I had the privilege of contributing to a project, A Place to Belong Letters from Catholic Women, that is currently available for pre-order, which will be released on March 25th – the Feast of Annunciation! In preparation for its release, I had the opportunity to be on a podcast “The Daughters’ Project” by the Media Nuns.
I like to think about the giants who have come before us – the giants whose shoulders we stand on – those that laid this ground work of seeking justice for us. A litany comes to mind: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta King, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Thomas Merton, Saint Oscar Romero, pray for us.
A friend shared a story on her account recently about people before us exchanging letters before ever meeting. And it makes me think about the relationships among these greats that started over letter writing. Yesterday I learned that Thomas Merton and Dr. MLK, Jr. were set to make a retreat mere days after MLK’s assassination. Dorothy Day traveled West to meet Cesar Chavez and offer support and solidarity for fieldworkers. The connections to the global struggle for justice are everywhere.
I think about the work for justice today and the relationships of solidarity I have made over Instagram. I joked that learning about the letter writing made me feel less creepy about calling these people friends even though I’ve never met them, but I have spent hours with them on Instagram, Voxer, and Slack. Social media can be a dumpster-fire-time-suck, yes, but I sense that the Holy Spirit is at work here, too. The Internet has offered me community, solidarity, and consolation in the midst of pandemics – a pandemic of injustice, a pandemic of loneliness, a pandemic of disease. This space has helped me persevere as I limp along – exhausted, angry, and tired – maybe the same way these letters exchanged by the greats helped them find energy to keep going, often feeling isolated and alone.
I’m thankful for these friends. I am thankful for those that came before us that started the work that we must now take up to do our part to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. The work of justice must happen in community and it’s okay that, right now, this community is virtual. But oh what joy it brings me to think about when we get to meet face-to-face and embrace and make a retreat together – all for the good work of justice.
May we remember and honor the saints and the workers every day. May we take up the fight for justice and find respite in these communities.
To read Dorothy Day’s account of the pictured encounter with Cesar Chavez and Coretta Scott King click here.
As 2020 comes to a close I’ve been compiling photo books. Sometimes the pictures convey more than words ever could, but sometimes the pictures can also smooth the edges of the roughest memories. And the latter is making me increasingly uncomfortable. I’m being reminded that in the art of storytelling we need those rough memories no matter how hard they are to remember. Not because we need to wallow in what’s hard, but we need the reminders of what we have overcome. We need the generations-to-come to know that they are not alone in feeling their angst, their disappointment, their cynicism. We were there once. And we are still there, too. If we embrace a nonlinear understanding of time I think we can better cope with the need for reflection. Anyone who has dealt with any sort of traumatic event can attest to the fact that we don’t really ever “move on” and forget. Instead, these moments embed in us and we often revisit them. We circle back. I don’t mean that we live in and wallow in the trauma, but it is important that we sit in it and feel it in order to heal from it. It’s okay to revisit it. We don’t just do it for ourselves. We do it to be of service to others. To offer empathy and support when someone else finds themselves in a place we once were. We can go back to those painful times, whether the feelings have dulled or not, and we can still pull from those experiences. I think in many ways our current generations have lost the art of healing and storytelling. We have lost the sacred ways in which our ancestors learned and taught when we bought into Western linear time. Let us not forget that God has never claimed a linear timeline. As Saint Oscar Romero reminds us in his Christmas homilies, Jesus is simultaneously in the incarnation and the crucifixion. As humans, we have the capacity to feel the loneliness of the darkness and the warmth of the light at the same time. It may be uncomfortable, but is it not part of the complexity of the human experience? I think of Mary’s joy as she brings forth the Son and her sorrow at the foot of the cross. Without both, our salvation story is incomplete.
