Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

Happy God the Father Day

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Father’s Day has now passed, and many people were kind enough to wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”.   I was very lucky, and had a good father — he was a good man, a solid Catholic, and he loved my mother very much.  He taught me by example, and who was, in many ways, a model of God the Father for me.

Yet sometimes I think that most of what I’ve learned about God the Father, I learned from my children.  Or maybe it would be better to say that I learned about our perfect Father in Heaven by being a very imperfect father to my own children.

Peggy and I have three children — two are now adults, and one is on the cusp of adulthood.  I’ve been a father for almost half my life now.  My children have taught me a lot.

There are the lessons I learned from colic.  We were three for three with colicky babies.  If you have ever experienced colic, you know what it’s like.  Each one of my children, for several weeks when they were only a few months old, would cry incessantly every single evening, for no discernible reason, into the early hours of the morning.  You couldn’t get them to stop, you couldn’t ease their pain, nothing seemed to work, all you can do is walk up and down the hallway and hope that it ended soon.  When it became too frustrating to bear, I would hand them off to Peggy and take a break, knowing that in a little while, it would be my turn again.

Your heart just breaks for them, they are so small and so distressed, and they can’t help themselves.  You want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.

As the children have gotten older, they have grown into their free will, and I’ve learned similar lessons from the decisions they’ve made — particularly the ones I disagree with.  I have done my best as a loving father to teach and model what’s right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy.  But they choose to do what they wish.  I can’t stop them, I can’t ease the pain they sometimes feel, all I can do is watch with sorrow as they make mistakes, and learn for themselves.  I want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.

I have also tried to stay in a close relationship with our kids, and I think it helps them to have a father in their daily lives, even as adults.  Yet at times there’s been physical or emotional distance between us — they move away to school, or we just don’t get along for a while.  This distance is painful to me, I wish it would end, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Of course, there have also been many, many times when I have been able to rejoice with my children.  They each have their own gifts, and I’ve learned to appreciate those differences, and the unique ways in which they are expressed.  I have to hold them each up to certain standards — particularly moral standards — but I also have to let them flourish in their own way.   And so often, it fills me with joy at being their father.

Through all of these highs and lows, my children have taught me the meaning of unconditional love — because that is my perpetual challenge, to love them and stand with them no matter what.  Because of this, I think I have gained a small shadow of insight into God the Father, and how He feels about me.

Like every broken person in the world, I have been hurt and wounded, and I have damaged my relationship with my heavenly Father.  I’ve gone my own way, without much regard for His. I have been too proud, or too blind, to ask Him for forgiveness.  There has been distance between us, not because He has ever rejected me, but because I have kept away.

But I also have felt my Father’s unconditional love for me.  I know that he rejoices when I do his will, and grieves when I do not.  I know that he celebrates when I am happy, and mourns when I am sad.  He is my Father, no matter what, and He will always stand with me.  I know that he wants my life to be perfect, and that He will help me when it’s not.

My children have taught me all of this.  So, when my kids wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”, I can be grateful to them for looking past my imperfections, and I can wish the same to my heavenly Father in His perfection.

A Prayer for Our Beloved Nation

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Just over four years ago, Peggy and I had the privilege of attending the beautiful Mass offered by Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium.  Like many in the Stadium, we were caught up in the power of the event — the leader of the Church around the world had come to our home town and was celebrating the Eucharist for us.  It was the pinnacle of the Holy Father’s visit to our nation, and a wonderful moment for us as Catholics.

Throughout his visit to America, the Holy Father spoke in such positive terms about our nation’s legacy of freedom.  At the time, it would have been easy for most Americans to overlook the significance of remarks like these:

In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.

How much things have changed, and how prophetic the Holy Father has proven to be.

Just a few years after that papal visit, we are faced with a panoply of threats to our fundamental religious liberty, which few could have foreseen — the legal re-definition of marriage; the mandates for insurance coverage of sterilization, abortion drugs, and contraceptives; forcing people to pay for insurance coverage of direct abortion; the refusal of our government to recognize the conscience rights of religious institutions.  The path forward is daunting, and we are likely to see more and more restrictions on religious participation in public life.

In these times, it is all the more important to go back to basics, to recapture those essential ideals of America about which the Holy Father spoke.  And to turn to God in prayer for our nation.

