#Charity is not always easy

Volunteering for St. Vincent de Paul can be a pain in the neck! People don’t speak clearly when they leave a message on the hot line. They call insisting that they spoke to us three weeks ago and do we have an answer from our regional council meeting?  (No one in our conference has even heard of this person!)

Just when I’m ready to quit, I get a call from someone who needs a couple hundred dollars to keep their lights on. That’s it. If there were no St. Vincent de Paul, what would that person have done?

Thank you, Lord, for giving me perspective when I needed it most!



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Understanding Forgiveness

Forgiveness: A Catholic ApproachI call it the “F-word.” As far as I can tell it’s the hardest part of being a Christian. Our sense of justice often won’t let us forgive, and yet it is one of the most important things that Jesus tells us to do. It’s also, I believe, God’s most important and oft-given gift to us. How do we forgive when forgiveness isn’t deserved? Is there ever a time when we shouldn’t forgive? I could go on and give my own ideas and beliefs and conclusions on this subject, but what do I know? I’m no expert at forgiving. I get as angry as anyone else and hold grudges as long as the next guy. But I pray that God help me to change. I pray that God help me to be more like Him. I pray for the love to forgive as I have been forgiven.

Luckily for me Father R. Scott Hurd has written a wonderful little book called Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach. Lisa Helene and I recently read the book and discussed it with a group of friends at our parish. In the book, Fr. Hurd describes forgiveness as a process. A process that does not involve forgetting the injury we’ve suffered and does not necessarily involve reconciliation with the other person. At it’s very essence forgiveness is a letting go of the anger and resentment we hold when someone hurts us. It means wishing our offender well, praying for our offender, and coming to place of peace where we can remember the pain without feeling the anger. This can take time, (it took St. Jane de Chantal several years to forgive her husband’s accidental killer) but it can be done and done only with God’s help.

There is nothing I could say here that Fr. Hurd doesn’t say better. So I’m just going to plug this wonderful book and hope it gets into the hands of all who need to read it!

Have a blessed week!  

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Our Complicity in Abortion

Tomorrow marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade  and the 41st annual March for Life in Washington D.C. I want to take this time to reflect on at least one of the factors that drives mothers, fathers, families, and even governments to the conclusion that abortion is the best solution to a problem that could be best, (but not easily), solved with compassion and a collective sense of responsibility.

Twelve years ago I had a friend who was like a sister to me. We supported each other through bad times and shared the good times. It was, in all regards, a “best” friendship. It came to an end, however in the wake of an unexpected crisis pregnancy. She called me one evening to say she had something to tell me and that she was telling me because she knew I would support her no “matter what.” She had become pregnant by the guy she was seeing and had decided to have an abortion. She was unemployed at the time and battling the relapse of a drug addiction she thought she had kicked for good.  I could hear the disappointment in her voice when I said that was a decision I could not stand behind. I tried in vain to persuade her to have the child and put the boy or girl up for adoption. I went to a local Right to Life office and got materials to illustrate to her the risks to her own physical and psychological health. At one point she asked me point blank “Are you willing to adopt it?” I stopped short. The ridiculousness of the question astounded me. “Of course I can’t!” I snapped back. “I can barely take care of myself!” I was working part-time as a waiter and made about $50 a day. I was asking my parents for money for rent every month. How could I be the one to take this child?

I don’t remember much of the conversation after that. She went on about how if I were incapable of helping in any material way, then how could I expect her to provide? My argument was that there was someone else out there with the means to support her child. There were options. All she had to do was carry the child to term. Yeah. That’s all. The bottom line is that the one person who was speaking up for this child was only willing to go so far. My advocacy for his or her life went only as far as what I perceived to be my responsibility. I was willing to beg her not to end her baby’s life but I was not willing to do the one thing she asked me to do that may have actually stopped her. I declined the opportunity to rescue a child bound for abortion.

