Tuesday, December 29, 2009

God as Popster

I'm a big fan of Fr. Larry Richards. I have listened many times to a couple of wonderful CDs by Fr. Richards: Confession and The Mass Explained. I am currently reading Fr. Richards' book, Be A Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be. It's a wonderful book so far. He talks about Jesus telling us to call God not merely our Father but "Abba," a child's term for "father" in Aramaic. In his darkest hour, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36). St. Paul reiterates this intimate relationship in two different places. First in Romans: "When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:15-17). Then in Galatians: "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Galatians 4:6-7). Fr. Richards reminds us that in the Jewish culture of the first century (and among the Orthodox Jewish faithful today), one could not say aloud the name of God out of reverence for him. However, Jesus told people to call God by the same kind of name a small child would call his or her father. As Fr. Richards puts it, calling God Abba is "not something you decide to do. It's something that the Spirit of the Living God, which was given to you the day you were baptized, cries out to you for you to do" (p. 44).

My second-grade daughter has taken to calling me "poppy" or "popster," depending on her mood. I don't know where she heard these terms; from a cartoon most likely. But she has been calling me these for a while now, and it is very sweet when she does it. If she doesn't physically give me hug when she says it, the way she says it sounds like a vocal hug. As I was reading Fr. Richards, I thought of how my daughter addresses me as "poppy" or "popster," and thought of Jesus telling us how to talk with God. As I seek to take my prayer life to another level, I realize that I need to go down to go up, to become more simple to become more profound. I need to get to the point that Bob Dylan speaks of his in song, "My Back Pages," where he says: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holidays vs. Holy Days

The phrase "Merry Christmas" seemed to make a comeback of sorts this season. That was good to see. Something that I think is important for religious folks to understand, as well as secular folks, is that "Happy Holidays" does not address what religious people observe during this time of year. For those for whom Christmas is Santa and nostalgic images, then Christmas is indeed a holiday, on par with President's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. However, for those for whom Christmas is the birth of the Savior of the World, or for those for whom Hanukkah is the remembrance of the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after the desecration of the Temple by the Seleucid Empire, then these are not "holidays" but "holy days." While semantically the words are related, the ideas they represent could not be more different. Holy Days represent opportunities to connect with the sacred, to grow closer to God, while holidays are a day off from work and an opportunity for stores to sell more products. People who are "cultural" or "nominal" Catholics treat Holy Days like holidays and are already almost completely secularized. But even for those who are very observant Catholics, there is still the danger that we will make Christmas too much like the secular, eviscerated version. That is why observance of the Advent and Christmas seasons are so important. The four weeks of spiritual preparation (rather than focusing primarily on the shopping, the decorating, and the card-writing) for Advent, and the two-plus weeks of celebration of the Christmas season (from Christmas Eve to the Baptism of the Lord on January 10) are liturgical antidotes to the binge-and-purge mentality of the secular approach to this time of year. So let us celebrate and contemplate the great joy of the coming of Christ, and share that joy with all we meet.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Reason for the Season

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus had a conversation with Pontius Pilate. Part of this conversation concerned the reason for His Incarnation. Jesus said to Pilate:

"For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

The reason we celebrate Christmas is because God was born as a human being. The reason He was born was to "bear witness to the truth." The problem is we are too often like Pilate, and, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men, we "can't handle the truth."

On this Christmas night, may we draw closer to the One Who is Truth itself. And in the coming year, may we bear witness to the truth to all we meet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gimme Shelter

I continue to think of the theme of shelter in the birth of Jesus. I wrote about this earlier today. I then began to think about different ways in which we give shelter to Jesus. Mary sheltered Jesus in her womb, which is why she is sometimes referred to as a "living tabernacle." Visiting Jesus in the tabernacle for Eucharistic adoration is another setting where Jesus is being sheltered. Of course, receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is a crucial way of sheltering Jesus. Yet another way that we give shelter to Jesus is through spiritual Communion, where we ask Jesus to come into our heart.

We must also not forget those fellow children of God who do not have shelter. Fr. Benedict Groeschel has a recording of the Rosary (The Rosary is a Place) where he meditates on the the Third Joyful Mystery, the Birth of Jesus, as a reflection on how Jesus came in poverty, and how we are to be moved to help those in need. We should be especially mindful of the homeless during this Christmas season. Not only was the Holy Family without a home at Jesus' birth, but they were refugees in Egypt as they sought to escape Herod's slaughter.

While I would not generally look to the Rolling Stones for spiritual inspiration, I find the title of their song, "Gimme Shelter," to be relevant here. Jesus is asking us to give Him shelter. How can we say no?

Christmas Greetings from St. John of the Cross

I've been reading the poetry of St. John of the Cross. Here is one titled "Christmas Refrain":

The Virgin, weighed
with the Word of God,
comes down the road:
if only you'll shelter her.

The Spanish word translated here as "shelter" is "posada." Today we think of the Mexican tradition of Las Posadas, where during the nine days prior to Christmas (a physical novena, of sorts), people go from house to house re-enacting the wandering of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay so Mary can give birth to Jesus. During Las Posadas, neighbors form a procession and knock on the doors of various houses but are not admitted entrance, until one house lets them in, and the neighbors come in to celebrate with a party.

Mary is Jesus' mother, and our mother. If we let her, she will show us the fruit of her womb, Jesus. Pray this Christmas that we will give the Holy Family shelter.

Friday, December 18, 2009

College Football and the Peace of Christ

Those who are college football fans know Tim Tebow, the amazing quarterback for the University of Florida Gators. His accomplishments in the arena of football are already legendary. However, what I find most interesting about Tebow is his faith and the way he wears it on his sleeve. Actually, he wears it on his eye black. Eye black is the black strip that football players often wear under each of their eyes. Tebow puts scripture verses in white on his eye black. A couple of weeks ago he wrote "John 16:33" on his eye black. That passage reads: "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Peace is important to Christ, and to us. However, peace as Jesus speaks of it does not mean the absence of conflict. Jesus talks about giving us peace in the midst of tribulation, not as a replacement of it. Think of the peace that so many martyrs experienced in the midst of their martyrdom. St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp spring immediately to my mind. The peace of Christ helps us to oppose the world, and to transform it, because Jesus has overcome the world. John begins his Gospel with this crucial message of Christ's supremacy:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

John also focuses on peace elsewhere. When Jesus is telling his disciples about his departure from this world and the coming of the Holy Spirit, he addresses the worries and fears of his followers:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Again, we are told that the world is not to be our guide, but Jesus. He often speaks in the Gospels of not being afraid (which Pope John Paul II reiterated throughout his pontificate). Peace does not eliminate trouble, but it does eliminate fear, because we put our trust in the One who is wholly trustworthy.

On the evening of Jesus' resurrection, he appears to the disciples in their closed room and his first words to them are: "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). They were certainly facing tribulation that day, and would in the foreseeable future, but Jesus greets them with a message of peace and trust.

Tim Tebow put John 16:33 on his eye black before Florida fell to Alabama and would not play for their third national championship in four years. Jesus did not promise that there would not be disappointment. He did promise that if we place our trust in Him rather than in the world, we would not be disappointed, and in that trust we would find peace. Tim Tebow understands that, and I appreciate his reminding us all of that promise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

St. John of the Cross on the Eucharist

I have started reading the writings of St. John of the Cross in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. After reading St. Therese, I find myself going to her Carmelite forebears as I seek to increase the fervor of my spiritual life. This is a struggle for me, because my spiritual life (such as it is) often stays on an intellectual, abstract plane (this is my comfort zone).

I was reading St. John's poem, Stanzas of the soul that suffers with longing to see God. The first stanza begins:

I no longer live within myself
and I cannot live without God,
for having neither him nor myself
what will life be?
It will be a thousand deaths,
longing for my true life
and dying because I do not die.

