Mad for…Katie

Day 7 of 365

katieconway

Meet Katie Conway.  I’ve chosen to post this stunning photo of her, because I want to still be on speaking terms with her.  My other choice was a snapshot from a weekend we once spent together with a group of fantastic gals.  We were buried in a couple feet of snow about this time of year, in South Haven, Michigan and Katie never took off her winter hat.  As God is my witness, she wore that thing everywhere we went and also inside the house.  She wore it drinking wine and getting a pedicure and while we screamed and chased a bat out of the living room.  She looked slightly less glam than in the photo of her here.  Because she radiates love of the Lord in her face and from the center of her being, she pulled off this look with aplomb.  She’s as self-possessed, poised and genuine as anyone I have ever met.

Katie is the person whose witness most strongly convicted me of the idea that being a Jesus girl is the only way to roll.  I wanted a scoop of what she had.  Her faith penetrates ever fiber of her being, and it defines her entirely.  She’s one of those people by whom I measure others.  What I mean is this.  If someone were to tell me they just didn’t care for Katie, I would immediately know that the poor soul was lost.

A loving, affectionate, joyful mother of 4, Katie is also the wife of a pretty handsome guy named Brian who probably thinks it’s entirely possible to have too many religious items in one’s home?  Ha!!  Lets just say she is a collector of beautiful things.  Katie is a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic woman and a presenter at a women’s ministry called “Awaken to the B.E.S.T.” which is held at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Carmel, Indiana.

Awaken offers spiritual and scripture based opportunities for women who desire to deepen and share their Catholic faith in God.  I might be the last woman in Hamilton County to not have attended this VERY SUCCESSFUL program.  It’s a dynamic spirituality group for women-  innovative and original.  Visit http://www.awakentothebest.com if you want to know more.

It surprises me NOT AT ALL that Katie was instrumental in this ministry’s formation and ongoing success.

Thanks, sweet friend, for teaching me about being a Jesus girl.  I love you.

 

Mad for…Marshall

marshall

(Day 6 of 365)

For more years than I care to count, Marshall Scheper has been the good Samaritan of the St. Louis de Montfort CYO program.  There are few volunteer posts more thankless than that of GYM MANAGER at a Catholic parish.

Marshall is a fixture in the SLDM gym.  He’s set up and torn down more temporary bleachers than one can imagine.  He’s pushed a broom, calmed down referees, and kept toddlers with basketballs from unknowingly checking themselves into games they were a little too young to enter, cute as they are wandering in from the sidelines.  He’s had to handle some inappropriate fans and settle a few heated disputes, too.

More than that, he’s simply EVER PRESENT.  No matter the hour of day, if there’s a game at the SLDM gym, Marshall shows up to keep the ship afloat.  Do you know how many sporting events that means he’s seen?  Me neither…but it’s A LOT.  He doesn’t have kids playing in any of those games, folks.  He’s just giving his time for the sake of others.

Do you know what else the gym manager is in charge of handling?  Making sure every team gets practice time in the gym.  That includes grade school boys and girls basketball, high school teams, volleyball…even sometimes baseball, wrestling, and lacrosse.  Who am I forgetting?  Oh yes, there’s working around the school Christmas program, Art and Music events, Christmas and Easter masses, etc.   Did I mention there’s only ONE gym at SLDM?  That’s a lot of people arm wrestling for precious little time available.  Marshall takes all that on in service of many, because he is a self-sacrificing, kind, magnanimous soul.

Marshall to me can be described most aptly with the word selfless.

We could all stand to take a page out his playbook.  Thank you, Marshall, for all you do for the sake of the children and families of your parish.  YOU ARE THE REAL DEAL.

Mad for…Dave

hollensbe

Meet Dr. Dave Hollensbe.  I just always call him “Doc”.  Doc is a big fan of words like “hyperoxaluria” and “lithogenic”.  With his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, the Doc says “big words and doctor talk makes me feel so smart.”  He needn’t waste so much energy convincing me.  I already knew he was deeply sagacious.  See what I did there in your honor, big guy?