The story has an all-too-typical ending. She went through with the procedure and we quickly drifted apart. Our mutual disappointment in each other became a constant presence. Eventually all communication stopped.  Over the past twelve years I recall those few days that led to the end of our friendship; the arguments over the right to life, the right to choose, whose life, whose choices mattered most. For me the arguments were theoretical. For her, they were real. Was I not symptomatic of our society’s apathy toward those in need? Was I not typical of the congressman who votes pro-life but anti-healthcare? We talk a lot about the sanctity of life. How about putting our money where our mouth is and show that we stand with the unborn and not just for them. There are many who support the war on terrorism, but less than one percent of our country have signed up to actually fight it. Let’s do more than that for those who cannot yet speak for themselves. Let’s stop paying lip service to life and actually do something! Are we who can afford it willing to pay higher insurance premiums so that expectant mothers who can’t afford high premiums can get free prenatal and pediatric care? Are we who don’t have children willing to pay higher taxes so that new mothers and fathers can take extended maternity and paternity leave with full pay and a guaranteed job upon return?

Pope Francis said “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life… On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty,” (Evangelii Gaudium) Let us pray that we have the wisdom and fortitude to take the Holy Father’s words to heart and to action.

Have a blessed week!

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Pray without Ceasing

“Rejoice always.

Pray without ceasing.

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I was very intimidated when I first heard St. Paul’s instruction to “Pray without ceasing.” Seriously? How am I supposed to get anything done? Is God really so selfish and needy that he needs us to be talking to Him all the time? What about when I’m with my non-Christian or non-religious friends? Those were my first thoughts. My second thoughts were about the dangers of taking too little of the Bible too literally. So what does it mean to “pray without ceasing”?

Throughout most of my life I believed that prayer was a flexible but always formal event. For any thoughts or words to be prayer, one had to make the sign of the cross and focus one’s attention solely on God. There was no doubt in my mind that a prayer didn’t count unless you made the sign of the cross first. Once you were finished praying you made the sign of the cross again. Anything said out loud or thought quietly between those two signs of the cross was prayer. Anything said before the first sign of the cross or after the second was not. I figured that out all by myself.

It was not until recently that it dawned on me how much simpler and beautiful it is to be in a constant state of prayer. Praying without ceasing really just means always having God on your mind. When we include God in our thoughts throughout the day we are praying. Remember that God knows our every thought and feeling. When we think of Him, we are allowing ourselves to be open to the intimacy that he perpetually offers us. God’s love for us is constant. Our acceptance of it tends not to be. That’s why St. Paul gave the us that instruction. God does not need to be reminded of us, but let us not forget about HIM.

Take a look at your own prayer life. You might think you don’t pray enough. This week see how many times you catch yourself thinking about God, even in the smallest way. You may be surprised at how infrequently you actually cease to pray.

Have blessed week!

Jon us in the fight against blood cancer! Donate to our Leukemia and Lymphoma Society half-marathon fund. http://bit.ly/TeamBacalski

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Running the Good Fight

ImageThose of you who follow my Twitter feed have probably noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of running lately for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). The fact is Lisa Helene and I are training for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January to raise money for this excellent organization.

I was inspired to do it by my brother Carlos who, five years after surviving a heart attack, completed a triathlon raising money for the same cause! I figured if he can do it, I can do it! Lisa Helene tagged along to an informational meeting and I kind of “peer pressured” her into joining me in the training. She agreed when she was assured that walking the entire route was acceptable. So she’s walking it and I’m going to run as much of it as I can.

We started training on August 3 and we still haven’t quit! LLS provides coaches, mentors, staff liaisons, t-shirts, and all the motivation needed to keep us showing up early every Saturday morning. The most important part of every training session is the “Mission Moment” when someone shares their story or the story of someone they know who is living with blood cancer. I started doing this purely as a fitness endeavor, but I have been inspired by the courage and faith of the people I have met who have fought this terrible disease and won. I am also determined to run for those who were not so lucky. LLS funds research that is turning this disease from one that people die from to one that people live with. Some day, with God’s help, it will become a disease that only exists in memory.

You can help Lisa Helene and me in our quest by, first and foremost, praying for us and the thousands of people living with blood cancer. Pray for the staff members and volunteers who work with LLS and continue to pummel blood cancer into cultural remission. Pray for the doctors and nurses who treat cancer patients with gentleness and compassion. Pray for the researchers who are dedicating their careers to making life happier for so many.

You can also help us financially. We have a donation website set up at:


I will have this URL posted at the top of every blog post between now and January 6, 2014. We run on January 11 (the day after my birthday!).

Thank you in advance for your prayers and generosity!

