The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 16, 2001 Issue

Verdict please:

What may capture the attention of the world may not be what really matters

By Tom Rinkoski

Summoned to Serve

One of my favorite magazines, Commonweal, featured a brief piece about a website,, and I confess to not really believing it. Shades of my patron saint! I thought it was a first rate comedy bit - really. Not! I checked it out and it is real.

The website has not yet been baptized which leaves me with a convienant entrepenurial opening. Basically, the format for these websites is simple. You look at a picture of a man or a woman and grade them on a scale from one to 10 on whether they are "hot." Why couldn't we do the same grading our Catholicism? Democrats and Republicans label each other. Choices of labels depend on your leanings. If your picture appeared, would you be classified as "conservative" or a "cafeteria Catholic." At various times I have been labeled "liberal" or "radical" or not Catholic at all.

We can now put video feeds on the web. If we had a live webcam in different people's homes or places of work, could we see if they were Catholic? When you are doing the dishes do you do them catholicly? If there were a video of your life for this past week and we watched it would we know if this were Lent in your life? It's a humbling thought.

I remember a movie, Defending Your Life, starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep, which was based on this proposition. Brooks' character dies and goes to a place, which isn't quite heaven nor hell, but where he is subject to judgment based on a videotape review of his life. His post-death lawyer tells him they will be viewing nine video clips from his life to see whether he passed the test. Brooks' character is appropriately anxious about this arrangement. If they were to randomly pick nine video taped moments of your life to use as material to judge your Christianity would there be enough evidence? Watch out, they are taping even as you read!

As I walked out of Ash Wednesday services and into the grocery store, one of the high school clerks who knows me asked me about the "dirt" on my forehead. The "dirt" on my forehead is one of those clear tangible signs of what I believe. To this day, it still amazes me to be there on Ash Wednesday and feel the bond that ties us. I love watching the little ones who get to walk up to be marked when they are ordinarily left unfed in every other Communion march. Fingers tentatively reach up to feel the mark. Imaginations soar. As we age, are we no longer touched by the mark? Has the ritual lost its power? Is there just too much "dirt" in our lives already?

One of the ironies of being Catholic is that the one time a year we have a clear tangible marker, there is a general inadequacy in our explaining it. I do not think it is for lack of information. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus feels exhausted waiting for fruit on the fig tree. Behavior counts.

Warning! There is error to be found in extremes. Being Christian is not necessarily about epics, actions of titanic proportion, nor running away to become Mother Teresas. We like to tell stories about saints and eventually shift them into stained glass windows. But most of us live our Christianity in ordinary time.

The small stuff counts a lot more than we dare to care. Tucking your child in at night is, perhaps, the last frontier of spirituality. Even people who never pray at any other time of the day or year offer stories and prayers with children at bedtime. Parents with no pious practices tell me of rituals that include backrubs, kisses, storytelling routines and other stylized good nights that had the same quality of holy as I have experienced in the most ritual of Tenebrae services. Fighting off sleep, even while trying to induce it in her child through songs, stroking and listening is the best example I know of the Paschal Mystery lived out in real time. I would not hesitate to place before my judges at judgement time movie clips from moments such as these. Parenting is a sacred vocation, but at times a not very cinematic one. Luckily, we are not called to be movie stars to be Catholic.

Anyone interested in starting a new website?

(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)

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