When You Lose the Trail….

As part of my journey through the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius, I was asked to read and reflect on three individual bible passages: Mark 10:46-52, Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Jeremiah 29:11-14. As I reflected on each one of them, I realized that these three passages, when run together, speak to a beautiful message of God’s unending love. What follows below is my interpretation of these three passages and what they reveal about God’s unending love. Before you read my interpretation, please read each of the passages yourself.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. I gave you your calling and I appointed you as my own.

What did I say in response, “Ah, ah Lord; you see, I do not know how to speak, I am only a child.” Translation – Ah, Lord, I am not worthy, I can’t do it, I am too weak, call someone else; I have infinite reasons why I can’t do what you ask, what you created me for.

You say: Do not say that, trust me, you will see, you will do all that I ask and command. See, I have put my words, my courage, into your mouth and heart. Don’t be afraid of going forth, I am always with you and I will protect you.

For surely I have plans for you. Plans that I knew before you were in the womb. Plans for your welfare and good, not plans for your harm or destruction. I have plans that will give you hope. Hope that when you come to me and pray, I will hear you. When you search for me with all your heart, I will make sure that you find me. I will gather you up from wherever you have been scattered and I will bring you home.

And then when you are lost and blinded by this world, sidelined on the road of life, and you call out to me, I will give you faith to come to me, and when you are near I will ask you what I can do for you, and because of the faith I have placed within you, you shall have it. This is my promise to you.

So, when you seemingly have lost the trail of faith, and find yourself wondering what the purpose of life is anyway, perhaps these three passages can help you remember that while the trail may have become dim, you were never lost.

Question for reflection: Were these three passages written for Jeremiah and Bartimaeus, or for you and I?

Should I leave the Catholic Church?

As I opened my email today I was immediately notified that the Rockville Diocese of Long Island, NY voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 protection under the US bankruptcy code. The cause: the financial cost of defending against legal claims for damages against the Priests and Religious of the Diocese for sexual abuse of minors. Filing for Chapter 11 is a legal move that allows distressed companies to protect financial assets and preserve ongoing operations in the long run. Essentially the assets owned by a company filing for Chapter 11 are measured against claims against the company and settlements are reached that allows the company to reopen at a later date.

The Diocese of Rockville notes in the announcement that since parishes and schools are separate legal entities, the Chapter 11 filing will not affect the assets held by individual schools and churches within the Diocese. The Diocese also makes clear that no ongoing parish offertories, or contributions to the Diocese will be a part of the bankruptcy financial settlements and therefore will be protected.

Personally, I am disgusted and sickened by the US Catholic Church’s response to the predatory sexual abuse unleashed by Priests and Religious, who were then protected by the Church. Perhaps you feel the same. I take no personal comfort in the assertion by the Diocese that individual schools and parishes will not suffer financially as it is highly likely that the Rockville Diocese crammed-down liquid assets into the individual schools and churches just before filing Chapter 11 in order to ensure protection for those liquid assets during the bankruptcy proceedings. I also find it malodorous that the Diocese is making it clear that all offerings and contributions will be separated and protected from the bankruptcy proceedings. So the message from the Diocese is clear; “Keep your checks coming! We’ve protected ours by distributing assets to numerous legal entities, so the coast is clear for you to keep sending us more money.” Talk about self serving! Where is the concern for the need for reparations for the crimes that were committed and the harm that was perpetuated upon innocent children? Tragically, our church is more concerned about its own financial well being and power than it is about following its own teachings on moral and ethical absolutes. Sounds like the Sadducees and Pharisees of Christ’s time doesn’t it?

I could go on, but ultimately the situation leads to the overriding question of; can I remain a member of a church that harbored predatory pedophiles, covered up for them, refuses to take complete moral responsibility for their transgressions, and then, when caught, hides behind the legal machinations of the secular society which it preyed upon in order to protect its material wealth? How can I go to the confessional and openly confess my deepest darkest sins to a morally bankrupt church that has not repented of its own transgressions?

For me, the answer lies in trust in God. Not in His church. Jesus tells us plainly in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” He did not say that the church would be perfect or that it would not suffer some very dark hours. In fact, the troubles of today are not the first time the Catholic Church has gone wildly astray.

