."  Unfortunately, if there is toxic gas in the coal mine, the canary doesn't come out.  I left this Blog so as not to become overwhelmed by my frustration at the dysfunction in my Church leadership and in our world.  I am back because I see, at least my Church, moving in a direction that reflects more of what I always thought my Church was called to be: a place of openness and welcome for all people and one that challenges us to recognize the dignity of human life from conception until natural death, and all the sticky issues in-between.  Someone once said, "God draws straight with crooked lines".  God has certainly done that with me and my own imperfections, and I am beginning to see this to some degree, in the direction of my Church.

As I look at the issues being discussed in this Presidential Election cycle, I am happy to see that we are also taking "baby steps" on the issue of the pervasive gun violence in our country.  Some of the candidates are finally ready to discuss this issue.  I am saddened at how many more deaths to gun violence it has taken since Newtown, to move this discussion forward.

So I am back because I still feel I have something to offer on these and other issues.  I come with a desire to have a positive impact on issues I care about.  I hope to bring more people into the discussion and I also hope to broaden my own understanding on issues of importance in my Church and in our world.  My biggest weakness is my hypocrisy at times, being less open minded than I claim to be.  Some issues are so important and so "basic" to me, that I often allow my "Irish anger" to get in the way of peaceful dialogue.  I own this.

This Blog is called "Voices in the Vineyard" but I need to share that my perspective on "the vineyard" has evolved over the past three years.  I still identify as a Catholic Christian, but my understanding of how God lives and acts in our world is not limited to "the seven sacraments".  And yes, I have much to say about one of those sacraments in particular, and that will be the topic of my next installment, "Stop Pouring New Wine into Old Wine Skins".  Yes, I'm "going there".  "There" being, "Marriage equality and the need for a new Theology on Marriage".

I hope you'll join me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Calling All Adults...

I, like many people across the Country and around the world, am struggling to know how to respond to the slaughter of 20 young children, and 6 of their teacher/caregivers this past week.  I have been encouraged to read over these past several days, many thoughtful articles and interviews where people seem to understand that we can no long simply call the gunman "a monster" or even simply blame the NRA, for this absolutely horrific tragedy.  This event seems to have created a "paradigm shift" in people's understanding, or lack there-of, of these types of events.  We all seem to finally be understanding that this is bigger than any one "hot political issue" and far more serious than we have been able to grasp up until now.  I titled this blog post, "Calling All Adults" because I believe that it will take many difficult choices, to bring about a comprehensive response to this crisis of gun violence in our Country.  Children make decisions based on what they "want".  Adults are supposed to be the ones that make decisions on what is best, for our children.  Only adults are needed at the table.

We need adults from within the NRA.   I was encouraged by Senator Joe Manchion from West Virginia, an "A Rated" NRA member, speaking truth this morning on Morning Joe along with the host, Joe Scarborough.  He points out correctly, that this event shatters any and all arguments presented in the past by the NRA that any limitations on gun ownership is a violation of the 2nd Amendment.  If I recall the Amendment correctly, it calls for a "well regulated militia".  Why would a very responsible and well trained user of guns, not want to be held up as an example of how to be a responsible user of guns?  Would it not be an honor to be considered one of the "well trained militia", ready and able to assist in protecting this great country of ours?  Why would that same person want just anyone to have that same access to guns?  The NRA needs to be at the table of adults who help protect the most innocent among us, our children and grandchildren.  But please, only adults allowed who are ready and willing to make difficult choices, based on what is best for our children.

We also need adult professionals from the field of Mental Health.  The fact that it is easier for an adolescent to get mental health care, only after commiting a crime, is unacceptable!  For many youth, the first time they can accually access mental healthcare is when they come into the Juvenile Justice system.  Why must it be so difficult for parents to access mental health services for their children?  I work with teenagers in the foster care system.  I have seen this reality play out time and again.  A young person, self-medicating with illegal drugs due to not getting proper mental healthcare, finally gets the help they need only AFTER they commit a crime.  I have been in the position of actually having prayed that one youth I have in  my care as a Guardian Ad Litem, would pick up a charge so that she could finally begin accessing a full set of services for substance abuse and mental health.  There is something wrong with that and we adults need to fix this.

