Friday, July 5, 2024

Quirky Things I Do at Mass

“Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
that he who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally!”


Tuesday, July 2, 2024

But I Digress: A Nursing Pinning Reflection

Digress with abandon. Digress in your caring and comforting, listening and loving, soothing and sacrificing. There’s a hurting world out there that needs you to digress in this way. And you won’t regret it. Promise. 

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Spinning in Her Grave: Of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker, and Gender Ideology

This letter to the New York City Catholic Worker was mailed in early September 2023. A copy was also included in the package of newspapers returned via mail at the same time. To date, I have received no reply. Given the recent release of Dignitas Infinita, I thought it was worth making the letter public at this time. 
Dear Catholic Worker friends, 

I’m returning my bulk order of NYCW newspapers for the current issue as well as the previous one. I had intended to send back the latter much sooner, but I didn’t get around to composing an accompanying letter of explanation, and it seemed necessary to include one. When the new bulk order arrived a few days ago, I decided I needed to sit down and get this done, so here it is.

You’ll see from your records that I’ve been getting a bulk order of the NYCW for many, many years. Year after year, I’ve been dutifully putting them out in the literature racks at my parish, South Bend’s St. Matthew Cathedral, in hopes that my fellow parishioners would pick them up, read them, and develop an interest in the Catholic Worker shtick.

In truth, I’d stopped reading them myself long ago, but I trusted that the New York CW community would never publish anything that would directly fly in the face of Catholic teaching. I mean, I knew there would be some squishy stuff from time to time, and maybe even some edgy propositions, but I had no fear that Dorothy Day’s flagship newspaper would promote outright heterodoxy or heresy.

I was wrong. The “Declaration of a Catholic Commitment to Trans-Affirmation” you included in your January/February 2023 issue is beyond squishy and edgy, which is why I’m returning these papers to you and asking that you cancel my bulk subscription. Since I don’t read the CW anymore, I missed that statement last winter, and it only came to my attention when I came across Larry Chapp’s piece in the National Catholic Register, "Whither the Catholic Worker Movement?" As I skimmed through it, this line jumped out at me: “…a full-throated endorsement of modern transgender ideology.” That caused me to slow down, read the whole piece thoroughly, and then go track down a copy of the Jan/Feb ’23 CW to verify Chapp’s assertions.

Regrettably, everything Larry wrote was true, and I became disoriented and distraught. When I recovered from the shock, I immediately when to St. Matt’s and removed all NYCWs from the literature racks, including stray copies of the issue in question. Plus, I let the pastor know about the situation, and I apologized for any confusion or scandal that I might’ve inadvertently engendered by stocking the church’s literature racks with that particular issue and giving parishioners the false impression that the parish endorsed (or at least condoned) your dangerous, anti-human, and, frankly, anti-Catholic viewpoint.

Anti-Catholic? You know the Church’s teaching as well as I do, and you know that the LGBTQ+ ideology reflected in that Declaration is inconsistent with Catholic anthropology and morality, including morally responsible stewardship of creation. Pope Francis writes about “human ecology” in Laudato Si, and notes that “acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home.” He goes on to specify that “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.”

Even aside from all that, your embrace of so-called “gender-affirming care” is particularly egregious since it involves medical and surgical interventions that do not restore or promote health, but seriously undermine it – especially in the young. Of course, you’re free to subscribe to or promote whatever worldview or associated practices you choose, but to do so under the banner “Catholic” is, at the very least, disingenuous and misleading.

The whole situation makes me so sad, so sad, for Dorothy Day and the whole Catholic Worker “thing” was the crucible of my Catholic conversion. As noted above, I always knew that the CW would gravitate to the left side of any issue – theological, political, cultural – but I naively assumed that the NY CW community would stay true to its Catholic roots out of deference to Dorothy, if nothing else. Surely you can see that there are plenty of us in the Catholic Worker diaspora that see your promoting that Declaration as a bewildering betrayal. You can see that, right?

I’d love to hear back from you and even enter into dialogue with you about this matter. And I would be happy if you’d consider publishing this letter in the NYCW paper. I could be wrong, but I’ll bet you’d be surprised how many likeminded readers would be prompted to send in their own letters of protest.

Truly, and I mean this without the least hint of sarcasm or cynicism, God bless you. I trust you’re following your consciences with sincerity, but I urge you to seek additional formation of conscience in line with Catholic teaching with regards to this very controversial moral arena.

Rick Becker

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Catholic Higher Education and the Pursuit of Holiness

“Why do we educate our daughters? Briefly we educate them for exactly the reason for which
God made them: to know, to love, to serve, to glorify Him now and forever.” 