However dark the problems within the magisterium might seem today, God has a plan, and all is in His omnipotent care. Humanity gets into serious trouble when we begin to think God doesn’t know what He is doing, or we begin to try to help Him carry out His plan. The Bible and church history is loaded with such examples. Abraham and Sarah, as faithful as they were, could not help themselves when God told them that Abraham would be the forefather of a nation whose numbers would be greater than the grains of sand. Recognizing that Sarah was well beyond child bearing age, Abraham, presumably with Sarah’s consent, fathered a child through their slave Hannah. The Son we know as Ishmael along with his mother, Hannah, was eventually driven from the family into the desert when God took Abraham aside and explained that his heir would in fact come through Sarah, as nothing is impossible for God. While Abraham might have had faith, he did not exhibit trust that God could do what God set out to do. Jonah, King David, Moses, the Apostles, and numerous other bible figures, all share in a lack of trust that God can bring about, on His own terms, what He intends to bring about. We all fall into the trap of thinking God needs a little help from us in carrying out His plan. The big trouble really starts when we step in to do what we think God has overlooked or, worse, cannot do. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Protestant reformation were all very dark hours for the church. In each case, our lack of trust that God would correct the wrongs led to compounded problems and disastrous results.

Roll forward to today’s crisis in the magisterium; as much as I am sickened by what has happened, continues to happen, and continues to be covered up and manipulated by various legal and financial machinations, I am choosing to trust that God is equally repulsed by what has happened and will not rest until the wrongs are rectified and justice is restored. He has given us His promise. I do not know how He will make this all come about, but I do believe He can do it. My part is to simply trust in His promise and to trust that taking things into my own hands, by leaving the Church, will only prove my distrust in God, which, in the end, can only lead, as history has shown, to more disastrous results.

How Do We Know God?

I suppose the first step in understanding our spirituality necessarily needs to ask the questions who is God and how do we know Him/Her. Who God is for us, like any other human relationship, depends upon how we know Him/Her as an individual. I dare say that since we cannot step into the mind of another being, even in the case of human-to-human relationships, that we can’t really know who another being is by any means other than observing how they act, what they say, and what they ultimately stand up for. In other words, we get to know another being, indirectly, by observing how they interact with us and the world around them. Since we cannot read the thoughts of others, nor observe responses, comments and actions in situations when we are not immediately present, then, at any point in time, we can only possibly know a part of that person: the part that we have been privy to observe or experience directly. This is ultimately true no matter how close we believe we are to them. It is always possible, and likely probably, that anyone, including ourselves will exhibit different aspects of who we are depending upon the situation we find ourselves in or that we must respond to. Since we can only have a limited view of another being, constrained by the limits of our particular perspective, we can never completely know the full depth and breadth of another being. Our inherent inability to fully know another person from the inside, because of our limited perspective, becomes many times more true if that other person is God Herself.

So how do we get to know God? Saint Faustina, in her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, relates how, in meditation on the Holy Trinity, she once asked Jesus who God is. Perhaps to her surprise, Jesus answered her in words, through a vision, with the following:

“”Who God is in His essence, no one will fathom, neither the mind of Angels nor of man.” Jesus said to me, “Get to know God by contemplating His attributes.””

“Attributes”! What are they? The first thing we should notice is that attributes were stated in the plural, which would indicate that God has many. Websters defines attributes as: “a quality, character or characteristic ascribed to someone or something.” So God is telling us that if we want to know Him/Her, then we should not try to fathom God’s mind or His intentions, but rather to look at what qualities, character or characteristics that he actually exhibits. Qualities, character or characteristics covers a lot of ground. There are many universal attributes that have been attributed to God through time and history. I am sure we could all come up with a long list of things we have heard said about God. What I believe is most important, is what do you say about God? What qualities, character or characteristics have you actually experienced from God? Since each of us were created uniquely, I am betting we each will have a slightly different perspective and view of God’s attributes and therefore will have experienced Him/Her differently despite the universal attributes already ascribed to God. Knowing who God is for us, begins with noticing which of God’s attributes have most directly impacted our individual lives. Only by noticing these will we begin to discover how to know God.

Reflection Questions: What attributes do we know about God through scripture? What attributes do you know, or suspect about God through your own life experiences? What attributes do you want God to have, and are they different from what you already know?

Social Justice: What is it?

I am writing this blog for the dual purpose of exploring both Spirituality and Social Justice. In the last post I offered my definition for spirituality. In this post, I offer my definition of social justice. I also wish to explore how social justice and spirituality are connected, and offer some introductory comments on why and how we might begin to integrate the two.