As I think about 2020 I know that it wasn’t just our world that was rocked, but there are some things we celebrated and suffered that was unique to us as a family. Jobs lost, financial uncertainty, balancing working from home and academic, behavioral, and social progress of the kids on our own — in those ways our experience was very much like a lot of people around us. But we also had to confront addiction, and recovery, and whatever life is after that. I took on a month of solo parenting while working from home in a pandemic while I was 8 months pregnant. By the time Mila was born I felt like I was at my weakest. I remember, while laboring with her, that I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do it this time. I felt like I was drawing from an empty well. My body was tired and I am still feeling the affects of it. But I also got paid to do consulting and restorative justice work. We somehow swindled the universe into letting us buy a house. But, the loneliness of 2020 is the heaviest. Having a baby during a pandemic is lonely. Navigating addiction and recovery is lonely. Being separated by thousands of miles from my best friends and my closest family members is lonely. And right here at the end, our beloved dog died.
This loneliness is not something that I can fix with a 2021 resolution. I can’t help but think of the words of Servant of God Dorothy Day, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” My heart aches for community. I have been reminded about my passion for radical hospitality. I think for many of us, a light was shown on our loneliness this year and we are being forced to grapple with it in a way that we weren’t prepared for. I don’t have any solutions to this or a nice send-off. Instead, I am sharing I suppose, to reach out, to offer a space of welcome and solidarity. We have work to do ahead of us, but we cannot go at it alone. Together, we were made for times such as these.
As fall was turning into winter we moved into a new house with a front yard and a backyard. Leaves still cover the ground, but we can still decipher remnants of a luscious garden that once was. A weathered greenhouse stands with a brick trimmed garden around it. We are told as the cul-de-sac welcomes us that the previous owners were avid gardeners. We continue to slowly brush away leaves to uncover dormant garden beds only to have more leaves hide everything away again. Each time we get a better glimpse of what Spring might bring. We also get an idea of the work we have ahead of us to help usher in a bountiful Spring and Summer. We watch where the sun hits throughout these short winter days in the hopes of scouting out a plot for a summer vegetable garden.
We can trust that the gardeners before us came and cared and we will patiently wait to see what blossoms. We will wait to see what is fruitful. And then we will slowly make changes with each season to form and perfect this garden before us. This is how we should also go about the work of social change. It’s not always sustainable to come in and rip up and re-plant right away. We must wait to see what’s there so we do not lose any previous good work that has been sowed. The good work of justice takes time. We must be prudential in what needs to be pulled and what may just need time and care to last through the year.
Let us learn how to slow down long enough to learn the soil and the light as it changes. Let us listen and adjust and be taught. Let us offer back beauty with patience. Good social change requires that we come alongside the community and take its lead. Good social change requires that we honor those that have come before us. We must listen from the back to the outcries from within before we start to move to action. Let us not carry ignorance and arrogance when we think our ideas are all that is needed. We enter into this work with humility that we come with hands to do the good work with others, not to or for them.
The work of ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven is good holy work, but it takes time and patience and humility. Let us be guided by grace. Let our faith move us to intentional and meaningful action, not defined by our good intentions, but defined by those suffering from the injustice.
Inspired by Advent with Saint Oscar Romero devotional written by Cameron Bellm.
Hello from your friendly nonprofit professional! I am going to start with some not-so-great news, but end with some action items. I want to leave you feeling hopeful so hang in with me for a sec, k?
According to Philanthropy News Digest charitable giving is down in 2020 and that is probably a surprise to absolutely no one. There are reports circulating, like this one, that many community-based organizations are increasingly getting inquiries from potential donors asking for voting history and political affiliation of the recipients of their charitable giving. In case you didn’t know, this is unethical and pretty much always illegal for charities, social services, and nonprofits to collect and track this information, let alone as an eligibility prerequisite. Although this is not surprising given the current political climate we’ve had over the last few years, it is disappointing.
In my stints in fund development I learned that most people are generous givers and trust the good people doing the good work to be responsible with the donations. However, there were always a few thorns demanding more recognition, offering unsolicited criticisms, or sharing their veiled (or sometimes blatant) prejudice thoughts about the community the organization served. So, I don’t find this surprising to hear — especially after the election cycle that we just had.
