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This page contains two Church Chat columns, Numbers 105 and 106, dated January 20 and February 9, 2015.

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Number 105, January 20, 2015

The Book


I hope you noticed but in case you hadn't, it's been a long time since I wrote a Church Chat column. Over six months, in fact. It's time to get chatting again.

The reason I interrupted the columns is that I reorganized the previous chats and turned them into a book. The title is Church Chat: Snapshots of a Changing Catholic Church, and it is now available as a hardback, soft cover or an e-book from iUniverse, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or through the Church Chat website ( You can also get them from me. (

It was an enlightening project. I arranged the columns around 7 themes: Yes, Your Eminence; Can You Believe It?; You Gotta' Be Kidding; Culture vs. Catholic; Spiritual Tidbits; Holydays or Holidays; The Francis Factor and other Signs of Hope.

What I found in putting them together like this is that each chapter borrows from the neighboring chapters and has a different nuance than it had as a stand-alone. So, even if you read all the columns over the past five years, my guess is that they will take on some added dimensions when you read them again in the context of a common theme. But I doubt that everyone has read all 100 columns anyway.

If you read the book, here are some features to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to read the Introduction because it explains the purpose, format, and some things to look for as you proceed.
  • One major thread throughout the book is the contrast between John Paul II and Benedict XVI on one hand, and Francis I on the other. This surprising change in papal leadership creates an historic and exciting time in church history, and these chapters catalogue that experience and demonstrate a dramatic turning point in Catholicism. And we get to live it!
  • This is a great time for a book like this. We are still close enough in time to remember some details about how it was with John Paul II and Benedict XVI. And now Francis makes different news every day. Transition times stir things up and rearrange priorities, and this book gives us a chance to stand back a little, catch our breath, and see where we've been while we try to process what's happening each day.
  • I updated some of the chapters with a short section at the end which I call “Francis Follow-Up”. These current comments demonstrate the contrast between the topic of the chapter with the new Francis spirit. I also included some brief but appropriate quotes from Francis' book The Joy of the Gospel.
  • We don't know the permanent impact of a Francis-lead church. Will everything that I want and you want become church policy? Probably not, but it certainly is much more encouraging than it was a few years ago. So, let's enjoy the ride and see where we end up!
  • The final section of the book is an expansion of the character I created in my last few columns: the fictional Bishop Schneider. The poor guy is having a very difficult time with Francis because it appears that, among other things, Francis has pulled the bishop's Persian rug out from under him. You can finish reading the book by peeking into Schneider's journal and feeling the terrible dilemma he faces.
  • There is a thorough Index at the back of the book so you can find any theme, person, or topic you might want to re-read.
  • I am proud to have the endorsements of Mike Leach and Dan and Sheila Daley for the book. Mike is a noted author (Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life Changing Question, among others) and a columnist for NCR (Soul Seeing). Dan and Sheila are co-founders of Call to Action. I appreciate their encouraging comments.

I am deeply grateful to Jon Garinn for creating a website and a Facebook page around this book. Check it out: There are multiple features on the site and all future Church Chat columns will be posted there as well as the regular email distribution. The site also provides a place for all of us to chat, some references to my other books, and a place to recommend favorite authors and their books. Jon is a master and I can't thank him enough for making this social outreach possible.

In short, two things: buy the book and, if you like it, recommend it to others. To be frank, there is no budget to promote the book. So, word of mouth and the website/Facebook social media efforts are the best ways to spread the message.

Actually, that approach fits best with what this is all about anyway: chatting.

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Number 106, February 9, 2015



I have one of those cool umbrellas that fold up from a number of directions and fit nicely into my coat pocket. It's very handy if rain sneaks up on me when I am going from my car to a building. It keeps my head dry unless, of course, the wind is blowing and then I get soaked from the neck down and wet on the side away from the wind.

That convenient little umbrella helps but doesn't really protect me as well as I want.

I also have one of those big ole umbrellas that creates an extra foot of protection in all directions and lets me walk dryly through Noah's 10th day of flood-rain. It is an ugly umbrella and certainly not very convenient to carry around but it is big enough to house a couple of us.

I think of the church as a big umbrella available to many while other people believe the church is like the little, convenient but minimally effective, fold up, pocket sized umbrella.

And here's the main point: we can choose which church umbrella we carry.

Once we are baptized and adult, we can choose to be whatever kind of Catholic we want to be. The church doesn't really kick people out, even though it sometimes is very unwelcoming. As a result, some people self-select out of the church. In the end, the only thing that, in practice, keeps people away from the church is their own uninformed or informed decision to leave.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Since 2014 and 2015 are the years for synods on the family, and divorce/remarriage is a hot item, let's chat about that issue a little. The official teaching says that divorced Catholics without an annulment cannot remarry and still receive the Eucharist. That law is based on some flimsy sacramental theology regarding Catholic marriage reflecting the union of Christ with the Church. Doesn't it seem oppressive that every single valid Catholic marriage must measure up to the highest possible standard imaginable: Christ's love-union with the People of God? Catholic couples are condemned and denied the Eucharist because they don't love as much and as well as God does? Why does a valid, sacramental marriage carry such a burden? How does the forgiving, compassionate Jesus wind up being the bad guy, through this church law, who rejects people who want to receive Him in communion? That's clearly not the Jesus of the gospel.

