Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

You Can Come In Off the Ledge Now

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

In recent days, I’ve been approached by several friends who are very upset and even frightened about the state of the Church, and where things are going.  I’m a worrier by nature, so I can sympathize with them, but I can’t help but think that things are getting a little over-blown.  The Church is always in trouble, but I’m not seeing any icebergs in the immediate future.

Let me offer a few suggestions to my friends who are feeling such deep anxiety.

The first is to relax.  The best way to do that is to ignore everything being said by the mainstream media and the secular pundits (including most of the Catholic pundits). The news reports are obsessed with their favorite issues, and don’t understand anything that they’re talking about. As far as the pundits go, they’re all projecting their own agendas (and fears) onto the Holy Father and Church. Don’t read any of them. Just think of Mark 8:33.

I’m sorry to say that, in my opinion, much of what passes for the Catholic blogosphere is only a little bit better, and some of it is much worse. If certain Catholic blogs and websites are causing you agita, then ignore them.  They have no more authority than anyone else with a keyboard and an internet connection (such as yours truly). Or, if you can’t resist yourself, ignore the comboxes. Many of the comboxes are toxic, and bad for our souls. (In this regard, I’m reminded of a famous warning). In any event, all the suspicion and arguing that’s going on in the Catholic blogosphere encourages a spirit of division into the Church. That’s neither useful, not good for the state of our souls.

The second is to relax.  Another good way to do that is to ignore Vatican politics. I have no idea why some bishops are promoted, and others are cast aside, which cardinal is in favor and which is in Siberia, and which party or conspiracy is ahead and which is losing. And you know what? Nobody else does, either. Fretting about all that stuff does nobody any good.  Think about — or even better, pray about — Psalm 131.

The third is to relax.  One of the best ways to do that is to pray more.  We should pray constantly for each other, and particularly for our Holy Father and our bishops.  Most people have no idea how hard the life of a bishop is.  I can’t even imagine how hard the Pope’s life is.  They really need our prayers.  Our pastors, parish priests and deacons, too, are hard pressed to give wounded people the pastoral assistance they need.  They could use some more prayers too.  Prayer helps them, but it also transforms us.  And I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some major transforming.

If those suggestions aren’t sufficient for you, can I make a few more? Are you worried about how the faith is being transmitted to the youth? I don’t blame you – and I bet your parish could use your help as a catechist. Are you concerned about the state of marriage, and what’s going to be done about the separated and divorced?  You should be, we all are too — so how about volunteering for some kind of marriage ministry?  Unsure about how the Church will give pastoral care to homosexual persons?  So are we all — could you maybe give some support to the Courage apostolate, which reaches out to homosexual persons and helps them live chaste lives?

There’s no doubt that we live in “interesting times”, as the old expression goes.  When things are unsettled, it’s always good to relax, and return to Christianity 101, to make sure that we’re solid on the basics — prayer, solid belief, sacraments, charity.  If our foundation is strong, then the whole structure will withstand whatever storms may assail it.

In these times, I think it’s also particularly important to pray to the Holy Spirit, who has been guiding the Church through thick and thin, and to Mother Mary who has been tirelessly protecting her Church.

My Catholic Voting Decision

Monday, October 27th, 2014

[Several years ago, in anticipation of Election Day, I posted on my personal opinion about how to approach making a voting decision.  I've revised and combined those earlier posts, because the stakes in the current election are so high -- it is vital that we maintain a pro-life majority in our state Senate.]

Once again, Election Day approaches.  At times like these, I am frequently asked how people can do the right thing as voters, as citizens, and as Catholics.  As I understand the teachings of our Church, there are several critical questions involved here. The first is the formation of my conscience.  Our bishops have said quite clearly that

“Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do.” (Faithful Citizenship 17)

A good, Catholic conscience is obedient to the teachings of the Church, and open to hearing the voice of God.  It considers God’s will more important than any partisan interest that I may have.  It always directs me to do good and avoid evil, and in the case of voting,

“A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 4)

Building on the proper formation of conscience, we can then turn to the issues and the candidates.  One thing is crystal clear at this point:  all the issues are not the same, and the defense of human life is the paramount issue for Catholics to consider. The teaching of our Church is clear:  we must vote pro-life.  As the United States Bishops have said,

“This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.” (Faithful Citizenship 31). “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (Faithful Citizenship 28)

This means that in evaluating a candidate, we must consider, first and foremost, their position on the defense of human life.  As the U.S. Bishops have said:

“As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” (Faithful Citizenship 42)

Our New York Bishops have said the same:

“The inalienable right to right of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

Cardinal Egan once confronted us, in language as plain as possible,with the choice of conscience and discipleship that we face when going into the voting booth:

Look [at the pictures of unborn children] and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of ‘legalized’ abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.”