Here are ten tips for you to keep in mind this #GivingTuesday to start practicing how to be a responsible and well-loved donor, especially if this is new for you! I’ll link to some of my favorite organizations at the end of this post.
So, tell me: what are some of your tips? And what are some of your favorite organizations to donate to?
And now, some of my favorite organizations to support:
At the beginning of my reversion to Catholicism, sitting on a futon in a small dorm room in Seattle that I shared with Melissa, I would scour the Internet for blogs or articles or just something that was written from a point of view of a Latina cradle Catholic. I was looking to find a Latina whose Catholicism was formed by a conviction for social justice and a grandma praying the rosary with a copy of Vanidades laying around. I was looking to find a reflection of myself in someone else. If the statistics were right, I knew I wasn’t the only one out there, but back then I never found anyone.
My hope in sharing honestly and openly through these little boxes is to offer a space where someone else searching for the intersection of justice, social change, and Catholicism can come sit around this fire and spin ideas. I want to offer what I was looking for to help someone else feel less alone. Fast forward to today and I have found comadres talking and planning and moving to action among the corners of the interwebs. I am apart of and I have helped create and space like the one I was looking for.
I decided awhile ago, though, that I’m not going to stress about curating this weird little piece of Internet that I have. I really, really love photography as a creative outlet. I like the idea of a feed with a color palette and a cohesive theme. But, I’ve learned over and over again that my life does not lend itself well to that type of stability. A good and wise and former college roommate who knows me startling well (Melissa I’m looking at you) has said some things to me over the past few weeks that has helped me remember this. As a family we’ve had to pivot and reimagine what life is going to look like in dramatic ways. Career changes, cross-country to cross-the-town moves, some-day-but-not-yet answered prayers, unexpected babies, unexpected medical journeys, and loss and death, addiction and recovery. It has often left me feeling like I am grasping to steady myself on some janky carnival ride. Even if I am able to plant my feet, I am not entirely sure this whole thing isn’t going to have a major malfunction and fly off its tracks. It’s dishonest for me to try to package that into some nice message for you to follow because over here the outcome is usually messy and a little lopsided. My guess is that maybe that’s true for you, too.
We are often telling writers, and artists, and neighbors to stay in their lane on the Internet. We want to commodify each other – we want the products, but we don’t want the people. And I’m not down with that. I’m going to say what Melissa reminded me of: there is space for us to be too much, and too intense, and too loud about the things that hurt us or inspire us or move us to action. There is space for us to invite one another in and circle up and share our gifts and talents, as well as our thoughts and opinions. So, if you have been searching for a place where justice, social change, and Catholicism intersect: welcome and stay awhile.
Mel Ziegler: Flag Exchange, installation view at Frist Art Museum, 2020
It was in college that I first started to notice and become uncomfortable with seeing the flag for the United States at the front of churches. To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable to see them anywhere in a church. It’s at this same time that my eyes were really being opened up to the dysfunctional relationships between patriotism and Christianity in the United States. I was also delving pretty deep into rediscovering Catholicism. I was earning a degree in Global Development Studies at a Protestant Christian college. I had just started to sort out the philosophical contradictions in my life that I think a lot of first generation kids struggle with.
I had a hard time feeling proud to be from a country that so clearly exploited my father’s home country for its own economic gain. I ended up spending years reading and writing papers about the complicated relationship between the United States, Nicaragua, and the rest of the countries that make up Central America. I knew that I was supposed to be grateful to be living the life that I was, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty at what this all cost. I felt like I had lost out on honoring this culture that had so deeply shaped my identity.
I moved away from the Catholic Church in high school and I realize now that it was it’s own form of assimilation that I was going through. I was drawn to the progressiveness that one can find in nondenominational Christian circles. Where I grew up, this was largely compromised of a whole bunch of white people going on missions trips to countries that were ripe with Catholic history. I was being told that the Catholic Church was not the place for the social justice issues that I cared about. And even though in my gut I knew that I was Catholic, I kept trying to find a way to fit in with hip nondenominational Christians that claimed to be living like the first apostles. This carried over into a missions trip when I was 17 to Ireland and England that truly changed the course of my life. My relationship to Catholicism was something I was still trying to figure out all throughout my time in college and grad school.