In all seriousness, Dave Hollensbe is both knowledgeable and prudent.   He’s a brilliant Urologist to whom I owe the last four kidney stone free years, the only 4 in a row of my entire adult life.  He’s a beast breaking rocks up with a laser too.  Also, his wise and timely aid is largely responsible for saving the life of my Dad, who became quite ill a few years back.

Doc is the father of three adult sons he’s crazy about and the husband of Teresa, a wife he quite clearly adores.  He’s a faithful Catholic man with a tough looking exterior, but try as he might with his quick wit and sarcasm, he’s unable to hide from this particular patient that underneath lies a teddy bear.

When my oldest college boy had a kidney stone incident a year or two ago, Dr. Hollensbe rang my cellphone and asked to talk to the kid while we were on the highway (from the Cincy ER) and headed home– to tell my Nick to come by his office at 7am the next morning.  We later found out it was his day off.  I can’t imagine how many of his urologic oncology patients and their families who have been treated with similar kindness over the years.

Rumor has it that Doc is a big fan of both golf and cigars…and he knows how to work the beads on a rosary.  Here are two things I know for sure. First, for the generous and compassionate human being that he is, I truly love this man.   Second,  If the old song holds true and “they’ll know we are Christians by our love”, then this guy, Dave, is going to be convicted.

Hate your luck, Doc.   🙂

Mad for…Jake

jlabus2

Good-natured, charismatic, and amiable are three words that come to mind when trying to describe Jake Labus.  He’s a 19-year old college freshman with friendly smile and a winning disposition.

What makes Jake incredibly special is that he is so darn gracious.  A faithful young man who has long served his church and community in a variety of impressive ways, Jake takes the time to smile and greet everyone in the room and he has a wide ranging friend group as a result.  Several of his peers called him “the most likeable guy I know” when I asked them to describe him.  When you are an incredibly bright college athlete like Jake is now for the DePauw University football team, or a popular standout in multiple sports in high school who also sings like an angel, it would be easy to fall into the “I’m kinda a big deal” trap.  Luckily for him, the good Lord gave him two older brothers and a younger sister who all have certainly helped… to keep him humble?

One day a year or so ago after mass, I ran into Jake’s pretty terrific mom, Deedy and his sister, Olivia, at a breakfast spot near church.  We sat down next to them as they were nibbling on a little something and chatted for a moment before a text came in to Deedy from her son Jake.  He wondered where they were, as they should have been home from church by then.  You see, Jake was at home and had a surprise breakfast waiting for them upon their return.  I’m pretty sure the Labus ladies had two breakfasts that day, and I know my own similarly aged kiddos couldn’t believe it.

That’s just Jake.  He’s sunshine wherever he goes.  This summer I hear he’s thinking about using those vast talents at St. Meinrad to be a retreat leader at the southern Indiana Seminary.  I can’t imagine he didn’t nail that interview.

There is much more that I could share about this fine young man, but I’ll just say one more thing.  This likable and grace-filled kid is the face of Jesus to all in his path. Truth.

Thanks, Jake, for sharing your sunshine with the Thieme family.  You make us all want to smile at the world just a little more generously!

Mad for…Gerry

GHepp

Day 3 of 365

This is a very official photo of Capt. Gerry Hepp of the Fishers Police Department.  Gerry is a dear friend of mine, and so I know him well enough to realize he won’t be super comfortable with my post.  I hope he will forgive me for sharing this fancy picture and my little love bomb today.

Integrity filled men like Gerry are treasures to the community, and to the individual lives they touch.  Gerry has served Fishers with his signature smile and a great deal of compassion for nearly 30 years in different capacities at the FPD.  He has witnessed humanity at its very best, and at it’s gut-wrenching worst.  He’s had some difficult days at work, in service of us all, that I dare not even attempt to describe.  Somehow, through all of that, he kept his sense of humor and his sunny disposition.

There were insane moments that must have an interior impact that only men and women who live their lives in service to others could understand fully, but Gerry still showed up at his son Cole’s baseball games ready to cheer on #5 doing his work behind the plate, or to watch little brother Clay run the point for the Golden Eagles.  He never failed to greet yours truly or whoever was in his path with a big smile and a warm hug.  I ran into him many times after he and Ann took their big bike ride to breakfast together, and he’s always ready with that grin and giggle.  A father like Gerry is a big reason why those two young men are similarly articulate, hard-working and kind.