Cardinal Egan also once said,

Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

This also means, of course, that we have to inform ourselves about where candidates stand on the issues.  We can’t just blunder around the voting booth with no information.  And given the abundance of data available on the internet, it really doesn’t take much effort to find out about the position of candidates.  Just visit their websites, and see where they stand on abortion, “reproductive rights”, “choice”, and, in the case of New York State candidates, the “Women’s Equality Act” (which contains a provision that would greatly expand abortion in our state).  An example of an informational voter guide, from a reliable outside organization, can be found here.

So, from my perspective, this boils down to a very simple test that I try to adhere to, as best I can: If you think that killing unborn children should be legal, then I won’t vote for you. You haven’t earned my vote.  In my opinion, you’re not qualified to hold public office.  I just won’t vote for someone who will promote or permit grave evil.  I don’t subscribe to the principle of the “lesser of two evils”.  All that means is I’m voting for evil, and it still produces evil in the end.  If there’s nobody in a race that fits my standards, I’ll leave the line blank or write in a name.

When I pick up my ballot on Tuesday, I will see a stark choice between candidates who are pro-abortion, and others who are pro-life.  In fact, several of the pro-abortion candidates (who were baptized as Catholics, sad to say) are not just mouthing the old “personally opposed but…” sham, but are instead ardent promoters and defenders of the legalized killing of unborn children, and they have strongly campaigned on the issue.  If they are elected, there is a grave danger that the evil abortion expansion plan hidden in the “Women’s Equality Act” will be pushed forward. I cannot see how I as a Catholic could vote for such persons.

So for me, the choice is easy — I will vote only for the pro-life candidates.

(Important Note: I am going to repeat what is said in the disclaimer on the side of this blog — the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone, they do not in any way reflect an official position of the Archdiocese, nor should they be considered an endorsement of any candidate by the Archdiocese.)

Animals and Christian Discipleship

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

About ten years ago, I decided to give up eating meat.  I didn’t do it for ethical, aesthetics, or health reasons.  I liked meat, so it was a mild sacrifice, as a way of trying to grow spiritually and overcome a particular “thorn in the flesh” (see 2 Cor 12:7).  I viewed it as akin to a life-long Lenten Friday abstinence practice.

As with many ascetical practices, I found that it really bore fruit in my life, and I’ve continued with the practice ever since.  I describe myself generally as a “non-meat-eater” or a “vegetarian”, although I still eat dairy and seafood (occasionally), so the technical term for my diet would be probably be “pesco-vegetarian”.

At the time, I really didn’t have any desire to become an ethical vegetarian.  But I’ve become more curious about the arguments surrounding that philosophy.  I read some of the writings of Peter Singer, the leading animal rights philosopher, and found them deeply disturbing.  Singer and his followers seem to me to be profoundly anti-human, even to the point of advocating grave moral evil, such as the idea that unborn, newborn and handicapped children have no right to life, since they lack certain qualities of consciousness, and thus can be killed by their parents.  As a Christian — and a human being — I find such positions to be abhorrent, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with them in any way.

So it was with great interest that I found a book by Prof. Charles Camosy, an authentically pro-life theologian at Fordham, entitled For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action.  The goal of the book is to examine how Christians should relate to animals, particularly on such issues as factory farming and the use of animals in research.  I had hoped that the book would present a convincing Christian view of the relationship between humans and animals in the plan of God. While there are many aspects of the book that I found to be excellent, I was disappointed in his basic argument.

As with many animal rights arguments, Prof. Camosy’s position seemed to rest on an assumption that there is “speciesism” in the way we treat animals.  That term refers to an unjustifiable and invidious belief that humans are not just different from, but innately superior to animals in God’s plan for creation.  But surely that is the proposition that he should be seeking to prove, not a self-evident principle on which he can base his entire argument.  I found this to be a very unconvincing form of circular reasoning — he begs the question that he should be trying to answer.