The deeper I got into looking into my faith and my politics (by way of my choice in taking the academic route that I did) the more I felt out of place in Protestantism and the more I felt cynical towards the US. In researching for papers and projects about the United States and Central America I naturally started to stumble upon the important (and sometimes contentious) role Catholicism has plaid in recent Latin American history. A simple question of “why” led me to better understanding Catholic Social Teaching, liberation theology, and some badass religious. Why was Saint Oscar Romero willing to go toe-to-toe with the Salvadoran government? Why was Father Ernesto Cardenal willing to have his rights stripped as a priest to administer the sacraments to fight alongside the Sandinistas? So much so that it led to many of their deaths. Why were these government entities seeing Catholic nuns and laypeople as such a threat to their power?
This red, white, and blue flag standing at the front of churches started to feel like a betrayal to the parts of me that I felt most confident and connected to: I’m Catholic. I’m the daughter of a Nicaraguan refugee.
I wish I could say that coming back to Catholicism in all of its fullness was the reconciling I needed to seeing those flags at the front of all those churches that I hopped around. For awhile, it did, I suppose. But the reality is that there are times when it feels like the political world of Evangelical Protestants have hijacked the ancient Catholicism that radicalized the likes of Peter Maurin, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Father Ernesto Cardenal, and Saint Oscar Romero. The search to make this all make sense hurts in a different, deeper way this time around.
It has been hard to find Catholics on the world of the Internet and social media that I could relate to in a meaningful way. Back in college I scoured blogs and endlessly Googled trying to find someone who related to my Hispanic Catholicism and my bi-cultural upbringing. The closest I got were finding Catholics that were also passionate about social justice. I settled with that for a long time. Finally, just in the last couple of years I have started to connect with other comadres and it has been life giving. But it’s also made a glaring wedge to some of the ways the Catholic Church in the US has failed to work in solidarity with and for some its most devout.
Whether we are talking about abortion, civil unions for the LBGTQ+ community, Black Lives Matter, or immigration policy many Evangelicals and Catholics alike are tone deaf to how their words land. The way in which many decide to defend the Church and her teachings end up leaving harm and hurt in their wake. A documentary recently came out with a clip of Pope Francis talking about how we should be protecting our friends and family that identify as LGBTQ+. The Catholic response was so quick to remind people that Catholics “don’t believe in gay marriage” that they missed the whole point: we also need to first come to people with love and compassion. We need to recognize that our obsession with the legality of marriage between certain people have made for rhetoric that is perceived as hateful and unwelcoming. It’s making people feel like they will never be loved or worthy by the Church our her followers.
This is true, too, for the rhetoric around abortion, immigration, and a whole host of “progressive” causes, is it not? Language calling women murders and splashing pictures of tangled fetuses is not only lacking compassion, it is traumatizing. In what ways could we all be better at entering these conversations not to tell people to not have an abortion, but instead actually be proactive about meeting the needs they identify as most important? Instead of insisting that our current immigration policies are someone else’s fault or assuming those crossing those invisible lines are ruthless criminals ready to take down the integrity of the United States, maybe sitting down and truly listening to the stories about why someone chose to make that journey would do us some good. Something that I have learned from these years I have spent in the nonprofit field is that the most successful and effective programs and policies are the ones that are led by the community that the work is intended to serve.
I am not totally hopeless when I look around at my fellow Catholics. I do find myself startled time and time again to come across people who understand so much of the faith, but totally miss the mark on these issues. There is a way to defend the faith and share the ancient traditions with those around us without causing so much harm along the way. It’s worrisome to see the blurred lines between our faith and patriotism. I pray that us Catholics start to do a better job of honoring the legacy of social justice in our Church and that we commit to doing a better job in the future. I pray that The reality is that a lot of us shy away from certain movements (ahem, Black Lives Matter, for example) because we don’t agree with all of the tenets of the organizers or the mission at hand. Instead of inaction because you don’t agree with the loudest voices, I encourage all of us to figure out how we can still be moved to action. We cannot use the politics of anybody else as an excuse to sit any of this out. That may mean we pave our own path, but that in no way means we should ever turn our back on the injustices of our time. And that might mean that we hold our Church as our home to welcome all lives into as our number one priority.