The goal of our spiritual lives must be to go outside of ourselves and into God. The paradox of dying to ourselves and living for God is that we find ourselves, our "true life." As St. Matthew writes, "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'" (Matthew 16:24-25). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that this is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and one. Quoting St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the Catechism tells us that immersing ourselves in God puts us fully in touch with our humanity: "The grace of the Kingdom is 'the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity...with the whole human spirit'" (CCC, paragraph 2565).

St. John has an interesting perspective on Eucharistic adoration in stanza 5 of this poem:

When I try to find relief
seeing you in the Sacrament
I find this greater sorrow:
I cannot enjoy you wholly.
All things are affliction
since I do not see you as I desire,
and I die because I do not die.

We learn about how deep this affliction was by how much he loved Jesus in the Eucharist. In the Biographical Sketch in The Collected Works, we are told that Corpus Christi was one of his favorite feast days (p. 27). "On arriving at a monastery he always made it a point first to greet the sick after his visit to the Blessed Sacrament" (p. 24). "His greatest suffering during the imprisonment in Toledo was being deprived of the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament was 'all his glory, all his happiness, and for him far surpassed all the things of the earth.' The one privilege he accepted when major superior in Segovia was the cell closest to the Blessed Sacrament" (p. 27).

I find such solace and peace most of the time in Eucharistic adoration. However, St. John reminds me that if I truly perceived (as much as we finite creatures can perceive) Who is before me and how much He loves me, then I would ache with love to be united with Him.

While I enjoy the solace and peace, I pray for the ache and longing, so that I may progress along the road of spiritual growth.

Monday, December 14, 2009

St. Louis Bertrand Parish - Louisville, KY

My wife and I spent the weekend in Louisville, KY. On Sunday, we went to mass at the Dominican parish, St. Louis Bertrand. It is a beautiful, Gothic-style church with amazing woodwork in the sanctuary. The parish website has some pictures of the church. I have posted one of those pictures above, although it does not do the sanctuary justice. St. Louis Bertrand Church made me think about how the surroudings of our worship matter. I like both modern and past architectural styles. God did not ordain Gothic architecture as the truest expression of faith in form, although it is certainly an important one. What matters in our worship spaces are at least the following aspects: 1) does the building express important truths of our faith (transcendence and immanence, for example), 2) is beauty used to reflect and glorify God, and 3) does the physical building help us to worship and grow closer to God. Sometimes going to different parishes helps us to pay more attention to how the building helps us to build up our faith and increase our fervor for God. The building matters. However, in the most beautiful parish church, cathedral, or basilica, the beauty of that space is but a dim reflection of the center of that church, of the Church, Jesus in the Eucharist residing in the tabernacle.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Is Christmas for Children?

Each year I hear at least one person say, "Christmas is for the children." Unfortunately, this view trivializes Christmas. Yes, Christmas is for children, as it is for all of humanity. But Christmas is so much more than presents. St. Paul reminds us that there are some things we outgrow: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11). Our faith, and our understanding of Christmas, must do the same.

Christmas is the comingling of the divine and the human. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14).

Christmas is Jesus as the fulcrum of salvation history. The advent practice of creating a Jesse Tree reminds us of how God has acted in human history and prepared Israel for the coming of the Savior. The world changed when Jesus came into it. That is why Christians view time in terms of "Before Christ" (BC) and "Anno Domini" (AD - "In the Year of the Lord"). We also see a similar divide regarding Christ's first coming and His anticipated Second Coming.

Christmas is the road to the Cross. There is an interesting Christmas decoration of a nail, to be hung deep within the tree, as a reminder of Jesus' Passion. Imbedded in the joyful mystery of the birth of Jesus is the sorrowful mystery of His crucifixion. We see this in the carol, "We Three Kings," in the verse which reads: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/Breathes a life of gathering gloom;/Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,/Sealed in the stone-cold tomb."

Christmas is a Eucharistic revelation. In Hebrew, Bethlehem, means "House of Bread." In Arabic, it means, "House of Meat." Jesus was laid in a "manger" (Luke 2:7), which is a trough where animals eat. The bread that is transformed into flesh is the Eucharist, and it is our food for salvation. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have not life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (John 6:53-56).

Is Christmas for children? Yes. Christmas is for helping children to understand that the things of this world cannot satisfy them, but there is One who can.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Gift - A Piece of the True Cross

One day a while back my daughter gave me a gift. It was a piece of foam wrapped in facial tissue and tied with a rubber band. The foam was part of a cross that she had made at church as a craft and later tore apart to make a bridge for some imaginary adventure. So here was this ugly, worthless pile of things that she gave me. Quickly I was reminded of how everything that we offer to God is objectively worthless, deficient, even pitiful compared with the One to whom we offer it. This is especially true when we think of the gift He gave us of His Son. And yet, it is precisely because of His gift to us--the clear sign of His prodigal love for us--that we know that our worthless gift has value in His eyes. So my daughter helped build several bridges: her play bridge, a bridge between her and me, and a bridge between me and God. The use of a cross as a bridge to God was rather inspired. Not bad for a day's play.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do You Trust that I Will Help You?

I was helping my second-grade daughter with her homework a couple of weeks ago. I would explain to her what she needed to do, and then walk away so she could see if she could get it done on her own. If she could not do it on her own, then she could come get me. She became increasingly frustrated with her own ability to complete her homework, and she began crying and throwing a bit of a tantrum. I tried to explain to her what to do again, and that I would help, but this repetition did not seem to be sinking in. In my frustration, I said to her, "Do you trust that I will help you?" She answered "Yes" through her tears.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that the scenario she and I had been acting out was really no different than what I far too often act out with God. I become frustrated at my own efforts to do certain things on my own, or I become anxious about the uncertainty of the future. I don't turn to God and place my confidence in Him. And in my voice to my daughter, I could hear what God is constantly telling me if only I would listen: "Do you trust that I will help you?" If I am truly honest with myself, my answer to that question is often "No." And part of my prayer life needs to be changing that "No" to a "Yes." I think of Mary and her "Fiat," her "Yes." But she did not give that assent only one time. Whether it was the flight to Egypt, or when Jesus went missing for three days as a boy, or most especially during Jesus' passion, Mary was telling God, "Yes, I trust that You will help me."

Lord, please grant me the grace to trust that You will help me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Imitation of Christ

I'm just about finished reading St. Therese's The Story of a Soul. She talks about how valuable Thomas a Kempis's The Imitation of Christ is for her spiritual development. I have not read it, but it sounds like I need to do so.

I was thinking about the process of imitation. Great painters become great by copying the work of other great painters. Musicians learn songs from the recordings of their heroes. Imitation is one of the ways that we become better at something. It should be clear that imitating Christ is something that we ought to do to become more Christ-like.

I received a valuable lesson from my son on this point. He is at a stage where he often copies what I do. When we get dressed for mass, he will often try to wear either the same colors or the same kind of clothing that I do. The other day he asked me how I take a shower because he wanted to wash up the same way that I do. There are times when he wants to be so close to me that he is physically right against me.

I realize that I need to be like this with Jesus. I need to be like Him. To be like Him, I need to know the Gospels in particular, and the Bible in general, very well. Then I need to live those words. I need to long to be as physically close to Him as possible. The Eucharist is the best way for us to physically be close to Him. Confession is the best way for us to move closer to Him spiritually. Christ shows us the way. He is the Way. All we need to do is follow Him.

Thanks to my son for teaching me the lessons I should already have learned by now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let My Life Be Consumed

While on a silent Ignatian retreat a few weeks ago, I read parts of Encounters with Silence by Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J. In the chapter on vocation, he wrote this about his priestly vocation:

O God of my vocation, let my life be consumed as the Sacred Host, so that my brothers and I may live in You, and You in us, for all eternity" (p. 77).