This is what is motivating the United States Bishops in their call for a prayerful “Fortnight for Freedom”, from June 21 through July 4.  They are asking us to join in “a great hymn of prayer for our country”, with special liturgical events like Holy Hours and litanies, and public witness like the ringing of church bells and processions.  It is an event of public devotion and worship — directed to God, on behalf of our beloved nation.

Of course, the Fortnight for Freedom risks being misunderstood by our modern culture, with its obsession with electoral politics.  The Fortnight is not about partisan politics, it has nothing to do with elections, and it is not concerned with who holds public office.  It is a call for all Americans — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to recapture our sense of priorities.  The goal is to reawaken our sense of dependence on God for the well-being of our nation, and our commitment to transforming all of society in the light of the Gospel.

I believe that, in his homily at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict foresaw the need for the Fortnight for Freedom, and anticipated its message and its importance.  He spoke of our daily prayer for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and dedicating ourselves to its growth throughout our society.  Speaking of the significance of this prayer, he added:

It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness… It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

We are proud to be Americans, and we are proud to be Catholics.  We will gladly join together with our brothers and sisters across our nation during the Fortnight for Freedom.  We pray that our beloved nation, under God, will respect our fundamental human rights, particularly our right to religious liberty, and that this freedom will always be held sacred and secure.

Real People, Real Evangelists

Monday, June 4th, 2012

One of the central components of the New Evangelization is the willingness of ordinary Christians to give witness to the joy and consolation that they have experienced in the life of faith.  The most effective evangelization technique is to invite others into the same love affair that we have experienced with Jesus.

To that end, I would like to share with you a wonderful video that’s part of the “Any Given Sunday” campaign of the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston (West Virginia):

(Hat tip to the Deacon’s Bench)

The Disgrace of Georgetown

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

There’s a very fine Jesuit priest who is a professor at Georgetown University, Fr. James Schall. In a recent column, he said this: “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

The reason for the question is the appalling decision by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute to have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the speaker at their commencement. The president of Georgetown has stated that this platform is being given to the Secretary because of her “long and distinguished record of public service”.

Yes, you read that right.  An allegedly Catholic university, giving a platform of honor to the current Administration’s point person to advance its anti-life agenda.

Let’s review some of the highlights of Secretary Sebelius’ “long and distinguished record”, for those at Georgetown who don’t have access to the Internet:

  • She has spearheaded the recent attacks on human life and religious liberty by promulgating the infamous HHS contraceptive and abortion mandates.
  • She notoriously declared at a pro-abortion rally that “we are in a war” to defend the right to kill children in the womb.
  • She has associated with, and embraced the support of, the infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller — she even hosted an event at her governor’s mansion in honor of him and posed smiling for pictures with him.
  • As Governor of Kansas, she consistently opposed pro-life legislation, and has repeatedly vetoed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion.
  • Her record was so bad in Kansas that her own bishop, after trying privately to convert her, had to publicly admonish her not to present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her pro-abortion positions.
  • Georgetown loves to boast about how it is a university “in the Jesuit tradition”. At the heart of the Jesuit charism is the Spiritual Exercises of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. During the second week of the Exercises, those who are on the retreat receive a meditation on the Two Standards. This is a powerful expression of the very meaning of Christian discipleship.

    The meditation asks bluntly — whose standard or flag will we follow, Christ’s or Satan’s?

    Satan’s standard, of course, is the one that the world finds most attractive, because it superficially appeals to our fallen human nature. It offers us the desire for worldly possessions, power, honor, and a false view of freedom that is a disguise for immorality. In the end, though, it leads only to destruction.

    Christ’s standard, on the other hand, is the one that the world finds unattractive, because it appeals to values that are exemplified by Our Lord himself, whom the world rejected. It offers us humility, poverty, sacrifice, and authentic freedom that involves willing adherence to God’s will. And in the end it leads to glory.

    So here’s the question for the Georgetown administration — which standard have you chosen? As Fr. Schall said, “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    The Power of the Powerless

    Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

    In my last post, I outlined the need for resistance against unjust laws that threaten the freedoms of religious and pro-life people.  In this post, I’m going to present a “menu of resistance” — essentially a list of things that people can do to give actual life to their conscientious objections to injustices like the contraception and abortion mandates, attempts to force the recognition of same-sex “marriages”, restrictions on free speech, and the like.

    Before presenting these suggestions, I would like to stress several important points.