Gerry is retiring.  In fact, he has already hauled his things out of the station.  I know this because he sent me a couple of photos from his last day.  How fantastic it was to find these in my text stream!

 

 

I hear there’s a retirement open house for Gerry scheduled for tomorrow at the Fishers PD Training room from noon-4.  I’m hoping lots of grateful folks will stop in and celebrate the career of Capt. Hepp.  He’s a truly fantastic human being.

Thanks, Gerry, for what you’ve spent decades doing for the community, but even more for the terrific witness of what a husband, father, brother and friend can really be to those around him.  LOVE YOU, FRIEND.

 

Mad for…Edie

Edie(2-365)

Day 2 of 365

Meet Edie.  She’s a proud mother of two daughters and a son, all grown, and she lives on the east side of Indianapolis in the Twin Aire neighborhood.  That’s where the new prison is being built, she tells me.  She also thinks a savvy investor would put a fast food place in near her home, since there are plenty of customers but no place to buy a quick sandwich.  Until recently, Edie had one grandchild.  Now, she suddenly has 3 with one on the way.  You see one of her children recently adopted two kiddos who needed a family, and her daughter who has been struggling to get pregnant announced at Christmas the joyous news that she and her husband are expecting.  What lucky little ones to have such a welcoming and lovely woman as a grandma!

I’ve been calling her “Evie” by mistake for years.  She cheerfully waved off my apology, but she figured I’d want to have it correct.  She’s right.

Edie manages the Classic Cleaner location on Hazel Dell Parkway at 131st near my home in north east Carmel.  Since my CPA husband goes through dress shirts pretty quickly, I see her quite often.  Here’s what makes Edie special.  She ALWAYS greets me with a smile.  She asks about my kids, who have occasionally stopped in with me over the years.  I’m not particularly notable as customers go.  It’s simply what Edie does with ALL HER CUSTOMERS.  Edie is unfailingly sunny, and incredibly friendly and kind.  She’s a pro at what she does, but a hero for who she is.

Thanks for making my neighborhood a little brighter everyday, Edie!

Mad for…Tom

Happy New Year! Holy cow, it’s 2019.   I have this idea, and we’ll see how things develop, but it seems to me the world needs just a lot more love.  So, for this coming year I’d like to try and be the reason someone believes just a teeny bit more in the goodness of people.  That’s a rather vague and hard to measure resolution, huh?

What if I spend a few minutes each day typing up a little love bomb about a terrific person and point them out to you?  Could I perhaps even come up with a different one to share everyday this year?  That seems like a long shot for a girl with my utter lack of discipline and perseverance in most things…but that’s the goal.  It’s my column, so the rules are all mine, but my intention is to choose 365 people that I know and people that I don’t, but who somehow stand out in my day.  Maybe, you’ll be inspired by the awesomeness of one of them, or perhaps you might read and start looking for people that shine in your little circle and find your heart feeling much more full of all things good and holy?  Would that make the world just a little brighter in 2019?  

Let’s give it a whirl.

Tom-Shelly2018

Day 1 of 365:   MAD FOR….TOM

I don’t usually write about my husband.  The reason is that he doesn’t like it.  The thing is, if I am going to start a year long column highlighting the goodness of ordinary people and I don’t choose him today, then that is a flagrant foul on me.

You see, Tom’s been home for a week.  He’s an antsy sort of human.  Most of the year, the need to “do something” is satisfied on the golf course.  Unfortunately for him, it’s December in Indiana, so that’s not an option.  Instead, he used his culinary talents to smoke us beef tenderloin on Christmas, and he snuck $100 bills into the stockings of three young men who were thrilled to receive the unexpected windfall.  He spent a day cooking Ina Garten’s jambalaya (OH MY GOSH YUM) and then followed it up with a tailgate food fest fit for a basement full of Boilermakers (RIP, Purdue).