Some important things come to mind in reading this. First, God is the God of our vocation, whether that be priestly, religious, or lay. Our vocation is a call from Him to become most fully ourselves in Him. Second, we should be consumed by that call. Jesus was consumed by His love for the Father and for us in His crucifixion. There is a suffering, sacrificial aspect to that consumption. However, there is also a redemptive, life-giving aspect to that consumption as well. The consumption of food gives us natural nourishment and life, and the consumption of the Sacred Host gives us supernatural nourishment and life. Finally, whatever vocation we have, that vocation is strengthened by frequent receipt and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast of All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints. Perhaps I have been watching too many sporting events recently, but today I was thinking about how Holy Days of Obligation are a sort of half-time pep talk to a flagging Church Militant which is being challenged to live up to the storied franchise of the Church Triumphant. This seems especially true of the Feast of All Saints.

The Feast of All Saints is a day that often we don't really "get" in the pews. We may go through the motions, but it doesn't really move us much. I think the reason for that is because those of us in the pews focus entirely on honoring the saints. That's important, to be sure. As I was on retreat last weekend, I reflected on some of my favorite saints: St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. They have much to teach me, and I need their prayers.

However, the Feast of All Saints is about remembering the saints we don't know, who aren't canonized, who don't have a feast day. The person who lived next door to us growing up who is now with God. The grandmother who has gone on to eternal life. The child who died of cancer and is now praying for his parents who are grieving still. We are reminded of the "universal call to holiness," a call described in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium. We are all called to be saints. If we don't become saints, we will spend eternity separated from God. There is no permanent half-way house (Purgatory is a temporary half-way house). We are called to choose life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19), and saints are people who have chosen life. We often think of sainthood as something unattainable for us. The secret is this: sainthood is unattainable by us but is not unattainable for us. If we cooperate with God's grace, we can become saints. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower who described for us "the little way" in her book, The Story of a Soul (translated by John Beevers), made a choice to become a saint: "You know, Mother, that I have always wanted to become a saint" (Chapter, 9, p. 113).

So how do we become saints? There are as many ways to become a saint as there are individuals. Read the lives of the saints. Each had a different road to take to reach heaven. But some patterns emerge.

Trust in God - Saints trust that God will keep his promises. They have faith in God's word.

Prayer - Saints know they must be in relationship with God. They must talk to God. They must listen to God. They must read God's word. Heaven is about fulfilling one's relationship with God, so we must begin that relationship here on earth.

Vocation - Sainthood is possible through all vocations: ordained life, consecrated life, marriage, and the single life. However, sainthood is not possible if we reject the vocation to which God calls us and willfully choose a different vocation. Think of Jonah. We must go where God calls us, which is to go where we will ultimately encounter him most fully.

Sacraments - Saints live sacramental lives. They attend mass frequently; they receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently; they go to confession frequently.

Love in Action - Saints love God so much that their love spills over to others. They don't merely say they love people, but they express that love in actions. They are doers of Jesus' words (Matthew 7: 24-27).

That's my list. One could slice and dice it different ways, but you get the idea. It's like losing weight. We all know how to do it. The problem is we don't want to do what it takes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Am I? Look at Me

My daughter sometimes finds it difficult to look a person in the eyes when she is talking to that person. When she does that to me or my wife, we often say, "Where am I?" or "Look at me."

I was at Eucharistic adoration recently. I did what I usually do: I look at the tabernacle, then close my eyes and bend my head downwards. But then, it felt as though Christ were saying to me those words that I have so often said to my daughter: "Where am I?" and "Look at me." So I raised my head, and opened my eyes, and looked at Him. It felt like a clear reminder of His Real Presence. Of course, the whole reason I was there was because I believe that Christ is really and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament. However, that does not mean I always feel His presence or even that I am intellectually aware of His presence. But He was reminding me of why I came there, reminding me of who He is and where He is, and reminding me of who I am and my relationship with Him.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Ignatius is a saint everyone should learn about. Ignatius had a deep relationship with Christ that resulted in a joyful spirit as he was led from his see in Antioch to Rome where he was put to death by lions in 107 for being a Christian. His Letter to the Smyrnaeans is the earliest instance we know of the use of the phrase"the Catholic Church" (section 8). I find his Letter to the Ephesians to be especially rich. Here are some excerpts from his Letter to the Ephesians from Early Christian Writings (translation by Mawell Staniforth and revised translation by Andrew Louth):

It is true that I am a prisoner for the Name's sake, but I am by no means perfect in Jesus Christ as yet; I am only a beginner in discipleship, and I speaking to you as fellow-scholars with myself. (Section 3)

Regarding the rest of mankind, you should pray for them unceasingly, for we can always hope that repentance may enable them to find their way to God. Give them a chance to learn from you, or at all events from the way you act. Meet their animosity with mildness, their high words with humility, and their abuse with your prayers. But stand firm against their errors, and if they grow violent, be gentle instead of wanting to pay them back in their own coin. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers, and try to imitate the Lord by seeing which of us can put up with the most ill-usage or privation or contempt--so that in this way none of the devil's noxious weeds may take root among you, but you may rest in Jesus Christ in all sanctity and discipline of body and soul. (Section 10)

Apart from Him, nothing else should have any value in your eyes; but in Him, even these chains I wear are a collar of spiritual pearls to me, in which I hope to rise again through the help of your intercessions. (Section 11)

Do your best, then, to meet more often to give thanks and glory to God. When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confounded, and in the face of your corporate faith his maleficence crumbles. Nothing can better a state of peaceful accord, from which every trace of spiritual or earthly hostility has been banished. (Section 13)

... for life begins and ends with two qualities. Faith is the beginning, and love is the end; and the union of the two together is God. All that makes for a soul's perfection follows in their train, for nobody who professes faith will commit sin, and nobody who possesses love can feel hatred. As the tree is known by its fruits, so they who claim to belong to Christ are known by their actions; for this work of ours does not consist in just making professions, but in a faith that is both practical and lasting. (Section 14)

Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes. (Section 15)

As for me, my spirit is now all humble devotion to the Cross: the Cross which so greatly offends the unbelievers, but is salvation and eternal life to us. (Section 18)

[Ignatius says that he will write to the Ephesians again, God willing, if, among other things, they] ... are ready now to obey your bishop and clergy with undivided minds and to share the one common breaking of bread--the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore. (Section 20)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Forty Days for Life

This past Monday I stood in front of a local Planned Parenthood facility and prayed the Rosary as part of Forty Days for Life. I was part of Forty Days for Life last year, and I found it a moving experience. Last year I was there praying with a friend of mine from our parish. This year, however, I missed the day our parishioners were attending. I didn't know if anyone would be there (I went around 10:00 AM). I was dreading it, frankly. I went to a Communion service at another parish that morning for encouragement. I was feeling a bit like Jonah--I wanted to run in the opposite direction from the place to where God was calling me. Like Jonah, I was a reluctant witness. I went to Planned Parenthood and there was a familiar face--a man who is there most every day. He is a familiar fixture in the neighborhood. He is joyful, encouraging, and compassionate. It was comforting to see him there. I paced up and down the sidewalk, praying on my son's red hand-made twine rosary. I was wondering if this was enough, and tonight I just came across this quotation from St. Francis of Assisi: "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." That gives me some consolation that my timid efforts still have some effectiveness.

I was thinking about how to speak with others who may not agree why abortion is wrong. Here are ten reasons that came to mind:

1) Because whether a fetus is a human being or not should not depend on whether he or she is wanted or not.

2) Because the weekly growth of an embryo into a fetus into a born child clearly demonstrates the continuity of human development.

3) Because if you can convince yourself that killing an unborn child is not only permissible but a human right, then society can rationalize any atrocity.

4) Because if you do not know when human life begins, then you should err on the side of caution and assume it begins earlier rather than later.

5) Because tearing a sprouting acorn out of the ground and destroying it is the same as cutting down an oak tree.

6) Because abortion comes from the domination of hope by fear.

