Recently, the subject of reconciliation came up in a conversation with a Baptist friend of mine. I found out he grew up in a world that thought Catholics believed only the pope could speak to God. After settling that erroneous claim, I tried to explain reconciliation. As I was describing the experience and explaining the belief system, I realized I was giving more real life examples than theological explanations. I ended up coming to my own conclusion: Catholicism touches the human, lived experience. I had never put it into those words before, but had always felt that was true.

God doesn’t often take us out of this human world to communicate with us. Certainly there are times when we feel we’ve reached a particularly holy place in our prayer, but God plays on our human senses to do it. We experience the world, and God, in this body, and our Church speaks to that experience by showing us that God reveals God’s love for us in this world.

We sing joyful music at Easter and Christmas, expressing our happiness and joy of the season. We use incense during adoration or certain special days throughout the year, awakening our sense of smell. We eat and drink (how much more human can we get!), weekly, or daily, the Body and Blood of Christ. When someone is sick, there is a ritual to help ease the suffering, a communal experience to show the love of God through the gathered community. When two people confess their love for each other, we have a way for them to express this love publicly, as one is wont to do when in love! We are constantly marking life with the holy.

I have a distinct memory of eating lunch at my grandparents’ house as a child. I was hungry and eager to eat the feast my grandmother had prepared and I started to eat before everyone had sat down. She immediately caught me and told me that we needed to pray to thank God for what had been provided us. “After all,” she said, “the food tastes better if we pray before we eat.” I was skeptical at my grandmother’s claim, but paid more attention to my food after we prayed and it somehow was different. This was clearly a line you feed to small children to get them to pay attention and pray, but it has stuck with me and has made eating a meal together a sacred experience. We are constantly making meaning out of our life experiences, even the routine ones. We are constantly marking life with the holy.

This idea of Catholicism involving the human, lived experience is not my idea alone. The idea of “Catholic imagination” has been around for many years. Most widely known is Andrew Greeley’s book, “Catholic Imagination.” He says, “Creation is grace, and the Church is a sacrament which bears witness to that truth.” [1] Let us break down this rich statement.

Grace is God revealing Godself to us. So, creation (i.e. trees, people, animals, mountains) is a way God reveals Godself to us. That is why when we come to a cliff looking out over water, a forest, or the Grand Canyon we stare in awe and beauty. We may also sense some otherness in these sites; there must be something bigger than us that created this awe-inspiring view. God reveals something about Godself in these views.

The Church, in this context, is the institution of the Catholic Church. Sacraments are encounters with the living Christ, here and now; they reveal and make present the reality of God.[2] Andrew Greeley describes sacrament as the “revelation of the presence of God.” [3] So, the Church reveals God’s presence. Creation is how God reveals Godself to us, and the Church reveals God’s presence, which backs up the claim that God reveals Godself through creation. The Church puts an exclamation point on the truth that God is active in creation! The Church does this through mass, through the sacraments, and through the preaching and witnessing of its members— it is about telling a story.

As an illustration of how this human lived experience is reflected in Catholicism in a unique way, I will use my own family’s story with tragedy and grief.

On Saturday, September 4, 1999 my oldest brother, Neil, collided with a train while driving home. At 21 years of age he was fit and on track for a successful college baseball career. His life as he knew it—my family’s life as we knew it—was suddenly and drastically changed. Neil sustained a brain injury that left his left arm and leg limp and his speech faint. Neil would spend the next two years on a road to recovery that he is still navigating today.

Because of the injuries he sustained, Neil spent about five months in a coma. After testing out of a coma he had surgery to replace bone of his skull that had been shattered in the accident.  It was unknown at the time that, because of the replacement, fluid was gathering around his brain making his rehabilitation regress. It took five months for doctors to be convinced something needed to be changed. He had another surgery to reroute the fluid easing the pressure, and improving his rehabilitation. Neil’s first memory since the week of the accident occurred shortly after the shunt surgery– 10 months after the accident. After leaving the Intensive Care Unit, he spent about 15 months in the rehabilitation center.

Since leaving the rehabilitation center Neil learned to walk, bought his own condo, completed an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, and found a job he loves. He has regained his life.

This is my family’s story. By telling this story I am helping to create meaning in my family’s experience. Just as I was able to describe to my Baptist friend the experience of God in reconciliation through stories, I describe the experience of God through my family’s story. We are constantly marking life with the holy.

As is often the case in tragedies, there were many graces that occurred during this time that we are still discovering and unfolding today.

[1] Greeley, Andrew, The Catholic Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 6.

[2] The Catechism for the Catholic Church, Liberia Editrice Vaticano (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1995), # 1084 & 1127.

[3] Ibid, 1.

Hope and Renewal


“…the liturgical reenactment of the death and resurrection of Jesus can influence our perspective to see that life, though tragic at times, is not beyond hope and renewal (Gula, 1989).”

As children we are often sheltered from tragedy–or at least our parents attempt to shelter us. Unfortunetly, tragedy occurs anyway no matter how much we are sheltered, no matter how much we prepare. I have seen friends come back after difficult break-ups, family live again after a death, and a country mourn the loss of thousands of loved ones.

How do we stand up from our tragedies? With hope and a renewed sense of life.

My workplace recently suffered a fire caused by a member of the community. Although her mental state was most likely to blame for the act, it still hurt that someone would purposefully put others, and themselves, in danger.

We have been displaced from our offices for about two weeks and our worship space for about three months while cleaning and repairs happen. It is a disorienting feeling to have a place you love and worship in be purposefully damaged. It is scary to thing that this woman could have hurt so many people; so many I have grown to love. The incredible part is how the community has stepped up to take care of each other; both the students and residents, and the surrounding community.

How do we stand up from our tragedies? With hope and a renewed sense of life.

This community is so much more than just the space we worship in. Once we knew we would not be in our worship space for some time, we went about finding an alternate worship space. An auditorium on campus has become our temporary house of worship. We are so much more than the space we worship in.

The first weekend after the fire was inspiring. Our numbers were down somewhat, but we easily made the switch of location because we crave that community, we long for that community  and familiarity displaced from the fire. Throughout our liturgical reenactment of Jesus’ life and death that weekend, we regained our hope, our renewed sense of life that would not have existed if we did not come together to worship in community. What brought us together was the hunger to know that there is someone more than us “out there” who knows, loves, and cares for us deeply. How do we experience that knowing, loving and caring? Through those around us. I find my hope and renewed sense of life through Jesus Christ, shown to me in the eyes of another.

How do we stand up from our tragedies? With hope and a renewed sense of life.