Some further reading and listening that may be of interest to you:
- Upside Down Podcast: The Necessity of Voting with Lisa Sharon Harper
- Communal Guilt and the Black Catholic Experience in America: An Interview with Fr. Josh Johnson
- Jeannie Gaffigan: My loved ones told me ‘real’ Catholics vote for Trump. Here’s my response.
- Fr Agustino Torres on Instagram: Posts 1, 2, and 3 about Pope Francis’ Words on Civil Unions
- Universal Voices Podcast: A Heart for the Black Catholic Community
- Universal Voices Podcast: A Heart for Those on the Margins
- Mel Ziegler: Flag Exchange Exhibit at Frist Art Museum, 2020
In a conversation with Casey, I had a realization recently: as much as I have become weary of the state of social media and the Internet at large right now, the reality is that social media (specifically Instagram and blogs) has provided me with an opportunity for kinship in some of my loneliest and most difficult times.
This all came flooding to the forefront yesterday when I listened to a podcast conversation between Leticia Adams and Laura Kelly Fanucci about grief and mourning. I have never met either woman in real life, but I have learned so much from them. Through Instagram I’ve gotten to exchange personal messages with them as well. Both Leticia and Laura lost children and although they lost children under different circumstances, they have taught me immensely about grief. I have learned that we feel grief and can practice mourning not just for people, but also for events or plans go awry. Leticia taught me that many of us are feeling grief over all the cancelled plans and upheaval we have felt from living through this pandemic. It was a social worker while Olivia was in the NICU that allowed me to mourn the postpartum period that I had to let go of when Olivia was in the NICU. Instead of physical rest and snuggles with a newborn, I was thrust into chaos of an intensive care unit advocating for a very sick baby with a tired and healing body.
I recently shared with Laura that it was her writing through losing her twin girls days after birth that helped me enter into grief and mourning when Olivia was born. See, as I’ve shared before, we were initially told that Olivia likely would not survive longer than a month. The information we were given that first night didn’t give me much hope to think she would live through the night, let alone the first few days. In our kitchen that night after we finally got home without a new baby in tow all I could muster to mind were Laura’s words about holiness and grace and mercy and how that is all intertwined and made clear when you see Heaven so close to Earth. See, in our Catholic tradition we believe these innocent baptized souls become saints and enter Heaven. Her words helped me better see past the current situation. Through these women I saw what life can look like on the other side of the pit of despair that you sometimes find yourself lingering.
One poignant moment in their conversation is when they share a few moments of absurdity and mundane that they found themselves wading through in the days after death. The inappropriate laughing, the misplaced jokes. The person gingerly trying to break news to you that you brace yourself for just to find yourself incredibly underwhelmed by what they had to share. For me, that particular moment, was when Olivia was finally starting recover from a really bad infection that she almost died from and the new resident on rotation sat me down with some news. I was preparing myself for the worst and found myself dumbfounded when all she had to share was that Olivia was likely to lose a toe. I remember thinking, “All of this fanfare cannot just be about a toe?” But now looking back on it, I get it. Every bit of news about prognosis can hit differently based on a loved one’s own hope for the future. I knew at that time that she would still be able to walk, and run, and jump without a toe or two. But not everyone can see that in the moment, right? That resident was trying to be caring and empathetic as a good doctor should be! But in the moment of my own grief, that single little toe felt so inconsequential. My daughter is alive! She is going to make it through this infection. She is going to live longer than we expected! We will probably get to take her home.