Have a blessed week!

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This is What Heroism Really Looks Like

Lisa Helene posted a wonderful reflection as we approach the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Antoinette Tuff is a shining example of the power of God’s love.

lisa helene donovan bacalski

rogiro / Foter / CC BY-NC

The extraordinary bravery of Antoinette Tuff  intersects with an interesting time for America. As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it’s tempting to list our many national political failures and the continuing systemic discrimination and endemic poverty that undermine our founding principles. But then a woman like Antoinette Tuff steps into the shadow of Rosa Parks and rocks our perception. Just as Parks was not the first black person who refused to move on a bus in Montgomery, Tuff is not the first person to ever avert a shooting. But many are cheering how Tuff responded to the dangerous, gun-toting man in front of her with a patience and compassion born of faith. Parks was also a woman of faith, though hers was more stubborn and impatient to achieve justice. Her faith led her to challenge an…

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Another Catholic DOMA Perspective

“It’s Ok to be me”: A More Personal Reflection on the Gay-Marriage Decisions


While there will be ample and necessary reflection and analysis upon yesterday’s landmark decisions in the Supreme Court, I want to pause here briefly and provide a more personal, pastoral reflection.  Over the past year or so, I have been listening attentively to two close friends who have been in committed, same-sex relationships for over ten years (longer than my own marriage).  In addition, both of these men are committed Christians, one of whom still practices in the Catholic tradition.  Their reactions have common themes, but are also quite distinctive and illuminating for me as I reflect on this in a more academic and theological context.

In listening to one friend’s reaction since last fall when the marriage amendment was narrowly defeated in MN, and through the legalization of gay-marriage this spring, and now with the two Supreme Court rulings yesterday, his consistent comment has been this: His struggles with depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, failed relationships in his early life all stemmed from a deep and abiding sense that he was not OK- that it was not OK to be who he was.  There were both internal and external factors to these complex psychological phenomena, of course, but it took him until later in life even to realize and admit that he was gay.  Recovery and spiritual and emotional health have only come for him after admitting this and accepting himself as he is.  His response to each stage in this cultural development is that the personal significance of these public, legal, and political decisions has been an affirmation that it is finally OK to be himself, not just in his personal life, but in his public life, too.  We sometimes get caught up in the political and legal wrangling and forget the deeply human face of such debates.  Edith Windsor’s reaction to the decision capture this for many.Edith Windsor

My Catholic friend’s reaction is fascinating as well.  He takes seriously the church’s teaching on marriage and family, and feels that there is something distinctive to marriage for heterosexual couples who are then able to procreate and raise a family.  But he also wants his relationship to be recognized, both by society and by the Church.  He hopes there might be some creative ways to recognize the many goods that come from his homosexual relationship, even while recognizing this as distinct from a heterosexual marriage.  This poses some interesting middle ground for theological reflection, such as some form of liturgical recognition of committed, same-sex couples.  (I recognize here that many people in same-sex relationships feel that it is important to name their love as a marriage, but I am simply commenting on his reflections.)

Personally, I am happy that our political and legal institutions are creating a society and a space where homosexual persons feel validated in who they are.  Additionally, I would hope that they would feel the same sense of validation within the Roman Catholic Church (though I can certainly understand why many don’t find this).  Let me say this more directly: you ARE loved and welcome in the Church, because we, as the people of God, are all the Church (even if we sometimes struggle to express this love clearly).  That is something we can all agree upon, even if we disagree about the theological, political, and legal responses.

Of course, I recognize that I am out of step with some of the magisterial leadership on whether or not to celebrate these legal developments (not on the point about you being loved), but even amidst this disagreement we can all find ways to purify our public rhetoric on these issues.  Even as I and others come to a different theological and moral conclusion regarding homosexuality, we can still work together to promote the USCCB’s 2006 more humane pastoral guidelines for person’s of a homosexual orientation (more humane, that is, than the CDF’s 2003 Consideration Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, which relies heavily on the vulgar language of “intrinsically disordered”).

Even amidst disagreement about the moral and legal status of same-sex couples within the Church and within society, we can all agree that we need to work together to make the Church a place where everyone is accepted and capable of finding acceptance, forgiveness, and moral and spiritual sustenance for our journey toward salvation.

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