Friday, May 17, 2024

Of Shopping Carts and Service: A Pinning Reflection

I was honored to give a faculty reflection at the Saint Mary's College Nursing Pinning ceremony today. The graduating class is the first cohort of students I had the privilege of teaching since coming to Saint Mary's two years ago, and I wanted my reflection to be a gift to them and their families. I wanted it to be something really special and meaningful. 

So I ended up writing two. 

This was the first one, but I wasn't satisfied that it struck the right note. Neither was my wife, and I trust her opinion, so I buckled down and hammered out another (which I managed to deliver with a minimum of sobs, believe it or not). Still, I kinda' like this one, and I did write it for my students, so I'm going to post it here to make it easy to forward to them. 

Welcome honored guests, friends and family (moms and dads particularly), and, of course, you – Saint Mary’s College class of 2024 nursing graduates. Congratulations! You made it! 

Before I get rolling, a quick shout out to Torie Hardt’s mom. Thanks for teaching your kids to put away stray shopping carts in the grocery store parking lot. Hearing that from Torie last week was just the affirmation I needed as I prepared this address. 

Shopping carts, you ask? Parking lots? Stay with me here. Now, think back, if you will, to the height of Covid with social and economic upheaval, including disruptions in the labor market. Among other things, that meant that collecting shopping carts from the parking lot was often a lower priority for the grocery stores trying to keep shelves stocked. 

If you’re like me, you started bringing in your own shopping cart from the parking lot to make sure you’d have one. I generally tried to grab one that hadn’t made it into one of those stalls – the ones that roll around and scratch your paintjob on a windy day. 

Sure, I’d grumble: Couldn’t this person have walked ten feet to put away the cart? No matter – I grabbed it for myself. Then I started feeling guilty about bringing in my own parking lot stray when I saw others inside cart-less and stuck. I started bringing two – sometimes three or more when I was feeling ambitious – and then leaving the extras for others who hadn’t thought ahead. 

So that was one level of attitude change; here’s the next. That grumbling about the abandoned carts? I began imagining the folks who didn’t stow their carts properly, and I was convicted that some – most even – probably had good reason. Maybe a mom struggling with numerous kids; maybe an elderly woman for whom that extra ten feet of walking would be a real challenge. 

And, besides, who cares why those carts were loose or who’s responsible. I had the time; I had the energy. It’s a good thing to grab ‘em and bring them inside to benefit somebody else. I’m still doing it, but I’d like to think that my heart is softening little by little as well – that I’m more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to whomever left their carts adrift. 

So how is my guilt trip about shopping carts connected to nursing? Think of it like this: The shopping carts are like the job of nursing – the various tasks that nurses perform throughout the day, passing meds and doing assessments and all the charting, stuff like that. New nurses tend to focus on getting their tasks done – grabbing a cart for themselves, that is. Eventually, as they get more comfortable and confident in their skills and routines, they’ll begin grabbing carts for others – helping out nurses with busy patient assignments, for example, or going beyond the minimum in their bedside care.

But then, some nurses go even further: They manifest a generosity of spirit and a charitable demeanor that permeates all their interactions with others – patients and their families, for sure, but also fellow nurses and other staff as well. Even doctors! 

Let me give you a recent example: My chronic med-surg juniors do their clinicals on a local cancer unit. Toward the end of the semester, my student Allison told me about rounding on patients after morning report with her staff nurse, Amber. Entering one room, the two discovered that the patient’s I.V. had infiltrated and was leaking all over the bed. There was fluid and dried blood everywhere, and the patient was a mess.

Now, my kneejerk reaction might be to speculate why the night shift staff hadn’t caught this problem and dealt with it themselves. “My busy day is just beginning,” I might grumble to myself, “and now I have to make time for fixing somebody else’s problem.”

But Amber’s response? Without comment, Amber got right to work and enlisted my student to help. They pulled the I.V., cleaned up the patient, and changed the linens. Sure, they were delayed in their rounds, but it was the right thing to do – and they did it! No backbiting or criticism; no complaining or grumbling. It was a superb object lesson for my student in metaphorically grabbing an extra cart without judgment – just doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, even if you never get the credit.

And my student caught it – she remarked that Amber’s the kind of nurse she wants to be. That remark itself is a sign that she’s well on her way.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m telling a story about a junior BSN student instead of one of these graduating seniors, right? Here’s the thing: As a rule – and I can say this because I’ve had all of these graduates in my class, and half of them in my clinicals – as a rule, catching on to Amber’s demonstration of charity and generosity is standard fare for Saint Mary’s nursing students. I see it, we all see it – heck, the patients and staff nurses see it, too! Telling about Allison, in other words, is telling about all our students, these graduates included. 