Social justice first began to make sense for me when I distinguished it from charity. The following abbreviated story helped me to make the distinction between the two and to understand that while charity and social justice are closely related, they are not the same. The abbreviated story goes as follows:

A group of people happily lived on the banks of a river. As a community, every sort of need was met and there was plenty for all. One day, a body came floating down the river. The people of the community dutifully retrieved the body from the river and gave it a proper burial. The next day several more bodies floated down the river along with some individuals that were wounded. Again, the good people of the community retrieved them all, properly buried the dead and dressed the injuries of the wounded. The next day, and everyday thereafter, more bodies and casualties continued to float down the river into the river community. No matter how many arrived, the good people of the river community continued to attend to each of their needs whether it be burial, wound care, food, drink or clothing that they needed.

This brief story highlights the difference between charity and social justice. The good people of the river community were mercifully and lovingly practicing charity. They attended to the immediate needs of the dead, wounded, hungry and thirsty. All incredibly important, necessary and graced activities that, standing alone, are worthy of praise and thanksgiving. However, the good river community did not send a party of people upstream to see where the bodies/casualties were coming from in an effort to understand and stop what was causing the bodies/casualties in the first place. This second action, going upstream to uncover the systemic source of suffering is the action of social justice. Social justice does not automatically occur through the administration of charity, it must be undertaken independently. Social Justice has a different focus than charity. Said differently, the need for charity arises from the lack of social justice. If the global society were truly just in how goods, wealth, and power were distributed, then there would be no need for charity; we all would have all that we need. Similar to the administration of charity, social justice requires action, neither can be left as conceptual exercises. Social justice uncovers and examines the root cause for injustices in the distribution of goods, wealth and power and attempts to correct systemically unjust distribution systems. Another important distinction between charity and social justice resides in differing focal points. The focus of charity centers on individuals and groups in need while the focus of social justice centers on human systems, power centers and biases. Neither is more noble or important than the other. Both Charity and social justice are noble and important pursuits in themselves. When combined and acted upon together, real change and social growth become possible.

How do social justice and spirituality relate? The exploration of this is the ultimate purpose for this blog. We have already defined spirituality as the pursuit of an intimate relationship with a higher being; for this blog, that higher being is the Christian God. God has clearly stated, repeatedly and consistently in scripture and in the teachings of the church what He desires: that we feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter the refugee, care for the widow, protect the weakest among us, etc. In other words, we must exhibit mercy and compassion for the weak and poorest among us and bring justice to a world that is inherently unjust. If we want to be in intimate relationship with God, then we have to be willing to enter into conversation with Him about the things that He cares about, as we would in any intimate relationship. He listens to us and cares about what we have to say each and every time we pray. (If you do not feel this, or have never felt this to be true, then for the time being leave social justice alone and don’t worry about it. Your focus should initially be on understanding and establishing your sense of connection with God– the sole focus of spirituality.) If we assume that God listens and cares about what we have to say, then a basic foundation of a true relationship requires that we listen to and care about what God has to say in return.

I was recently involved in a conversation about what the most important thing we can do to attain social justice is. As you can imagine, many good ideas and thoughts were identified, all of them heartfelt, intelligent, and sincere. I noticed, and have noticed in other conversations on social justice, that ideas offered as solutions to social injustices typically center on some form of politically driven reform. I have a different belief (which I will discuss in more detail in future posts). I believe that just government and social reforms will be the result of, not the driving cause for more socially just systems. For me, the most important and first event that must occur, before comprehensive and lasting change in the direction of socially just policies can prevail, is that each member of a privileged class, whether it be power, wealth, or goods, must first recognize their privileged place, and the benefits they acquire as a result of that privilege from the systems that are currently in place. We, as a society, cannot begin to change a problem we do not see, or do not believe exists; the necessary changes must begin with those who benefit from the unjust systems.

I can and will say much more about social justice in future posts. For now I would like to close with several personal stories that have caused me to examine social justice in the context of my personal belief systems and life choices. Below are four of those stories that helped me to begin to understand and see clearly the systematic inequalities and biases that I have personally benefited from, and that have left me embarrassed and ashamed of the position I hold within the fundamentally and systematically unjust social, political, and economic systems that dominate our world and culture today.