He wrapped up his laptop and put my name on the box for Christmas, a symbolic gesture to let me know he wanted to gift me new computer of my choosing.  He called me out for frowning as we attempted to return an ill-fitting sweater, but forgave me, when I was way too cranky anyway at the Castleton Square Mall– a place I have sworn to never visit again.  Based on that experience, I’ll call the time of death on retail shopping…but I digress.

Tom labored over homemade chicken pot pie, and he played 20 rounds of Wizard with me and Zach.  He made sure the tuition bills at Xavier and Purdue were handled.  He went to Kroger.  There were multiple trips.  Did you catch that last one?  HE WENT TO KROGER.  Do you have any idea how much I loathe Kroger and their assumption that I want to be an employee of their grocery establishment?  If you know me at all, then you know how happy I was to skip even a single trip to that god-forsaken place.  Yeah Tom!!

This evening, we’ll be holding the 5th annual “OCTAGONATHON”.  It’s a family tradition instituted by my husband.  I think.  If he isn’t the creative genius behind it, he is certainly the presenting sponsor!  There are 8 events ranging from Ping Pong to Jenga and the Thieme men take it very seriously.  There are also serious prizes.  My personal goal is to not finish last.

The point of my tribute today is to just say this.  Tom Thieme wins PLAYER OF THE WEEK honors here at 5350 Randolph Crescent.  We are blessed to call him ours.

I love you, Tom.  Happy New Year!

P.S.  Live Tweeting (@shellythieme) is a thing for the Octagonathon for those of you who enjoy following along from home.

Confessions of a Creeper…

I am what my Dad’s friend, Ed, calls a “creeper”.  Apparently, this is a quality dreaded by persons with whom the offender cohabitates.  You see, evidently there is an invisible line of demarcation on a bathroom counter.  One ought not to cross said line for any reason.  “Creeper” is the official term used for repeat offenders of this “law”.

Last week, Tom and I were in a small territorial war it seems.  I would place my oversized bottle of Scope over the “Mason-Dixon” line, and then when I was not around he would place it back on my side of the counter.  This went on for several days until he placed my Sam’s Club sized bottle of mouthwash as far as he could place it away from his side, all the way in the far left corner of my sink.

Arriving home Friday night, he noticed that the offending antiseptic was nowhere to be seen.  VICTORY was his!  I had seen the light and put the bottle away under my sink as he had been hoping I would!  Sheepishly, as he changed for our dinner out with friends, he mentioned to me about our little passive-aggressive counter top battle and how happy he was that I had seen the light.

This story came to my mind after my Election Day experience on Tuesday.  You see, I went to my polling place at the Carmel Fire Station on 131st St. and I encountered a fairly lengthy line of folks snaking around the fire truck waiting their turn to vote in the mid-terms.  That gave me time to make a friend. Just in front of me our good and gracious God placed a friendly woman with whom I quickly struck up a conversation.  She told me she was a Jewish woman from Iran and that she had moved to the US when she was 14. She marveled at all the things that make America “the greatest country on earth” (her words) not the least of which is the remarkably civil way we treat others who are on the other side of the aisle from us—who have a different perspective.  I’m pretty sure I crinkled my nose about that last part. Does this gal not own a TV? She further explained that she knew to me that must sound crazy as we have lost our way a bit with all the over the top yelling at each other and mean TV ads.  “But at the end of the day, if the current leader loses the election, he will call to congratulate the winner.  Then, he will give him the keys to his office peacefully and without incident.  In my old country, if you lose the election, they kill you.”  Yikes.  How do I take back my crinkled up nose?

She went on to explain that she misses the civil discourse she used to see here a bit more regularly.  We discussed the concept of “agreeing to disagree”.  She said the “your side vs. my side” stuff was tiring and that we definitely should put our phones down and quit making comments on Facebook and Twitter that we wouldn’t dream of saying in person.   She expressed her deep desire that we remember what it is to speak face- to- face about what is bothering us.  “It just works better,” she added “but democracy is amazing and I could never dream of skipping the opportunity to vote!”  AMEN.

