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Have you heard? The synod of bishops (basically a “sampling” of bishops from all over the world, plus some other folks) is meeting at the Vatican to discuss “Family.” I could make a joke here about a large group of celibate men discussing marriage and family, but I won’t, because some very serious issues are on the table, including, divorce, annulment, gay marriage and more. The bishops are talking. People are talking.

Will the Church change? Can the Church change? Hope abounds, even as the Supreme Court has begun striking down laws that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Are we on the brink of a new awareness, a new embrace of people who have been marginalized for years? I surely wish it so.

The Catholic Church moves more slowly than the rest of the world, and understandably so. We must be cautious that we are not undermining the rich, deep and beautiful foundations of our faith. I completely understand trepidation. I do not, however, understand excluding people from the life of the Church based on marital status or inborn characteristics such as sexual preference.

My sister was married for more than 20 years. Then, one day, her husband came home and announced that he didn’t love her and never had. What does one do with a declaration like that? She is divorced now, but if she were to meet and marry a good, loving man, she would — as things currently stand — be denied access to the Eucharist, the very life-giving heart of Catholic life.

Of course, it is less likely that a person would be shunned for being remarried than for being gay. Many of us have heard about the two men who recently got married and were asked to leave their parish (of which they were active members) unless — and this is a big unless — they promptly got divorced and signed a paper saying that marriage is only right, honorable and sacramental between a man and a woman. That’s not a choice; it’s blackmail.

Some of the comments I read regarding this case made me angry. Some merely bemused me. “So leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian!” wrote several observers. Don’t they understand that people like me, whose Catholicism is in their blood and bones and woven so tightly into the fabric of their lives that it is quite inextricable, cannot leave the Church? Will not? Must not? “If you don’t like it, leave,” has never been a cogent argument to me. I am Catholic. I am the Church, the Body of Christ. I can no more leave Catholicism than I could tell my arm to drop off my body and onto the ground. And why should I — or anybody — have to?

I pray that the synod of bishops will hear what faithful Catholics are saying to them. I pray that they will work to include those who have been excluded, to fold them back into the fold. The world changes. Family changes. So too must our thinking — and the Catholic Church’s.

Like so many other people, I’m going through a divorce, and the process has really been slow-going. The other day, I went to the Family Court office to pick up some papers and sat next to a lady who was in obvious distress.

Her stomach growled and she said, “Oh! Excuse me.”

I told her not to worry; “It happens to all of us.”

“Especially to moms,” she nodded.

And she paused, leaned toward me and added, “Especially to worried moms.”

Normally, my modus operandi is to encourage people and listen to their stories, but I had a recent realization that there are some things better left in the past.  Sometimes you can’t move ahead until you release the baggage holding you back.

My usual response to this woman telling me she was a worried mom would have been to say, “Oh, dear.  Are you worried?  Tell me what happened.”

My new approach was dramatically different. “Oh, dear.  Are you worried?  Don’t worry; it will all work out.”

She looked at me sharply, almost annoyed, responding with a disbelieving, “mm-hmm,” as if to say, no it won’t.

Up until recently, I’d let people tell me their troubles, thinking it might be cathartic for them.  As it turns out, when we commiserate with others, it actually prolongs and perpetuates problems.  It doesn’t help to tell everyone you meet a long list of your cares and woes.

Luckily, I got a leg cramp and had to walk it off, and strategically stepped away from this lady, but I overheard her talking to the woman on the other side of her.  There was a very long and sad story with graphic details. They talked intensely for twenty minutes and even exchanged phone numbers and emails.  In a way, they’d made a pinky-pact of sorts, to sit together and pick at soul-scabs until they bled again.

I was so glad I had stuck to my policy: I don’t commiserate anymore.  I’ll co-joy with you any day, but I won’t willingly co-sign your agreement to marinate in misery.

It took me years to learn this lesson, but now I know it in my bones. The only way to solve a problem is to do everything that you know will help and then release it, completely entrusting it to God. Traveling light and partnering with Providence is the only way to go.

Nobody wanted to be there.  We were mandated by the court to attend this session after filing for divorce, and there was a cacophony of kvetching as we waited for the four hours of suffering to begin.

Then the presenter started talking, and the minute the slideshow began, it was instantaneous: we were all fully engaged. I sat there, trying to analyze what it was about this woman that made us all sit up and pay attention.

Let’s see. She was middle-aged (ditto moi),  somewhat Rubenesque (not throwing scones here, I’m zaftig myself) and she had to use a cane to navigate the room (as do I, at times).

The subject matter was dry, but she had a stage presence and a wicked wit. As I looked around the room, I noticed that the men in particular were really attentive. One actually looked as if he was in love with her!

What in the world is it about this lady?  I wondered.

I came to the conclusion that she was gifted. I realized that it’s an intangible x factor that I call “zhoozh.”  Not your size.  Not your age. Not your occupation. Not the degree certificates you hang on the wall.

Nope.  It’s the zhoozh.  The thing you bring that sets you apart but somehow connects you to the rest of the world.  Uniquely you, but universal.

In the evangelical world, I’ve heard it referred to as “anointing.” Others say that someone is “filled with the Holy Ghost.”  In our everyday interactions, it really may just be as simple as someone having a cheerful spirit.

Someone asked Joel Osteen why he doesn’t focus more on theology and exegesis of the Scriptures.  He answered that he didn’t feel it was his “gifting.” It’s good to be so self-aware that you know where your talents are, and instead of focusing on what others do well, you can pour your energies into your own gifts.

Even though we may not all be stars on a small stage, as this woman was, we can surely do our best to lift up those around us with our faith-filled optimism. It can mean the difference between just getting through the day and realizing that life is an amazing gift.  With the right attitude, it’s all a wonderful adventure.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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