  1. I have an indigent, handicapped brother. My brother was living in a tent just outside of Savannah, Georgia when he had a stroke leaving him unable to speak and in a wheelchair. My wife and I picked him up and brought him to our city to try and obtain some help for his condition. Our first stop was the urban assistance center where we found ourselves at 8:00 in the morning in a long line of individuals needing various types of help and support. It was my first encounter with both the group of people seeking help and the bureaucracy of the systems available to provide that help. Both my wife and I were out of place in dress, demeanor, and every other measure you could imagine; it was clear we did not fit in. The facility process for distributing the help and support they could offer began when at 8:00 an individual came out and by random gave you a card with a number on it that would indicate your place in the Que for receiving attention and help. This distribution process avoided the need to be first in line at the door and the inevitable rush for the door at opening. As the individual began passing out the entry cards, we were about 10th in a line of 50, I noticed him palm a card. I thought nothing of it until as he approached us, he handed my wife the palmed card. Low and behold, and certainly not by coincidence, the card we received was number one: straight to the front of the line. Not only were we ushered to the front of the line, as others watched us, but we were also assigned a personal assistant who shuttled us to and from the various people and locations we needed to meet with that day. I am pretty certain no one else that day, or any other day, received such personal attention as we did. While I am very grateful for the help we received that day, as it made a tremendous difference in what we were able to accomplish for my indigent brother, I clearly noticed the privilege that I benefit from as a result of perceptions resulting solely from the appearance of my position in society.

2. Six years ago my wife and I took our daughter to Orlando, Florida for the purpose of visiting Disney World. We decided on a hotel room and ticket package that included a speed-pass for each of the three of us to the amusement rides. Yes, it was expensive, and no I had no idea how long the ride lines could get. At each ride, we were quickly ushered to a privileged line that bypassed really long lines of tired, hungry, and sometimes angry people. I quickly became ashamed. Bypassing all those people felt wrong in every way and I knew it was only because I had enough financial wealth to buy into the privilege that I was not standing in the line myself. I will note for the record, that in spite of my shame and sense of guilt, I did not surrender the speed-pass benefits and stand in line with everyone else, I continued to use, even if I momentarily suffered shame, its privilege. I will also note that we have not returned to Disney World.

3. While I don’t wear a suit everyday, there are still times when one is required. I recently had to attend some court hearings at the county courthouse. It being an unusual activity for me, I wore a suit. Not knowing my way around, I had to ask for directions and assistance at several different points along the way. In at least one case, a courthouse worker approached me and asked me if I needed help. In all instances, the courthouse workers, many of whom were of a minority race or ethnicity, were polite, friendly, addressed me as Sir, and escorted me to my required location. I know from spending several hours there that not everyone, in fact no one I could see, received the same level of interest and assistance that I did. I know that received privilege as a result of how I looked and dressed.

4. I have a lead foot, I tend to drive too fast and have been stopped by Police or State Troopers a number of times for speeding. Recently, as a result of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, I became aware of yet another privilege that I enjoy from a system that is not equal for everyone. The most I have had to worry about when I have been stopped is that I’m going to be late to my destination and will I be lucky enough to only receive a warning? I have never had to worry that I would be asked to step out of the car, that I would be arrested, or that I would be tased, killed, or suffocated in a neck hold. I have never had to fear for my safety or my life. At most I have suffered annoyance over the nuisance and cost of having to call my lawyer, admit to having received yet another ticket, that my lawyer makes disappear anyway, often with no more involvement from me and at less cost than what the ticket was written for.

Maybe these stories make you angry, perhaps sad. I point them out in order to underscore the degree of injustice inherent in our systems that allows me, and people like me, the privilege I have unjustly enjoyed. It is also why the first step in moving to a more just place is for those, like myself, who have benefited, likely throughout their entire existence from systemically unjust systems established by those who hold the power, to wake up, smell the coffee, and see just how unjust their normal mode of existence has been. While I spoke in terms of my own experience here in the United States, the fundamental injustice of human society extends beyond the US and impacts the entire globe and the distribution of global goods, wealth and power. It is time for everyone to wake up and begin.

Spirituality: What exactly is it?

The first question, and a great place to begin, is deciding what we mean by spirituality.

First and foremost spirituality is not religion. To make sure we differentiate spirituality from religion, I offer this definition of religion: Religion is a system of rituals, laws, norms, mores, beliefs and practices that both define a community and support and sustain worship of a common God in community. Religion encompasses how we relate to God and one another as a particular group and therefore can become a very human experience. Human experiences are filled with contradictions, and the history of religion reflects our humanity in some rather unsavory and unfortunate ways. I do not mean to diminish religion and its importance, rather offer that religion represents only a portion, though a necessary portion, of our total God experience.

Spirituality is something very different. I will use spirituality to describe our personal, one-on-one, relationship with God. Spirituality deals with the very large question of who is God for me and what does He/She mean to me in the context of my life? Yes, spirituality gets very personal very quickly, and it should, because how can you truly love a God that you have no personal relationship with? I believe that God, is a being who created us out of love and desires a personal, intimate, relationship with each of us. For the purpose of this blog, spirituality refers to the awareness of and desire for a personal, on-on-one, meaningful relationship with the creator/being we call God.