This leads me back to our territorial battle over the bathroom counter at the Thieme house.  Here’s the rub.  I had NO IDEA what Tom was talking about when he thought I had seen the light and corrected the error of my “creeper” ways.  In fact, when I realized what had been going on under my nose, I just looked up at him with very genuine confusion, followed quickly by a great big belly laugh.  Then, he shook his head and started laughing too.  I mean,  good grief!  It’s been 24 years of marriage.  Despite the genius of his patient and repeated witness on this concept, one would think by now my remarkably intelligent husband would grasp the fact that I simply do not speak passive- aggressive?  Nevertheless, my face, as it often does, told him the full story.  I just had genuinely missed the entire week of counter wars.  I had no clue he was bugged by the Scope and zero idea there was a “thing” happening.  His frustration was completely lost on me.   I’m just authentically not that into worrying about where stuff is on the counter.  This explains why the “house” part of “housewife” gets me every time.   It was at that moment he saw it too and we both began to look at each other and really laugh.

At the end of the day, Tom and I did one thing right.  We realized we are living in the same house and we were able to laugh about how differently we think and navigate life.  Discussing our disagreements rationally and with an open mind is virtually always more effective than engaging in civil war?  I am never going to care about where the Scope is stored.  Tom is never going to be happy living with a creeper.  Chances are good we can negotiate a solution here that is good for us both.

Compromise, agreeing to disagree, laughing with each other despite differences— these are all simple concepts worth revisiting.

No tennis shoes on the bed in exchange for the Scope under the sink…..what do you say, hon?

No matter who you were for this election season, I hope you voted!

God Bless America.

Kooky Aunt Helen

In loving memory of my peculiar, imprudent, silly and utterly amazing great aunt Helen Lammers…
On left, my photo from inside San Luigi dei Francesi, “The Calling of St. Matthew”

Allow me to introduce you to my Aunt Helen. To merely describe her as a colorful figure in my childhood would do her a tragic disservice. Aunt Helen always wore a wig and whatever was trending in the juniors department at Kmart. I recall quite a few long, bold fish necklaces paired with stirrup pants, big sweaters and those plastic shoes we called “jellies” on her feet. Her gifts at the holidays were always my favorite, despite being the least expensive of all the offerings, because they were so obnoxiously wrapped, one inside the other. The unwrapping lasted a long time…which I found incredibly fun! Inside, there would inevitably be some vibrating or glow in the dark plastic trinket mostly likely purchased at Spencer gifts.

If you could hum her a few bars, she could play absolutely any song you wished on her piano. She rarely, if ever, used sheet music. She liked us to sing along with her to songs like “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”, and she always insisted I sing it in an octave a little higher than my alto voice wanted to go. “It sounds prettier,” she’d whisper. She wrote a little song about me as a small girl, the chorus of which included my entire proper name, which somehow rhymed the way she sang it. Phonetically, it sounded like “ME-SHEL-LIN DIE-Q-ZIN… is a very pretty girl.” There were verses too, but I don’t remember them now. I do, however, remember that chorus and how she made me feel when she sang that song.

Aunt Helen was the sister of my grandmother, Pauline. That made her my great aunt, in reality. She had one beloved son who had long since moved to Florida when I was coming of age, and he was unmarried. That made my sister, Robin and myself her adopted grandchildren. Since Mom was a young student at Purdue when she married my Dad, Aunt Helen was a frequent babysitter. I spent a lot of time at her little house on 27th Street, just a block from Columbian Park and with a backyard that virtually backed into the front door of the old Home Hospital. We made tents out of the sheets she hung from her clothesline in the backyard and spent whole afternoons pretending to hold an imaginary circus, making a palace for our dolls, or trying on her closet full of high heels. It didn’t matter that we were without a swimsuit. If it was hot and we wanted to run through her sprinkler, she just told us not to worry about a silly problem like swimsuits and she let us run through in our underwear. We’d break pieces of bread and toss them back into their bread bags and take them to the park to feed the ducks. The larger, more aggressive among the flock terrified me not just a little, and my running from them made Aunt Helen cackle with delight on many occasions.