There is no textbook way to grieve and mourn. And as Leticia and Laura have taught me: the more that we can all share honestly and openly about the times we have grieved the more we can normalize it so that others can shamelessly enter into it and experience God’s grace on the other side. This is the same reason I shared openly about my miscarriage. It’s why I think it’s absolutely beautiful and brave that Chrissy Teigen shared about the loss of her baby. As Laura and Leticia have taught me: if we can stop trying to turn away from the hard mucky stuff and instead sit in it maybe we can better sit alongside one another in the uncomfortable hard places. Maybe we can be better neighbors, friends, and family members if we are willing to work through the hard and give one another hope for what life can look like on the other side. And the fact of the matter is sometimes it’s easier to accept these life lessons from complete strangers baring their hearts in the Internet.
Camila Esperanza Alfaro Frazier was born on the Feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, August 28th, 2020 at 12:39 AM measuring in at 5 lbs and 12.1 oz and 17 ¾ inches long. What I was shirking off as Braxton Hicks contractions kept getting stronger as I drove my mom home from the airport in a torrential rain downpour complete with wind, lightning, and thunder. I reasoned that it was the stress of driving without being able to see in front of me that was causing the contractions, but after getting home, putting my feet up, and drinking water the contractions didn’t let up. Not four hours later, Mila was welcomed into the world at @baby+co in Nashville. This labor and delivery was healing in many ways. Her entrance into this world was the closing of an intense chapter in our little family’s life.
Saint Augustine of Hippo was greatly influenced by Saint Ambrose, whose feast day happens to be MY birthday. It’s also on August 28th that we remembered the 57th anniversary or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” Oh little Mila, what are you going to teach us? We can’t wait to see what you have in store.
One of my sincere hopes from all of this work is that anyone who claims to be pro-life understands the full spectrum of this stance. That is one of my goals in being so outspoken about Black Lives Matter, immigration, the death penalty, disability rights, and pretty much any social justice issue or cause. What it boils down to is that these issues cannot (and should not) be ranked. Catholic Social Teaching instructs Catholics in 7 principles: Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Solidarity, Care for God’s Creation, Call to Family, Community, and Participation, Option for he Poor and Vulnerable, Rights and Responsibilities, and the Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers. I would argue, in order to fully understand one principle you must understand how each principle interacts with the other.
We are required to care about every single human being REGARDLESS of conversion or some great testimony of their life turning to one that *we* would prefer. It’s why the Catholic Worker didn’t turn people away. It’s why Homeboy Industries is so effective in its community. Servant of God Dorothy Day and Father Greg Boyle created environments in which the only thing that mattered was that you were a human being in need of something.
We are not called to cast judgement on the importance of a life-centered issue based on our understanding of innocence or righteousness. This creates tribalism, in which those that live their lives how we best see fit or live their lives like us are deemed the most important. It is why it is far easier for many to go through great lengths to support anti-abortion activities than it is to loudly denounce the death-penalty. However, at the end of the day, the accused murderer, the unborn child, and everyone in between are all sacred lives in God’s creation.
I often hear from anti-abortion advocates that the reason they focus on abortion is because if people can’t accept the dignity of sacredness of life in the womb then they can’t accept those principles outside of the womb. I understand this sentiment to start at the beginning of life to protect life throughout – from womb to tomb. However, I would argue that the human mind is not this simplistic. By oversimplifying pro-life matters to only abortion and assuming the rest will flow from it, we are losing out on the depth and richness of this conversation by focusing solely on one stage of life. For some, the protection of the dignity of life of the person sitting in front of them is going to better convince them of the dignity of the life inside the womb.
Here is what Catholic Social Teaching understands about social change: pigeon-holing a cause for your narrative is not as effective as looking at the complexity and inter-connectedness of an issue and speaking to all parts of it. In the same way that we understand 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 to say that each individual part of the Body of Christ is as important and critical for the care and growth of another part, we must also see that in the work of all pro-life issues. There is room to talk about all of it, but there is no room to ignore any of it. Let’s be careful to recognize when we are sacrificing one part of the body for the sake of our own ideology.