I will often use the term spiritual journey. By this I mean the process or path by which we discover, experience and come to terms with our personal relationship with God. I call it a journey not to imply that there exists a destination to which we all should aspire to arrive at, rather it captures the reality of the dynamic nature of the process and the spiritual growth that results from persuing our sense of spirituality. Spiritual direction, as a ministry, attaches at this personal journey point. In spiritual direction, a person contemplates, God’s footprints in the fabric of their daily lives. Spiritual direction examins the question of who is God for me and how does He/She show up in the context of what is most meaningful to me and my daily life.

I am often asked: Does spirituality require a belief in God? In short, yes. However, the name God is a generic name. As a name, God encompasses a very wide swath that includes any Creator/Being with whom we aspire to have a relationship with. Whether we refer to our particular Creator/Being as: God, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, Jesus, The Great Spirit, or some other name, the pursuit of Spirituality entails exploring our personal relationship with that Creator/Being. As the ancient saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome”. It is my firm belief that “all names lead to the one God” no matter by what name we chose to define our spirituality with.

What if our spirtuality centers on a created object: crystals, nature, cosmos, etc? A created object is a great place to start our journey, but we must then pose the question: to whom do we attribute the creation of the objects that have that special pull on us? In appreciating the creation are we not implicitly opening ourselves to its creator? When I compliment a mother or father on their beautiful baby, am I not also complimenting them from whom the baby came? I believe that God speaks to us by whatever means we are willing to listen, and then He/She will lead us along the journey She/He desires for us.

My particular language for God originates from the Trinitarian, Christian, Catholic religion. Therefore, that is the particular language I will draw from in my atempt to convey my own experiences and beliefs about spirituality and the journey we begin once we start to seek a relationship with God. Having said that, I have studied the Islamic, Hindu, Judaic, and Buddhist religious traditions and have great respect for the various images and languages they use for God. Everything that I say or write on the topic of spirituality will hopefully contain some meaning or value in the context of other religious traditions, just as I have acquired meaning and value for my own spirituality from the study of those same traditions. For the purpose of this blog, I will draw from many different sources which will include: my own personal experience, understanding and observations, Scripture, Christian teachings, Catholic Tradition, various prayer traditions, the sayings and writings of Saints and Doctors of the Church, and other spiritual writers. Each, as I have stated before, have left me with many more questions than answers, but all have left their indelible imprint on my own personal understanding of and relationship with God.

One final note: If anything I have written does not speak to you, or you find you disagree with, then don’t sweat it. Simply let it go and pay no heed or mind to it. It simply means that, as a unique, one of a kind, creation God chooses to speak to each of us in different ways. We are not meant to understand God in the same way. Above all else, listen to what God is saying to you personally, now, here in the present. His/Her voice is the only voice you need to pay attention to.


Hello, my name is David. Let me tell you a little bit about myself and why I am choosing to launch this blog.

I am a trained spiritual director having graduated from the Fairfield University Spiritual Direction program. I am also a fellow spiritual journeyman. I have practiced as a spiritual director, with ongoing supervision, for six years, and have journeyed with my own spiritual director for the past twelve years. I have read countless books and have countless more on my reading list. The one thing I have learned, above all others, is that answers to spirituality and God are not acquired by reading more books. Reading more books in search of answers generally only results in more questions. But that is okay, because questions are good; they keep us moving forward on our journey.

You will notice that I have tagged this blog as an Exploration in Spirituality and Social Justice. We will get to the spirituality and social justice part later. The emphasis I want to place now centers on the Exploration part of the phrase. Unfortunately, I have no answers. This blog will not be about coming up with answers. What I will try and do is simply give you one man’s perspective, my perspective, on some of the questions I have struggled with as I have undertaken my own spiritual journey.

We are all uniquely created in the heart and eyes of God: so it stands to reason that each of our experiences and understanding of God will be quite different. Because of our uniqueness, how God moves in the fabric of our lives will be different as well. He speaks to us individually in the manner that we can most hear, understand, believe and accept, and because of our uniqueness that will be different for each of us. So this blog necessarily must be about exploration rather than answers, and my hope and prayer will be that whatever is written or read touches you in the unique way that God intended for you to hear it. God alone possesses truth. I can only offer you my own unique understanding and some of the insights that I have arrived at in wrestling with the questions God has presented to me.

So, with your permission, let us begin…..