    First, this is not an official statement or position of the Archdiocese of New York — it is my opinion, and mine alone. Take these ideas for what they’re worth, but they are not attributable to the Archdiocese in any way.

    Second, I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion here — some of these suggestions may lead people into legal difficulties with the authorities.  Governments generally are very intolerant of dissent and civil disobedience.  So people should assess their level of risk, and prepare themselves to accept the consequences of their actions.

    Third, and most important, the watchword of resistance to injustice is always that we speak the truth with love.  That is non-negotiable.  Our aim is the conversion of hearts, not the exertion of power.

    With that having been said, here are some suggestions about how people can

  • Learn about your rights.  Most states have laws that grant protection to religious belief.  For example, here in New York, our Human Rights Law contains fairly broad protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for believers.  Courts in New York have already held that opposition to abortion is protected under these laws.
  • Take advantage of the law.  Many unjust laws provide for exemptions and appeals.  For instance, private employers can file for an exemptions from the HHS abortion/contraception mandate.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if HHS received a letter from every parish, every school, every hospital, every nursing home, every Catholic employer in the United States — thousands of requests for exemptions that they would have to process?  Do you think that might let them understand how significant an intrusion their mandate is?
  • Use the government’s own legal process.  Appeal any denial of a request for an exemption.  File complaints with civil rights offices of government agencies when they try to force you to cooperate with unjust laws.  Explain to them that complying with the law would violate your Constitutional rights.  For example, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Office of HHS here.  All states (like New York) and most localities also have human rights commissions — file complaints with them as well.
  • Be persistent.  Protest letters to government agencies are likely to be ignored at first, or summarily denied without any reason.  If that happens, appeal to higher authorities at the agency, and go up the ladder, all the way to the person in charge.
  • Ask your elected officials for help.  Send copies of your complaints and appeals to your representatives in Congress or the State Legislature.  Ask them to intervene with the agency on your behalf.  Insist that they send you a response.  Go to their district office and ask for help in person.
  • Always tell the truth. Never tell a lie to a government official — if it’s a federal official, that’s a crime.  So, for example, if you are called upon to fill out a form, and it asks for an answer that you cannot honestly give, leave it blank and write a cover letter explaining your objection.
  • Don’t pay for injustice.  Refuse to pay fees for insurance coverage for abortion and contraception.  Write to your health insurance company and ask for a rebate for any funds spent on abortion.  When they ignore you, write to the board of directors and the president of the company.  If they insist that you pay, send them the fee in pennies, write a polite protest letter.
  • Write to your elected officials.  Make clear to them that you want them to pass just laws, and repeal unjust laws.  Do it over, and over, and over.  Join email networks like the New York State Catholic Conference Advocacy Network and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment and send easy emails to your representatives.
  • Write to candidates.  Explain to them that you will never vote for them unless they oppose unjust laws.  If you can’t think of anything else to say, tell them that you agree with Cardinal Egan:  “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”.
  • Don’t vote for them.  Speaking for myself, 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, I won’t vote for you.  I refuse to choose “the lesser of two evils” — because then, all I’ll ever get is evil.
  • Participate in public witness.  It is vitally important that we be seen by the general public as sane, reasonable, committed people.  Participate in prayerful and peaceful vigils like those run by the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.  Join positive, well-informed rallies like the ones sponsored by “Stand Up for Religious Freedom”.  Always obey the law.  Remember — numbers don’t matter — witness does.
  • Support lawsuits against unjust laws.  There are many great organizations that are fighting in court to defend religious liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Becket Fund.  If you have some extra, send them some cash.  Join their lawsuits — wouldn’t it be great if a million Catholics joined a gigantic class action suit against the contraceptive and abortion mandates?
  • Refuse to speak the lie. Always tell the truth — abortion is not health care, contraception is bad for women, men and society, marriage is only a union of one man and one woman, and religious belief is not hatred or bigotry.  Remember, your silence may be taken as agreement or surrender, so make sure that you speak out.
  • Don’t cooperate in the lie.  Don’t do anything that will recognize the lie.  For example, don’t give your employees information about contraception or abortion coverage, erase it from your company’s plan books, refuse to recognize any same-sex marriages.  Remember that human rights laws protect religious liberty.  If you think your rights are in danger, use the magic words — “I’m going to consult with a lawyer”.  Then call a group that defends liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund.
  • Stick together. One of the things that people find demoralizing is the sense that they’re all alone, and that nobody agrees with them.  But we are not alone — we’re a gigantic movement.  So, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, post comments on friendly blogs (and ignore the flames that come back in response), put the truth up on your Facebook page (even if people will “unfriend” you), pass around supportive emails, join a pro-life organization like the Knights of Columbus or your local pro-life committee.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  For everyone involved — those being oppressed as well as their oppressors.  This is not going to be easy.  But remember what St. Paul said:  “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
  • Resistance reminds people of a sense of their power, even when they appear to the whole world to be powerless.  The truth, expressed with love, is an enormously influential force.  Worlds and lives can change, when people have the courage to testify to the truth.  We can lift each other up by our steadfastness.