As I grew older, we remained close. She was my confirmation sponsor. When Tom and I were in high school and then in college, we would stop in to visit my Aunt Helen (and Uncle Charlie) to play euchre. It was always girls vs. boys and I really have no recollection of who won or who lost. I just remember my quirky Uncle Charlie always slow playing his 1 beer and 3 oreos, which by the way, was the same pace at which he played euchre. We always left there smiling and feeling like it was time well spent. I loved Tom for all the hands of cards he played with me and my grandparents as well as Aunt Helen and Uncle Charlie.

When she passed away down in Florida, where she went to live with her son Johnny at the end of her life, I recall feeling robbed of the opportunity to properly mourn someone I loved so deeply. All those years later, I honestly still feel that way. Here’s the utterly inappropriate and yet awesome gift Aunt Helen gave me. I knew I was her favorite. She was embarrassingly open about the fact that she liked me just a little better than everyone else, and in fact it got her into some trouble with my grandmother as well as my parents. “Helen, you can’t ask the girls what they want for dinner and then ALWAYS make what Shelly asks for,” my grandmother would scold. As a parent myself, I know I would be vocal about this kind of favoritism when it comes to my boys. It was wrong….oh so wrong….B-U-T….I always felt beloved by her.

When I was in Rome very recently, I found myself in the very front left corner of a church called “San Luigi dei Francesi” which translates “The Church of St. Louis of the French” and it is not far from Piazza Navona. One of the side chapels in this beautiful church contains some spectacular paintings by the baroque master Caravaggio. This includes a world renowned canvas of “The Calling of St. Matthew”, the seeing of which rather took my breath away. It has long been a painting I consider a favorite for spiritual reasons I don’t think I can convey adequately here. To look up, though, and see it in person felt a whole lot like being that 8 year-old girl who knew she was Aunt Helen’s favorite. In that instant, a certain feeling of belovedness which often eludes me, just washed over me.

For just a moment, I nearly drowned in it.

Writing about a moment of divine intimacy, or of spiritual consolation is often said to be a poor idea, as it’s very giving away can serve to minimize or trollop on the moment which was perhaps meant to be a private gift between one soul and it’s Creator, among other reasons.

Here’s the reason I’m doing it anyway. The thing that had long prevented me from growing closer to God was a disordered view of myself. Like A LOT of people I know, I had been Matthew with my head on the table. I am quick to believe all criticism and remember all failure, and loathe to believe in my goodness. I long felt like Matthew with his head on the table saying “not me, Lord.” He was a hated tax collector, he was all things unworthy. Yet there was Jesus pointing at him saying, “Come follow me.”

We think we are so darn smart, but our self-knowledge and ingenuity are utterly insufficient, and they certainly won’t effectuate union with God. What we really need is a supernatural faith. We need a faith that understands God loves His children more than we love ours. We need to know that we are worthy, our lives priceless, simply because WE ARE HIS.

If you are reading my words today, I want you to know something. YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU ARE WORTHY.

This summer, my cousin took his life and that of his family. This fall, a young college senior named Evan, who was the very picture of goodness, took his life. Last week, the nephew of a church friend, a young man named JJ, the only child of his parents, took his life. In the last year alone, my pastor has buried 5 of his parishioners after the same tragedy. Folks, this must stop.

I’m not quite sure how but we must help and it must begin with being unafraid to love others. That means EVERYONE. ALWAYS. You and I maybe aren’t mental health professionals. We are just regular people like my Aunt Helen. What can we do about it, right? I mean who are we to solve such a big problem? I’m not sure.

However, I do know this. Aunt Helen was divorced at a young age, a thing about which she never spoke. She liked her cocktails a little too much. She thought iodine and baby oil was the nectar of the Gods and should be slathered upon the human body whenever the sun peaked out. She seemed to believe pimento cheese and fried chicken were both food groups unto themselves. Also, in her quirky and ordinary life, she was the face of Christ to me. Despite her flaws, God used her to teach me that I am beloved. She was a person who seemed to see the butterfly wings I couldn’t spot because they were behind me. So, when God came close to remind me, I remembered the feeling as I gazed at the beauty of the Caravaggio painting and He drew me in.