I also found his use of Sacred Scripture to be implausible.  There is no doubt that God created animals not just to be used by humanity, but as creatures who have the “breath of life” and are meant to be our companions (see Gen. 1).  Yet there also can be no question that God specifically permitted the use of animals in ritual sacrifice and for food (see generally Leviticus).  Prof. Camosy appears to reject this aspect of Divine Revelation, particularly by suggesting that the practice of ritual sacrifice was a carryover from pagan practices and was not the will of God.  That is just completely unconvincing, and it is inconsistent with the essential role of ritual sacrifice in understanding the mystery of Jesus as the Paschal Sacrifice.

However, I also have to add that I found that Prof. Camosy makes a very compelling argument about the need for Christians to reject the horrors of factory farming.  There is overwhelming evidence that modern methods of factory farming are unspeakably cruel to animals, and they are truly shocking to the conscience.  Prof. Camosy makes a persuasive case that factory farming stems from a moral deficit that is inherent in a consumerist mentality that virtually amounts to an idolatry of profit.  This represents, I think, one of the best argument against the moral legitimacy of eating meat, at least as it is produced by way of this particular structure of sin.

I wish that Prof. Camosy had not begun his argument with the rejection of human exceptionalism in the divine plan, and I wish that he had given proper emphasis to the principle that we are created in the image and likeness of God.  That is actually the best argument for the ethical and humane treatment of animals, and even for the adoption of a vegetarian diet.  If we are made in the image of God, then we must assume some aspect of His relationship with the creation that He loves, and to which he gave the breath of life.  God is the ultimate steward of His gift of creation, and we are thus called to love and serve nature and animals, and to act with self-giving love to them.

I don’t believe that this role as stewards of creation requires us to forego meat in our diet, but it certainly requires us to take seriously our attitude towards our animal friends, and how we treat them.  We are so accustomed to this in our homes.  So many people love their dogs and cats and birds, and intuitively see the breath of life in them, and treat them very well.  As Prof. Camosy points out, we need to extend that attitude of fraternity to the animals we cannot see, particularly those in factory farms and medical research facilities.  That may require a change in lifestyle — and even our diet — but that’s the case with every aspect of our Christian discipleship.

Encounter and Evangelization

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith.  The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us.  Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.

I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.

I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus.  In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory.  In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:

Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.

This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church.  We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion.  When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.

I, Too, Am a Nazarene

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

 

The image at the top of this post is the Arabic letter “n”.  It has become known worldwide in the last week.  The violent fanatics who have formed what they call the “Islamic State” in northern Iraq and eastern Syria left this mark on the doorways of Christians who were living in areas they under their control to show where the “Nazarenes” — the Christians — were living.  This was significant because the Islamic State leaders had decreed that all Christians had to convert to Islam, pay a ruinous tax and live as serfs, or be killed.

This is the latest terrible development in the destruction of historic Christian communities in the Middle East, particularly in areas of Syria and Iraq that have been ruined by warfare.   The Iraqi city of Mosul, which stands on the site of ancient Nineveh, has been a focus of the oppression.  Christians have been killed, churches have been burned, and the Archbishop and thousands of his flock have been forced to flee as refugees.

Around the world this week, Christians have been expressing their solidarity with our oppressed brethren in the Middle East, by posting the “n” symbol, and by spreading the Twitter hashtag #WeAreN.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.  I am awed by the witness and courage of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  There is little that I can do to help them or to relieve their suffering.  But I pray for them, and I humbly stand with them.

I, too, am a Nazarene.

 

Pain, Loneliness, and Healing

Friday, May 30th, 2014

A friend asked my thoughts about the terrible mass shooting in California, and particularly about the reports that the young man was driven by anger because no girl would have casual sex with him.  She wondered what we can do to address the deeper longing that our culture is not addressing.  Here is what I replied:

I think that you’re on to something very important by looking at the issue of sex in this young man’s life. That gives a perspective into something even deeper, something that makes this such a human tragedy, because it touches on a wound within us that we all suffer from — our deep sense of loneliness, isolation and alienation from others, and our desperate search for the right cure.   Look at what we know about this young man’s life, and that’s what jumps out at me — he clearly was seeking some contact with an Other, in order to satisfy the longing and hurt in his own heart and soul.  He and his family tried pretty much everything that our culture has to offer, in an effort to find peace — material stuff (just think of the mother’s comment about buying him a car to help his “self-esteem”), gaming (escape into unreality), psychiatry and medicine (the modern panacea), and entitlement sex (without which he felt even more isolated).  Sometimes those things offer some degree of solace and hope, but this time they failed.