    Even if we have no idea how our actions will play out, each individual moral act will have a ripple effect, the ends of which we cannot foresee.  Even if we never see the end result, we can always be satisfied that we have been faithful to our beliefs.

    And we can never underestimate the power of the powerless.  Especially when God is with us.

     

    Revision and Resistance

    Monday, May 14th, 2012

    Most people are not aware of it, but the founding documents of our nation have been fundamentally re-written in recent years.  Here is how the key passage of the Declaration of Independence has now been revised to read:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some people are created more equal than others, that some of them are endowed by their government with certain alienable rights that can be given or taken away at any time, at the whim of the government.

    And here is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

    Congress shall make many laws respecting an establishment of religion, and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    We now live in a nation that is systematically revising its intellectual and legal foundation.  We are in grave danger of abandoning its commitment to fundamental human rights, rooted in human nature and natural law.  That foundation is being replaced by a system of positivism and secularism.  I have written on this blog many times about this trend.  For a fuller explanation of what it means, check out Cardinal Dolan’s important address to Fordham Law School.

    In concrete terms, we can see these threats to religious liberty and fundamental rights in many places: the HHS Mandate, the abortion mandate in the health care law, the radical re-definition of marriage, and efforts to suppress the speech of pro-lifers.

    In the face of these threats to our liberties, ordinary citizens frequently feel powerless.  After all, the government is very large and very powerful, and we think we are isolated and alone.  We fear for our livelihoods and our families if we run afoul of the law.

    So what can we do?

    We must resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to understand what it means, and what it does not.  I strongly urge everyone to read two key works that explain the reasons and tactics for resisting unjust laws enacted by civil governments — Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.

    These essays stress a number of essential points:

  • 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.  My conscience is not just reflected in my external decisions, but it involves the very core of who I am as a human person.  It is the inner sanctuary where I encounter God’s law.   It is in my conscience that I hear the voice of God, speaking the truth to me.  It is there that I must be true to myself, and to the will of God.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the document of the Second Vatican Council, On the Dignity of the Human Person (especially paragraph 3), explain this beautifully.  These documents should also be studied with care.

    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.

    That is the heart of resistance — the ultimate freedom of the human heart.

     

    A Timely Reminder About Christians in the World

    Friday, May 11th, 2012

    One of the wonderful ways in which Providence acts is through the liturgy.  So often, the readings offered to us by the Church for public worship are exactly what we need to hear at a particular moment in our lives.  These are not coincidences — they are a way in which God reveals His truth and his will to us.

    And just so, on Wednesday.  That was the day that the President announced his “evolution” on the redefinition of marriage, a development that bodes ill for the religious liberty of Christians in this nation.  On that day, the Divine Office presented this excerpt from the Letter to Diognetus (a work of Christian apologetics that dates from the second century) as part of the Office of Readings:

    Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

    And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

    Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

    To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

    Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

    Thank you, Lord, for your timely reminder that we are citizens of Your heavenly kingdom, passing through this valley of tears, and that we should comport ourselves accordingly.

    The Politics of Principle

    Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

    (This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last three years.  It 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.  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.

    The Real Threat of Christmas

    Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

    Now that Christmas is upon us, we have seen many more disputes about Christmas symbols on public property.  Many Christians see this as a “War on Christmas”.  They rightly object to the legal and social suppression of religious symbols and speech, and object to a radical secularist view that denies the origins of our nation’s history and institutions in a Christian culture. Secular-minded people, for their part, see instead a threat of the establishment of religion.  It’s a mess.

