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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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Way to love
  By Terry Mattingly  
  AFTER her destructive affairs with married men, after the death of her first child, after an accident left her infant son brain-damaged, after the near-fatal strokes that struck months after her 1964 Oscar win for "Hud," actress Patricia Neal faced yet another personal crisis that left her on the verge of collapse.

While her marriage to British writer Roald Dahl, the author of children's classics such as "James and Giant Peach," had long been troubled, Neal was shattered when she learned he was having an affair with one of her friends. They divorced in 1983.

In her 1988 memoir, "As I Am," Neal admitted: "Frequently my life has been likened to a Greek tragedy, and the actress in me cannot deny that comparison."

That quotation captured the tone of the tributes published after Neal passed away on Aug. 8 at the age of 84. Broadway theaters dimmed their lights in honor of the Tony Award winner and critics sang the praises of one of Hollywood's ultimate survivors, an actress who literally learned to walk and talk again before returning to the screen to earn another Oscar nomination.

But Neal's story contained angels as well as demons. This is obvious in the overlooked passages in "As I Am" that described her conversion to Catholicism and her visits to the cloister of Regina Laudis (Queen of Praise) Abbey in Bethlehem, Conn., where the sisters helped her confess her sorrows and rage.

Finally, the abbess suggested that Neal move into the abbey for a month.

"Lady Abbess," said Neal, "I don't want to join up, you understand?"

The abbess sighed and said, "Believe me, we don't want you to, either. I don't think we could take it for more than a month."

As she arrived, Neal stubbed out the "last cigarette I would ever smoke."

A priest gave her a blessing and, she recalled, "I felt his cross blaze into my forehead... I traded my street clothes for the black dress of the postulant and scrubbed off my makeup. I removed the rings from my fingers and covered my hair with a black scarf. I looked at the bare wooden walls of my cell... I did not live the exact life of a postulant, but I did my best."

Neal went to church on time, followed the abbey's prayer regime, baked bread, remained silent during meals and, with the help of a spiritual director, began writing the journal that evolved into "As I Am."

Behind closed doors, she unleashed her fury. At one point she screamed so many curses at her counselor that the sister finally cursed right back, urging Neal to be honest about her own faults and mistakes.

The actress finally voiced her secret pain. Monsignor Jim Lisante of Diocese of Rockville Centre (New York) later discussed with Neal the tragedies of her life and asked if there was any one event that she would change.

"She said, 'Forty years ago I became involved with the actor Gary Cooper, and by him I became pregnant. As he was a married man and I was young in Hollywood and not wanting to ruin my career, we chose to have the baby aborted," wrote Lisante, at the Creative Minority Report website. "She said, 'Father, alone in the night for over 40 years, I have cried for my child. And if there is one thing I wish I had the courage to do over in my life, I wish I had the courage to have that baby."

Several of the obituaries for Neal -- including the New York Times feature -- mentioned this episode in the context of her pain and regret. The Washington Post noted that late in life "she suffered periods of depression and suicidal thoughts before finding peace as a Catholic convert."

In the end, Neal decided that, "God was using my life far beyond any merit of my own making" allowing her to reach out to those who were suffering. "I learned that my damaged brain cannot reclaim what is dead. It has to create totally new pathways that allowed me to make choices I would never have made had I not suffered that stroke -- choices that an infallible voice assures me will be blessed."

One final lesson from the abbess, wrote Neal, stood out: "There is a way to love that remains after everything else is taken from us."
 
   
   
Love defined
  By Greg Laurie  
  "If you love me, obey my commandments. "
John 14:15

What is love? The Beatles recorded the classic song on the subject, "All You Need Is Love," and then they broke up and sued each other. Various philosophers have expressed opinions on love as well. Plato said that love is a serious mental disease. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was more optimistic on the subject, said, "Love is the master key which opens the gates of happiness." Another said, "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence."

We are given probably the greatest definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
The Bible clearly tells us that God is love. We don't have a greater example of love than what we have in God's showing His love for us. And we find the definitive statement on love in John 3:16: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." So how should we respond? We ought to love Him back.

We can talk all day about love and how much we love God. We can sing about our love for God. We can speak about our love for God. But probably the best way to show our love for Him is by what we do. Jesus said, "If you love me, obey my commandments" (John 14:15).
 
   
   
Cafetaria Catholicism
  By Terry Mattingly  
  TWO weeks ago, the Sunday Boston Globe magazine ran an essay -- not a news story, I admit -- that I have been thinking about ever since. It was called "What I Believe" and it was written by Charles Pierce, a staff writer at the publication.

This long essay covers a lot of territory and it's possible to criticize it -- either positive criticism or negative criticism -- in several different ways. Most of all, it is a stunningly American look at the earthquakes that have rocked the Catholic Church in the decades after Vatican II and Woodstock.

The key is that Pierce believes that the Catholic hierarchy's claims to unique religious authority are gone. Period. Thus, consider these two important passages in the piece, as he explains that the Catholic Church in which he worships is his alone. He has a personal church and, he states clearly, he does not need a personal Savior:

In the church of my youth, with the priests reciting incomprehensible Latin, their backs to the people, walled off by an altar rail and two millenniums' worth of imperial design, the purple always came out at Advent and at Lent. It was the color of penance, we were told. And so it is, and penitence begins within, in one mind and one soul and in what the nuns used to call an informed conscience. That's where my Catholicism is now. It is a penitential faith. That's where you can look for it. It is possible, I have come to realize, that I've grown up to become an anti-Catholic Catholic.