The festering wound of his isolation and loneliness, and the failure of all the remedies our culture approves, led him to be fixated on the sex.  This makes perfect sense, because deep in even the most deluded and anesthetized heart, we cannot fail to know that sex is meant to connect us to an Other.  We Catholics who know our theology of the body, know this very well, because we understand that sex is meant to be an icon of our connection to the Ultimate Other.  This young man’s failure to find even the most pallid reflection of that icon, produced an existential anger — not just against his situation but even against who and what he is.  And so he tried to destroy all that reminded him of the hurt he couldn’t get rid of or make sense of.

What do we do with this?  As with any pathology, we have to recognize the real cause.  It’s all well and good to talk about gun violence, misogyny, casual sex, violent games, and all that.  It’s all true, and there can be all sorts of policy “solutions” proposed.  But it’s all beside the point.  It doesn’t matter.

We can talk about the real issue here, in terms our culture can understand.  Why do people care about Kim and Kanye?  Because even in a celebrity marriage they see a glimmer of the love that everyone wants and needs.  Why are people drawn to the songs of guys like Eminem and 50 Cent?  Because they hear the pain in their voices and lyrics and know that same agony is in their hearts. Why do people love the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?”  Because, like Bono, we haven’t found it either, and we can’t help keeping on looking for it.  Why do people like romantic comedies?  Because we’re all dying for some kind of happy ending in our own messed up lives. I’m not a country music fan, but even I know that all the songs about lost love are really songs about ourselves, and the pain and longing we feel.

We Christians have to stand up and offer the real remedy here.  We have to talk about loneliness, and hurt, and pain, and brokenness, and isolation, and betrayal, and alienation.  That’s where we all live.  We have to talk about what love really is, and what it’s not — it’s not about me, it’s not about stuff, and it’s not about orgasms.  It’s about people, and giving ourselves to them, and accepting their gift — not stealing the gift, and not using it.  People will hear us, because they already know that’s the truth.

And we Christians have to challenge ourselves and our society with the truth — that we are all lonely and hurt and wounded, just as this young man was, just as his victims are.  None of us will be even close to the path of healing until we encounter the Other who became one of us, so that we wouldn’t have to face our isolation and pain all alone.

So, how do we respond to this kind of tragedy?  Preach the Gospel of love and mercy.  Speak to the pain of our hearts.  Invite people to the One who can heal us.

Thanks to My Patron Saints

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

(Yesterday was my birthday, so I thought I would re-post a blog that I wrote several years ago, for the same occasion)

If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you.  That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.

I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect.  As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name.  Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith.  I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience.  He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God.  As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)

When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28.  Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.

Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.

If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this.  Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage.  Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family.  Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman.  The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.

The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them.  In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but she vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life.  Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.

The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators.  They have been honored ever since.  As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.

I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity.  But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time.  Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.

Resistance to the Dictatorship of Relativism

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Pope Benedict famously warned about the impending dangers of a “dictatorship of relativism” — a state where truth is denied, morality is defined by subjective desires, authentic tolerance is extinguished, and political power is used to force compliance with the whims of the day.

Well, we certainly have enough relativism in our culture, and the slide to dictatorship seems to be accelerating.

Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen more and more Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts, er, I mean federal judges, overruling the democratic decisions of legislatures and the people, and redefining marriage.  We’ve seen elected officials foreswearing their oaths of office to uphold the laws, and refusing to defend the authentic definition of marriage.  We’ve seen hysterical and mendacious accounts of proposed religious liberty legislation, even to the point where defenders of the free exercise of religion are compared to Jim Crow racists.  Intolerance from the forces of “tolerance” is becoming the language of the day.