Finally, we need authentic leaders of faith to stop whining about how all these tragedies will stop when we allow God back into our schools.  I once attended an open house for a new Charter School in our District and one of the young teachers had written on her hand, "Trust God".  The School Staff was presenting to a group of parents on the benefits they hoped to offer at this new school.  This young teacher was obviously a woman of faith and teaching in a Public School.  Since leaving my teaching position at a Catholic Elementary School, I have worked in the "public" sector within the Dependency System in the State of Florida.  I have come across more true people of faith in the public sector, who do not wear their faith on their sleave, yet who live out the Gospel imperative to love one another each and every day.  And not all of them are professed Christians!  We need to have an adult understanding of how God works in and through ALL our communities, through our love and care for each other.  Nobody can say that a teacher who hides her students in closets and cabinets and then confronts a gunman with a lie, "they are in the gym", did not lay down her life for her students.  How was God not present in that?  People with an underdeveloped understanding of God and how God works in this world, need not come to the table, Mike Huckabee.

I believe it will be the young parents, and those of us on the cusp of our grandparenting years, that will not let this one go.  We need adults willing to come to the table though, and place their own "wants" aside in order to do what is best for our children and grandchildren.  If we can't protect them from being slaughtered in our schools, then who ARE we?  Certainly, not the adults they need us to be.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seeing With the Eyes of the Mystics

I’m really trying to see through all of the political rhetoric with the eyes of a mystic, but my head is spinning and my heart is broken.  Bishops in my Church are actively campaigning against our President on the false premise that he is pro-abortion and that his opponent is “Pro-Life”.   As Hillary Clinton has said, “I don’t know anyone who is Pro-Abortion”.  Abortions have gone down under President Obama’s administration due to funding of the Pregnant Women Support Act; funding that will most likely be cut under a Romney/Ryan Administration.   Mitt Romney financially profited from the abortion industry while at Bain Capital.  (See Huffington Post articles on my page about this issue, as well as his other pro-death alliances).

This comes back to the age old battle within my Church of Orthodoxy verses Orthopraxy.  Apparently as long as a candidate SAYS he/she is pro-life, this is enough for the US Roman Catholic Bishops.  (Never mind that Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on this issue depending on who his audience is).  But when a pro-choice President actually reaches out to women in crisis pregnancies and offers them support to carry their baby to term, this is not enough?  You see, what someone BELIEVES (Orthodoxy) versus how someone ACTS (Orthopraxy) has always carried the day in the Roman Catholic Church.
It is time for me to retreat into serious prayer for my Church leaders, for our Country, and for those I love who are too afraid to break from the Bishops, and do their own homework on the VERY important issues of our day.  Abortion is not the only issue we face in our Country.  As we have painfully seen in the Northeast this past week, climate change is REAL and voting for candidates who deny its existence is not something I can do in good conscience.  My church is supposed to be on the side of being good stewards of the earth, but apparently the Bishops no longer care about that either.  Equal rights for ALL people are important to me as well, but apparently not to the leaders of my Church.

These are very dark days in my Church.  I am tired of the level of hypocrisy in my Church leaders.  It literally breaks my heart.  I don’t judge my Church leaders for their sins, just because their sins are different than mine.  I judge them for their CRIMES.   I long for the day when the US Bishops finally take full responsibility for their role in perpetuating the sexual abuse of children, so that they can again, “see as the mystics see”, and be a true moral voice of reason again in our Country, as was in the day of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  Only then, will they be able to proclaim to all that it is FAR greater a sin in the eyes of God for a corporate mogul to profit from the abortion industry, than for a woman in a crisis pregnancy, feeling alone and scared, to choose this desperate option.   For now, they support the former, and all for a political party that refuses to change the law of the land, because that would end their hold on the pro-life vote.

I am Pro-Life from conception until natural death, and they do NOT have mine.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

For Rich...and those who love him still

I have a belief that is grounded in Catholic Theology about the nature of the Body of Christ.  This belief says that those whom we love and with whom we are physically connected to in community are saved, not by professing a belief in Jesus Christ, or accepting Him as their personal Lord and Savior, but rather “through the Body of Christ”.  I am referring to a community of Love that binds people together. 

This belief brings me comfort this week as I mourn the loss of an old friend.  I met Rich when I was in the first grade.  He and I attended eight years of Catholic elementary school and four years of Catholic high school together in the suburbs outside of Chicago.  We were not close friends during those twelve years, but when the St. Mary’s 8th grade Class of ’77 found each other on Facebook over three years ago, the bonds from having grown up together all those years ago came back, and the synergy, both on the web and at our eventual reunion, was tangible.  It was real!  There was a bond…
There IS a bond.  My friend Rich left this world on March 12th on his own terms.  I did not know he was battling severe depression over the past year.  I found out this week that his attempts at seeking help through medication were unsuccessful.  He died the way people die from severe depression.  Suicide IS the end result of untreatable depression.  My friend Rich was an avowed atheist who also happened to be Gay.  Since reconnecting on Facebook, Rich and I have shared some very lively blog posts.  He loved to point out “the error of my ways” for believing in an unscientifically proven God.  I loved teasing him that he wasn't helping my cause, as I blogged in frustration at the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.  I loved Rich. The fact is, I didn't tell him I loved him simply because I was called to love him, “as a Christian” and I certainly had no intention of ever trying to change who he was.  I truly loved Rich for precisely who he was.  First and foremost, I loved his sense of humor.   Just recently I was venting on Facebook about running into a person with whom I used to be close, but for whom I have lost much respect in recent years.  I wrote, “Some people go through life blissfully unaware that they are part of the problem, and who, but for their lack of courage, could be part of the solution”.   Rich, in his usual witty flare responded, “Oh geez, what did I do now?”  I was quick to respond to Rich that he was NOT part of the problem.  No, Rich was SO part of the solution.