And then the passage that is being quoted most often:

The Vatican can beg. It can plead. But it can no longer demand.

Which brings me to the most fundamental rule of my Catholicism -- nobody gets to tell me that I'm not a Catholic.

Those of my fellow Catholics who remain loyal to the institutional structure of the Church don't get to do so. People who talk glibly of "cafeteria Catholicism" don't get to do so. People who seek to coin Catholic doctrine into political advantage -- be they left or right -- don't get to do so. No priest gets to do so, and no bishop, either, and that especially means the bishop of Rome himself. No pope can tell me I'm not a Catholic.

Now, it is possible to see this article only through the lens of Catholic faith, practice and doctrine. If you want to see critiques of that kind, they are easy to find. You can start by clicking here and heading over to the conservative site CatholicCulture.org, where you can find this quick and easy linkage between Pierce's faith and, surprise, his employer:

... (For) decades the Globe has operated on the assumption that the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic. At the opening of his article, Pierce cheerfully identifies himself as an "anti-Catholic Catholic." Thus he qualifies perfectly as the man who will tell Globe readers what they should believe...

Nobody can tell Charles Pierce that he's not a Catholic. Nor can anyone tell him what the Catholic Church teaches. The Church teaches what Pierce wants it to teach. And he believes it all.

Or you can read a blunt post on this topic by Rod Dreher, who, it must be noted, made the difficult and painful choice to leave the Catholic Church in a crisis of conscience. If one does not believe all the claims of the Catholic Church, Dreher would say, one should have the integrity not take its vows and not to receive its Sacraments.

One should, in other words, make a serious, informed decision and then hit the exit door. Thus, Dreher writes:

Hey Charles -- you're not a Catholic! Man up and admit it. You are a Catholic by birth and cultural identification, but you have ceased to believe as Catholicism teaches. Why do you lack the courage to be what you are: a non-Catholic Christian? ... A Catholicism in which you have no obligation at all to believe what the Church authoritatively teaches, or to act as it prescribes, is not Catholicism at all. At all. It's one thing to say that you struggle to accept this teaching of the church intellectually, or have trouble living that teaching out. Everyone does, even the saints. But it's entirely another thing to say you don't have to try, and that that's okay, because you are your own pope. If you don't believe this stuff, but like to come by the church for the music, or the camaraderie, okay, fine -- that's between you and your priest, and God. But to reject the Church's authority entirely, as Pierce does, but to still call yourself a Catholic in good standing, is either hypocrisy, or insanity -- the insanity of the solipsist.

In other words, Pierce is a congregationalist in a one-man congregation, which is a very American thing to be.

There are plenty of Baptists like that and, obviously, scores of Unitarians. This was the stance of a devout Episcopalian I once interviewed -- head of the vestry at the church right behind the U.S. Supreme Court -- who was also an atheist. He took his confirmation vows with his intellectual fingers crossed and, Sunday after Sunday, said the creed while redefining the words inside his head. People do things like that and, in his parish, that was what being an Episcopalian was all about.

But the Globe essay would not have stuck in my head like a bad disco tune (and I would not be writing this post) if I didn't think there was a religion-news angle to this, something linked to what GetReligion is all about.

You see, elsewhere in his essay, Piece writes about some of the details of the current crisis in Catholic sanctuaries in this land and elsewhere and then he says:

Church attendance in the United States is down.

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, released in April 2009, found that one in 10 US adults has left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic -- with Catholicism having had the largest net loss in members of all the major religious groups in the United States. About half of those who departed and now identify themselves as "unaffiliated" left the church because of its views on abortion, homosexuality, and birth control. (In 2009, the American Religious Identification Survey by Hartford's Trinity College found that, between 1990 and 2008, the percentage of people in Massachusetts who identified themselves as Catholic dropped to 39 per cent from 54 per cent.) The sexual-abuse scandal, then, erupted within a church that already was struggling with serious demographic pressures.

The implication is that if the Catholic Church would only modernize on these kinds of social issues, these people would not leave and, thus, the church would enter a new era growth and prosperity. New, progressive Christians and young people would flock into the pews.

Right. Right. I hear the voices of the traditional Catholics out there who have a quick response to that argument: "Yeah, just like the Episcopal Church is growing (surf in this file) and all of the other liberal Protestant churches."

Many traditional Catholics are just as sure that their pews would be full, once again, if only the Pierces of this world would pack up and leave. They note the vitality and growth of a few conservative Catholic orders and the number of men seeking the priesthood in zip codes served by more traditional seminaries and bishops.

But, you see, that's only half the story, too. Neither side of that debate seems to want to talk about all of the facts. There are ghosts and skeletons in Catholic closets on the left and the right. This era of sweeping changes --think birthrates, the rise of the Sunbelt, suburbanization, immigration and a host of other factual changes -- is more complex than that.

At the same time, however, I worry that many journalists think that Pierce's view is accurate in terms of history, that many journalists truly believe that Catholics -- to name one example -- truly do not need to go to confession and struggle to live out the teachings of their faith in order to remain practicing Catholics in the sacramental meaning of that word. In other words, the Catholic Church gets to define the borders of the Catholic Church (ditto for the Unitarians, Baptists, Episcopalians and others).

Thus, it would help if the Globe ran another piece by another Catholic in the newsroom -- the same placement, the same length -- entitled, "What My Church Teaches and Why I Believe It."

Surely there are Catholics in that newsroom who would welcome the chance to write that essay?

Surely the Globe newsroom is diverse enough for that to happen? Or was Pierce actually speaking for his newspaper, as well as for himself? (Courtesy: www.getreligion.org)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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