It's the ethos of this place, of Saint Mary’s – its culture and legacy of selfless service, initiated by the Holy Cross Sisters nearly 200 years ago, and carried forward to the present. It impacts all our graduates, but it’s no surprise that it’s particularly evident in our nursing grads. 

In other words, they didn’t just learn how to be a nurse here at Saint Mary’s – you can do that a lot of places. No, they got way more, and they’ll spend a lifetime in caring for others – at the bedside as nurses, at home with their families, and who knows where else – with a grace that’s borne of this place’s unique dynamism. 

So, again, congratulations graduates. God bless you as you launch into your nursing future and everything that’ll go with it. And friends and family, moms and dads? Next time you’re at the grocery story and see a stray cart, say an extra prayer for your graduate and then bring it inside as an act of solidarity. You’ll both benefit, and the world will get one more cart’s worth kinder as a result.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Eddie L. Miller, PhD (1937-2024)

I don’t recall exactly how I drifted into the orbit of Dr. Ed Miller, but it was a fortuitous event. At the time, I was a graduate student in medieval history at the University of Colorado; Miller was a longtime philosophy professor there.

As a Catholic convert contemplating the priesthood, I was interested in theological and ecclesial matters – interests not shared by my fellow grad students nor my faculty. My penchant for things religious must’ve come to the attention of one of Dr. Miller’s acolytes, for somebody at some point invited me to participate in his Theology Forum – a loose, irregular pastiche of people that met occasionally to argue (amiably) about Christian themes and issues. 

One of the meetings I attended featured New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Blomberg who presented an Evangelical view of Biblical historicity. I boldly asked Dr. Miller if I could prepare a Catholic response, and Miller, who barely knew who I was, readily agreed – a tiny token of the freewheeling openness he both espoused and practiced. 

My subsequent talk was well received, and it led to my having a follow-up meeting with Dr. Blomberg himself. More importantly, it resulted in my becoming a regular at Theology Forum events, and eventually an Ed Miller disciple – a role with a very peculiar cast. 

You see, to be a Miller disciple was less about aligning oneself with a master's beliefs and worldview than it was about adopting the good professor's manner of evaluating such matters. Plus, it was about imitating his curiosity about…well, about everything. Like Kierkegaard autograph manuscripts, for example, and the history of the tragic Sand Creek Massacre. Dr. Miller wrote an entire book about the punctuation of John 1.3-4, and he'd ably persuade anyone who’d listen as to why it was an important question – even if, especially if, one didn't end up agreeing with his position. 

Indeed, convincing others to see things his way wasn’t the point. Miller was primarily interested in getting us to see at all – to see, to ask, to ponder, to be disturbed enough to seek answers. It was especially the disturbing that characterized his effect on people; it was the disturbing that kept us hanging around. 

Miller’s ruminative mien evoked what Walker Percy called the “eerie neck-pricklings” that one typically experiences reading A Canticle for Leibowitz – that is, those who encountered Ed Miller and his shtick experienced “a slight shiver, or annoyance, or nothing at all.” 

You either got it, in other words, or you didn’t. And it was hard to pinpoint precisely what “it” was. 

One day I was sitting in Dr. Miller’s office, ostensibly trying to identify grants and funding sources for Theology Forum, and Miller was leaning back in his office chair, smoking his pipe. There was an easy silence – no awkwardness, no pressure to fill the void with chatter. Then, without warning, Dr. Miller fired a volley: “Mr. Becker!” he exclaimed, gesturing with his pipe. “You’re absolutely right.” The pipe returned to his mouth and he re-entered his pensive zone. 

I was too startled to make any kind of sensible rejoinder, so I kept my peace. Later, when I tried to wheedle out of him what I was so damn right about, he refused to answer. 

And that refusal, I must say, was Dr. Miller’s greatest gift to me. It was a superlative act of validation all wrapped up in a shroud of mystery, a simultaneous testimonial and incitement, gratuitous praise that goaded me onward, upward. I still don’t know what prompted his affirming outburst that day, but I’m happy to occupy the disturbing space of wonder for the time being. 

God willing, I’ll have the chance to ask him about it again on the other side. I can see his wry smile now, and I’m pretty sure he’ll still balk at answering. All the better.

Rest in peace, Dr. Miller. Thanks for neck-pricklings. Please pray for me.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Saint Wannabes: Catholic Higher Education and the Pursuit of Holiness

Saints don’t have to found activist movements, start religious orders, or run colleges. They can also become saints by getting the kids to soccer practice, making dinner, and reading bedtime stories.  

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