I say this because Rich’s mind was beautiful!  He had the ability to get to the heart of an issue.  As a fellow logical thinker, with a sarcastic tone that couldn’t hold a candle to his, I had an immense appreciation for Rich’s mind.  He challenged me to think, and NOT to take things at face value.  But he always communicated to me in a respectful manner, and never judged me for having beliefs that couldn’t necessarily be proven through science.  Someone once told me, “Thoughts are energy, and since energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed, our thoughts live on after our physical bodies pass away”.  I find comfort in this because it means that Rich’s thoughts will remain as an energy force in our world.  I want and need Rich’s thoughtful energy in my life.  I believe our world needs the thoughtful energy Rich shared with so many of us. 
So I share this reflection hopefully to bring some level of comfort to Rich’s family and friends.  I especially reach out to my fellow classmates from the St. Mary’s Class of ’77.  Gone are the days when word of the manner of someone’s death had to be spoken of in hushed circles.  And if I am correct in my belief about the Body of Christ, Rich died in the loving embrace of THIS community of love.   We physically embraced Rich with our outstretched arms of love when we reconnected with him three years ago, and we  continue to hold him in our loving embrace today, through our thoughts and memories of him.  I believe that matters for us, and for Rich.

Mary Hanlon Castronuovo

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Resting in the Arms of My Sisters"

So I gave up negative Blogging about the Roman Catholic Hierarchy for Lent.  So far, I think I've done OK, save for a couple of "likes" here and there on other peoples' comments on FB.  Seriously though, as much it may appear that I aspire more to be Maureen Dowd, than Mother Teresa, I do realize that there is a time for pushing the envelope, and a time for pulling back, turning inward, and resisting the urge to comment on every remark made by Cardinal Dolan!

During Lent, we are called to "go into the desert" so to speak, just as Jesus did.  Jesus needed this time, not just to re-energize, but to wrestle with the demons that were always trying to trip him up. There are many ways to do this though.  Certainly, taking time away from the "noise" of TV, the internet, and Facebook is a start, and replacing that noise with quiet reflective prayer...and listening to the Divine Essence that resides in each and every one of us is crucial.  Ideally, we would all make this a part of our daily routine.  Lent is a time to refocus our efforts in this regard.  But there is another way that I experience the desert spirituality of Jesus.  I "steal away" from home, family, work, and play, to spend an hour or two a week with my sisters in the Vineyard.  Why sisters? because it is here that I MOST experience the unconditional love and fellowship of Jesus. 

There is something unique about a group of women coming together to share their journeys, and reflect with one another the presence of the Divine.  There is no judgement, but we do challenge one another to see our stumbling blocks.  Two such groups have surfaced in my life recently.  One is a periodic book group through the parish in the city where I work, and the other is a group that formed as a result of this blog, with women from the parish where I have raised all of my children.  Both are a welcome gift of "desert spirituality" in my life where I am called to be better tomorrow, than I am today.  "Because when we know better, we do better". (Fr. Phil from my sister's parish in Indiana).

I also have four actual sisters with whom I grew up in a family of seven children.  They have been very present in my mind of late.  One sister left today for a mission trip in Kenya!  She has been preparing for several months for this trip and my thoughts and prayers are with her over these next 10 days.  Another sister turns 50 this year and has decided to plan a "sisters' weekend" this summer to celebrate.  She too is feeling the call to sisterhood of late.

I honestly believe God is calling women together in this age because God needs us to heal this broken world.  It is time to listen, to reflect, and to join together, so that the healing power of God can animate us to create a world where love and fellowship reign among all peoples.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Boys Who Cried Wolf?

So here we are, just nine months before the Presidential election and once again our Country has been thrust into discussing a “wedge issue” that may determine the outcome of this election.  The Obama Administration introduced an HHS ruling that mandated that by 2013, all organizations that provide Health Insurance to their employees must include coverage for birth control with no co-pay.  The Catholic Bishops protested, the Republicans jumped on board, and by the end of the week, Obama came up with a compromise solution.  The Bishops have since rejected the compromise as well.   The US Bishops, most notably Cardinal disignate Timothy Dolan, are still demanding an exemption for all Religious Institutions on the basis that it violates liberty.  If only it were all that simple. 