7) Because aborting an unborn child in cases of rape or incest is like killing a born child for the crimes of his or her father.

8) Because sacrifice is an honorable act, unless the adjective “human” precedes it.

9) Because abortion is an answer to half of a question. If one asks, “What do I do now?” when faced with an unexpected pregnancy, then abortion seems like an option. But if one asks instead, “What do I do now in the best interests of the person I helped to create through my free choice of engaging in an act that by its very nature creates life?” then one’s options appear very different.

10) Because an unborn child is not a problem to be fixed but a gift to be received—or given.

Thanks to Tate for a couple of wonderful resources for talking to others about abortion. The first focuses on how a baby develops:

Diary of an Unborn Child

Chronology of the New Life

1. On day 1, I already have a unique DNA which includes whether I’m a boy or a girl.

2. At 7 days, I implant in my mother’s womb.

3. At 18 days, my heart starts beating

4. At 19 days, my eyes start to develop.

5. At 28 days, my arms and legs are forming.

6. At 30 days, my ears and nasal are developing.

7. At 42 days, my skeleton is complete and my reflexes are present.

8. At 43 days, my brain wave patterns can be recorded. I’m now considered a thinking person.
9. At 7 weeks, I have the appearance of a miniature doll with complete fingers, toes and ears. I’ve even been caught in pictures sucking my thumb.

10. At 8 weeks, all of my organs are complete and functioning. Everything is now present that will be found in a developed adult.

11. At 9 weeks, I can squint, make a fist and move my tongue.

12. At 10 weeks, my sense of touch is working, and I can feel comfort or pain.
13. At 12 weeks, I can smile.

14. At 16 weeks (four months), I’m swimming, kicking and doing somersaults.

15. At 18 weeks, my vocal cords are working, and I can cry.

16. At 20 weeks, I’m approximately 12 inches long, weighing 1 pound.

17. At 22 week, I can live outside the womb.

Then there is this excellent dialogue (of sorts) in 1999 between then-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and California Senator Barbara Boxer on when life begins:

Senator Santorum: I think the issue of where we draw the line constitutionally is very important. And I’m sure the Senator from California [Senator Boxer] agrees with me. I think the senator from California would say that she and I, and the senator from Illinois and the senators from Arkansas and Kansas here, we are all protected by the Constitution with a right to life. Would you agree with that, senator from California -- [would you] answer that question?

Senator Boxer: I support the Roe versus Wade decision.

Santorum: So you would agree any child that’s born has the right to life, is protected under the Constitution? Once that child is born?

Boxer: I agree with the Roe v. Wade decision. And what you are doing goes against it and will harm the women of this country. And I will speak to that issue when I get the floor myself.

Santorum: But I would like to ask you a question. You agree, once that child is born, is separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that?

Boxer: I would make this statement: That this Constitution, as it currently is -- some of you want to amend it to say that life begins at conception. I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born -- and there is no such thing as partial-birth -- the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights. But I am not willing to amend the Constitution to say that a fetus is a person, which I know you would.

But we will get into that later. I would prefer to address --I know my colleague is engaging me in a colloquy on his time, and I appreciate it -- I will answer these questions.

I think what my friend is doing, by asking me these questions, is off point. My friend wants to tell the doctors in this country what to do. My friend from Pennsylvania says they are "rogue" doctors. The AMA will tell you they no longer support you. The American nurses don't support you. The obstetricians and gynecologists don't support you. So my friend can ask me my philosophy all day. On my own time I will talk about it.

Santorum: If I can reclaim my time: First of all, the AMA still believes this is bad medicine. They do not support the criminal penalties provisions in this bill, but they still believe -- I think you know that to be the case -- that this procedure is not medically necessary, and they stand by that statement.

I ask the senator from California, again: you believe, you said "once the

baby comes home." Obviously, you don't mean they have to take the baby out

of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is separated from the mother, you would agree -- completely separated from the mother -- you would agree that baby is entitled to constitutional protection?

Boxer: I will tell you why I don't want to engage in this. You did the same conversation with a colleague of mine, and I never saw such a twisting of his remarks. [Editor’s note: See Nov. 14, 1996 NRL News, page 24, for transcript of an exchange between Santorum and Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wi.).]

Santorum: Well, be clear, then. Let's be clear.

Boxer: I am going to be very clear when I get the floor. What you are trying to do is take away the rights of women and their families and their doctors to have a procedure. And now you are trying to turn the question into, "When does life begin?" I will talk about that on my own time.

Santorum: What I am trying to do is get an answer from the senator from California as to where you would draw the line? Because that really is the important part of this debate.

Boxer: I will repeat. I will repeat, since the senator has asked me a question – I am answering the question I have been posed by the senator. And the answer to the question is, I stand by Roe v. Wade. I stand by it. I hope we have a chance to vote on it. It is very clear, Roe v. Wade. That is what I stand by. My friend doesn't.

Santorum: Are you suggesting Roe v. Wade covered the issue of a baby in the process of being born?

Boxer: I am saying what Roe v. Wade says is, that in the early stages of a pregnancy, a woman has the right to choose. In the later stages, the states have the right, yes, to come in and restrict. I support those restrictions, as long as two things happen: They respect the life of the mother and the health of the mother.

Santorum: I understand that.

Boxer: That is where I stand. And no matter how you try to twist it, that is where I stand.

Santorum: I would say to the senator from California, I am not twisting anything. I am simply asking a very straightforward question. There is no hidden question here. The question is --

Boxer: I will answer it again.

Santorum: Once the baby is born, is completely separated from the mother, you will support that that baby has, in fact, the right to life and cannot be killed? You accept that; right?

Boxer: I don't believe in killing any human being. That is absolutely correct. Nor do you, I am sure.

Santorum: So you would accept the fact that once the baby is separated from the mother, that baby cannot be killed?

Boxer: I support the right -- and I will repeat this, again, because I saw you ask the same question to another senator –

Santorum: All the person has to do is give me a straight answer, and then it will be very clear to everybody.

Boxer: And what defines "separation"? Define "separation." You answer that question. You define it.

Santorum: Well, let's define that. Okay, let's say the baby is completely separated. In other words, no part of the baby is inside of the mother.

Boxer: You mean the baby has been birthed and is now in its mother's

arms? That baby is a human being.

Santorum: Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily in its mother’s arms. Let’s say in the obstetrician's hands.

Boxer: It takes a second, it takes a minute – I had two babies, and within seconds of their birth --

Santorum: We’ve had six.

Boxer: Well, you didn't have any.

Santorum: My wife and I had babies together. That’s the way we do things in our family.

Boxer: Your wife gave birth. I gave birth. I can tell you, I know when the baby was born.

Santorum: Good! All I am asking you is, once the baby leaves the mother's birth canal and is through the vaginal orifice and is in the hands of the obstetrician, you would agree that you cannot abort, kill the baby?

Boxer: I would say when the baby is born, the baby is born, and would then have every right of every other human being living in this country. And I don't know why this would even be a question, to be honest with you.

Santorum: Because we are talking about a situation here where the baby is almost born. So I ask the question of the senator from California, if the baby was born except for the baby's foot, if the baby's foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside, could that baby be killed?

Boxer: The baby is born when the baby is born. That is the answer to the question.

Santorum: I am asking for you to define for me what that is.

Boxer: I don’t think anybody but the senator from Pennsylvania has a question with it. I have never been troubled by this question. You give birth to a baby. The baby is there, and it is born. That is my answer to the question.

Santorum: What we are talking about here with partial birth, as the senator from California knows, is a baby is in the process of being born --

Boxer: "The process of being born." This is why this conversation makes no sense, because to me it is obvious when a baby is born. To you it isn't obvious.

Santorum: Maybe you can make it obvious to me. So what you are suggesting is if the baby's foot is still inside of the mother, that baby can then still be killed.