The big umbrella church takes a different stance. As a divorced, remarried person without an annulment, you can choose to participate fully in the Eucharist, receive communion, grow in your faith, and continue your journey toward love. Do not internalize the church's current law about divorce and remarriage, and be at peace. If you want to jump through the annulment hoops, do so. If you don't, continue as a practicing Catholic. The church can't kick you out. If someone tries that, ignore him/her and do what you choose. You are not a bad person and Jesus continues to love you. Don't let them separate you from your Catholic community. We want you and need you, and so does Jesus.

  1. If you feel that the church condemns you because you are “living in sin” – cohabitating, stealing from your employer, selling drugs to feed your own addiction, in a gay/lesbian relationship, etc., you can keep coming to church and receive the Eucharist and participate in the ministries of the community as much as you want. Jesus' invitation to follow Him trumps the worthiness requirements the church has created over the centuries. If you wish, the sacrament of reconciliation can make the healing ministry of Jesus very real. If you can't do that right now, keep coming with an open heart and participate fully.

Again, the church can't keep you out if you decide you want to remain an active part of the community. Ultimately, it is your decision if you want to be an active Catholic.

  1. Some people have opted out of the Catholic Church because of some of the teachings, structure, run-ins with popes, bishops or priests, or something that happened years ago. This decision also is up to the individual. But remember this: some people who object to those same teachings, structure and who have had similar run-ins choose to remain in the church because other parts of the church and other positive experiences are spiritually enriching and these people don't want to lose those other experiences.

With a big umbrella view of the church, the choice is ours about whether we remain Catholic or not. Go ahead, open that umbrella and stay with us.

(The book, Church Chat: Snapshots of a Changing Catholic Church, is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iUniverse or from me. Check the website: and the corresponding Facebook page for more information and to chat back.)

2015 Essays
The Big Umbrella - Church Chat #106, February 9, 2015
The Book - Church Chat #105, January 20, 2015

2014 Essays
Story versus System - Church Chat #104, April 5, 2014
Bishop Schneider's Dilemna - Church Chat #103, March 18, 2014
Bishop Schneider's Priests - Church Chat #102, February 12, 2014
Meet Bishop Schneider - Church Chat #101, January 26, 2014
Step by Step - Church Chat #100, January 7, 2014

2013 Essays
A Christmas Wish - Church Chat #99, December 23, 2013
Survey - Church Chat #97, November 16, 2013
Church and Politics - Church Chat #95, October 11, 2013
Creed, Code, Cult - Church Chat #92, August 18, 2013
Rio Repeated - Church Chat #91, July 30, 2013
The Pope Francis Fan Club - Church Chat #90, July 12, 2013
A Priest Forever - Church Chat #89, June 21, 2013
People of Good Will - Church Chat #88, May 30, 2013
Urgency - Church Chat #87, May 6, 2013
Trickledown Papacy - Church Chat #86, April 16, 2013
Selection of a Pope - Church Chat #84, March 10, 2013
If I Only Knew Then - Church Chat #82, February 4, 2013
Suicide - Church Chat #81, January 16, 2013

2012 Essays
'TIS NOT THE SEASON - Church Chat 80, December 17, 2012
Lunch - Church Chat 79, November 17, 2012
Revolution - Church Chat 78, October 29, 2012
Democracy - Church Chat 77, October 15, 2012
Religious Liberty - Church Chat 76, September 28, 2012 - Church Chat 74, August 20, 2012
Feelings - Church Chat 72, July 10, 2012
Conscience - Church Chat 71, June 16, 2012
The Butler Did Not Do It - Church Chat 70, June 2, 2012
The Vatican Catholic Church - Church Chat 69, May 17, 2012
Schism - Church Chat 67, April 25, 2012
Fear - Church Chat 67, April 16, 2012
Holy Week - Church Chat 66, April 5, 2012
Church, Inc. - Church Chat 64, March 1, 2012
Loyalty to ? - Church Chat, February 16, 2012
The New World - Church Chat #62, February 6, 2012
Big Stuff, Little Stuff - Church Chat #60, January 20, 2012

2011 Essays
Resolutions - Church Chat of December 29, 2011
New Liturgy Christmas - Church Chat of December 12, 2011
Doctrine versus Mission - Church Chat of November 25, 2011
The Diocese of Penn State - Church Chat of November 15, 2011
The Episcopal Woodshed - Church Chat of October 29, 2011
The Global South Model for All Catholicism? - Church Chat of October 18, 2011
Prophets With a Smile - Church Chat of October 4, 2011
Choices - Church Chat of September 20, 2011
There's Gotta Be More - Church Chat of September 5, 2011
Gaps - Church Chat of August 7, 2011

2010 Essays
What If It's Narcissism? - Church Chat of November 24, 2010



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