The Bishops are appalled that Catholics might be forced to "pay the price" for someone else's "intrinsically evil act".  This is how they view artificial contraception.  Without getting into a full critique of the flawed document, "Humanae Vitae" and how it violated the religious liberty of the Catholic Lay Faithful, I will say that not all types of artificial contraception meet the criteria for an intrisically evil act.  "Traditional moral theology has used the three-font principle for determining the morality of human actions.  It is based on an understanding of the relationship of three aspects of moral action - intention, the act-in-itself, and the circumstances" (Gula 265).  The average person does not know that there actually are some forms of artificial contraception that fall under this category of "intrinsically evil" due to meeting all criteria.  The IUD, by definition, is an abortifacient.  It prevents the fertilized egg from implanting on the uteran wall.  Thus, if a couple knows that using such a method will result in the destruction of human life, and choses to use it anyway, then in the eyes of the Church, they are commiting an intrinsically immoral action.  My husband and I conducted pre-marital "FOCCUS" sessions for years with engaged couples.  Couple after couple discussed in front of us their intention to use artificial birth control.  Most all said without fail, that they were against abortion for themselves personally, but felt it was up to each individual and their doctor.  When told about the abortifaciant quality of the IUD and of some low dosage "mini" pills, they were appalled to learn this.  Why didn't they know?  Perhaps the reason is because when the Roman Catholic Hierarchy ended the dialogue on the use of artificial contraception with the Catholic Lay Faithful with the publishing of Humanae Vitae, they also closed the door on being a reasonable voice in what could have been an ongoing teaching opportunity on the differences between true "barrier method" artificial birth control, and the abortifacient variety.  The Catholic Lay Faithful were denied their religious liberty at the time, by being denied their God given right to form and exercise their conscience.  Without the reasonable voice of the Catholic Hierarchy, a whole generation of Catholics have grown up thinking there was no difference in the various types of artificial birth control, because the Catholic Hierarchy opposed them all!  Couples who, after educating themselves on the true barrier methods of artificial contraception, decide based on their particular circumstances to avoid pregnancy, where is the respect for the dignity of their human consciences on behalf of the Catholic Hierarchy?
Then there is the issue of the Catholic Hierarchy further losing their moral voice due to their refusal, even to this day, to acknowledge their own criminal culpability in the cover up of the rape of children all over the world.  Without accountability by them, to the lay faithful around the world, they no longer have a moral leg to stand on unfortunately.  Had the US Bishops defended the sacredness of human life in the SACRISTY with the same level of moral OUTRAGE that they have defended the sacredness of human life in the womb, perhaps more lay Catholics would be standing by their side!
It is like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" in reverse.  When faced with the opportunity to stand up for the sacredness of the very young human lives that were the childhood victims of sexual abuse, they responded by looking the other way, and ultimately allowing OUR money to "pay the price" years later via the lawsuits (the only recourse the victims had).  Now they are jumping up and down wondering why more Catholics are not outraged that we might have to pay for women's access to artificial birth control.  Perhaps it is due to calling Catholics who have used barrier methods of artificial birth control sinners for far too long, and for NOT turning over the very criminal child rapists/sinners to the police...Ya THINK?!
Make up your minds, boys.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Being Present

"Presence is the one thing necessary for wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep 1) your heart space open, 2) your mind without division or resistance, and 3) your body not somewhere else—and all at the same time! Most religions just decided it was easier to believe doctrines and obey often-arbitrary laws than the truly converting work of being present. Those who can be present will know what they need to know, and in a wisdom way."  Richard Rohr

I just wanted to share this quote from one of my favorite writers/speakers, Fr. Richard Rohr.  It truly speaks to the journey I am currently taking that is leading me away from trying to fit a square peg (me) into a round whole (my Church).  I grew up in a Church that was beginning to take this journey of authentic living, with the Second Vatican Council, but somewhere along the way chose power and control over evolving as persons and as a community of Faith.  As I have often said, "I have not left my Catholic Faith, my Church has".

Finding God in the present moment, is truly, the only place to find God.  I honestly think that spending time trying to control other people's beliefs and other people's actions, is a waste of the Spirit that is available to us all.  I think of the time and effort that the US Bishops have spent trying to condemn the writings of Theologian Elizabeth Johnson.  I pray this day that each one of them might take the time to be present with her writings, and be brave enough to embrace the evolution of humanity that is happening, with or without them.

Peace to you this day!