Boxer: No, I am not suggesting that in any way!

Santorum: I am asking.

Boxer: I am absolutely not suggesting that. You asked me a question, in essence, when the baby is born.

Santorum: I am asking you again. Can you answer that?

Boxer: I will answer the question when the baby is born. The baby is born when the baby is outside the mother's body. The baby is born.

Santorum: I am not going to put words in your mouth –

Boxer: I hope not.

Santorum: But, again, what you are suggesting is if the baby's toe is inside the mother, you can, in fact, kill that baby.

Boxer: Absolutely not.

Santorum: OK. So if the baby's toe is in, you can't kill the baby. How

about if the baby's foot is in?

Boxer: You are the one who is making these statements.

Santorum: We are trying to draw a line here.

Boxer: I am not answering these questions! I am not answering these questions.

The Catholic Church's reasoning for opposing abortion is based on thoroughly logical philosophical methods, not simply divine revelation. I have often said that if I became an atheist tomorrow I would still staunchly oppose abortion merely on the grounds of human reason. Senator Boxer's exchange with Senator Santorum shows how her ideology prevents her from examining the philosophical and logical inconsistencies and gaps of her position.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Rhetoric of Planned Parenthood

Today I attended a local Life Chain. We held up signs along a busy local state route for an hour. As Peter said to Jesus at the Transfiguration, "Master, it is well that we are here" (Mark 9:5). There were a number of motorists who honked in support. It was encouraging to see so many people on the sidewalk and in the cars expressing their concern about legalized abortion.

The other day I was reading through Planned Parenthood's website. I was struck by their rhetoric. Not by their rhetoric's audacity (though there was a little of that) but much more so by their rhetoric's subtlety. I found their use of rhetoric deft but disturbing.

Here are some examples:

Abortions are very common. In fact, more than 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.

This bit of information is used, not so that the reader will think, "That's awful; we should do something about that," but rather so that the reader will think, "Oh, an abortion is no big deal; many people do it." President Obama has publicly expressed his support for reducing the number of abortions. If that is the President's goal, Planned Parenthood, a vocal supporter of the Administration on abortion issues, does not appear to share his goal.

Most women want to have children. And they want to have children when they are ready and best able to care for them. But millions of women face unplanned pregnancies every year. In fact, half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

We are supposed to think that because half of all pregnancies are unplanned, that also means that they are a problem. And Planned Parenthood wants to present itself as a solution provider. This is a very common marketing strategy: present a problem, and get the consumer to envision your company as the one who can solve your problem.

If you are pregnant, you have three options to think about — abortion, adoption, and parenting. Reading and learning about each one will help you get the facts and may help you decide. It may also help to weigh the benefits and risks of each one. Think about which benefits and risks are most important to you.

Of course, "abortion" is the first option given. That is because Planned Parenthood is in the business of abortion and cannot make money off of the other two options. And then we come to the intellectually dishonest attempt to equalize all three options based on "risk." But what are the "risks" of adoption vs. abortion? Look and see:

Here's what they say about "How Will I Feel After the Adoption"

Many women who make this choice are happy knowing that their children are loved and living in good homes. And they feel empowered in their role as birth mother. But some women find that the sense of loss is deeper than they expected.

You may feel some grief after the adoption is complete. Or you may be reassured by knowing that your child is in good hands. A range of emotions is normal. And your feelings may be complicated for a while.

It's a good idea to find counseling to help you work through your feelings. This can be important during the adoption process as well as afterward. If you work with an adoption agency, they can often provide counseling for you. If you have an independent adoption, you can still receive counseling and guidance through a local adoption agency. No matter which type of adoption you pursue, it's important to find people who will support you during and after your pregnancy.

Now, here's what they say about "If I Have an Abortion, How Will I Feel Afterward?"

A range of emotions is normal after an abortion. There is not one "correct" way to feel. Some women feel anger, regret, guilt, or sadness for a little while. For some women, these feelings may be quite strong.

For some women, having an abortion can be a significant life event, like ending a relationship, starting or losing a job, or becoming a parent. It can be very stressful and difficult. Other women have an easier time after abortion.

Serious, long-term emotional problems after abortion are about as uncommon as they are after giving birth. They are more likely to happen for certain reasons — for instance, if a woman has a history of emotional problems before the abortion, if she doesn't have supportive people in her life, or if she has to terminate a wanted pregnancy because her health or the health of her fetus is in danger.

Ultimately, most women feel relief after an abortion. Women tend to feel better after abortion if they can talk with supportive people in their lives.

So there you have it. If you read these two options carefully, clearly adoption is the greater risk. Adoption may cause "grief" and may be "complicated for a while." Abortion, on the other hand, may result in "regret" but only "for a little while." However, "ultimately, most women feel relief" after an abortion while only "many women" who decide on adoption "are happy knowing that their children are loved and living in good homes."

But here's my favorite bit of propaganda:

Family planning clinics, like your local Planned Parenthood health center, have specially trained staff who can talk with you about all of your options. But beware of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers". These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They often don't give women all their options. They have a history of scaring women into not having abortions. Absolutely no one should pressure you or trick you into making a decision you're not comfortable with.

If you are anti-abortion, you are a "fake" provider of care and counseling. "Beware."

Beware, indeed. But rather, beware of manipulative rhetoric that subtly tries to make women focus on their fears rather than the entire picture, which includes another human life that has the power to immeasurably enrich either their own lives or the lives of others in a better position to raise these children.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Feast of the Guardian Angels

(Angels Swinging Censers, ca. 1170. French; Made in Troyes. Pot-metal, white glass, vitreous paint, silver stain; 18 1/2 x 17 5/16 in. (47 x 44 cm). Gift of Ella Brummer, in memory of her husband, Ernest Brummer, 1977 (1977.346.1) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.)

Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, the patronal feast day of my parish.
St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews (ca. 403 A.D.) talks about angels:

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” [Hebrews 1:14.] What marvel (saith he) if they minister to the Son, when they minister even to our salvation? See how he lifts up their minds, and shows the great honor which God has for us, since He has assigned to Angels who are above us this ministration on our behalf. As if one should say, for this purpose (saith he) He employs them; this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation. So that it is an angelical work, to do all for the salvation of the brethren: or rather it is the work of Christ Himself, for He indeed saves as Lord, but they as servants. And we, though servants are yet Angels’ fellow-servants. Why gaze ye so earnestly on the Angels (saith he)? They are servants of the Son of God, and are sent many ways for our sakes, and minister to our salvation. And so they are partners in service with us.

Consider ye how he ascribes no great difference to the kinds of creatures. And yet the space between angels and men is great; nevertheless he brings them down near to us, all but saying, For us they labor, for our sake they run to and fro: on us, as one might say, they wait. This is their ministry, for our sake to be sent every way.

And of these examples both the Old [Testament] is full, and the New. For when Angels bring glad tidings to the shepherds, or to Mary, or to Joseph; when they sit at the sepulcher, when they are sent to say to the disciples, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” ( Acts i. 11 ), when they release Peter out of the prison, when they discourse with Philip, consider how great the honor is; when God sends His Angels for ministers as to friends; when to Cornelius [an Angel] appears, when [an Angel] brings forth all the apostles from the prison, and says, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people the words of this life” ( Acts v. 20 ); and to Paul himself also an Angel appears. Dost thou see that they minister to us on God’s behalf, and that they minister to us in the greatest matters? wherefore Paul saith, “All things are yours, whether life or death, or the world, or things present, or things to come.” ( 1 Cor. iii. 22.)

Well then the Son also was sent, but not as a servant, nor as a minister, but as a Son, and Only-Begotten, and desiring the same things with the Father. Rather indeed, He was not “sent”: for He did not pass from place to place, but took on Him flesh: whereas these change their places, and leaving those in which they were before, so come to others in which they were not.