We need to be clear about what is at the heart of this situation, and what our response must be.  There are several fundamental truths that are being denied by our current culture:

  • Being male and female is an inherent aspect of the human person, they are not arbitrary and irrational concepts.
  • Marriage is ordained by God and by nature to unite a man and woman in a life-long bond that benefits them as persons, and that is the proper context for sexual relations and the procreation and raising of children.
  • A homosexual inclination is contrary to the true meaning and purpose of human sexuality as created by God and enshrined in human nature.
  • Homosexual conduct is always contrary to the will of God and the nature of the human person.
  • Persons with a  homosexual inclination must be treated with full human dignity and cannot be treated with unjust discrimination;  however, their unions cannot be recognized as equivalent to marriage, and their sexual activity cannot be approved.
  • Every human person has the right and obligation to follow their conscience, even when it disagrees with human laws.
  • The budding “dictatorship of relativism” is becoming more and more intolerant of these truths, and will gradually subject those who hold them to criticism, ostracism, and legal penalties.

    In the face of this, we must be ready to resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to recall several key points, most eloquently explained in Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless:

  • Resistance is a duty of all citizens when faced by injustice.  It is not an “extra-credit” activity.
  • It must be always be grounded in the truth.  It makes no compromise with lies, and always seeks to expose them.
  • It must always be pursued with love and respect.  It is not an excuse for violence and lawlessness.
  • The goal is conversion of heart on the part of those who support injustice, not overbearing their will with power.  It’s message always is “come, join us”, and never “we will force you to agree”.
  • The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.
  • Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience, and my duty of obedience to the truth rather than to mere human laws.  The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on.  But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.

    We cannot have any illusions.  Many, if not most of our family and friends will conform, and will consider us to be strange.  We may be estranged from loved ones.  It will be painful.

    Yes, we will be persecuted — indeed, it has already begun.  It will be a soft persecution, nothing like the hardship  suffered by our brethren in countries like Syria.  Nonetheless,  we will feel the steel fist under the velvet glove.

    Resist.  The power of truth and love cannot be extinguished.

    Unity and Joy in Defense of Life

    Thursday, February 13th, 2014

    There are many graces and joys that come to those who are involved in the pro-life, pro-family cause.  One of these is the opportunity to meet and work with friends and allies in other Christian communities.

    The March for Life is a great experience every year, with thousands of people of all faiths gathering with joy and dedication. The New Yorkers for Life coalition with our evangelical friends has been very effective. I’ve been blessed by my collaboration with Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family. It is truly enriching to stand together with our Christian brethren in unity and strength.

    The other night, I had another one of these wonderful experiences. I was invited by my friend Chaplain Viviana Hernandez, to attend an event conducted by “Life Team”. This is an organization of interfaith clergy and laypeople, established by Chaplain Hernandez and Fr. Peter Pilsner in response to the abortion crisis in New York City, and the hostile policies of the City government. They have done great work building a body of committed Christians in the black and Latino communities, who are dedicated to rolling back the Culture of Death in our City.

    The event took place at the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica, Queens. This is a serious Christian community, very dynamic and active, with an impressive leader in Bishop Roderick Caesar. The room was filled with members of their church and others who joined them. There was a great deal of praise and worship, and I found it very moving.

    The talks were powerful. A pastor from Connecticut offered suggestions on how to speak to women who are heading into abortion clinics.  A young lady shared her incredible personal post-abortion witness, and outlined her commitment to the pro-life cause — including her participation in 2012 in a walk from Houston to Dallas as public witness to the cause of life. Pastor Beverly Caesar (Bishop Roderick’s wife) gave a powerful personal testimony and was very uplifting and encouraging. A young man sang a beautiful and touching song he specially composed to honor his own mother’s decision to choose life. Members of the community spoke of their commitment to oppose the abortion mentality that has afflicted the black community.  Plans for a new pregnancy resource center in the neighborhood were also discussed.

    Confronting the Culture of Death can be very daunting and discouraging at times.  But the message of this evening was very clear.  The cause of human life is God’s cause, and He will lift us up in this struggle.  God’s love and mercy are always at the heart of all that we do, and we must find ways to welcome people into the heart of God, who will heal their wounds.  We are united in the Holy Spirit for this mission.

    The Lord has said very clearly, “those who honor me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).  I had the privilege of spending some time with a wonderful group of people who are honoring God by their commitment to the defense of human life.  I am confident that God will indeed honor them for their fidelity to His great cause.

     

    The Politics of Principle

    Monday, February 3rd, 2014

    (This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last five years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

    In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

    I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

    There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

    Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

    I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

    That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

    Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

    The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

    This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

    Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

    This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

    But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.