I left there thinking about how very much I love Him, and that I can do more for the Lord.

The beautiful senses God has given us can help us grow in holiness. I feel His love at mass, in the Eucharist and when Tom kisses me gently on the forehead. I feel it when a friend sends me a sweet card or when the sun sets over Lake Michigan—and apparently in the corners of dusty old churches in Rome I discover with Mom.

This week, we celebrated the feast day of one of my favorites, St. Theresa of Avila. She said this. “The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and do that which best stirs you to love.”

I don’t know how to fix so many problems I see in this world, but I think it starts there.

 

Too Much to Lose

Author’s note: I was asked by a friend who is a recent convert to the faith to share my take on the Catholic Church in all her messiness. I’m just one Jesus girl who loves the Lord and who cannot imagine life without the Eucharist, and therefore her Church family, and this is my take. Whatever you read in this, know one thing for sure. You are loved beyond all measure by God. Always. -ST

“Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops.” –Archbishop Fulton Sheen

When I was an 8 year-old at St. Lawrence Catholic School, I remember a morning filled with genuine heart ache—and a few tears too. You see, nearly every member of my fairly large class had some important role to play in the all-school mass being organized by Miss Mecklenburg’s 3rd grade class. I did not. Cue the pathetic meltdown. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, been a little too emotional for my own good, and the truth is, the Lord used this amazing teacher to help draw me to Himself that year. It wasn’t about “I’m a better reader” or “that’s not fair” for me on that sad little morning. It’s a moment I’ve never forgotten (almost 40 years later) because that little girl was just authentically sad about not being able to do something special for Jesus that day. I wasn’t worried about what any of my classmates thought of me, I was just this innocent child who wanted to show the Lord she loved Him. The truth is, it never occurred to me that my ridiculous sniffling might cause my teacher or my classmates to disapprove or think less of me. Eight year olds don’t think like that. With children this age, the one thing you can you can almost always be assured of is authenticity. In good news, I’ve since come to realize that Jesus can see our hearts, even if we don’t get picked to bring up the gifts at mass.

To this housewife from Indiana, therein lies the critical disconnect in this current crisis in my beloved Church. When we forget that in the end, it’s all between us and our Lord, we are lost.

In all walks of life, at all ages and stages, our humanity inevitably oozes forth. When you’re eight, it’s transparent. Unfortunately, as we age, we often lose the ability to be truly genuine. That means that on the edges of the humanity continuum, there are some childlike (genuine) souls who pour out their lives working to be the face of Jesus, and others become more wicked or manipulative and end up reminding us more of Judas.

Miss Mecklenburg? She was the former. She noticed my pained face and pulled me aside. She promised another role, another day. I knew in that moment, because of her kindness, that God had something else in mind for me (and the fact that it involved me getting a brand new green velvet dress for Christmas mass was pretty cool too). She also taught us about satan that year. In fact, she is the only teacher I can remember in 12 years of Catholic school, bringing up the topic of evil in such a courageous way. She encouraged us, when we encountered the diabolical (my word, not hers) in our lives, to speak the name of Jesus, aloud, repeating it if we must. “He will flee if you do that.” I recall that conversation scaring me, as I had not considered the presence of darkness in that way. However, she loved us enough to speak truth, in love. I have always used her sage advice.

Unfortunately, on the other end of the spectrum, far from everyday heroes like my 3rd grade teacher—across all walks of life– are folks who violate all goodness and commit acts which I would characterize as gravely depraved. Turn on CNN. The profound lack of moral integrity exists in all types of folks including parents, teachers, coaches, police officers, doctors, priests, bishops…and the list goes on. This article is not really about the fact that there are deeply disturbed criminals among us. You already know that if you ever watch the news. A neglectful mother doesn’t make us all neglectful, a careless doctor doesn’t make them all careless, and an abusive priest doesn’t make them all abusers, obviously.

The challenge for me is, what about the rest of us, and what about people in positions of moral authority who fail to lead? What is our collective responsibility? There are (I would argue, otherwise decent) folks who overlooked the misdeeds of Dr. Larry Nasser. There are fellow officers of the law who performed their own roles lawfully but who noticed their co-worker’s propensity for violence or racism and said little. There are shepherds in our church who turned a blind eye to abusive clerics at all levels.