And by this again he incidentally encourages them, saying, What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us. (Homily 3, Section 4)
(Available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

St. John has so many meaningful things to say here. It is good to think of ourselves as "heirs of salvation" -- not so that it leads us to presumption, but that it feeds us with hope. "...this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation" -- the word translated as "office" is the same Greek word from which the English word "liturgy" comes (λειτουργία [leitourgia]). We are told that we are doing "angelic work" when we work for the salvation of others; like angels, we have an important "ev-angelizing" role. Like angels, we are servants. I particularly like the last part: "What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

St. Epiphanius of Salamis on the Eucharist

In his work, The Man Well-Anchored (374 A.D.), St. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote about the Eucharist:

We see that the Savior took [something] in His hands, as it is in the Gospel, when He was reclining at supper; and He took this, and giving thanks, He said: "This is really Me." And He gave to His disciples and said: "This is really Me." And we see that it is not equal nor similar, not to the incarnate image, not to the invisible divinity, not to the outline of His limbs. For It is round of shape, and devoid of feeling. As to Its power, He means to say even of Its grace, "This is really Me"; and none disbelieves His word. For anyone who does not believe the truth in what He says is deprived of grace and of Savior. (The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2, by William A. Jurgens, p. 69.)

I love so many things about this passage. First, Epiphanius' title, The Man Well-Anchored, is a good reminder to us to be conscious of what we make our anchor in life: is it God, or is it some idol, some created thing, such as money, fame, power, lust, sports, TV, control, etc.? Second, Epiphanius uses the phrase "This is really Me" to make immediate and penetrating the Lord's "This is my body" and "This is my blood" as we try to grapple with how what appears to be bread and wine can "really" be the body and blood of Christ. But we are called to believe that Jesus cannot lie to us; we are called to trust that he is as good as his word.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is Perception Reality?

I have always disliked the saying, "Perception is reality." If taken literally, this saying indicates that one's perception is equal to objective reality. While that is a false claim, too many people believe it. "That's your truth, not my truth" kind of stuff. What people should mean by the saying, "Perception is reality," and what I would agree with, is "One's perception can have a real impact." Hitler's perception of Jewish people was clearly not in accord with objective reality, but his perception had a devastating impact on the European Jewish community.

St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 370 A.D. (Homily 82, section 4), talks about the Eucharist in a way that reminds us that perception is often not reality:

Let us therefore in all respects put our faith in God and contradict Him in nothing, even if what is said seems to be contrary to our reasonings and to what we see. Let His word be of superior authority to reason and sight. This too be our practice in respect to the Mysteries [i.e., the Eucharist], not looking only upon what is laid out before us, but taking heed also of His words. For His word cannot deceive; but our senses are easily cheated. His word has never failed; our senses err most of the time.

When the word says, "This is My Body," be convinced of it and believe it, and look at it with the eyes of the mind. For Christ did not give us something tangible, but even in His tangible things all is intellectual. So too with Baptism: the gift is bestowed through what is a tangible thing, water; but what is accomplished is intellectually perceived: the rebirth and the renewal. If you were incorporeal He would have given you those incorporeal gifts naked; but since the soul is intertwined with the body, He hands over to you in tangible things that which is perceived intellectually. How many now say, "I wish I could see His shape, His appearance, His garments, His sandals." Only look! You see Him! You touch Him! You eat Him! (The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgens, Vol. 2, p. 112)

So let us remember that reality is reality, whether we accept it or not, whether we perceive it or not. And let us also remember that saying that the unreal is true has very real, very detrimental effects.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Murderers and Redemption

I've been reading St. Therese's The Story of a Soul. It is important for me to read it because I tend to thrive on abstract, academic, rational kinds of reading, and this is true of my spiritual reading. Recently in a conversation with one of the deacons at our parish, I realized that I need to tap into a more emotional and deeper spiritual relationship with God. St. Therese is a great start for that pilgrimage. (And my son's football game was at St. Therese the Little Flower parish today, which is a nice reminder to stay on this track for a while.)

St. Therese wrote something that has a great deal of applicability to today's headlines. Romell Broom raped and killed a fourteen-year-old girl in 1984. His recent execution at the Lucasville prison in Ohio by lethal injection was halted because the executioner could not get a vein. On a local radio talk show both the host and a caller referred to Broom as an "animal" without any second thoughts on that viewpoint.

What Broom did was an horrendous evil. He caused a tremendously painful, humiliating death to an innocent teenage girl, Tryna Middleton, as well as the on-going agony of her mother, Betsy. Broom's attorney made the outrageous statement: "There's still a state that wants to execute Romell Broom even though he's been through this horrific, tortuous two-and-a-half hour battle with the executioners on Tuesday, and it's our hope that we can convince the courts that once the state has tried once to execute this man and has failed, that they can't try again." The attorney seems to be conveniently forgetting the horrific, torturous battle Tryna Middleton faced at the hands of Broom.

However, it is important to remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the death penalty:

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.NT

We should focus on this line:

...rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself...

This is the dance of justice and mercy. People must take responsibility for their actions, society must be protected from dangerous people, but criminals must also be urged toward redemption. Broom is created in the image and likeness of God, no matter how deformed, how defiled, that image has become.

St. Therese can help us here:

I'd heard of a criminal who had just been condemned to death for some frightful murders. It seemed that he would die without repenting. I was determined at all costs to save him from hell. I used every means I could. I knew that by myself I could do nothing, so I offered God the infinite merits of Our Lord and the treasures of the Church. I was quite certain that my prayers would be answered, but to give me courage to go on praying for sinners I said to God: "I am sure You will forgive this wretched Pranzini. I shall believe You have done so even if he does not confess or give any other sign of repentance, for I have complete faith in the infinite mercy of Jesus. But I ask You for just one sign of his repentance to encourage me."

This prayer was answered. Daddy never allowed us to read any newspapers, but I thought I was justified in looking at the stories about Pranzini. On the day after his execution I eagerly opened La Croix and I had to rush away to hide my tears at what I read. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing and was ready to thrust his head beneath the guillotine's blade when he suddenly turned, seized the crucifix offered him by the priest, and thrice kissed the Sacred Wounds.

I had been given my sign, and it was typical of the graces Jesus has given me to make me eager to pray for sinners. It was at the sight of the Precious Blood flowing from the Wounds of Jesus that my thirst for souls had been born. I wanted to let them drink of this Immaculate Blood to cleanse them of their sins and the lips of my 'first child' had pressed against the Sacred Wounds! What a wonderful reply to my prayers! After this striking favour my longing for souls grew greater every day. I seemed to hear Jesus say to me what He said to the Samaritan Woman: "Give me to drink." It was a real exchange of love: I gave souls the Blood of Jesus and offered Him these purified souls that His thirst might be quenched. The more I gave Him to drink, the more the thirst of my own poor soul increased, and He gave me this burning thirst to show His love for me. (St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, translated by John Beevers, pp. 53-54)

St. Therese was concerned about Pranzini's soul. But St. Therese was not simply concerned about Pranzini's soul; she thirsted to save his soul. She calls him her "first child." How difficult for me to conceive of doing that. But we should turn to St. Therese to help us to thirst for the salvation of souls -- all souls. This includes the likes even of Romell Broom.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Our Capacity to Harm Others

The Desert Fathers are a wonderful source of inspiration, advice, guidance, and admonition. The following is from Abba Isaiah:

He also said, "When someone wishes to render evil for evil, he can injure his brother's soul even by a single nod of the head." (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward, SLG, p. 70.)

