Sep 2, 2014 - New Cosmology    1 Comment

What is Your Great Work?

A potter at work

Photo credit:

Dear Pope Francis,

I spent a good part of this past summer re-reading “The Great Work” by Thomas Berry. Berry was a Catholic priest who argued that we humans must stop thinking of ourselves as the top of the heap when it comes to all the other beings with whom we share our one precious planet. In Berry’s mind, only by truly seeing ourselves in the context of the long, long history of the Universe and how we co-exist with the rest of creation can we humans begin to bring ourselves into right relationship with the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants.

It’s bringing about that shift into right relationship that Thomas Berry believed was the true mission of those of us alive right now, in this particular moment in the history of our planet. He called this the Great Work, and devoted an entire book to the topic. In one passage I keep re-reading, Berry says that each of us was “chosen by some power beyond ourselves” for the task of the Great Work. Says Berry, “We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends on the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.”

I suppose this could be read as Berry saying each of us was born with an assigned task and we must, mechanistically, carry it out absent any free will. Having read more of his writing, however, I don’t think that’s what he means. What I get from this passage is that, at this time in our history where there is so much evidence of the ecological imbalance we humans have caused on this planet, we have a chance to wake up and move things in a new direction.

I think Berry is saying that each of us brought into this world with us unique gifts that, at this particular moment in time, are crucial to putting all of humanity in a better relationship with the rest of creation. Maybe someone has an aptitude for science and can study the shifting climate and predict what that means. Perhaps others are good communicators and can translate complex science into language everyone understands. Artists make us see our daily reality in new ways, inspiring action. Farmers, cooks, caregivers, parents, healers, fixers — they keep everything from breaking down. Spiritual guides remind us to square our lives with something greater than ourselves in how we live out each moment.

It’s hard to see a way out of the pain of this world sometimes. What can one person do? Well, that one person can’t do everything — but his or her gifts are perfectly suited to doing some things very well. This is where each of us can help. By pulling together, each in our own unique way, we can effect great change.

This is what I think Thomas Berry meant. He’s asking each of us to consider one question: What is my Great Work? Figure that out, and you have your assignment. Answer that question, and you can help save the world.

Your friend,



Aug 8, 2014 - Vatican    No Comments

Cry out, sisters, cry out

Dear Pope Francis —

I know you’re busy, but I’m sure you must have heard that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is holding their annual meeting next week. They have a great plenary speaker, Sister Elizabeth Johnson. She is a noted theologian who has written several important books on the nature of our relationship to the Divine. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks she’s amazing. Tellingly, it’s mostly men who think this, and it’s mostly men who have criticized the LCWR for having her as a speaker. Interesting, that.

This is also something of a watershed meeting for the LCWR. After the meeting, the organization will fall squarely under the purview of U.S. bishops tapped by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to oversee the group. Again, men have been tapped by to tell a group of intelligent, dedicated, devout women how they should exist in the Church. Interesting, that.

I think Sister Joan Chittister sums this up pretty well in a piece published today by the National Catholic Reporter:

Next week, for instance, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will face decisions that will move the question of the agency of women in a man’s church either forward or back. Strange as it may seem in the 21st century, the issue is whether or not women are capable of hearing diverse speakers and still remain faithful Catholics. The issue is whether or not women religious may discuss various points of view on major issues and still remain faithful Catholics. The issue is whether or not women religious can manage their own organizations and still be faithful Catholics. The Vatican’s answer to those questions is no. For the last 45 years, however, LCWR’s answer to those same questions has been a clear and persistent yes.

That same article includes a link to a petition asking you, Pope Francis, to personally intervene in the situation. I do hope you’ll consider it. You’ve been doing a lot of intervening lately. I think the LCWR deserves some attention and support.

Your friend,


Jul 31, 2014 - Kind of Random    No Comments

We are all one

Two people holding hands on a path.

Photo credit:

Dear Pope Francis,

Hope you’re well and having a balanced summer of not too much work and some rest. You deserve it.

I heard a local city councillor in the radio this morning. He was talking about the upcoming municipal elections and how the business community was looking at endorsing a slate of candidates felt to be friendly to their interests. In principle, I don’t really have a problem with that. Businesses are the economic lifeblood of any community and they deserve to have their interests represented on city council as long as they are held in balance with the needs of other residents.

What I found distressing about this particular councillor’s comments was that he expressed concern about the amount of city money going into efforts to end homelessness. He questioned the city’s involvement in social housing, saying there is only so much tax money to go around, and it might be better spent on improving things for local businesses.

In my mind, this is not a helpful view of city residents as it comes from an outdated sense that there are different kinds of citizens. What the councillor seemed to be saying is that there are residents of the city who deserve tax dollars to be sent their way, and those who don’t.

This view is highly problematic as it does not take into account the complex interrelatedness of our society. In short, we are all one and what happens to one group affects another. Devoting tax dollars to providing housing options for all residents of the city does not mean taking away money from businesses. In fact, it might free up money. Like most urban centres around the world, we have a homeless population whose needs are unevenly met by local city services. Because these residents often have substance abuse, mental health challenges, or both, they are most often dealt with by local police, who spend time shuttling them from cells to the hospital in a never-ending cycle. A significant amount of police resources goes into doing this — resources that might not be necessary if adequate housing options were available. Lower policing costs could translate into lower business taxes or an increase in services.

Our economic systems also depend on the full participation of all residents. Providing stable housing for homeless residents increases the chance that they will be able to address any mental health or addiction issues, find stable employment, pay taxes –and  buy products and services from local businesses. This is not wasted money; it will go back into the local economy, probably at a greater rate than taxes earmarked for other residents.

Separating out local residents into us versus them, deserving versus less-deserving, or business owner versus homeless is not only misguided, it is also economically problematic.

Your friend,


Some recent writing

Dear Pope Francis,

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Life has a funny way of, well, happening. But, I have been writing and publishing in other places. Here are links to a couple of recent pieces by me.

Hope you enjoy.

Your friend,


Mar 10, 2014 - Kind of Random, Music    No Comments

Lent 2014 (Day 6): Music for a manic Monday

Dear Pope Francis,

Today was kind of a rough day. One of those days when everything just seems to be conspiring against my contentment.

But, we are not promised easy days or a life without a few bumps. It’s how we handle it that matters.

On days like this I find music really helpful. Different days require different music.

Today, it was this song from Peter Mayer that restored my equilibrium.

Here it is as a link

if the video doesn’t play for you.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep and a better Tuesday!

Your friend,


Mar 9, 2014 - Vatican    No Comments

Lent 2014 (First Sunday): Pssst…Something is rotten in Oakland


Dear Pope Francis,

So, I know you had all the bishops home to the mother ship recently, but I think someone wasn’t listening.

Apparently the new Bishop of Oakland, Bill Edens, has dismissed two much loved priests at Newman Hall Parish without any consultation with parishioners. He also did it without any explanation.

I think someone needs a phone call.

Your friend,


Mar 8, 2014 - Kind of Random    1 Comment

Lent 2014 (Day 4): International Women’s Day

Dear Pope Francis,

Today is International Women’s Day. I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me, as a man, to write on that. So, I thought I’d share words of wisdom from a couple of important women.

The first is Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, whom I wrote about yesterday. When asked why, as a woman and a feminist, she chooses to stay in the Church, she replied:

Quote from Elizabeth Johnson


The second is from Malala Yousafzai, the young woman from Pakistan who was shot in the head because she dared to demand education for girls.

Malala Yousafzai quote


I think both of these quotes bear reading today.

Your friend,


(P.S. Thanks to Rev. Daniel and Kaya Oakes for these photos.)

Read more »