“Cry out! Cry out with a thousand tongues! This world is rotten because of silence.” –St. Catherine of Siena

When we avoid all controversy, choose the path of least resistance, and work to keep from offending everyone, it sets us up for a lukewarm life. We all want to be in the inner ring, so to speak. If we who are essentially good reveal the content of our hearts, we fear we will lose approval, acceptance, or prestige. When we have too much to lose, we tend to compromise, lest we lose our upward mobility, our power, or whatever it is we are valuing more than truth.

Our religious leaders are a lot like many of us in that way. We all want an invitation to the party. We feel we have too much to lose to make a stink. Have you ever had a close friend or family member you knew needed honesty, but whom you feared losing even if you lovingly tried to point out a serious concern? Did you go ahead and speak the truth or did you decide it wasn’t your place?

When our Bishops have this mindset, though, it’s a huge problem. Their failure to act on their moral authority in a holy way undermines the life of the Church. Discretion seems to be the word they love more than they should. It’s probably partly what landed them in pink hats, actually.  We are to be impressed when they speak like elite academics. The problem is that when they are insulated from genuine communication with the laity, when they insist on formal letters from the priests in their diocese who have urgent issues to discuss, when they are long on administrative skills and short on pastoral experience, when they are positioning themselves instead of shepherding real people, it gets us precisely here.

I don’t want a confessor who assures me “it’s ok” when I commit a serious sin. I want mercy and forgiveness to be sure, but also I need fraternal correction. I’m looking for Christ in that interaction.  I have a holy, courageous priest and other friends willing to do that in my life.

Guess what? Our leaders need the same. Some of them have forgotten who they are and to whom they ultimately belong. I’m not suggesting our priests and bishops start sending out their cell phone numbers to everyone. You know what though? That would be standing alongside your flock, huh? Right now, a little more authenticity and courageous leadership would sure be a breath of fresh air.

I’ll leave it to the most holy, clever and creative of the bunch to find a way to be the salt and the light and show us the path forward. However, we must demand honest and courageous shepherds! Indignation and righteous anger have a place at the table right now for us who sit in the pews. In the midst of this diabolical masterpiece unleashed on us by the devil himself, though, I vote we cry out every day like I was taught in 3rd grade and call upon our Savior by name. Let’s just keep crying out to the Lord. Why over complicate things? Pray! I read once that even Pope John XXIII, now a canonized saint, would pray before bedtime in a childlike manner and say, “Oh Lord, I’m going to bed. It’s your church. Take care of it!”

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of it’s dignity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” –Hilare Belloc 

Rother 

ABOVE:  Bl. Stanley Rother

Because a funny Irish priest once told my mom, “Ye gots to leave ‘em with a wee bit of hope”, let me give you a shining example of a saintly shepherd by whom I find myself inspired. Oklahoma native, Stanley Rother, became a priest who eventually served the poor in Guatemala. A dangerous civil war broke out and all religious were targets. He was urged to leave. He defiantly refused. On July 28, 1981, he was attacked and killed in his rectory. Shortly before he died, he explained why he was staying with his people, despite the incredible courage and fidelity it must have taken to stay with his flock and lead at an impossible time. He said, “A shepherd doesn’t run at the first sign of danger.”

Amen to that. To all you holy priests and bishops out there, I stand with you. You are heroes who bring us the sacraments, without which, we cannot live. I urge you to remember this is no time for weakness and I want you to know of my daily prayers for you. Thank you for all you do each day. Truly, I love you amazing men!

To those who have been abused and victimized by evil people, my prayers are for your healing and for justice.

Bl. Staney Rother, first martyr born in the United States, PRAY FOR US!

Footnote:  For those in the area, Fr. Don Wolf, the cousin of Bl. Stanley Rother, will be coming to give a first person account of his holy and inspiring life on Oct. 23 at 7pm at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Carmel, Indiana.  It’s a free event, and all are welcome.