    There is no doubt that our courts have contributed to this.  The Supreme Court has made a complete hash out of the First Amendment.  Justice Thomas, earlier this year, spoke of the Court’s “erratic, selective analysis of the constitutionality of religous imagery on government property”, and said the the Court’s “precedents remain impenetrable, and the lower courts’ decisions… remain incapable of coherent explanation”.

    The Court has left us with a situation where a manger scene may be put up on public property, but only if it is accompanied by secular symbols — like Santa and Frosty — and is displayed for a secular purpose, such as a recognition of history, or an expression of some amorphouse “civic religion”.  This kind of nonsense leads to such things as speaking of the “real meaning of Christmas” in terms of greeting card nostrums, or the absurd “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree” that has no symbols of Christianity at all, but instead celebrates — believe it or not — the wonders of California.

    But a Christmas that is secular enough — tame enough — for the approval of the government for display on the courthouse steps has no place in a Christianity worth professing.

    Our faith is far too radical to be approved by any earthly government.

    We start from the premise that, as Pope John Paul wrote, “The redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history.”  The small baby in His Mother’s arms makes an extraordinary claim on us — to believe that God has become truly human, and that we are called to surrender our hearts, minds and will to Him and to Him alone.

    Our faith in Christ the King compels us to seek to transform the world — including our laws and governments — in light of His gospel.  While we are bound to obey earthly authorities, we must always remember that God is above them all, and our duty to Him and His Kingdom transcends all nations and laws, which are mere historical contingencies that will pass away in time.

    In many ways, the forces of secularism perceive Christianity more clearly than we do.  We easily take our faith for granted, as part of the backdrop of our lives, as a safe and comfortable thing.

    The secularists are not so complacent.  They rightly see our faith as a threat to their world view.  They see that Jesus is not just a nice fellow and a cute baby — they understand that He is powerful, and a bit frightening, and very demanding.

    Of course, nobody needs to fear violence from Christians over manger scenes.  But make no mistake.  Our faith is authentically threatening.  Recognizing the true Kingship of Christ will supplant the pretenses and pomps of our human laws, will strike down the sinful structures that divide and degrade humanity, and will establish real justice in the world.  Every mountain will be made low, and every valley raised high.  The rich will be sent away empty, and the hungry filled with good things.  There are many forces prowling about the world that would not be happy with that outcome, and will show their teeth to us in response.

    Good.  When we see a manger scene, we shouldn’t see a hodgepodge of religious and commercial images that will pass court approval.  We shouldn’t see a historical artifact.  We shouldn’t even see a heartwarming reminder of our innocent childhood.

    We should see Christmas as a threat to our comfortable way of life, a challenge to make Christ the King of our hearts and our society.  Nothing less.

    Lessons Learned

    Sunday, September 11th, 2011

    God has a remarkable way of speaking to us, even in our darkest times, with messages of grace.

    All of us who were in or around New York City remember September 11, and the days that immediately followed.  The ruins of the Twin Towers burned.  A haze of smoke filled the city, and the smell was everywhere.  The desperate search for survivors, although hope was fading.  The feelings of fear, sadness, powerlessness — and anger.

    Thursday of that week — just two days after the terrorist attacks — happened to be the 23rd week in Ordinary Time according to the liturgical calendar.  The Lectionary for that day presented us with what is perhaps Jesus’ hardest teaching, from Luke 6:27-38:

    “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit (is) that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

    This is indeed a hard saying, but the message was clear.  There can be no doubt that the only way for us ever to emerge from the cycle of sin, violence, revenge, and destruction is to embrace Jesus’ message of love — even for our enemies.  Until that time, we must of course defend ourselves against aggression.  But the only ultimate answer is love and forgiveness.

    In case the message wasn’t clear enough, God taught us the lesson with a most dramatic symbol.  On September 13, a remarkable discovery was made in the rubble of the Towers.  It was two steel beams, in the shape of a cross — the now-famous Ground Zero Cross.

    This reminder of the redemptive Cross of Christ, in the heart of destruction, buoyed the faith of many who were working at Ground Zero, and continues to be a symbol of the hope of the resurrection.

    Finally, just in case we needed a further lesson, the next day, Friday, September 14, 2001, was the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

    There is no hope for us unless it comes from the Cross.  We will never know true peace or true freedom, until the Cross triumphs over our selfishness, anger, and sinfulness.  The Cross rose from the rubble of Ground Zero.  We need it to rise over our hearts as well.