One of the perennial bestsellers in the field of Catholic spirituality is Jesuit Fr. John Kavanaugh’s Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance. Published in 1981, it’s been in print ever since, and has been revised and updated twice. Kavanaugh teaches at St. Louis University where he is director of the Ethics Across the Curriculum program. He is an award-winning columnist for America magazine.
In the taxi taking my wife and me to the airport in San José, Costa Rica, I noticed a magnetized icon on the dashboard. It turned out to be La Negrita, the local nickname for the beloved Virgin Mary. If it had been Argentina, she would have been named the Virgin of Lujan, that country’s patron saint; if Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Patroness of the Americas.”
Shrines to Mary are found all over the globe.
There are no shrines to God the Father, unless you count churches as shrines. Why do Catholics love Mary so much more than they love God? They know they’re not supposed to. They just can’t help themselves.
Before the sun is up, a group of about 35 men and women start their day with rituals they have treasured for years. For some, their first cup of coffee is accompanied by meditating on the scripture readings assigned for the day in the Roman Lectionary. For others it is just quiet time or a set routine of prayers. But this is preliminary to the main event, coming together at the local parish church for morning Mass.
Most of them are at or beyond retirement age, so there is no need to watch the clock or worry about being somewhere else. Younger members of the group have come to accept this slower pace and say they find it restful, conducive to prayer. Joining them is Fr. Gerald Waris, their parish priest at St. Patrick Church in Kansas City, Mo. This group of people and this time of day are spiritual home base for him. His day also begins with personal prayer and reflection on the day’s readings he will share with his small prayer community at Mass.
When he was a seminarian at Missouri’s Conception Abbey, Waris said he grew to love the sung choral office of that Benedictine monastic community. “It gave focus and meaning to everything else that happened that day.”
Religion News Service
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Do you tweet during church? Isn’t it rude?
David Loveless doesn’t think so. Loveless is lead pastor of Discovery Church, a nondenominational congregation that draws some 4,000 on Sundays to three locations in Orlando. The congregation has always thrived on the cutting edge, becoming among the first to embrace contemporary music and remove its steeple from its building.
Now the congregation is tweeting -- using 21st-century technology to discuss the Gospel in 140-character cell-phone text updates sent via Twitter.
The technology emerged naturally here, as something parishioners brought with them to Sundays from the rest of their week. Loveless recognized it as a new way to communicate, and he began posing questions during his sermons and asking parishioners to “tweet” back by texting their responses. Those responses were then woven into his sermons, creating an instantaneous dialogue between pulpit and pew.
Science fiction is a proud genre of literature. From the quirky cautionary tales of Philip K. Dick to the sociological extrapolations of Ursula K. Le Guin to the grand entertainments of Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov, it provokes wonder and mind- stretching with its frisky curiosity and its hints of fantastic secrets barely glimpsed.
Another caretaker of the sense of wonder has traditionally been religion. In bygone ages religion’s stock in trade was contact with the wholly other, the divine mystery, the miraculous.
For example, see the Old Testament, where Moses chats with a burning bush, a whirlwind stumps old man Job or playful, creative Wisdom frolics with God before time began. Our spiritual ancestors looked around, open-eyed, and wrestled with the big questions, speculating about the deepest unknowns -- kind of like good science fiction.
We have relegated such tales of genuine religious experience to the pedestal of holy writ, at the same time ignoring their counterparts today. Religion has neglected its age-old role as a caretaker of wonder, yielding it instead to scientists.
Practice makes perfect. I used to believe that, but many years ago when I took up golf, I discovered, as one of my friends told me, "Practice makes permanent." I spent untold numbers of hours trying to perfect my swing and achieve long, straight drives from the tee. To no avail. To my great embarrassment the ball would dribble off the tee or, if I did make good contact, it would sail far to the right or to the left. Rarely would it go far and straight. It was not too long before I gave up on golf and stayed with the sports I learned to play on my own.
There was a time when most Catholics would define themselves as "practicing Catholics." And I suppose that most of us thought that gradually by practicing our faith we would achieve, not quite perfection, but be good enough to qualify for a place in heaven where perfection would be our final outcome.
Today, however, a very large number of Catholics have given up.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops last month advised Catholic chaplains, health care facilities and retreat centers not to promote or support Reiki therapy, a Japanese alternative healing practice.
The practice of Reiki, the bishops’ said, "finds no support either in the findings of natural science or in Christian belief."
"A Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition," the bishops said.
The statement, issued by the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, can be found on the U.S. Bishops’ web site.
After its publication, NCR asked two Catholic women who have been practitioners of Reiki to share their experiences. Both said it has enhanced their spiritual lives. Neither sees it as conflicting with their Catholic beliefs.
Lauri Lumby Schmidt tells her story. She is a Reiki Master. She says it has allowed here to continue the healing ministry of Jesus.
A woman stricken with Multiple sclerosis came to me for a Reiki treatment some years back upon the recommendation of her son. Her granddaughter had been killed in a tragic accident a year earlier and her husband, who could no longer handle the stress of her disease, had recently filed for divorce. She was bent over with grief and stooped from the crippling effects of her disease.
As I listened to her story, and witnessed the despair and hopelessness in her face I doubted that Reiki would provide her any relief. As we entered the treatment room, I asked myself, “What good can I possibly do for this woman?” I was then reminded to never doubt the healing power of God!
When the treatment was complete, she stepped down from the treatment table. I will never forget what I saw. She stood up straight and in her new found stride there was a sense of purpose and ease that had not been there before. Her face glowed with a look of new found peacefulness and serenity. She actually looked joyful.
I was first introduced to Reiki some five years ago. At the time, I was in a very unhealthy relationship; I saw no way out of financial woes; and I had forsaken my career in theatre. The longer I stayed trapped, the sicker I became mentally, emotionally, and physically.
By the time I had my first Reiki session, I had been seeing a therapist twice a week for depression; I had developed all kinds of food allergies; and I was an emaciated 99 pounds.
Being skeptical of anything that even hints at being “spiritual,” I called my diocese to see if they knew anything about Reiki, and to my surprise, I was transferred to a nun who actually taught it! She told me, “We find that Reiki aids in meditation and prayer.” I later discovered for myself that by relaxing the body, the mind just naturally follows. Reiki helps you achieve a meditative state, enabling you to quiet your mind you I can “hear” God’s answers.
A declaration by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine that Reiki is based on superstition and incompatible with Christian faith could force scores of U.S. congregations of women religious who run Catholic retreat centers to reevaluate programs that teach or use Reiki therapy.
The statement says it is inappropriate for Catholic hospitals, retreat centers or individuals representing the church, such as chaplains, “to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy.”
Reiki — pronounced RAY-kee — is a spiritual or metaphysical healing practice invented in Japan in the 1920s that has gained a fairly substantial following in the United States in recent decades. It claims that by laying hands on or above an injured or sick person in a series of positions, a Reiki master or practitioner can draw “universal life energy” into the person and help hasten his or her healing.