We forget that we can harm others very easily. We forget that harming even those who seem to richly deserve it is wrong. In advice from the priest at my most recent confession, he reminded me that in a situation I had confessed that I had fulfilled justice but that as Christians we are also called to fulfill mercy. The problem is, to quote Clint Eastwood from the movie, Unforgiven, "We all got it comin' to us." The Good News is that if we sincerely seek it, what we will have coming to us is mercy. The bad news is that if we show no mercy, we will receive no mercy:

"...forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Luke 6:38).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

St. Augustine - Our Enemy is Vice, Not People

St. Augustine has this wonderful passage from one of his sermons:

So, of course, say to your friend, who wants to make you the enemy of your friend--speak to him and so to say massage his aching spirit with a soothing liniment--say to him: "Why do you want me to be his enemy?" "Because he's my enemy," he answers. "So you want me to be your enemy's enemy? What I ought to be the enemy of is your vice. This one you want to make me the enemy of is a human being. You have another enemy, whose enemy I ought to be if I am your friend." "Who is the other enemy of mine?" he answers. "Your vice." "What's my vice?" he asks. "The hatred you hate your friend with." So be like a doctor. A doctor doesn't love the sick person if he doesn't hate the sickness. To set the sick free, he persecutes the fever. Don't love the vices of your friends if you love your friends." (Sermon 49, Section 6, from The Works of Saint Augustine: Essential Sermons, translated by Edmund Hill, O.P., edited by Boniface Ramsey, p. 60).

Too often today we see people dismiss as false or hypocritical the idea of "hate the sin, love the sinner." We see this attitude lodged against the Church and her followers with regards to the Church's teachings on sexual morality. However, Augustine reminds us that real love desires to bring our loved ones into conformity with the truth, for the benefit of their physical and spiritual health. To condone misdeeds is to make our love for them a superficial and self-serving thing. But we also have to remember that as Christians sometimes we forget to make the vice our enemy, not the human being. We should remember this when we speak of people like the late Senator Edward Kennedy. He worked terrible evil in his promotion of abortion in this country, and we must not fail to speak of it as a terrible evil. But we must also loudly speak of our desire and hope for the salvation of his soul, for he was a child of God. I think of some of the anger some feel about illegal immigration. We can condemn illegal immigration while still acknowledging the humanity of the person. As usual, Augustine challenges us, regardless of our political or religious partisanship.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Health Care Reform

Let me start with a caveat. I have much to learn about health care in the U.S. and how to reform it. So take my comments as those of one with some definite limits on his knowledge of the subject. That being said, here are my thoughts on the matter.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has done quite a bit in forming a Catholic position on the matter. Their information can be found at:


The bishops are urging us to contact our Congressional Representatives and Senators:

Call your members of Congress (use the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to contact your Representative or Senators) and tell them health care reform should:

Include health care coverage for all people from conception until natural death, and continue the federal ban on funding for abortions;

Include access for all with a special concern for the poor;

Pursue the common good and preserve pluralism, including freedom of conscience; and

Restrain costs and apply costs equitably among payers.

Here is what my wife and I sent to our Congressional Representative and Senators:

While we do want to see more extensive health care coverage for Americans, such significant legislation should not be rushed and it should not promote certain agendas that expand abortion and restrict religious liberty. We support the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' position on health reform, which includes health care coverage for all people from conception until natural death, and continues the federal ban on funding for abortions; preserves freedom of conscience clauses; and restrains costs and apply costs equitably among payers. Our concerns include not duplicating the experiences of the United Kingdom, Canada, or the Veteran Affairs department in terms of rationed health care, and not duplicating the experiences of Medicare in terms of inadequate cost containment. In addition, we do not want to see more situations such as Belmont Abbey College which is being compelled by the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] to offer contraception as part of their medical insurance package to employees, even though this is explicitly against the college's religious affiliation with the Catholic Church. Please support responsible health care reform. Thank you.

It seems to me that the bishops have it right. My thoughts on their points, and a couple of my own, are below:

  1. How to reform health care is a prudential judgment. Unlike the issues of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia, which are intrinsically evil under all circumstances, health care reform can take one or more of many forms and be consistent with Catholic social teaching. I would argue that expanding coverage is a good thing and should be a primary goal. However, that goal should not be achieved at any cost (either monetarily or morally).
  2. The maintenance of conscience clauses is a non-negotiable for health care reform. We cannot allow even a beneficial expansion of health care coverage at the expense of religious liberty. We must continue to protect health care workers from being forced to participate in activities that are antithetical to their moral and religious convictions. In addition, we must also make sure that religious institutions are not forced to offer medical insurance packages that are contrary to their religious missions. The recent situation where Belmont Abbey College is being pursued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to force the college to include abortion, sterilization, and contraception coverage, is deeply disturbing.
  3. The explicit statement that federal funding of abortion will not be allowed is a non-negotiable for health care reform. We cannot allow for abortion to become part of a federal health care package. If explicit provisions are not in the legislation, abortion will become part of the coverage. If abortion becomes a basic right of health care, there will be tremendous pressure on Catholic hospitals and doctors to become complicit in abortions. It will expand promotion of abortion and use tax-payer dollars from those who know abortion to be intrinsically evil.
  4. Faith and Morals Catholics need to think more about the poor and the uninsured and under-insured, and Peace and Justice Catholics need to think more about intrinsically evil health care issues such as abortion. As one who primarily tends to be more focused on the former set of issues, I need to remember that the Catholic Church is universal in her scope and vision, and that Catholic teaching requires Catholics to promote both faith and orals and peace and justice. We don't get to choose one over the other.
  5. All health care is rationed; the question is what is the least rationed model? As long as there are limited resources, health care will always be rationed. It simply has to be. Under our current health care system, there is significant rationing. If you work and don't qualify for Medicaid but your employer doesn't offer health insurance, then your health care is rationed by what you can afford. If you have an employer with health insurance, it is undoubtedly managed health care, which means there are judgments about what is covered and what is not. But we must be careful not to jump from one form of rationed health care into a more severely rationed form. State run, single payer systems seem to be pretty good for maintenance and preventative health care, and pretty poor for severe, chronic, or catastrophic health problems.
  6. Health care reform must reduce or control costs or it will not help the people its advocates claim to be helping. Medicare and Medicaid are not self-sufficient. Social Security is not self-sufficient. Federal programs have not shown in recent decades an ability to contain costs. We need to see that this process will be different if we are expected to support it. In addition, the demographics of the current U.S. birth rate significantly affects our ability to support such programs when the number of workers is disproportionate to those who are requiring the most health care.
  7. Rushing health care reform will result in bad health care reform. When legislation is pushed through, many, many undesirable things are tucked into the legislation that are not examined by most legislators, let alone most of the public. We need to deliberate and discuss and compromise (but not compromise foundational values). The town hall meetings seem to be mostly for show rather than real exchanges of information, but there have been some exceptions. In addition, the debate cannot go on forever. We need to be committed to real reform, and we need to hold our representatives and senators accountable to such real reform.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Domestic Church - Make Sure You Read the Bible

Our children can be wonderful evangelists to us, their parents. Since I've been thinking about how to inculcate a daily Catholic culture at home, I need to remember that evangelization, at its best, is a reciprocal activity. Last week, my seven-year-old daughter left me a to-do list. It was simple and profound, as children are wont to do. They have a way of cutting to the chase.
Here is her list:
  1. take good cari of Lizzy (Take good care of Lizzy) - Lizzy was the name she gave to a plastic necklace that she was pretending was a lizard.
  2. take cari of your sellfs (Take care of your selves) - This was directed toward me and my son.
  3. Dad make sher you read the Bible (Dad, make sure you read the Bible) - Apparently my son was not obligated to do this.

This was completely unprompted. And it was such a blessing in so many ways.

Little did my daughter know that she was reinforcing the message of the Second Vatican Council in Dei Verbum, which strongly urges us all to read Sacred Scripture:

The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."(5) Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.

My daughter did not make this list for me because she sees me reading the Bible constantly. Where this urging on her part came from, I don't know, but I suspect it was the Holy Spirit working in her to guide me. Who could resist such a team as the Holy Spirit and my daughter?

There is a wonderful group of faith-filled couples with whom my wife and I have been associated for the past year. Last year we met monthly to read Fr. Walter J. Schu's, The Splendor of Love: John Paul II's Vision for Marriage and Family. It was a very good book and sparked a good deal of thought-provoking conversation. This year, we are having a monthly Bible study based on the Acts of the Apostles, and we are using the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible edition. I have never been part of a Bible study group. Better late than never.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Children, Priests, and Prophets of Nonsense

Canada's National Post has had an interesting series of articles on the value of children. Some of the tones taken on both sides of the issue have been less than charitable. However, my interest in the discussion is focused on Corinne Maier and Fr. Raymond J. de Souza. Maier is a French author of a book called, "No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children." Her article in the National Post, excerpted from her book, can be found here. An article on Maier by British writer Emma Tucker in the London Times Online can be found here. Maier's focus is on France but she expands to include all of the Western countries. Her comments range from innocuous to outrageous. The latter, includes such things as this (quoted by Tucker):

“It’s not that there are too many people,” she writes, “but too many rich people. No one needs our children, because we and they are the spoilt kids of a planet that is on a collision course. To have a child in Europe or America is immoral – more scarce resources wasted on a way of life that is ever more voracious, capricious, hungry for fuel and destructive of the environment.”

The idea that it is "immoral" to have a child in Europe or America is silly on its face, and it would be laughable if only so many people did not actually believe it. Maier herself has children, so she does not really believe what she says. Tucker goes on to report:

So would Maier tell a “childfree” friend who was contemplating motherhood to resist? “No, I wouldn’t as it’s not my place to interfere in other people’s business,” she says.

So why write her book? Maier wants to have her cake and eat it, too. (And smash it in your face.)

Maier takes issue with what is apparently a campaign by the French government to increase the nation's birth rate by promoting having more children. Tucker says, "So yes, France has a high birth rate...." Tucker's idea of "a high birth rate" is a bit distorted. According to the CIA's statistics, France's birth rate is 12.57 births per 1,000 (2009 estimate), making France #162 in the world for birth rate. Apparently Tucker thinks that France has a high birth rate by comparison to the United Kingdom, which has 10.65 births per 1,000, ranking as #182 in the world. The United States is a little ahead of France, but not by much, with 13.82 births per 1,000 (#153). Canada, home of the National Post, has a birth rate below the United Kingdom at 10.28 births per 1,000 at #192. Even India, which has a substantially higher birth rate (21.76 births per 1,000) is only #87 in the world. Italy has a birth rate of 8.18 births per 1,000 and ranks #222.

Most interesting to me was a wonderful article written in the National Post in response to Maier's article. This article was written by a priest, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza. The article, "Why Priests Don't Have Kids," is a beautiful explanation of the rational behind priestly celibacy in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. Here is Fr. de Souza's article in its entirety:

Childlessness advocates tell us, in sum, that children require a lot of sacrifices. That's not news. What may be new is that people now feel confident enough to argue publicly that those sacrifices are too great -- in short, that the child is not worth it. I say "may be" new because while the technology has changed over the millennia, the human heart has not. No doubt in every age there were a few who thought children not worth the bother.

The book excerpted in these pages [Maier's No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children] this week makes the argument that life would be more convenient, and therefore happier, without children. That does not really follow. Many things, including most things that give meaning to life, are inconvenient on one level or another. A life of great ease and convenience and even wealth is not necessarily a happy one. Surely the mother at home with toddlers is more constrained than the jet-setting sybarite, but if you know people in both categories, you know that the latter is not necessarily happier than the former.

But any father or mother could tell you that. I, as you would correctly intuit, have no children. Catholic priests of the Latin rite are celibate (the Catholic eastern rites have married clergy).

Understanding the celibacy of the priest requires an understanding of what marriage and children are all about. If they were bad things, or wicked things, or merely things constraining human flourishing, then celibacy would simply be required for everybody. Only if they are good things, very good things, does it make sense to sacrifice them for something greater. So if children are such a good thing, why does the Catholic priest remain celibate?

The first answer is that is how Jesus lived. He chose not to marry and have children, contrary to the norms of his time--and our time too. In the Catholic sacramental world, the priest acts not merely as a representative of Christ, but in the person of Christ Himself. What a priest does no merely human power can do--baptize, forgive sins, consecrate the holy Eucharist. So when the priest acts in the sacraments, it is Christ who acts. The priest then is meant to be an icon of Christ. That is understood, incidentally, even by those who are not Catholic, which is why priestly wickedness occasions so much attention and legitimate opprobrium.

The identification of the priest with Jesus Christ is deeply rooted in the apostolic tradition. Though the apostles were certainly drawn from married men, the biblical witness indicates that they left married life behind, or never married, in response to their vocation. The apostolic tradition has roots even farther back, in the priests of the Jewish covenant, who refrained from conjugal life when engaged in their sacred duties.

There is another dimension at work -- what we call the eschatological dimension. The priest lives now as we all hope to live one day, in the blessedness of heaven. In heaven, there is no marrying or giving in marriage, as Jesus teaches. Marriage and family are for this world. To be sure, it is precisely through marriage and family that most learn the virtues that prepare them for blessedness in heaven. But it remains a preparation.

The priest, and others in consecrated celibacy, lives now as a sign of the world to come, with his life fixed upon the promise of the eternal fulfillment God provides. In freely renouncing the great good of married life and children, the priest points to the world to come. Indeed, without the world to come, the celibacy of the priest would make little sense.

The childless by choice are aiming to maximize some of this world's goods -- education, professional advancement, travel, wealth and, to be blunt, consequence-free sex. For this they are willing to sacrifice their most enduring stake in this world: The only enduring thing we leave in this world is our children. The priest's motivation could hardly be more different. He sacrifices his enduring stake in this world not for more of this world's transitory goods, but for those things that are more enduring than this world itself.

The child by his very nature points to the future. The childless advocates reject the future in favour of the present. The celibate priest points to the future beyond the future even children promise-- eternity.

Fr. de Souza's comment about "childless by choice" needs further clarification and qualification. I would not want to impute to couples who did not choose to have children that they did so for maximizing the world's goods. However, Fr. de Souza is right to challenge all of us--with children or not--to look inward at how we aim to maximize the goods of this world at the expense of sacrifice and service.

Fr. de Souza's article sparked many, many comments. Some were supportive, others were critical. Some were thoughtful, some were combative. Some were just plain nasty. Many did not understand (because not addressed in the article) that celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. On the positive side, a secular newspaper actually published a priest's article, and it began a conversation. It does show that the message of Catholicism is one that meets a great deal of resistance in the secular world, and we should be prepared to face that resistence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prayers for Senator Edward Kennedy

As everyone who has any link to any media knows, Senator Edward Kennedy died today. He sincerely sought to improve the lives of the poor, workers, and racial and ethnic minorities, among other legislative areas. For his efforts in these area, we should be grateful. We should also use it as an opportunity to reflect on how much we ourselves do to help those who need our help. I know that I do not do enough in the area of social justice as the Church has reiterated through her social teaching, as the Old and New Testaments direct us.

We should also bear in mind the areas where he significantly strayed from Church teaching, such as the sanctity of life. His relentless public support of abortion, as well as his support for embryonic stem cell research, was, sadly, very successful in undermining the culture of life. He led the way in trying to legitimize Catholic politicians taking positions on fundamental moral issues contrary to the teachings of the Church. Perhaps, he let his partisan loyalty darken his vision and faith.

May God have mercy on his soul, as we would hope that God will have mercy on ours. For the good that he did, despite the evil he did, we pray for his repose and salvation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prayers for Bishop Carl Moeddel

I just found out that the former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Carl Moeddel, died. He retired in 2007 and had been ill for some time. We pray for the repose of his soul. He had a gentle voice and a compassionate heart.

Information about Bishop Moeddel's passing can be found below:

Cincinnati Enquirer

Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Cincinnati Telegraph